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NASA Space The Almighty Buck Science

Is the ISS Really Worth $100 Billion? 503

Ponca City writes "JR Minkel writes on Space.com that as NASA celebrates the 10th anniversary of astronauts living on the space station — and with construction essentially complete — the question remains: will the International Space Station ever really pay off scientifically? The space agency contends that the weightless environment provided by the station offers a unique way of unmasking processes of cell growth and chemistry that are hidden on Earth, but some critics don't see a zero gravity laboratory as filling a crucial scientific need. Gregory Petsko, a biochemist at Brandeis University, says the only basic science justification he has ever heard for the station is that protein molecules form superior crystals in the microgravity of space than they do on Earth and a best-case scenario, in terms of return on investment, would be if a space-grown crystal were used to design a blockbuster pharmaceutical drug that worked by precisely targeting one of those proteins. Naturally NASA sees things differently. 'I think those who are naysayers haven't given us a chance — haven't given us enough time to show what we can do. We're just now turning the path to be able to go full force on our science. In the past we had to fit it in around assembly, we didn't have the facilities available, and the crew was always busy.'"
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Is the ISS Really Worth $100 Billion?

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  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:48PM (#34095206) Journal

    I'm assuming that various technologies and engineering solutions were developed in order to build the station and get it assembled in orbit, so even if no science is done on the station from this day forward, much knowledge was undoubtedly gained already. Knowledge that would probably not have come about from non-space-station-related projects. 100 Billion dollars is a lot of money, but humanity has blown significantly larger sums of money on way less useful stuff on many occasions.

  • by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:50PM (#34095234)

    "I think those who are naysayers haven't given us a chance -- haven't given us enough time to show what we can do."

    Wasn't the ISS built with an expiration date approaching ... about now?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:51PM (#34095254)

    The potential value to science can be found where else?

    If we are comparing similar projects the price tag becomes a useful thing. Unique projects are harder to judge. Is it worth more than a fraction of the gulf war(s)?
    It's not worth more than the cost of cleaning up government but then I don't thing that's on the table.

  • by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:51PM (#34095260) Homepage

    Scientific research is just gravy. The biggest benefit of the ISS is it teaches us how to operate indefinitely in space. All the little unexpected things that went wrong and had to be solved, was an important lesson learned. They all might seem trivial, but if we ever want to do more than hang around in low-earth orbit, these are all important lessons to learn. And they can only be learned through experience.

    When you're half way to mars, a malfunctioning toilet would be a shitty way to die.

  • Ebay (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:53PM (#34095272)

    Put it on eBay and find out what it's worth,

  • Salient quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:53PM (#34095288)

    Strange how much human accomplishment and progress comes from contemplation of the irrelevant. - Scott Kim

  • It's fun! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary DOT ad ... privacy AT gmail> on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:56PM (#34095336)

    I thought people fly in rockets and visit space stations and the moon because it's cool. I don't care if no scientific progress comes out of it - I like space travel because it's awesome. Similarily, I'm not attracted to science, mathematics or technology for their practical uses, but because it's fun understanding how the world works, being able to calculate things and think up and admire cool (preferably huge) machines.

  • Same old: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:57PM (#34095352)

    Here. Let me translate:

    "They've paid 100 Billion. Think how much more they would have gotten if they'd granted that to my field."

    I'm sure it is everywhere, but I've seen this personally in biochemistry, solid state physics, and particle physics.

    My original advisor in grad school was literally jumping for joy when the SSC was cancelled. He didn't like it when I pointed out that none of that money would be going to grants he was involved in and would in large part go back to the general US budget.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:58PM (#34095354)
    Um, you mean the technologies that were basically all figured out with MIR?
  • by francium de neobie ( 590783 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:03PM (#34095408)
    Divide it by the US's population, that's a bit more than $300 for each person... you can eat a nice meal with that but it's not a lot.

    In that case, I'd choose science.
  • by cheater512 ( 783349 ) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:03PM (#34095414) Homepage

    If you dont think we should research, then please go back to using fire.
    You dont get to moan and complain and benefit from it at the same time.

  • Prototype (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:07PM (#34095450)

    Has ANY prototype, in the history of industrial manufacture, been, in and of itself, worth what it cost to make?

  • The alternative (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NoSig ( 1919688 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:07PM (#34095460)
    The alternative is not 100 billion dollars for a war. The alternative could have been 100 billion dollars on general science spending. That's 11 LHCs of science or 10,000 individual X prices of engineering. I'm not in a position to evaluate that against the current space program, but that's a lot of pay off to compete with.
  • by Mantrid42 ( 972953 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:07PM (#34095462)
    It's a space station. We're not getting enough science out of our space station?!

    It's a station. In space. Right now, we have humans off-world. Think about that for a moment. Surely these are important fields to develop if we want to survive as a species long-term.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:08PM (#34095470)
    It may not be "a lot" to you, but that equals out to be about $600 per couple, enough to cover a month's rent in many cases. Enough to buy a few months of groceries.
  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:08PM (#34095472)

    The third choice of "limited government" never works, and only leads to tragic outcomes, because to put it simply: the public is incapable of making decisions on their own that benefit society.

    Right now, if you give the public more money, they will simply send it to China or Saudi Arabia.

    We need government to spend the public's money in a focused manner, that the public would NOT do on their own.

    Government is what determines economic direction, not the public.

    Somalia has "limited government". Somalia is also a failure. We don't want to be like Somalia.

    We need more socialism and government control, not less.

    Government needs to be expanded and be given more control, let's make sure we give them more power tomorrow.

    Remember, DON'T BE LIKE SOMALIA.

  • by arcite ( 661011 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:11PM (#34095504)
    Just imagine for a moment that there was an international PRIVATE consortium with the aim of building a space station and that they had a budget of $100 billion... The Airbus A380 cost $11 billion over five years to create. The Chinese Three Gorges Dam cost ~$25 billion....

    The ISS has been a colossal WASTE of money. Speaking as a contractor who regularly works for the great US Government, if you want to deliver projects on a budget, don't let the government near it!

    I watch 2001 every year on TV and it brings a tear to my eye at how the future that could have been, never was....well, just a bit behind schedule at any rate...

  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:12PM (#34095530)

    Also, the money that "they earn" is never their own.

    People don't earn money on their own. They earn it with cooperation of government that designed a system to enable a person to earn that bit of money in the first place.

    The money that "they earn" is just one step of a much larger system where the public is expected to pay back into the system that allowed them to earn money in the first place.

    Remember, without a proper system of government that is designed to encourage spending, you would not be able to earn money in the first place.

  • by GreatAntibob ( 1549139 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:14PM (#34095556)

    Not to rain on this parade, but Russia figured most of these lessons out a long time ago with the Mir/Soyuz. Even now, the person who spent the longest continuous period in space did it on Mir, not the ISS. And even the US figured out a good number of these lessons with Spacelab. The ISS doesn't provide any really new experience in long term space survival, though it does provide some engineering challenges that Mir did not. And besides, neither the Mir nor ISS are close to operating indefinitely. Both needed regular resupply from Earth (the ISS, in particular). And for all the patriotic rhetoric in the US, the USSR had arguably the better and more successful space program and did it at lower cost per mission (and probably lower regard for human life). Didn't get to the moon, of course, but much more successful at space stations and getting to LEO.

  • Child support? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fuzzums ( 250400 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:14PM (#34095572) Homepage

    Same goes for so many things. Part of the taxes I pay go to child support for dysfunctional families with a father in prison and so on.
    Most of those children will vote for people and have ideas that I don't like, yet still my money goes there...
    Where's my return of investment here?

  • Working together (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sean_Inconsequential ( 1883900 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:18PM (#34095612)

    I would say the biggest thing we should take from the ISS is that it got several countries to work together toward a common goal. Certainly there were disagreements along the way, and that is to be expected. The main countries involved had plans for their individual space stations though none could afford them. Let's be honest, it is likely that will be the only way we get to Mars and beyond, several countries working together to get there.

  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:20PM (#34095646)

    We need more government control, since government spending results in more spending within the US compared to consumer spending.

    Freedom just means more corporate control, and the resulting export of money to foreign countries through corporations incorporated in foreign countries and shareholders in foreign countries.

    Government doesn't have shareholders in foreign countries.

  • by Snufu ( 1049644 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:24PM (#34095688)

    we could have sent up thirty Hubble telescopes ($5B).

    Just sayin'.

  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:25PM (#34095700) Homepage

    Actually it is not even like that. $100 billion is over an estimated 30 years for ISS, while just the war in Iraq costs over $100 billion per year, ON TOP of the $600+ billion per year for the base US army budget. The ISS and everything that has been spent in space exploration over the last 2-3 decades is peanuts compared to military spending.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:26PM (#34095710)
    But there wasn't anything special about governments that made it possible. It was simply that in the late 60s no one but the US government had enough computers and the like to make it be possible.

    If the internet had not been born from the government, I have little doubt I'd still be typing this message on it, it simply would have been born from a corporation, perhaps with better features and the like.
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:29PM (#34095754) Homepage Journal

    But realistically, if $300 will make a huge difference in your life, chances are they only took about a buck fifty from you, and about $1800 from people with more income....

  • by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:29PM (#34095764)

    Both are true. Socialism is good. Capitalism is good. Socialism is bad. Capitalism is bad. We don't necessarily need more of one or the other. but better of each.

  • by Anomalyx ( 1731404 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:32PM (#34095794)

    I think those who are naysayers haven't given us a chance — haven't given us enough time to show what we can do.

    I'm 100% sure that in another 10 years, when we still haven't seen anything of value come from the ISS, they'll say the same thing. It's a convincing argument, until someone realizes that it follows horrible logic. Basically they want us to fund them until they find something, then fund them some more. There's nothing that says anything interesting will ever come out of it. I'm not saying they shouldn't do research, I'm just saying I don't want that much money coming out of my (taxpayer) pocket.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:33PM (#34095800)

    Ask the military for a refund then. Their budget is excess of $5000 billion for same time period. That's a *only* $16.5k per every individual, or if you want, per individual taxpayer (about 130m in the US), you are looking at only $38,500 refund....

    I'd rather spend money on R&D rather than destruction.

  • by currently_awake ( 1248758 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:44PM (#34095914)
    America put a man on the moon, Canada got universal healthcare. If you wonder who got the better deal: when was the last time you looked at a microchip and said "that Apollo program was money well spent."
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:47PM (#34095944) Homepage Journal

    Another way to look at it is 'opportunity cost'. What if we'd thrown the $100B into wind technology research? Solar Cells*? Cellulostic Ethanol? Battery tech? Cancer prevention? A replacement for the shuttle? Thorium nuclear power?

    Personally, I think the ISS is what happens when you go at something but don't go in ENOUGH. We'd have had a lot more actual research for the buck if we'd payed the extra money to get the thing assembled and working on schedule, rather than have modules go end of life without real use because you didn't have the full crew up there, because you don't have the necessary equipment up there to do research, because of delay, delay, delay.

    *I'm sure at least some of that $100B ended up towards solar research, but eh...

  • by nibbles2004 ( 761552 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:49PM (#34095962) Homepage
    Google's what $150 billion, Facebook $10 billion , ISS is a steal at $100 billion and will in history be far more relevant than most other things from today.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:54PM (#34096024)

    Take a middle school student outside on a clear evening that will have the ISS fly over during the hour after sunset. Point out the bright light crossing the sky to him or her and explain what that bright moving light actually is.

    I do this on a regular basis, and every time I have done it, the result has been a youngster that is motivated to learn math and science so he or she can have a possible future in space-related work.

    Human beings need aspirations. We need something to lift our thoughts above the hum-drum of everyday life. In the lack of a space program that is moving beyond low earth orbit, the ISS is all that we have to serve that role. It is keeping the spark of the future alive.

  • by ghjm ( 8918 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:55PM (#34096034) Homepage

    I'd keep the roommate who steals $2.50 out of my wallet every month for loopy dreams of space travel, and ditch the roommate who steals $100 out of my wallet every month to buy bullets and bombs with which he rains terror from the skies on some of our neighbors.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:02PM (#34096116)
    I said that exact thing the last time I fled from the United States to Canada to get my health care.
  • by toppavak ( 943659 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:06PM (#34096160)
    "The product of mental labor — science — always stands far below its value, because the labor-time necessary to reproduce it has no relation at all to the labor-time required for its original production." - Karl Marx
  • by jmcharry ( 608079 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:17PM (#34096266)

    I wonder how much more might have been gained from that amount of targeted R&D.

  • by Poorcku ( 831174 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:32PM (#34096400) Homepage
    100 billion = 1/7 of the economic rescue package for ze Banks...
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:36PM (#34096446) Homepage Journal
    I hear the Hobbit is going to cost at least $500 million to produce. Add the advertising and distribution costs and you have billion dollar film. Clearly this is an positive economic decision because even if the near term gross is only 1.25 billion, someone stands to make a lot of money.

    But what does the Hobbit give to Humanity long term. What does the billion buy us. Do we get experience building a reliable structure in a hostile, novel environment? Do we get to do science in an environment not available on earth? Do we get new technology?

    Ok, on such film we do get new technology. But when we do science, especially big science, it is not on the same basis as a production job. In science we throw money at problems, sometimes it shows results, sometimes it doesn't, but when it does the economy is transformed and the value cannot be calculated.

    I mean what is the value of radio? What is the value of tv? What is the value of being able to travel quickly from the US to New Zealand? What is the value of being to transmit data quickly form US to New Zealand? ATT certainly is not profiting off The Hobbits digital cameras, does that mean the CCD was a waste of money?

    Part of the problem with the space station is it took money from a relatively small pile of money that can be used for big science, which means that other project leaders are pissed that they cannot do their big science. But the bigger problem is that the common person sees the billion dollars and thinks that it is a lot of money. But do you think all the money that was spent on basic research leading up to the creation of the NAND chip hasn't been paid over many times in the transformative technology of the solid state drive? Do we seriously think that space is not going to transform and improve our society?

  • Re:It's fun! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by robotkid ( 681905 ) <alanc2052 AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:49PM (#34096550)

    I thought people fly in rockets and visit space stations and the moon because it's cool. I don't care if no scientific progress comes out of it - I like space travel because it's awesome. Similarily, I'm not attracted to science, mathematics or technology for their practical uses, but because it's fun understanding how the world works, being able to calculate things and think up and admire cool (preferably huge) machines.

    Maybe if you work for spaceshipone, you can legitimately say that. The US industrial-military complex, however, made rockets and went to the moon because we had to beat those darn Russkies . Once that motivation (and the associated infinite budgets went away), NASA was left holding the bag trying to figure out what types of science could be done with things that were designed in an era of infinite budgets and intimate military support that no-longer existed.

    How many scientists did we actually put on the moon? Exactly one, and he was the last one to set foot on it.

    Next exhibit - the space shuttle. The amount of useful things it could do were severely gimped because the Air Force wanted a low-orbit heavy lifter, whereas most science payloads were smaller and would have benefited from being in higher orbits (so they can point AWAY from the Earth instead of towards it). And once the air-force decided they were better off using non-manned rockets to deploy their spy satellites, NASA was left high and dry with something they could barely afford to maintain, never afford to replace, but also didn't actually do the things they needed it to do.

    As a big supporter of space science and someone whose father has worked at NASA his entire career, I will still maintain that any possibly useful scientific justification for the ISS was gimped from day one once the cold war ended and budgets became ever increasingly small. Early drafts for the station had on-board observatories (imagine how much easier AND cheaper that would have been to fix than doing that mission-impossible stunt to fix the Hubble) as well as an array of labs to test everything from solar propulsion to human physiology in zero G. What we actually ended up with is this giant white elephant that does nothing in particular well, that we are constantly begging other countries to help us run, and the toilets don't even work reliably. And all of that money could have been spent on real space science, like a couple thousand mars rovers or dozens of Hubbles or what have you.

    So for me, it's not a question of if we should fund space science even if it's expensive and there's no immediate return. We fund art too, and I would argue it makes society richer for similar reasons. But we can't pretend that cost doesn't matter in an era of forever shrinking federal science budgets, not to mention the gov't has many more pressing problems it needs to worry about. We need science agencies that can be small and nimble, retain the best talent in the field and reliably get the most bang for the scientific buck. Instead we have these bloated, hyper-political agencies that lost their best talent to industry years ago, have 12 layers of middle management fighting tooth and nail about what logo to use in the next press release defending giant, gimpy white elephant projects of limited scientific usefulness that was pitched to congress as a job creation strategy for someone's homestate. This was never a winning formula.

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @07:56PM (#34096602)

    $100 billion for space-based research or $100 billion for Welfare and War. Not really a touch decision.

    Which type of welfare? Corporate welfare? Welfare spent on people who are abusing the system? Or just all welfare?

    While it's easy to find plenty of examples of where welfare was wasteful, there's plenty of good that comes out of it. Meanwhile, as the summary mentions, it's hard to find tangible benefits of the ISS. Welfare or the ISS may not be a tough decision if you think that all welfare is wasted money*, but it would be a tough decision for some of us.

    (* we'd be wasting our time to discuss it if so)

  • by Lanteran ( 1883836 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @08:22PM (#34096760) Homepage Journal
    Something I found extremely disturbing when comparing proposed space travel budgets as opposed to government overspending: The (extremely bloated) nasa mars mission plan in the early 90's, which called for orbital fuel depots, a quadrupling of the size of the ISS, lunar bases and ship yards plus a whole host of other stuff cost 450B$, or a fraction of the combined recent government bailouts of big business. Mars direct, zubrin's plan, called for something like 55B$, including mars habitation units left behind and fuel refineries.
  • by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:16PM (#34097150)

    The cost of the space station is a pittance to what we already spend on welfare concerns, which is a pittance to what we spend on killing the unborn, sick and dying off on the other side of the world.

    Beside that, it is beyond foolish to assume that this meager "viable ecosystem" we happen to live on will last forever. Right now we have only one basket, and nearly 7 billion eggs. Seems like a bad plan. The trifle we put into space travel is, in fact, much less than a sane person should consider worthwhile.

  • by Swanktastic ( 109747 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:48PM (#34097296)

    This is true, but it doesn't help us decide the question at hand, which is whether the ISS was a good use of funds. I'm always suspicious of any project when the best defense is "Hey, so and so wasted more money!"

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:50PM (#34097310)
    Step back a bit and look what you just wrote. You just compared developing a new model of passenger aircraft to a multipurpose space station in orbit. How do you feel about what you wrote now that you are sober?
    If it was deliberate, shame on you. Pretending to compare apples and aardvarks is a nastly little trick in arguments that should have been beaten out everyone in the playground before they became adults. I know that the slimiest folk in politics and media do so, but I doubt you are an ex-DJ with his brain damaged by cocaine so you do not have that excuse.
  • Re:Wrong Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lennier ( 44736 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:59PM (#34097340) Homepage

    Not once did Walter Cronkite ask the Apollo Astronauts this question. Everyone knew the answer. "Of course!"

    Everyone also 'knew' that we'd have colonies on the Moon in 2001 and that there would be a grand future for human life in the solar system, and probably alien ruins on Mars and Venus.

    I grew up believing this too. But the hard lesson I've learned is that most of that Space Age propaganda was just that - a falsely idealistic vision of human colonisation designed to justify what was basically the ICBM and satellite program.

    Yes, the Apollo computer did a lot of pioneering research in real-time operating systems. But so did the Minuteman computer, and how many people would argue that we NEEDED a hair-trigger nuclear Armageddon device in order to advance human knowledge? If we wanted to invest government money to build computers, we could have done just that, rather than creating a space vehicle to drive demand for them.

    The truth is that NASA's 'civilian' space vehicles and the military ICBM projects were joined at the hip, using the exact same launch vehicles in many cases (Atlas, Redstone, Titan). Dropping nuclear weapons on the USSR and intercepting their communications were the bill-paying 'killer apps' - manned spaceflight itself was just a spinoff.

    Even so-called 'pure science' satellite launches from the 1960s USA have now been declassified and reveal secret military missions behind them - for example, the Galactic Radiation and Background [wikipedia.org] mission. This revelation ought to shock us - no wonder the USSR seemed so paranoid and distrustful of our peaceful scientific initiatives! Because many of them weren't peaceful at all, just cover for spy stuff.

    And the US military-industrial space complex was perfectly happy to lie to the US civilian population about the true intent of some of these launches. Shouldn't that not happen in a democracy?

    Rather than developing and maintaining stuff to kill people, we should be throwing big budgets at NASA and at other blue sky research. But, ever since Reagan took away the funding in our Universities (saying the Government is the problem), we have had none at Universities and a dwindling amount at NASA.

    I agree that if we're willing to spend money on military space infrastructure (like Reagan did with SDI), it would be better to spend that sort of money on open-source civilian spaceflight than in the black military world.

    But if what we actually want is NOT just pretty space hardware, but breakthroughs in technology with terrestrial applications, I think it would be even better to just fund those breakthrough studies directly, rather than funding an expensive space mission and hoping that somehow something somewhere down the line might spin off into the commercial world.

  • by petard ( 117521 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:10PM (#34097396) Homepage

    Especially on any kind of absolute scale, when the amounts get so large. It's easier if you consider it in relation to other large governmental expenditures. Fox News (which tends to under-estimate war cost, IMO) has estimated the cost of the Iraq war at >$700B. How does the ISS stack up to that in terms of value to the world? Is it worth about 1/7 of that? More? Less? I'm not sure it stacks up as well against every other possible use of $100B, but I'd personally much rather have another 6 space stations than what we've gotten in exchange for our other $600B spent on war.

  • In one word: Yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:25PM (#34097472)
    Only a complete moron measures something important as the conquest of space solely in terms of money...

    We must learn to live and travel through space, period. This small planet where we live on does not have infinite space, nor will sustain us forever.
  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @01:35AM (#34098308) Journal

    I'm not saying they shouldn't do research, I'm just saying I don't want that much money coming out of my (taxpayer) pocket.

    The ISS costs $100 Billion over 30 years, or $24/year/taxpayer. Meanwhile, defensing spending--which including the salaries, health care, etc of most troops along with most (all?) the jets, tanks, etc--is ~$4000/year/taxpayer. The Iraq/Afghan Wars are costing an additional ~$940/year/taxpayer. I'm not saying we shouldn't defend our country, I'm just saying that I don't want that much money coming out of my (taxpayer) pocket.

    PS - I'm pretty sure I've gotten a lot more out of the ISS so far in pictures, news stories, etc than I've gotten out of the Iraq/Afghan Wars and for a lot less cost or deaths. Yet, I still have higher expectations for the ISS. But, then, my expectations aren't focused on quickly marketable results as much as good science and long-term benefit. I do lament those who feel obligated to spin the ISS in such a way to obtain/sustain funding, especially if they're right about the necessity for such. Then I have to think back to people who talk about their "(taxpayer) pocket" but never seem to bother to go over the budget to actually have a clue where their money is being spent.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:55AM (#34099044)

    I'd rather see $100B put into propulsion. Until surface to orbit transport and especially deep space propulsion get orders of magnitude better, our species is going nowhere at any scale which is in the least bit meaningful to our survival (i.e. tens of thousands of people living far enough from the solar system to survive a nearby nova, as opposed to a half a dozen people golfing on Mars for a few weeks and then no one going back ever again). NASA is researching propulsion (i.e. VASIMIR), but seemingly at a snail's pace. Of course, the reason for that is political, any real solution has to be nuclear, which is politically toxic. We've basically closed the sky until we get over our idiotic fear of all things nuclear.

  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @12:20PM (#34101918) Journal

    The US citizen got something concrete with defense spending. They get elimination of two hostile powers over the past ten years

    While the elimination of the Iraq and Afghanistan governments might be concrete, I don't see how either has benefited the US citizen. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan attacked or were likely to attack the US. Al Qaeda still exists and seemingly just as capable of attempting rouge operations (their success being more thwartable probably more due to heightened anxiety/paranoia and and the intelligence community, not the military). The Taliban still exists and provides some level of safe harbor although admittedly less of it and a lot more directly (the Taliban in the past merely looked the other way in large part). Any actual gains to US citizens are a lot less concrete; I don't doubt they're there, but it's not something you could bring forwards as proof of the need for action.

    and continued maintenance of a economic hegemony, worth trillions of dollars a year (IMHO).

    Except that hegemony is deteriorating. China has and is growing at an enormous rate and it's unlikely that a military solution will somehow maintain the US's economy state in the world.

    Also, the military spending continued to support the primary goal of protecting the US and its citizens from other military powers.

    Not to mention protecting its allies indirectly by freeing them from having as large of standing armies. No doubt, we do need military spending. My point was that at over 100x the spending of the ISS, one should consider complaining about the actual waste there first, especially when a significant part of that waste gives you nothing.

    To complain about military spending, you have to first understand the point of the military spending.

    I think I understand the point of military spending. The fact is, while the point of the military might be and have been true for various purposes (maintaining the economic state of the US, attacking actually hostile states (not simply ones with possibly nasty rhetoric), etc), the military has often been abused for other things which have not been of much concrete value. Now, overall there's been a significant benefit. But, what I speak of could translate into perhaps a 20% waste of badly focused upon projects. Even if it were 1%, avoiding that waste alone would save $60 billion/year or 18x what the ISS costs yearly.

    (And if it weren't for the considerable number of adults (getting towards 100 million adults) who don't pay any taxes, the number of dollars per taxpayer would be a bit under $3,000 per taxpayer.)

    And then it'd be $14/year/taxpayer for the ISS. Either way, it's a lot of money both by percentage of taxes spent and as a raw number; added in all US residents doesn't change that figure much either.

    My take is that the US is overpaying for military expenditures by a considerable amount, both through hiring private contractors at several times the costs to do jobs the military used to do, and by excessive cost for acquisition of military systems and logistics (which traditionally has always been high cost for what it provides).

    The military also tends to fund multiple projects to do the same thing, given one or more might fail in development and each project if it succeeds is probably better suited for specific tasks. In any case, now that it's recognized the US probably overpays on the military, we can both agree that that should be corrected regardless of what is done about the ISS, right?

    The ISS has a few concrete things as well. It's a demonstration of orbital assembly techniques and that you can have six people live in space indefinitely. It might do some useful science as well (the trick here being to find science that is both valuable and can only be done in space

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @12:21PM (#34101928)

    I'm not a metallurgist or pharmaceuticals research,

    That much is glaringly obvious from your post. You talk about simulating micro-gravity, emphasis on simulating and not replicating. Completely different engineering challenges, and to be frank it's easier and cheaper to build an orbital lab than to use simulated microgravity in any type of Earth-based production facility.

    To be blunt, that effort has been going on for decades by a lot of smart people with a lot of money and they still haven't found the magic discovery that will justify space industry.

    Of course not. The 'magic discovery' is nothing more than the ability to locate, reach, and colonize other worlds in a reasonable time frame. Ultimately it would include the ability to change or even create planets for human habitation.
    But it's going to take a lot of work to get to that point, we're not going to wake up and see on the news "Researchers at ISS stumble across secrets to FTL space travel, Immortality, Terraforming, and the Genesis Device. Film at 11."

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments