Michael Battalio

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Serious conversations (part 41):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-second entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.

        On the other hand, humans are big, heavy things, and they require a lot of effort (read: money) to get to outer space, much less orbit. The planet does not currently have the economic excess to be funding a lot of human exploration. The argument can certainly be made that the money could be applied to the deficit. However when you look at the history of human spaceflight, it doesn’t really take that much money. When you compare the operating budget of NASA to the deficit, even increasing the budget of NASA ten fold is a drop in the bucket. So at the very least we should not reduce the budget of NASA.

        Also, one could argue that all the money that we might waste on human spaceflight should all be applied to robotic missions or other endeavors. We could accomplish so much more with a lot less money if we limit our space program to robotics. However, I would again argue that without human spaceflight, we lose the imagination of the public, and without that the space program would be nothing today. So I maintain that a limited human spaceflight program is necessary for the continued survival of the unmanned program.

        Speaking of NASA: I think the problem with NASA right now is a lack of vision and drive. The directive of NASA has changed every few years or so. W Bush wanted to get us to Mars, but Obama has curtailed that completely. And I can’t even remember what Clinton wanted NASA to do. Again the problem is that the President (generally a lawyer by trade) is in charge of the budget of a purely scientific enterprise. He has no idea what it should do nor should he, yet he has ultimate authority over it. The president should not be issuing the mandates for NASA or any other scientific body. An independent panel of scientists should run NASA and be completely apolitical. The budget of NASA should be pegged at the inflation rate, unless the Congress wants to give it extra money to fulfill some request on behalf of the people. Otherwise no branch of government should have any say over the actions of NASA. Assuming that will never happen, at the very least we need another situation that demands something of NASA (at some point global warming will become that situation, but I won’t live that long) in a short period of time. Everyone working towards one goal is the way to get things done.

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