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Sunday, February 7, 2010

NASA Budget Cuts Are A Good Thing

I got an e-mail recently from someone bent out of shape over President Obama's NASA budget cuts. I wrote him back to explain the following:


I'm afraid you've lost me here. America's technological prowess and innovating spirit are chief among her assets- but those blessings don't come to us from her government programs. They are a result of her enterprising people and private businesses.

NASA will waste millions of tax payer dollars to send a robot to Mars to see if it has water. While that may be interesting to NASA scientists, it hardly creates value for the American people- especially when the robot breaks. Your tax payer dollars at work.

Private investors on the other hand, like Mike Markkula will find two hippies in a garage in California putting together desktop computers for a small business they started called Apple. Mike invested $250,000 of his money in their vision and these two hippies, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak ended up revolutionizing how we view information, creating billions of dollars of value for Americans, and untold thousands of jobs. That's technological progress.

Meanwhile, private startups funded with private money are even conquering the frontiers of space, promising to deliver commercial space flights for the recreation of wealthy customers. As with the private development of any new technology throughout history, wealthy patrons will pioneer its use with their abundance of surplus wealth, funding the discovery of cheaper methods, allowing the technology to become more widely available. This happened with the plane, the car, the computer, and the television.

We don't need NASA or any other government program to help us succeed. Small business, not big government is the fountainhead of American prosperity. The only thing we need the government to do is to stay the hell out of our way. I agree with you whole-heartedly that Mr. Obama's policies are detrimental to our country's development, but not because of this one exception to his usual rule of expanding government.

Instead, it is his runaway spending, unchecked expansion of executive power, and effort to socialize every major industry in the country that is destroying American greatness. Why then should we complain that he will grant us one exception and dismantle our socialized space industry and pave the way for private expansion into the void? I wish he'd take that attitude about all of America's state-run and regulated industries.

Thanks for hearing me out,
Wes Messamore,
Editor of


  1. You know, I'm really trying to make the complete mindshift towards libertarianism, or something close to it, and your site has been helping a lot, but I have to admit that two of the hardest things for me to give up are NASA and National Parks. I'm a nerd so I'm very entranced by basic research, even if it's basic research with no possibility of a financial return.

    And as far as parks, I've visited many
    national parks, and also private parks like Meteor Crater. At Meteor Crater, you can't go "hike the rim" without hiring one of their off-duty tour guides to take you. If all the parks and open space were privately owned, I'm afraid they'd all be like this -- their liability insurance would require them to keep all patrons supervised so they could keep their rates as low as possible. But sometimes being at risk of death (changing weather, no cell phone coverage, difficult terrain) is what makes being in the outdoors enjoyable and rewarding.

    I don't want to have to sign a 10-page release form every time I want to go hiking the way I have to now to go skydiving! [and yes, I realize I've just given you the perfect setup to ask why I don't demand government-supplied skydiving as well....]

    But seriously, in the libertarian world, what becomes of missions to impact asteroids, large hadron colliders, and Arches National Park?

  2. Hey I totally feel the same way you do. For instance, my four years at a public high school were positively wonderful. I wouldn't trade them for anything. I learned a ton and grew a lot in that public school. I also love driving on the government-created interstate highway system- like, really love it.

    But I can do without these things when I remember their existence is morally outrageous. I won't have my pleasures at someone else's expense. While my school experience was great, landowners in Nashville were made- by threat of force- to pay for it.

    And other children haven't had good experiences in our public school system. In addition to the ones who are unable to read or find America on a map, sexual abuse of students in public schools is reaching horrendous proportions (though it's never reported).

    And our highways were likewise built with money looted from people by threat of force (if they didn't pay their income tax, they got hauled to jail). And for all my good experiences and pure joy when I sail down I-40, it crushes my heart to consider the literally millions of people who have died on government roads in the last century, a situation that would not have been tolerated from or ever arisen in a privately-run transportation industry.

    As for all those fun things like hadron colliders and space exploration- wealthy capitalists will always fund the ideas of enterprising innovators and curious scientists. In fact, imagine the kind of unprecedented, explosive wealth and prosperity of a truly unregulated, open market. Imagine the kind of Golden Age that would be?

    The Apple iPod would never have been invented in Soviet Russia- and even if it did, who would be able to afford it (or a loaf of bread for that matter)? That's one of the main beauties of a free society- it's not just enlightened, it's fun.


    PS: You only need to sign a 10-page release because of frivolous lawsuits, which are a result of poor government policy. Pass a "loser pays" bill for civil suits, and that should clear things up.

  3. Space exploration is not simply a fun idea. It's vital to our survival as a species. Currently, NASA is the only agency we have in government that does any good for the American taxpayers. To say otherwise is to ignore all of the technological innovations brought to us by the program. Seriously, if you are in doubt of this google it.

    NASA is a valuable program. Space exploration is a vital step for humanity. We have to start thinking about exploring the stars and colonizing other worlds. We don't get there by handing all of it over to the private sector, which is currently years behind that evil government program you speak of.

  4. NASA is a force of nature unlike anything else. It is ESSENTIAL to this country as a whole. It inspires more children to open their minds to the realm of science than any other institution in the world. No child ever grown up thinking, " I want to be an NSF researcher!" or "I'm going to work for the USGS!" NASA builds dreams, and creates and stimulates young minds. Kids that don't have exposure to something as large and amazing as NASA will never have their minds opened to the realm of what Technology can truly create. Right now in the current budget NASA is one half of one percent of the federal budget. Yet when you ask people who complain about how much money is being spent in space, when you ask them how much they thing NASA is getting, they'll give you a number five or 10 times that size. When you tell them it's only half a penny they'll say, "Oh, I didn't know that." It pays for the space shuttle, the space station, all the NASA centers, NASA headquarters, all the science, the Hubble Space Telescope, all of the rovers. So NASA has a visibility that's far beyond its budget. That says that, whatever NASA is doing, it's doing good.

    NASA developed prototype electric cars, low-emission gas turbines, wind turbines, and
    solar-powered villages, to name a few of the major energy projects. Advancements in aviation, thermal and fluid mechanics that allow planes today to function on a level never thought possible. NASA was influential in developing the integrated circuit which fueled the development of several well-known American tech companies. Without NASA, companies such as Intel Corporation and Advanced Micro Devices Incorporated would have never gotten off the ground. Companies like Intel Corporation have gone on to make considerable contributions to the advancement of computer technology. X-Ray's, MRI's, CAT, and a bevy of other medical technologies. Freeze dried food, MREs, Cordless tools, water purification systems, Solar collectors, fire fighter technology, fusion reactors. Need I go on??

    Oh, and that Cell phone you use on a daily basis, would not exist were it not for NASA. Your ignorance is revolting.

  5. Previous Anonymous took the words out of my mouth...
    The 2029 mission to Europa has a good chance of finding alien life in the oceans beneath its ice. There not a drop of profit to be made in doing this--but I can't see how anyone could yawn at it/consider their stock portfolio more interesting and _not_ be a complete sociopath. The naivete of Right Wing Libertardism never ceases to amaze me.
    Under your ideology, nothing is worth doing that wouldn't reap results/profit within one's own lifetime--there's no way around this accusation, so don't try to slither out of it. Then consider the VAST amount of tasks and challenges facing humanity that fall into this category.
    What yields more innovation? Pursuit of Knowledge to attain knowledge, or pursuit of Knowledge to attain Profit? I've yet to meet a Right Wing Libertarian with the brass ones to answer (They all just change the subject in a manner not unlike the slimy politicians they purport to want to replace.)

  6. A group of people with a monopoly of force need to make everyone pay for space exploration against their will? That doesn't seem right. Feel free to donate as much money as you wan't to science, but don't make others pay for what they don't want. It seems easy enough to grasp this concept to me.

  7. Yeah, keep pukin' up that anti-taxation straw man and ignore the real issues.

    No one cares about the horrible, terrible, UNBEARABLE taxation hardship you have to suffer. That second summer home that you can no longer afford...that sports car...oh your _rights_ are so oppressed!

    Poor _baby_. Now go get yer friggin' shinebox.

  8. Why does the military get like 600 billion a year (not including counterterrorism spending, or war funding), and yet people act like NASA's 20 billion a year is the real outrage?

    Some amount of military spending is necessary for national defense to be sure (such as maintaining a nuclear arsenal), but why the need for the rest of the military spending? Think about it: if America ever goes to war with another country that has a serious chance of taking over America or conquering it, that kind of serious full-scale war will basically be 100% nuclear.

    Protip: cut the bulk of the military spending not particularly relevant to national security (the part of it that don't involve missile technologies, military science research, and nuclear weapons) - the savings can then be used to increase NASA's budget while at the same time reducing the deficit or whatever.

    Everyone wins! The deficit goes down, government spending goes WAY down, yet worthwhile science programs that ACTUALLY BENEFIT mankind continue to provide their benefits.

  9. Sorry to stir up old debate, but I think that you ignore the point of research institutions like NASA.

    There is a reason it took NASA to get us to the moon: it was costly and really didn't have an economic reasoning. To that point, many of you are right. Our government took our hard-earned tax dollars and spent them on something that had no economic point.

    But what you overlook is the value that came about from the innovation that it took to get us to the moon. Just in case you didn't know, it's really, really expensive to send things into orbit. So NASA spent a whole lot of money learning how to make things lighter, and more compact.

    You know what else? It's really hard to communicate in space, and breath in space, and stay warm in space. NASA had to create new technology to solve all of these problems, and these innovations spurred economic development in other related sectors, like the communications industry, or the insulation industry.

    Well that's all fine and dandy, you say. The private sector could have done it without our government getting involved.

    And that attitude would be wrong. We knew nothing about space, or how our technology would work there, or whether we could survive in space. Hell, we didn't even know whether our hearts would keep beating in zero gravity. And i think that we can all agree that business don't really make decisions where there is a lot of uncertainty. If there isn't a reason to believe there will be a return on profits, companies are likely to hold off until someone else tests the waters first.

    And that's where the government can come in: It can help pool the resources of many into projects like Apollo-11. And once we know all about that projects - the dangers, benefits, etc. - private industry will better be able to gauge whether it is a good idea to get involved.

    If you want an example, look at our Low Earth Orbit (LEO). NASA was the first entity to launch a satellite that stayed in orbit, and after we learned all about launching things into orbit - and the best ways to keep them there - private enterprise took over and launched their own satellites.

    So yes, I believe in a small, efficient government. I think that it's main responsibility is to protect our rights and liberties, and to make sure that no one can take them away from us. But is it really that unreasonable to think that it also has the ability to spur economic innovation, and that it should use that ability to keep our nation on the fore-front of the economic world?

    The reason America isn't number one anymore is because we stopped innovating. We stopped dreaming. And it's with dreams - like walking on the moon - that innovation comes. Our government should use it's unique position to help us fulfill those dreams, and we can reap the benefits of the innovations in technology required to make those dreams become realities.

  10. Space travel is a waste of time, anyway. The only reason to go out there is resources, and it's too expensive now, and we should send fucking robots when we do, since they're obviously better adapted to living in an airless radiation zone.
    Space travel is travelogue wank for bored nerds; the only commercial future human space travel has is luxury, there is literally no reason to send humans out there, and little enough reason to ever go there.
    If you are looking for resources _space is the worst possible place_. Especially since we have a planet composed of carbon, uranium and all sorts of other valuable commodities; 'overpopulation' is an eschatological fantasy invented by people ignorant of geometry and economics.