Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?

I’m sure it’s more expensive than bailing me out of my student loan too…

The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)
The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)

In an article written by a columnist in the Orlando Sentinel, NASA’s Constellation Program is compared with the government bail out of AIG. Where’s the correlation? No, I don’t see it either. NASA has its problems (some of the problems are very big problems), but when you begin comparing the woes of a space agency with an ailing financial corporation, you’re not only off target, you’re not quite understanding the true value of space exploration…

When the US government injects cash into NASA, it expects the agency to accelerate construction of the Constellation Program, improve Earth-monitoring satellites, build telescopes and boost educational outreach projects. When the US government bails out an ailing financial institution, it does so to protect the country’s assets, in an attempt to keep the economy afloat during a global meltdown. AIG is was a powerful insurance corporation, but since suffering financial slippage, the government has stepped in, ploughing over $170 billion into the company.

Can NASA even be compared to AIG? Not really. For a start, NASA has one more letter in its acronym. Oh, and NASA doesn’t really much to do with the economic crisis that is causing so much concern at Wall Street. In fact, NASA will most likely to be a casualty of the economic crisis; the US has little time for playing with rockets and looking for life on Mars when it has wars to fight, people to feed and banking institutions to save. So on an even playing field, what does NASA have to do with AIG?

According to a scathing article written by Mike Thomas at the Orlando Sentinel, the columnist attacks the space agency for delivering very little for the money it is being provided. Thomas even goes as far as saying that NASA has been scamming the US government for decades. He calls the space station and shuttle time and money wasters and completely rubbishes all of NASA’s achievements. He is also very critical of the search for life on Mars. I’m surprised he doesn’t question the need for a space agency all together.

Anyone would think NASA consumes most of the national budget and then rewards its top brass with bloated bonuses. Yes, getting back to the Moon will probably cost more than bailing out a failing company, but don’t you think we’d get an awful lot more out of scientific endeavour? This is where the problem is, there is a growing discontent directed at NASA because the importance of space exploration is being sidelined. After all, we have more important things to deal with on Earth, right? Wrong.

If we remove Mr Thomas’ obvious contempt for NASA’s management and budgetary problems, what are we left with? Very little in the way of reality. There’s a lot of accusations and few solutions. He would like to see Constellation scrapped in favour of using tried and tested technology. Come on, change the record! The Constellation Program is so far along in the way of development it’s not funny. We are even looking at the first test launch this year! So what if this is new technology with problems, NASA is doing what it should be doing, it’s developing a new rocket system, improving techniques, technology, science and understanding.

Regardless of criticism about NASA’s handling of the shuttle’s replacement, NASA is developing Constellation despite limitations on funding (in fact, Nancy Atkinson at the Universe Today examines some of the reasons behind this, pointing out that NASA’s biggest challenge is Congressional funding limitations). Is it little wonder management issues come to light when an agency is underfunded? NASA is underfunded as it’s value is not measurable in political terms; it needs political direction. This is why there is a huge focus on the Mars program, finding (or at least looking for) Marian life is a good idea if you are a government-funded agency.

Space exploration goes beyond budgets, politics and bad press, the journey of space exploration generates huge advantages for a nation. NASA is also working with commercial options to build a space transportation infrastructure in light of the 5-year gap between shuttle retirement and Constellation launch. Who knows? NASA may have seeded the beginnings of a sustainable, commercial space transportation system by offering lucrative cargo delivery contracts to the “useless” space station.

Providing funds to carry out cutting-edge science could never be a waste of taxpayer’s money, and the spin-offs can encourage economic growth, more jobs and improved education. NASA is here to stay, perhaps there needs to be more enthusiasm for the astounding work they are doing, then we might be able to see the rich benefits of having a healthy government-funded space agency.

Be aware of NASA’s flaws, but never belittle the agency’s ability or achievements. And just because getting to the Moon is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s a waste of money either.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

5 thoughts on “Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?”

  1. This AIG business is all smoke and mirrors. The government has blown more money in seconds on outright stupid plans than these bonuses cost. Frank is just trying to protect his butt.

  2. If we compare NASA current budget (a tiny amount of 18 BUS$) with the seventies costs with Moon exploration we will see that it was halved and NASA responsibilities are always growing up. Now we have a space fleet of useful satellites and probes in outer space besides Mars exploration. Space Station is an important laboratory and provides knowledge in living on space.

    So I guess that NASA budget is far below the current needs nowadays.

    If mankind does not invest in Space Exploration we will be doomed.

    The answer for many crucial questions such as: origin of life, cosmology issues, how to avoid future disasters, Space Weather, Earth origins, Earth science and Earth future are out there…

    So, space exploration and astronomy in general are not truly costs, it is mandatory, and besides that, the projects and operations give to technical people lots of decent jobs.

  3. Many of these blinkered politicians have such little foresight. Has Mike Thomas actually considered that the technologies and capability to travel into space may actually be critical to the survival of our species? i.e. history has shown that there are various “boundary” events, whether asteroids, supervolcanoes or other climate affecting events that eventually one day we will most likely have to avert a space-originating disaster, or get the heck off this planet because the disaster is unavoidable. Given that we don’t know when, we can either continue to procrastinate forever and be doomed, or get on building that capability right now, so we have a chance of survival.

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