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Space ... the final fronti[FUNDING CANCELLED]
July 6, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

The House appropriations panel that oversees NASA has proposed a spending bill that would cut funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble and the telescope many astronomers consider the best chance to continue and expand the Hubble's legacy. Here are the Subcommittee Members.
posted by kyrademon (76 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Commerce, Justice and Science; somehow we only have the budget for one of the three.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:23 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


JWST's budget has increased from approximately 3 Department of Defense days to nearly a full week of the Department of Defense's budget.
posted by chimaera at 1:24 PM on July 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Well fuck you too, house appropriations panel.
posted by elizardbits at 1:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


The plutocracy and America; somehow we only have the budget for one of the two.
posted by scrowdid at 1:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, rather than DoD being able to afford 100 JWSTs each year, they could only get around 50 JWSTs at the current price. Every year.
posted by chimaera at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2011


Directly in line with the Tea Party Space platform.
posted by brownpau at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2011


Can we, for just a few years, swap the Defense budget with Science and Education? I promise you'll make the difference up on the back end!
posted by msbutah at 1:34 PM on July 6, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's awesome that people expect NASA to keep to schedules and budgets when they are literally building something that has never been built before. Yet another of the litany of examples of how the bottom-line mindset is wrecking everything it touches.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:34 PM on July 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


Maybe if we convince the subcommittee members that we can turn the telescope around to get a better look at the Chinese?
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


That was in reference to that Tea Party Space thing referring to the JWST as a crime. Not some random anti-schedule/budget rant. Please, try to keep to them, but let's not break out the indictments because aereospace engineering is hard.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2011


There is probably some nice government corporation in China that'll happily take it off our hands, just throw in all the designs in case it needs "repairs".
posted by jeffburdges at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2011


The Tea Party would like to see NASA shut down then would turn around and blame Obama for all of the lost jobs in Cape Canaveral.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:40 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Air Conditioning the Military Costs More Than NASA’s Entire Budget
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know, in a perfect world science would have more funding, and all the worthy projects out there would get all the money they need. And yes, I'm aware that the amounts of money involved are only a drop in the bucket compared to the current U.S. budget shortfalls. But the Webb is woefully behind schedule and over budget; it's started to turn into the astronomer's version of the Superconducting Supercollider. And while a lot of people in the scientific community are behind the Webb, there are plenty of other similar-scale projects out there that have fallen by the wayside because of lack of funding, and there's some grumbling that NASA was trying to keep the Webb going at all costs.

I guess what I'm saying here is a variant of the old saw: first they came for LISA, and I did not speak out because I wasn't interested in gravitational waves...
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:40 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Easy solution. Rename this the We Are Looking For God In Heaven Telescope. Re-funded at four times the the budget. Immediately, I would bet.
posted by spicynuts at 1:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


spicynuts: "Easy solution. Rename this the We Are Looking For God In Heaven Telescope. Re-funded at four times the the budget. Immediately, I would bet."

Jailed for blasphemy, more like.
posted by gilrain at 1:44 PM on July 6, 2011


You know, in a perfect world science would have more funding, and all the worthy projects out there would get all the money they need. And yes, I'm aware that the amounts of money involved are only a drop in the bucket compared to the current U.S. budget shortfalls. But the Webb is woefully behind schedule and over budget; it's started to turn into the astronomer's version of the Superconducting Supercollider. And while a lot of people in the scientific community are behind the Webb, there are plenty of other similar-scale projects out there that have fallen by the wayside because of lack of funding, and there's some grumbling that NASA was trying to keep the Webb going at all costs.

See: Afghanistan
posted by hal9k at 1:46 PM on July 6, 2011


The DoD space programs are actually getting more funding than the civilian ones (NASA).
posted by mattbucher at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It has become obvious that the government cannot be relied on if we are to continue exploring and investigating the solar system. Let's load the Pepsi-Cola Space Telescope into a Taco Bell V rocket and cut this shower of useless self-centered visionless bastards out of the process altogether.
posted by IanMorr at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm hugely supportive of NASA, but this makes me ask: what should we do with major funded projects that are (according to Wikipedia) more than four times over budget and will still be seven or eight years late?
posted by ADoubtfulTrout at 1:51 PM on July 6, 2011


I'm hugely supportive of NASA, but this makes me ask: what should we do with major funded projects that are (according to Wikipedia) more than four times over budget and will still be seven or eight years late?
Use them to improve our budget forecasting?
posted by fullerine at 1:54 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's a lot of inside baseball and a lot of careers on the line here. I doubt we can assess from our armchairs whether the project is too broken to continue.

What really sucks is the serious amounts of money going to the Space Launch System which has no scientific output and no clear mission except for propping up ex-Shuttle contractors. And y'know, to repair space telescopes that we can't launch.

If I had to choose, I'd take the expensive science versus the on-budget boondoggle every time.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:56 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Simple solution: Start voting for, and convince others to vote for candidates that support defence spending cuts.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:57 PM on July 6, 2011


Air Conditioning the Military Costs More Than NASA’s Entire Budget

NASA's annual budget: still less than 1% of the overall federal annual budget. FFS.
posted by elizardbits at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2011


NASA, you need some design help on that JWST page. Call me, can work in trade.

what should we do with major funded projects that are (according to Wikipedia) more than four times over budget and will still be seven or eight years late?

This from the link:
Mistakes included: underestimates of the telescope’s cost that failed to budget for expected technical glitches, and failure to act on warnings that budgets were being exceeded, thus extending the schedule and increasing costs further.
This is similar to what happened with the Shuttle. Congress told NASA it would get 5 billion for the shuttle. NASA said "That's kinda low, we're trying to do something new here and we saw costs creep up with Apollo. Can we have 10 billion." Congress said no, deal with it.

So NASA cut corners and worked with what it had. When it built the shuttle's engines, it didn't have the money to fully test them. Therefore the engines required a lot of overhaul after each shuttle mission, driving up the overall long term cost.

The question is: Does American want a telescope in space? If the answer is yes, then fund it, realizing costs will probably creep up, especially now, since the shuttle can't repair any problems, so the builders will have to be extra careful in construction.

Do it right the first time, if you're going to do it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


My Representative is in this subcommittee. Unfortunately, this will likely kill jobs in my district given the large amount of NASA stuff that goes on here...
posted by BenS at 2:07 PM on July 6, 2011


Has anybody ever completed a major project that wasn't over budget and behind schedule?
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:08 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe we should tell them the JWST is on the verge of disproving global warming.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Directly in line with the Tea Party Space platform.

Man, was that ever not what I expected to see when I clicked that link.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:11 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, I was actually kind of excited for the end of the shuttle program, since I thought it would mean more resources going towards unmanned science projects. Should have known better.
posted by auto-correct at 2:13 PM on July 6, 2011


Maybe we should tell them the JWST is on the verge of disproving global warming.

*runs panting into thread, waving hand*

Yes, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, under the direction of astronaut Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11:
In 1971, after fifteen months with the State Department, he was offered the opportunity to construct and then direct the newly authorized National Air and Space Museum. Thus, Michael Collins began what became an enduring and vitally important contribution to America — the building and operation of the Smithsonian’s most popular museum.

He was to spend seven years as the Museum’s director, but first he was charged with the task of organizing a staff, constructing a building, and furnishing its exhibits in time for the opening on July 4, 1976, to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. That he brought in this enterprise ahead of schedule and under budget was a remarkable achievement...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:21 PM on July 6, 2011


Tea Party Space platform.

Is that site for real? I can't tell. Damn you, Tim Keck and Jon Stewart!
posted by KokuRyu at 2:29 PM on July 6, 2011


But the millionaires NEED more tax cuts! Won't any of you think of the millionaires?!?!
posted by briank at 2:39 PM on July 6, 2011


JWST has had a number of unrealistically cheap budget estimates, unfortunately - few people who have worked on previous NASA missions believed them, but now they can be held against the project. I've heard from a number of people that the main contractor (Northrop Grumman) has a reputation for underbidding, then running up costs just to the point where a project is at the threshold for cancellation. I fear that this time they could have taken that too far.

Despite this lousy management history, losing JWST would be staggering. In terms of future missions for science beyond the solar system at NASA, JWST is it: last I heard, the NASA science budget included no launches larger than the Explorer class (intended for small projects) until 2022 at the very earliest (JWST's been removed from the science budget already due to its overruns). The US has withdrawn from participation in several European-led projects this year (like LISA -- which would search for gravity waves; IXO -- the next generation X-ray space telescope, key for studying black holes; and Euclid -- which would help us to study the geometry of the Universe and the nature of dark energy) because there's not funds even to be a minority partner in them.

I attended a conference recently looking ahead to science with JWST (a fairly depressing meeting - before it, I was expecting a launch more like in 2015 than 2018). It would do a ton of exciting new things ranging from allowing astronomers to find water in the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars to discovering the very earliest galaxies, just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

The current Great Observatories (Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer) are delivering great science, but they have finite lifetimes, and JWST can do things none of them could (work that is essentially impossible from the ground -- JWST is optimized to observe the sky at infrared wavelengths where the Earth's atmosphere is very bright). If JWST doesn't happen, astronomers are looking at a lost decade - and probably the total abandonment of science beyond the solar system at NASA.
posted by janewman at 2:51 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


ADoubtfulTrout wrote: I'm hugely supportive of NASA, but this makes me ask: what should we do with major funded projects that are (according to Wikipedia) more than four times over budget and will still be seven or eight years late?

Ironically, it's largely the lack of funding that makes these projects late and over budget. Clean room storage is effing expensive, so if you slow down work, you increase the overall cost.

Brandon Blatcher wrote: This is similar to what happened with the Shuttle. Congress told NASA it would get 5 billion for the shuttle. NASA said "That's kinda low, we're trying to do something new here and we saw costs creep up with Apollo. Can we have 10 billion." Congress said no, deal with it.

So NASA cut corners and worked with what it had. When it built the shuttle's engines, it didn't have the money to fully test them. Therefore the engines required a lot of overhaul after each shuttle mission, driving up the overall long term cost.


It didn't help that they went to DoD looking for more money and got it in return for making the shuttle larger and more expensive, which of course required an expensive redesign.
posted by wierdo at 2:51 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Has anybody ever completed a major project that wasn't over budget and behind schedule?

The Hoover dam I do believe.
posted by clavdivs at 3:42 PM on July 6, 2011


NASA officials themselves have told the subcommittee that the JWST is so over budget that funding it is taking away from other projects they want to do. The management on the project appears to be just awful, and 'hey it's Science!' doesn't mean that mismanagement should be overlooked.
posted by kfury at 3:55 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can we, for just a few years, swap the Defense budget with Science and Education? I promise you'll make the difference up on the back end!

THIS. God I'm so angry about this. If it blows stuff up it gets a blank check, but if it's something that we might all could profit and develop from, and produce information that we could actually use and enjoy, then it gets stuck in the funding ghetto. It's infuriating!

We have the money to fight three wars at once, sure, but otherwise we're broke. GAH.
posted by JHarris at 4:05 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have the money to fight three wars at once, sure, but otherwise we're broke. GAH.

No we don't, and yes we are.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:18 PM on July 6, 2011


So hey, how's that "Let's spend the money solving problems on Earth" thing working out?
posted by happyroach at 4:19 PM on July 6, 2011


Well it won't matter anyway. T-3 weeks till the Federal default, after that the only people that get paid is China and Goldman Sachs, just like Tea Party Jeebus Galt always wanted.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it blows stuff up it gets a blank check

Often more literally than you may imagine.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:54 PM on July 6, 2011


NASA, you need some design help on that JWST page. Call me, can work in trade.

See, this is where NASA went wrong: they should have pursued manned space flights until they could do them reasonably cheaply and safely with a few passengers. Sell tickets, offer tickets in trade for services, and *bam* you need never worry about funding again. Hell, get it to a point where it's really economical and the Senate will start using your income to fund other parts of the budget.

Instead it's apparently gonna be Virgin Galactic that first hits on the gazillion dollars you could make this way, despite the immense headstart that NASA had.

Instead we get one of those things that feels like an obvious symptom of a Dark Age; we have the technology and expertise to explore space and we're just gonna let it sit around and rust and disappear.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:10 PM on July 6, 2011


err, there should be an "Or" in front of that second "Instead".
posted by mstokes650 at 5:11 PM on July 6, 2011


The management on the project appears to be just awful, and 'hey it's Science!' doesn't mean that mismanagement should be overlooked.

Absolutely. Pet projects are often justified on the basis of being "just a pittance". But that kind of thing doesn't always fly in the real world, nor should it. It doesn't matter if something only costs pennies, or some other program is huge in comparison. Sometimes, a poorly run program is just a poorly run program
posted by 2N2222 at 5:29 PM on July 6, 2011


The mismanagement here seems to be more congress deciding to give NASA money to build a kickass space telescope but then not actually giving them enough money to do it.

Considering that the Hubble has had the biggest popular impact of any NASA program in my memory, I'd hardly call building a successor to it a "pet project." Something that's does new science that can't really be done any other way and is almost certain to capture the public imagination is more like a mission critical project.

Spending 1.6 billion a year dicking around with trying to build slightly larger rockets is the "pet project."
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:02 PM on July 6, 2011


NASA is only underfunded when compared to the DOD. It's pretty comparable to most of the other departments, higher than I would have expected actually.
posted by smackfu at 6:20 PM on July 6, 2011


A few weeks ago, I got to see the clean room where the JWST is being built (the largest in the world, BTW), and saw the gigantic mirror sitting on the floor. It's a HUGE fucking mirror, and probably the shiniest object I've ever seen.

The scientist standing next to me then said "It's a shame the other 17 mirrors aren't out." My jaw dropped. Apparently, the final telescope will use an array of 18 of those enormous golden mirrors when (if) launched. A ridiculously amazing feat of engineering if there ever was one.

In terms of science-per-dollar, you'd be hard pressed to beat the Hubble. It's insane that they're even considering scrapping this project. Fire the management if you need to, but make sure that this project is completed.

Oh, and we're totally doing a meetup at the next NASA Goddard open house.
posted by schmod at 6:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


IanMorr: "It has become obvious that the government cannot be relied on if we are to continue exploring and investigating the solar system. Let's load the Pepsi-Cola Space Telescope into a Taco Bell V rocket and cut this shower of useless self-centered visionless bastards out of the process altogether."

SPACE TACOS HERE WE COME!
posted by symbioid at 6:44 PM on July 6, 2011


As one of the biggest NASA huggers around, this makes me very sad. That said, much like the Department of Defense, NASA has come to expect that they will be able to spend and spend and that Congress will always come through to bail them out.

Now granted, I think the work NASA does is spectacular and well worth the investment. Moreso, they are literally operating on the edge of our technical capacity, so of *course* shit will be expensive and unpredictable and take longer/cost more than expected.

Unfortunately, the stories of mismanagement, incompetence and flat out idiocy in relation to the JWST program are becoming legendary in the space/engineering community, very similar to what went on with the now defunct Ares I / V program.

What I fear is what I've feared for a long time - and that is that the lack of leadership and direction for NASA has been done with the very specific goal of slowly eliminating the agency altogether. The budget shows where things are headed, Obama's words about "developing new technologies" is all bullshit (if you don't have a mission - what the hell technologies are you supposed to develop in support of?) and if you think that commercial spaceflight is going to suddenly become our savior anytime soon - I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
posted by tgrundke at 7:43 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


+1 to Brandon: if you're going to do it, then do it right, dammit. I'll expand on Brandon's points above about the maintenance required for the shuttle's main engines, perhaps the greatest technical challenge of the development program. The SSME's were really, really dangerous. I mean, so dangerous that they weren't fully flight certified until less than six months before Columbia's maiden flight in 1981.

NASA eventually developed the Block II SSME about ten years ago, which was essentially a complete redesign and substantial improvement over the original. Far more reliable, far safer. NASA was already well into the R&D and testing of the Block IIE/III SSME which would have been pretty revolutionary: it would have virtually eliminated the maintenance that required removal and refurbishment after each flight. I forgot the actual number, but due to some of the internal monitoring developed for them, assuming no critical failures they could go five flights before overhaul. A MAJOR improvement over the original that would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars as well as knocking a good 14 - 20 days off of orbiter turnaround time.

NASA was also well into researching the replacement of the APUs with battery units, replacing hydraulics with electric servos, providing on-orbit propellant cross feeding from the front RCS to the OMS, 5-segment SRBs to boost payload by +/- 6,000 lbs, overhauling the avionics to substantially simplify and eliminate much of the routine maintenance, etc. These, amongst other programs, were all up and running until around 2004 when Bush announced the STS retirement plans initially. Given the proper budget and time, I have no doubt that many of these enhancements would be flying on the shuttle now and would contribute substantially to cost savings and overall safety improvements.

What people will recognize in the coming months is that the shuttle was an incredible platform that we simply failed to properly invest in (gee, much like the rest of America's infrastructure these days...). Had we 'done it right', the vehicles would have another good 20 years of life to them and I firmly believe that the cost structure would have come down substanially, especially with some of the newer advanced projects that were just coming to fruition when we lost Columbia.

Sad all the way around. But back on point - I say we invest the money in JSWT and do it right. Hubble showed the amazing science we can do - if JWST holds up to its promise, we'll get a ten fold return on the investment.
posted by tgrundke at 7:54 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


You are always going to be working on future improvements at the time your program gets shut down. It's a waste but no way to avoid it.
posted by smackfu at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2011


(regarding the NASA/DoD STS disaster and the death of the American space program by a thousand paper cuts: this is the comment on the subject.)
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:13 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh sweet, one of them is my Congressperson!

Email sent.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:15 PM on July 6, 2011


There is probably some nice government corporation in China that'll happily take it off our hands, just throw in all the designs in case it needs "repairs".

If nothing else, it's a chance at some payback for all the crummy instruction manuals they've been sending us for decades.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:27 PM on July 6, 2011


On the up side, at least we get to keep funding that manned spaceflight experiment where we see how often we fuck it up and kill the astronauts. We need that percentage nailed down to 3 or 4 decimal places at least...
posted by efbrazil at 12:10 AM on July 7, 2011


$6 billion? Damn ... we could have done FOUR more Shuttle launches with that money! Now THERE was $200 billion well worth spending ... look at what we got for that! Not to mention so much science cascading down from the ISS we just -couldn't- de-orbit Thayat!

Seriously, though ... how many science-math-engineering degrees would $6B pay for? A LOT. It's not like astronomy isn't in a golden age, folks. Count the number of live missions already up in the sky right now. Meanwhile ... aren't we supposed to be facing a weathersat shortage soon? yes we are.
posted by Twang at 12:16 AM on July 7, 2011


Twang, that $6 billion IS paying for a lot of science-math-engineering degrees, in that a good chunk of the money is being used to pay people's salaries, including those of grad students.
posted by kyrademon at 2:54 AM on July 7, 2011


Twang, that $6 billion IS paying for a lot of science-math-engineering degrees, in that a good chunk of the money is being used to pay people's salaries, including those of grad students

Actually, if you think about it, this is true to some extent about all government funding. If the US spends, say, $500 million on a given project, then that money is being disbursed to pay for workers, materials (which are made by other workers, who then get money), and whatever resources and infrastructure are necessary to support the projects (more workers, more money).

So really it seems like the best way to determine whether funding a certain project makes sense or not is just to look at two factors:
  1. What is the Gini coefficient of the project? Does most of the funding pool into the coffers of a selected few, or does it spread out to a whole lot of people? I would imagine that the coeficient military spending (aside from personnel) is relatively high compared to investments in science. I would imagine that income distribution is a bit more equal at NASA than it is at Lockheed-Martin.
  2. What are the externalities of the funding? Investment in science means more funding for universities, which means both more research and more scholarships. It lubricates meritocracy, since they can now afford to give more money to bright, poor students. Farm subsidies to giant megafarms, to give one example, means increased concentration of wealth, of course, but it also means increased likelihood of things like fertilizer runoff leading to damaged water ecosystems, dangerous pig manure lagoons.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:49 AM on July 7, 2011


But the Webb is woefully behind schedule and over budget; it's started to turn into the astronomer's version of the Superconducting Supercollider.

The JWST is over budget because the fundamental design has been changed three times because of budgetary requirements and launch system requirements -- first, it was meant for a Titan, then STS, now, it's aiming to boost on an Ariane 5. It also has had problems with inflation -- the NGST project has been running for a couple of decades. Worst, it's Northrup-Grumman, the biggest budget liars in the business.

This isn't to say that it was the best managed program in the world -- it had the same problems that Constellation had, and I can see the argument that we should kill it. The review after review is frustrating, but this thing is going to L2, there will be no servicing missions. It has to work right when it lauches. HST was horribly over budget too -- original budget was ~$400M, and final budget-to-launch was well over $2.5B. When you look at the science we got out of it, I think it's worth it.

But, apparently, we need another carrier more than we need this.

See, this is where NASA went wrong: they should have pursued manned space flights until they could do them reasonably cheaply and safely with a few passengers.

Define reasonable.

That's the hard part. To many people, reasonably safe means *nobody ever dies.* That's impossible to meet on the ground, much less in space transit.

I have more, but I have to get to the airport.
posted by eriko at 6:34 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


See, this is where NASA went wrong: they should have pursued manned space flights until they could do them reasonably cheaply and safely with a few passengers.

NASA is far from perfect, but you have to remember that the President and Congress tell NASA what to do and what not to do.

Why didn't NASA try for Mars after Apollo? 'Cause Nixon was unwilling to fund a program that wouldn't see results until after his administration. And he was a President who liked the space program, felt the nation needed heroes, so fine, NASA can have some money.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:41 AM on July 7, 2011


I feel like this is a thread I should comment in, as I've been a loyal NASA employee for almost a decade, but...man, I'm not kidding when I say it's a bad time here, for all the reasons you guys have said above. It is really, truly depressing. I've loved and believed in space exploration my whole life, and have been fortunate enough to make a career out of it. And I'm thinking increasingly of leaving the business. It seems silly to think of leaving a well-paying government job in "these tough times," whatever that means, but believe me when I say that it's incredibly hard to watch something that I consider so fundamental to our society wither and die.

The only thing we have going for us these days is the International Space Station- and if you don't consider it a worthwhile investment or a frankly shocking technical achievement, then I respectfully tell you: you don't know what you're talking about. However, the criticisms about the science coming down are right: and you know why? It's the same reason JWST is in trouble, and the same reason so many other missions are in trouble: they gave us $60 billion to build the ISS over 25 years. Great! Appropriations this year for non-human scientific research onboard: ~$35 million. That's with an "m." $35 million.

So, will the ISS fail to produce any real breakthroughs because they aren't there, or because we didn't fund any research enough to find out? I suspect the latter is true, but I know the former will become "conventional wisdom." Sucks to you, next generation. We proved there's nothing there!

Being in the human spaceflight business, I'm not really qualified to comment on JWST's troubles, but I imagine they're the same as ours. We can waste (imaginary but realistic number) $2 billion a year, or we can do incredible science for $2.5 billion. Guess which one we're going to get.

Watch the launch tomorrow, and then turn off your TV. Don't bother turning it back on. There won't be anything more to see.
posted by zap rowsdower at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


We can waste (imaginary but realistic number) $2 billion a year, or we can do incredible science for $2.5 billion. Guess which one we're going to get.

It seems like this is inevitable when NASA does something like break a budget request down into necessary vs. discretionary parts. The discretionary part gets cut in the general budget cutting and people keep their jobs but for what purpose. And then nothing gets done, and eventually Congress says "well, it doesn't seem like the necessary part is that important either" and you get cuts like the one this post is about.
posted by smackfu at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2011


It's not like we get good ROI on our investment.

Except for lightning shielded avionics, cordless power tools, windshear and collision avoidance for commercial aircraft, smoke detectors, home insulation, landmine disposal, composite forceps, laser heart surgery, CCD mammography, prosthetics, IR thermometers, ionic water filtration, LEDs, satellite crop and fishery management, the 'jaws of life,' firefighting masks, forest fire containment, new composite materials and the global positioning system - what has NASA ever done for us?

Science?

What!? Oh... Pfft. Science, yes... shut up.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, and part of the heart pump that keeps Dick Cheney alive is taken from a design for a turbopump for the Space Shuttle main engines.

So yeah, sorry about that.
posted by zap rowsdower at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


NASA is only underfunded when compared to the DOD. It's pretty comparable to most of the other departments, higher than I would have expected actually.

But think about what that 0.5% - 1% of the federal budget has bought over time: Hubble, the space station, Cassini, Galileo, the Mars Rovers, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the GOES satellites (for those of you that like accurate weather forecasting), the Solar Dynamics Observatory, Kepler ... the list goes on and on.

How many other government departments deliver this much with their comparable (or larger) budget?
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 9:50 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What!? Oh... Pfft. Science, yes... shut up.

Now make a list for the military.
posted by smackfu at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2011


CosmicRayCharles - great point, and one that I think most Americans miss entirely. With that .5% of the budget NASA has contributed so much to the nation.

I will echo what others have said - much of the blame lay at the feet of Congress and the President. The last executive who really pushed for a boost to NASA was George HW Bush back in 1989/1990 at the end of the Cold War, seeing a major investment in NASA as a great way to spend part of the peace dividend. Congress declined to take up the request and funding slid over the ensuing years, only seeing an uptick after we lost Columbia.

I cannot easily blame the engineers who work on the projects when they are working on cutting edge technology, but of course there has to be a little balance. In other words, we have to change the way that we fund space exploration because it requires steady, incremental funding to ensure reliability adn success. Going back to the shuttle - had it been funded properly in the 1970s it likely would have achieved more of its originally stated goals. Had we properly funded the ongoing engineering work we would currently be operating a fleet of manned and unmanned orbiters, one for cargo, one for crew (see Shuttle-C from ~1990). We' have improved upon a vehicle and reduced turnaround time to around 30 days, cut support staffing by over half and improved reliability 100-fold.

But as is typical of America these past years - we lost both the will and the patience to see these things borne out. Everyone wanted immediate gratification, a stage to stand upon for whatever pet reason and nobody could stick to one unified roadmap, properly funded and seen to completion. It's sick, sad and frankly pathetic. The blame lies squarely at the feet of our politicians who have used NASA as a ping pong ball in budget brinksmanship and we will all pay the price for that.
posted by tgrundke at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2011


Heh, much better when they used NASA as a ping pong ball against the Russians, eh?
posted by smackfu at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2011


Now make a list for the military.
Actually, there's a lot to be said for spinoff technology from military research. There's just the whole big 'mass destruction' downside there. Which a lot of people overlook as, y'know, downside.
I've had this kind of conversation with some friends of mine in aerospace, there's very little money outside defense so that's where they tend to end up outside of academia. Which is another hamster wheel of chasing funding.
I understand Leonardo da Vinci had the same problems. He'd only get patrons who wanted him to build/research warfare so he'd dabble in that while running his other projects.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone else watching the shuttle launch? Is there a more recent thread?
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:54 AM on July 8, 2011


Nasa fights to save the James Webb space telescope from the axe
posted by homunculus at 3:38 PM on July 9, 2011


Anyone else watching the shuttle launch? Is there a more recent thread?

Yep.
posted by homunculus at 3:40 PM on July 9, 2011


Why We Need the James Webb Space Telescope
posted by homunculus at 4:45 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Congress Comes Closer to Killing NASA's James Webb Telescope
posted by homunculus at 2:12 PM on July 14, 2011


NASA's Hubble Discovers Another Moon Around Pluto
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on July 20, 2011


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