"Why do we spend so much money on space when there are so many problems to fix here at home first?"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Few arguments are as less well-researched and less grounded in logic than this one, but you're bound to see it on the comments section of just about any article that mentions that a probe recently launched cost somewhere around $300 million or so. All of a sudden the cry goes up to "please fix problems at home first before spending all that money on space!" when 1) money spent on space is not only worthwhile for the exploratory value alone, not to mention protecting Earth from asteroids, giving nations warnings ahead of time of malaria outbreaks, natural disasters and what have you; 2) the amount NASA receives of the federal budget is laughably low. 0.6% of the total federal budget.

But there might be an even better way to demonstrate this. Let's take an article from yesterday on Citibank's repayment of TARP funds and replace the numbers with "NASA until (date)" units to show how long NASA (i.e. the entire American space program - the Shuttle, the American part of the ISS, the Ares rocket program under development, astronaut training, every single probe launched and maintained that NASA is responsible for plus everything else NASA manages to do with the money) could be run using these funds that are being thrown around. This isn't a "the banks are all evil and you're owned by Wall Street" rant, just a demonstration of how laughably low NASA's budget is to other numbers that one sees in the news every day. Remember, this piece of news is about one single company.

The actual billions being talked about in the article are $10, $13, $20, $7, $306, $17, $3.5, $20, $19.3, and $45. The best sentence there is probably the last one, where Bank of America is able to raise enough money in a week to run NASA for 13 months, money NASA has to spend months and months persuading Congress to get.

Of course, you could also just say that a single War in Iraq would pay for the American space program at current levels for the next 40 years.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, but a War in Iraq is also insignificant compared to some of the money that is being thrown around here too, unfortunately. Still, great post.

Anonymous said...

"a War in Iraq is also insignificant compared to some of the money that is being thrown around here"

I would hardly call over a TRILLION dollars an insignificant amount.

Anonymous said...

Good approach. Thanks. Sometimes referring to the NASA budget as 0.6% of the total NASA budget loses a lot of people, so following it up with comparisons with other things in the news puts it in perspective. One approach I worked out (but still working its pitch) is that assuming the US population is 308,089,749 (will update with latest census), and NASA's budget is $17.6B, in one calendar year, this is effectively $57.13/person/year, or $0.15/person/day. In comparison Americans consume around $115/year/person of pizza (or 2X the NASA budget!, Source: http://pizzaware.com/facts.htm). Women in the US spend $600/year/woman (or $1.64/woman/day) on cosmetics (might be a bit high, but the source is http://www.consumersavvytips.org/drug_store_cosmetics_vs_department_store_cosmetics.html), so more is spent (on average per day) on looking pretty today than investing in the future of our species.

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