Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The way to mediocracy

Haven't blogged for a couple of weeks now - just been too busy (overwhelmed is probably a better word) as the semester kicked off and I prepared for a double load of teaching in addition to being a department chair (adjunct supervision, faculty evaluations, course assessments, program reviews, etc.) plus the million other things going on in my professional and personal life.

It's a wonder I can stay sane (I hear my wife laughing at that statement).

Anyway, I was finally reading the June issue of Discover Magazine now that it's September, and something jumped out at me from the Editor's Note by Corey Powell at the beginning of the magazine:

"A half-century ago, people asked how we could afford to go to the moon while there were still problems here on Earth. In 1966 NASA’s budget peaked at 4.4 percent of total federal spending. This year it is 0.5 percent. For all intents and purposes, NASA has been zeroed out. Did we dispatch all those problems yet—or did we walk away from the kind of glory that inspires solutions?"

To quote Jesus (or at least the Gospel writers) out of context "The poor you will always have with you…”  (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8).  We've spent over 15 TRILLION dollars on welfare programs since Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" began in 1964 without any significant change in the poverty rate (reference).  How much more money do we piss down that rat hole?

NASA gets about 18 billion dollars in 2012.  Sounds like a lot.  Federal welfare spending in 2011, however, was around 668 billion.  NASA gets a couple of pennies for every dollar spent on welfare (that doesn't include State and local welfare spending).  That's dwarfed by military and homeland security spending.  Depending on what you include, that's arguably well over a trillion dollars a year.

Don't get me wrong.  I think government has an obligation to provide some social welfare programs (even though I think it's totally out of hand) and the provide for our safety and defense.  But, holy shit, imagine if we actually spent a trillion dollars on NASA.  Fuck putting people on Mars, that's a waste of money at this point (although I could be talked into the Moon).  We could, however, place robotic probes and landers on and around all the planets and interesting moons in our solar system (and robotically return samples).  We could launch new generations of space telescopes to discover habitable zone Earth-like planets.  This would provide a much higher payback to society in my opinion.

Problem is, no one ever listens to me!  Whenever the U.S. does return to the Moon, I wouldn't be surprised if the people already living there spoke Chinese.  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that (unless they had 30 foot high Mao posters hanging on their moon bases), we're all one human race when it comes to expanding into space.

1 comment:

  1. I know they won't listen but at least you are not alone. I also feel very sorry that we spend huge amounts of money to solve something that can never be done. If we could somehow encourage people to learn and think, we could move on to the next level. No, poverty won't disappear but society could handle it more easily. Stupidity is what creates this problem in my opinion but unfortunately learning is geeky and unpopular. Yes, we continue to pour money down that rat hole. There seems to be not much we could do about it.