The Future of Space Science: Depressing

According to New Scientist the fate of NASA’s science budget is pretty gloomy:

NASA’s proposed cuts to its science budget will have a devastating impact on astronomy and Earth-science research for years to come, an expert panel told a US congressional committee on Thursday.
Panellists urged NASA to restore funding for research and analysis grants, and low-cost missions – even if that comes at the expense of more ambitious missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.


They were particularly concerned about $350 million to $400 million in cuts to research and analysis grants over the next five years – including a 50% cut to astrobiology research.
These grants provide funding to many university researchers – particularly those starting their careers, the panelists said. “We’re at a tipping point,” Moore said. If the budget is passed as it stands, young researchers will begin to leave the field because the cuts send the message that the US “is not interested in Earth and space science”.

But here is the really depressing part:

Science committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert said the committee would push Congress to appropriate more money for science funding, but added that it would be a “tough sell” in the tight budget climate.
So he asked each panellist whether he or she would be willing to delay or alter the expensive “flagship” mission in each of their disciplines, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, in order to restore cuts to smaller missions and research grants.
The panellists had reservations but all agreed that research and analysis funding should take priority. “I think it’s impressive that the leaders here today would put up their first-born to save the others,” said science committee member Bart Gordon. But the fact that such choices may be necessary made it “the most depressing hearing I’ve sat through”, he said.

This is mind boggling to contemplate. Once upon a time we had a balanced budget and this kind of basic research was not in danger. Now, if I am reading the article correctly, things are so bad that… well, let me quote one of those testifying:

He stressed that NASA must retain and train people with the technical know-how to launch scientific spacecraft. “You can’t have a world-class flight mission without world-class people,” he said. “The bottom line is the nation’s future is being mortgaged.”

It seems to me that there has been a monumental failure on the part of government that we are in this situation. I always thought that people like Chris Moony were overstating the case about the “Republican War on Science” but this makes me a believer. I mean a real believer. Don’t get me wrong. I have been aware of a lot of the stories about suppressing scientific research the doesn’t fit republican ideaology – the recent problem with PR people at NASA trying to censor Hanson for example, but I always thought the incidents were unrelated to each other. Now I think it is all part and parcel of republican strategy. I can come up with no other explanation for the totally messed up state of funding for scientific research in America…

3 Responses

  1. My impresion of the Bush administration is that the combination of tax cuts and unending war were specifically, some might say intelligently, designed to bankrupt the nation so obviously that massive privatization would be inevitable. This is, sadly, just one more datum pointing toward that conclusion.

  2. Jay is probably correct.
    The idealouges of the far right have not made a secret of their goals. Grover Norquist has for years set the goal of a federal budget one-third the size of when Bush came into office. Do the math and figure out what would be left for fed funding of science.
    Behind Bush and others are the upper-echelon, far-right, psychomarketing strategists — the only group that’s effectively mastered psychomarketing in politics. It’s a sophisticated, highly scientific approach. I’ve watched the Democratic Party, the environmental movement, and now a host of scibloggers and their audience, fail completely at understanding how this is being accomplished. Without that, it’s impossible to combat effectively.
    A couple weeks ago I posted on a PZ topic here. The closing paragraph explains why any part of science is vulnerable.

  3. I wrote the following in my blog back in December:
    There’s talk of going back to the moon, as part of the research in new space-safe gear to manage a longer-term trip to mars in our lifetimes. But I still see things in space continuing to slow, depressingly so, in the short term.
    The trouble is that the comparison to the great Spanish explorers (and their later English sailors inspired from Spanish stories and Spanish captures) is utterly inappropriate to space exploration.
    And science is to blame.
    Cosmology is nice and all, but it never will pay the bills. All science has successfully shown is that the far-distant universe is filled with exactly the same 92 atoms of crap that our own earth is full of (actually one more, because Technetium exists out there naturally where it doesn’t here on earth), and the near universe doesn’t have enough of anything we either need or want that we can’t get more efficiently here. The moon? Iron. No shortage here, especially if we increase our recycling. Mars? Silicon and carbon, but not in a useful state over what we can process ourselves. The comets? Curiosity potential in that they have the same organic compounds we have, and they might have contributed to us and all, but its not like we have a shortage.
    In short, what drove the Europeans to cross the great ocean, in the search for spices at first and then GOLD upon failing to find the spice, was profit. The explorers weren’t going for their health or for their curiosity, they were in it for the money, like anybody else.
    And all science has managed to show us is that there’s no money out there.
    Trust me, if asteroid “Vangelis” out there (yes there’s a mini-planet named for the composer) was full of gold or platinum (or even oil for crying out loud), corporations would be sending probes out by the hundreds and divying up the mining rights.
    But there’s no “gold” out there. There’s nothing out there that’s so valuable that it would be better to go there to get it than to keep exploiting our own planet.
    Until that changes, either directly (discovering some gold on an outer moon) or indirectly (getting “warp” drive so going further afield won’t be so costly or time-consuming — OR we start running out of useful stuff here, though that’ll be hard because outside of nuclear reactions, the atoms are constants and throwing enough of the right type of energy at a molecule can extract anything), we’re never going to really leave this planet.
    So get used to the view. In our lifetime, as long as profit is more important than knowledge, its all we’re ever going to see…

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