Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Science Administration

by Tom Bozzo

Two terrestrial planet-finding missions are delayed (one indefinitely) to make budget room for the Bush moon mission.

Did the good folks at the Discovery [sic] Institute need too much time to figure out how to explain the Intelligent Designer's possible motives to allow the scientists start looking for terrestrial planets in the next decade? [/snark]

I continue to offer Bozzo's wager: The underlying plan is not to fully fund the human spaceflight "vision," but rather to present a bill for the project to a future drowning-in-red-ink Congress that will make large NASA budget reductions politically feasible.
As disgusting as the Republican War on Science is, and the political viability of starve-the-beast notwithstanding, I would offer Ben's corollary: manned spaceflight is given preference over scientific exploration because Houston is the hometown of the Once and Probably Not Future Majority Leader, while Pasadena, Calif. is not.

Whether Tom DeLay's fall from power will change the political calculus about NASA funding remains to be seen.

That said, the funding for space exploration is so paltry compared to almost everything else in the budget, that there's no legitimate reason we can't do both manned and unmanned space flight.

Even leavnig my geek-enthusiasm aside, welfare for highly-educated engineers in an important, high-tech field is a good way to keep a strong American base for an industry that is important for our future security. I find NASA more useful than building yet another series of next-generation air-superiority fighter jets (or worse, land-based artillery units), which is the other main use of the military-industry complex.
Ben, those are very good points.

To clarify my prediction/allegation, I think that they're using the politically better-protected human spaceflight effort to crowd out space science in the near term. (In the Krugman all-politics, no-policy dept., I don't think there's significant non-political interest in either at the top.) The CEV may well be developed and flown, but the bill to take it to the moon will be big and go unpaid, and meanwhile the space science money won't be put back in the budget.

Of course, a lot will depend on the outcomes of the '06 and '08 elections.

There's also a libertarian contingent with its hopes pinned on Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson. Given the scientific value of human spaceflight to LEO, I am sympathetic to the view that the commercializers should take over that end of the human spaceflight business, though it's easy to overstate the X-Prize-winning accomplishment until we see an actual orbital vehicle.

I'm with you that there's no reason space exploration can't be funded at a reasonable level in a $2.8 trillion budget, and that space is a preferable direction for science welfare vs. weaponry.
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