If we can’t cut the program for manned (personed) space travel, what can we cut?

I’m as much in love with space travel as anyone could be who never actually worked for NASA. I grew up in the era of space travel, and I was addicted to “Star Trek” as a kid. (I still am.) I’m one of those nerds who hopes that there will always be money for a project called SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

But I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything. Some big expensive programs have to be cut, and cutting the program aimed at putting Americans back on the moon seems reasonable. But several Florida politicians, who represent areas around the Kennedy Space Center, are pushing back, insisting the project is necessary. And now, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, has sent Obama an angry letter protesting the plan to cut the Constellation Project.

The decision to cancel Constellation, the project to send astronauts to the Moon again by 2020 and Mars by 2030, was “devastating”, Mr Armstrong said in a powerful open letter to the President.

“America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz – at a price of over $50 million [£32 million] per seat with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves,” he said in the letter, which was also signed by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

“The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.

“It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded.”

NBC is reporting that the criticism prompted Obama to backtrack a bit. The White House also released a letter from Buzz Aldrin, who supports the president’s plan. It says, in part:

What this nation needs in order to maintain its position as the 21st century leader in space exploration is a near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies that will take us further and faster – while expanding our opportunities for exploration along the way.

The controversy reminds me of an Economist/YouGov poll making the rounds earlier this month, in which Americans were asked which programs they wanted to see cut to curb government spending. The big winner was foreign aid, which is less than a half a percent of the federal budget.

Annie Lowrey of the Washington Independent posted the following chart to illustrate the poll results. Seventy percent favored cutting foreign aid:

The runaway favorite was foreign aid, less than a percentage point of the budget

The runaway favorite was foreign aid, less than a percentage point of the budget

185 comments Add your comment


April 15th, 2010
10:35 am

Since healthcare costs over a trillion dollars, and you claim it is a pay-go plan, when are taxes going up? who will pay them? and how will higher taxes facilitate the economic growth this country needs to get away from longterm 10% unemployment?


April 15th, 2010
10:44 am

@ctucker – gotta say describing the health care program as pay-go really kills your credibility.

If you’re responding to comments still, I haven’t looked at all the comments, but the most interesting of what I saw was Bairkus. Fact is that engineers don’t grow on trees and don’t develop their expertise at a summer camp. When you cut back NASA today, it will be gone for decades. There is some discussion about “growing export manufacturing” now to boost the economy. After politicians spent several decades of pushing manufacturing offshore (via labor and litigation policies) because it was “old economy”, the assumption is that it will just reappear now because they want it to. It’s not going to happen. It will take decades to generate a manufacturing economy that can compete internationally. Equivalently, it will take decades to rebuild our space program after dismantling it.


April 15th, 2010
10:55 am

What NASA once represented was the “big goal” we as a nation could achieve together, that which was to big to achieve alone. Now we worry about our neighbors mortgage, health care, employment, what they eat, if they smoke,drink, or gamble and the plethora of other nonsense they should be taking care of for themselves.

Welcome to “Change”, the new America.


April 15th, 2010
10:58 am

How about we get the change someone promised. Transparency. Let us see where our money is going. Including all the perks for politicians, their family, their friends, their political allies, etc, etc. Lets stop spending money on WH parties and campaigning flights around the country. Billions could probably be cut without cutting one program…I am so sick of politicians and their elitism.

And while I’m ranting (please excuse me, but it just keeps building up)…for all the people that think that those people who don’t want to pay the way for everyone else are selfish…grow up! You can’t expect someone to take care of you for your entire life! You think the socialist European way is the way to go, then move there! The people who love America for what it is (well, should be) don’t have another country to move to that is like America…we are unique and envied for it. So go bash America in another country and let the people who are proud to be Americans live in this place you hate so much.

Thank you for listening…if you did…if you didn’t…I don’t care.


April 15th, 2010
11:02 am

Cynthia, you raise a good question. My thought is that we should not stop at NASA space, we should eliminate NASA altogether. If it is worthwhile, others, on their own dime, will risk their fortunes at harvesting the fortune of space. But the thoughts just keep rolling – cut out Education at the Federal level completely (there are no teachers teaching children from the Feds). Cut Foreign Aid. Strike that, eliminate Foreign Aid. Science? Outta here. Health Care. What are the Fed’s doing messing about with my Health Care anyway?! There are so many examples that maybe it would be best to just summarize by telling the Federal Government to go back to its original mandates. Isn’t every elected official bound by oath to do this?

David Minnich

April 15th, 2010
11:04 am

Well, the question is what did people want cut, not whether it would have any material effect on the budget. Also, note that none of the categories had even 30% response favoring cutting. There you go – many want smaller government in general, but get to specifics and this sentiment dies pretty quickly. That’s why the whole tea party movement leaves me cold – especially since many of these tea-party types are on some form of government support.


April 15th, 2010
11:06 am

This is a stupid column. NASA’s budget is also in total 0.5% of the federal budget. Granted the space program to Mars or wherever is undoubtedly bigger. NASA may need to be cut, but the facts Cynthia presents don’t support her argument. In fact, in the stupid survey, NASA isn’t even on the list.

Cynthia, please go upgrade your brain. AJC, please fire Ms. Tucker and any other incompetent journalists at the AJC. Our nation and city can’t afford incompetent people any more.

Also, someone please cut social security and medicare. They’re bankrupting our nation.


April 15th, 2010
11:12 am

The very fact we’re reading this on the internet, and responding to it, is testament to the benefits of the space programs. The money spent on the Mercury & Apollo programs didn’t simply burn up in space. Aside from the actual costs of lost hardware (the rockets, suits, etc.), the trillions spent via Nasa have all been spent right here on earth, in salaries and contracts. Not only did the government reap the side benefit of those monies in the form of taxes on individuals and corporations, but the sheer volume of knowledge and technological innovation has generated incalculable trillions of dollars in commerce. Even the stents used in modern heart surgery are a direct result of advances in metallurgy and materials science spawned by the space race.

To cut funding to Nasa is almost literally to slay the goose that lays the golden egg.


April 15th, 2010
11:20 am

The current and proposed NASA budgets are less than 1 penny for every dollar the U.S. government spends. It’s “nice” to know the rest of the governmental expenditures of 99 cents per dollar is well spent.
NASA can be a great leader in new technology development and and economic growth for the United States.

Disgusted in Dunwoody

April 15th, 2010
11:26 am

Obamacare: Pay as you go?! Hysterical!

If by PayGo you mean: Pay your last dollars in taxes as this once great nation goes broke; then I agree. I doubt that was your actual meaning.

Maybe we could’ve found $10 billion in the $785 billion stimulus that has been thrown to the four winds. We’ve got money for government to build a “high-speed” rail white-elephant from LA to Vegas but no money for NASA?

If the story of this administration was written as satire, it wouldn’t be believable.

Nancy Pelosi

April 15th, 2010
11:31 am

Actually Cynthia, we can pay for anything we want, spend as much money as we want, for as long as we want…..well, for a few more months at least.


April 15th, 2010
11:33 am

Of course all that money spent on the space program creates or saves thousands of excellent high paying jobs in science and technology, from the professional level down through manufacturing and operations. That would be a far better use for money rather than a local stimulus project which turned a field with stumps into a field that was a little flatter with fewer stumps.

If we can’t spend government money on jobs that belong at that level, we certainly can’t afford to just give it away to people who don’t earn it.


April 15th, 2010
11:36 am

Didn’t we just allocate about $5 Billion to “weatherstripping”? Lets see, “weatherstrip” or true advancement of science? That’s a tough one.


April 15th, 2010
11:45 am

Nasa a big, bloated agency that wastes money–their budget should be cut 60%. The U.S. is broke and doesn’t need to be wasting money on mars missions or more space station trips. Let private companies fund that if it’s worthwhile. The government needs to spend all that money on inner city problems and jobs programs for minorities who are affected the most by this recession.

DeKalb Conservative

April 15th, 2010
12:13 pm

@ Cynthia

Obama is right on this one. We agree. Anyone w/ a blackberry or iphone has a computer processing advantage over engineers’ computers in the 60’s. Sure, have it privately funded, assuming they are allowed to launch the needed rockets (not sure what type of federal restrictions there would be from the EPA or other agencies).


April 15th, 2010
12:23 pm

Spoken like a true socialist Stephan. How about the inner cities take care of their own problems, since they invariably brought this upon themselves. And why job programs for minorities? If job programs are necessary at all, why not for all?

Please keep your idiocy self contained.


April 15th, 2010
12:31 pm

How about we cut the liquor budget from the state department.

Really Cynthia?

April 15th, 2010
12:41 pm

How much did we just allocate to earmarks for Obamacare vote bribes?


April 15th, 2010
12:44 pm

People who start their comments by saying “I love Space exploration and am a big supporter of it,” should NOT then follow with the sentence, “But we really should cut the budget.” The cost of stopping our program is far greater than the savings coming from abandonment. How about we cut welfare which has been shown to demotivate and stop people from looking for work? Why don’t we cut programs which fund lazy, morally bankrupt citizens who think it is barack Obama’s to take money away from those who make it and give it to them, rather than a program which advances technology, is a matter of national pride, and keeps us ahead of the other countries. Barry sucks.


April 15th, 2010
12:46 pm

get rid of obamacare. no one wants it anyway.

Privitize it all

April 15th, 2010
12:48 pm

If future space explorations are paid for with private funds, let’s not have ANY government intervention over what is done in space.

Blue Skies

April 15th, 2010
12:56 pm

Man that is funny stuff! In her opening paragraph CT says:
“But I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything.” Yet, Nasa’s program to the moon is the ONLY government program, service, or entitlement I’ve ever hear CT mention for cutting. In the meantime, over the years CT has advocated expanding the government over and over again. I’m reasonably certain CT would have voted for the $2.2 Trillion dollar health plan that just passed, but she’s gotta draw the line at $10 Billion to strap human beings onto a ship which has 2.5 million parts and has been descibed as “the most complex machine yet created by humanity” to travel through the earths atmosphere at 17,180 mph then through the vacuum, radiation, and meteored filled outer space over 384,000 Km to the moon, which is also traveling at 1 km per second and features no water, food, or air. Unreal…you have got to be one tilted cookie with a severe aversion to reality to believe CT’s logic. If Bush would have proposed this cut, CT would have called him a science hating racist. Like she didn’t do that anyway…

Right On Stephen!

April 15th, 2010
12:57 pm

The federal government has shown itself to be incredibly efficient at all things-particularly job creation.

With public employee unions bankrupting state after state, let’s create more public employees at the expense of private sector employment which actually pays the freight.

You can argue the merits of trickle-down economics all you want, but anyone who believes that Obama’s trickle-up policies (handouts) are winners are absolute fools.


April 15th, 2010
12:57 pm

The idea that the President took the axe to NASA’s manned spaceflight program out of fiscal responsibility is, I am sorry to say, laughable. Given how small a portion of the budget this represents, and the President’s huge expansions of the budget over-all, a sudden burst of monetary restraint hitting the President as he looked over NASA’s manned space program is, to be polite, not credible.

It looks like part of his (or hid advisers’) goal was to funnel NASA money into additional politicized spending to prop up his Global Warming agenda, where he desperately needs to find or create some new evidence as his old evidence unravels as sloppy and sometimes dishonest science.

More troubling is the idea that the President, whose political education was at the knees of people who do not like, trust or admire America, has killed the manned space program as a hateful symbol of American spirit and ingenuity. I hope like Hell this is not the case.

Our solar system is filled with resources — metals, energy, and in a pinch living space — “the Earth is far to small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all their eggs in.” President Obama is making sure that we continue to have to deplete Earth’s resources by closing off access to other sources. History will judge him very harshly for that.


April 15th, 2010
12:59 pm

Well, Cybthia, my little pork chop, one must axes this question:

Would I rather have all the technology gains from NASA, an engaged science community building knowledge, students once more desirous of entering the space program via a science oriented education or spend the same money fo a bunch of dem 19 year old hos that sells themselfs on Craigs List and walks around da storeses with four of dem under 5 common suckers (by four firent baby daddys) holding a SNAG card while wearing $400 sneakers and Hilfiger?

The answer is self evident, to infinity and beyond!

wesley mouch

April 15th, 2010
1:05 pm

Dear Ms Tucker
Will you say the same thing when the government Unions workers ask for another raise. “Sorry but you are already overpaid and we cannot afford it”. I Thought that you wouldn’t.

James T Kirk

April 15th, 2010
1:09 pm

If Obama had ever done anything else to promote fiscal sanity this might be worthy of discussion.

He wasn’t in office a month before he threw away $800 billion on god knows what (it certianly didn’t stimulate the economy).

This decision is laughable-just like every other policy of this callow administration.

Privatize it All

April 15th, 2010
1:13 pm

This is a good start. Let’s privatize all government! The resulting loss of unessesary jobs would actually save the country!


April 15th, 2010
1:14 pm

This isn’t logical.


April 15th, 2010
1:16 pm

End the Postal Service and reinstate space exploration. We need to get off of this planet to settle neighboring planets and potentially mine for resources. The Postal Service is about as needed as a horse and buggy.


April 15th, 2010
1:17 pm

Get the monies from the cuts in any and all affirmative action programs!!!


April 15th, 2010
1:19 pm

wyldbyllhyltnyr: You need to get a life. That was completely uncalled for and entirely inappropriate. You owe Ms. Tucker an apology then you need to crawl back under the rock whence you came.


April 15th, 2010
1:22 pm

The biggest employer of union workers is the Federal Gov’t.

Average salary of private business worker = $50,000

Average salary of Fed employee = $70,000

The Gov’t makes nothing, produces zero but the Fed Workers and their Health and Pension plans will spend 14 Trillion dollars of taxpayer money over the next 50 years (based on current growth)
I see one area where we can save a bunch of dough. Smaller gov’t means more money in your pocket.


April 15th, 2010
1:25 pm

To a very large degree, the space program and the military are linked. Here are a few of the inventions due in large part to the military (often under the necessity of winning wars):

1. Radar
2. The Internet
3. GPS
4. Ballistic missiles
5. Nuclear Energy
6. Jet Engine
7. Digital Photography
8. Night Vision

When we make leading edge investments the gains made during the journey – often to great commercial benefit – usual exceed the benefit of the original mandate.

We are much better off to invest in space exploration than spending another nickel propping up corrupt regimes around the world. Think forward.


April 15th, 2010
1:28 pm

Comrade Cynthia,

Did you know that with the abolishment of the American manned space program, we will charge America $55MM for EACH American astonaut hitching a ride on our rockets? It’s quite true-look it up.

You might have won the Cold War, but the irony is that we learned well the lessons of capitalism while you foolishly adopt socilaism and central planning.

It’s official: We win the space race!


April 15th, 2010
1:43 pm

In the “Truth is Stranger Than Fiction” category, I’d like to remind all that a federal judge recently restored our funding and we will be changing our name so as not to enrage the masses.

Clearly we contribute more to this great nation than NASA.

It’s all about priorities folks!!

If NASA would just change what their acronym stands for, I’m guessing the money would flow freely from the thieves in congress.


April 15th, 2010
1:44 pm

Tomd, the USPS stopped taking taxpayer funds years ago


April 15th, 2010
1:48 pm

Armando, I agree. Why are there Unions in the Federal government at all? Aren’t all workers totally protected by civil service regulations? Why should government employees join a union????


April 15th, 2010
1:55 pm

A great way to pay for NASA is to just “park” AirForce One every other day. If Obama would give a speech from ‘home’ once in a while he would save the nation an incredible amount of money!


April 15th, 2010
2:15 pm

Thanks Ms. Tucker and I acknowledge the point. The full $13b wouldn’t be saved immediately. But, given that the USPS must borrow from the Federal Reserve nearly $4b per year, has an anticipated 2011 debt level of $15b and projects $238b in losses over the next 10 years, I would submit that the taxpayer will be left holding the envelope so to speak. Plus, the pension / compensation liability of the heavily burdened Union contracts the USPS has will wreak financial havok for years that the taxpayer will no doubt have to fund.

NASA is not our problem, the monster eating the country right now is the growth of government and the related lack of parity in private sector vs public sector compensation. The worm has turned whereby government requires more and more from a dwindling private sector. There aren’t enough of “us” left to take care of “them”. But I digress…


April 15th, 2010
2:25 pm

Let’s see. The Foreign aid budget is looks to be about $36 billion. NASA wants $2.5 billion.

Ok, we can’t pay for everything. Let’s not pay for things the American people don’t want.

Ground Congress not NASA

April 15th, 2010
2:28 pm

During 2008 Congressional overseas travel budget was $13 billion. That’s a 50% jump since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006.

The trips were allegedly for: Lawmakers said that the trips are a good use of government funds because they allow members of Congress and their staff members to learn more about the world, inspect U.S. assets abroad and forge better working relationships with each other.

Let’s say we let congress “forge better working relationships with each other” here at home (maybe just quit with the name-calling) and let America and the rest of the world learn more about our universe.

Ground congress not NASA!

Are you kidding me?

April 15th, 2010
2:33 pm

Social Security & Medicare take up most of the federal budget; way more than defense spending and NASA. That’s the dirty little secret the libs, press, and enabling RINOs know but love to intentionally overlook. It’s simple math – to reign in spending, we have to go after the biggest problems first, and it’s not NASA.

john a werneken

April 15th, 2010
2:42 pm

1. tho 62 i’d means-test social security first then medicare and i’d put in a 4% VAT no exemptions whatsoever, and apply FICA to all wage-type income. Finally I’d limit deductions for home and home tax expenses. nothing can change unless the big three change: age and health entitlement’s; what’s taxed; who is exempt.


April 15th, 2010
2:42 pm


Just where does this president think that NEW technologies are advanced that in the end HELP the poor in all facets of their lives? NASA and its subsidiaries ARE the reason that so many technological advances have occurred; why so many DISCOVERIES have occurred; that has raised this nation UP to the technological heights in the history of mankind.

Yet, the man is slowly deconstructing THAT which made this nation great and is replacing it with huge debt, NO vision, mediocrity, and will leave the nation much WORSE off than when he arrived in office. Is THAT what HE was taught in law school? Is THAT why he and his family have a net worth of $5.5 Million as of 2008, that “he got his,” and to heck with the rest?

That is NOT what Americans voted to achieve.

His campaign, “Yes, WE CAN,” was just short-hand for saying,, “Yes we can… dismantle NASA, bail out Wall Street, cut deals with Pharma and Big Insurance, ad nauseam, and send YOU taxpayers the bill!”

THAT’s what this president’s campaign slogan actually meant. Just ask Neil Armstrong what HE thinks of this president.

It’s time for a “Change”at the White House all right. And, RIGHT NOW!!

John Washburn

April 15th, 2010
2:59 pm

Many of these leftist comments are riddled with eugenic hysteria. Scary. A simple answer to budget cuts is to cut everything. Yes, everything! Cut the federal budget by 40% this year and an additional 20% next year. If the gov’t spent money on something last year, then they get 40% less to do so this year. Make the bureaucrats pinch pennies for a change. Pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and tie federal salaries to compliance with the amendment (no balanced budget, no paycheck). Mandate federal expenditures NEVER exceed 10% of GDP. Require 2/3 majority in both houses and 2/3 approval from the states for any subsequent tax increase. This is way too simple for our politicians and the Marxist pigs who are determined to drive us into economic ruin.

Angry Taxpayer

April 15th, 2010
3:08 pm

How about cutting (or requiring a service for payment) the $500+ bil welfare system. As stated below, we get technological breakthroughs from the NASA spending. We get another generation of entitled from welfare.


April 15th, 2010
3:09 pm

It will take years for the effects of what this Administration and Congress are doing to be fully appreciated. The big picture is what Obamacare and the entitlement programs will do to our economy and national defense, and that is bankrupt this country, gut our military to pay for the entitlement programs, and in the process allow China to become the dominant power in the world. But in the smaller focus of this particular column, 2 of the great contributors in terms of the furthering of science, technology, and innovation in this country since the end of World War II have been the free-market healthcare systems (our university teaching hospital and research institutions and, especially, the pharmaceutical companies) as well as NASA. Obamacare, by it’s nature as a government bureacracy, will stifle and eventually eliminate the former, and cut funding to NASA to achieve that goal. We are replacing the free market economy that made America the greatest force on the planet for democracy and economic development to replace it with a European socialist system. I hope the Cynthia Tuckers of the world live long enough to suffer the consequences of what they wished for.


April 15th, 2010
3:20 pm

Considering the pittance that is NASA’s budget, you’d think we could sustain it. Manned spaceflight was one of those areas where the USA produced acheivements for all of mankind, but instead of continuing that, this author apparently thinks it’s okay to abandon our tradition of acheivement, and spend that money elsewhere, on programs designed not to move society forward, but to placate voters in the short term, and keep politicians in office.

A sad state of affairs, to be sure.

John Washburn

April 15th, 2010
3:22 pm

It’s interesting to me that people oppose cutting medicare/medicaid and social security because they “need” these programs. Same goes for dependence on other entitlements. The faulty assumption is that these programs will always be there to provide badly needed services. Wrong. Social Security is already bankrupt and is now borrowing from the general fund to pay benefits. Medicare is soon to follow. By 2020, ALL federal tax revenues will be consumed by debt maintanance. Not a penny available for anything else. Those who depend on social security and medicare are in for a rude awakening. Take action to wean yourself from these programs or you’ll be left out in the cold.