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

Tommy Maddox

April 14th, 2010
5:09 pm

I was down there the other day (Titusville) and was told 23,000 folks were losing their job. So goes that voting block. Change…

SouthGeorgiaDawg

April 14th, 2010
5:19 pm

How about we cut some of the government entitlement programs.

That sounds like a great idea of what to cut.

Or how about we cut the sham of a “stimulus” package that was rammed down American’s throats last year.

Michael K.

April 14th, 2010
5:23 pm

Can we cut Obamacare?

Intown

April 14th, 2010
5:23 pm

Yea, Repubs are all for spending cuts, until they’re actually made.

professional skeptic

April 14th, 2010
5:35 pm

Just because there’s a $10 billion sunk cost, we should keep throwing billions at something we can’t afford?

I’m all for space travel as well, but let’s wait until we can afford it. When I was paying off my school loans, I eliminated social drinking from my budget. Did I like it? No. It put a crimp in my social life for a while, to be sure. But– it helped me to pay off my loans faster.

The same principles of budgeting apply to federal spending. Once we have sufficient revenue to cover the basics, then we can buy more shiny things.

BRATTY1

April 14th, 2010
5:37 pm

I GET something back from my taxes being spent on spac e and science..research and technolgy that benefits my life. I GET nothing back from the taxes i pay that go to keep the worthless dregs housed fed and clothed. I support NASA, cut Welfare..cut obamacare..cut foreign aid, and let SS and medicare DIE on the vine.

Lauren

April 14th, 2010
5:37 pm

I grew up in Houston Texas, and you have to realize that our economy: restuarants, businesses, etc. all depend on NASA. So by cutting the funding of NASA, people lose jobs, and when people lose jobs, the economy falls. This will impact over a fourth of Houston which does consist of one of the four most populous cities in America. You might be able to say what can we cut? But let’s cut programs that will have a smaller impact on our economy since we are in a recession.

E. Burris

April 14th, 2010
5:41 pm

Mass Transit, science and agriculture amount to what looks like 79%. Add in the 12% for ?nothing? and the total amount cut would be 92%. Foreign Aid, whether we want to accept it or not, serves a purpose. Other countries give us aid during natural disasters. Cut foreign aid and we will be a downright mean and nasty country for the first time.

Michael Young

April 14th, 2010
5:42 pm

The days that this planet can support our continued growth are finite. Every day the population grows and Earth’s limited resources diminish. The pressures on humanity will continue to escalate. If we can not fund advancement today, we are in deep trouble because it will be even harder tomorrow. The research and development of today will determine if human kinds destiny will be to soar into space and colonize other worlds or simultaneously choke in our own waste and starve.

professional skeptic

April 14th, 2010
5:55 pm

Everyone’s making great arguments to keep funding the space program. I want to fund it too. But people also want tax cuts.

It’s like here in Georgia. We keep insisting on tax cuts, but that means we have to fire teachers, which increases unemployment and results in a less educated workforce.

The ripple effect is devastating… But hey, people want their tax cuts.

Fang1944

April 14th, 2010
5:57 pm

The space program, like foreign aid, amounts to less than a penny out of your tax dollar, and its benefits are enormous–like producing the medical instrument that saved my sight from cataracts or the cochlear implants that now allow some deaf people to hear.

Right now, it’s just under $19 billion, less than the $25 billion we spend on pizza each year. I’d rather give up pizza if I have to choose.

BTW, Florida Senator Bill Nelson–the smart Nelson who used to be an astronaut–is also behind Obama’s plan.

Jess

April 14th, 2010
5:58 pm

What can we cut? How about fed. employee salaries. They average $70,000 per year while private industry averages about $50,000. By cutting the average from 70k to 50k, you could save about $150 billion per year. Then we could talk about entitlements. And how about canceling the $500 billion in stimulus funds not yet spent.

Space is one of the few areas where the US excels. Medicine was one, but that’s now headed for the dumper, so I guess it’s time to screw up the space program now.

Jay

April 14th, 2010
6:03 pm

It makes me sick to read all of the ignorant and misinformed comments in this thread. The poll is equally enlightening, and paints an ugly picture of the American zeitgeist. 72% of us want to cut foreign aid?

The amount of money we spend on foreign aid is paltry compared to every other developed country. To put things in perspective, we spent $800 billion on the military in 2008- foreign aid was $26 billion. You tell me, geniuses – which one needs to be cut?

We are a nation of uneducated, selfish idiots. Unfortunately, the lemmings breed faster…

Josh

April 14th, 2010
7:02 pm

CT said, “But I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything. Some big expensive programs have to be cut…”

For starters, lets cut entitlement programs that do nothing but suck the blood out of the American Spirit. Entitlements are one the biggest reasons America is going bankrupt.

Robert Littel

April 14th, 2010
7:17 pm

We are, as a species, at a critical point in our history. The technology that has taken us to little more than the edge of space is the same technology that has spawned the advancements that have allowed our numbers to swell to the choking point. Getting enough of our genetic material off this planet before we kill it by bleeding it dry, have it killed by natural disaster, or by the deliberate insanity of nuclear conflagration, means doing it now while we still have enough resources, that will soon be demanded to sustain our ever increasing numbers.

We exist in the vulnerable basket that allowed for our creation and we are in danger of not taking advantage of an evolved survival ability to put our eggs in more than one basket, that would insure that even if we imploded Earth, that some of us would survive to spread out in the galaxy and continue to do what we should be doing, continuing to exist to always ask the question why. It is a voyage that began when our ancestors first formed that question and has been the driving force that propelled us forward (with some detours – religion for one). We can hunker down and doom ourselves comforted by our apocalyptic religious beliefs to an ignoble end, where the meek shall inherit the Earth, but for me, I want to head for the stars.

Keep up the good fight!

April 14th, 2010
7:17 pm

As typical, the righties all want to cut “entitlements” but they dont define it and they dont explain the hard costs. Are they going to increase funds to bury the people that will die? How about the new homeless? Their children? So now which are we cutting when we cut “entitlements’ and what are the actual savings? Is education an entitlement? Highways? Or are we cutting Vet benefits, SS, Medicare and Medicaid? Unemployment?

The sound bite attack is so easy.. the details not so simple.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

April 14th, 2010
7:40 pm

SEC, FTC, FDA, FNMA, FHLMC, Dept of Energy, Dept of Education, and EPA do less of value and cost more than NASA. Of course almost anything does more of value and at less cost than SEC, FTC, FDA, FNMA, FHLMC, Dept of Energy, Dept of Education, and EPA..

Ragnar Danneskjöld

April 14th, 2010
7:44 pm

Jess @ 5:58 has the right idea. The US Marines are surely the most effective agency of government, and the cost per employee is perhaps the lowest. Prohibit additional hires at those less effective agencies, and require pro-rata pay reductions to bring them in line with the Marines.

Michael

April 14th, 2010
8:08 pm

Keep up has it right. People clamor for cuts — see Sarah Palin — but fall short on details. She has been complaining about the stimulus and demanding a tax cut at the same time. The stimulus included a pretty big tax cut.

This country has a lot of people who need to awake to reality, including many leaders. For years, people thought they could get “free” tax cuts because somehow they would pay for themselves. I think Bush’s two big tax cuts cost $2 trillion over 10 years total. I don’t think they brought in an extra $2 trillion over that timespan.

The ugly truth is once unemployment gets back near sane levels, maybe 6 percent, we will have to start cutting programs AND raising taxes. The manned space program will probably be part of those cuts because it’s not something we “need.” I say this as someone who is fascinated by astronomy and science. I totally understand its importance, but it will need to be scaled back at some point, along with many other programs, to pay down our debt.

Keep up the good fight!

April 14th, 2010
8:09 pm

Average salaries = $70,000. Again simplistic assessment. if 5 people earn $30k and 1 earns $265k… guess what the average is? What is the comparison? Are CEO salaries included?

How exactly Ragnar are you “measuring” efficiency? Seems to be subjective on your part. How many deaths have been prevented by FDA, FTC, EPA? What is the impact to market efficiency if there is no SEC?

Tell you what…why dont we increase fines for violations to 10% of company profits. Increase fees if you want to go to the market to sell stock in a public offering so that the companies watched effectively pay for the SEC. Import products from China with lead or some other poison….multimillion dollar penalty and jail time for CEO.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
8:11 pm

It is always interesting to see how people respond to this question. We have in this country what has come to be called the NIMBY principle. That is Not In My Back Yard. When folks say cut entitlements they must be talking about Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid. Other funds devoted to the poor simply take up less than one percent of the budget and would not impact government spending too much. Now I know that all those calling for that are not at retirement age and probably don’t like paying the taxes to support those programs. But those who are retired and/or close to it would never support such a thing. The lady in Houston who ( Lauren ) is making the perfect NIMBY argument. My personal vote has always been to cut into that 600 billion dollar defense budget (which does not include the 2 wars we are fighting right now – on another possible source of savings ). But bring that one up and the shine-o-la hits the fan.

So going forward, cuts to government spending will not likely be significant, so we better get busy growing the economy or raise taxes one if not both. Part of the NIMBY problem is everybody wants a Mercedes while only paying for a VW.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
8:15 pm

I do agree with the comment on government worker salaries. Last time I looked they were way out of line with the private sector in most cases. This is hard to justify as traditionally people having chosen government work for the security of the employment with some trade offs in compensation levels. Seems like now they get the security plus greater than market compensation. It is hard to justify this.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
8:19 pm

Marie Antoinette is said to have told the people in tough times when there was little bread to ” Let them eat cake. ”

In the NIMBY US today, it seems that the idea has morphed into, “I want my cake and eat it too, but you don’t get any cake at all.”

Dave R.

April 14th, 2010
8:20 pm

Gee an entire article on cutting NASA, but not one word about cutting 4 of the top 5 programs listed on the poll.

Wonder why that is, CT?

BTW, bring our soldiers home and save billions.

Right now.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

April 14th, 2010
8:27 pm

Dear Keep @ 8:09, “How many deaths have been prevented by FDA, FTC, EPA? What is the impact to market efficiency if there is no SEC?”

In the case of the FDA, it has killed more people through its delays than it could plausibly argue that it saved; responsible drug companies, i.e., all of them, pull drugs from the market that are dangerous, plaintiff attorney arguments notwithstanding.

FTC has saved nobody, but it certainly has added tons of costs with frivolous rules and expense.

EPA does nothing but impose costs on the economy – any state is more competent to police its environment.

SEC imposes an ungodly level of expense and inefficiency – ask any company about its costs for issuing stock or obtaining accounting – on the economy.

None of those agencies serve the public weal as efficiently as do the private plaintiff attorneys, even with the excesses of litigation.

Joe B

April 14th, 2010
8:29 pm

Blah blah blah.
What we are not talking about is the failed summit and the policy of retreat and apology from Obama,
Out of control federal spending on Obamanomics.
Civil rights for terrorists abroad
The liberals getting back to the tax part of “tax and spend”
Cynthia would have us talking about trivialities when there are serious issues afoot.

Drifter

April 14th, 2010
8:41 pm

Cutting the NASA budget is probably a good place to start. I also agree with those who’d like to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Then I’d take a long look at the Department of Homeland Security – their programs throw away millions of dollars to any and every government entity that asks for it, usually for toys they’d like to have, but would never get approval to buy from local/state budgets. There are lots of room for cuts, but every dollar the government spends is a dollar someone wants. We needs a real leader who will make the tough decisions. I’m not saying Obama can’t be that guy, but it’s time to stop listening to the whining (from people like Armstrong) and get to work.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
8:42 pm

Ragnar, we have already been through the 19th century experience of Laissez faire capitalism. Did not work out too good then. Market efficiencies simply are not present to prevent externalities from skewing the invisible hand. You know as well as I do, that business interest are only interested in skimming the profit and not cleaning up the mess they make. If the hills of West Virginia after the miners get done don’t tell a sufficient tale of market inefficiency then I don’t know what does.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
8:44 pm

Joe B – Do tell. What exactly is Obamanomics and how does it differ from Bushanomics. Don’t forget the unfunded Part D of Medicare.

Keep up the good fight!

April 14th, 2010
8:46 pm

Any one who states “civil rights for terrorists abroad” is just a flaming idiot of talking points.

But seriously Rangar..again some very nice broad soundbites that just dont hold up in the real world. Where is the analysis and evidence? Surely you have some other than the “we all know this to be true” when it rarely holds up.

Responsible drug companies pull dangerous drugs? What planet are you on? Next you’ll tell me that companies always recall products that are dangerous. I can assure you that this is not the case.

Dave R.

April 14th, 2010
8:50 pm

And as a child who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s during the height of the space age, it is a national disgrace to have zero capability to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (which we largely built and heavily subsidized) once the Shuttle fleet is grounded after the next couple of flights.

To have the only capability to get astronauts to and from that station via Russian capsule technology that was 20 years behind out Shuttle capability 35 years ago is shameful.

If he can’t control people’s behaviors with it, Hope & Change won’t fund it.

Moderate Line

April 14th, 2010
8:54 pm

I don’t really care about manned space travel. However, the real problem is entitlements. At some point entitlements will result in both increase in taxes and entitlement cuts. The longer we wait the worse the impact. We had an IT bubble, housing bubble or banking bubble now we are having a government bubble.

godless heathen

April 14th, 2010
8:54 pm

We can cut 10% out of every program the Feds spend money on. Times are tough. Tighten the belt.

Drifter

April 14th, 2010
8:56 pm

So far, Bushanomics and Obamanomics are very similar – “borrow and spend”. I suspect Obamanomics may shift to “tax and spend”, which is a little more honest, but not a whole lot better. I believe we need to at least cut the budget down to our income and preferably start paying down the deficit.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
9:04 pm

Drifter, my mama always said ya wants to ride the train yous gotta buy a ticket.

StJ

April 14th, 2010
9:15 pm

How about the 40+ redundant federal agencies and departments whose job is to gather intelligence? The CIA should be exactly that…The Central Intelligence Agency (singular). Keep the best and brightest employees, and toss the rest. There’s a start.

stw

April 14th, 2010
9:17 pm

CT; Any reply on why you insulted the tea party members by calling them “tea baggers” ?

Cletus Dooley Earnhardt SR.

April 14th, 2010
9:21 pm

Can we pleese cut Obammacure? Ha ha im hylarius

-GO UGA!

stw

April 14th, 2010
9:25 pm

SUGGESTION; All of us who realize CT for the nut she is —-stop commenting and let this trash die on the vine….

Dave R.

April 14th, 2010
9:38 pm

Why can’t we just keep commenting about her being nuts? :D

Entitlements Forever

April 14th, 2010
9:38 pm

There is only one option: Cut entitlements across the board…especially Obamacare. This maddness must end now.

Flobert

April 14th, 2010
9:40 pm

If 99% of baggers believe aliens live among us, why spend the money on space travel……

Dave R.

April 14th, 2010
9:49 pm

Talk about being nuts . . .

Micar

April 14th, 2010
9:50 pm

Cynthia I am so glad my mother taught me some manners and respect. Sometimes it would really be nice to unload on these rude boors that never graduated from the sand box, but in honor of my mother’s memory, I will refrain. You are ok in my book, and polite too.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
9:53 pm

stw; what is wrong with tea bags? Need them to have a tea party don’t you? For me, I just can’t get over those costumes and poorly spelled signs that seem to be so prevalent in that movement.

Producer

April 14th, 2010
9:54 pm

Don’t worry, folks. There will be no cuts. The vote buying politicians of both parties have succeeded wildly in their attempt to create the modern welfare state. Whether it be social security (Thanks, FDR), medicare, medicaid, welfare, (Thanks, LBJ), the prescription drug benefit, (Thanks, W) or healthcare, (Thanks, Barry) nothing will get cut because our parasitic nation of worthless freeloaders will vote out any politician who advocates it. It is disgusting what we have become. As Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Our nation is toast.

tonto

April 14th, 2010
9:58 pm

How do you keep your job? Oh, I get it………..

stw

April 14th, 2010
10:20 pm

MICAR: If you had taken the time to do a little research you’d find that a “tea bagger” is one who places his scrotum in a woman’s mouth. Any other questions ??

Micar

April 14th, 2010
10:34 pm

wow stw, is that what is going on at those parties. Guess that explains the costumes and signs. Everybody has their mind on things other than how they look and spelling.

Micar

April 14th, 2010
10:35 pm

Thanks for saving me all that research time.