When Politicians Intervene: NASA’s Budget Refocusing Ends US Space Exploration Program [Reader Post]


Some number of years ago, over twenty as I remember, the late (and IMHO great) Paul Harvey said that for every dollar spent at NASA, the return was seven dollars. So with that quote in my mind, the final Space Shuttle launch a few days ago, and Obama refocusing the NASA budget, I want to examine Obama’s NASA policy, as well as identify/review some of the daily benefits that we all derive from the NASA budget and space exploration.

Obama’s NASA Budget Proposal

Let’s look at what the Obama budget proposes. It ends our manned moon and space exploration, but it proposes a total NASA spending increase by $1 billion. So NASA won’t be totally out of business. His FY2011 budget proposed $19 billion, with emphasis on science, not on manned space flight. He wants to end NASA’s manned space flight program and rent space on Russian spacecraft. He wants to turn space transportation over to private, commercial companies, such as Space X, United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Bigelow Aerospace and others. There is only one problem with privatization with space flight – it does not work. Space X is where NASA was in 1960 with Project Mercury. The ability to put humans into orbit exists only on paper.

Here is what Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, said: “Mr. Obama risks blasting American space superiority on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”. The decision to cancel Constellation, the project to send astronauts to the Moon again by 2020 and Mars by 2030, was “devastating.”

Obama’s decision places us totally at the mercy of the Russians. Armstrong continued, “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 per seat with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves,” he said in his open letter to Obama , which was also signed by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Obama’s plans for NASA include muslim outreach and making them feed good, and global warming. On the “making muslims feel good” front, here is what (then) NASA director Charles Bolden, a retired United States Marines Corps major-general and former astronaut, said that Obama told him. “… and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

On the “global warming hoax” front, this article by Larry Bell “kills two birds with one stone.” First, it shows that global warming (now referred to as climate change) is, indeed, a hoax. Second, it implicates NASA’s part in starting this hoax.

Says Larry Bell: S. Fred Singer, former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and University of Virginia professor emeritus commented about these sorry circumstances in the foreword of my book, stating in part: “Many would place the beginning of the global warming hoax on the Senate testimony delivered by James Hansen of NASA [director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies] during the summer of 1988. More than anything else, this exhibition of hyped alarm triggered my active skepticism about the man-made global warming scare.”

So now we see that Obama wants to “privatize” low-orbit delivery, while focusing on other areas. Most Americans cannot remember a time when the United States wasn’t the world leader in space exploration. But now Obama wants NASA’s budget to be refocused on global warming and other politically charged projects instead of manned space flight.

Benefits Derived From NASA Budget

For more than 40 years, NASA has facilitated the transfer of its technology to the private sector, benefiting global competition and the economy. Since 1976, Spinoff, NASA’s publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology, has featured between 40 and 50 of these commercial products annually. Spinoff has detailed 1,723 such inventions to date.

“We get better airplanes, or we get better weather forecasting from space stuff, sure,” said Daniel Lockney, program executive in technology transfer and spinoff partnerships at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “But we also get better-fed children. That kind of stuff, people don’t necessarily associate.”

Here is a long list of commercial benefits derived directly from NASA. Below are some selected specifics that I found interesting.

  • Military Benefits: Here is what the Official US Air Force web site has to say about NASA. NASA began operations on Oct. 1, 1958, just before the one-year anniversary of the Soviet Union’s successful Sputnik I launch. Concerned about the race for technological superiority in space, U.S. officials debated long and hard over whether the space program should be placed under military or civilian control. NASA was established as a new civilian agency that borrowed heavily from the Defense Department and other government organizations as it built its own capabilities. One doesn’t have to look hard to see the deep connection between NASA and DOD. Meanwhile, officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), another organization Eisenhower created in response to the Sputnik launch, have provided critical expertise that has benefited NASA throughout its 50-year history. Defense Department officials stood up DARPA to find and quickly develop advanced technology for the military so the United States would never again suffer a technological surprise by another nation. DARPA scientists and engineers concentrated on the first surveillance satellites that ensured U.S. presidents had accurate intelligence information on Russian missile program activities, historical records show. But DARPA experts advanced other space projects as well, developing the Saturn V rocket that ultimately enabled the United States to launch the Apollo missions to the moon. DARPA, BTW, developed the first computer network that was eventually to become the Internet. That development has proven to be commercially successful.
  • Medical field: it helped enable body-imaging techniques such as CATScans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). NASA research investigating the nutritional value of algae led to the discovery of a nutrient that had previously only been found in human breast milk. The compound, which is thought to be important to eye and brain development, has since found its way into 95 percent of the infant formula sold in the United States. And thermometers that are inserted in your ear and take your temperature in seconds? The technology was initiated by scientists at NASA.
  • Computers: The first integrated circuit was built by Texas Instruments, funded by the Apollo program and the Air Force’s Minuteman Missile Project. TI developed it, but NASA was the customer.
  • Television viewing: NASA scientists developed those panoramic views of football plays from all angles, based on robotic gigapan camera technology software used to create images of the Mars landscape from digital photos taken by space probes.
  • NASA scientists developed lightweight, portable water filters that are deployed to disaster areas and remote regions of the world where water is scarce.

The list of benefits from NASA’s budget have a real and immediate impact on our daily lives is endless. You probably know about “the space-age technology” used to develop scratch-proof lenses, composite golf clubs, high-density batteries, blue-blocking ultraviolet sunglasses, the computer mouse and freeze-dried food. NASA is constantly collaborating with private companies to share its resources. For example, the space agency builds a wind tunnel, but then allows NASCAR to use it for testing, or loans a zero-gravity aircraft to filmmakers.

Where Does Obama’s NASA Budget Refocus Leave Us?

I think J. Christian Adams at Pajamas Media says it best: “Opponents of NASA’s manned space program crow about the benefits of privatized spaceflight. Of all the other federal functions ripe for privatization – the dinosaur postal service for example – Obama targets the one function that provides both national security benefits and requires massive accumulation of capital to conduct. Too bad Obama’s zeal to wipe out manned space flight through privatization doesn’t extend to other parts of the federal government.”

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@Ditto 33 –

Correction. I said that NASA had a monopoly on manned spaceflight here in the US for for 40 years, not all things space. Now that that shuttle is no longer flying, that monopoly no longer exists.

Remember that they almost had a congressionally mandated monopoly on all civil and military payloads to orbit for a while until Challenger.

DoD quit flying in space in the late 1960s when the X-15 program ended. Their military astronauts were selected but never flew after MOL was cancelled. There were a few DoD crews on shuttle in the 1980s, but NASA was still the owner-operator of the vehicle and the facilities. It was not a happy arrangement for either NASA or DoD.

NASA fought Dennis Tit0’s initial passenger flight with the Russians. They managed to kill a commercial attempt to purchase MIR after the Russians were finished with it. They slow-rolled a Klaus Heiss led effort to purchase a fifth orbiter in the early 1980s until a reported $1.5 billion of investment dollars in the bank went elsewhere. They slow rolled all commercial attempts to take an external tank to orbit for salvage for over 20 years. There are many more, but this is a good enough start. And the reason for all that opposition was to simply make the competition disappear.

Tom Rogers, who was an UnderSecretary at DoD in charge of early comm sats described NASA as a jobs program for aerospace engineers. And with all jobs programs, the owning congress critters and the bureaucracy will do their level best to defend that program from all comers. The problem newSpace has is not cost – for SpaceX has managed to lop off nearly a zero from the cost of developing a new booster / capsule combo – but the $17 billion budget being spent to make sure they didn’t fly.

Monopolies will always defend themselves. So will bureaucracies. Cheers –


Sort of like the person who railed on and on and on about how every conservative should move out of California while the very person offering that advice was…wait for it…a resident and business owner in California who claims to be a conservative.

Again, you are lying. You say I am a “resident” of California, yet I have a New Mexico drivers license.

Thus, you have, again, been caught telling lies.

Will you apologize for another “AYE” slander? They seem pretty common on flopping aces.

Of course, we’ve already determined you are without honor and will not admit you are wrong.

You are, as always, beneath contempt and incapable of conducting yourself as an honorable person.

In short, you are a vas deferens of the highest degree.

BTW, as to insurance and range safety issues… that comes under FAA/CST regulations. I know some of the folk who worked on them via the NPRM’s in the early part of this decade and I know a lot of the people who work there. If you want to find out the details, read them. Very boring stuff but it is all there. They license spaceports, launches and launch vehicles. They also now license re-entries. The Dragon capsule return a few months ago was the very first commercially licensed re-entry. The regulatory environment is fairly reasonable at present and the current and previous Administrators have both been marvelous.

The idea of rockets carrying a destruct package in order to keep them from crashing in a populated area if they go off course has been standard practice since the 1950s, and I see no reason why a private company would choose to omit that capability. The cost of including the package is infinitesimal compared to the potential liability if the rocket comes down in a football stadium. It sounds like a no-brainer to me.

On the other hand, guidance systems are very mature and reliable today, and while rockets sometimes blow up, I can’t remember the last time one had to be deliberately destroyed by Range Safety because it veered off course. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was a pretty frequent occurrence, and we’ve all seen the old films. (Seriously, I don’t know when it last happened, and now I’m curious. Somebody chime in if you know.)


Again, you are lying. You say I am a “resident” of California, yet I have a New Mexico drivers license.

Ivan… Dood….The drivers license that you may, or may not, be carrying ’round in your wallet matters not one whit as to your residency status.

What matters in that regard is California law. Here’s what it says:

Code Section 17014

(a) “Resident” includes:
(1) Every individual who is in this state for other than a
temporary or transitory purpose.
(2) Every individual domiciled in this state who is outside the
state for a temporary or transitory purpose.

Rather clear, eh?

1) Your business dealings in California and the time you spend there are not temporary or transitory.

2) Your time outside of the state for conjugal visits with the little woman, keeper of the brood, are temporary and transitory.

Well, there ya go. You meet the definition of California resident just as I said.

Congratulations on that.

I’m trying to remember a single time that you haven’t beclowned yourself here at FA but so far I’m coming up with nothing.

You make it too easy for me.

I’m looking at this map of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center that I found on Wikipedia.


Currently, SpaceX is leasing Pad 40 from the Air Force, and last week they broke ground on a Falcon launch pad at Vandenberg AFB. But most of the old pads at Cape Canaveral now lie abandoned and unused. Cape Canaveral was originally built as a missile test facility, but today there is little testing going on. In the 50s and 60s various launch pads were built to service various kinds of rockets. But most of those old rockets are no longer used; therefore their launch pads are no longer necessary. Couldn’t the government sell some of that land to private companies so they could build their own private launch facilities? The famous “ICBM Row” is prime rocket launching real estate, but now the old pads are nothing but weed-strewn chunks of concrete. Some of them, like Pad 14 (Mercury-Atlas), Pad 19 (Gemini-Titan), Pad 34 (Apollo 1), and Pad 37 (Apollo 7) should probably be preserved as National Historical Sites, but the rest of them should be sold off to private companies and redeveloped into 21st Century launch sites. That’s the best possible use of that land, in my opinion, and certainly better than leaving it to rot.

Meanwhile, the Kennedy Space Center is owned by NASA and contains an even larger land area, although it has only two pads: 39A and 39B, the Saturn V and Shuttle pads. I would think that at least some of that land might be sold off to private companies to build new launch pads.

The old Canaveral pads are being developed under the Florida Spaceport Authority I believe. They’ve got a big chunk of land for development outside as well.

A friend of mine was one of the first to sign an agreement for use of a pad at VAFB, back in the early 90’s. (I knew the AMROC guys quite well)

@Ivan: re: comment #38, No, Ivan, I do not contend that without NASA, TI (or any other company) would have never invented the integrated circuit. My contention is that NASA provided both the incentive and money to produce it when needed. Then, once invented, NASA shared it with the rest of the world.

My contention is that NASA provided both the incentive and money to produce it when needed. Then, once invented, NASA shared it with the rest of the world.

NASA provided testing for certain products from early IC vendors. They did not invent the circuits, they did not produce them, and they had nothing to do with “sharing them with the world”.

Most importantly though, the market these early IC makers was going after was the much bigger military market, not the NASA market. The first big design win for ICs was the Minuteman II guidance computer. Even in non-space applications, ICs were vital, since avionics were running up against reliability limits from the connections between discrete components. The Navy, for example, estimated that at any time 1/4 of its carrier-based aircraft were unavailable due to avionics failures.

Without NASA, would ICs have been developed and matured? Of course — they were the unavoidable solution to an increasingly pressing problem. NASA, at best, shaved a little time off the progression.

oil guy from ALBERTA, hi,
I wonder what happen with those program to send the NASA PEOPLE TO THE MUSLIMS,
it must have cost THE PRESIDENT a lot of the taxpayers money
TO accomplish such a program to benefit the MUSLIM COuNTRIES
we don’t hear nothing about it, now or before,
yes it is that’s beside borrowing to CHINA with the interest profitable for CHINA,