The Space Review

Happy tenth anniversary to Jeff, who is asking the big space policy questions for the next ten years.

[Update a few minutes later]

I have to comment on this:

“NASA needs to have more than one half of one percent of the federal budget,” Bingham said at the FAA conference last week, emphasizing he was speaking only for himself. That call has been echoed by others in recent years who have sought to at least double NASA’s share of the federal budget to one percent.

There is no magic “correct” percentage of the federal budget that NASA should get. Traditionally, it used to be about one percent, but the budget hasn’t actually declined that much. It’s now half a percent because of the monstrous budget growth in other areas over the past several years, and NASA didn’t keep up. NASA should get as much budget as it needs to accomplish its assigned tasks, regardless of the budget percentage. Of course, since some of its assigned tasks are wasteful and useless, like Jeff Bingham’s Senate Launch System, it could actually be doing a lot more with the money that it’s being given, if Congress wouldn’t force the agency to waste so much.

24 thoughts on “The Space Review

  1. Larry J

    “NASA needs to have more than one half of one percent of the federal budget,”

    For what, precisely? Do they have specific objectives that are only obtainable with additional funding or is this just a call to expand the inefficient bureaucracy? Given the economic reality, the easiest way to get NASA funding up to 1% of the budget is to keep their funding flat and shrink everything else. We all know that isn’t going to happen. With trillion dollar annual deficits as far as Obama can see, maybe NASA is saying, “What’s the harm in going for $1.016 trillion by doubling our budget.”

  2. Gregg

    “Of course, since some of its assigned tasks are wasteful and useless, like Jeff Bingham’s Senate Launch System, it could actually be doing a lot more with the money that it’s being given, if Congress wouldn’t force the agency to waste so much.”

    As you well know, Rand, NASA wouldn’t get that money if SLS just went away. They got the money for SLS – you take away SLS and the money goes with it. We don’t fund NASA based upon some percentage of the Federal Budget and then let NASA decide how to use it.

    I think you state this in your paragraph above, but your last sentence muddies the water a little bit, for those who don’t follow as closely.

    1. Edward Wright

      They got the money for SLS

      Actually, they didn’t. What funding here is came from other NASA programs, and Bingham admitted that they aren’t talking about missions because, if they did, SLS would appear too expensive.

      This is the same sort of deception James Beggs used to sell Space Station Freedom. It was presented to the President as an $8 billion program, without mentioning that price tag was exclusive of launch and operation costs.

      They never learn. This never ends well.

      We don’t fund NASA based upon some percentage of the Federal Budget and then let NASA decide how to use it.

      It’s more complicated than that, but that is sort of what happens. The budget committee decides how much money NASA will get. Then the appropriations committee decides how NASA will spend it, with input from NASA, OMB, lobbyists, etc.

  3. Edward Wright

    There is no magic “correct” percentage of the federal budget that NASA should get.

    Here’s the problem with the “1% for NASA” hype. There are at least a hundred other special interest groups who would say they deserve 1% of the Federal budget, and most of them are larger than the space movement. It’s mathematically impossible for everyone to get what they want. It’s amazing that an astrophysicist like Neal Tyson can’t understand that.

  4. Thomas Matula

    The proper amount for NASA is 0% since its difficult to see how the search for life on Mars specifically or even space exportation in general falls under the “general welfare” clause unless you count the corporate welfare it provides aerospace firms :-)

  5. George Turner

    The 1% line sounds too much like the result of a jealous bureaucratic argument about dividing up the spoils, as agency heads undercut each other’s claims and try to muscle each other out of the way like piglets fighting over a tit.

  6. Sigivald

    Edward Wright said: It’s amazing that an astrophysicist like Neal Tyson can’t understand that.

    I’m not amazed.

    Tyson might well be a perfectly competent Astrophysicist (I’m not competent to judge, but will assume he is) – but that does not give him any insight at all into how government works (or should work).

    Much like Einstein and his babbling about “peace” – never listen to an expert, even a “genius” expert, outside of his area of competence.

    1. Larry J

      Much like Einstein and his babbling about “peace” – never listen to an expert, even a “genius” expert, outside of his area of competence.

      By definition, if someone is talking outside his area of competence, he isn’t an expert on the subject matter. Everyone is ignorant only on different subjects. Someone may be the most expert person in the world on one subject. Odds are that person has studied the subject to the exclusion of everything else and therefore has a more broad-based ignorance than most other people.

    2. Edward Wright

      No, but it should give him insight into how arithmetic works.

      It doesn’t take a deep understanding of government to realize that a constituency that is much less than 1% of the population can’t claim an automatic entitlement to 1% of the Federal budget.

      1. Thomas Matula

        Edward,

        But you must understand, from perspective of science the only reason a government exists, other than that minor matter of keeping social order, it to bankroll science research. So in their eyes 1% is really not too much to ask for the government to fulfill its requirement to provide a space science entitlement…

  7. ken anthony

    Congratulations Jeff!

    $17.7 billion! Every year! It’s obscene that NASA can’t do more with that.

    Give me that just once and I’d accomplish more. Figuring an annual budget of $800m I’d give you mars in five years. Mercury in seven. Jupiter and Saturn in 15. All with thriving communities that no longer needed my help so I guess I’d build Thomas his Asimov habitat and give him his captains hat.

    1. Der Schtumpy

      I just had an additional thought, wouldn’t this constitute an ‘official’ religion? I don’t see any Christian, Jewish, B’Hai, Buddhist or Animist outreach programs happening. Neither inside NASA, nor outside NASA.

      1. Gregg

        The lack of Lib-Dem_lefty_ACLU outrage at Muslim Outreach from a government agency is telling.

        Demonstrates that they are not supporting the principle…

        …but we knew that.

  8. Trent Waddington

    Umm.. what happened to Rand Simberg? Ya know, the Libertarian who used to start sentences with “well, if we’re going to have a budget for NASA at all…” It seems that all the space policy – which fundamentally assumes that it is any of the government’s business – has turned him into some sort of Conservative.

    The “correct” budget for NASA is zero. Nothing it does is part of the proper function of government.

  9. Michael Mealling

    Trent,
    Because tilting against windmills has no ROI. I can waste my time trying to convince 50+1% of America to cut Government far beyond anything they will ever be comfortable with or I can accept that I can’t change that and spend my time building something better elsewhere. Given our electorate me building a libertarian society in space is FAR more likely…

      1. ken anthony

        Zero is the correct amount. However, they are getting more and it comes from taxpayers, so… taxpayers aught to have some say.

        I for one say, ditch the SLS.

    1. Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

      That’s what the SLS porkers say too. In their case I think it is a lie, and in Rand’s case I don’t. Still, how hard is it to simply state what you would do if you were emperor, before explaining what kinds of pragmatic compromises you would support?

      Personally, I’d be in favour of cancelling manned spaceflight altogether, but I’d be happy to accept an exploration program as long as it created a $1B/yr propellant launch market straight away. This is true even if it includes Orion at the expense of commercial crew. Theoretically it would even be true if it included SLS, though that may be politically incompatible with a propellant market.

      Now, none of that seems politically possible. For me that’s enough reason to oppose NASA altogether, while still noting that commercial crew is a good thing. Nice, but not nearly nice enough, and unlikely to lead to a breakthrough. I’m not going to convince anyone with that, but at least I get to vent and to maintain my intellectual integrity.

  10. wodun

    “It’s now half a percent because of the monstrous budget growth in other areas over the past several years, and NASA didn’t keep up. ”

    This ^^

    NASA would be looking pretty good with their current funding under a budget that spent $1t less.

Comments are closed.