Saturday, March 17, 2012

NASA's Slow Collapse Continues

I've written here before that one of the most glaring examples of America's decline is the sorry condition of its space program. Even as the dreamers like Newt Gingrich keep imagining moon bases and manned Mars missions, budgetary realities are making it quite obvious that those are nothing more than pipe dreams. The New York Times confirms this sad state of affairs yet again with a story it published on Monday about how funds are now drying up even for continuation of unmanned space probes:
Just as NASA is on the cusp of answering the most fascinating questions about Mars — is there, was there or could there be life there? — the money needed to provide the answers is about to be abruptly withdrawn, a victim of President Obama’s budget request for 2013, scientists say.

Two ambitious missions that NASA had hoped to launch to Mars, in 2016 and 2018, will be canceled. The first would have sent an orbiter to measure gases in the Martian atmosphere — methane in particular, since methane does not last long. Its presence could suggest that Martian microbes are busy at work emitting the gas (though other explanations are also possible).

The second, in 2018, would have set the stage to fulfill the longstanding desire of scientists to bring pieces of Mars back to Earth for close-up study with the full arsenal of instruments available in their laboratories. Now the prospect of bringing Martian rocks to Earth is likely pushed to the mid- or late 2020s, all because of budget cuts.

“The pipeline is being shut off, and that’s not what anyone wants,” said Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit group founded by Carl Sagan and others who wanted to foster interest in outer space. “We are closer than anyone has ever been to discovering life on another world.”

President Obama’s budget request for 2013 calls for cutting NASA’s robotic exploration of the solar system by 20 percent, to $1.2 billion, and the Mars program would be particularly hard hit. Already, NASA has withdrawn from a collaboration with the European Space Agency that would have launched the missions in 2016 and 2018, angering the Europeans and disappointing astrobiologists and planetary scientists.
What amazes me when I read stories like this is that the authors always treat the idea of budget cuts in a vacuum and never mention that there is a very good reason why they are happening. The longer term trend here should be painfully America's economic power slowly erodes away, its space program is collapsing. That basic fact was driven home even more directly by this passage:
The sidelining of the Mars program is one of several depressing developments at NASA. The space shuttles will never fly again, and the agency’s reliance on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station is likely to be extended, because financing of commercial companies to take over that task has been limited. The James Webb Space Telescope, meant as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, is delayed and over budget, now at least six years from being ready. The new heavy-lift rocket that is to take astronauts on faraway missions will not carry any astronauts until 2021. All of the big projects are slipping into the distant future.
Read: never. The trend could not be more clear, and yet the scientists remain completely oblivious to it:
In a letter sent March 5, a group of Mars scientists that provides feedback to NASA said it was “appalled” by the proposed budget cuts. “Among the many dire impacts, the cuts threaten the very existence of the Mars exploration program which has been one of the crown jewels of the agency’s planetary exploration,” wrote David J. Des Marais, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in California and chairman of the group.
Sorry to break this to you, Mr. Des Marais, but it is not only the Mars exploration program which is seeing its very existence threatened but the entire space program itself. Sadly, its ultimate demise is merely a matter time. Given that this trend dates back to the demise of the Apollo Program, is it REALLY that difficult to see?

On June 22nd of last year, in my post, "Fittingly, Voyager 1 Leaves the Solar System as the Last Space Shuttle Gets Ready to Launch," I summed it up this way:
Someday, a hundred years from now perhaps, tales will be told to young children around the evening campfire of a fanciful time when human beings actually walked upon the face of the moon. Sadly, those stories will likely be treated by those youngsters with the same sense of wonder and yet innate disbelief as the legends of the Greek gods of mythology are today.

Bonus: "The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth...if you go straight long enough, you end up where you were"


  1. I remember from my childhood the Apollo program, with Walter Cronkite on TV doing the play-by-play. But NASA is now, I believe, a colossal waste of money (except for maybe weather satellites?) - a luxury we can no longer afford. Go to Mars?? Not when I live near a city where a third of the children don't have enough to eat.

    I put most of the space program in the same category as our world-wide system of military bases, ongoing gov't. support of the "defense" industry, and wars of conquest.

  2. Spending almost 50% of the budget (or, debt) to fund the military to go kill brown people and steal their resources is more important than spending .1% of the budget exploring space.

  3. Excellent new movie available for free please watch and promote if you agree - Thanks ThreeEs

    1. Yes, it is a very good movie. Drives the point home that so many experts only see what is happening in their narrow field of expertise, and what is needed is analysis that links all of the various building crises together.

  4. What is a space program worth
    While we fail on our planet of birth?
    We’re not going to mars
    Or out to the stars—
    We won’t even survive here on earth.

  5. oh thanks 3e's for a Saturday night movie!

    I feel kind of sorry for the scientists but I guess they're no worse off than every other laid-off worker. Meanwhile, the delusions deepen, this is what I was sent on facebook, which ruined my afternoon:

    yourretrocareer: Today verifies that I love global warming. So what if glaciers start to melt? I'll get a canoe.
    Handles_Messiah: About to go grill out. In Chicago. In March. My prayers have been answered in the form of global warming.
    bcam7757: Why is global warming bad again? So nice
    AlexDesmond21: If this weather is a result of global warming. Then I really don't care about saving out environment
    missalliXO: Beginnin of march n I'm bongin beers in my bikini in Indiana #GlobalWarming #CantSayImMad
    timjahn: T-shirt and shirts. In March. In Chicago. And global warming is bad why? ;)
    Samantha_Meyerr: I love global warming
    avase52: If this is the beginning of global warming... I am all for it
    Olivia_Simard: Mmm nothing like global warming kicking in :')

    My reply:

    Jesus people are so stupid. Ask them how they like 20 degrees above normal when it's 115 in August, too hot to grill, and the power goes out so the beer isn't cold anymore, and it's dark in the city.

    1. Sadly, Gail, as long as their AC holds out, they probably won't care about 115 in August either.

      According to TWC, Chicago saw highs of over 80 Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and it is expected to top out near or over 80 today and tomorrow. TWC also reported that prior to this month, Chicago had NEVER seen even TWO consecutive days of 80 or more in March. That's pretty dramatic.

  6. The money isn't so much gone as vacuumed up into the pockets of the one percent. "Privitization" is the trend, in other words, the rabble aren't allowed. Government is being systematically defunded, since the one percent can afford to do everything themselves because all of the wealth of society goes directly into their bank accounts (most of which are offshore, natch). The plutocrats now run everything at their whim like modern-day Medicis, including the space program. Richard Branson is building a spaceport in the desert for wealth elites to vacation in space and Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. So while they're using the last of earth's fossil fuels on their interplanetary holidays, the rest of us will have to wonder how we'll hear our homes.

  7. We will do as we have always done when we have exhausted the resources of one environment. We will move on. The rest of you can consider yourselves evolution's failed experiments.

    To do this massive leap we have to concentrate the capital of the world. This step is nearly accomplished. There is still a little more to mop up.
    The resources of the cosmos will allow us to breed up exponentially. There will be many orders of magnitude more of us than there are of you.

    Once we have seized L4 and L5 you will be trapped. We will comb through your genes for rare gems.

    Humanity has branched. We are the inheritors of the future.