Burn MoneyMoney To BurnI came across this article regarding a new multibillion dollar contract NASA awarded Lockheed Martin for a spaceship. It got me thinking (which I'm prone to do) about all the enormous sums of money we spend on space travel and exploration. And might we have better uses for this money hear on planet Earth (we are still a planet, right)?

Now, as a scientist, I think I understand better than most the high cost of scientific research (one of the mass spectrometers in my lab costs close to half a million dollars—and you can't even do much with it unless you buy an LC for another $60K). Furthermore, I think I understand better than most the value of basic research—research that has no obvious application. Many of the current technologies and medical cures we have today can be traced back to some obscure scientist slaving away in a lab just trying to understand some fundamental aspect of biology or physics or chemistry (yeah, chemistry) only to find that whoa!, this could cure cancer!

But even so, when I ponder the gargantuan sums of money spent by NASA—such as $912,000,000 for the X-33 spaceplane which never got built—I can't help but wonder if maybe we ought to build better schools, provide healthcare to needy children or end obesity first; then we can fly to Mars.

To find the answer, I did a quick Google search (doesn't Google have all the answers?) for some compendium of all the glorious things we have now that can be traced to NASA spending. Google failed. But I did find this: an opinion piece from spacedaily.com addressing the question of NASA's largesse. I'm unconvinced. The author makes the argument that NASA's profligate spending is okay because it's not much when compared to all the money we spend on other stuff. And when they say we, they're not even referrring to the government, they mean you and me. Could there be a dumber argument?
For instance, this year, total pet-related sales in the United States are projected to be $31 billion – the[sic] double, almost to the cent, of the $15.47 billion NASA budget. An estimated $5 billion worth of holiday season gifts were offered – not to the poor – but to the roving family pets – six times more than NASA spent on its own roving Martian explorers, Spirit and Opportunity, who cost the American taxpayer $820 million both. Instead of providing a launch pad for the immorally expensive shuttles, Florida can do better and clothe the underprivileged - a genuine alligator pet collar cost only $400 a piece.

First of all, government spending should not be confused with the sum total of personal spending. If you want to buy Fufu a cashmere sweater instead of feed the hungry, that's your perogative. But I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit back and let you tax my hard-earned income to pay for your lavish idiocy (at least not without a lot of whining). Second, didn't your mother ever teach you that two wrongs don't make a right. Even if the government did tax me to buy doggy toys (don't get any ideas, Dems), that wouldn't make NASA's enormous spending any less eggregious.

The bottom line is that we have plenty of problems right here on Earth that could benefit from a little more cashflow. So unless NASA thinks Mars has better schools or cheaper healthcare, maybe we should hold off on the multibillion dollar rockets to nowhere.

All that having been said, if anyone knows of a nice summary of all that we've gained from NASA spending up to now, I'd love to check it out and maybe even reconsider my stance.