How much money is invested in NASA?

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2012-08-15 04:11:21

The percentage of the federal budget for NASA and space research

has not kept pace with our dreams, or with the pace of scientific

discovery since the Apollo Years. Entire generations weaned on

'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' demand more from NASA than what we are

financially willing to commit to this great adventure. Because NASA

must obey the laws of nature, and most of these laws require

expensive solutions, NASA cannot continue this decline without

great human and technological risk. (Credit: The Author).

The recent budgets are at a level of about $15 billion and

amount to one percent of our total federal budget. In the 1960's

this fraction was closer to 5%. Since the 1980's it has been slowly

declining until by 2003 it is just under 0.7%. We spend as much on

NASA as we do buying potted plants and gardening materials every

year. You can hardly argue that we, as a Nation, have a very

serious attitude towards space. About 10 percent of the NASA budget

goes to aviation. The remainder goes to space research both manned

and unmanned. Since the beginning of NASA back in 1959, a total of

$466 billion has been spent by NASA over 44 years when correction

to '2003 dollars' is made to take into account inflation.

It's interesting to note that $466 billion about equal to a

single-years expenditure by the Department of Defense. It is well

known that NASA is horribly under-funded compared to the objectives

and missions it is asked to carry out. If the budget were doubled

you would see many more very ambitious engineering and scientific

projects to detect life and planets orbiting other stars. There

would be a full-fledged lunar research outpost with some very

impressive telescopes in operation. During the last 20 years we

have spent endless time 'debating' why we need a Space Station, why

we 'really' need to go to the Moon and Mars etc. While the debating

goes on, and budgets are reduced, we loose precious opportunities

to carry out these projects at lower cost than what we now have to

pay. When the USSR was still our enemy, the debate was about

political prowess and national security. But today, it is

infinitely harder to convince anyone to do anything that costs

money other than prepare for war or national defense.

It will take a national calamity such as a direct asteroid

impact on a major city to change this around. The second problem is

that our basic understanding of how to carry out large projects is

still rudimentary. We do not know how to put someone in space for

more than 200 days without serious medical impacts. We do not know

how to build a closed biological system for long-term habitation.

Our technologies for putting material in orbit still cost thousands

of dollars a pound. Even if we had more money, it is not obvious

how to accelerate the learning process, but it would sure help to

have more resources and people involved. But we cannot seem to

convince anyone that without reliable support and investment, we

will never be able to solve these big problems that still daunt us.

No matter how clever we think we are as designers, Nature can not

be short-changed and still allow us to operate safely in space.

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