Tonight NASA is scheduled to launch the space shuttle Discovery to ferry electrical parts to the International Space Station. If the mission were scrapped, the country could save around $450 million dollars, the average cost of a space shuttle flight. Isn’t this a good place to start cutting back non-stimulative government spending?
Space flight is an anachronistic idea, hatched as part of our cold war strategy. It was one part threat–China and the Soviet Union were meant to be scared by our men in space the same way the Sputnik advertised to the United States that the Soviet’s had missiles capable of reaching our cities. If you can put a man on the moon, you can obviously put a rocket in the Kremlin. It was also propaganda, intended to show the world we were the most technologically advanced country in the world. We don’t need to do either of those things these days.
The shuttle program has involved ghastly costs. Putting aside the national humiliation of two shuttle explosions, the program has cost over $150 billion dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the shuttle program has been more costly than AIG. And at least AIG has a healthy insurance business underneath the speculative financial arm.
The benefits of the shuttle program are highly questionable. Sure we got Tang and Velcro from NASA*, but those were both developed long before we designed a reusable rocket ship shaped like an awkward aeroplane. What has NASA done for us lately?
The 14-day mission the Discovery is undertaking tonight, for instance, will provoide “solar wing arrays” for the international space station, so it’s basically a costly national boondoggle servicing a costly international boondoggle. What vital mission is the international space station undertaking? Oh, that’s right. It’s studying the effects of space on humans. So we’re in space to study what happens when we’re in space. The image of a snake eating its tail comes to mind.
And the space program is one of the least stimulative types of government spending you can imagine. The expenditures are concentrated on a small group of technical companies and government agencies who employ very few people. There’s probably a negative multiplyer effect with each dollar spent on the shuttle.
Maybe someday we can start the space program again. By then perhaps someone will have actually thought of a good use for spaceflight. But for now we should stop shooting taxpayer dollars into space. We already know the main effect of space on humans–it makes us poorer.
*Update: As it turns out, Nasa didn’t invent Tang. It was originally created by General Foods in 1957. It’s use in the space program popularised the sugary dust drink mix, however, and created a public confusion about its origins. Nasa’s invention of Velcro is also a myth.
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