Felix Writes: Recession, austerity and space missions

DigitalThoughts / Recession, austerity and space missions

2012-08-07

Funny how things fall into place sometimes. I've recently seen the single best explanation of the recession ever. A few days later, the Curiosity mission landed successfully on Mars, an event I got to watch live, despite receiving very short notice. It's awesome stuff (I watched an atomic rocketship with lasers land on Mars!) and NASA was able to pull it off despite severe budget cuts in the past few years.

Good! you're going to say. Space stuff is expensive and doesn't really bring much return on investment. It's a recession, so let's not spend recklessly, right?

Wrong.

Not only the American space program has made a lot more than it spent (even ignoring the long-term benefits for humankind), but what they pay for sending stuff up into space is peanuts compared to much more frivolous expenses in the developed countries. Here are some cost comparisons that made their way to my Twitter feed:

Putting a robot on Mars: $2.5 billion. TSA budget 2012: $7.85 billion. And the robot works. -- https://twitter.com/loweringthebar/status/232362474219913216
both the #Olympics & #Curiosity are cheaper than a month fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan. -- https://twitter.com/kawika/status/232358781319798785
Entire @MarsCuriosity program cost less than a third of the UK government's investment in the #Olympics -- https://twitter.com/ADAMATOMIC/status/232352520004050944
we went to mars for 20% of the price of the london olympics. -- https://twitter.com/sherifffruitfly/status/232355036758437889
In case you missed it earlier - Curiosity cost $2.5B. Americans spend $7B on potato chips annually. To say we can't afford this is nonsense. -- https://twitter.com/NickInNC/status/232353885849796609

After the event, President Obama congratulated the team... even as it's about to be downsized. Gee, thanks. How about looking at how much money they make you. Tellingly, the US is cutting education and research budgets, while the crowd gathered in Times Square to watch Curiosity landing was at one point chanting "Science! Science!"

Then again, while the Romanian state doesn't have enough money to pay its pensions, a small local NGO has suborbital capability and is aiming for satellite launches next year. Who's the reckless spender here, again?