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Even Space is Politicized for Profit May 22, 2007

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Society.
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Capitalism is a wonderful thing ain’t it, especially when you control enough politicians to give you big-money projects. I wonder where Malaysians ever got the impression that their country’s politics is unique when it comes to cronyism and government-assisted profiteering – it appears to be something that happens everywhere. Of course the severity of the problem is a different matter.

This article on Wired today : How NASA Screwed Up (And Four Ways to Fix It) discusses how NASA’s priority is messed up thanks to politicking. It’s been a known issue for a while now, but I’ve never seen anyone put it so succinctly.

Of course, “Keep money flowing to favored contractors and congressional districts” is not a formal NASA objective, but these words explain the agency’s core problem. Since the end of the Apollo glory days, NASA seems to have been driven by the desire to continue lucrative payments to the contractors behind manned spaceflight (mainly Boeing and Lockheed Martin) while maintaining staff levels in the congressional districts (mainly in Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Texas) that are home to huge centers focused on manned missions. If the contractors and the right congressional committee members are happy, NASA’s funding will continue and NASA managers will keep their jobs. The space station project was built to give the shuttle a destination, keeping the manned-space spending hierarchy intact. With the space station now almost universally viewed as worthless, the manned-space funders need a new boondoggle. The moon-base idea, pushed by President Bush, fits the bill.

For myself and people like my friend William who believes that space is the next important frontier, it is sad to read stuff like this. Again, this could be just one person’s opinion, but I can’t help agreeing with him. The amount of money spent can only be justified by some serious, targeted, high-yield research. Or at least exploratory frontier research which answers important fundamental questions. How much weightlessness based research do we really need to do?

Perhaps Malaysia can show the way through introducing new activities at the space station. Heh – I guess that’s been bandied about enough by now, and we should probably drop it now that the plans have been changed (they sure sounded serious when they talked about the teh tarik though). But if they get really bored up there…

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