You wanna live long and prosper? Spend money on space, not war

Depending on your view of taxes in general, and on Obama in general and on space exploration in general, you were either cheered or enraged to hear Obama say this week we’re going to invest in NASA and start sending astronauts to asteroids by 2025 … to boldly go where no one has gone before (you Trekkers get it, right?).

Wow! That sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster, only it’ll cost a little more. Well, a lot more. About $17 or $18 billion (that’s with a b) a year (James Cameron’s “Avatar” cost only $280 million (with an m)).

My Beloved thought he heard we were sending astronauts to an asteroid headed for earth, but no, we’re sending astronauts to some random asteroid just in case some asteroid in the future is headed to earth; that way, we’ll know what we’re doing to land on one (and, presumably, blow it to smithereens). Being an insurance salesman, he should appreciate such an insurance policy. There are, afterall, 1,111 “potentially hazardous asteroids” hurtling through space right now.

Seventeen or $18 billion is an awful lot of money, huh? I think it’s really a jobs program to keep all those space cadets in Florida employed. But hey, I’ve heard of worse jobs programs. Like, how about spending trillions on unemployment payments paid to people who spend more time on the couch making up excuses rather than looking for a job? OK, some of them are legitimately unemployed, but you’re kidding yourself if you believe some people don’t milk the system. At least those NASA guys (and gals) are working.

And I certainly appreciate all the inventions credited to our space program: Tang and Velcro come to mind. I don’t really like Tang, but someone does.  Now they’re working on air purifying systems and ways to turn urine into drinkable water (now that’s tangy!), but those inventions could come in handy when our internal combustion engines finally choke all oxygen out of our atmosphere and we drain our natural aquifers.

You want to complain about a real waste of money? How about what we spend on war? Yeah, we spent about $184 billion in 2008 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (for the record, that was the last year of the (in)famous Bush presidency). We’ll spend a bit less in 2010 — about $139 billion. But that’s still almost eight times what we’ll spend on NASA. And what kind of inventions do we get out of Middle East wars? Better machine guns and tanks. Maybe. If they were that much better, we’d have won the wars by now, don’t you think? I think we just get smarter enemies. In the end, war is just a jobs program, too, only the benefits of post-traumatic stress disorder and missing limbs (not to mention lives) for our soldiers aren’t as appealing as the perks of living in Florida for those NASA employees.

Maybe we should work a bit harder on promoting world peace before we huff and puff about the money spent on space exploration.

Now that would be bold.

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