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What amazes me is how uncritically the media usually treats this issue.

A great many things the government does follow a similar over-promising, under-delivering pattern. The notion that perception is reality and a loss of confidence is the worst thing that can ever happen conspire to stifle public questioning.

We see it with Afghanistan, stimulus spending, TARP. As justifications don't pan out, something else is used to justify things.

Of course, the real root cause is that those paying for things are far removed from the decision making process. If voters individually decided whether they were going to be taxed $500 a year for continuing the shuttle or $100 a year for returning to disposable rockets, this program would have been killed long ago.

But everything is put in one big pot and dollars borrowed to conceal the actual ultimate pain. There are so many deceptive aspects to how this operates, its difficult to describe or even grasp.

You grossly overestimate NASA's budget. I believe it gets just a few dollars out of the average tax receipt. In fact you can go here http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/taxes/tax-receipt and see that for a married couple making $80k/year NASA received $10.

I would think that the people are hacker news of all places would not get caught up in media-hype trends about how all government spending is waste bla bla. NASA tried to change the paradigm of space travel. It didn't work the way they'd hoped, but that's the risk of trying something different. Comparing it to TARP and Afghanistan is a ridiculous non sequitur that only works if you buy into the anti-government yammering in the first place.

So, am I to understand that your position is that NASA is efficient in its spending, and that this who think governments are inefficient (cost wise) at achieving goals are caught up in a "media-hype" that is "antigovernment"?

If that is correct, how were SpaceX and Scaled Composites able to do so much with such limited resources?

while i admire Musk, lets look soberly at the things, credit due where credit due. SpaceX and Scaled Composites did nothing technologically new. They took old (50 years old) well developed approaches and reimplemented them efficiently. This is exactly what business is good at - to take a developed (at great expense, usually on huge government dime) solution to a complex problem and productize it, cost efficiently and thus making it widely available (coincidentally a thing that government isn't good at, and it is only logical that NASA was able to develop such complex, pioneering design like Shuttle - huge success in that regard and wasn't able to make it useful anywhere close to commercial scale - huge and not surprising failure in that regard)

Indeed, how were SpaceX and Scaled Composites able to do so much with such limited resources, 30 years later and having benefited immensely from NASA's pioneering work?

NASA could definitely be run better but let's compare apples to apples. I'm sure any given engineer at SpaceX has a computer on his desk superior to the entire world's computational capacity at the time the shuttle was designed.

I think its disingenuous to say that.

People are not comparing SpaceX of today to NASA of 30 years ago.

They're comparing contemporary NASA to contemporary SpaceX and finding NASA is lacking.

NASA could also be compared to the Russian program and found lacking. And the Russians still have an ability to put things into space, while the US now doesn't.

They didn't have to build components at factories in 50 different states.

They didn't have to include secret USAF, CIA, AAA etc requirements in the design.

They had a simple goal - get payload to LEO cheaply - not a nebulous goal of 'make America look good in space'

I believe you are confusing NASA, the government organization that is beholden to ~500 representatives and 100 senators, with some other nebulous corporation that does scientific space research.

They did have to build components. Want to know why the shuttle (actually all space missions) took off in florida, were controlled in Alabama, and landed in California. Senators from Alabama, California, and Florida wrote their tender that way.

There is secret then there is ITAR. A lot of astromechanics, guidance and tracking is still under the control of the DOD. They'd have a hard time not going through them.

Goals, just like the, now, International Space Station have a ways of changing. The US thought they could build a permanently manned space station by themselves and even that proved too much.

I think "they" meant SpaceX, not NASA.

Besides, you are incorrect: Atlantis just landed back in Florida, as did most of the shuttles. CA was just the backup landing site, and they often waited a day for weather in Florida to be good rather than land in CA to avoid the hassle of transporting the shuttle cross-country.

Check your history. California Edwards AFB was the backup landing site but became the primary landing site for most of the early years of the program. A runway was built and maintained in Florida but never used until the 90s.

According to wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle_Landing_Facility, the runway was too good at its job and ended up breaking landing gear. So they spent 6 years sanding it down. But when I was a kid and asked why they landed all the way over there, someone at NASA told me it was the unpredictable Florida weather.

Its not based on media hype. If you've had personal dealings with the government, you'd notice that it takes weeks and several people that the private sector does with a single web form.

Its obvious that even software development is bloated beyond belief with no pressure to actually be responsible with the people's money.

From what I can observe, there are plenty of people that believe what politicians say. And that's a far more dangerous thing than listening to all the conflicting superficial voices of the media. There are just as many voices in the media that claim more government is the answer to every problem as say more government is bad.

Government is perfectly efficient at spending money on its pet projects and pet people. 100% of the money go to them.

But what the people who pay for this massive mess care about is what matters.

"Its obvious that even software development is bloated beyond belief with no pressure to actually be responsible with the people's money."

Of course there are portions of government programs that aren't working right. Like all things. I know mostly the healthcare world, so I'll draw an example from there:

Medicare uses about 3-5% of its money on overhead. Private insurers use between 15-30%. The insurance company has really well designed brochures, snappy sales pitches, and coverage that varies in quality so broadly that it is unbelievable. On the whole medicare is far more responsible with the money it receives, and provides significantly more efficient service.

How does this jibe with the world view you are presenting?

So you're implying that the government over-promises and under-delivers, while the private sector under-promises and over-delivers? I would beg to differ. There are as many anecdotal pieces of evidence that shows how wasteful and over-promising private enterprises are (though the over-promising ones are normally not around that long.) There are of course counter examples, but so are there for government (Medicare in the US goverment, many other countries seem to have better functioning governments than the US.)

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