The Chinese explored the Middle East and Africa almost 100 years before the Europeans. Every expedition consisted of 300 ships, some as long as 400 feet with 9 mast and an armada crew totaling 28,000 men. After 30 years of doing it they realized that they were spending too much money on these grand expeditions. The succeeding emperor ended the program. The Europeans on the other hand would send out just a few ships and try to find ways for the expeditions to be profitable (Slaves, gold, land, colonies) in ways the Chinese never thought. These smaller European expeditions could not be stopped by one emperor because Europe was not a unified empire like China. The smaller European kingdoms also competed against each other. This not only made the expeditions sustainable but thrive for the next 500 years. Right now I think we are in China's situation 600 years ago. We stopped the moon landings for the same reason the Chinese stopped landing Eunuchs in Africa. Unless we find a way for these space programs to be profitable I don't see humans colonizing space anytime soon.
I know a robot is cheaper and safer than a manned spacecraft, but are we really willing to make our robots live our adventures while we sit on our couches watching TV?
Space travel has to be profitable, of course. It also has to be cheap. Now think of the price tag of a single F-22. Or the colossal clusterfuck that the F-35 project became. Couldn't we persuade just a couple nations to dedicate the budget of a single aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine to help fund the dreams of the next generation instead?
I'm sorry to say that, but people are just geeking out when they say that manned space travel is worth the expense and risk for the inspiration it will bring. Having space marines or replicating the Enterprise just for the cool factor when there's so much more to do that could benefit humanity in more tangible ways (like, say, ever more powerful AI, garbage processing, vaccine production and energy production) is folly.
I'm not sure space travel has to be profitable. Certainly Christopher Columbus's voyage was not considered (by most people at the time) to be profitable. Yet economies of scale could definitely be taken into account. It is often said that the computing power of the Apollo missions to the moon were less than that of a TI calculator. It seems we should be able to have unmanned missions to the moon by private sector or even partially public funded. After all were sending DIY cameras into near space.
Maybe we aren't fucked up enough for space exploration yet.
For much of my life, when we spend money on space, we get not-space.
For the money we spent on the X-30, X-33, X-34, and X-38, when Dan Goldin was NASA administrator, what did we get? Not-space. (At least the X-37 is up there spyingflying.)
The orbital space plane program, the one that was Sean O'Keefe's thing - neat plans, more capsules than planes IIRC, but ultimately we got not-space from it.
The Vision for Space Exploration, under Michael Griffin? Rocket designs that were approximately equivalent to throwing your astronauts into a paint mixer. A system about which the review panel said that "If they gave us the system on a silver platter, the first thing we'd have to do is cancel it, because we couldn't afford the ongoing costs." A lot of money, a launch pad rusting in the Florida weather, and a whole lot of not-space.
And for all the money we spend on human spaceflight, we now send Astronauts up as passengers in Soyuz rockets.
Now we're spending $18 billion dollars - figure subject to change, always upward - to build the SLS - the Senate Launch System. (Another estimate has it at $40B for development and the first 4 flights.) If all things go as planned, it will launch once every two years, launching an unmanned trip around the moon in 2017 and a manned trip to the moon in 2019. Schedule subject to change - always slipping.
Does anyone thing that SLS has a chance of working? Or is it just going to become another not-space program?
How about the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb Space Telescope? In 1997, it was going to be launched in 2007, and it was going to have cost 500 million dollars. Now we've spent 3.5 billion on it, and it will launch in 2018. Maybe. That's a ton of money to spend on not-space - and it's money that's been taken away from the moderately successful bits of NASA, like the Mars program, which doesn't have a mission in it after 2013's MAVEN.
I don't mind spending money on space. I like space. I've been following the MER rovers for nearly a decade. I think COTS and Commercial Crew are brilliant, and hope that they will continue to exist with a program structure that rewards results, rather than existence. Commercial space is the last best hope to get a domestic space capability.
But times are tight. We're massively overspending as is - borrowing tons of money our grandchildren will still be paying back. So increased spending is far from free.
Is it worth it? I say yes. Spend money on space. Where do we get that money? Let's stop spending it on not-space, like we have been.
FYI, if you remove all NASA spending from the budget, the total deficit remains the same out to something like 3 or 4 significant figures.
(By the way, I agree with pretty much everything in the grandparent comment.)
If i had said, "if you remove all NASA spending from the budget, the total budget remains the same out to something like 3 or 4 significant figures," then we would need 3 sig figs to see any impact by NASA's budget (3.803E12 - 1.78E10 = 3.785E12 ~ 3.78 ~ 3.8 ~ 4).
I think my ultimate point that NASA's budget is pretty inconsequential to either the budget or the yearly deficit stands since it is only 0.468% of the budget and 1.97% of the deficit.
Break down the budget categories enough, and you can say the exact same thing about anything. "If you remove tank spending from the budget, the total deficit remains the same out to something like 3 or 4 significant figures." Guess we should keep buying tanks, too.
I'm not breaking down categories nearly as deep you had to dive to get to your example of tanks. Looking at NASA is like looking at the entire operating budget of the Army, the FBI, or the NSA.
This isn't to say that there aren't inefficiencies at NASA that can be corrected. I'm sure there are, but since NASA's entire operating budget is orders of magnitude smaller than the deficit even the most optimistic optimization will have basically no effect on the problem.
The actual long-term costs of $1 billion military spending are far more than those of $1 billion of NASA spending (and let's not even get into the economic reward of said spending).
But the whole point is that this isn't true. It's not a whole lot of money and the political gain could be significant. The same politicians vote to spend way more money on unpopular wars than they do on potentially popular space voyages. For some reason, NASA is perceived as a money sink that doesn't get votes. But I bet, if put to the test, all that would be found to be hogwash.
Whoever takes the USA to Mars will be a popular person.
The president who takes the USA to Mars will be a popular person. The congressman who gives up a pet project in his constituency to pay for it will not.
I'd rather have Mars than Iraq any day, but Iraq is a far easier sell to Congress, especially when there's no requirement to pay for it.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is in my opinion just as close as NASA is in sending humanity to Mars if not slightly closer.
I believe it is around 0.5% to 1% of the current budget. That means 1/2 to 1 penny of every federal tax dollar is being spend on pushing the boundaries of science in regards to space exploration, object tracking/detection, research, capturing the hearts and minds of current and future generations in regards to exciting science, and all the other research and development that goes into making the other things possible. How much is the defense budget? somewhere around 20% I believe.
Medicine? The software that was developed to do image-sharpening on the Hubble pictures turned out to make MRI machines significantly more useful without requiring a change to the hardware.
Social net? NASA has produced a crazy amount of research that would be useful to disaster victims, people in shelters , and assisted living. A couple of examples from the top of my head: safe, stable, long-term storage for high-nutrition meals; long-term emotional impact of environmental factors (colors, scents, etc).
Police: Most forms of wireless communication (including police radios) use SOMETHING that was developed by NASA -- extended-life batteries, transmission protocols, etc.
Even leaving aside the benefits to be head, "$10 billion for NASA" is NOT real money. It's an unnoticeable fraction of the waste in our budgets.
Even if it's as high as 20% that can be re-used, you could get 100% of that value by researching image-sharpening, disaster shelters, food storage, wireless comms and all the other things you mention, directly. So you still have to justify the remaining 80% in other ways, the side-effects already accounted-for.
By the way, in 1997 most Americans thought NASA took about 25% of the budget. Not 0.5%-ish. So when arriving at the decision of what a "lot of money" is, compare it not to what you think but to what most people think and you'll find that NASA is vastly cheaper than the average person's expectations.
No, and I advocate against a lot of that spending too. But observing that some other money is spent unwisely doesn't justify spending even more money unwisely on something else. When talking about spending more on NASA, it's pretty much necessary to justify those marginal dollars on their own, not in the context of other government waste.
The other approach can be used to justify essentially any spending, considering how bad the size of our military is for this country. Almost any possible alternate project, including piling up a bunch of money and burning it, would be better than the marginal dollars that get spent on the military.
I do agree that it's worthwhile to correct people's perception of the size of NASA's budget. To be honest, I was quite surprised that it was even 0.5% though.
Looking at the OP, it seems like he was making the former argument, which I buy, so good on him.
You seem to be speaking from the vantage of ideology rather than an actual, rational view of reality. Cutting taxes is yet another action (i.e. change from the status quo, like defunding NASA) that you'll need to argue in favor of and outline a plan for. It won't just magically happen even if you cut some budget item.
As for the 1997 figure, I guess the .5% argument would be useful for the people so horribly uninformed, and you are right that this probably explains why I keep hearing this argument. Fair point.
(Electrical Engineer at NASA)
Note, I'm not saying this money was spent optimally, but I am saying that this money was not wasted by any means.
NASA no longer innovates. It's coasting on past glories. If a fraction of the billions spent on NASA were left untaxed in the hands of individuals like Carmack, Musk, Thiel, and Branson -- and allowed to wend their way towards NewSpace investments rather than wasted on NASA boondoggles -- we'd all be much better off.
Also, it's not at all obvious that we want to keep focusing on manned missions, which Tyson mentions explicitly. You can iterate much more rapidly on unmanned drones as you need save nothing for the way back, and the costs of failure are far less. Tyson recognizes part of the human psychological factors at play (the motivation of wartime) but doesn't recognize that wanting humans in space instead of far more machines is emotional rather than practical right now.
Get the costs of putting things into orbit down with machines, and humans will follow. But let's not put the cart before the horse.
Kickstarter is still far from mainstream and making million dollar projects. Petridish.org opens the possibility of tax-payers willingly donate a monthly value to science. Now imagine if all of these went mainstream with a celebrity like Neil Tyson as the front face of a project to help fund SpaceX? Viable?
Before going to Mars I would like a decent school on my street.
If you look at a graph of average inflation adjusted spending per student at public schools it's just a monotonically increasing line from the end of WWII until today, it just goes up, and up, and up.
But does average student educational outcome match such graphs? Not in the least. The problem is that the incentives are all wrong and the money keeps getting funneled to the wrong people. The ratio of administrative staff to students has grown and grown. The biggest influence that active parents have had on schools over the past few decades has not been on increasing educational quality but on driving administrative policy through excessive litigation. Increasingly K-12 public schools are little more than prisons where kids do busy work and if they're lucky the smart ones learn how to teach themselves and most of the rest pick up enough of the basics through repetition or osmosis.
Don't expect the results to change until the system changes.
Figure there are 50million kids in public schools and we spend 12k a year per student. So if we spent $11.6k a year per student we could more than double NASA's budget. So a 4% school budget cut vs a 100% NASA budget increase. I honestly wonder what direction educational attainment would go if we made that trade.
I wouldn't be surprised if it went up.
Seriously, there's tons of more pressing issues back here on Earth, ranging from real, social one like inequity and discrimination, technical/political ones like the ever growing piles of garbage all over the place, healthcare, climate change and mass extinctions, and say, taking care of that whole cycle of oppression and bloodshed that has been going on for a while now (not that it'll go away, but we're pretty fucking screwed if we don't come up with something which will leave most people content).
None of those problems will go away if we send little men on tin cans to space, and in fact, I can think of very little problems that will be solved by that. We're a long way from escaping the mess which we have created here on Earth, and wherever we go we'll do it again, and that's being optimistic in saying that we will actually get a self-sustaining Homo Sapiens population off the planet before our shit catches up with us and we're actually forced to do nothing but deal with the consequences.
All that said - perhaps... perhaps... Perhaps the minerals and compounds needed to survive as a species are elsewhere in our solar system.
Not only that, but more than we could at this point imagine using in a long long time, and an inexhaustible supply of energy. I find it hard to believe that these resources wouldn't help us just a little with the seemingly intractable social problems. Those very often boil down to arguments over limited resources in the end.
In fact, I can't think of a major world conflict or problem that isn't at its root about the allocation of resources, and it's all there for us, right above our heads.
 Not just in hindsight, at the beginning for many people.
 It feels odd to me to write trillion and actually mean trillion and not "some really big number".
Health care research is cute and all, but we don't really have a system that lets it benefit the vast majority of people, yeah? We are doing our damnedest to wall off the research that comes off of it, yeah? We are setting ourselves up for unrealistic expectations and a fantasy world where our loved ones never die, yeah? That's not worth spending money on.
Education cost is not the point--other replies covered that better than I can.
Solving world hunger? You mean, feeding people who can't feed themselves while we force our own poor into shitty lifestyles from eating junk food, yeah? Giving food to dictatorships in hopes that they, oh lawdy, don't develop nukes? Giving GM crops and their associated IP to fuckwads like Monsanto so that they can get a stranglehold on the food supply, yeah?
Space is the least harmful of places we've tried to make policy.
If we abandon grand visions, I honestly don't care if people are educated or not.
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too"
Or we could just build websites, obsess over stuff that will be forgotten in a year and shit all over other peoples grand ideas.
He's not a practicing theist, so his chances are about zero.
I agree with him. Politicians are a reflection of the electorate. One can have even more of a positive impact by educating and energizing the electorate than as one lone politician.
Am I the only so jaded to think that's comically naive? At least at the State+ level people (successfully) get into politics for power and money, period.
I wouldn't envy him if he ever decided to enter this shark tank, but I would support him with all my energy. Which isn't much - I don't even live in the US.
But the world could use one or two ethical politicians for a change.
Or maybe I would. If he had more money, the Republican candidacy becomes even more confusing and the others will have to spend more time and money fighting each other than fighting Obama.
If I had a huge amount of money, I'd donate it to Ron Paul, just for the fun of it. From time to time he says some surprisingly reasonable things.
See them. See them all!
"More people have walked on the surface of the Moon than have visited the bottom of the Marianas Trench. We've even been to the Moon more recently than we have the very bottom of the sea."
Perhaps China will do the honors?
On a side note, I think current and recent generations rarely look to space with the complete awe that say, generations in the 60's and 70's did.
How can spacexy be brought back?
Because we saw what it got us. All that money, effort, and enthusiasm got us a couple dozen guys on a dead rock for a few dozen hours. Adding a couple zeros to the budget improves the situation from grey to red rock. Beyond that, we soon get to what some writer (escaping me at the moment) noted: humans just can't comprehend interstellar distances, the vast effort required to achieve even mundane results. Too much cost for too little result. My hopes remain high, but my expectations are more content with what's happening here on Earth. At 44 I realize how short life is.
A little background. I'm old enough to have been "inspired" by the Space Shuttle Program near the point of its inception. Imagine a young mkn sitting down with a pencil and paper to work out how much it would cost to buy himself a ticket on the Space Shuttle at the promised $50/lb. I weighed 70 lbs. I knew it would be more than $3500 because I'd have to eat and breathe while I was up there. I wondered if I could go naked to save some cash. But still, it was a nice number. And then, the number changed. The promise went up to $100/lb. Fine. The math was easier. Oh, and the number of launches went from 26/year down to 12/year. Not quite the airline-style operations they had promised, but not bad. And then the price went to $500/lb. 3 or 4 launches per year. And then, the media just stopped talking about the costs and launch frequency, probably because it quit showing up in the press kits.
Tyson complains that we don't dream about the future anymore. He's right. We don't. But he complains without the slightest hint of irony. The promise of NASA was that the costs would come down. The promise was that spaceflight would become routine and affordable. The promise tapped into the then-current emphasis on mobility in the American Dream. Tyson is right that we don't dream about the future anymore. But we don't dream about it because NASA has proven to us what the future is. The future is NASA, and the future is stagnation. We have all been "inspired" by NASA. We don't dream because we don't need to. We know.
Tyson breathlessly opines about all the amazing things NASA could do with twice the budget. Missions to Mars! To those, I have this to say: Big fucking deal. The promise of NASA was never its "missions". The missions were a vehicle for the promise. The promise was ubiquitous space access. I'm going to see my cousin on the Moon. We're taking a year and seeing Mars. Sending some highly-selected and highly-trained spam in a can for some fahrt around a crater is not the promise. Sending you and me there for a fahrt around a crater is. Somehow or other, that part of the promise has slipped out of NASA enthusiasts memory. Long live NASA! All we have to do is pay twice as much!
The imagery of the Shuttle and of the new capsule is especially offensive. It's the easiest thing in the world to verify that the Shuttle was the most expensive launch system ever conceived in the history of manned space flight. It is, as I've hinted above, the primary reason for the complete demoralization of the populace with regards to space flight. And it was promised to be so much better than that. The Orion capsule is all that is left of that disgraced launcher program, the one that retained the disgraced SRBs to placate Morton-Thiokol.
NASA can't. That's my new slogan. Unlike other slogans, which are mainly inspirational, mine is intended to remind me of reality. Take any dream you have about space and phrase it as a question, and the answer is "NASA can't". Will we build orbiting habitats in space on a massive scale? NASA can't. Will we ever colonize the Moon or Mars? NASA can't. Will we ever be able to realistically dream of democratic access to space? NASA can't. Every time you hear Tyson speak, just remember: NASA can't. And it ain't for lack of funds.
I wish Tyson would other shut the hell up or direct his energies and oratorical gifts at making NASA an agency worth supporting. But, he won't. He's a cheap shill, and he's just going to keep doing his shabby job.
Why do you insist on slandering him by calling him a shill? There isn’t even so much as a hint that what he says are not really his views and convictions. If you want to challenge those, fine, but don’t slander him along the way.
Also: Have you considered that what you want might just be impossible with the money and resources Nasa has at its disposal? Not just for Nasa, for any organization, real or imagined. You seem to want an awful lot of them.
If you don't like the comment, it's a lot more productive to respond to its substance (why do you disagree?) than to share how it makes you feel.
Please show us your evidence that Neil deGrasse Tyson says what he does about NASA not because it's what he thinks but because he's paid to do so. You do have that evidence, right? Because you say repeatedly that he's a shill. Apparently you even know how much he's paid to do it ("He's a cheap shill"). So, evidence please.
What if Columbus waited another 100 years for a safer option to cross the mysterious expanse? History would be much different.
Our current attitudes towards exploration is more like the large corporation. Playing to avoid loss, rather than playing to win.
"At 1997 prices, a relatively small metallic asteroid with a diameter of 1.6 km (0.99 mi) contains more than 20 trillion US dollars worth of industrial and precious metals." 
Spot-checking (pun not intended), those metals are currently up as much as an order of magnitude over their 1997 prices. So that same small-ish asteroid could be worth something more along the lines of a quarter petadollar.
If that's not sufficient reason to strip mine the asteroid belt, I don't know what is.
> At present, the cost of returning asteroidal materials to Earth far outweighs their market value
Also, as I understand it we're fairly certain of the economic value of other planets given our current technology (not much). So that aspect of Columbus' voyage does not apply today.
Edit: or the robots will be programmed with markov generators to tweet some stirring last words.
the people who heroically sacrifice their sanity to write unit tests
In all honesty, this is one of my biggest concerns about using robots for exploration and war. These are very human activities, and if we don't deign to use humans for them... well... why are we here?