The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

55° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “In space, no one can hear you spend”

    Editor’s Note: While writing about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Mr. Ham became so agitated that we were forced to take away his laptop and administer liberal doses of Bass Ale and “”Arrested Development”” DVDs. Because of this unfortunate interruption, this is just the first in a two-part series about NASA.

    If you’re like me, you would sooner drink from a puddle under Arizona Stadium than pay $30,000 for a bottle of water. Also, you hate NASA with a passion that burns like a thousand Class O stars.

    Each time NASA launches some intrepid overachievers into orbit on the creaky space shuttle, taxpayers spend about 30-large to send a liter of water with them.

    The recent stories about the jealous astronaut wearing a NASA-built diaper on her road trip caused much sniggering, but those diapers are no joke. They are high-tech devices designed to absorb the most expensive urine in the galaxy.

    Of the thousands of profoundly wasteful federal projects, none is more wasteful than human space flight. For decades we have spent billions and billions of dollars to let a small handful of people fly around in circles inside tin cans that smell like feet.

    The International Space Station is the absurd extreme of these cash burns. We spend over $2 billion each year to keep crews in the space station so they can perform the vital mission of not dying in the space station.

    According to a report last month by the space station Independent Safety Task Force, there is a 1 in 10 chance that space dust will destroy the whole thing. They recommended, essentially, that we board up the Russian-built windows like a Miami 7-11 during hurricane season.

    The same report pointed out that at current rates, the U.S., Russian, European and Japanese space programs combined will have only enough rocket capacity to send up 25 percent of the food, water and supplies the space station will need over the next 10 years.

    The Task Force estimates that NASA will have to spend another $1 billion per year to make these deliveries, or else bring the crew home and leave the station floating up there for the Chinese military to use as target practice.

    Yet NASA plans to spend another $15 billion over the next four years to continue building this money pit. By the time the space station reaches the end of its “”useful”” life, the price tag will top $100 billion. Twenty years ago the estimate was $8 billion to $13 billion, and even then people were skeptical. (Well, knowledgeable people at least; the space station’s biggest booster was Ronald Reagan.)

    Why does NASA continue building a space station it can’t afford to operate? Because nobody in Washington will stop them.

    Taxpayers love the fantasy of space travel so much that we keep throwing away good money on a satellite that can’t even deliver Pac-10 basketball in high definition. Economists call this a failure to recognize “”sunk costs,”” as in “”we should have sunk that thing to the bottom of the Pacific years ago.””

    This wasteful attachment to human space flight is tenderly cultivated by NASA’s public relations operation. This is no ordinary collection of flacks. They are more like the Borg: a soulless, unstoppable hive mind.

    Their plan is fiendishly simple: Get more taxpayer cash from Congress. Use it to send astronauts into space. Aggressively promote the astronaut program to build public support for NASA. Use public support as a tool to get more taxpayer cash from Congress.

    For 20 years the space station has been a key part of that cycle, especially since it’s the only space flight program that hasn’t killed anybody. Yet.

    This isn’t a harmless waste of money. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, space operations consume 40 percent of NASA’s budget and climbing. Meanwhile, total federal research on global climate change has fallen by 25 percent in the last three years. Wow, perfect timing!

    A cynic might say the Bush administration is cutting climate change research to support their policy of deliberate ignorance. More visionary people, however, can see that NASA is building a time machine: On Bush’s orders, they are traveling 40 years into the past to land on the moon. More on this breathtakingly stupid idea after I calm down.

    Shane Ham is a first-year law student. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu but lists of NASA “”spinoff”” technologies are not welcome.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search