But I also feel that public funding for NASA should be zero.
And here is where we disagree, and I will explain why. Governments should spend money on the things that generate the highest return to the taxpayer. This is why the government owns the roads, water delivery, etc. Because the government has tools that a private business does not AND SHOULD NOT have, and at least a veneer of public accountability, private businesses can focus on using the tools and infrastructure provided and not have to worry about the upkeep except to pay taxes. The classic example is a trucking company; think about how much chaos it would create if every trucking company had to have its own roads. Railroads were able to pull this off, sort of, but still needed to partner with the government to be able to purchase right-of-way, enact laws to create standards and easements etc.
The other classic argument in favor of this is broadband in any country not the US, Canada and Australia.
So that is a long winded primer for the meat of my argument. Basic research, in my opinion, should be funded by governments. Most of the research is not going to lead to anything profitable and companies are not going to sink time and money into basic R&D because the purpose of a company is to make a return. Amazon Investors freaked out over Bezos investing in all sorts of back end tech and not handing out huge dividends and almost had to fight an angry board until AWS started taking off.
NASA has invested millions in aircraft that will never fly, but the data generated from those failed programs gave other people ideas that have come to fruition, Scaled Composites for example. NASA is also starting to investigate how to build a supersonic aircraft that does not produce a sonic boom. And this leads to the absolute most important part of government funding of basic research: all that data must be in the public domain so that anyone can license it and use it. Link to the EFF front page on the FASTR act
The best way I can explain this to the reader is Bell Labs. You have access to the internet because the government allowed ATT to be a monopoly, but forced them to spend money on R&D. Eight Nobel prizes, the transistor, fiber optics, Unix, the C programming language, Radio Astronomy (!), photo-voltaic cells, radar, microwaves, cell phones, and that is the short list from memory not even looking at the wiki page. NONE of that basic research made money until years later or until other people got a hold of it and saw that it solved a problem.
This article from Time in 2012 talks about the demise of Bell Labs and what it means for innovation.
Most of the core math and engineering that SpaceX started with was NASA research. Google's founders had access to publicly funded data at Sanford to get them started. Linux is a fork of Unix. LED's are from a government lab. And there are thousands of people solving problems big and small with research that you and I paid for via taxes. When Thorium reactors become mainstream, it will be due to publicly funded research done in government labs.
In my mind, the government best acts like the middle manager. It pulls in people from various areas of society, and says "here is a problem, what would your idea of the solution be?" Sometimes it works, and sometimes it ends in the back of a text book and forgotten. As long as there is transparency and a working media to bring light to abuse, and that data is made available to to public (weapons research being classified I'm cool with), the public at large will benefit. This is one of the reasons I go off so often on how terrible the media is; the media needs to be a watchdog to protect our investments via taxation.
Its a Pollyana way of looking at the world, but when done well we all win. (As he types on the Internet created and funded by tax dollars as a way to transmit data after a nuclear war, on a machine invented in a quasi-government lab powered by electricity fueled by a government coop).
This can devolve into a conversation on the proper role of government and taxation which deserves another thread.