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comment by ThatFanficGuy

There's so much stuff about Pluto just to the left of the article... Why aren't we hearing more about it? It sounds like something extremely peculiar which would be of interest to many people.

user-inactivated  ·  1550 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The data is trickling in at a very slow speed. That data then needs to be analyzed and made presentable to the public. Some of the data is being held so that the science team can write their papers and get credit for the discovery. The final burst of Pluto data is scheduled to arrive at earth in September, more than a year since the encounter.

That is the reason you give to people in polite company.

The blunt reason is that outside of the nerd sphere on the internet, nobody gives a shit about space, engineering, and at least out here in Redneckistan, learning in general. SpaceX nails a rocket landing this weekend and it did not even make the news. I did two outreach events and people who said words along the line of "I like Space" did not know that the second barge landing was successful.

I'm in a bit of a dour mood right now so I will leave my answer there.

wasoxygen  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I love this stuff. I didn't know that Pluto has four satellites; now I have seen a photo of Hydra. I wish you would publicize SpaceX events a little earlier; I keep watching them on replay. And I look forward to next year's eclipse.

But I also feel that public funding for NASA should be zero.

You and I belong to the "nerd sphere on the internet," what might well be called a special interest group. I might choose to contribute my resources to space exploration. But I cannot support the use of resources taken from people with no interest in space to pay for my interests. What's the difference between that and any other relatively affluent, literate, and connected group lobbying for taxpayer dollars?

user-inactivated  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    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.

goobster  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks for doing the legwork on this response. I'm so tired of the "defund NASA" bullshit. Been fighting that red herring for more than 25 years now.

I'll add the one point you missed: NASA's budget is a microscopic portion of the national budget. Less than 1%.

So people who make the argument to "save the money and spend it on something else" are morons. There is orders of magnitude more money spent on other stupid shit. No need to start with NASA.

And the other side of that coin is that, for a mere 1% of the budget, we get the intermittent utterly amazing thing, like the Internet. And taking 1% of your income and giving it to some of the smartest people in the world is a pretty damn good lottery ticket, as far as I'm concerned.

user-inactivated  ·  1548 days ago  ·  link  ·  

2013 report on consolidating anti-poverty programs WARNING PDF.

Obama's White House in 2013 proposed a consolidation of Federal anti poverty programs and cut to redundant management without impacting the money going into the hands of the people who need it. Those cuts totaled $24 billion a year. That same year, NASA got $17.7 billion. We spend roughly $80 billion per year on corn and ethanol subsidies, $130 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, we spent $8 trillion on TARP, roughly $2 Trillion so far on Iraq, and I could go on from here.

The problem as I see it is this. Most Americans don't have any clue what their tax dollars do. That is a flat out failure of the media as their role of watchdogs. Maybe we can say education as well, but more of a news issue IMO. As I said in a rant that got badged last week, the important stuff is boring. Regional zoning and transportation planning commission reports don't even make the news, but the derby hats of celebrities are all over the local media. The federal R&D budget was amazingly easy to find and is roughly $140 billion in 2016 out of a budget of $3.5 Trillion. That basic R&D is what builds the engineering of tomorrow. It's peanuts and we can fund a whole decade of it by killing the F-35. Which gets into a Guns vs Butter debate that I don't want to hijack a thread for. The point is the money is there for the stuff that matters if we pay attention, the costs are minuscule, and it is building foundations that will have benefits for more than a generation.

goobster  ·  1548 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The underlying thinking here is why I became a delegate for Bernie Sanders.

America has plenty of money to do everything it could ever want to do. We have trillions and trillions of dollars available to us that we get to choose how to spend.

Sadly, more than 60% of that money goes overseas to fund stupid empire-building exercises... while our bridges here at home crumble underfoot.

The question is not whether we fund malaria eradication programs, or NASA, or give every student a basic living wage until they are 25, or whatever. We can do any of that we want to, and we could do it tomorrow, if we decided to.

All we need to do is re-evaluate our spending priorities.

Shit, the US Army lost a steel shipping container full of cash in Iraq War I. That single shipping container has NASA's entire budget in it. And it just disappeared into the desert without a trace. "Sorry. Can't find it. Dunno what happened."

All the US needs is to rethink our spending priorities. It ain't about raising or lowering taxes, it ain't about breaking or supporting international treaties, and it ain't about the debt ceiling or how much of our debt China owns. All of that is line noise, if we can take a hard look at where our money goes, and think closely about our priorities.

wasoxygen  ·  1548 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I agree that NASA's portion of the budget is small, and there are much larger programs that deserve more criticism.

But I don't think the right argument to make is: "It's only a little bit of money, so we don't have to worry if it is being used responsibly."

Ten billion dollars a year is small compared to larger programs. But it is large compared to the National Malaria Eradication Program, which produced great benefits.

If NASA is free, and we don't have to give anything up to pay for space research, then we should have a hundred NASAs. What are we actually giving up in order to have NASA, does anyone know?

To determine if NASA is a good way to invest resources, we should examine the costs and the benefits of having NASA. The Internet is not one of those benefits.

goobster  ·  1548 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Wrong. You are absolutely wrong in the wrongest way a wrong person could be.

It's called basic research. It is the human endeavor to learn, to discover, to figure out the universe and how it works.

Basic research can never have a value placed on it because it is basic. Elemental. It underpins every other idea, concept, invention, and innovation that follows it.

I used to work for NASA's Office of Technology Commercialization. The job of the OTC was to take NASA's inventions, and give them to private sector companies to turn into products. There were like, 20 people in this department! And we couldn't even get through all the amazing shit we had to give away. (Why give it away? Because NASA is a publicly funded agency, so WE - the taxpayers - own what NASA produces. That's why the OTC exists. It gives OUR research back to US so WE can make money on it, invent things, create jobs, and continue being amazing and innovative.)

I'm done with you. You choose to live in ignorance, and then espouse moronic opinions completely unencumbered by facts or the practical experience of generations of humans. If we spent 10x on NASA's budget, we still wouldn't be paying "market rates" for the amazing shit they create that makes our modern lives possible. The whole space thing is the flashy "marketing" part of NASA. The real value is the thousands and thousands of scientists, working diligently away in labs, with too little funding, and yet still producing brilliant work that benefits all of us - worldwide - that deserve your respect. And your nickel.

wasoxygen  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    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.

I am having trouble following the logic. Why do you choose roads and water as things that "generate the highest return"? Is it because modern life depends on them? But then government should supply our food and housing as well. Private firms provide a lot of water too. Do you suppose profit-minded firms could not provide safe and affordable tap water? It wouldn't be perfect, but neither is what we have.

You mention many beneficial results of research spending. We could examine them one by one and ask how much public vs. private spending contributed to the result, and whether it would likely have appeared without public funding. (I might request that you pick one single example that you think makes your case the best. I am inclined to think that trucking and rail will favor my side.)

My larger point is that R&D is a kind of investment that sometimes goes to waste and sometimes produces valuable benefits that people are willing to pay for.

People who risk their own resources in R&D have good incentive to invest wisely. When they fail they bear most of the cost. When they succeed they share the reward with customers who enjoy the benefit. No one is forced to pay for the research, nor for the result if they don't want to.

Government directs investment of resources provided by others. People are generally not as careful with other people's money as they are with their own money. I provided some colorful examples of wasteful spending that no one ever hears about. I think it is morally dubious that money someone could have spent on a pair of shoes was given to someone who is unwilling to finance their own rubber-band research.

You and am_Unition advocate for NASA, yet you recognize that many people are indifferent to space science. If people don't care that "the human race became bi-planetary," should they be forced to pay for such programs? Are the benefits that resulted from government investment (1) only obtainable by government investment and not by private investment and (2) enough to justify the investments that don't pay off?

    the government has tools that a private business does not AND SHOULD NOT have

One such tool is eminent domain, and it can effectively overcome intractable coordination problems, but it can also be abused. Just as we prefer to allow many guilty people to go unpunished rather than risk one innocent person being unjustly punished, I am willing to give up some efficiency to live in a world where people cannot be forced out of their homes at the whim of wealthy developers.

user-inactivated  ·  1548 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Will reply later this week. Remind me if I don't. wish me luck with the parental invasion!

ThatFanficGuy  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    SpaceX nails a rocket landing this weekend and it did not even make the news.

This is really stupid. From the country that made man first walk on Moon, I'd expect more than that.

Though, to be fair, Russians still celebrate 12th of April - Gagarin's flight into space - as a national holiday (though it doesn't get the day off). Maybe this is me holding firmly to the idea of commemorating the past.

user-inactivated  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

At the time of the landings, more than 1/2 of Americans polled wanted to cut NASA funding That is a link to a long document showing American support for NASA.

    The only point at which the opinion surveys demonstrate that more than 50 percent of the public believed Apollo was worth its expense came in 1969at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, as shown in Fig. 6. And even then only a measly 53 percent agreed that the result justified the expense, despite the fact that the landing was perhaps the most momentous event in human history since it became the first instance in which the human race became bi-planetary.

Note the high negatives among 20-25 year olds in those charts from the 1970's; those are the Baby Boomers. The same people who really did not support space exploration during their whole run.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Note the high negatives among 20-25 year olds in those charts from the 1970's; those are the Baby Boomers. The same people who really did not support space exploration during their whole run.

While I'm reading the document - any idea why such a situation came to be? People born in the fifties - I would expect them to be charged with the Kennedy momentum that mane people quote as setting off the major successes of the US in the space race.

user-inactivated  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Remember that the Baby Boomers are the hippies who went to Woodstock, protested the war etc. My parents for example are not fans of space and exploration and hate government spending until they get their Medicare and SSI benefits, or go yell at the city to fix roads.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  1549 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So these are the Baby Boomers. I must admit not to have known that prior to you telling me.

Did they oppose space exploration because it's space, because it's hard science or because it's government? I feel like I'm getting the wind of it but would like to make sure.