Back when I was working for the Court, I got a call from a local county official (read: jackass who was skittering on the edge of irrelevancy) questioning my budget. Not that it was any of his business, as my work came exclusively from grants and not from county tax dollars. I think once I told him that, he had to do some back peddling on his veiled accusations and went on and on about how his constituents are complaining about property taxes. Which got me thinking.... if I were an elected official, what if anything, would I cut?
Ok, know its a beloved icon of America, first to the moon and all that crap. However, at its core, we're really talking about looking for aliens and conducting research on dead rocks. No one really expects that our exploits to the moon and Mars will result in finding an area on one of these aforementioned big dead rocks that will sustain life. In fact, just the idea that Mars MAY have sustained life the size of small single-celled organisms 6 million years ago makes the news and people get all atwitter over it. THAT's what you're looking for? THAT's what we are spending 6 billion dollars to build a space shuttle for?
Let's face it. They aren't out there, and they aren't coming. If we are really that paranoid as a planet about the possibility of alien invasion, I might suggest to things. 1) Stop reading Orson Wells. 2) create a multi-national space monitoring initiative run by the UN that everyone funds, rather than each country (and by that I mean primarily the US and Russia, followed at great length by China's, who's ego is getting in the way of good sense) creating their own science fiction, I mean scientific protocols. This proposal would also keep track of meteors, solar flares, etc., which are in fact the more useful if less glamorous purposes of NASA.
Another thing. Time and time again, we have learned on an international level that the best scientists do NOT work for the government, and that the most scientific progress has been made in the private sector. Example: privately funded scientists cracked the human genome code 18 months before government funded scientists even began to figure out what they were looking at. Einstein did not get funding from the German government to study relativity - in point of fact, they kicked him out because he was Jewish, but that's another rant for another day. I could go on, but the overarching point is that while this may not be the biggest government program, its still costing money and for what really purpose? To satisfy the American ego that we can go back to the moon if we want to, even though we've already done it and haven't repeated the feat in more decades than I've been alive? To give our top military pilots something to fly after they come off active duty?
I would propose that we should turn over this whole space exploration and research thing to the private sector, who can raise the funds from interested parties. Instead, refocusing the (albeit few, relatively speaking) dollars that we just now eliminated from the extravagant waste that was the NASA project to the thoughtful revamping of social services and funding of prevention programs might actually do some qualitative good for future generations. Granted, they won't have the joys of childhood that I did watching the space shuttles take off on television, but then again, that's what the movies are for.
Beam me up, Scottie. Megs out.