Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Curiosity ... an endangered commodity

First things first: kudos to the NASA/JPL team -- including Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and other contributing contractors -- for pulling off the recent successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, aka the Curiosity rover. The flawless flight and landing mark a great technological achievement. The MSL seems poised to discover many interesting things about Mars.

Curiosity about to land
But Curiosity arose from a NASA solicitation in 2004: during the George W. Bush era. Where does curiosity, lower case, fit in the current administration's agenda? Nowhere, as far as I can see. Even as NASA takes its victory lap, the US has recently pulled out of the ExoMars program. So much for the Mars Exploration Joint Initiative signed between NASA and ESA in July 2009. During this administration.

Curiosity and its cousins
Like the hoopla about the space shuttle fleet's ... grounding, I find the current excitement over Curiosity's successful landing quite bittersweet. 

Money spent to acquire basic knowledge, and to answer really Big Questions like whether other worlds have known life? That's investment. 

But money spent in endlessly growing entitlements, no matter that a blind man on a fast horse can see the economic and demographic unsustainability of it all? Or money gone into flawed industrial policies, picking winners and (more often) Solyndra-style losers? Far from investment, those expenditures are firm shoves down the slippery slope to Greek- and California-style debt and financial ruin. 

Yesterday I read, "Obama Pledges to Protect Science, Tech Funding After NASA Mars Success." (As the same article points out, "NASA has been hit with budget cuts over the last few year." Ask me if I'm encouraged.)

After another downgrade or two to the U.S. national debt, even the pittance that is NASA's budget will be an unaffordable luxury.

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