I have mixed feelings about NASA, as is obvious if you've read my posts about it. But I think that they have done a simply fantastic and amazing job given how small their budget is. You might think NASA gets a huge amount of money -- a lot of people do -- but in fact they get only a tiny fraction of the federal budget.
The New York Times made this very very clear recently when they posted an interesting graphic depicting the national budget allocations. Take a peek:
[Click to enporkbarrelate.]
Can you find NASA on there? It's actually listed under General Science, near the bottom right. That rectangle's not very big, is it? And NASA is only a part of that section, so the space agency's lion's share is starting to look more like a kitten's nibble.
Now, wanna have fun? Close your eyes and click randomly on the graphic. Did you click on NASA? No? Shocker. But this gives you another way to think of the amount of money NASA gets, compared to, say, the military*. Statistically speaking, your chance of randomly picking NASA's footprint on that graphic are about 1 in 125.
I'm still working out what I think about Obama's new plans for NASA. I'm happy about the increase he plans to give them, but we can easily afford to increase NASA's budget by a lot more. We spend more on pet food every year in the US than we do on NASA. What we spend every year on tobacco products is five times NASA's annual budget, so I'm thinking the money is out there.
It's not a matter of finding the money. It never is, and never has been. It's a matter of finding the money in a way that isn't political suicide for a politician. And that, I suspect, is because those of us who support space exploration haven't made it politically expedient for everyone else to support it, too.
I don't have a remedy for that. I'm just a guy with a blog, so I blog about it, trying to show people that space is exciting, interesting, and worth a few more tax dollars a year. The more people who know that, really know that, the better off we are.
Tip o' the change purse to Fark.
* Not to pick on the military, except to say that it gets a lot of money. I actually like to confuse my opponents by telling them truthfully that I support a strong military, since I know there are bad guys out there. Unlike political ideologues, I try to judge things on their merits, and make up my mind on a case-by-case basis. So you can try to peg me as a left-wing liberal on some issue if you want, but you'll be wrong a lot of the time.