NASA's big debate: How to spend $18.7 billion

There's billions to be spent in space exploration but where's the most bang for the buck? And are some of these programs really worth the money spent on them?
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

For a bit of a Tuesday off-topic rant, I turn to a SmartPlanet post about a debate that's going on over at NASA. It appears that the folks in the U.S. space program are unsure where to spend the billions of dollars  - $18.7 billion, to be exact - allocated to them in the 2011 federal budget.

Mars? The Moon? How about just hanging out on an Asteroid for a while?

I'm not necessarily opposed to space exploration. After all, the U.S. has a mainstream interest in what happens with space - especially as it relates to GPS navigation, weather forecasts and even satellite TV. But what should NASA be focused on and how far out should its goals be set? 10 years? 30 years?

Panelists at the 10th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate held this week at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City debated the priorities. From Andrew Nusca's post on SmartPlanet:

The panelists discussion, which at times grew contentious, centered on the existential crisis of the manned lunar program: that is, whether it should even exist or not. Panelists agreed that humans had an irresistible urge to explore space themselves — as opposed to using robots — but disagreed on how NASA should approach the task. [One panelist] said the program must be “incremental,” “cumulative” and have a “stability of purpose,” highlighting a lack of a timetable in the current NASA budget.

It was also interesting to read how panelists were concerned about long term projects in this political climate and the need to go after something short-term. One panelist said it was "a fundamental problem to give NASA $20 billion and not give them a destination."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to sit here and criticize NASA and the funding that goes to the space program. But just as an average Joe, I can't help but think about how much I wish our schools or our hospital administrators had the chance to debate how to spend anything close to $20 billion.

Editorial standards