Wednesday, August 02, 2006

NASA and the pork problem

NASA and the pork problem

DISCLAIMER: OK, I realize that this isn't a life changing event. I even realize that it isn't newsworthy to some, but I thought I would comment on it since it is related to some of the research I was involved with while attending Utah State.

A recent piece from Florida Today that was run in USA Today the other day talks about the pork projects that are eating up NASA's budget and causing them to cut funding to some of their most critical programs. For those who may not be aware, any congressionally mandated project (or "pet" project) is considered "pork". Now the NASA administrators hates pork, especially when it deals with them. You see, no one likes to be told what to do with their money, especially NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. He recently told congress that he is "deeply concerned that the growth of these unrequested congressional directions is eroding NASA's ability to carry out its mission of space exploration and peer-reviewed scientific discovery."

That sounds good, but what are some of the "pork" projects and what are some of the missions NASA wants to carry out?

Here is a list of a few projects that were mandated by Congress (pork) this year:
•• Shuttle rescue mission to Hubble Space Telescope
•• Recently launched probe bound for Pluto
•• Construction or renovation of dozens of museums, planetariums and science labs for colleges.
•• Computers, classrooms and lab space for colleges and schools across the U.S.
•• A website and laboratory for the Gulf of Maine Aquarium.
• OnTarget-Geospatial Extension Program (program designed to educate Natural Resource and Agriculture managers, including county extension agents, to use NASA technologies such as GPS and remote sensing in their work)

What are some of the projects the NASA administrators want to fund but may need to be cut because of the "pork"?

•• They may cut half of the funding for the agency program that helps ensure historically minority colleges and universities are represented in NASA projects.
•• International Space Station experiments (such as studying ants in microgravity environments) may be cut.
•• Space Shuttle missions
•• Development of a CEV to go to the moon.

Now don't get me wrong, I love space and I would love to send someone to Mars or back to the moon... but what benefit does that give us here (other than a Mars base where we can run when the crap hits the fan -- e.g. Al Gore's doomsday scenario of the global ice caps melting and killing us all). On the other hand, I love seeing the photos that come back from the Hubble. I also enjoy learning about space from planetariums and I think that education is on of NASA's greatest jobs. But Mike has different plans for the money and he is upset. He has even threatened to cut funding to robotic space missions (such as the Mars Rover mission) because he is being forced to fund other projects.

Seriously, it sounds like everyone has pet projects, including NASA, and they are just miffed that they have to do what congress wants. Anyway, that is what happens when you are an agency that relies completely on discretionary funds. Sorry, but that is life. And I think a lot of the pork projects are really good for the country.

I have to admit, that not all of the projects are things that I would personally want funded, but neither was the wolf recovery in Idaho or the millions we dump into salmon and steelhead recovery when the data shows it will never help until the dams are gone (and I think the dams are more vital than the fish...) ... but I digress.

So next time someone tells you that congress is wasting billions on pet pork projects, ask yourself what agenda that person is pushing and if that pork is something that is helping your community.


deidra zoe said...

WooooHoooo! Chod updated his blog! Even though it wasn't a life changing event, it was good to read. Keep them coming!

Nikkala said...

About stinkin time you updated this thing.

chartie said...

Chod, your blog get updated so rarely, you can see all the dust/dirt building up in the background!