The L.A. Times opinion section (now home to former reason staffers Tim Cavanaugh and Matt Welch) runs a neat feature called Dust-Up. It pits two well-informed people against each other for a week's worth of chatter on their area of expertise. This week, it's space:
First up yesterday was Homer Hickam, a novelist, Vietnam vet, and former NASA engineer, in the role of NASA booster with an anti-government bent:
NASA is a timid bureaucracy that goes crawling to Congress every year for a pittance (less than 1% of the federal budget) and will do anything — anything — to please….
I say why not raid the federal budget for it? I mean, it's not like it's spending its annual $3 trillion (!!) of our money on much that's worth anything, anyway….Did you know the Department of Labor (that this department exists at all deserves another ! from me) gets four times more money than NASA? Health and Human Services 26 times more? Housing and Urban Development (!!!) gets twice as much? You want to talk about waste? Just peruse a list of their programs! It will make you weep.
My friend and private space guru Rand Simberg responds to Hickham's cheerful optimism with harsh reality:
If NASA were to put forth a plan by which it enabled hundreds or thousands of people to go into space, I think that would be worth going back and asking the Congress and Office of Management and Budget to fund. Sadly, NASA isn't capable of that, by its nature as a federal agency, because it would mean too much relinquishing of control to what it perceives to be a frighteningly uncertain and unpredictable private sector, with too few opportunities for pork in specific districts.