This has been around for a while, but I feel like it needs to be circulated again. I keep hearing (generally uninformed) people saying “we waste money on NASA”. Here is a simpleton’s rebuttal:
Also, look at this chart.
That’s right. Around 0.5% of our national budget is spent at NASA. That’s our commitment to science and excellence. That’s how little we think of it. And don’t think that “we’re simply depending on the public sector to make up for it”. I used to work at NASA, now I work in the auto industry and I can tell you that big companies are NOT concerned with advancing toward the scientific horizon. They are concerned with making money and doing it fast. Real science often doesn’t pay off for decades, and that’s just not something these companies can sell to their share-holders. If management won’t see a positive return on investment in a year or two, they usually won’t bother. Example: I once executed a NASA test of a future rotorcraft control system that will significantly reduce the noise and fuel consumption of helicopters, but won’t be technologically mature for another 10 to 20 years. I don’t know of one company that would invest in a technology they can’t make money on for 20 years.
One last question: Why should we spend money at NASA (besides scientific advancement)? Simple: that money overwhelmingly stays in the USA and is often (though not always) spent locally, near the NASA centers. As a NASA engineering group lead, I had a several-million dollar annual discretionary budget, not including the payroll of my engineers. This money was meant to keep our specific test facility running at the bleeding edge of the scientific state-of-the-art and boy did it! And do you know where pretty much ALL of that money went? Small companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. We hired them to do all sorts of stuff from lead and asbestos abatement (this wind tunnel was built in 1944), electric motor refurbishment and maintenance, welding and fabrication, instrumentation calibration, and more. Even mundane tasks like lawn maintenance, roof repairs, and building painting were done by local companies. That’s all money that was injected right into the local economy. Did it eventually make it out of the US? Maybe, but it had to try that much harder to get out.
Bottom line: Funding NASA is good for science and good for the American economy. And they don’t just do spaceflight, either. That’s a painfully uninformed view of the organization. Look: