Maybe Send Congress There: Who Needs to Go to The Moon?
It would be difficult to find a better example of why Washington cannot control federal spending than an item missing from President Obama's new proposed budget - moon money.
The president has eliminated funding for NASA's planned mission to the moon from next year's budget. Good for him. It's about time. We've been there already. It's full of rocks and no atmosphere. The golf is not good. It costs billions of dollars to go there. It has no economic or strategic value. Scientists want to do lots of neat stuff there. Too bad. Let them do neat stuff on earth.
If the Chinese and Russians want to pour money into blasting people into space, let them. Maybe we can fix some roads or trains, or build better windmills and solar panels instead.
If we are going to be even remotely serious about controlling the budget, where better to start than keeping more money right here on earth?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Nothing is in the nation's capital. Putting men back on the moon, you see, has little to do with science or national pride; it has to do with money. The billions it would cost could be spread liberally and inefficiently across the country, making many congresspersons happy and presumably buying them votes.
They are already lining up to put the money back into the budget, and, in what may be the only example of bipartisanship currently extant, the line is full of both Democrats and Republicans.
From Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center, we have Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said, "We're going to have to get the president to do more for NASA. America's global leadership in science and technology is at stake if we don't maintain a more robust space exploration program."
From the same state, Republican Rep. Bill Posey said, "This issue is far from over"; and Democratic Rep. Suzanne Kosmas said the White House plan "threatens to turn the [moon exploration] gap into an abyss with no end in sight." Moon exploration gap?
Kosmas further suggested that, should this cut occur, the current shuttle program, well known for its 40-year-old technology and stellar safety record, should be extended. That's one way to take care of your constituents.
There were also plenty of comments from members of both parties from Texas, Arizona, California, Alabama and Ohio, with more certain to turn up as the idea percolates through Congress.
The president's plan isn't quite as Draconian as it sounds. He proposes to fund (give? stimulate?) $6 billion to private enterprise to develop commercial space travel for future astronauts and the lunatic ultra-rich, though it is not put in exactly that way. There is also money for developing technologies to go Mars, another useful endeavor.
Perhaps when congresspersons realize they will have that money to spew around, they will become somewhat more amenable to the president's plan, though if I were to wager, I'd bet that all these programs get just enough money to be ineffective in their respective missions, except, of course, the one to buy votes.
If Congress will not accept a reduction in funding at such a bloated sacred cow as NASA, how will it ever address the endless other discretionary expenditures, let alone the "nondiscretionary" ones, that presently have us staring into a fiscal abyss far deeper than the one Kosmas was worried about?
The president's proposed freeze on discretionary spending, of which the moon money cut is a part, is at best minuscule and realistically irrelevant. It is a pathetic stab at symbolism; and yet you may be sure it will be picked over, protested and overridden by congresspersons of both parties unwilling to cut even a penny from their districts' federal largesse.
Maybe we should leave the moon money in the budget after all. It may be just the place to send Congress. Perhaps the hot air would stop if there were no air at all.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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