Taxpayers Just Spent $1 Billion On This – Can I Get My Money Back?

When Star Trek’s William Shatner had his October 13 ride on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft, Shatner didn’t exactly “boldly go where no man has gone before.” 

Others had ridden in a Bezos’ spacecraft, including Bezos himself, back in July.

And Shatner didn’t even get into outer space, but rather to the “edge of space 65.8 miles up,” according to this article:

But boy, oh, boy – did Bezos get the publicity he craves.

And the money.

Shatner flew for free, but two of the other passengers “paid undisclosed sums,” said the CBS story.

Bezos is cagey about disclosing what it costs for a Blue Origin trip.

Just like he’s cagey about disclosing his net worth.  Fortunately, Forbes doesn’t hesitate:  Bezos was worth about $199.6 billion as of October 20.

And Bezos isn’t the only rich man who’s cashing in on what we’ve come to call “space tourism”:

Richard Branson (net worth:  $6 billion) and his Virgin Galactica is another, and Elon Musk (net worth:  $209 billion) with his SpaceX is yet another.

Yup, space tourism is an industry, and rich people are willing to pay plenty to make the richer people even richer.

So the timing was right on October 17 for my newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, to invite readers to “Have Your Say”:

The invitation referenced Shatner’s trip, and that…

“…some complained such resources would be better directed at solving problems here on Earth.  What do you think of space tourism?”

Readers were invited to submit essays of 500 or fewer words for possible publication, and I expect many people will have lots to say about this topic, pro and con.

Let’s stay with that idea of, “such resources would be better directed at solving problems here on Earth.”

There is NO way that Branson, Musk and Bezos..

…are going to wake up tomorrow and say, “Holy rocket science!  I should quit space tourism and direct that money to solving problems here on Earth!  Like preparing for and containing pandemics, and securing cyberspace, and solving food insecurity, and…”

But how about our government?

Could our government perhaps be persuaded to stop spending money on useless space projects, like this one:

Meet “NASA’s Lucy”:

Estimated cost:  $989.1 million.

That’s the better part of a billion dollars.

Of course, NASA lowballs costs, and it seems highly likely that a 12-year mission is going to generate some unexpected expenses.

Especially since NASA’s Lucy launched on October 16, and on October 17 it was already having problems:

So, what is Lucy’s billion-dollar mission?

According to the New York Times article:

“NASA embarked on a 12-year mission to study a group of asteroids on Saturday with the launch of Lucy, a robotic explorer that will meander through the unexplored caverns of deep space to find new clues about the creation of our solar system.”

Here are the asteroids that Lucy will “meander” around:

The asteroids are swarming around Jupiter, located fifth from the sun:

To assist in its clues-about-creation quest, Lucy is equipped with all sorts of devices with names like L’TES, L’LORRI and L’Ralph, which is all very alliterative, but not my idea of a beneficial use of my…

I’m sure it would be lovely to understand everything about the creation of our solar system, and perhaps someday we will.

How about someday, after we’ve made much more progress addressing life-threatening issues right here in the United States?

Issues that might have been a step closer to resolution, had that $1 billion been better used.

Here’s a partial list of those issues, in case anyone from our government is listening:

Now think of the impact on this list, if even half of NASA’s budget had been spent on it:

The author of this article put it much better than I could:

“With people struggling to eat in the richest country in the world, is exploring space how our tax dollars should be spent?”

“$23.3 billion is a lot of money for NASA, which has little to no direct impact on everyday Americans’ lives.  Sure, space is cool to learn about and the advancement of science and technology is very important, but parents who can’t feed their children probably don’t care about some rocks on Mars.” 

“NASA should not be a priority when issues such as poverty, food insecurity and homelessness exist in America.  Our tax dollars should be spent on us – improving our infrastructure, helping the poor, bettering education and solving climate change.  

“To be clear, government funding for research is very important and NASA should not be abandoned.  Knowledge should be accessible and space shouldn’t be treated like a personal playground for the ultra-rich.  Right now we need to focus on fixing the problems here on Earth before we try to figure out the age-old mysteries of space.” 

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