When it comes to our government’s spending, we hear the word “billion” used freely.
Actually – lately – we’ve heard “trillion” quite a bit, as in the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act.
But I’m going to focus on “billion” before I even contemplate “trillion.”
A “billion” is such an enormous amount of money that I can’t get my head around it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Fortunately, I found this website:
And they helped me put a “billion” in perspective. Here goes:
“The area covered by 1,000,000,000 (one billion) one-dollar bills measures four square miles.”
That’s a perspective I can relate to.
Here are two more:
“The length of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) one-dollar bills laid end-to-end measures 96,900 miles. This would extend around the earth almost four times.”
“If you went shopping and spent $20 per second, to spend $1 billion would take you one year and 214 days.”
A “billion” is a bunch of money.
And it catches my attention when I hear about our government spending billions, like this recent story:
OK, let me check my Christmas list again…
Nope. Nowhere on my list do I see the item “new keyhole into the earliest moments of our universe.”
Especially not a “keyhole” that cost $10 billion of our…
Lay those out on the ground, and now you’ve covered 40 square miles.
The James Webb Space Telescope.
Also known as “JWST,” or simply as “Webb” – among intimates – this thing launched on Christmas Day:
Amidst a plethora of artist’s rendering of what NASA thinks Webb will look like someday, including these:
Here’s Webb’s mission, according to its website,
“…its revolutionary technology will study every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Webb’s infrared telescope will explore a wide range of science questions to help us understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.”
NASA sounds very confident that this thing is going to do what it was designed, built and launched to do.
Of course – sounding confident is NASA’s job.
But as I read other articles, I couldn’t help but notice the frequent appearance of less-than-confident words like “if” and “hope” and could” and “should”:
“It’s hoped that Webb will help solve mysteries in our Solar System, closely study exoplanets and probe the structures and origins of the Universe.”
“But if nothing breaks, JWST will start streaming scientific data back to Earth this summer…”
“…could provide important clues to when and how the supermassive black holes that squat in the centers of galaxies form.”
“If all goes well, the sunshield will be opened three days after liftoff…the mirror segments should open up like the leaves of a drop-leaf table…”
“If all goes well, astronomers will start to see the universe in a new light next summer.”
“It’s a high bar, but hopefully the science contributions of Webb will be up there.”
One of the rocket scientists – Alison Nordt, the space science and instrumentation director at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, who has been a part of the Webb team since the beginning – did admit that Webb is fraught with failure possibilities in this article:
“‘If NIRCam doesn’t work, the telescope doesn’t work,’ Nordt said.”
“‘If the sunshield doesn’t work, we don’t get cold enough and none of the detectors will work,’ said Nordt.”
“‘…we can’t fix it up in orbit,’ Nordt said about Webb’s busy record of launch delays.”
And that “busy record of launch delays” Nordt referred to?
The December 25 New York Times article summed it up this way:
“When NASA picked the Northrop Grumman company to lead Webb’s construction in 2002, mission managers estimated that it would cost $1 billion to $3.5 billion and launch to space in 2010. Over-optimistic schedule projections, occasional development accidents and disorganized cost reporting dragged out the timeline to 2021 and ballooned the overall cost to $10 billion.”
Almost 12 years behind schedule and WAY the hell over budget.
And as far as I can tell, NASA doesn’t care, and I’m unaware of anyone ever holding NASA accountable for anything.
Certainly not this bunch:
And even one of their own committee members couldn’t avoid using one of those less-than-confident words:
“Today’s success and the ones to hopefully follow will undoubtedly inspire an entire generation of students excited to learn and grow from this observatory.”
– Don Beyer (D-VA) Chairman, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
And NASA and others involved sure aren’t holding themselves accountable – they’re too busy congratulating themselves for getting Webb off the launch pad, and saying ridiculous things like this:
“We have delivered a Christmas gift today for humanity.”
– European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher
“What an amazing Christmas present.”
– Thomas Zurbunchen, NASA’s science mission chief
“I’m like ‘Wow, what are we about to do?’ We’re launching this amazing engineering feat into the cosmos.”
– Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History in New York City
“…like nothing we’ve done before.”
– NASA program director Greg Robinson
“This is a great day, not only for America, but a great day for planet Earth…We are going to discover incredible things we never imagined.”
– Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator
“It is a gift to everyone who contemplates the vastness of the universe.”
– Kenneth Sembach, director of the telescope institute
With regards to that last quote?
Kenneth, it’s a gift I didn’t ask for, and don’t want.
Especially since, according to the aforementioned rocket scientist Alison Nordt:
“And after about a decade, when Webb’s fuel runs out, the telescope’s carcass will remain there for a very long time.”
Meaning our $10 billion in…
Will then be…
Yup, I want a refund.
A refund for those 40 square miles that my $10 billion in tax dollars in one-dollar bills would cover.
Let’s see…40 square miles.
That’s the size of the city of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, east of Los Angeles:
I want refund but…
I’ll consider an exchange, instead.
Instead of that $10 billion…
Give me Rancho Cucamonga: