Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Disappointing Choices

One of the few things that I think very clearly falls into the sphere of things government is best suited to do is long range research. Which is why stories such as this on declines in NASA's basic research capacity make me reflect on how badly we allocate our expenditures. If government won't do it, who will? To paraphrase a conversation I had with my supervisor today (on a completely unrelated subject) businesses "pay people to develop a better paint for refrigerators or a better motor. You won't be spending their money on finding a way to grow plants on a trip to Mars."

There should be a fairly obvious division of labor here. Government can do the pie in the sky type stuff that is too risky for any investor. Investors can develop the processes that will let us bring the successful portions to market. I think we're still a ways off profitable space travel so lets keep the basic research well funded.


  1. Well, that's a disappointment. I had heard Obama was slashing the NASA budget but I assumed a big part of the NASA budget was tied up in delivering people and crap into space and maybe they were going to use the private sector, now interested, for that part of the project.

    This is, by the way, why both left and right are whacked for not including the absolute advantages of government in some math related to government-as-compassion-engine or government-as-tyrannical-leviathan.

  2. That's the impression I had as well. I guess NASA's budget has become so stripped down over the years that they just aren't getting the funding they need to do much of anything. It's a pity there isn't more public support for basic research funding. Well maybe public support is too much to ask so I'll restate it.

    It's too bad there isn't an angry mob shouting "keep government out of my particle accelerator!" when you threaten to cut basic research.