A gigantic laser experiment intended to study the nature of gravity and an x-ray telescope designed to look at black holes are being swept into the dustbin of history, too big and too expensive to survive the federal budget ax. NASA is skipping out on LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, and the International X-Ray Observatory.
Astrophysics is a fertile field these days, but there's just not enough funding to go around. As physicist Sean Carroll points out over at Discover, the James Webb Space Telescope is gobbling up most of it.
NASA announced the decision to abandon LISA and IXO in a conference call earlier this month.
LISA would detect ripples in space-time proposed by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Gravitational waves flow outward from collisions of huge celestial bodies like black holes and binary systems, but there is no way to prove their existence or study them. LISA would have involved three identical spacecraft arrayed in a triangle, spaced 3.1 million miles apart. As gravitational waves reach the observatory, they warp space-time, stretching or compressing the triangle. Measuring the spacecraft's separation would allow physicists to measure the waves. LISA would also have detected binary systems and helped scientists measure black hole collisions.
IXO would be a follow-up to the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton Observatory. Both projects were listed as priorities in the Astro2010 Decadal Survey finalized last fall.
NASA's contribution to LISA would have been $1.5 billion of the project's $2.4 billion cost, according to Science News. NASA had committed $3.1 billion to the $5 billion price tag on IXO. JWST is running over budget to the tune of about $1.4 billion, a panel predicted last year, forcing NASA to keep tight reins over the rest of its astrophysics budget.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency is keeping LISA and IXO on life support, and NASA may play a minor role if smaller versions of the experiments move forward. But without significant funding from other partners, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
So we're left to wonder, how will NASA win the future without any funding to pay for it?
NASA budget - around $17 billion; Pentagon budget - around $700 billion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am an engineer. I love most of what NASA does. What the Pentagon does is constitutionally required...NASA is not. The Federal deficit is currently running about $1.6T this year. The debt is about to hit the +$14T debt ceiling.
The government has a spending problem not a revenue problem.
Well someone better invest more money into the Space Program, because if Earth goes, we all go.
Being a one planet species is extremely stupid. I'm happy to see that private companies and other space agencies are taking the torch. Nasa will be left in the dust.
I'd like to expand a bit on the first comment.
NASA's current budget is about $18.5 billion dollars.
Our Military Spending is pushing $700 billion as stated.
Recently NASA's budget was trimmed even more by about 275 million dollars. So then you have to ask yourself what a program like NASA means to our country. It's value. Do we value our space program? I think Neil Tyson put it well, he said "how much would you pay for the universe?".
And.. Private space industry shows a lot of promise. But right now NASA is the main game and that may well be the case into the near future. If we as a nation wish to advance not only our understanding of the universe but our possible reach out towards the stars, do we ever think we can get there by slashing the budget of said program?
The point I'm trying to make and I'm sure will be broken apart and dissected is that we spend less than 1% of the federal budget on NASA. No, it is not required by the constitution, however I'd argue a lot of programs we have that we actively use and take for granted are not constitutionally required yet at every turn we scream "CUT CUT CUT". Maybe we should try investing for once. The president is right on his point to invest in the future. I wish the plan laid out would invest more than currently slated for NASA, but regardless.
The first commenter pointed out the fact that we spend a massive amount of money on defense. This is an inescapable fact. Here's another fact. We spend more than any other nation on EARTH in this area. And to what end? To wage countless wars, to police the world? This isn't what we should be doing at all. If we cut our military expenditures by a little less than half we'd still have the world's strongest military, best trained, best suited, and yet we'd free up so much money that could be invested in our future as a nation. Science, Technology, Chemistry, Physics. We could use that money in a constructive way for once instead of using it for wars we cannot afford and should not be a part of.
Forgive me for taking the progressive stance here, but in the face of massive budget cuts and more proposed cuts to programs we need and that need to be properly funded, I feel as if nobody is really giving this an objective look at. The biggest budget burdens aren't our health services. They aren't our education or arts programs. They aren't things like planned parenthood. It's defense. Plain and simple. When the heck are we going to get this right? Why is it never on the table? It's not like we'd be cutting into our ability to protect our national interests and our citizens here at home.
I fear that until people start really looking at this, not listening to talking heads, not making guesses, not repeating tired old talking points, will we ever advance in this critical area.
If we are going by that traditional american "patriotic" attitude that states we need to be better than everyone else, then maybe we should start acting like we wish to do that. Not in war. But in space.
I'd prefer the attitude that we all need to come together as a species and advance into space. That attitude may never be respected. It may be branded as NWO conspiracies or whatever the flavor of the season is in rhetoric.
I just hope we do go forward. We make that bold leap into space. We realize the truth of the matter in our budget.
The government needs to cut, of course, but that isn't enough to solve our budget problems. With the amount of debt we're in, we'll need to both cut military spending and increase taxes. Just look at the math.
totally agree with what Elliot and DZROM said, with a small note: Defense Secretary Gates recently cut 78 billion from the budget just by shuffling around office staff and cutting out contractors that have jobs already covered by government personnel. That, while impressive, isn't enough. We (the US) have 34 percent of total world military spending, more than the next 20 biggest spending nations combined. For FY 2012, US DoD budget is 553 billion, with roughly another 150 billion added on for Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Center for a New American Security, "DOD should pursue additional efficiencies savings in such areas as the
military services’ capabilities and DOD's logistics, supply chain management, and military personnel policies on retirement, benefits and health care."
Seems like a good start to me.
Your arguments about the budget are not exactly accurate. Both Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security are larger line items in the national budget than defense spending, even with two wars. Check out www . usdebtclock . org for a breakdown of the US budget.
That being said, we spend much more than we need to on the military. The reasons are two-fold. First, we attempt to maintain two (or more) suppliers of pretty much any piece of military hardware- jet engines, submarines, tanks, etc. As much as possible, we avoid a single point of failure in the military-industrial complex. This has the unfortunate effect of decreasing the impact of economics of scale- which are already bad, since it's not like we need hundreds of submarines. The second source of inefficiency has its roots in politics. It is common for congress to give the military more (and often different) equipment than it requests. The reason? Legislators have home districts, and those districts are home to military contractors. So if the legislators bring more work to the military contractors, they can boast about "job creation" and "bringing money to the local economy" as well as ensure large donations for their campaigns. In other words, this sort of spending is great for legislators who are looking to keep their jobs, even if it is not in the best interest or desire of the military.