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Cross-posted from Real Economics.

The Mars rover Curiosity landed safely on Mars early this morning. The rover weighs over one ton and is larger than a full-size American automobile (notice the two people standing at the left side of this photo). Congratulations are due to the people at NASA, JPL, and elsewhere who conceived, designed and executed this impressive mission.

Especially since the support they have been given is, well, inadequate, is the best word I can think of. Now, you might think that $2.5 billion is plenty of funding for anything, but keep in mind that 1) this mission is the very cutting edge of aerospace engineering and technology, and as I have explained a few times before, the development of new science and technology is the most important economic activity any society can undertake.

2) We face a massive cultural problem in the United States and the developed world, with every generation since the end of World War Two steeped in a pecuniary culture that is increasingly useless, destructive, and predatory. This pecuniary culture, as Veblen explained, promotes and rewards socially destructive economic behavior, such as usury, at the direct expense of economic behavior that actually creates wealth and builds a better future for society. NASA has been one of the precious few institutions in our society that encourages kids to think positively about science and technology.

3) $2.5 billion is a mere fraction of a second of trading in the completely useless torrent of financial trading of stocks, bonds, options, futures, swaps, and other financial derivatives which occurs each and every day. Just foreign exchange markets alone trade $4 trillion a day in currencies and derivatives based on currencies. Constricting this torrent of gambling and redirecting these flows of money and credit into economically productive activities - such as ameliorating and solving global climate change - is the issue that will decide whether humanity survives as a species in the next two decades. So $2.5 billion to deliver to Mars a hunk of metal that can move on its own, is just chump change compared to the mind-boggling waste, misallocation, and abuse of society's monetary and credit mechanisms by the banksters.

Obviously, there are no political leaders in America who understand these issues yet. How our political leaders handle this area of science and technology is a key marker of where humanity stands on the path of progress and survival. The Obama administration's record here is arguably even worse than Republicans. As the article on the Curiosity landing by notes, Obama's  2013 federal budget request in February forced NASA to abandon plans for follow-on planetary missions of similar scope and scale to Curiosity.

This request cut NASA's planetary science efforts by 20 percent, from $1.5 billion this year to $1.2 billion next year, with further cuts expected in the coming years.

Much of this money will come out of the agency's Mars program, which sees its funding fall from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015.

In an plutocratic oligarchy, you really don't get any decent political choices. So, savor the triumphs that we are allowed. And safely placing a massive robotic probe on Mars is certainly one of those triumphs.

Originally posted to NBBooks on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 08:35 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kossacks on Mars.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    A conservative is a scab for the oligarchy.

    by NBBooks on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 08:35:06 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, bontemps2012, techno, Mr Robert

    I am eagerly anticipating the data from Curiosity and the attendant knowledge that will bring. There are, I agree, far too few triumphs these days...

  •  We all think it is a great technical achievement. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claude, thestructureguy

    But it is also a silly distraction to be doing this as our own planet (and the only one we know of that will ever be capable of sustaining human life) is on a pathway to overheating that may wipe us out. I'd prefer they spend the billions, or millions, or whatever the figure is on things like solving our energy and environmental problems. Or curing diseases like cancer or Alzheimer's. Or providing healthcare to people suffering from diseases already curable. One could argue that spending anything at all to put a car on Mars is immoral while creatures on Earth are suffering to the degree they are.

    But I agree it's a pretty cool achievement for all those involved.

    •  I utterly detest your line of thinking (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bontemps2012, jakedog42

      And assert that you're simply wrong.


      •  A cost-and-benefit analysis might carry more (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        techno, Mr Robert


        Thus: this rover mission is going to cost all of $3-billion when all is said and done.

        What, roughly 0.5-cents per human ? More like $10 per American?

        And we get to see what happens when a planet is stripped of life, if that's what happened to Mars?

        (Yes, I have been informed by competent resources that an iron core and a strong magnetic field are necesary to protect earthlings from all manner of lethal radiation and particles. It is still an interesting analytical problem figuring out the long history of Mars.)

        And we get a look at what we never want to risk for earth?

        Cheap lessons.

        •  Insurance companies do cost benefit (0+ / 0-)

          analysis all the time to deny treatment.  A scientific method to rationalize anything.

          Romney is George W. Bush without brains.

          by thestructureguy on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 03:42:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Grade for Logic 101: "F." (0+ / 0-)

            Intellectual tools can be misunderstood and even misused.

            This comment would argue that doing a cost-and-benefit analysis, per se, is a mistake because the tool is misused by other people in a different area with no connection to the Mars program.

            Or is that simply an ugly comment -- grossly ugly -- designed to make less pleasant to read ?

    •  Thank you for the opportunity to once again (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      daddybunny, techno, claude, Mr Robert

      explain the overwhelming importance of the development of science and technology. That so many good and decent people don't understand this crucial point is a symptom of how thoroughly dismal is the state of economics as a science and as a profession. And, I should add, how horribly this lack of knowledge affects the scope of politically plausible options required to save the human race.

      I do not exaggerate: the development of new science and technology is the most important economic activity any society can undertake.

      In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond examines how societies descend inexorably into collapse when they ignore environmental limitations and mismanage their natural resources. The key point that most readers of Diamond miss is that a society’s environmental limitations are defined only within a fairly specific period of time based on the prevailing technological mode of that society’s economy. Any society that remains stuck in one technological mode will eventually bump up against environmental limitations: what is considered a resource and how much of it is readily available and usable. Because all an economy really is, is how a society organizes itself to procure and process raw materials (natural resources) to create and distribute what is needed to sustain and reproduce human life.

      So the most important economic activity a society engages in the pursuit of new scientific and technological knowledge that allows that society's economy to avoid environmental limitations and inefficient misuse of natural resources. This is one of those wonderful, mysterious paradoxes of life: basic scientific research has no measurable immediate payback (as measured by currently reigning accounting systems of costs and benefits) but nonetheless is THE most important economic activity that occurs in a society. It is well nigh impossible to precisely target basic scientific research to achieve the laudable goals you list, yet, without  basic scientific research of the type embodied in NASA's planetary missions, you simply CANNOT achieve those goals. Why is that? Because basic scientific research of the type embodied in NASA's planetary missions creates and maintains and rewards within society the fundamental inquisitive part of human nature. It is that inquisitive part of human nature that must be promoted and nurtured to create a cadre scientists, some of whom will eventually provide the solutions to the problems you list.

      Anecdotal evidence is perhaps the way to see this. Note, for example, that we would not know what we know today about global climate change without the assorted achievements of space science over the past three quarters of a century. Where would global climate science be without meteorological satellites? How would we have satellites without mastering the technology of launch vehicles - that were originally developed as weapons of war? What use would launch vehicles have been if some eccentrically curious individuals had not tried to understand the orbital dynamics of the moon around the earth, and the planets around the sun? All the science and technology that goes into one successful space mission is drawn from the vast reservoir of scientific and technical knowledge that humanity has created and maintained, reaching back to Kepler and Archimedes and much, much more.

      As another argument, compare the effect of shuffling a few billion dollars from space science to cancer science, to the effect of shutting down HUNDREDS of billions of dollars from Wall Street speculation, to funding a new, scientific revolution in ALL disciplines of scientific knowledge. You waste your righteous anger on such a small target, when the real problem of unrestrained predatory finance is destroying all levels of economic activity, including science and NASA budgets.

      A conservative is a scab for the oligarchy.

      by NBBooks on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 11:04:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The fact is that billions of dollars (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        went into this project, and that money would be better spent on scientific projects focused on actually Earthly problems. Spending on the basic science needed to send a craft to Mars will only tangentially produce useful science, while a research program focused on a particular problem is obviously more likely to solve an actual problem. There are a bunch of community members here who work for NASA or its contractors who have a conflict of interest when discussing the merits of spending money on space exploration when we have more pressing needs.

  •  No one is a bigger space nut than me. Love this (0+ / 0-)

    kind of stuff.  But in the big picture we could put on hold for a 1000 years space exploration and concentrate on keeping us alive on this planet and it wouldn't make much difference in when we need to exit this rock.  We got the time, but right now for the next few years the money could be spent better on the environment.  You don't have to sell me on the good reasons for exploration. Plus it's really cool.  You'd be preaching to the choir.  

    Romney is George W. Bush without brains.

    by thestructureguy on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 09:11:40 AM PDT

  •  We need a JFK moment where a respected (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Robert

    leader lays out a challenge for the next generation that inspires and encourages a renewed interest in science, technology, math and engineering.  Our President should do this - and certainly not make cuts in funding to NASA and our great research universities.  This is a great opportunity - right here, right now - for Obama, Clinton and Carter to stand together to announce a new effort to explore not only our solar system but to stand together to solve energy, food production, climate problems and other difficulties facing the inhabitants of this pale blue planet.

    Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. - Einstein

    by moose67 on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 09:31:26 AM PDT

  •  agree, NBBooks, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bontemps2012, techno, claude, Mr Robert

    I am not a space nut and usually am not easily seduced, but I right now put together a lot of video footage from NASA about the Curiosity Mars Rover from last November til today for archival purposes.

    I think it's mind boggling, inspiring just for the heck of it and I think it's a very welcomed uplifiting experience to know that truely amazing technological stuff can be done by NASA.

    I think every American and all who might have been involved in developing this rover, launch it and land it, should enjoy fully their success.

    I haven't watched the US TV coverage or the live broadcast, but am now watching all the footage we used in our own broadcast and it's just phantastic.

    And I don't think that you need a JFK moment. To me the politization of the project is rather off-putting and the usage of such for the youth to get inspired is to me a distraction. Why not simply enjoy the technology and scientific research that is behind the whole project.

    I think, if there is a lack of interest in the youth for science and technology then it is because it is not taught in school in a scientific manner, at least that's my guts' feelings.  The kids get lots of the "inspirational" stuff, but not that much of the science to understand it in ways that would justify for a kid to say "I want to explore the universe". But that's just me. I always feel the PR of such projects is overdone.  This project shines on its own. No PR needed.

    •  Are planetary life systems mortal ? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If Mars was once alive, we had better damn well learn to be careful.

      This project finds evidence that Mars was once capable of supporting life then it's cheap at ten times the price.

      Besides, imagine all the kids building 1-to-12 models of this rover. They got a kit out ?????

      •  oh, yeah, I can see myself buying the kit (0+ / 0-)

        in the Air and Space Museum shop... for my son... 35 years ago. THAT never stops to be a favorite educational toy.
        I can't go into a Museum shop without buying something. :)

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