Is NASA spending a waste?


In ancient Rome, they had buckets for fighting fire. Fighting fire was not a profession that was down to a science. Fire scenes were not potential crime scenes that had to be protected lest evidence of arson be destroyed. That has all changed.

Science, too, used to be the occupation of rich people with curiosity who usually shared their findings freely for their own fame and for the advancement of human knowledge. Now basic scientific research requires investment in instrumentation that is beyond what private study is going to produce. There are corporations that do outstanding basic research (such as DuPont), but even those entities do not want to eliminate public research institutions!

Private interests were not going to build CERN.


I mean I don’t advocate actually doing it, but I’m also not going to deal with the ‘all taxes are theft at gunpoint!’ nonsense.


I do not know where people get the idea that elimination of government would free them from people intent on relieving them of their wealth. When there isn’t much government, not much of the population gets rich or even gets into the middle class. Funny how that works.


Prior to NASA there was NACA plus some private groups such as those who funded Goddard.

By 1916, the cost of Goddard’s rocket research had become too great for his modest teaching salary to bear.[15]:76 He began to solicit potential sponsors for financial assistance, beginning with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and the Aero Club of America.

In his letter to the Smithsonian in September 1916, Goddard claimed he had achieved a 63% efficiency and a nozzle velocity of almost 2438 meters per second. With these performance levels, he believed a rocket could vertically lift a weight of 1 lb (0.45 kg) to a height of 232 miles (373 km) with an initial launch weight of only 89.6 lbs (40.64 kg).[33] (Earth’s atmosphere at 80 to 100 miles (130 to 160 km) altitude begins to have a significant drag effect on orbiting satellites and can be considered to end about that area.)

The Smithsonian was interested and asked Goddard to elaborate upon his initial inquiry. Goddard responded with a detailed manuscript he had already prepared, entitled A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.[15]:79

In January 1917, the Smithsonian agreed to provide Goddard with a five-year grant totaling US$5000.[15]:84 Afterward, Clark was able to contribute US$3500 and the use of their physics lab to the project. Worcester Polytechnic Institute also allowed him to use its abandoned Magnetics Laboratory on the edge of campus during this time, as a safe place for testing.[15]:85

It wasn’t until two years later, at the insistence of Dr. Arthur G. Webster, the world-renowned head of Clark’s physics department, that Goddard arranged for the Smithsonian to publish his work.[15]:102

While at Clark University, Goddard did research into solar power using a parabolic dish to concentrate the sun’s rays on a machined piece of quartz, that was sprayed with mercury, which then heated water and drove an electric generator. Goddard believed his invention had overcome all the obstacles that had previously defeated other scientists and inventors, and he had his findings published in the November 1929 issue of Popular Science.[34]


Goddard’s military rocket[edit]
Not all of Goddard’s early work was geared towards space travel. As the United States entered World War I in 1917, the country’s universities began to lend their services to the war effort. Goddard believed his rocket research could be applied to many different military applications, including mobile artillery, field weapons and naval torpedoes. He made proposals to the Navy and Army. No record exists in his papers of any interest by the Navy to Goddard’s inquiry. However, Army Ordnance was quite interested, and Goddard met several times with Army personnel.[15]:89

During this time, Goddard was also contacted by a civilian industrialist in Worcester about the possibility of manufacturing rockets for the military. However, as the businessman’s enthusiasm grew, so did Goddard’s suspicion. Talks eventually broke down as Goddard began to fear his work might be appropriated by the business. However, an Army Signal Corps officer tried to make Goddard cooperate, but he was called off by General George Squier of the Signal Corps who had been contacted by Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Charles Walcott.[15]:89–91 Goddard became leery of working with corporations and was careful to secure patents to “protect his ideas.”[15]:152 These events led to the Signal Corps sponsoring Goddard’s work during World War I.[15]:91

Goddard proposed to the Army an idea for a tube-based rocket launcher as a light infantry weapon. The launcher concept became the precursor to the bazooka.[15]:92 The rocket-powered, recoil-free weapon was the brainchild of Goddard as a side project (under Army contract) of his work on rocket propulsion. Goddard, during his tenure at Clark University, and working at Mount Wilson Observatory for security reasons, designed the tube-fired rocket for military use during World War I. He and his co-worker, Dr. Clarence N. Hickman successfully demonstrated his rocket to the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on November 6, 1918, using two music stands for a launch platform. The Army was impressed, but the Compiègne Armistice was signed only five days later, and further development was discontinued as World War I ended.[35]

The delay in the development of the bazooka and other weapons was a result of Goddard’s serious bout with tuberculosis—the long recovery required. Goddard continued to be a part-time consultant to the U.S. Government at Indian Head, Maryland,[15]:121 until 1923, but his focus had turned to other research involving rocket propulsion, including work with liquid fuels and liquid oxygen.

Later, the former Clark University researcher Dr. Clarence N. Hickman, and Army officers Col. Leslie Skinner and Lt. Edward Uhl continued Goddard’s work on the bazooka. A shaped-charge warhead was attached to the rocket, leading to the tank-killing weapon used in World War II and to many other powerful rocket weapons.[15]:305


1915 NACA

NACA was established by the federal government through enabling legislation as an emergency measure during World War I to promote industry, academic, and government coordination on war-related projects. It was modeled on similar national agencies found in Europe. Such agencies were the French L’Etablissement Central de l’Aérostation Militaire in Meudon (now Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aerospatiales), the German Aerodynamic Laboratory of the University of Göttingen, and the Russian Aerodynamic Institute of Koutchino with a Soviet successor agency, the “Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute”, still known in post-Soviet Russia as TsAGI today, in 1918. The most influential agency upon which the NACA was based was the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

In December 1912, President William Howard Taft had appointed a National Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission chaired by Robert S. Woodward, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress early in January 1913 to approve the commission, but when it came to a vote, the legislation was defeated.

The first meeting of the NACA in 1915
Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1907 to 1927, took up the effort, and in January 1915, Senator Benjamin R. Tillman, and Representative Ernest W. Roberts introduced identical resolutions recommending the creation of an advisory committee as outlined by Walcott. The purpose of the committee was “to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions.” Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote that he “heartily [endorsed] the principle” on which the legislation was based. Walcott suggested the tactic of adding the resolution to the Naval Appropriations Bill.[4]

According to one source, “The enabling legislation for the NACA slipped through almost unnoticed as a rider attached to the Naval Appropriation Bill, on March 3, 1915.”[5] The committee of 12 people, all unpaid, were allocated a budget of $5,000 per year.

President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law the same day, thus formally creating the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, as it was called in the legislation, on the last day of the 63rd Congress.

The act of Congress creating NACA, approved March 3, 1915, reads, “…It shall be the duty of the advisory committee for aeronautics to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution…”[6]


On January 29, 1920, President Wilson appointed pioneering flier and aviation engineer Orville Wright to NACA’s board. By the early 1920s, it had adopted a new and more ambitious mission: to promote military and civilian aviation through applied research that looked beyond current needs. NACA researchers pursued this mission through the agency’s impressive collection of in-house wind tunnels, engine test stands, and flight test facilities. Commercial and military clients were also permitted to use NACA facilities on a contract basis.

Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (Hampton, Virginia)
Ames Aeronautical Laboratory (Moffett Field)
Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (Lewis Research Center)
Muroc Flight Test Unit (Edwards Air Force Base)

In 1922, NACA had 100 employees. By 1938, it had 426.

In addition to formal assignments, staff were encouraged to pursue unauthorized “bootleg” research, provided that it was not too exotic. The result was a long string of fundamental breakthroughs, including “thin airfoil theory” (1920s), “NACA engine cowl” (1930s), the “NACA airfoil” series (1940s), and the “area rule” for supersonic aircraft (1950s). On the other hand, NACA’s 1941 refusal to increase airspeed in their wind tunnels set Lockheed back a year in their quest to solve the problem of compressibility encountered in high speed dives made by the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.[7]

The full-size 30-by-60-foot (9.1 m × 18.3 m) Langley wind tunnel operated at no more than 100 mph (87 kn; 160 km/h) and the then-recent 7-by-10-foot (2.1 m × 3.0 m) tunnels at Moffett could only reach 250 mph (220 kn; 400 km/h). These were speeds Lockheed engineers considered useless for their purposes. General Henry H. Arnold took up the matter and overruled NACA objections to higher air speeds. NACA built a handful of new high-speed wind tunnels, and Mach 0.75 (570 mph (495 kn; 917 km/h) was reached at Moffett’s 16-foot (4.9 m) wind tunnel late in 1942.[8][9]


Come on Brian. The Irish and Germans are both part of the European Space Agency. Europe joined together to create their own version of NASA. Yes, a few European nations still have their own for satellites, etc, but they are all part the ESA for exploration, research, etc.


If, like me, you are not a believer space exploration makes a lot of sense. With no god(s) to save us humans are at risk of becoming extinct, like 99% of the other species that have lived on earth. Space exploration gives us the chance to continue.

my response: The impulse and rationalization for exploration is often very one-sided. Given the vast amount of time already, and, the “billions and billions” of stars even in our own galaxy, why isn’t there objective evidence for this purported extra-terrestrial life? Why aren’t we already bombarded from ten different directions with extraterrestrial communications? We now can detect gravitational waves from vast distances.

By the way, I don’t understand why an atheist would care if there was life “out there.” Why would an atheist “believe” in that, and not in a God? I look at APOD every day, and I don’t see much of anything on Mars. It has no magnetosphere to repel solar radiation. A couple of the well-known experts in this field today are atheists, yet they peddle “hope” about “life.” How much do we need to spend studying rocks smashing into rocks?

(BTW, my conception of God is something/somebody who by definition I cannot see. If I could see God like I see an apple or a galaxy, that that wouldn’t be God. The first chapter of the Bible says that God created everything - so if you look at any of those things [frogs, etc.] those are not God, by definition.) (reason for edit: lost my place)


I responded to your post in comment # 107, in the Is NASA spending a waste? topic.

As a post script, I think that the celebrity astrophysicists of our day are atheists who are just trying to justify their jobs.

Your idea (and that of others) that we can and must move to another planet has very low probability. The destination planet may not even be there, if a space ship traveled that far. The probabilities of survival of the species to migrate to another mother planet at like (one over infinity) squared.


I think we are biologically ‘programmed’ to believe in things which we cannot observe but that others tell us are there. I can see that this tendency would give hope and optimism in the face of hardship leading to more successful groups. So while it has its evolutionary advantages it also has disadvantages the principal one being that our beliefs can get in the way of rational thought. Obvious examples are homeopathy which retains believers despite being no better than placebo, and astrology. Some beliefs, unlike those two are not able to be scientifically tested. If I belief a god created the earth with everything in it just as it is but did so five minutes ago I am proposing something that cannot be tested. But this seems no problem for belief. People just believe things. I agree with you about the need for space travel if earth live is to survive. I am not sure people are the most important part of that but think it would be worth saving us as part of that. I am interested in every thing both here and ‘out there’ and that’s why I like space travel (apart from he saving us bit). Curiosity also I think is an evolutionary trait most of us share.


Is it really acceptable where you come from to completely ignore indigenous peoples and their histories?


Stephen Hawking wanted to know if there was intelligent life elsewhere, but he also sensibly made the point that any intelligent life that was advanced enough to reach us was as likely as not to be unimpressed with us or our culture and would probably use us to suit their own purposes or else get us out of the way if they didn’t have a use for us.
If we’re going to explore space, that is fine, but we shouldn’t expect the rest of the cosmos to be particularly welcoming. It is a Pandora’s box; we don’t know what we’ll find and based on history some of it will have repercussions we don’t like that are beyond our control. We have to accept that.

That is a praiseworthy attitude that has been exceedingly rare over the course of human history. Can you name a society that has had that attitude in a reliable way? I can’t. Besides, would you say if you went into an undiscovered place in which the law was that the deterrence against murder was to kill the murderer and four of his relatives in ambush that the best thing to do was to respect the “history” of that people? Forgive me if I don’t believe you’d never ignore someone else’s history when it ran counter to your own moral code.

The settlers to the US mostly believed that the natives were not using the land or else using it poorly. I don’t know why it is logical to believe that any intelligent life we run into will think differently or that we won’t barge in and use someone else’s corner of the galaxy and muck it up royally before we even realize we’re any someone else’s territory at all. We’re not particularly bright, that way.


As a believer I agree with you. I think God gave us this universe to explore and he also gave us a natural curiosity to encourage us to do so.

IMO it’s ridiculous to say that this is a waste. Sure, we don’t reap the rewards now, but generations to come will do so.


I’d say, rather–or perhaps I ought to say in addition–that the reward for investing in the expansion of knowledge is knowledge, not wealth. OK…why should our life revolve entirely around amassing and protecting wealth? Why amass wealth, if not to use it for things like expanding knowledge or beauty or appreciation simply because those things are as worthwhile as wealth itself and more worthwhile than excess wealth? We have the right to amass wealth, yes, but do we have no duty to make a return to civilization for all that civilization had waiting for us from the moment we were born? Does this generation not owe a payment forward for the knowledge and culture and beauty that previous generations bequeathed to us?

We shouldn’t pretend, after all, that our spending on space exploration is what is keeping us from reaching a hand out to the poor. If we wanted to help the poor, it isn’t space exploration that is preventing us. If we quit with space exploration, there is no reason to believe the poor would be the beneficiaries of the spending reduction.


Exactly! That’s exactly why we should NOT be allowed to colonise other worlds. C.S. Lewis thought we should be prevented, at all costs, from moving on to other planets and infecting possible intergalactic Edens with original sin. His Space Trilogy is a fascinating expansion of this idea, especially the second book, Perelandra, in which a pre-lapsarian planet is invaded by representatives of both Christ and Satan.


Some people assume there is no educational or scientific benefit from space exploration.

They assume everything is a zero sum game.

But we already have derived benefits from space exploration.

And we gain vast additional knowledge daily.


People hate math and they hate non-fiction books.

Actually, they fear math.

Because with math , you can’t BS your way through it.


Math terrifies them.

You can’t wish it away.

[At the turn of the millennium, the Harry Potter novels of J. K. Rowling, which chronicle the life of a young wizard, achieved widespread popularity.]

And drawing conclusions from math terrifies people even more.

Once you start doing math, then you can start navigating and start doing science and chemistry.

A very small pump can transport water.

Geography terrifies people.

We learn that there is an abundance of energy … in all forms … although some are inconvenient.

People cannot be controlled when there is abundance.

I bought a globe and show people how countries relate spatially.

They realize they can navigate.

They are amazed. They had no idea!

Non-fiction books make people think.

People prefer rock music and fantasy fiction because then they don’t have to think.

Once people start to think, then we can provide plenty of food and water for all, plenty of energy for all.

Once people start to understand math and science, they can no longer be controlled by the self-appointed elite.

And you find that interesting, then read this:

Maybe with math and physics, you could tap into some of that 96%!


You had to mention Exploitation… :thinking:


The Mars missions to “discover life” have one goal, and it is to “prove” that life will just spontaneously arise out of mere rocks and chemicals if you just allow enough time; God is not needed. Freemasonry is at hand here.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit