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Bronze-level articleNASA

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If you're a dyslexic and/or drunk hacker,[1] the NSA is what you're looking for.
The "meatball" logo. The name suggests deep covert infiltration by followers of the FSM.

As the name suggests, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration[2] is an United States government agency that is charged with space exploration and research in aeronautical and space engineering.


[edit] What it doesn't

Contrary to popular misconceptions:

  • NASA doesn't do astronomy, unless the observatory is on a plane (SOFIA[3]) or in space (Hubble, Spitzer, etc.); even then, most of the people that actually use these instruments are professional astronomers who don't work for NASA (Hubble, for example, is used through the Space Telescope Science Institute[4]).
    • Speaking of space telescopes, it seems that mainly geeks know that Hubble is not the only one. (Wikipedia has a nice list.)
  • NASA doesn't have a monopoly on space flight within the United States:
    • the Air Force has its own space projects (e.g. the X-37B) and launchpads; NASA's shuttles have launched some spy satellites, but it turned out that launching them with disposable rockets is cheaper.
    • commercial satellites are not launched by NASA, but by private contractors (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital Sciences Corporation); the same people provide launch services to NASA and other government agencies (such as launching meteosats for NOAA and spysats for the NRO).
  • NASA doesn't have a monopoly on space flight outside of the US:
    • there are other government agencies, most notably Roscosmos (the Russian one), ESA (the joint European one), JAXA[5] (the Japanese one) and CNSA (the Chinese one)
    • there are also non-American commercial launch providers, such as Arianespace.
  • Sending people into space is not the primary purpose, nor the primary activity of NASA. (Voyager 1 says hi.)
  • Contrary to the popular (in some circles) slogan "NASA lies!", the most significant things NASA has been untruthful about are:
    • how much money a particular project will cost, and
    • how much time it will take to develop it.

Well, the last point is mostly snark, but based on a kernel of truth: NASA's projects often end up over budget and/or behind schedule (recent examples are the Constellation program[6] and the James Webb Space Telescope[7]).

NASA takes its directions from the President and its money from Congress. This sometimes leads to some interesting deals and compromises (and messed-up projects, including the current state of the human spaceflight program). A good illustration is the fact that NASA's budget for fiscal year 2013 was approved in... August 2013, one month before the end of FY 2013.[8] If you are wondering how the goat NASA functioned in the meantime, the answer is "continuing resolutions."

[edit] Space exploration spending

NASA's budget as a percentage of the national budget, 1962-2010

A lot of people think (or at least have expressed the opinion)[9] that a lot of money is spent on space exploration and could be better spent elsewhere. In the case of NASA, this is undermined by the fact that a) nowadays, NASA's budget is less than 1% of the federal budget, and b) the average American has no idea how small NASA's budget actually is. According to a 2007 survey:

...we asked respondents what percentage of the national budget is allocated to NASA and to the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services, among other agencies. NASA’s allocation, on average, was estimated to be approximately 24% of the national budget (the NASA allocation in 2007 was approximately 0.58% of the budget).[10]

And no, NASA did not spend millions of taxpayer dollars developing space pens.[11]

[edit] Trivia

  • Months before Apollo 11, NASA had seriously considered placing a UN and not an American flag on the moon.[12] (Imagine the shift in political narratives.)

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about NASA.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Angry Brazilian whacks NASA to put a stop to... er, the NSA
  2. The acronym is often decoded as "Never a Straight Answer" by people who wouldn't recognise a straight answer if it hits them in the head, or as "Need Another Seven Astronauts" by people who lack decency. Often the two groups overlap.
  3. Not stationed in Bulgaria.
  4. John Hopkins University
  5. The X stands for eXploration. But at least their logo doesn't include a Gundam.
  6. Augustine Committee Releases Final Report, American Institute of Physics (That Augustine, if you were wondering.)
  7. Space science: The telescope that ate astronomy, Nature (There's a nice graph of the "cost curve.")
  8. Finally, an FY13 NASA Planetary Budget, Just 11 Months Late, Planetary Society
  9. One can't be always sure that some kind of thought process is going on. But Fox News may give us some answers.
  10. Sustaining exploration: communications, relevance, and value, The Space Review
  11. I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
  12. Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon, NASA JSC
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