Funding Science

Money is always short when it comes to spaceflight. While NASA does have a rather large budget in comparison to ESA for example, very little seems to come out of it if you look at the development time of the new Ares rockets which are supposed to take human beings to the moon again. If you consider that it’s already been done before a couple of decades ago, you’d think it could be repeated in a shorter time frame and with less money now since a lot of the basic research has already been done (of course, a lot of know-how has been lost as well.)

Well, it turns out, NASA is not supposed to bring humans to space or explore the solar system and the universe. No, all NASA is is a giant job machine. According to John Walker’s analysis of a public meeting of the Auguste Commission, NASA thinks it’s best for the agency if it increases its work force. Paying all those workers is most likely a significant cost factor on any space programme bill. But they’re also votes – and that’s what counts.

Now I stumbled across an interesting science programme a couple of days ago – it’s called Pale Blue Dot Project. It’s a spin-off of the Kepler science mission, which is a satellite scanning a small section of the sky to detect exoplanets orbiting the stars there. The PBD project is not directly supported by NASA. Instead, it’s run by a non-profit scientific organization. The interesting aspect is the unique way they try to get funds for their research project – you can “adopt” a star that’s within the Kepler mission scope by paying $10. This directly finances their project, and in return you get a certificate with the star you chose and your name on it. Of course the star is not named after you, but if anything of interest is detected around your star, you will be among the first to know.
I think it’s a very positive approach to finance science directly by interested citizens. Most people don’t really care about space flight and the associated sciences, and probably are not very happy with their tax money going towards such seemingly useless research. Using voluntary donations could help raise interest in science, since you really know how your money is used and you have a more direct connection to the project on an emotional scale – in this case, you have your own star that “belongs” to you and you start caring about what happens to it in a certain sense. Also, this way you could choose what part of the science being done you want to support – you can choose whatever you deem to be the most important aspect. This way your money can not as easily be used to finance a largely surplus job creation scheme. I hope that this idea can become a role model for other scientific projects too.

Certificate of Adoption

Here's my star with the easy to remember number KIC 9657174.

In completely unrelated news, check out my brother’s new blog about his comic creation process. Go go go!

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