Please explain this new white rock to me, #Mars, #SmallSteps

by on January 29, 2014 at 7:07 am in Current Affairs, Games, History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sports | Permalink


The link is here, and for the pointer I thank Gordon.  At least it’s not a watch.

1 Dylan January 29, 2014 at 7:13 am

Obamacare refugee.

2 Tina Johnson January 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm

For some reason I found this hilarious. Wish I was that rock…

3 Ray Lopez January 29, 2014 at 7:27 am

I can explain it as thus: “Given the intriguing mystery, the leading explanation is somewhat tame — the rock was recently scattered by one of the rover’s tires. Even so, the rock’s unusual light tones surrounding a red interior created interest in its composition — as well as causing it to be nicknamed Jelly Donut. A subsequent chemical analysis showed the rock has twice the abundance of manganese than any other rock yet examined — an unexpected clue that doesn’t yet fit into humanity’s understanding of the Martian geologic history.”

4 Mike January 29, 2014 at 8:20 am

It’s more of a large pebble than a rock, probably just kicked up by the tires.

Everything on Mars is covered with reddish dust, but when you scrape it off you’ll see a more familiar variety of natural colors underneath.

Either that, or we are witnessing a submission display of an alien life form, which has rolled over to show us its soft white underbelly.

5 Rahul January 29, 2014 at 8:30 am

Intriguing coincidence:

“A subsequent chemical analysis showed the rock has twice the abundance of manganese than any other rock yet examined “

6 Z January 29, 2014 at 9:24 am

Are there rocks in New Mexico, or wherever they stage these things, that have this composition?

7 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

You think the whole space exploration thing is staged, but the rock composition data is real? That’s a unique position.

8 Z January 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

Maybe the people at mission control are unaware of the hoax?

9 albatross January 31, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Yeah, and just imagine how the effects of the chemtrails complicate their analysis.

10 GW January 29, 2014 at 11:55 am

The gray stone obviously got kicked over from the neighboring set where the Chinese are concurrently staging their “Moon Landing.”

11 Rahul January 29, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Moon missions were a hoax too?

12 Alexei Sadeski January 29, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Of course. Haven’t you seen Room 237?

13 Mark Thorson January 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm
14 marris January 29, 2014 at 8:21 am

The natives don’t like being spied on.

15 Don January 29, 2014 at 8:35 am

It’s not a rock. It’s a parachute.

16 chuck martel January 29, 2014 at 8:40 am

For safety’s sake, we’ll have to assume that the “jelly donut” is evidence of a powerful malign force that intends to destroy the earth. Commissions, agencies, bureaus and boards must be established to counter this threat and restrictions on travel, investment, communication, etc. must be made to insure that the malign force is held in check, although it will be impossible to defeat it entirely. Wasn’t it mentioned in the SOTU speech?

17 Martin Brock January 29, 2014 at 9:16 am

The Treasury secretary clearly needs a trillion dollars forthwith.

18 A Berman January 29, 2014 at 8:45 am

A wadded up piece of paper or insulation that was stuck to the rover, fell off recently, and got blown into view by the wind.

19 Rahul January 29, 2014 at 9:15 am

….and said paper has extremely high levels of phosphorus, sulfur & manganese?

20 A Berman January 29, 2014 at 9:29 am

OK, I confess, I just glanced at the picture. Now that I’ve followed the links, kicked around by the tires is a reasonable theory. And at the end of the day, manganese, phosphorus and sulfur are not what machines nor life is made of. I don’t see that this should be a big deal outside of the NASA scientists who may get some papers out of it.

21 Kepler January 29, 2014 at 8:58 am

NASA = the endless search for ever more distant rocks

However interesting one finds worthless rocks & spiffy space rockets, one must recognize that forcing other people to pay vast sums for one’s interests, curiosities, and hobbies is ethically wrong.

There is also a huge opportunity cost to the NASA hobby-shop.
The trillion dollars or so funneled into the black hole that is NASA are siphoned off from the productive American private sector.

22 dead serious January 29, 2014 at 9:18 am

What’s the better spend: $1T over 55 years for space exploration or $1T over a year and a half for military excursions that in the end net us (American taxpayers) nothing?

23 Z January 29, 2014 at 9:22 am

It’s a pity that nothing about your handle is true.

24 dead serious January 29, 2014 at 10:08 am

Your shitty little blog called. It wants its village idiot back. Scurry off, little man.

25 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 9:46 am

The ocean called, and they want their red herring back.

26 john personna January 29, 2014 at 10:09 am

The dollar cost for pointless military adventures was probably lower, true. Of course at an econ blog are opportunity costs truly red herring?

27 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 10:24 am

Opportunity cost? DS was comparing two things that had already been spent. It was nothing more than changing the subject.

28 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 9:20 am

Incredibly, NASA’s current budget is about half as high in real terms as it was at the height of the Apollo program.

29 john personna January 29, 2014 at 10:12 am

At the height of Apollo we were neglecting and losing consumer electronics, Detroit faced suddenly more reliable Japanese cars, .etc

I suspect a measured space program would emphasize unmanned missions such as the rovers and further reduce costs.

30 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

I was surprised that the current budget is so high. I had assumed it was tiny compared to Apollo.

31 Finch January 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

Keep in mind that NASA is much less focused on exploration these days, and the ancillary missions soak up a lot of the budget, and also that much of the budget is spent on pork projects like SLS that will likely never fly and wouldn’t make much sense even if it did.

The young agency was a focused agency. Bureaucracies change when they get old. This one has been captured by a handful of people and mostly serves as a jobs program.

32 Mark Thorson January 29, 2014 at 11:03 am

NASA is a vast overfunded bureaucracy. The NASA budget is two-and-a-half times larger than the NSF budget. NASA is sucking up the resources that could be applied across a broad front of scientific research. Imagine the results we would get if we increased the NSF budget by that amount.

33 Finch January 29, 2014 at 11:29 am


There’s an argument that space exploration has a problem of minimum necessary scale that’s out of reach for the private world. The NSF mostly deals in things that could just as easily be funded voluntarily (by industry or people) rather than by government.

If you want to talk about whether we should have funded the SSC rather than the ISS; those are things that necessarily involved the government if they were going to get done at all and should make you ask what your goals are for all this spending. But giving $50k to a chemist is not obviously something the government should be doing.

None of this is to argue that the national space program is particularly well run, or that it could not reasonably be called a failure at this point.

34 Mark Thorson January 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm

I agree that the minimum cost for some of NASA’s projects is quite high, and well above what a biochemist doing a cell study might spend. But 2.5X higher budget for largely useless space research as compared to ALL of science seems ridiculously out of proportion. The ISS is obviously a complete waste of money, all of which is pissed down a rathole for nothing more than romantic “man in space” reasons. The rover on Mars produces interesting results and (most importantly) pictures, but nothing of relevance to anybody except space scientists. We could get similarly interesting but useless results by funding pure mathematics at a much lower cost, though there is always the remote possibility that some abstract mathematical result will someday prove useful in some other field like cryptology or physics.

NASA is the most anti-science organization in the U.S., if not the world, because it is gobbling up money that would be spent on science that really matters to people. The kind of science that could lower the cost of energy, reduce epidemic diseases, or increase lifespan. NASA doesn’t do any of that, and the people who do are starved of money by the anti-scientists at NASA.

35 Finch January 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

“NASA is the most anti-science organization in the U.S., if not the world, because it is gobbling up money that would be spent on science that really matters to people.”

This is a false dichotomy. It’s just not the case that cuts in the NASA budget would flow through to the NSF. Furthermore, I argued above that the NSF has less justification for existing. I don’t need to believe NASA is well run to believe either of those things.

“The ISS is obviously a complete waste of money”

I give a friendly laugh here. In my mind ISS is the most important thing NASA is doing. Settling space is the only goal for the national space program that’s really worth the cost of the national space program. Arguably existential risk mitigation is also worth a lot. But learning how Jupiter’s magnetosphere works is just not that important. I realize this is a controversial position.

36 Brandon January 29, 2014 at 2:24 pm


NSF grants fund much of the basic research that gets done in this country. Bell shut down their labs years back. Private industry really doesn’t bother with it because the ROI timelines are often long if even definable at all.

37 Ricardo January 29, 2014 at 9:32 pm

The idea that NASA competes with NSF for funding doesn’t seem very well-founded to me. Countries fund space programs out of national pride and in a spirit of rivalry with other countries. Exhibit A is the extent to which the NASA budget has declined in real terms and the rise of space programs in countries like Brazil, India and China. We may see NASA suddenly invigorated if China ever lands on the moon.

38 Finch January 30, 2014 at 9:34 am

Let me see if I can be a little clearer.

The NSF seems like a more efficient and well run organization for the funding of small science projects.

I don’t think the government should generally be funding small science that somebody else could fund. If nobody else will fund it that’s an argument that it should not be getting done, or at least that it’s inappropriate to take money from citizens against their will to do it. This argument applies to both NASA and the NSF. NASA would be helped a lot in this if it could make its costs seem even vaguely in line with what they are accomplishing. I think that’s where most of the pro-NSF argument comes from.

With respect to big projects that the citizenry can’t do, and that might have some compelling national interest, well then I think you have a better case for the government funding them. SSC and ISS, again for example.

As Ricardo says, the NSF and NASA don’t compete for budget. If the electorate (or more accurately the various senators who control these aspects of pork) want more science, both the NSF and NASA budgets will rise. If people want less science, both will fall. If you work for the NSF or get their grant money and you see attacks on the rational for NASA spending, it should make you nervous and not excited. You are partners not rivals.

39 Brandon January 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm


The argument that if private industry doesn’t do the research, it’s not worth doing is incredibly short-sighted. Basic research, the foundation upon which we build more practical research, technological development and greater human knowledge and understanding overall, may have ROI’s that would take decades to achieve.

40 Finch January 30, 2014 at 6:50 pm


It pains me to say this about something I care about, but everyone thinks this about their own personal hobby. This sort of thinking is why we have a huge, sprawling federal government that is up to its eyeballs in debt.

If this research is so important, it should be easy to fund privately. The NSF budget is only about $7G. It’s about twice the size of the Red Cross or the Gates Foundation. It’s around 2 percent of US charitable giving. If it’s hard to get that kind of funding, that’s a strong signal that what’s being done is in aggregate not that valuable.

41 albatross January 31, 2014 at 1:00 pm


NASA, NSF, NIH, DARPA, etc. spending may be a good or a bad idea, but it is absolutely *not* why we’re in massive debt. Nor is the idea of funding research (even frivolous research) behind our massive debt. It’s just not a very large fraction of the total budget.

Our spending is mainly about guns and geezers. Our deficits are mainly about it being politically advantageous to spend money and politically disadvantageous to raise taxes–it’s not like there’s some fundamental reason we can’t balance our budget, it just doesn’t pay for Congress and the president to try.

42 prior_approval January 29, 2014 at 9:28 am

‘The trillion dollars or so funneled into the black hole that is NASA are siphoned off from the productive American private sector.’

I’m curious – who do you think builds those weather satellites and their launchers? That’s right, the American private sector.

And who do you think benefits from the weather forecasting that is possible using those weather satellites? That’s right, everyone does, including the American private sector.

However, it seems as if we can actually find out what the effect is of degraded weather forecasting to the American private sector –

‘Unless it acts quickly, the U.S. faces the likelihood of a “catastrophic” reduction in weather and climate data starting in 2016, resulting in less reliable weather and climate forecasts, a federally-commissioned review panel said on Thursday.

The review team, which was comprised of veterans of the weather, space, and aerospace industries, found that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has made progress fixing major problems in its satellite programs since the last outside review was completed in 2012, but that the agency has not done enough to mitigate the impacts of a satellite data gap.

To reduce the risk of a data gap from polar-orbiting satellites, which provide the vast majority of data that is fed into computer models used for weather forecasting, the team recommended that NOAA quickly start work on a new “gap-filling” satellite that could be used as a band aid to ensure that crucial weather and climate data keeps flowing.

Polar-orbiting satellites continuously scan the planet from north to south, and instruments aboard these satellites, such as atmospheric sounders, provide data on atmospheric winds and moisture.

This data is then fed into computer models that meteorologists use for making weather forecasts. The data from the polar-orbiting satellites is particularly useful for making medium-range predictions out to about seven days in advance.

NOAA has warned that, starting in about 2016, there will be at least a year-long gap between the newest polar orbiting satellite’s design lifetime and the scheduled launch date of its replacement.’

And like so many of the problems one finds confronting the U.S., this one stretches back years. But I’m sure that any number of my fellow citizens will have any number of reasons why America’s continuing inability to actually remain a leading nation in terms of technology is a good thing.

43 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 9:41 am

The next time that a panel of industry experts does not find that their industry is in dire need of more funding, it will be the first time.

44 dan1111 January 29, 2014 at 10:23 am

Also, “we need weather satellites” isn’t an argument for funding Mars exploration; it’s an argument for funding weather satellites. Maybe you want to argue “weather satellites wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t landed a man on the moon, explored the galaxy, etc.”, but I think that is far from clear.

45 chuck martel January 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

I’m just now in the process of installing a new weathervane on the barn roof. It’s a Peyton Manning weathervane but actually only indicates the wind direction, not the the weather in total, although you can learn a lot from the wind direction. It cost about $35.

46 Careless January 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I kept expecting this to be an “it doesn’t work in freezing temperatures” joke and now I’m just confused.

47 Brandon January 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

This is just as useful for weather forecasting that so many people and businesses rely on as weather satellites.

48 john personna January 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

And you are naming the cheap stuff, not the expensive lab missions or the even more expensive and fanciful manned mars missions.

49 wrparks January 30, 2014 at 9:04 am

“And who do you think benefits from the weather forecasting that is possible using those weather satellites?”

Atlanta called. Said the benefits weren’t all that great after all.

Too soon?

50 Marie January 29, 2014 at 10:11 am

Here’s the justification.

The federal government should only do what other entities can’t (of what is worth doing, of course).

Landing a man on the moon is not something that can be done on the individual, family, local, or state level. Therefore, if as a nation we want to see a man on the moon, we have to do it at the federal level.

This does not mean that, for example, going to the moon is more important than, say, feeding hungry children. It’s to say that the states or municipalities (or private entities) can do the latter, and not the former.

So as a federalist, I would cut Medicaid, Medicare, the FDA, OSHA, EPA, and absolutely in a NY minute the Department of Education before I’d cut NASA.

Then you can cut NASA, too, if you’d like. But not before.

Of course, this argument falters a bit in the modern world, where we probably don’t need to do space exploration on the federal level, or as a public venture, anymore.

Also, it falters because I personally find it a hugely impoverished world where our resources can go to pumping music into caskets but not to putting humans on Mars. But since that’s me personally, it would be wrong to use taxpayer money to promote my personal world view.

51 Finch January 29, 2014 at 10:45 am

“So as a federalist, I would cut Medicaid, Medicare, the FDA, OSHA, EPA, and absolutely in a NY minute the Department of Education before I’d cut NASA.
Then you can cut NASA, too, if you’d like. But not before.”

I more or less agree with this. There’s some argument that this space exploration thing is stuff that the civilian world would not be able to provide. Though that argument becomes less compelling by the day, and there’s evidence that the public space industry has been suppressing the private space industry.

But, and I say this as a die-hard space nerd, it’s not at all clear to me that the space science stuff is worth the money relative to other ways to spend science dollars.

Money spent on manned exploration with an eye to eventual settlement? Yeah, that makes a lot more sense and is more clearly within the reasonable purview of the state. It’s also more expensive. Arguably robotic Mars explanation is a reasonable precursor to manned exploration and eventually colonization.

52 David C January 29, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I guess I would need to know what you mean by “space science stuff” to defend it.

53 Finch January 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Robot exploration. Hubble. That sort of thing. Clearly NASA is the appropriate agency to do this work if anyone is going to do it. But, I think there’s a pretty good argument that the government should not do it. The benefit is not worth the cost. Chop a digit off the cost and maybe we can talk.

I consider Mission to Planet Earth and aerodynamics work as interesting, but very clearly something that does not belong in the NASA budget. They should be charged against somebody else, and in some cases amount to pure industrial subsidy.

54 David C January 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm

1. Mission to Planet Earth could be moved to NOAA or USGS, but really you’re just rearranging deck chairs. And since NASA builds and launches more satellites than both of those groups combined (which is why they play a big role in those missions, managing the planning, launch, design etc…for them) I don’t think it “clearly” belongs in a different budget. Landsat is a USGS mission, but NASA does most of the work.

2. There is a limit on what NASA can do in aerodynamics work based on international treaty. Which is why they work primarily on safety and environmental improvements that airplane manufacturers might overlook. And I think they make their research available to anyone. Aeronautics is the first A in NASA after all. If you want to turn NASA into NSA (or some less damaged brand) that is a whole other issue.

3. Hubble – I can’t really tell you “Here’s how Hubble has made your life better…” One has to ask if they think that expanding scientific knowledge in of it itself is a good thing, and whether or not the federal government should play a roll in that. Hubble has taught us an awful lot and we don’t know how that is going to help us later. For example, its taught us about Dark Matter behavior and that’s something we probably need to understand even though I can’t tell you why right now. It also taught us how old the universe is and that the universe is expanding at an ever speeding rate (which led to the discovery of Dark Energy, something else we really should try to understand. It could revolutionize physics and who knows how that will help us).

4. Robot exploration – In addition to all the geological information we’ve gathered, the rovers help fund the development of robots and encourage kids to study robotics and engineering.

The thing about science is that we can’t always know what it will lead to. I once saw a list of all the government funded science studies that won a “golden fleece” award from that Senator who used to give them out and how much financial benefits they resulted in. It was an amazing return on investment.

One was a study of the mating habit of some insect, for example. It turns out the insect was a major pestilence for crops in the south and they discovered during the study that the females only mated once. So they bred millions of males and irradiated them, making them sterile, leading to females mating once and not getting their eggs fertilized. By doing this, they were able to bring the population under control without widespread pesticide use. It saves millions of dollars a year. Who could have predicted that when the study was authorized?

And even when we target funding at research with a perceived higher return we often end up with duds (fuel cell cars, small-scale nuclear, solyndra’s solar tubes).

But if you think that pure science is something that the government should fund, then we need a process for deciding which science gets funded. We have one, and to a large extent, scientists are the ones who make these kinds of decisions – even with NASA projects like rovers. You can disagree with individual decisions, but with so many projects and so much money it is unlikely that anyone would entirely agree with a committee’s prioritization – even if they’re on the committee. But the scientists who make these calls (and these are pretty sharp cookies) are choosing rovers over other research, and ostensibly for a reason.

55 Marie January 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Seems to me that, taking the long view, settlement and/or extracting resources to be used back home should be the things to shoot for.

56 David C January 30, 2014 at 12:19 pm

And learning how to nudge a large asteroid or comet so that it won’t crash into us.

57 Willitts January 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

The federal government shouldn’t do EVERYTHING that individual or collective action won’t produce, just those things where the benefits outweigh the costs and within the budget priorities. Not all public goods are admissible, feasible, and desirable. Many large scale projects serve only to boost the reputations of the proponents and reward their apparatchiks.

58 dead serious January 29, 2014 at 11:51 am

Funny, there seems to be an unending appetite to throw money at weaponry and forays into foreign lands no matter which party holds power.

Here I’m going to throw your own argument back at you: you right-wingers focus on the “CEO pay” of the corporate balance sheet rather than the “minimum wage” issue. That is to say, you’re laser-focused on the “drop in the bucket” (to use your term) expenses: the NASAs, the NEAs, etc. whereas if you were truly “small government” types you’d be clamoring for huge defense cuts.

59 David C January 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Most NASA projects have benefits that exceed costs. And most NASA project and science leads live on in quiet anonymity.

60 Finch January 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Please provide some evidence for this claim. On the surface, it seems obviously preposterous.

Most of NASA’s spending develops nothing more substantial than PowerPoint decks.

61 Brandon January 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm

“Most of NASA’s spending develops nothing more substantial than PowerPoint decks.”

Please provide evidence for this claim.

62 David C January 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm

See my post below on benefits. Things like improved airplanes, satellites and launch vehicles. Things like spinoffs. Things like data and images of Earth that have thousands of uses. Things like inspiration, geopolitical benefits, military benefits, attracting young people to STEM careers, national pride, etc…

63 Finch January 30, 2014 at 9:20 am

> Please provide evidence for this claim.

My original reply to this seems to have been eaten by the blog software.

For example, NASP, the Space Exploration Initiative, VentureStar and its’ precursor, the Vision for Space Exploration, Constellation, and likely soon SLS were all expensive failures. Arguably SEI failed right out of the gate before it spent much money. But we did get the slide decks.

NASA has had one mild success in a large project in the past 40 years, ISS, and one failure that flew hardware, Space Shuttle. I realize it’s a stretch to call ISS a success, but it is up there, it is doing some science, and it is showing we have the skills to assemble and operate larger manned structures in space.

64 David C January 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

Well, first of all, you’re conflating NASA as a whole with NASA’s human exploration mission. That’s only ~45% of the budget. And most of that money has gone towards missions that fly like shuttle and space station. So your complaint is about a small part of the $1T NASA has spent that went towards hardware that hasn’t flown. This does not represent anything close to “most of NASA’s spending.” Most of NASA’s spending develops hardware, research and critical science data.

Furthermore, spending money on projects that seem promising, only to scrap them farther in, is something every organization does. GM does it. Google does it. DOD does it. Heck I’ve done it (my first composter was a disaster). Everyone. So, no failed projects is a pretty high standard.

NASP was a joint project between NASA and various parts of the DOD, with NASA shouldering only about 20% of the cost. Some good research and learning about propulsion and structures came out of that.

Consteallation is not longer a NASA program, but much of what was paid for is still moving forward. The Orion spacecraft is still being built and will launch for the first time this year. The J2-X engines that powered the Ares launch vehicles are part of SLS. Very little money was ever spent on the cancelled Althair, Ares V or EDS components.

As for SLS, I’ll take the affirmative side of the bet on whether or not it will launch. The Obama administration supports it, and it will be less than a year away from its first flight when the new president takes office. I can’t imagine them cancelling an unmanned launch around the Moon at that time.

VentureStar was a legitimate flop, but that’s what happens at the cutting edge.

As for Space Shuttle, it did not live up to its promise and it should have been cancelled long before it was, but it’s not fair to call it a failure. It was a limited success. It remains the most technilogically advanced spacecraft that humanity has ever built. It took hundreds of people into space, accomplished dozens of missions, facilitated thousands of experiments and was a bold, if flawed, step.

65 Marie January 29, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Absolutely, Willitts, and as a nation we may well decide that we don’t want to fund space exploration. Until we reach a point where it can be done privately (maybe there already) there’s no other way, really, than by majority rule to decide whether costs outweigh benefits.

All I can say is that a man walked on the moon. I don’t know how you put that on the scale, but to my mind, as a collective societal good, it clangs onto the table pretty solidly and quickly. We put a man on the moon.

At the end of my life, there are things I want to have done and to have been. At the end of the day, there are things I want my nation to be. I want it to be free. I want it to be strong. I want it to be great. I want it to have put a man on the moon.

As a culture, it looks like we’re putting our private and public resources into other directions. We want to have a really whole bunch of plastic stuff. We want to be trendy. We want to be branded. We want to have Gaga. We want to be Gaga.

Now, how does NASA fit in here? If, as so many other posts note, it’s more about PowerPoint than missions to Mars, which I fear it may be, then it isn’t justified even if I’m right.

66 David C January 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

I don’t think we’re anywhere close to funding space exploration privately. We may get a little tourist industry that will allow millionaires to go to the edge of space for a few minutes for the thrill of it. But not much more, and that isn’t exploration. In college we did a project wherein the premise was that aliens left $10T worth of gold bars on the Moon,and we had to create a plan to get it for a profit. Turns out, it can’t be done. So, the expense of getting into space (and the lack of alien-deposited gold bars) is still too much of a barrier to private business.

67 msgkings January 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Well in college gold was probably a lot cheaper…wouldn’t take as many bars now to add up to $10T…feasible now? 🙂

68 David C January 29, 2014 at 11:41 am

The financial benefits of NASA spending have far exceeded the costs. NASA’s aeronautical research makes airplanes cheaper, safer, quieter and more fuel efficient. NASA’s earth science program has provided massive amounts of data that is used not just to understand the environment and climate change, but are used by thousands of researchers and agencies for a vast array of uses (some examples are firefighters who download images in realtime, EPA inspectors who use live photos instead of driving to far off facilities and the US military to supplement their own imaging). R&D research makes better launch vehicles and satellites used by the commercial launch industry as well as spin-offs like laser angioplasty, infrared thermometers and the technology needed to make cordless tools (first developed by NASA).

Then there is all the science. Pick up a college astronomy textbook and half of what is in it is based on NASA gathered data. NASA has added to our knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, physiology and geology.

And NASA has helped encourage kids to go into STEM fields. According to polls of STEM graduates, many were first interested in science or engineering thanks to NASA missions.

Space exploration inspires people. It carries political advantages. It maintains necessary military capabilities that can be quickly retooled in time of war.

And what is the alternative? Are we just going to quit? Shut it all down? Let someone else explore the universe? Give up and decide that humanity will just stay on Earth, and Earth only, forever? That’s some vision.

The return to “the productive American private sector” for its NASA investment has been enormous (and who do you think we spend this money on?). Just ask Tempurpedic.

69 Rahul January 29, 2014 at 1:32 pm

The question I have is why the indirect route? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to directly spend money on making “airplanes cheaper, safer, quieter” than to wait for an indirect spillover effect?

No doubt NASA has had spillover benefits but is spillover the best mode of getting to our goals?

70 Michael D. Abramoff January 29, 2014 at 2:02 pm

People want to work on what is cool.

71 Brandon January 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

NASA isn’t just space and does spend money directly on aeronautical research.

72 David C January 29, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Brandon nailed it. That is EXACTLY what NASA does. The first A in NASA is aeronautics.

73 msgkings January 29, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Hear hear

There’s so much the federal government does wrong, it seems really petty and shortsighted to have major problems with NASA.

74 Brandon January 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Where’s the evidence that a trillion NASA dollars have crowded out private R&D? Why isn’t it just as likely that that money would be horded or wasted just as so much already is in the private sector?

75 Edward Burke January 29, 2014 at 9:18 am

Evidence of yet another roadside picnic, the Strugatsky Brothers might have guessed: note the tell-tale catsup stains dominant on the left side.

76 Vivian Darkbloom January 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

You should have read the fine print. This post was filed under “Current Affairs, Games, History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sports”, not “Food & Drink”.

77 Edward Burke January 29, 2014 at 9:54 am

Reading the category “Science” broadly enough to include “culinary science” (lest you begin to think I confuse gastronomy with astronomy), I for one would never have guessed that manganese wipes are so efficient at lifting catsup stains. (Naturally, I could be wrong: the thing could almost as well be a manganese styptic pad discarded by a well- or poorly-shaved alien [and thus further evidence for the dry Martian climate]. But I digress . . .)

78 dead serious January 29, 2014 at 9:19 am

Camera man dropped his hanky on set.

79 Dylan January 29, 2014 at 9:24 am

Having failed his dream of a Red planet in life, Pete Seegar’s soul migrates to the best available substitute.

80 Turkey Vulture January 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

Robot egg. They’ve developed sexual reproduction.

81 RPLong January 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

Tars Tarkas accidentally kicked it over there while hunting.

82 David C January 29, 2014 at 11:47 am

Nerdiest, and most awesome, response yet. Kudos.

83 Affe January 29, 2014 at 9:59 am

Martian rock maxi pad.

84 Willitts January 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

Mars does have a thin atmosphere and wind. Assuming it is a rock, then it could be fresh pumice or pumice. It could also be a fresh meteorite fragment.

More likely it is part of the spacecraft. Reminds me of some schtick I saw where someone walked in a circle in a deserted place, saw his own footprints, and declared, “I am not alone.”

85 Rahul January 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm

NASA would have to be pretty stupid to do an elemental analysis on said rock, realize it has so much manganese, sulfur & phosphorus and yet fail to identify a match with its own spacecraft fragment.

Give them a bit more credit. 🙂

86 Marie January 29, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Maybe the rock is part of a heffalump?

87 Alan January 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Martian scat obviously. K.I.S.S.

88 Todd Fletcher January 29, 2014 at 6:14 pm

It’s a crumpled cigarette pack. Opportunity just gave up smoking.

89 Brent January 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

It is part of the NSA’s interplanetary surveillance program.

90 Tom January 30, 2014 at 3:53 am

Oh dear, looks like a Martian pooped and another Martian stepped in it.

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