Should NASA’s budget be reduced?

Space exploration is an area of research that is intrinsically linked with the progression and development of the human race. NASA is currently the largest civilian space program with a budget exceeding the rest of the world’s combined investment. Many people have spoken out to denounce the spending of the federal budget on space programs when considering the current state of affairs in the USA, with suggestions that the budget should be reduced significantly and spent on more demanding priorities.

The NASA budget should not be reduced.

NASA has been an established program since 1958, and has since produced technological advancements that have benefited the entire human race. By reducing the budget this directly constricts the further advancement of space technology which would have implications on everyone who could be helped by it.

The American government is the body who controls and capitalises NASA, however it should be noted that the government is a democracy and therefore is influenced by the demands of its constituents. Other parties are affected by this situation, such as the current employees of NASA totaling 12,000 as of 2012, and cuts to the budget would undoubtedly result in cuts to this workforce.

Considering the scope of the implications, the objective of any actions taken should be not to hinder NASA’s progression. This realistically can be achieved in two ways:

  1. Do not change the budget, hence no interference
  2. Invest further in privatised companies

Before moving on to evaluate the ethics of the situation, the benefits that NASA provides includes:

  • Research which leads to an array of new technologies that have aided the economy and advanced industries such as health and medicine, transportation, public safety the list goes on.
  • Insight into the possible future of the human race, offering methods to survive if our planet is destroyed and answering limited resources with asteroid mining.

Though the second benefit is preparation for an unlikely scenario, if it were to occur it does impose the ethical issue that if we were not prepared we would therefore be negligent to wellbeing of everyone. From an engineer’s perspective, which shares common ground with virtue ethics, it should be our responsibility to be professional and from that we should have means to survive cataclysmic events. After all, if virtue ethics implies that the goal of a human life is to attain happiness, how can this be possible without human existence? The primary ethical issue would ask, ‘is it immoral to restrict humanity with the potential future technology that NASA produces?’ Considering only the impacts to the health sector alone if cuts were made, Utilitarianism calculus states that for a group of actions we have to reflect on the following impacts in terms of pain caused:

  1. Intensity – High
  2. Duration – Ongoing
  3. Certainty – Regarding the advancements already made is high
  4. Propinquity – Longer until treatment discovered
  5. Fecundity – None
  6. Purity – Pain for family members of those effected
  7. Extent – Anyone who could have been helped

From a non-formal perspective, intuitively it makes sense to not restrict the research conducted and to us this is also supported from a common sense view. Reflecting on the ethics contemplated, cutting NASA’s budget would cause undue pain to the general populous and therefore should not occur.

The NASA budget should be reduced.

As one of the major powers in the world the USA has a socioeconomic responsibility to aid the welfare of its population, and to help other nations during times of crisis. The ability to do so is largely dependent on money, or more specifically the funds allocated by the government to serve these purposes. The NASA space program drains resources, in 2014 alone its allocated budget was a whopping $17.6 billion.  The ethical issue at hand is that there are millions of people in the world that could directly benefit from these funds. As the government is in control of NASA they must be the ones to act.

The possible actions presented are:

  1. Reducing the annual NASA budget allowing a proportion to be utilised for more pressing matters whilst retaining space exploration with consideration to efficiency and wastage.
  2. Completely abolish the NASA space program, freeing up the entire budget to be used in alternative sectors.

Reducing the annual budget would minimise economic losses due to failed missions, free up funds that could be better spent in other sectors, and allow the manpower and research facilities at NASA to be put to better use to help solve more pressing matters.

If the budget were to be reduced there are a number of different approaches that could be undertaken to utilise the money more effectively.

  • Taking a utilitarian stand point indicates that the best decision would be to provide the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people. The fastest and most direct route to this morally right alternative would be to transfer the budget currently invested in space exploration into foreign aid. This could provide lifesaving aid to impoverished countries as well as facilitate improvements to refugee camps.
  • Using Kant’s theory to look at this from a deontological viewpoint, the President of the USA has a duty to his people and no such obligation to provide foreign aid. He does however have an obligation to serve his people so may choose to alternatively utilise the extra financial resources to improve the internal welfare and infrastructure of the USA. This would be morally right according to Kant, however if this was done universally this would be detrimental to impoverished nations.

Looking at the situation from an ethical viewpoint, it is difficult to correctly determine the right thing to do with the NASA budget. Nevertheless, whilst the world is still up in arms with poverty and wars, how can it investing in space exploration be justified? 

Considering the ethics involved, action must be taken to increase the welfare of more pressing matters rather than investing in schemes that inefficiently address the issues at hand. Therefore, the NASA budget should be completely abolished.

The main issue of these discussions is that they are influenced by the authors opinions. In order to correctly address the issues at hand, thorough research should be conducted to decide on what is the best action for the benefit of the human race.

21: Sean Parle, Angus Brockie, Philip Owain Proctor, Kazuki Regan

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11 thoughts on “Should NASA’s budget be reduced?

  1. The budget should not be reduced. I feel like there are other areas the government should cut back on first, if it really cares about the well being of it’s people. Such as it’s massive military budget of $600 billion, which is far larger than any other countries military budget.

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  2. Space exploration is a luxury the human race cannot afford to deny itself. It is our primary means for survival in a distant, yet tangible future. Global warming, overpopulation and an ever present rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria are all reasons why our long term future must be assured immediately. The USA, as the largest superpower in the world, has the duty to mankind itself to invest as much as possible in ensuring its future. It is undeniable that these funds could reward with short-term gains to human life if invested in other ways, however as well as providing short-term gains in the form of relevant current technological advancements, investing in NASA gives the future survival of our race hope no matter the situation here on earth.

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  3. Taking everything into consideration, I believe that NASA’s budget should be reduced. An allocated budget of $17.6 billion in 2014 is astronomical, and I feel that this money would be much better spent on civilians, both in the USA and for foreign aid worldwide. Although space exploration has value , the general well-being of people and the state of society and its various sectors (which in many cases are in need of desperate support and veneration) is a more pressing concern and so should be addressed as a priority over space exploration, which is costly and has limited benefits in comparison

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  4. A very informative article which has led me to the conclusion that the budget should be reduced. It seems unreasonable for such a large amount of money to be put into exploring space when there are people homeless and starving on our doorsteps. Of course it is important to know what is out there and there’s no doubt a greater knowledge of space will help us to look after and preserve our planet but a budget of that size is unjustifiable.

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  5. A very informative article- I have come to the conclusion that the budget should be cut. It is such a huge amount of money and while space exploration is important would it not be put to better use helping the homeless and starving on our doorstep? I have no doubt that exploring space gives us a better understanding of what is out there and will ultimately help us maintain and preserve our planet however we have much more pressing issues. A budget of that amount is unjustifiable.

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  6. I understand that space exploration is important in helping us guarantee that we will have the resources we may need to sustain ourselves in the future, but I think a lot of it is about power and countries seeking approval from others. The Space Race between Russia and the US, although it lead to invaluable technological advancements, was predominantly a power struggle and a fight to prove supremacy between the two countries. I believe the budget should be cut to allow the money to be used to solve much more current issues – such as reducing the price of health care for citizens across the US.

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  7. Very interesting read. Difficult decision. In my opinion I would vote to carry on funding NASA due to fact they have already given us so much knowledge about what’s out there within such a small time-frame so who knows what they could be capable of doing in the next 100/200 years. Global warming is a huge part of our future which could result in the loss of our planet and eventually life so if NASA are able to find another habitable planet such as Mars to do so then they will need the funding for resources! But in this moment in time, it would probably be wiser to decrease the funding to prevent the US from going into chaos…

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  8. The NASA budget should be maintained and managed. The cost of saving the world from an asteroid impact can not be quantified. The technological spin-offs are an added bonus.

    NASA is not the only cost to the US economy. Other programs are out there to eradicate poverty.

    The US defence budget is currently over $600 billion – that makes the $17.6 billion NASA budget look like a drop in the ocean.

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  9. The US Defence budget is over $600 billion. That makes the $16.7 billion NASA budget look like a drop in the ocean.

    There is a risk of the world being hit by a major asteroid – we should protect against this threat.

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  10. This seems a well thought out argument.
    There is no obvious solution to the political,social and ethical questions raised.
    However if we are to focus on the key issue namely the survival and advancement of mankind then the answer to the initial question is clear.
    A plan and long term budget must be established by NASA and other global space agencies for the short term scheme to establish a colony on Mars/The Moon and thereafter with the use of technological advances,the exploration of the Galaxy and Universe with machines.
    This cannot be achieved without a NASA and Global budget being in place.

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