“We have sacrificed space exploration for space exploitation, which is interesting but scarcely visionary”*…
What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department.
Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.
What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.
As a reference for people who think that space exploration costs too much, there’s a Tumblr that lists things that cost even more…
What costs more than space exploration? Unused gift cards.
According to financial consulting firm CEB TowerGroup, Americans let an estimated total of $1.8 billion in giftcards go to waste in 2012. Lots of Americans give and receive gift cards (also according to TowerGroup, the American gift card economy is larger than the GDP of 136 different nations), and some of those gift cards get lost, are thrown out, or expire. If this total sounds high, it’s worth noting that it’s actually much lower than the waste levels observed in previous years, thanks to the CARD Act: between 2005 and 2011, a total of $41 billion in giftcards was wasted, for a rough average of $5.85 billion per year.
In October 2012, SpaceX launched the first of twelve commercially-operated cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station. A Dragon capsule, built by SpaceX, launched onboard a Falcon 9 rocket, also built by SpaceX, and rendezvoused with the Station before being grappled by ISS’s robotic arm and berthed. In total, the Dragon capsule delivered about 900 pounds of useful supplies to the crew of the station (nearly 2,000 pounds, if you count all of the packaging); two and a half weeks later, Dragon returned to Earth carrying a different 800 or so pounds of returning payloads and equipment. It total, SpaceX’s contract for those twelve flights will cost NASA and the US tax payer $1.6 billion.
As we raise our eyes to the stars, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers– Flight 19– took off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Their course was plotted to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.
Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had both failed– as had those on all of the other planes in his flight, and that their position was unknown. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard, apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously due to lack of fuel.
By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again.
The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida. No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.
Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the “Lost Squadron” helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle…