Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, has released his 2014 “Wastebook” of what he regards as wasteful spending, according to a Wednesday story in the Washington Times. Tucked inside the examples of monkey gambling studies and Swedish massages for rabbits, are several NASA programs the senator finds off-putting.
One example is a full-throated attack against the International Space Station, a facility that was started by President Ronald Reagan and has been in full operation for the past several years. “ISS is one of the greatest achievements in manned spaceflight. It is also the ‘single most expensive object ever created.’ And some scientists question if the space station’s out of this world costs can continue to be justified.” Coburn strongly implies that the ISS be immediately scrapped, and the money spent on what he regards as more productive research.
Perhaps with a little more seriousness, Coburn attacked a number of other NASA programs that he regards as wasteful. These examples include a rocket test stand in Mississippi that will not be used anytime in the near future, a study regarding how humans will react when meeting space aliens, an educational outreach program at ComicCon, a search for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan, and a study that predicted the collapse of human civilization. Coburn also noted the space agency’s tendency to lose electronic devices.
One instance of waste at the space agency that Coburn points out is a program to locate and track near-Earth objects. NASA is conducting this research to ascertain if any Earth-approaching asteroid could prove to be a threat to Earth, much like the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. “NASA still has little capability to identify NEOs because it has completely mismanaged the program and will not make its 2020 goal, according to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).1093 The OIG rung up NASA for a lack of collaboration, integration, and effective internal controls as reasons for the program’s inability to accomplish its mission by 2020.”
Coburn’s “Wastebook” come into some praise from Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, who posted a link from his Facebook page. Interestingly, if the Republicans take over the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, Cruz will be in line to be chairman of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee that oversees NASA spending. Thus he will be in the position to do something about “wasteful” NASA spending, including perhaps the International Space Station.