Space Agency Targeted for Wasteful Spending

Brianna Ehley

NASA has suffered from major budget cuts that have severely scaled back its mission and halted its manned-space program.

Over the past few days we’ve watched NASA astronauts fix a broken cooling loop at the International Space Station—one of those “Gravity,” hold-your-breath, Apollo-13 heroic moments.  

Still, even amid sequestration and a government shut down, the agency has discovered other missions to spend its money on, from developing a 3D pizza printer to studying red crabs and paying people $20,000 to lie still for 70 days.

That’s according to Sen. Tom Coburn’s latest “Wastebook” report, which highlights the most egregious waste of taxpayer dollars each year. NASA made several appearances in this year’s report for handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of research grants to study things like Congress, red crabs and how to make a 3D pizza printer.

Related: Government Blatantly Wastes $30 Billion This Year

“Our nation’s space agency can fly people to the moon or even the International Space Station, but it is still studying little red creatures. Not Martians, but Christmas Island crabs,” Coburn said in the report.

Though Coburn’s office deemed these projects wasteful, scientists disagree.

Stephanie Pappas, a senior writer at LiveScience says Coburn’s criticism falls short and fails to realize the importance of NASA’s research. “Unfortunately, Coburn and his staff frequently oversimplify the research in their zeal to criticize spending.” Pappas adds that the senator’s office never even contacted any of the researchers whose projects were featured in the “Wastebook” to get more information on their work.

Still, Coburn continues to defend the “Wastebook” saying that he isn’t questioning the "validity or value of the science," simply whether it should be footed by the taxpayer.

"If a study that received funds would be seen by the average person as questionable or lower-priority it is considered for inclusion in Wastebook," Coburn spokesman John Hart told LiveScience. "If you don’t want your research to be questioned, don’t ask for federal funds."

Related: Defense Department Spends Billions on Weird Research

NASA’s annual $17 billion budget is bracing for more cuts next year, with more than $200 million to be slashed from the agency’s Planetary Science Division.

Here are some NASA projects highlighted on Coburn’s list. Wasteful or useful? You be the judge:

$3 million to study Congress. Teaming up with Georgetown University, NASA will host its annual “Congressional Operations Seminar” on Capitol Hill. The week-long seminar will explore how “Congress is organized, the key players and their roles, how the legislative process really works, and how Congress directly affects the daily operations of every department and agency in the Executive Branch.” Though it sounds educational, we’re not sure why rocket scientists need an expensive civics seminar to further its mission.

$400,000 to create “the Little Green Ninja.”  NASA teamed up with the National Science Foundation to develop a cartoon ninja that will inspire children to become interested in climate change. One of its creators said the goal is “to make the Green Ninja the next Smokey Bear.” 

$360,000 for  “Pillownauts”  During the shutdown, 97 percent of NASA’s staff was laid off, still the agency was paying 20 people $18,000 each to literally lie around and do nothing for 70 days with their body “slightly tilted forward” for a study to help scientists learn how astronauts bodies will change in space flight. However, NASA isn’t planning any missions anytime in the foreseeable future, since it no longer has a manned space program.

$240,000 to study red crabs NASA awarded researchers a grant to study what triggered red crabs’ migration from their “inland burrows” to the ocean to deliver their eggs.  The research concluded that the crabs begin their migration when rainfall reaches 22 millimeters in a certain timeframe. Though interesting, Coburn’s office suggests that it may be more relevant to other agencies, like the National Science Foundation. However, researchers at Princeton say, “The crabs are a test case for how global warming will alter the migration of tropical species, “according to a news release on the study.

$125,000 for a 3D Pizza Printer: NASA awarded a $124,955 grant to Arjun Contractor to build a 3-D pizza printer, which sounds amazing, but also unnecessary amid dwindling resources. According to the report, the space agency spends about $1 million on “Martian food development,” though a Mars mission is far, far off in the distance. As is the pizza printer, according to a NASA scientist who told Coburn’s office it could be years until the creation becomes feasible. Too bad, it sounds out of this world.

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