On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released his annual “Wastebook,” a document that identifies programs (typically small, obscure ones) that he concludes are “wasteful and low-priority” and thus could be cut. And as was the case with last year’s report, several NASA programs caught his attention.
Coburn’s report singled out NASA’s bed rest studies, where test subjects spend months in bed simulating some of the effects of long-duration weightlessness. Coburn is less critical of the science behind such studies as their current need. “No manned space missions to Mars—or anywhere else—are planned, scheduled or even possible in the foreseeable future, however, and NASA no longer has an active manned space program,” the report states. This will no doubt come to a surprise to many at NASA, including astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, who are currently in space on the ISS. The cost of this program: $360,000, according to the report.
The report also flags a $3-million program by NASA to conduct annual week-long seminars over the next several years for its employees to explain how Congress works. Coburn’s criticism is actually directed more at Congress itself and its lack of productivity than NASA itself. “NASA would be far better off looking for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”
The report brings up a program also mentioned last year: studies to develop food for future human Mars missions. This year’s report mentions a $125,000 grant to a small company to develop a “3-D pizza printer” that is on top of other NASA food study programs. “Every year, the average budget for Martian food development is $1 million.”
Elsewhere in the report, Coburn criticizes NASA spending $390,000 on an obscure “cartoon superhero” called the Green Ninja, who is supposed to teach students about the implications of climate change. “[W]ith the manned mission to the red planet shelved, the Green Ninja may be the only little green man the space agency makes contact with for the foreseeable future,” the report states, again claiming that NASA has no plans to send people to Mars. The report also complains that NASA spent $237,205 to study Christmas Island red crabs, arguing that such research should only be funded by the NSF, and $23,000 for a portrait of former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver.
However, after reading this report, no doubt many people will ask if these relatively small programs really are the most wasteful ones at the space agency.