Steltzner vs Fox: Curiosity Comes Cheap

Today I stumbled across this cute little meme:

Shepard Smith vs Adam Steltzner

So I shared it, and before long was asked: did this actually happen?

I didn’t know, so I looked around. As best as I can tell, no it didn’t happen exactly like that. It wasn’t quite the ‘gotcha’ moment. But the interviewer did definitely have a “dude, why bother?” attitude. Rather than send you off to give Murdoch some money, I’ve uploaded the clip here:

So while it’s not exactly true, I think the meme does make a good point. As I’ve said before, space exploration and astronomy is far cheaper than people realise. Yes, Curiosity cost $2.5 billion, but that was spread over eight years. A few months before Curiosity landed, London hosted the Olympic games at a cost of US$14.46 billion. And as I’ve shown before, the US military is planning on spending $US1.1 trillion dollars over the next 5 years on 2,443 F-35 warplanes to finally defeat the Soviet threat. [Correction: As artio pointed out in the comments, that should read "US1.1 trillion over the next 50 years". Woops.]

Don’t get me wrong – I think asking about the money involved in science is a valid question and one that definitely needs to be asked. But such funding needs to be held in context. Casey Dreier over at The Planetary Society spells it out far better than I could. Essentially, the question is not “why are we spending so much money on space exploration?” but instead “why are we spending so little?”

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5 responses to “Steltzner vs Fox: Curiosity Comes Cheap”

  1. dawn says :

    ” But the interviewer did definitely have a “dude, why bother?” attitude.”
    Really? Seemed to me that the interviewer was pitching softball questions to give the NASA guy some easy material to work with. When I watched the same clip, what I was was the interviewer agreed with the program, but knew there would be skeptics. He took the devil’s advocate approach so that NASA could hit the skepticism right out of the park. His attitude towards the project was really quite positive.

    • Rocky says :

      I disagree. It seemed that the interviewer was quite critical of NASA’s spending. He asked what NASA hoped to gain from this very expensive experiment, and how it could possibly apply to life here on Earth. It looked to me like the NASA engineer (not even a spokesman, mind you) was being forced to justify the expense, and it came across as a conflict of ideals. Innovation comes from experimentation and risk, and if we never try to think outside the box, we won’t develop as a species.

  2. artio says :

    I like the point of your statement here, I do. But when you made the claim that a single component of the US military budget would cost $1.1T over 5 years, I had to check that claim. According to the citation you cited, “projected $1.1 trillion cost of operating and maintaining the fleet of 2,443 new fighter jets over the next five decades”.

    F-35s, one part of the US military complex, are projected to cost $1.1T over 50 years. NASA’s entire budget will be smaller than that over 50 years. …that’s still a significant fact but it’s an order of magnitude less significant.

    • Ed Brown says :

      Wow, you’re absolutely right. I completely stuffed that up! I must have seen ‘over five decades’ and just read it as ‘over five years’. I will amend the post.
      Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Mikeymike says :

    Great answer to that final question. Sounded a lot like an analogy I read from Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. He used the example of the development of TV technology, how the initial discoveries were completely worthless on their own for nearly 50 years. He also noted that from the perspective of a person from the late 19th century, having just become used to telegraph and now the new telephone, the idea of one way sound and images might have looked like a step backwards (remember, no radio, no film at this stage).

    Is there such a thing as useless research? Probably. But when it comes to scientific discovery, exploration or technology – I would argue probably not.

    Space exploration is very expensive. But then the spin off benefits are enormous.

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