Killing Hubble

In order to finance the purely mythical Mars mission, BushCo plans to kill the Hubble, thus saving a billion dollars.

Sometimes I think that the Republican right is so convinced by its own “government-is-the-problem” rhetoric that it instinctively tries to kill any public program that demonstrably isn’t stupid.

By any reasonable standard, the Hubble Space Telescope has been astonishingly cost-effective. Spending a billion bucks to fix it rather than letting it die would seem like a laydown decision.

But apparently the Bush budget will omit that money from the NASA request, leaving the Hubble to its fate.

It’s possible that this is the old budgetary wheeze called the “Statue of Liberty play”: if you ask the Park Service to say what it would do to absorb a 1% budget cut, it proposes shutting down the Statue of Liberty, relying on the political infeasibility of that option to protect all its other programs.

Maybe Bush, under pressure to make the deficit in his budget as submitted look as small as possible, figures that he can easily push the blame for that billion-dollar addition onto the Congress, and there’s no real intention to kill the program.

Still, I’d hate to bet on that. And notice that this verision, which accuses Bush of a deliberate act of dishonesty, is the most generous possible interpretation of what the Clown Act is up to; all the others are worse. It’s entirely possible that our technologically illiterate President really believes in all that “Mission to Mars” b.s., and is willing to sacrifice genuine science to pay for it.

Four years (minus five days) and counting.

Update: One of Brad DeLong’s commenters, Nicholas Weaver, claims that saving Hubble isn’t worth the effort, and that we should instead send up a new orbiting observatory (or perhaps two) for the same money.

I happily defer to expertise; if the Administration had called for such an approach, I would have had no criticism to offer.

But the fact that saving Hubble might be less cost-effective than doing something else in the world of observational astronomy doesn’t imply that it makes sense to Hubble die and not replace it in order to finance the Mars mission.

I notice that the my post above neglects the most plausible interpretation: which is not that Bush and the people around him think that this is a good idea or that they don’t think so, but that no one in the inner circle actually gives a rat’s ass one way or the other.

Second update: Or maybe the fundies have gotten to them and they’ve decided that there’s actually nothing beyond the blue sky except the waters above the firmament.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: