Howard Steven Friedman

Howard Steven Friedman
New York, New York, USA
June 10
Howard Steven Friedman works as a statistician and health economist for the United Nations. He has been a lead modeler on a number of key United Nations projects including the ICPD @ 15 Costing, High Level Task Force on Innovative Financing, and the Adding It Up reports. He is credited with being the lead developer of the tool used for costing the health-related Millennium Development Goals. He is also an adjunct professor at School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Prior to joining the United Nations, Howard ran Analytic Solutions LLC, which provides consulting services in designing, developing and modeling data. This work also included teaching data mining and modeling techniques for major international corporations and foreign governments. Prior to that, he was a Director at Capital One, where he led teams of statisticians, analysts and programmers in operations and marketing. Howard is the author of over 35 scientific articles and book chapters in areas of applied statistics, health economics with recent publications in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Current Medical Research & Opinion, Clinical Therapeutics, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy, Clinical Drug Investigation and Value in Health. Howard Friedman received his BS from Binghamton University in Applied Physics and a Masters in Statistics, along with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. Please note that all comments on this blog reflect the opinions of the author and not those of the United Nations or Columbia University

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APRIL 30, 2012 1:25PM

NASA Simply Stopped Being a Priority

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When you try to determine what is important to someone, it is useful to pay attention to how that person spends their time and their money. Someone who talks endlessly about how passionately they feel about getting involved in a certain cause, but never puts any time or money into it is just talking. Someone who dedicates a considerable amount of their time or money to a certain cause is investing in what they believe is important, whether or not they advertise that to the world or not.

Governments are similar. The priorities of a government can be seen in its budgets, not in politician's visionary speeches. As the space shuttle Enterprise moves to New York for its retirement party, many people talked about the demise of the American space program. While there are some free enterprise endeavors set to take very wealthy people out to space, these efforts are miniscule compared to the project that brought humans to the moon. At the time, America was racing with the Soviets to prove superiority and President Kennedy's famous challenge "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This statement has become a textbook example of leadership. Kennedy defined a clear and measurable goal then rallied support to make this moon landing (and safe return) a possibility.

As you can see from the graph below, NASA funding was a substantial part of the federal budget. There was a burst of funding and scientific activity in the 1960's, leading up to the 1969 moon landing and then funding dried up. Landing on the moon was no longer a priority and further space exploration, whether it be to Mars or other planets required a far greater investment.


Here we are in 2012. We heard George Bush talk about a mission to Mars but no money was provided. Meanwhile, China and India plan to send missions to the Moon in the next few years while the Russians talk about landing people on the moon. The Google Lunar X Prize is trying to stimulate the private sector to get involved but these efforts pale in comparison to the scale of effort needed to get there.

The landing on the moon in 1969 was one of humanity's greatest accomplishments so far. History may judge the United States well on some issues and poorly on others, but it will always note that America landed humans on the moon first. I recently attended a lecture at the Museum of Natural History where one of their astronomers lamented that the United States has squandered the last 40 years that it could have invested in space exploration. The speaker went on to contrast the United States' short term focus on landing on the moon with the long-term plans that the Chinese have for space exploration. He envisioned in the next 10 years America waking up to a panic, much like it did when Sputnik was launched, but that America would not be able to catch up to China's space technology in the same way that a decade of major investment pushed America past the Russian efforts in the 1960's.

As a country, we made a choice. For the past four decades, America's budget made it clear that space was not a top priority. As we think of America over the span of centuries and not from budget cycle to budget cycle, will we look back and ask ourselves whether the decision to abandon space was a wise decision? Or will historians look back and identify this decision as a textbook example of when America sacrificed long-term strategic goals for short-term interests?

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There's truth in what you say, if that big spike after 1961 was a learning curve too, plus a sense of ennui maybe after a couple of Apollo missions, been there, done that, since most people wouldn't be doing that possibly. Private space offsets that figure not a small amount, if it usually has a communications focus, and the military aspect has grown too, as to total spending. Military concerns in space are well taken care of, if that's of course at a price as to opportunity costs also.
Of course, if one could get there for the mass, or even the one per cent, instead of the .0001 per cent as of now maybe being done, you'd see more spending. I wouldn't underestimate the private ventures though. I wouldn't though underestimate private interest and activities, and also, that NASA got kind of bureaucratic to a lot of people, although they are really good smart people too. If they did electromagnetic rail guns for logistical support, that would be the kind of innovation that they are supposed to create some would argue.If you throw non-living payloads at 7 kn per second into orbit, very doable on emag rail, if humans would be mushed without a really long track, then its a lot easier to keep people in space, and you can throw supplies to the Moon to in waiting for them.