Not entirely an automotive post, but sort of an engineering post.
I recently read about NASA's plans to send astronauts back to the moon. I was floored.
The moon program is estimated to cost about $100 billion, which means that it will actually cost more like $200 billion--which is about how much the U.S. military spends a year on R&D, personnel, and procurement combined. It's a lot of money.
And what are we going to learn, by sending humans back to the moon, that is worth over $100 billion?
The highly successful Mars rover mission, by comparison, cost about $900 million. Not cheap, but only about 1/5th the cost of a nuclear aircraft carrier. You could pepper the solar system with robots for the cost of another moon landing.
We have gotten very good at building robots. NASA should stop wasting money and human lives on glorious but risky missions. There would be much more bang for the buck in robotic missions, space telescopes, and fundamental research down here on earth.
The manned space program has become something of a pork project. It is sexy to send people up in a shuttle, so they can live in a space station. But most of the science that is being done is focused on improving or developing man's ability to survive in space. When was the last time you heard about an amazing find aboard the ISS? The ISS is basically welfare for Russian scientists, to keep them from moving to Iran and building bombs. It eats $1.6 billion a year--one and a half Mars rover missions. Why not contract some of the robots out to Russia, instead?
Think of what kind of work could be done with $100 billion. For example, how much improvement in hydrogen fuel cell efficiency, or hydrogen generation and storage could we buy for $100 billion?
Or deep sea exploration? Particle accelerators? Cancer genetics? Applied zymurgy...