Most Read: Opinions

direct signup

Join a Discussion

There are no discussions scheduled today.

Weekly schedule, past shows

ComPost
About Petri |  Get Updates: On Twitter ComPost on Twitter |  On Facebook Petri on Facebook |  RSS RSS
Posted at 04:53 PM ET, 06/04/2012

National Reconnaissance Office’s trash is NASA’s treasure


Here’s what Hubble saw. (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images) (HO - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office just announced that the NRO is handing down two spy telescopes whose services are no longer required. The telescopes probably have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, says one expert. Sure, NASA presently lacks any capacity to launch them, but what a thoughtful gift!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

I knew this could happen on a small scale. “Hey,” your wealthy roommate yells, flouncing in, “this fur no longer fits me. Would you care for it?”

“I accidentally ordered six Prada handbags in the same color rather than in complementary colors,” she murmurs languidly. “They’re in the trash if you want one.”

You come home one afternoon from working overtime at the ice cream parlor to find her lounging all over two sofas. “Do you by any chance need a beach house?” she asks.

This headline is an oversimplification of the case.

But only slightly.

The federal government contains agencies of all sizes. The best analogy might be to the canine species, where chihuahuas enjoy the same distinctions as Great Danes, although in this analogy the chihuahuas are usually the ones being asked to slash their annual budgets.

NASA has been scrimping and saving, insofar as it is possible for any federal agency to scrimp and save. They refold paper napkins after events. In fact, they don’t have events. “We never pop champagne here;” John Grunsfeld, NASA head of science, told my colleague Joel Achenbach, “our budgets are too tight.” They never turn on the air conditioning. They work by candlelight to save on electricity. They bring Tupperware with them whenever they attend parties at the homes of neighbors. They bicycle instead of driving. They bicycle instead of launching rockets. They wash out plastic bags from the grocery story and wear them as garments. They are banned from Whole Foods because Whole Foods noticed that they made meals of the samples and never bought anything. (At any rate this is always how it sounds when they discuss their budget limitations.)

It’s good news that Hubble will not go unreplaced, even if launch plans remain unclear. NASA has been gutting programs in order to salvage plans for the James Webb Space Telescope, the increasingly complex basket into which it has been tossing all its eggs. The agency says it will probably use the new telescopes to study dark energy.

But while NASA was tightening its asteroid belt and cutting down on space travel plans, it’s odd to think that all this time, the NRO had two state-of-the-art telescopes, just floating around above the earth checking for dimes on top of the Washington Monument. Or something.

Which raises the question: What else does the National Reconnaissance Office have just lying around?

“Here,” the NRO says. “Do you need a large hadron collider? We just found one in the pocket of a jacket we hadn’t worn in a while.”

“We have six quantum computers just sort of sitting in the closet gathering dust, if you want them.”

Of course, as someone on Twitter pointed out, if this is what they’re able to give away, just imagine what they have up there right now.

By  |  04:53 PM ET, 06/04/2012

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company