• Robert Taylor
  • 21
  • Sep
  • 09

When two MIT students sent a camera into space that took photographs of the curvature of the Earth, NASA bureaucrats were hopefully beginning to worry about their jobs. The most eye-opening fact about this incredible scientific achievement is that Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh spent only $150 on what it takes NASA billions to do.

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

Just as importantly, these pictures of the Earth didn’t require confiscating a part of anyone’s income to do so (unlike NASA). These two students paid for this entirely out of their own pockets, which provided the incentive to find a way to cut costs. Their launch also didn’t pollute the environment or subsidize pointless studies, as NASA launches tend to do.

Defenders of NASA claim that it the program essential for the development of new technologies. But commercial markets are far better at inventions and breakthroughs because their research is designed to provide a product or a service (and make a profit). Telstar I, the world’s first telecommunications satellite, was a product of AT&T’s drive to provide a better communication service (only later to be used by the Defense Department). The telephone, personal computers, the Internet, Velcro, Tang, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, hand-calculators, and the hundreds of products created from the advantage of integrated circuits and semiconductors; all of these have advanced our lives not by the coercive taxation of a government program, but through the mutual benefit of buyer and seller.

So what’s the point of NASA again? It’s just one of the federal government’s big, tremendously expensive fireworks shows, like those buzzing Blue Angels. When NASA fires rockets into space or lands a billion-dollar golf carts on Mars, it’s a big, public display. It is objective and visible, “there it stands!” Beyond these modern-day pyramids and castles are the subjective costs, spread around the entire population through taxation. How many goods and services weren’t provided to the marketplace so that we could watch a bureaucrat walk on the moon? We will never know.

It’s time to get rid of NASA. Immediately we would save at least $17 billion a year, and scientific advancements will begin to finally address our needs and concerns in a competitive market. If NASA were de-funded, the private sector could begin to deliver services that are actually valuable to consumers, things NASA barely emphasizes, like employing robot satellites that gather information about the Earth to supply the high commercial demand for more accurate weather forecasts and geological assessments. Robot satellites can also accomplish most of the things that more expensive manned flights do, but when a government is in charge, costs don’t matter.

As two MIT students have proved, NASA is a series of expensive publicity stunts, distractions from the costs of its wastefulness. It’s a shame Americans are still forced to pay for this nationalistic PR.


For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

  • Daniel Austin
  • 11
  • Aug
  • 09
This entry is part 21 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

HDR is this crazy hyped up super duper dreamy photography trick that is most often misunderstood. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which describes the amount of luminance that is seen in a particular scene. The thing is, this high dynamic range is more information than your eyes can see, even in real life where dynamic range naturally is pretty wide. The trick that most people use to let your eyes see the full dynamic range is called tone-mapping, and this is the real magic of HDR. You can tone-map a photo that has a medium or low dynamic range and get equally impressive results. Either way, tone-mapping and HDR are both very impressive tricks in their own right, and are distinct from each other. The photos below are all high dynamic range and tone-mapped, and this is the most common form of “HDR”.

The Old Rock Schoolhouse

Crocker Galleria

Setting Sun from Mt. Tamalpais

  • Daniel Austin
  • 05
  • Jul
  • 09
This entry is part 16 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Vientiane is a small, old city across the Mekong River from Thailand, so it makes sense that there would be several temples in its vicinity. I only spent a few days in Laos, not nearly enough time, but it was enough to get a feel for this mellow locale and see some of the sights. I think the most authentic part of my experience was at one hotel where I had monks for neighbors across the street. They burned leaves which left my room smelling like smoke, and they woke me up banging drums and chanting. It had never occurred to me that monks would make bad neighbors. The bright side is that they meticulously clean their houses so they’re never dirty.


  • Daniel Austin
  • 23
  • Jun
  • 09
This entry is part 14 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Like all things 13 this issue of the (d)SPOT comes late due to a case of bad luck while on holiday in Cambodia. Despite that bad luck, Cambodia is an amazing place and home to one of the most beautiful and the largest religious site in the world, Angkor Wat. This is a collection of many temples and other religious monuments spread out over a few hundred square kilometers. There is absolutely no way you can experience the wonder of this place through photos, but here’s a taste of what it’s like.


From the top of the temple

Angkor Wat lawn

  • Daniel Austin
  • 14
  • Jun
  • 09
This entry is part 13 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Ha Long bay is certainly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to go there, one look from among the islands is enough to experience the magic, but one day was not enough time to fully experience all there is to see there. I’ve never wanted a helicopter more in my life. I also never regretted leaving my tilt/shift lens at home more. Even so, the beauty was so prevalent it was easy to capture with my camera, which is great because words simply cannot describe the wonder of Ha Long Bay.

Swimming in Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Docked at Surprise Cave