Pilfering for Pluto

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

It is unquestionably a scientific achievement of no small measure, the recent flyby made by NASA’s New Horizons space probe of the binary dwarf planets Pluto and Charon – and associated moons – at a near constant velocity of 30,000 miles per hour: the fastest object yet sent into motion from the Earth! The amount of data collected over its near decade-long mission will no doubt prove a further treasure trove as it downloads into terrestrial computers over the next 16 months . . . and beyond, as New Horizons moves further on out into the icy Kuiper Belt, and then out of the solar system altogether, as per the Voyager probes of the 1970s.

At $720 million, the cost seems negligible, in light of the multi-billion and trillion dollar largesse that those in Washington routinely indulge in. It also seems like a more positive use of government capital, in lieu of warfare, corporate and bank bailouts, or the latest study to determine why truck drivers fall asleep. But let’s do some math.

The most recent available data suggests that there are roughly 325 million men, women, and children living in the geographical regions known as the United States. If the cost of New Horizons were equally imposed on every single one of these individuals, it would amount to roughly $2.22 per person.

But here’s where things get tricky: Not everyone pays the same amount, or even the same kind, of federal taxes, and in fact, some people (children, mostly, I would imagine) pay none at all. So we can only strive for just so much accuracy, but let’s see what we can do.

All the other forms of federal taxation notwithstanding – all of which, regardless of its stated or implied purpose, simply goes into the general Treasury of the United States, a euphemism for a series of computer entries roughly documenting how much paper and green ink is in circulation on a global scale. There are currently about 138 million people who file US federal income tax returns. About half (69 million) of those filers pay the tax. So if we were only going to place the burden of New Horizons on the shoulders of those 69 million income tax payers, their individual share of the burden would be about $10.43 each.

Of course, we know that because of FICA taxes (Social Security, Medicare – remember, all federal taxes simply end up in the general “treasury” before outlay expenditures are calculated . . . at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work), various excises (liquor, tobacco, gasoline, firearms, foreign insurance policies, telephone service, etc.), import duties, and tariffs, the per person burden is not quite that high. FICA is about a 15% tax on all labor concerns, whether paid in full by a self-employed individual, or half and half in an employer/employee relationship. All other forms of federal tax combined comprise about 8% of all federal revenue intake. Play that additional math out if you like, but suffice it to say it might reduce our $10.43 figure by a couple of dollars – say the $8.00 range.

So, would you, or would I, voluntarily pay $8.00 or so to finance pictures like the one here, along with what promises to be a further cornucopia of photos and data over the next almost year and a half that will greatly expand mankind’s knowledge of these non-terrestrial bodies, as well as the solar system in general?

Speaking strictly for myself, if assured that every penny would be applied to that stated goal, I’d likely say yes. In fact, I’ve heard a lot of knee-jerk commentary to the effect that “this was worth it.” It was “money well-spent,” and even “I think this was a good investment.”

But were any of us asked what we wanted done with that money? Our money? In fact, were we even consulted as to whether we ever wanted to pay any of it at all?

Taxation in every form is outright extortion, and the threat or actual use of brute force to confiscate the property of others; to misappropriate – steal – the fruits of their labors. This point need not be overstated (though it really cannot be, the hysterical collectivist shriekings of the government defenders notwithstanding). Those who fail or refuse to pay are threatened and penalized, their assets are seized. They may even be kidnapped (arrested) and imprisoned. And if they decide to resist such naked aggression, they may even be murdered.

I find it a paradox of no small proportion that those who see such an elevated aspiration as exploration of the cosmos as a boon to mankind, simultaneously perceive no problem whatsoever in financing such efforts through what amounts to little more than terrorism and barbarism. Indeed, observe this NASA photo of the New Horizon team and guests, celebrating the probe’s flyby of Pluto in an ecstatic frenzy of state-worshipping flag waving.

Until or unless human beings en masse learn to reject the idea that the pursuit of various socioeconomic goals justifies whatever level of violence is deemed “necessary” to enforce compliance, they will be entirely unworthy of what voyages like that of New Horizons have to teach and offer.

It might in fact be best, if this is the case, for them to not look towards the universe, but first and foremost, inside themselves.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 135

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His Facebook page can be found here.  Receive Alex's occasional Tweets here.



The figure I've read is upward of $900,000 in total. In addition to that you have costs of infrastructure, test equipment, etc. I doubt were taken into account but I get what you're saying.

Alex R. Knight III's picture
Paul's picture

Good one, Alex.

Even assuming one has an interest in such exploration, government is a package deal, particularly in an empire. You don't get the planet flybys without the war, dead babies, torture, theft and ruined economies.

Would people be exploring space without government? Of course! It's an interesting thing, and lot of people would put their money and efforts there, to participate.

No doubt those little American flags were passed out for the purposes of a photo-op. Some whores went along with waving them, but there must have been quite a few who thought the whole thing was silly. Maybe some were thinking, "If I wave this flag enough, I get to keep my job." One can only speculate.