Call it giving hand-me-downs to a younger brother, or charity to the needy, but we’re glad to see NASA get some help from the Department of Defense, which donated two unused space telescopes to the cash-strapped space agency.

NASA will likely use the Hubble-like telescopes, which were originally built for the National Reconnaissance Office, to study dark energy — the theoretical force that explains why the universe seems to be expanding faster, rather than being slowed by gravity.

But these telescopes are also a study in another kind of unexpected expansion: that within the military budget. While NASA has suffered from budget woes over the last several years, the National Reconnaissance Office has two space satellites it doesn’t need. Something is wrong with the way Congress is funding projects, and it doesn’t take an infrared telescope to see it.

This isn’t the only military expansion worth some study. For example, the House of Representatives has approved an extra $100 million funding for a missile defense program on the East Coast that the Pentagon has said is unnecessary.

The military budget all too often seems to be driven not by what our armed forces actually need, but by senators and representatives trying to win elections or push their agendas.

And when the Government Accountability Office tried to audit the military budget in 2010, the result was that “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense” made its budget unauditable.

The United States should have the world’s strongest military, but that is no excuse for irrational budget choices and fiscal waste.

While the military seems to be force-fed funds that it cannot track, NASA relies on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and our plans to go to the moon or Mars have generally stalled. NASA’s acting deputy director for astrophysics, Michael Moore, sums up the problem succinctly: “We have no money.”

The universe is teeming with questions begging to be answered, and NASA, which has long launched humanity’s forays into the unknown, has to rely on the military’s leftovers.

NASA’s decades of exploration and discovery have been a light to the world of a more hopeful future, and that is a future worth funding.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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