Since we’re in a financial crisis (you may have heard a little about it…), there is some concern about the level of funding for basic research in the near (and long-term) future. While there are a lot of reasons to do fundamental science, one of the best reasons to fund it from a policy perspective is that it forms the basis for future innovation. The Incoherent Ponderer explains why the Federal government needs to be involved in this funding.
One of the many difficulties in having private funding for basic research is that most of the time there is no indication before-hand of where the applications will come from, or what form they will take. Imagine that in the late 1960s someone had submitted to NASA the following:
We should send a probe to Mars so that it will make an important discovery about the impact of nuclear war which will then help drive the move to reducing the global nuclear arsenal.