Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space

NASA Considers Privatizing Space Shuttles 307

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the not-sure-how-i-feel-about-that dept.
panopticon was among the many who submitted a BBC story talking about NASA considering privatizing the space shuttles as a cost saving measure since those pesky shuttles cost $400M every time we throw one up into orbit. The article really doesn't say much beyond that.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Considers Privatizing Space Shuttles

Comments Filter:
  • by InfinityWpi (175421) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @11:48AM (#2532764)
    If you don't wanna pay for it, find someone else who will. Hey, they did it with HMOs, and look how well that worked out...
    • If you don't wanna pay for it, find someone else who will. Hey, they did it with HMOs, and look how well that worked out...

      First off HMO's and NASA are rather different cases. Beyond that I don't think you can use HMO's as a "cover all" example of the efficacy of government involvement since the entire healthcare mess is largely the creation of government involvement.

      Or are you simply providing your .sig with an illustrative example.
    • No, that would be true if this was a Constitutional government.

      In reality, government buys whatever it wants because it can, and does, pay for anything on credit alone. Despite our taxes being so high, only a tiny fraction of the government's income is from taxes. Government spends on CREDIT, plain and simple.
  • Reasonable enough I'd say. This seems to be working elsewhere. Anyway, look what happens when commercial entities get involved in government projects (read: the Internet). For good or bad, the Internet is everywhere now. I predict the same for space commerce. Space is pretty damn useful.
  • Is Considers? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by prophecyvi (249996)
    "NASA Is Considers Privatizing the Space Shuttle".

    How about "Slashdot Is Considers an EDITOR".

    Or "All Your Grammar Are Not Belong to Slashdot".
  • ...but who will buy them? As far as I know, space shuttles are pretty expensive in use and conservation. I'm curious whether there is anyone, for whom it would be profitable to buy one. According to BBC, one launch costs 400$ million. Does anybody know how expensive one shuttle may be?

    And the risk of hijacking one and crashing into ISS... yikes.
    • Re: bad idea (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Phil-14 (1277)

      I think the plan is they sell it to the usual
      suspect cost-plus contractors they work with already
      like Boeing or LockMart and then buy back the shuttle
      launches from them. This isn't going to save any
      money, it's just an accounting trick.



      It isn't even real privatization. It'll still
      remain a government run and funded program after
      it's done.

    • > ...but who will buy them?

      Precisely NASA's problem. The damn thing was obsolete by the time it was built.

      If I were the private owner of a space shuttle, I'd sell it for $5B to NASA.

      I'd then use $1B to fire off 10 Discovery-class missions for the hell of it, and the remaining $4B in cash to develop a reusable launch vehicle that would show the world just how obsolete the space shuttle was. Result -- world has $1000/lb (or lower) cost of lifting things to orbit. Space hotels in 10 years. Lunar or Martian colonies in 20. And exciting jobs for the talented folks trapped in NASA.

      Unfortunately, that's not on the table. What's on the table is NASA finding a sux0r to buy a $5B white elephant, and NASA spending the resulting $5B on shuttle launches to ISS. Result -- world has the same $10000/lb (or higher) cost of lifting things to orbit as it always did. But if it doesn't fall from the sky in 10 years, we have ISS, a $100B white elephant, to look at. And a bunch of frustrated, talented geeks, still trapped like flies in NASA's bureaucratic amber.

  • hehe (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheMMaster (527904) <hp AT tmm DOT cx> on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @11:52AM (#2532793)
    Just like putting the UK and Dutch railways into private hands... now THAT was a good idea ;-)

    For all non-europeans here (quite a bit) this lead to the most HORRIBLE service ever.
    • Guess you've never heard of Amtrak? :)
    • by osiris (30004)
      Well, i'll admit that the uk railway system is pretty bad, but it wasbefore privatisation too. The duth railway system is brilliant. at least when i was over there, all trains leaving on time and running to schedule.
  • by SubtleNuance (184325) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @11:54AM (#2532798) Journal
    ...Not this guy. Personally Im holding my wallet until the firesale on public buildings. The Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument and GoldenGate bridge... now thats a good investment. With the right re-naming, cross-marketing, and brand management strategy these are sure fire money makers!

    "The SubtleNuance Statue Of Plutocracy"... A Monument to Capitalism and Entrepreneurial Spirit.®© Now thats a sure winner. God Bless America(TM)!

  • Privatize them! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Debillitatus (532722)
    Why not? The Russians sent up that guy (Tito?) and had a massive infusion of capital into their space program. The Russians, of course, need money more than Americans, but everyone can use it.

    This is a good move in the right direction. As soon as someone works out a business plan that allows them to make a profit off of flying to the moon, Mars, etc., there will be all kinds of stuff in space. And this will of course drive costs down, just through volume and through increased R&D budgets. if this all goes according to plan, maybe one day there will be a permanent Lunar settlement with regular shuttles. This would be sweet...

  • The problem is that you typically do not want your space project going to the "lowest bidder". I can see some advantages as long as things are executed properly (i.e. - real standards to comply to and perhaps a fed funded oversight team). Maybe they could hire Argenbright Security while they are at it.

    In case you "could care less" about this, I would be quick to remind you that its your tax money (if you're indeed a US citizen) and this could potentially save quite a bit of it.

    Danger Will Robinson
    • The problem is that you typically do not want your space project going to the "lowest bidder".

      How do you think the shuttle manufacturers source components?

      I can see some advantages as long as things are executed

      The lowest bigger who meets the specification. But remember NASA are the people who spend $10,000 to procure a hammer.
    • Re:Inherent flaws (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fjord (99230)
      In case you "could care less" about this, I would be quick to remind you that its your tax money (if you're indeed a US citizen) and this could potentially save quite a bit of it.

      I thought the point is that it isn't our tax money. Instead, the launches will be privatized and the companies who use the services to lauch satellites etc will have to pay the full price. They will then take the risks involved in choosing one bidder over another, and the private organizations will come up with novel ways of increasing their payload/cost efficiency in oreder to maximize their profits or compete effectivly.

      I'm not 100% certain that this is a good approach, however.It very difficult for me to understand the economic game plan of the current executive in this country. Subsidizing launches is good for the economy in the way that lower interest rates and tax cuts are good for the economy. It seems like they are pulling with one hand while pushing with the other. Then there is just the factor that spinning off a new industry while the economy is receeding just doesn't seem smart to me. If these were boom times, then I'd be all for it.
  • by sharkticon (312992) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:00PM (#2532830)

    How did it ever get to the point where one of our greatest and proudest institutions needs to privitize one of their greatest resources in order to keep going? Americans everywhere should be ashamed at this rape of our space program, once the envy of the world.

    No other country in the world comes close to the US in terms of economic might, and yet it is near-third-world nations like China that are now expanding their space programs as we are selling off ours. Hell, they're even talking about putting men on the moon, something we did once and then got bored with. As a nation we have the attention span of a four year-old child, and about as much forward-thinking. We'd much rather forget about the future (and everything else) and concentrate on our televisions and big honking SUVs, despite the fact that our initial lead in the space race could have been leveraged into an unassailable one.

    No, this is just another symptom of the long, slow decline of the US into a narcissistic corporate paradise as the rest of the world forges on ahead of us into the future. It seems the only people here with any kind of enthusiasm are the ones that want to control your lives; everyone would rather let them get on with and have removed the intolerable burden of decision making.

    • How did it ever get to the point where one of our greatest and proudest institutions needs to privitize one of their greatest resources in order to keep going? Americans everywhere should be ashamed at this rape of our space program, once the envy of the world.

      You talk about this as if it were a horrible thing. What exactly is the problem here? It seems to me that the main reason to have the government involved in the space race in the first place is that it was such a big enterprise that it was completely out of the scope of any type of private investor. Now that the technology has progressed to a certain point, it becomes cheap enough for a corporation to get into the game.

      Two analogies: First, the simpler case of space travel, simply putting stuff into orbit. Think about it: as recently as 1957 (?), we were completely and totally amazed that the Russians could put something the size of a soccer ball into orbit for a couple of revolutions. Now, every little broadcasting company can put an intricate satellitein orbit which does any number of things. Unless you're claiming that the fact that we have private satellite communications is bad, this change to privatization of satellites has been very good for everyone.

      Another example: transAtlantic boats. Columbus had to go begging to the government of Spain to get funding to send the first couple of boats over here,and they were putting them over here at the rate of about one every 2-3 years... But the mid-16th century, colonization was in private hands (in England and France, at least), and I'm sure you'll agree that transatlantic commerce got "a little better" as a result. Unless, again, you're arguing that Europe should still be sending boats over here at the rate of one every year or so...

      • >You talk about this as if it were a horrible thing. What exactly is the problem here?

        The "problem" is that, free-marketeer blustering aside, privatization of large government assets is just another form of Corporate Welfare.

        Tax dollars go into developing an asset for pure research. Republicrats in Congress get tired of paying for it and raffle asset off to corporate friends/sponsors. Corporate friends make lots of money (at US Taxpayer expense mind you, since we paid for the initial investment) while killing initial purpose of the asset (since 'pure research' isnt profitable). Taxpayers get ZERO benefit from this unless they happen to be significant shareholders, which very few of us are.

        At least with the current setup, NASA can function as a pure-research organization, with benefits available to everyone (including corporations which would like to exploit any developed technologies, using their own investment capital). Privatize it all, and the public benefit of the space program wont extend past cellphones and satellite tv. The space program, as science, will be dead.

        The supposed "efficiency" of large corporations was one of the most pernicious myths of the 20th century. If Corporate America were so damn efficient at exploiting technical opportunities, I'd be able to book my Pan Am flight to the moon right now.

        Still waiting...

        :M
        • > Republicrats in Congress get tired of paying for it and raffle asset
          > off to corporate friends/sponsors.


          Presumably, it will be auctioned to the highest bidder, not raffled off.


          >Taxpayers get ZERO benefit from this
          > unless they happen to be significant shareholders, which very few of
          > us are.


          If you're in the U.S>, s/very few/almost all/. The middle class, directly and indirectly, owns the overwhelming majority of the assets. Not typically as stock shares, but through mutual funds and retirement programs.


          >If Corporate America were so damn efficient at exploiting technical
          >opportunities, I'd be able to book my Pan Am flight to the moon right now.


          If it weren't so damn efficient, you would have had to post in Russian. Assuming, of course, that the dictatorship had somehow collapsed without the U.S> on the outside, and that civil rights had somehow spread through the world, allowing access to such communications.


          hawk

          • If you're in the U.S>, s/very few/almost all/. The middle class, directly and indirectly, owns the overwhelming majority of the assets. Not typically as stock shares, but through mutual funds and retirement programs.

            This is myth. Less than 50% of US citizens own any stock of any kind, even 'stealth' stock such as mutal funds and pensions.

            If it weren't so damn efficient, you would have had to post in Russian.

            Red-baiting. How 80s. This has nothing to do with my argument.

            Chicago-school thinking did wonders in Russia in the 90s didnt it?

            :M
            • >This is myth. Less than 50% of US citizens own any stock of any kind,
              > even 'stealth' stock such as mutal funds and pensions.


              I generally don't bother even seeing AC's, but having seen this one on accident, I'll point out its there. He cites the 52% figure from the SEC. Your "myth" is itself a myth. Furthermore, that 52% understates the situation. Over the course of people's lifetime, far more participate--of the 48% not currently involved, some are retirees or near-retirees on older fixed-benefit plans, which are becoming extinct. Of the rest, most will move into the 52% long before retirement (and that figure can be expected to rise.


              > Red-baiting. How 80s.


              Trying to dismiss reality as "red-baiting." How pink . . .


              >This has nothing to do with my argument.


              It has *everything* to do with your argument. While it's not popular to admit among the loony left, the mainstream portions of the political spectrum do acknwoledge that the cold war as a struggle to the death. The USSR gave plenty of hard evidence that they meant to follow through with their stated goal of world conquest. Had our system not been vastly superior in its ability to produce, they would have eventually succeeded.



              > Chicago-school thinking did wonders in Russia in the 90s didnt it?


              We'll neve rknow. I'm no chicago-schooler, but I'll acknowledge that their proposals would work far better than the industrial feudalism is Russia today and in the 90's. The chicago school advocates both a free market and capitalism; neither of these are present in today's Russia.


              hawk

      • Another example: transAtlantic boats. Columbus had to go begging to the government of Spain to get funding to send the first couple of boats over here,and they were putting them over here at the rate of about one every 2-3 years... But the mid-16th century, colonization was in private hands (in England and France, at least), and I'm sure you'll agree that transatlantic commerce got "a little better" as a result.

        Interesting that you would use this example, since the very outcome of what you suggest was one of the largest documented instances of genocide. Colonization sounds so much better in the 4th grade history books, than say mass murder, rape, theft, broken treaties and enslavement.

        Privitazation does not equal progress. We already see what happens when we have privatized airline security. Privatization is certainly useful for some things, like sanitation and road building. Privatizing NASA is pure corporate welfare giveaways.

        A primary cause of NASA's huge expenses is the SAFETY measures they make. Nothing's foolproof, but NASA is responible for human life. Privatize them, and the resulting corporation will still put on a show they care about life... but it will be done through a filter called "risk assessment". Translated, that means "where is the sweet spot between protecting our personel assets vs. maximizing profit".

        See you in hell.

    • Well, This Economist article [economist.com] argues that manned spaceflight is a boondoggle. The basic idea is that there's never been any benefit from putting men where machines are better suited to go. I tend to disagree, but its important to remember that the shuttle is now a 30 year old piece of technology. They're the DeHaviland Comet (the first jet airliner) of space vehicles. Its time to make a 777 to replace those guys, venerable though they are. They just aren't efficient, and they don't make as much sense as they used to. If privatization is the way to go, then that would be OK by me.

      As for the loss of US prestige and vision, well, we aren't making Hoover Dams any more either. We found out that they were destroying the environment and Glenn Canyon was the last such dam. Those building projects were from an era gone past, but despite the fact that that era was past, America had not run out of tricks. As Lake Powell, the lake which has drowned Glenn Canyon, was filling with water, marking the last gasp of the big government construction projects, we were putting men on the moon for the first time. And even as we were reaching the pinnacle of our space flight technology between 1969 and 1980, when the Shuttle program was really getting going, other men were working quietly behind the scenes trying out this silly little idea to create a nationwide network of computers.

      If the US does drop the manned space program, would that not put more impetus into the X-prize? NASA's monopoly on American space resources might be due for phasing out. Let NASA go to an oversight role. Let real people get out there and take risks on the final frontier.

      It may turn out that this is a bad idea, but the reason will be a technical one, not because of lost pride or enterprising spirit. I think America still has plenty of both.
      • First of all, the *747* is a 30 year-old technology, the DeHavilland Comet is 50 years old. 747s still get sold today and make a profit for their owners.

        The reason a DC-8/747/777 got developed is because there was a huge *profitable* market for intercontinental flight. There is no corresponding market for space flight. There is a market; that is, people are willing to pay money to go into space. Unfortunately, it is not a profitable one. Not enough people are willing to pay enough to support the capital necessary to create the infrastructure.

        There is a profitable market for satellite launches. By unmanned rockets, not by expensive Shuttle launchers.

        The point is that you have to convince people with billions of dollars (for something on the order of a 777) to lend it to you so that you can design and manufacture the thing, with the idea that PROFITS from selling it will be enough to make it worth their while.

        If there were an argument to be made for this, then it would likely have been made already, and you would be worried about spaceport security these days. The fact that manned spaceflight is still not a commercial reality probably means it isn't going to be any time soon.

        Why spend billions of dollars to make a unprofitable activity slightly less unprofitable?
    • by overunderunderdone (521462) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @01:28PM (#2533272)
      How did it ever get to the point where one of our greatest and proudest institutions needs to privitize one of their greatest resources in order to keep going?

      We no longer have the same urgent need for a space program that we had when we first developed it. NASA was never *just* about idle scientific curiosity. It was about developing the technologies needed for national defense and showing that technical superiority off to the rest of the world, for the sake of national prestige and it's accompanying international influence. When the Russians sent up Sputnik we were not shocked and dismayed because we thought that they might find out interesting facts about quasars before us but because they demonstrated the technical ability required to make *other* things like ICBM's, spy & communications satellites etc. We went to the moon to prove to ourselves and the world that we were capable of even more than the Russians - scientific exploration was a nice justification and byproduct. Today we have proven our technological, economic and military superiority, NASA no longer has those other more urgent (and more fundamentally related to the actual purpose of government) tasks and is left with the scientific exploration pretext and beaurocratic inertia.

      No other country in the world comes close to the US in terms of economic might, and yet it is near-third-world nations like China that are now expanding their space programs as we are selling off ours

      China is expanding their space program for the same reasons we no longer have. They are developing the technology to build ICBM's. Prior to the leaks of technology from western firms for the sake of the Chinese space program they did not have missles capable of hitting the continental USA - now they do. They are also concerned with proving their national greatness to placate their own populace and to increase their international influence. And finally as a very nice side bonus (and their pretext) they are acting as a private company would and seeking to make a profit. India wants to do the same things - particularly because of their rivalry with China.

      No, this is just another symptom of the long, slow decline of the US into a narcissistic corporate paradise as the rest of the world forges on ahead of us into the future.

      If the corporations can find a way to make a buck off of space we will far surpass the rest of the world in forging ahead into the future.

      It seems the only people here with any kind of enthusiasm are the ones that want to control your lives...

      In general it is government that *controls* your life - just think about what the word "government" means. In this example I as an individual may not WANT to support the space program but I am forced to by the government under the threat of fines, imprisonment and if I resist the ultimate force of government is the policemans gun. If I don't want to buy a Wintel computer I may forgoe using some computer programs and have occasional compatibility problems transfering files to other computers but Bill Gates can't put me in jail.

      ...everyone would rather let them get on with and have removed the intolerable burden of decision making.

      Again, you have it 180 degrees backwards. The private sector is generally a realm of many choices and lots of decisions. Government usually does not give you much choice. In the private sector I have a decision whether or not to support a non-profit scientific organization seeking to land on the moon. There may be many such non-profits to choose from or there may be any number of similar commercial projects whose products (space tours, astroid mined minerals, whatever) I have the decision to buy or not. If government decides to support such I project my only decision is whether I'm willing to go to jail to NOT support the project.

      There are good arguments for government involvement in just about anything, but increased individual decision making and decreased control of the individuals life are most emphatically NOT among them.
      • We no longer have the same urgent need for a space program that we had when we first developed it. NASA was never *just* about idle scientific curiosity. It was about developing the technologies needed for national defense and showing that technical superiority off to the rest of the world, for the sake of national prestige and it's accompanying international influence.

        True, that was its initial goal, goals change. We have ICBMs, we have spy satellites, we have gps and ways of communicating with troops via satellite. As new national defence issues arrise that need NASA then they have access to it, but instead of mothballing everything because NASA was originally created for military and defence issues ithas been able to adapt to become a huge foundation for scientific research.

        The private sector is generally a realm of many choices and lots of decisions. Government usually does not give you much choice. In the private sector I have a decision whether or not to support a non-profit scientific organization seeking to land on the moon.

        The problem is that funding fundamental reseach that does not have direct economic gain, whether through products or important patents, runs into the prisoners dilema. By having a government that forces us to pay for things that are benifitial for all of society, ie schools, infrastructure, fundamental reseach, so they actually move forward. It is the lack of having strings from the private sector attached to them that allows them to do an okay to excellent job. Sure some of these programs are not getting the desired results, but imagine the social retardation if public schools relied on private sector money with strings attached, like forcing advertisements in class.

        Some things should not funded on the basis of whether they can turn a (short term) profit. With the exception of Watson Crick Labs, the amount of fundamental and theoretical science being done in the private sector is pathetic. The studying of quasars and black holes has no economic return until our society can actually go to those places. Poster sales of cool space phenominon will not fund the Hubble Space Telescope.

        Turn NASA over to the private sector and space exploration will die until China or Russia shame our government into funding it. Unfortunately once that happens, there are several possibilites, none of which are very good.
        • A public NASA is recreated, all designs needed are either completely out of date or patented. Rebuild from the ground up.
        • We pay the private sector even more money than we are currently paying NASA, because now they know they can turn a profit and can set any price.


        The Libertarian view on scientific funding DOES NOT WORK because it relies on donations, which, even they admit, cannot drive an economy.

        It is interesting that when most powerful societies start to crumble it begins with an usurping of power and quickly followed with not funding scientific research, espeically NON-PROFITABLE research. Let's see here, Bush stole the election, NASA thinking of privatizing, fusion energy research being cut drastically, and particle research begging for money.
        • The problem is that funding fundamental reseach that does not have direct economic gain, whether through products or important patents, runs into the prisoners dilema.

          Excuse me, but is research is "fundamental", it better have a direct economic gain. Otherwise, if it has no economic gain, then what is the point of researching, if not just for fun. Think about it, what is the point of just researching pure science, unless it will actually lead to something useful.

          With the exception of Watson Crick Labs, the amount of fundamental and theoretical science being done in the private sector is pathetic.

          Hmmm... I think that you forgot to mention pharmaceutical companies, as well as universities, computer companies, aeronautical companies (Boeing etc...) just to name a few. Sure, all of their research may not be "fundamental" science by its strictest definition, but their research does actually lead to products that are useful to all society (national defense from boeing, anthrax vaccines from phizer) If all research and development was done publically, we would find our country crumbling much like the USSR did.

    • How did it ever get to the point where one of our greatest and proudest institutions needs to privatize one of their greatest resources in order to keep going?

      Because space turned out not to be very important.

      In the early days of the space program, space travel was seen as the Next Big Thing after air travel. It was expected that there'd be large-scale commercial and military space operations, and that those would develop about as fast as aviation did. But it turned out that space was about as important as artic exploration. There are still bases at the North and South Poles (the former USSR North Pole base is used for tourism), but they're not very important.

    • How did one of (glowing flattery removed about a gubmint boondoggle organization that blows money and still can't get a mission right)our institutions need to privitize one of their greatest resources in order to keep going?

      Funny. The poster has the answer to his question in the next paragraph:

      No other country in the world comes close to the US in terms of economic might

      Bingo. Ever consider the reason for us being the greatest economic might could just be that we permit corporations to exist with only a moderate amount of governmental tyranny and confiscation?

      Yet the poster gets lost in the next sentence - so close, yet...

      and yet it is near-third-world nations like China that are now expanding their space programs

      And you'd expect a totalitarian government to do otherwise?

      Hell, they're even talking about putting men on the moon, something we did once and then got bored with.

      Uh... you wouldn't have happened to notice that we've got:

      1. a war going on that has been estimated to cost at least a billion bucks a month
      2. a recession that is killing major sectors of business, leaving less companies for the government to tax/loot.
      3. citizens overwhelmingly opposing new taxes [insidedenver.com], preventing the non-corporate tax base from being looted
      4. a ton of baby boomers drooling about being non-producers and getting that retirement/social security.

      And you want another moon project? And we keep wondering why liberals have such disasterous personal lives?

      As a nation we have the attention span of a four year-old child, and about as much forward-thinking.

      I'd say your dreams are about as pragmatic as a four-year-old. What's money anyways?

      We'd much rather forget about the future (and everything else) and concentrate on our televisions and big honking SUVs

      Ah, an ELF/ALF liberal. We call you a "target" in my parts of the country.

      So what is the real, deep-rooted motivation of this poster and his kin?

      It seems the only people here with any kind of enthusiasm are the ones that want to control your lives

      He does seem so enthusiastic, doesn't he?

      *scoove*
    • Most space launches are already commercial, not governmental; indeed arguably the Space Shuttle isn't even a very good space vehicle- well its technically brilliant, but fundamentally and irrevocably economically flawed.

      Each launch of the Space Shuttle costs $400+ million. The russians can launch about 5 times for that price, and launch 5 times as much stuff. And although the Russian engineers are much cheaper; the Proton vehicle was designed from the ground-up for reduced costs; whilst the Space Shuttle design was damaged early on from aiming for more launches than the budget could sustain, and it will never recover.

      I find it difficult to believe that anyone except the goverment can afford it- and right now not even the government is willing to pay. The implication is that the Space Shuttle may very well be doomed.

      Finally, one thing you might like to consider- NASA is part of the government. Governments very rarely expand; businesses usually do, or die. Should a Government or a private organisation be in charge of space? Do you want Space to expand or stay the same?

      America doesn't need to privatise Space; but its a damn good idea... in many ways the question is moot already; industry is moving in.

      The bottom line is that space is massively overpriced right now- even the best launchers cost $2600/kg. The best estimate is that the price is heading for nearer $10-50/kg. Governmental subsidisies aren't going to do that- only launching a LOT will do that.

    • > No other country in the world comes close to the US in terms of
      > economic might, and yet it is near-third-world nations like China that
      > are now expanding their space programs as we are selling off ours.


      That, of course, is *entirely* why we're in this. Others have pointed out that NASA was not merely about technology, but it goes deeper than that. NASA was a front line of the Cold War. Even into the 1970's, there was serious concern that the U.S.S.R. actually would become more advanced and produce more than the U.S. There was concern about more countries falling into its orbit of slavery. NASA, the moon, and the shuttle were to demonstrate otherwise and win minds around the world.


      We won the space race and cold war *because* of the economic might of our system. That is, it is because the private system uses resources more efficiently that we were in a position to win. If you take a step back, the irony of complaining that a state enterprise used to prove the superiority of private enterprise over state enterprise is being transfered from the state to that very private enterprise is more than a little amusing :)


      hawk

  • Not only will privitization of shuttle launch and maintenance help reduce costs for NASA (and give them more money to devote to other projects and the completion of the ISS), but it will be one more step towards the commercialization of space. Now, any company will be able to purchase space on the shuttle for satellites or even human cargo :-).

    Remember how many people (including many /.ers) were critical of the government's desire to open the Internet to commerce; now, few would argue that we have all benefitted from that decision. The barrier to entry (or exit, in this case!) is so high, for space flight, that an independent company would never be able to develop the type of technology that NASA has developed for the shuttle; it simply would not be ecnomically feasible for them to pour so much money into R&D. By giving them the ability to resell NASA technology in exchange for lowering the cost of shuttle launches, the government will be entering an arrangement that is mutually beneficial and could help form an industry.

    My only requirement for the company given the contract is that it have its headquarters in the U.S., because of security concerns and a respect for our national pride.
  • Next up (Score:5, Funny)

    by sandidge (150265) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:08PM (#2532869)
    Next you know we'll be seeing :

    Kellog's US Navy
    MSArmy
    Verizon Air Force
    Kotex US Marines

    (And, no, I have nothing against any armed forces. Kotex Marines just sounded funnier than any other.)
  • by Fenris2001 (210117) <fenris AT nmt DOT edu> on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:08PM (#2532873)
    If I remember correctly, NASA tried to find a buyer for the Shuttles in the 1980s....

    The reason no one bought them then, and the reason no one will buy them now, is the horrid expense of launching & reusing them - for example, on return to Earth, the Space Shuttle Main Engines are pulled, shipped to California, rebuilt to spec, and tested for ~75% of their design lifetime - any deviation during this test period results in the engine being scrapped. The Shuttle is an old design, and it wasn't efficient when it was new. Or consider the Solid Rocket Boosters, which actually cost more to retrieve and reuse than disposable boosters would.

    The BBC quotes a figure of US$400 million, but the total development cost of the Shuttle program is *much* higher - some figures I've seen give a total cost per launch of over US$1.5 billion.

    I think the solution to bringing down launch costs is to "open" the space program - let private companies build new launch vehicles, and have NASA test and certify them. This would allow NASA to perform more basic research, much like its predecessor the National Advisory Commitee for Aeronautics did from 1915 to 1958. This research, in turn, would lead to a new generation of launch vehicles.

    I'm not a rabid NASA-hater like some out there, but I do think the agency has too much to do, with too many people, and too small of a budget.

    • Although I'd *love* to see the shuttles and space system revamped to make it more efficent by someone other than the lowest bidder; opening up the space system allows for industry corruption. What happens when someone gets a monopoly in space? Everytime you try to star gaze you have to distinguise the stars from the MS logos? If we were to commericialize space, there will need to be some heavy duty restrictions.

      But I'm sure the illuminati already knows that... *loud ominious thunder*
      • Although I'd *love* to see the shuttles and space system revamped to make it more efficent by someone other than the lowest bidder; opening up the space system allows for industry corruption. What happens when someone gets a monopoly in space? Everytime you try to star gaze you have to distinguise the stars from the MS logos? If we were to commericialize space, there will need to be some heavy duty restrictions.

        Excuse me? We've already got a monopoly in space -- it's called NASA. As for industry corruption, did you think NASA builds and repairs the shuttles themselves? Hell, no ... they're built by single-sourced aerospace contractors ... you can't get a better monopoly than that. Any sort of commercial competition for heavy lift capability would be an improvement over the current situation.

    • The reason no one bought them then, and the reason no one will buy them now, is the horrid expense of launching & reusing them - for example, on return to Earth, the Space Shuttle Main Engines are pulled, shipped to California, rebuilt to spec, and tested for ~75% of their design lifetime - any deviation during this test period results in the engine being scrapped. The Shuttle is an old design, and it wasn't efficient when it was new. Or consider the Solid Rocket Boosters, which actually cost more to retrieve and reuse than disposable boosters would.

      Quite. NASA, and it's budgets, are intensely political. The Shuttle camp were enormously influential, helped no doubt by political lobbying and kickbacks from key contractors and vendors, and hamstrung the various SSTO projects, which had the potential for cost effective shuttling between the ground and near-Earth orbits.

      The solution is to move all space activity into the private sector. Break up NASA and sell it off if anyone wants it, in an open auction. By all means keep a Federal agency to certify space vehicles as safe to launch (if launches are on US territory), but all the activity carried out in the private sector. If there's a business case for it, we'll have a man on Mars decades before NASA's bureacrats have even filled in the paperwork for that mission.
    • The problem is that reusuable spacecraft has proven to be a mistake. It costs more to develop something which can be used multiple times, and then it costs more to individually produce components, then it costs more to do the recovery & restoration. When you have a production line, like the pre-shuttle rockets, and like ESA has, then you can concentrate on producing reliable & cheap components. It worked for Henry Ford, and it works for spacecraft.
      • If one wishes to make it expensive, then yes, it will be expensive. And the companies that NASA contracted to were more interested in billing for high rates than actually developing cheap space access.

        That doesn't prove it can't be done. Just that NASA and its contractors seem incapable of getting it done.
      • It costs more to develop something which can be used multiple times, and then it costs more to individually produce components, then it costs more to do the recovery & restoration.


        Not true for all situations - yes, as NASA and the majority of the aerospace industry does it, developing a resuable launch vehicle takes years and costs billions. But there are counter-examples. Take the DC-X (or Delta Clipper or Clipper Graham, whatever). It cost $60 million to build, and was finished on time.

        The technology already exists to build a fully reusable LV, with long-life thermal tiles and engines. Such an LV could reduce launch costs by an order of magnitude or more.

        Just because NASA can't operate a reusable LV doesn't mean it's "proven to be a mistake".

  • by purduephotog (218304) <hirschNO@SPAMinorbit.com> on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:08PM (#2532875) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at the 50+ generation. They had the moon in their grasp and they turned their back.

    How many experimental craft have been 'scrapped' for 'budget cuts'- the government is a big, slow, uninteresting beast that plows over ideas. Whatever happeend to the dream of SSTO (single stage to orbit)?

    Throw 'market share' and a chance for profit in, then you have some businesses interested. Contractors don't deliver on time? Dock them. Don't coddle them.

    The moon was ours once... now every time I step outside at night and look up I see another example of failure.

    Venimus, vidimus, fugimus
    • So far there appears to be the same chance for profit in space that there is in broadband and the web. In other words, nebulous and unproven, dependent on government supports and regulation, and a bunch of shirt-losing and money-destroying has already been done.

      I don't credit US business with being sufficiently visionary to do anything with space. Space is a long-term thing, and a quarter-to-quarter focus just won't hack it. Space has 'worked' so far for business because the government has wanted stuff, and business will deliver it -- for a price.

      I once read quite an analysis about why business would never develop a breakthrough launch technology on their own. It essentially works out to a combination of corporate and government business practices.

      Maybe if we would allow someone to pull a 'Zephram Cochrane' and move their business off-planet to escape taxes and environmental reguations...

      As for the Space Station, (and the Shuttle, for that matter) the thing that annoys me even more than the money waste by NASA is the government's response. "If you can't run this sprint, we're going to tie one leg and one arm behind your back, then expect you to run it faster." IMHO, the Space Station has been cut below viability. Unless we can get a re-entry vehicle and hab module up there, no science will get done because it takes the whole crew for maintenance.
      • Broadband and web? Profit? Cisco is doing pretty OK. Other companies too; although there is a major recession right now- that won't last; trust me, I work in the industry. Bandwidth growth outstrips Moore's law and has done for a couple of decades.

        'a bunch of shirt-losing and money-destroying has already been done'

        All techs start with lots of expense, lots of high prices and lots of money spent. The point is that is now past and there's lots of prior art- lots of books you can buy telling you pretty much what to do, and what not.

        'I don't credit US business with being sufficiently visionary to do anything with space. Space is a long-term thing, and a quarter-to-quarter focus just won't hack it. Space has 'worked' so far for business because the government has wanted stuff, and business will deliver it -- for a price.'

        'IMHO, the Space Station has been cut below viability.'

        Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

        Actually Boeing and all the other aerospace companies have been feeding at the government teat for decades now. The mother is showing signs of kicking the prodigal sons off- and they already learnt to feed themselves quite well thank you very much. Space industry is worth $100 billion worldwide. NASA only gives them $20 billion. You do the math.

        The point is that the businesses won't create breakthrough launch tech without a good reason. They need a good reason. The market (and there is a space market now) is starting to give them a reason.

        The costs of space access have a long way they can fall. Even with conventional rocketry costs down at $10/kg do not seem totally out of the question but are not in reach at the moment, and new launch tech can probably do even better than that.
    • then you have some businesses interested

      That isn't neccessarily a good thing... Would you want to ride into low earth orbit on top of hundreds of thousands of moving parts and tons of explosive chemicals assembled not only by the lowest bidder but by a profit-oriented lowest bidder with less internal supervision and more stakeholder driven profit incentive (i.e. greater incentive to reduce cost, even to materially inefficent extents)?

      Not that NASA or their cronies have a great track record either, but still...

    • "The moon was ours once... now every time I step outside at night and look up I see another example of failure."

      Perhaps the failure is your own for not seeing that the moon has the same poetic beauty it has always had. Looking at the moon as another object of ownership is the exact point of contention with the privatization of space. Coca Cola has wanted to put an advertisement the size of the moon in space [seattleweekly.com]. That would be the day that I would officially become a criminal...

      LS

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:11PM (#2532890)
    This is not really new. United Space Alliance, the LLC bastard child
    of Boeing and Lockheed Martin has approached NASA before about buying
    or leasing a shuttle. I believe USA was particularly interested in
    Columbia because it has the lightest schedule during certain phases of
    Space Station construction. Outgoing NASA agency head Dan Goldin was
    reported to be all in favor of going forward, but the center director
    at JSC, one George Abbey Sr., was opposed and blocked the deal.

    The new emphasis on privatizing the program is a push by the new Bush
    administration, and was a bit of a surprise to many at USA. "Out of
    the blue" is how it was described to me. However, USA does not expect
    much to come of the new push anytime soon because three key positions
    at NASA are now vacant: Abbey has retired at JSC, Goldin is on his way
    out, and NASA Office of Space Flight assistant administrator Joe
    Rothenberg has announced his retirement. USA execs are NOT actively
    pursuing privatization discussions with NASA, and cannot realistically
    do so until these positions are filled.

    In other words, don't look for a privately owned or operated shuttle
    any time soon.
    • Esp. since the Democrats in congress are going out of their way to stonewall all of Bush's appointments.
      • I'm sorry, but this is the funniest bit of distortion I've seen in ages. The Republicans were extremely obstructionist with Democratic candidates (remember Jesse Helms blocking ambassadorial appointments?) during the Clinton administration, while the Republican nominees were getting a cakewalk before Sept. 11, and it is only getting easier for them. And the failure to block the appointment of folks like Ashcroft has resulted in horrid constrictions of civil liberties, including his attack on the right-to-death measure enacted in Oregon and his attack on medical marijuana. (Apparently, state's rights is only a slogan when the state wants the right to toe the Republican line.)
        • >The Republicans were extremely obstructionist with Democratic
          >candidates (remember Jesse Helms blocking ambassadorial appointments?)


          Now wait a minute. It's not, "Republicans such as Jesse Helms were obstructions for Democratic candidates." It's more like, "Jesse Helms is an obstructionist."


          The current administration isn't having a much better time with him than the previous . . .


          hawk

  • I wonder if there is anything to be concerned about with regard to national security. With the shuttle program in federal hands, I'm assuming there is close scrutiny of contractors involved in building and preparing military payloads that the shuttle delivers into space.

    While the government has every right to keep sensitive information classified, they also have to keep the public informed (to a point) about what they're doing. If a private entity took over all the duties of deploying and maintaining the shuttles, would that entity be compelled to share as much information about what it's doing as the government currently does? How do intellectual property rights fit into this? Would a private entity at some point start claiming rights to knowledge derived from scientific activities that took place on one of its flights?

    OTOH, a private entity that can't rely solely on federal dollars may have more incentive to find ways to drive down costs and streamline the whole process. But hopefully not at the expense of safety.
  • by Linux_ho (205887) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:13PM (#2532896) Homepage
    Anyone who read Richard Feynman's report on the Challenger explosion knows the Shuttle design process was flawed from the beginning. Exhaustive testing of material tolerances and other bottom-up procedures used in modern aircraft design were ignored in the Shuttle design process.

    It costs so much for every flight because they basically have to rebuild the engine after every run. Parts that were not designed to wear fall apart or develop stress fractures in a single run.

    I would support privatization 100% if they would give Boeing or Lockheed a contract to redesign the shuttle based on what we have learned from the current design and its flaws. NASA bureaucratic BS was responsible for allowing many of those flaws to exist. Feynman asked, "Do NASA managers even TALK to the engineers they're managing?" Privatization of maintaining the existing fleet wouldn't save nearly as much money as a new design would.
  • Fair enough, privatise the birds - but do it in a manner which will allow competition to drive down costs.

    Perhaps sell off each shuttle individually? Or perhaps more realistically split the inventory between two operators.
  • ... and corporations don't really care about science. Engineering, yes, applied science, certainly - but pure science, the kind that NASA does? Not really. On the other hand, NASA has botched enough missions so that it seems *something* must be done. Is this a solution? Perhaps. Privatization, though, can have it's own share of worries and problems; HMOs are a good example.
    • Um. No.

      Apollo 11 had nothing whatsoever to do with science. It was a purely political move to thumb the American nose at the Ruskies.

      Basically they have been living on the political goodwill and pork barrel politics ever since.

      Privatisation would do one thing- it would allow space to grow. There are fairly good reasons to think that a ticket to space could reach as low as $10,000 per person in the long run. NASA can't do that as they are limited by their budget, and constitutionally are not allow to turn a profit at all.

      Last year space was a more than $100 billion industry IRC. NASA cost maybe $20 billion.
  • For years, a private company called United Space Alliance [unitedspacealliance.com] has held the contract for space shuttle operations. USA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, the contractors responsible for constructing most of the space shuttle hardware.

  • This was our idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FrankBough (173822)
    Weren't we talking about this the other day in the context of the ISS. Not exactly, maybe, but it all goes to the same end.

    If you take this out of the hands of the government then you can reduce the amount of interference it gets. By all means we should support government interference (in the public interest, of course) during development, but when a technology is well established it should run OK. Leaving it in government hands lays it open to streams of politicians who just can't resist fiddling.

    Let's face it - there already is competition in this market. That's why the Russian rockets and Arianes and so on are getting so much of the launch traffic. That's also why people are thinking of building new launch [space.com] facilities [space.com] commercially.

    Maybe if there is a profit motive behind it for someone, the shuttle will realise its original objective of being a low-cost launch vehicle.

    more on the original story here [space.com], BTW
  • by Thag (8436) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:44PM (#2533048) Homepage
    This is a good first step, but more needs to be done. Many spaceflight enthusiasts believe that NASA has long been a major obstacle to achieving low cost access to orbit. This is because of beaurocracy, politics, the need to spread out programs across as many congressional districts as possible, and a nasty habit of choosing the approach that requires the most new, unproven bleeding-edge technology, instead of something workable and cheap.

    The more important step is to keep NASA from screwing up the next generation of space launch vehicles. Remember, the Space Shuttle was supposed to be cheaper than conventional rockets, but thanks largely to NASA it wound up being more like an order of magnitude more expensive.

    I believe it is crucial for the US to move our space launch development from a beaurocratic process to a market-based process. I feel it will lower the cost of launch, and provide impetus to try alternative approaches that have been ignored by NASA.

    I'd treat space launch capability like a utility. Just as the government must buy the electricity that people generate back into the power grid, I'd mandate that the government must buy a certain number of flights from all qualified vendors within a certain time frame after they come on line.

    Specifically:
    1. Begin by specifying the criteria for several types of launches: how much payload you want to get to which orbit for how much money per pound. I wouldn't necessarily be picky about SSTO vs. a staged approach: let the market sort that out.

    2. Pass legislation to provide "legal air cover" for private development.

    3. Declare that, if you can demonstrate launch capability by successfully launching a dummy payload (spare parts for ISS) within one of the sets of mission criteria established in step 1, the government MUST buy 10 launches from you within the next 5 years. (Note: That's 10 launches total per company for each type of mission specified in step 1: after 10 launches, a company should have enough cash flow to attract private investment.)

    4. There is no step 4, except to stay out of the way.

    Yes, if enough companies came forward and built working launch systems it might cost more than, for instance, the two billion NASA has spent on X-33. But we'd have many times more working launch systems! As X-33 so amply proved, we cannot expect a beaurocratic approach to give us even one working next-gen system for the same amount of cash.

    Jon Acheson
  • by Bollie (152363) <<slashdot> <at> <jangutter.com>> on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:49PM (#2533069) Homepage
    Please follow this chain of logic carefully... I spent a lot of neurons trying to fit this into my brain.

    1 NASA finds shuttles expensive to maintain.
    2 They find it so expensive because shuttles expend $400M of non-recoverable fuel, components and morons per flight.
    3 NASA might want invest in a project with higher construction costs but lower maintenance costs.
    4 BUT NASA has canned the X-33 and X-34 programs [slashdot.org].
    5 This means NASA is NOT interested in a project with higher construction costs but lower mainenance costs.

    Right. Incidentally, since NASA is not interested in space flight anymore (it seems), Bruce Willis is not going to save us when the big one hits. That means the Empire State Building will very soon be hit by a meteor. Poor NYC.

    • > They find it so expensive because shuttles expend $400M of non-recoverable fuel, components and morons per flight.

      Nitpick: If shuttle launches actually expended morons at NASA (assuming the morons were either unrecoverable or NASA decided not to recover them), then shuttle launches would be a lot cheaper by now.

  • by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @12:56PM (#2533089) Homepage Journal
    Back when the STS debuted the announced plan had been to quickly spin it off into private management. Of course 48-hour turnaround and low costs were also much ballyhood features too. Indeed at one point Eastern Airlines (remember them?) folks were brought in to watch a few flights and get a feel for how they could take over regular operations.

    These days Lockheed handles most of the service & maintainance contracts on NASA facilities with NASA oversight. Turnaround time remains months and flights are steadily being reduced due to budget constraints. Low cost has also not been realized, certianly not within an order of magnitude of the original predictions.

    Of course the STS fleet remains an experimental one. These are the first generation designs developed in the 1970's with only upgraded subsystems since then. The logical next step of a second generation applying the lessons learned isn't even being discussed much less implelemented leaving the the aging (though refurbished) four orbiters the US's only manned spaceflight capability.

    Statistically more accidents must be anticipated reducing the program 25% each time. With R&D not even begun in an organized fashion a replacement generation is itself at least a decade off even if fast-tracked. I fear it is not a promise of a bright future the US sees but a slowly dwindling legacy.

    Indeed NASA just released a report calling for reducing staffing & facilities on the ISS (angering it's internationial "partners" who weren't even given copies of the report in advance of the press conference in spite of their own considerable contributions to the project.)

    Elsewhere the USSR is actively looking for any partners with which to continue it's own program, the ESA has it's own launcher and program along with involvement in the ISS, the Japanese projects slowly advance, and China is reportedly almost ready to launch it's first manned orbital mission and has published its goal of going to the moon.

    Like so many other areas of endeavor the US seems to pioneer then not follow up on it's advances. With realistic possibilities of power generation and manufacturing now becoming a possibility it seems the US is content to allow its manned spaceflight programs slowly wind down.

    -- Michael

    ps Many could argue that outsourcing STS operations would free up NASA funds and personel for producing a follow-up program. Were this the plan this would all be a good thing but no such intentions have been announced nor does there appear any support for such.

  • by code_rage (130128) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @01:36PM (#2533307)
    A few years ago, there were several smallish companies working on commercial launchers: Beal Aerospace, Kistler, & Roton come to mind. The big hogs were feeding at the trough (LockMart's X-33).

    Of these projects, only Kistler is still standing.

    Meanwhile, the joint TRW / LMT / Alenia "AstroLink" project has quietly died. This project was to bring advanced broadband technologies into reality, building a constellation of communications satellites. The decision to terminate this project must be seen as an entirely rational one, in light of falling prices in global telecom capacity.

    NASA's Space Shuttle, contrary to public opinion, is not the reason that access to space is expensive. In fact, the Shuttle is not even a market consideration because no commercial entity has the slightest bit of interest in launching payloads on Shuttle.

    I'm not sure what will be accomplished by spinning Shuttle off to private enterprise. Here are some hypotheses:
    1. Establishes a budget firewall. Perhaps. This might have the effect of making the decision to launch a Shuttle a more rational economic decision. The weakness in this hypothesis is that the fixed costs of maintaining and operating the Shuttle fleet will need to be paid by some party, and there is no indication that it can be done without massive subsidies. Ultimately the costs will be borne by NASA, so what will have changed?
    2. Frees the Shuttle program from the Federal bureaucracy. I'm not so sure. Shuttle will still be primarily serving NASA's high value / heavy launch needs. All of the same contracting rules and documentary paperwork will still be in force.
    3. Permits radical changes in Shuttle doctrine to be considered. Possible. NASA mucky-mucks vigorously opposed Dennis Tito's trip to ISS, and perhaps they have realized that they blew an opportunity to capitalize on the biggest PR event of the Station so far. By pushing Shuttle out to a commercial operator, maybe someone will create a passenger module which could carry 20 Dennis Tito's into space. That could never happen while Shuttle is under NASA's wing.
    4. Hot potato hypothesis My personal favorite. Under this scenario, NASA just wants to be free of Shuttle, and doesn't much care how.
    5. Cut off Shuttle R+D, free up NASA brains for other research Another strong possibility. Astronauts will tell you that the Shuttle is still not an operational flight vehicle -- that it has flown only about 100 times, and that far more research is needed. There are some squirrely hypersonic and transonic issues which are more than an idle curiosity -- they could destroy the Shuttle and kill the crew. Handing Shuttle off to a commercial entity might free up some brains at NASA to go work on the next generation of technology.


    It's probably the right economic decision. NASA cannot hope to make progress on affordable access to space until they can establish a firewall against that drain of money and talent. It is my hope that NASA's space research programs will turn away from operations (missions) and will start research on basic technologies such as materials, propulsion, rail launchers, etc for 'affordable' access to space. Just as NACA's airfoil research laid the foundation for a vibrant and competitive aircraft industry in the 1930's, NASA should develop the foundations of a vibrant and commercially competitive launch industry.

    However, I fear for the Shuttle Astronauts. Although NASA's safety record has been good under Goldin, the Shuttle program is already stretched too thin on safety and maintenance. It's an amazing vehicle which requires a standing army to launch it safely.
    • However, I fear for the Shuttle Astronauts. Although NASA's safety record has been good under Goldin, the Shuttle program is already stretched too thin on safety and maintenance. It's an amazing vehicle which requires a standing army to launch it safely.

      Get rid of them. There is no benefit to putting people into space.

  • I don't think I'm in favor of privatising the shuttle. It's a publicly owned scientific tool, and the public should continue to reap the benefits without having to deal with some corporate agenda. It could certainly be managed more efficiently, but I don't think privatisation is really the answer, especially if it just means contracting out the operation.

    What about Corporate sponsorship, though? How much would Pepsi pay to have their logo on the space shuttle wing? How much would Nike pay to be the Official Footware of the US Space Program?

  • It doesn't cost $400m to launch a shuttle. The incremental per-launch cost is $150 million US. Other numbers that attempt to amortize the total cost of the program and non-shuttle-specific support facilities come up with higher numbers but they are suspect. Another false estimate comes from taking the total shuttle budget for a given fiscal year and dividing it by the number of launches. Of course NASA is a political agency so depending on what their policy goal is you'll hear different numbers from, but in this article there is no source stated for the cost figure.
    See SPACE SHUTTLE MISSION COSTS [faqs.org] in the sci.space FAQ controversy section.
  • What about all of the infrastructure that goes into a shuttle launch. Not only do you have the launch facility itself, but the backup landing site, maintenance hangers, control rooms, etc. Would a private company be "buying" these facilities as well? Would they lease them? What about the NASA transport planes for the shuttle, and the booster retrieval which I believe is done by the Navy. Would we be giving these service to a private company free? Buying a shuttle is one thing, launching it is even feasible, but to put the whole thing together, you need a massive amount of infrastructure.
  • What corporation in their right minds would want to take over the shuttle fleet? There is no way they could make any money if it costs $400 million per launch. Remember that the current shuttle fleet is really an experimental fleet. They are all first-generation test-bed type craft that should have been replaced a long time ago, perhaps by an X-33 [slashdot.org] style ship.

    Second, how many non-government entites out there could run the shuttle fleet if they wanted to? Boeing, Lockheed, and GE are the ones that come to mind that have the size to handle it -- assuming that it would be a US-based company to take them over.

    Nice idea in theory, but it probably won't happen to the current fleet. Hence, since there is no replacement under development, it probably won't happen at all.

  • I think most of you are over-reacting to this. They're talking about privatizing the manned space fleet, but that doesn't mean they have plans to deck the shuttle fleet out with ads as if they intended to participate in the Daytona 500.

    The USPS has been semi-independant from the federal government since 1971. The Postmaster General is no longer a cabinet position, so they don't have to directly deal with whatever political party is in power in Congress. They're now self-sufficient, supported only by the income they make on the fees they charge and not by federal tax dollars. And yet I have yet to see any corporate logo on any mail trucks, nor have they been bought out by UPS.

    So what's the problem if we set up the shuttle fleet the same way?
  • by ectoraige (123390) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @03:50PM (#2534030) Homepage
    If you're interested in NASA, NASAwatch [nasawatch.org] should by your first port of call. They tend to get all the leaks etc. way before the rest of them.

    This one was noted on it back in September:

    Word has it that Ron Dittemore, Space Shuttle Program Manager at JSC, will be holding an all-hands meeting today to discuss "shuttle commercialization".

    According to NASA sources, Dittemore will be discussing an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) concept that has been developed that would operate the Space Shuttle program. This concept has been under development for the last 9 months. Dittemore will reportedly pitch this concept as being seamless as far as civil servants are concerned with equivalent benefits, significant sign-up bonuses, and guaranteed job security. Dittemore has reportedly expressed personal interest in heading this new organization.

    Behind the scenes there is little interest among Dittemore's crowd in actually saving the government money. Rather, this is simply seen as a way to lower the number of federal employees involved in America's civil space program.

    Update: Note from someone@jsc.nasa.gov:

    "Mr. Dittemore spoke about a "concept" where a private company would run the Space Shuttle Program. It was not commercialization, but "privatization". It has nothing to do with saving money. It will probably cost the government more money. He said it was in the interest of safety.

    Since NASA cannot hire new people and grow them to be managers/engineers, there is no one to run the program safely in the future. That is true since most of the shuttle program folks came from MOD which is mostly all contractors now. This "concept" will work only if all the right people
    with the right job skills needed to run the program safely, accept the offer to move over. Highly unlikely. We are talking about mission operations, flight design, flight directors, astronauts, program/project managers, ground operations, aircraft operations, launch operations, etc. Only the civil servants in the Engineering Directorates appear to be spared from this excercise in futility. He said it would happen in 2 years. That's unbelievable, the way the government works!"
  • Oh, no! Please don't end up like the Russian Buran in Gorky Park!!! [k26.com]. The Buran is russia's strangely shuttle-esque reusable orbiter. The test article is now a restraunt, and the 3 real ones are in storage.

    The Kosmos-Zemlya company formed by NPO Molniya, the park, Kosmoflot and headed by Gherman Titov, is trying to make a buck by using the test article as the framework for a new space motif restaurant. Videokosmos has produced a video production of Earth views to be shown in simulated port holes as up to 60 patrons eat from 100 varieties of space food for a cost of $70
  • The space shuttles are already overdesigned, dangerous, fairly useless, and overly expensive pieces of equipment; why would anybody want to buy them at this point? Now, privatizing the ISS might be worth thinking about: it, too, is a white elephant, but the waste and cost has already been sunk into lifting those useless parts into orbit. Now that they are there, a commercial enterprise might figure out how to do something useful with it (even if it is just a space amusement park).

    I think privatizing significant parts of NASA doesn't make sense at all at this point. But if people are going to attempt that, they'll have to come up with a better proposition than this. The time to privatize is before the design begins, and you have to make sure that the private entity actually bears the launch costs: only then will rational self-interest result in cost-effective designs.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...why not go with the obvious, more, er, sensical solution? Namely, use russian launchers instead of the shuttle. I would have said "use unmaned rockets like the Titan or Delta IV" (I can't remember the exact designations, sorry), which can only be cheaper than the shuttle, but I remembered that russian launchers are even cheaper than american launchers.

    Or, if you don't want to use russian launchers, why not try the Ariane 5 (the biggest, current one, IIRC)?

    What I am trying to say is that:
    (a) you don't need to privatize the quasi-30 years old (ack!) shuttle to save money to put ISS components in space;

    (b) unmaned launchers are cheaper than the shuttle;

    (c) russian launchers are cheaper than american launchers (I remember an order of less than half the cost, if I heard correctly).

    If you push this kind of logic a bit further:

    (d) why not pay for a 2nd Soyouz (??) to be used as additionnal "emergency return space" instead of developping the costly X-3whatever?

    (e) and why not use a modified Leonardo/Donatello cargo module as living quarters? I'm sure the ESA could finance one or two such modules -- no?

    (f) etc.

    The ISS cannot provide any ROI if you stunt its development. Some significant R&D could be achieved, even some *industrial manufacturing* could be provided (zero-g must be a God-send for something, I'm sure of it) if all the facilities are sent up there. You could even do satellite repair if there were enough facilities *AND* personnel (how much does a satellite cost and how much does it cost to put it in orbit?).

    So we need the additional lab space as well as additional personnel: right now, the current crew is more busy keeping the place going than performing any "real" experiments.

    As long as no short-sighted so-called cost-cutting measures are acted upon, the ISS could become a very valuable asset for everyone. You only need some common-sense in management of this project, which starts with finding a cheaper way to send all the necessary bits and parts in orbit.

    Think about it: not only the US would save money, but the russians could use the additional revenue to finish their part of the ISS. Two birds with one stone!
  • Pizza Hut (Score:2, Informative)

    by BigBir3d (454486)
    They started it all back in 1999 with the plastering of a logo on a Russian rocket...
  • ...eliminate the artificial government subsidies for sending humans into space.

    The plain, hard truth is that nationalism is the only justification for the shuttle program.


    Commercial applications? The killer app is communications satellites. Nope, there are not people aboard them.


    Science? The ISS's science program has been scaled back to essentially zero. Probes do lots of good science, without having humans aboard. The shuttle program is scientifically useless. There's a reason why NASA's science programs are never expected to go head-to-head with other science programs in a peer-reviewed competition for funding: it's because an honest scientific peer review would never fund what NASA does.


    Military applications? Satellites without people on board do a good job of surveillance. If the military needs to send up a satellite, the space shuttle isn't their cheapest option.


    Space tourism? Cool application! Note that NASA acts allergic when anyone tries to talk to them about this, which is currently the only valid reason humans should be going into space.

There are running jobs. Why don't you go chase them?

Working...