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Space Science

NASA Considers Abandoning ISS 543

Posted by michael
from the okay-who-took-my-parachute dept.
mbstone writes "MSNBC is reporting that NASA is threatening to mothball the International Space Station unless Russia coughs up its share of the money for maintenance and support missions. NASA is now making "contingency plans" to leave the station unoccupied for as long as a year. What I want to know is, why a contingency plan? Didn't NASA already have a plan in place? Are U.S. taxpayers going to pay millions extra to develop new mothballing equipment and procedures that could have been designed-in at far less cost?? Also, I would be glad to house-sit, I use very little oxygen."
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NASA Considers Abandoning ISS

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  • Russia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nogoodmonkey (614350) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:17PM (#4767779)
    Russia seems to be more concerned with sending tourists to space than contributing funds to the further the space station. I guess NASA was just helping them construct a Motel 6.
  • ISS Costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ProfBooty (172603) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:19PM (#4767797)
    Is this really a bad thing. Considering that the astronauts on board spend 85% of the time doing station upkeep. The science value of the mission is questionable. If NASA got the proper funding to go with the original plan of 7 astronauts, I could see the value of maintaining the station as valuable science could be preformed.

    Shut it down for now, until more money gets passed to make the ISS valuable. Perhaps NASA should redirect more of its money from the ISS to new propulsion technologies (nuclear etc) to reduce lift costs (yes I know you probably wouldnt want to do a launch from the ground to LEO with nuclear rockets, but perhaps other avenues could be approached).
  • by pgrote (68235) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:26PM (#4767884) Homepage
    As many people have commented the space station has been a huge black hole of money.

    For each win we've had there we've suffered many setbacks.

    85% [wired.com] of their time is required for maintenance.

    Very little hard science has been done due to construction delays and retrofitting many of the parts.

    Even the science [floridatoday.com] they have done hasn't been much.

    Russia may be a joke about contributing, but they have the right idea on raising money. Send people who can afford to millions up there to fund further development.
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:28PM (#4767904) Homepage
    (this is not a troll)

    I think (1) for the space station is costing us, and (2) what it is costing us to put their asses in space, and (3) for the potential benefits of a larger crew, it would be more than worthwhile to station a larger crew there, even if there is no way for them to escape in case of catastrophe. I mean, look at Mir - all the shit in the world happened to them and they never had a fatality.
  • Re:commercialism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rppp01 (236599) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:30PM (#4767927) Homepage
    500+ years ago, Portugal and Spain sent groups of people to 'find a better way' without knowing whether or not it would be profitable. They went on hunches and rumors. Chris Columbus ran into what became America. England sent companies over to colonize in the 'name of the king'- but those companies were looking for profit. Look what happened from there. Most failed, but a few took hold, and here we are now-
    I think it can be profitable, it just requires companies to think long term on the prospects of moving to space.
  • NASA needs help! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PlatinumCursor (611961) <dotcom@kylelync[ ]om ['h.c' in gap]> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:30PM (#4767929) Homepage
    It really is a shame that the governments of the world just don't take space seriously. The future of humanitry rests in the stars, and unimaginable amounts of research can be conducted in space. If only governments would realize that spending money on the future (space), is so much smarter than on the present (military).

    NASA is a great program, the best space program in the world. This is something the U.S. should be proud of. But continuous system failures and project cutbacks are tarnishing the image of NASA. NASA needs more funding, its running as on a diet of death, and soon, if the trend continues, our kids might not ever know of a U.S. space program. Send a letter to your senators/representatives today, tell them that NASA is not only the best space program in the world that needs more funding, but the best hope humanity has towards working for the future, instead of worrying about the present.
  • Re:Russia (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:31PM (#4767935)
    Russia has its politics and budgets too. Throw in a struggling economy and you have some reasons why they might be balking on payments. They just anounced too that they will not be providing the Soluz life boats in the near future. (article in Aviation Week).

    We may get a choice, Russian participation in the space program or security for their stockpiles of weapons grade neuclear material. You choose.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:34PM (#4767961)
    ISS serves no purpose. It is too close to the earth to serve as a base for constructing a future space telescope. It is expensive. The residents of the space station do nothing but sit up there and take pictures. I know this sounds jaded but we are basically going to spend about $500 billion dollars on this thing for no reason whatsoever. I would rather put that money into nanotech, quantum computing or alternative energy - tech that could actually improve life on earth.
  • WRONG! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:37PM (#4767980)
    "Things have to be fixed down here before they can be sent up, IMHO."

    If more people had the same wrong-headed attitudes as you, we wouldn't have moon cities or the solar power satellites that freed us from dependance upon the kill-crazy Saudi Muslims.

    oh, wait...
  • by Winterblink (575267) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:38PM (#4767989) Homepage
    Before looking at high taxes, it might be worthy to look at how much of taxes goes towards massive military expenditures as opposed to the others you listed in your post. The space program costs start to look like a drop in the bucket then.
  • Re:commercialism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pfdietz (33112) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:39PM (#4768000)
    This is the old, tired analogy of spaceflight with exploration of the new world. Like any analogy, it depends on a real similarity existing between the two concepts being compared.

    But space exploration isn't just moving over to a new continent that is already supplied with air, water, soil, and exploitable inhabitants. The Spanish achieved a net profit in a time shorter than the 'space age' has already existed.

    Moreover, technology advances faster these days than it did then, so commercial interests *should* have shorter time horizons. The appeal to 'long term thinking' is often a refuge for ideas that just can't offer a competitive ROI.
  • Re:commercialism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:45PM (#4768041)
    1. Errr, the Crown gave broad grants to the major persons/companies that "developed" the "new world". And they still couldn't turn a profit without resorting to slavery. Oh, wait, I see the obvious parallel to current events, you're right on track.
    2. "it just requires companies to think long term on the prospects ". So you're thinking German or Japaneese companies? It sure ain't American companies. cough **dotcom bubble** cough **Enron**
  • Re:Russia (Score:2, Insightful)

    by argmanah (616458) <argmanah@yahoo3.1415926.com minus pi> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:52PM (#4768102)
    Russia seems to be more concerned with sending tourists to space than contributing funds to the further the space station. I guess NASA was just helping them construct a Motel 6.

    You do realize that the reason that they are sending celebrities into space is so that they can raise money to fund the space program right?

    Heck, I wish the NASA was forward thinking enough to sell seats on the shuttle to raise money. Anything to reduce the demand on our tax dollars.

    David
  • by Chris Y Taylor (455585) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:52PM (#4768105) Homepage
    I suspect that this is not so much a Space Policy move as it is a step in the dance of international diplomacy. The administration wants Russia to bear more of the costs, so they are floating out the idea of shutting down ISS as a negotiating tactic. I would not be surprised if they "settle" for Russia agreeing to extend their obligation to supply the station lifeboat for a few more years until NASA's orbital space plane is ready.

    Shutting down the ISS is probably not likely. If it comes to that, however, I would not mind sacrificing a couple of years of 3 man station occupation in order to spend that money on getting a 6 or 7 man crew onboard sooner. Twice as large a crew should yield a lot more than twice the science.

    The way such byzantine things work they may actually be after something completely different, like Russian support for a particular postwar Iraqi governmental structure.
  • Re:Russia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:57PM (#4768154) Journal
    Russia seems to be more concerned with sending tourists to space than contributing funds to the further the space station. I guess NASA was just helping them construct a Motel 6.

    Nice criticism. Now, take a moment to think about it. The russians can not economically support their space program, so they fly VERY rich people to space to defray their costs. Our space agency is now becoming strapped for cash so NASA GIVES UP and mothballs the ISS.

    The russians win this space race IMO
  • Re:A siren song (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:01PM (#4768181)
    You know, I should have been able to go to the moon by now. I mean, we were landing folks on the moon 33 years ago. Commercial aviation took off within a couple of decades of the first flight, so why hasn't space travel?

    The fact is, the space station teaches us how our bodies react to zero gravity in the long term, and how to cope with the stresses. Further, the ships that will carry us to those planets will be far to large to launch from Earth. They either get built from a floating construction platform, or the moon.

    So, if we ever want to set foot on another planet, and see it for ourselves, a space station is an important first step. Quite frankly, space probes are nice, but being able to run your fingers through the Martian soil would be even nicer.

    Don't be so short sighted, we have enough short sighted bean counters in the world already.
  • The whole story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mayns (524760) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:05PM (#4768219)
    I think this is just a PR move on NASA's part to try to get some money from the Russians. This whole station has been a fiasco because of American Congressional insistance that Russia be involved, and now NASA is tired of dragging them along. Not only does this look like a turf fight between NASA and Russia, it all smells of a turf fight between NASA and congress. I've been following this for a while, and this is some of the background you need to know.

    1) What's wrong with mothballing ISS for a year or two? Well, if it's anything like Mir, and by which I mean it has people on board, it will, if not properly maintained, fill up with fun things like fungus and mold. Mir had problems where a computer would short out, and they'd open up panel to fix it and find that all of the circuit boards were covered in a sticky, stinky blue-green mold. Or they couldn't see out of the windows because of the layer of film growing on them. Not fun. No wonder the crew spends so much time cleaning.

    2) Wonder why only 3 people are on board a station designed for at least 7? How abour the fact that congress ccut the budget for a new 7-man escape module, so all they've got is an old 3-man Soyuz capsule lashed to the side of the station to get them out of trouble. And unlike the proposed and now cancelled escape craft, which would have been automated, the Soyuz needs a cosmonaut to bring it down, so the station must have a Russian pilot on board at all times doing housework, as opposed to someone useful like an ESA scientist would would have been on board anyways if they had a big enough escape pod.

    3) Ever wonder why a station build and finance almost entirely by America has two Russians on board compared to one American. Is it because of their years of experience fighting mold and electrical fires on Mir, or is it because the State Department ordered NASA to through the Russians a bone. You be the judge!

    4) Speaking of throwing the Russians a bone, the entire history of this station has been littered with decisions made solely to appease the Russians. Remember, the station is years behind schedule because some of the corecomponent modules had been assigned to the Russians. And the Russians were taking their sweet time putting said modules up. they kept claiming that money was a factor, but the fact of the matter is all of the Russian modules were paid for almost entirely with American funds. Sometimes a module would be on the pad ready to be launched and the Russians would hold on putting them up until they got even more money. the worst part is this was a State Department decision, not a NASA one. In fact, NASA at the time had a duplicate of every Russian module built and ready to go up 2-3 years before the Russians actually put them up, but were ordered by the American government to not use those modules and instead had to wait on the Russians.

    5) What about money from space tourists being used to help save the station? Well, that might work if NASA allowed space tourists on their end, but they don't. It might also work if any of the money from spce tourism actually made it to the Russian space agency, but that doesn't happen either. I don't know the breakdown on where the money went from the two space tourists Russia has already sent up, but I do know that when the Russians put a giant Pizza Hut ad on the side of one of their rockets, the fee for the placement agency was 90%, and most of the rest of the money went staight into the pockets of the space agency heads. (BTW, a standard placement fee for advertising like that is around 10%).

    The moral of this story: modern day Russian is full of corruption and graft, and is nowhere close to the technological creativity they displayed in the 1950's. They do still have, however, many nuclear weapons, so the United States gives them a reach around at every opportunity. I wish the Americans would evict the Russians from the station and replace them with the Europeans and the Japanese. Then we might actually see the station be good for something other than video clips on the news. Or news stories buried on page A72 of the paper describing how two male cosmonauts spent 6 months sexually harrasing a female American astronaut, and how NASA told her to shut up about the whole matter. YEAH RUSSIA! Make rocket go now!

  • by mayns (524760) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:11PM (#4768272)
    Which orbital space plane? The space shuttle replacement that Congress just refused to pay for, or the escape glider that Congress cut off the budget a few years back? Or maybe you're refering to the secret super-shuttles that they used in Armageddon? I agree with you that the ISS seems nothing more to the state department than a bargaining chip with the Russians. As such, the station has been screwed from day 1.
  • by glassware (195317) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:12PM (#4768282) Homepage Journal
    Nice comment from the article:

    "Significant risk increase" is expected based on the loss of the ability for a permanent crew to make an urgent repair spacewalk, as may become necessary under the normal rate of equipment breakdown.
    If NASA wants to do some useful science on the ISS, they should start researching equipment that doesn't break down in orbit. Even if the ISS doesn't provide any great research or achievements, why not use it to validate methods of building things and keeping stuff in orbit reliably?

    NASA could stop sending up identical copies of the gyros and oxygen scrubbers that break every week, and start sending up experimental items to find one with a better failure ratio (while of course keeping spares handy to avert disaster, I'm sure).

    Maybe this way, when a cheaper space vehicle or space station comes about, they'll know how to keep it working.

  • by AzrealAO (520019) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:19PM (#4768355)
    There aren't enough consumables on the Space Shuttle to leave it up there for more than about two to three weeks. Systems aboard the Shuttle can probably only operate for a set amount of time before they need maintenance. The Soyuz Capsules they're using for Lifeboats now, only have an on orbit lifetime of 6 months before they have to be swapped out. One of the reasons they can't put two Soyuz up there at a time, is that it would double the number that have to be made, and double the number of Taxi flights the russians would have to launch.
  • by kalidasa (577403) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:22PM (#4768390) Journal

    It was clear when the Bush administration nominated a bean counter to run NASA that science and exploration were no longer matters of public policy. I'm just surprised it's taken them this long to find an excuse to end it.

    How much do you want to bet that the next NASA budget will severely curtail manned spaceflight activities? They'll use the excuse that the shuttles are too old, and that they're waiting for the X-37 to come out.

  • by Martin S. (98249) <Martin DOT Spamer AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:26PM (#4768440) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't this be a good time to allow the private sector in on this?

    I really can't believe that somebody is seriously suggesting the commercialism of Space, you clearly have not considered the consequences of even this first apparently small step. There is good reason that the commercialisation is illegal under international law and treaty. You only have to look at the actions of the old Colonial Charter Companies to see the dangers. They ran riot over large parts of the globe and where only constrained by finite space of the Colonies.

    New Space based commercial entities are a genie that once out of the bottle are never likely to be every constrained again, they would grow unchecked by earth bound morality, law, or nation, any unchecked at all by an essentially infinite space. They exhibit exponential growth and would quickly become more powerful than you could ever imagine, driven by one overwhelming factor; the accumulation of resources on an near infinite scale, an accumulation that would redefine the term greed.

    The resulting 'Companies' would make the Commerical enties of SCI-FI look like cartoon kittens.
  • by pVoid (607584) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:27PM (#4768447)
    Dang, I forgot to mention you would have to give the root to your aunt. It's not like the ISS has security zones, with anti-tamper locks, and face recognition to allow access to secure areas...

  • Re:commercialism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacAndrew (463832) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:58PM (#4768718) Homepage
    Um, however moving the analogy or thumbnail representation of history may be, may I least point out there aren't any Indians in orbit who got there first and need slaughtering? Or that many of those settlers were not so much seeking new opportunities as fleeing the oppression of Europe?

    Sorry to be crass about it, but these are very difficult situations. In no way does space harber the readily exploitable economic bonanza that did the New World, and much of other investment there is on faith or the gee-whiz factor, not any assurance of long-term gain.

    Also, Columbus's expedition was not a Star Trek like project as the myth paints it. It was intended for profit, acquiring new trade routes, real estate, resources, and, on later trips, slaves. (As we head into thanksgiving, recall that Squanto learned English when he was forcibly removed to Europe as a slave. When he made his way back to Massachusetts, infection had destroyed his tribe ... leaving the nice fields for the Pilgrims to plant in thickly forested New England.)

    Finally, Columbus never made it to what we thing of as America, unless you count finding a American Virgin Island or two. In five trips he never set sight on the mainland. And it's false that everyone though the world was flat! Aristotle determined it wasn't. Columbus's error was he significantly underestimated the diameter.

    I'm not suggesting anyone in particular was a bad guy we need to be ashamed of, but protest substituting a caricature of the past, and especially basing our future decisions on that caricature.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:03PM (#4768771)
    > As long as the station lies dormant and routine maintence takes place, what is the worst that could happen to the ISS?

    It stays in orbit.

    > The potential benefits are that we would be saving both American and Russian space program dollars that could be used on other projects. I'm sure we could still send up missions to add additional modules to the ISS, just leave the station uninhabited for a few years.

    "It stays in orbit" is the worst-case scenario, because it means "...and we continue to waste money on it, get zero science out of it, and because we know that someday we'll have to bring it back online, we can't do any real science in the interim".

    Which is essentially the status quo. Money-leeching zero-science space station (ISS) in orbit, extraordinarily-high-cost launch vehicle program (Shuttle) burning the rest of the budget to keep it there.

    The best thing that could happen to the ISS is that it deorbits, and a chunk of debris takes out half the Shuttle fleet while it's still on the ground.

    Then, we have no space station. Big budget savings, and no real loss - we weren't doing any science or satellite construction or interplanetary-probe-fueling in low earth orbit anyways.

    And we have no Shuttle programme. Huge budget savings, and no real loss - for a while, NASA goes back to unmanned boosters, like Atlas, Delta, Ariane, and yes, even Energia, like anyone doing real work in space is doing.

    With all the money you save, you develop a new cheap heavy-lift vehicle, while working on next-generation propulsion systems like nuclear rockets and ion engines for deep space activities.

    You test these technologies out on faster, better, and not cheaper space probes. Europa orbiters/landers. Semi-autonomous Mars rovers. Lunar soil/ice probes. Insanely-Long-Baseline-Interferometry radio and optical telescopes to look for atmospheric signatures of planets around other stars. A Pluto/Charon flyby before the damn atmosphere freezes over, and with an ion or nuclear engine, maybe a flyby of another Kuiper Belt Object on your way to the heliopause.

    ISS was the politically-correct renaming of "Space Station Freedom" once we realized the Cold War was mostly over, and we couldn't afford to build "Freedom" ourselves. Just like the race to the moon, "Freedom" (ca. 1986) was a space station that we had to have, not to do any science, but simply because the Russkies had just launched one named "Peace", and it was kinda embarassing for them to have a space station and us not to have one.

    But hey, let's keep it in orbit. If you're a NASA administrator, and Congress has been giving you billions of dollars every year for 17+ years not to do science, isn't the perpetual continuation of ISS/Shuttle - and now you don't even have to build the frickin' ISS to keep the dollars flowing, so you're being paid to do neither science nor flashy PR projects - the kind of thing you have wet dreams about every night?

    It must suck ass if you're a scientist, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:04PM (#4768778)
    I keep reading this again and again on /....

    Why is it that you think it's possible to manufacture stuff on the moon? On earth, something as simple as concrete requires a relatively complicated proudction process. Raw materials need to be refined before they can be mixed together and there isn't much water on the moon anyhow. Once you've got concrete - what then? You need functional components, electronics, engines, a power source, air conditioning, water filtering, insulation and heating, not to mention a way of making the said concrete air tight and mostly radiation proof. Do you really think that a simple rover will do all that for you? Bootstrapping isn't viable with today's technology, so they only way you are going to ge a factory on the moon is by transporting the parts from Earth, which, as you said, is far too expensive.

    I think that the simplistic attitude a lot of Slashdotters have to space exploration is based on wishful thinking and a naive outlook. Unfortunately, since this post will probably be modded to hell by the said people, I have no choice but to post as an AC.
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:38PM (#4769098) Homepage Journal
    While the "Progress" resupply ship is critical to keep the station stocked with food and fuel, I've long questioned the whole concept of the "Soyuz" escape capsule.

    It may sound heartless, but do we have nobody in this country (or any other) willing to explore like they did 100 years ago? Lewis and Clark didn't have an emergency return system... but that didn't keep them from exploring the Mississippi (though there aren't any alien guides this time around).

    Another example. In the 1700s, Captain James Cook lost several men each time he journeyed to unknown lands -- sometimes to hostile natives, often to disease, and not infrequently to accident. In fact, his journeys blow NASA's whole idea of long-voyage "I love you, you love me" compatibility to pieces: Cook was a fair captain, but did not hesitate to use the whip when it was needed.

    Another interesting note in Cook's explorations: Free (as in beer) Beer! According to an interview with Cook biographer Tony Horwitz [bookweb.org] on the local PBS station, the rotten conditions on board ship were made tolerable by the large quantities of strong beer in the hold. This led, of course, to some of the death-by-accident statistics (such as sailors falling off the "comfort seat" -- the gangplank with a hole in it for use as a toilet).

    I don't mean to paint too drab a picture of future exploration, and I wouldn't want to see the whip making a return on board ship... but until we're willing to lose more than a half-dozen explorers in 40 years, we're not going to get anywhere.
  • by glassware (195317) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:44PM (#4769138) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, designing for space is a bitch - a good friend's uncle worked on the Saturn moon rockets. I bet to a technical person my suggestion didn't make much sense; I wrote it targeting a layman [read: linux geek].

    To a more technical person, I would suggest developing and launching more experimental products that have longer lifespans and greater margins of error. Find the thing (maybe it's a fan blade in an oxygen pump) that broke, design a better fan blade or a better oxygen pump, and connect it to the space station to see if you can actually get a better lifespan out of it.

    I would like to imagine the ISS as a gigantic workshop where the issues of manned spaceflight are gradually being solved and better approaches are being developed. However, I suspect that this is not the case; all the design work was probably done during the first few years of the nineties. Most likely, when a part fails today, Nasa simply pays their contractor another $5 million for a replacement part and throws it on the shuttle. That's the safest approach; but it makes each shuttle trip just another fix-it mission.

    My suggestion would be, why not pay the $5 million for a spare part, and also put $1 million into designing a jury rigged replacement that might prove an interesting design concept? I'd expect most of these jury rigged replacement parts to fail, but every once in a while you might discover something ... and then you'd have more knowledge to build better parts in the future.

  • Re:commercialism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:45PM (#4769142) Homepage Journal
    ...many of those settlers were not so much seeking new opportunities as fleeing the oppression of Europe?

    You don't think that corporations (and individuals) find Earth oppressive? In space, no one can smell you pollute. On one hand, you can't just dump your junk out the "window", on the other hand, you can feel free to fire it into the sun.

    Sorry to be crass about it, but these are very difficult situations. In no way does space harber the readily exploitable economic bonanza that did the New World, and much of other investment there is on faith or the gee-whiz factor, not any assurance of long-term gain.

    There is money to be made in space. Well, not so much in space at this point, as on earth, with stuff you get from space. Also as the ability to do things in space increases the demand will rise, and costs will come down as new technologies are developed to exploit the demand. This, of course, happens in any market. But the point is, there ARE things that can't be made at 1G which can be made in free fall. Also there's an awful lot of metal up there circling the earth and it's already in orbit so if you want to do something with metal in space (basically, anything you do in space) that's the place to get it. I think that logically the first operation we really need to get space-based manufacturing going is therefore mining and refining. Whether we do it with asteroids or on the moon is worth some discussion but is outside the scope of this comment.

    Sorry to be crass about it, but these are very difficult situations. In no way does space harber the readily exploitable economic bonanza that did the New World, and much of other investment there is on faith or the gee-whiz factor, not any assurance of long-term gain.

    Yes, and early explorers (including columbus) could have capsized or never found what they were looking for (tee hee) or been eaten by giant sea monsters as far as they knew at the time (given that giant squid supposedly can't make it to the surface alive, doubtful, but they didn't know that then) so there was no assurance of long-term gain. It was a gamble, a hope, it almost didn't provide any revenue. Just like most investments.

    Also, Columbus's expedition was not a Star Trek like project as the myth paints it. It was intended for profit, acquiring new trade routes, real estate, resources, and, on later trips, slaves.

    You know, I am a product of the California public school system, and I still learned that in elementary school - The idea was to open a trade route. That's like the first thing they tell us about Columbus (besides claiming that he 'discovered' america... I don't know if that's changed lately, this was a couple decades ago.)

    Earth isn't ready to fund a Star Trek-like exploration until we do two things; develop FTL travel and do away with money. In other words, probably never. The other thing that could get us to do it might be proof of other life in our galaxy, but that wouldn't be a rapid process.

  • Re:commercialism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @03:59PM (#4769729) Homepage
    ...this is a good thing

    Because, of course, companies that focus exclusively on short-term returns have consistently demonstrated that this approach is best for their employees, customers, and long-term viability.

    Reality changes too quickly...

    Last time I checked, reality was actually pretty stable over the long term.

    ...for planning to be anything but an exercise in fantasy beyond about, say, five years.

    The Apollo program was a ten-year plan, and it worked as advertised. Or are you a Moon Hoaxer?

    Long-term planning goes on all the time. Good long-term planning, less often. But that doesn't make the idea of long-term planning foolish in every case.

    STS and ISS aren't basic scientific research...

    I don't really know enough about these projects, or what you mean by "basic scientific research", to respond to this, except to say that I expect that they're more likely infrastructure--a foundation on which basic research can be built. They could also, in the context of a long-term plan, be effective practice for even more extreme endeavors. Whether or not that qualifies as your "basic research", I don't know.

    ...they're massively expensive engineering and operational efforts.

    The best things in life may be free, but a lot of the really good stuff is pretty expensive. The Hoover Dam. The MRI scanner. The Internet. &c. Just because it's expensive, that doesn't mean it's useless. Although, as I did point out, the current projects all seem pretty aimless, and I'd rather not see the money spent at all, than to keep spending it they way we are right now. Meanwhile, it's been pointed out numerous times that there's no real shortage of resources. In that sense, these projects aren't very expensive at all.

  • by Martin S. (98249) <Martin DOT Spamer AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @04:07PM (#4769787) Homepage Journal
    While bad things (tm) are generally done during the expansion phase... I welcome the chance to live by my own morality

    I think this underlines my point rather than undermining it 'the expansion phase' would last an unimaginable period of time as the rim of known space was expanded indefinitely. I think there is little doubt these companies would claim ownership of the space within there rim and seek to utilize it, indeed maximise its utility. Therefore unless you were a major stakeholder in that company your chance to live by your own morality is near zero.

    Face it... Which is what we are moving toward.

    Come on the rest is a strawman, my post does not advocate any of it; Indeed I strongly agree that sitting back and abandoning the exploration of space is not a credible option if we wish to survive the remaining universe as a species or meta-species. I strongly support a momentous effort to pursue the exploitation of space. I do not object to commercial utilisation of space or space based resources, providing they are within the rim of our governed space.

    I oppose indefinitely the commercial exploration of space for the very specific reason raise in my initial post, because once release, the unchecked consequences are too dangerous. (AIH I also oppose the release of von-nueman machine for much the same reason). However I do not even suggest this ban would last forever, just indefinitely because I also have to believe we can evolve past the problem.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @04:36PM (#4770006) Homepage Journal
    While bad things (tm) are generally done during the expansion phase... I welcome the chance to live by my own morality
    I think this underlines my point rather than undermining it 'the expansion phase' would last an unimaginable period of time as the rim of known space was expanded indefinitely.

    If it underlined your point it would only be because it is based on false assumptions, IE that all of known space would be considered a single system and that all of known space is interesting.

    First of all, I think it's safe to say that in the absence of FTL the only places we're going to go are in our solar system. So the expansion phase as it relates to us directly most likely goes no further than pluto. Odds are pluto will be interesting only from a scientific standpoint so we won't even see commercialization that far out. Everything we're interested in is well within that orbit.

    Second of all even after the development of FTL it is likely that it will consume enormous quantities of energy and so travel between systems will still be impractical for all but the most significant purposes. So each of those systems can reasonably be seen as their own entity. Each of them is going to need a certain number of humans to operate, and those humans will enforce their will against the system.

    I think there is little doubt these companies would claim ownership of the space within there rim and seek to utilize it, indeed maximise its utility.

    The 'simple' way to avoid this is to simply not allow corporations to claim ground. In order for them to claim it, they must claim it in the name of a government, at which point they are subject to enforcement and the laws thereof. Of course some countries will operate like a ship's registry; Do whatever you want. But I don't imagine that the other countries will sit idly by and let that proceed, either. In the end I expect it will be business as usual, except in space.

    Now with that said, you must realize what is going on here, now -- Big Industry really runs the world, by a complicated system of bribes to government officials. For example Big Oil is one of the most powerful groups in the US economy, they (essentially) control when we go to war for example. We don't let them form a cartel (ALA OPEC) so they have to manipulate the government into manipulating OPEC, because OPEC's oil prices set OUR oil prices. So basically, the gulf war really WAS about oil more than anything else. Your point about possible abuses of human rights is insignificant in the face of modern reality; we have no rights. We might as well have no rights in space.

    Therefore unless you were a major stakeholder in that company your chance to live by your own morality is near zero.

    I don't follow your logic here. My values include a fair wage paid for work done, and the right to do whatever I want as long as I'm not hurting anyone else. I think that there are plenty of companies which would be happy to provide me an environment like that, especially since corporations tend not to have morality as governments do.

    I do not object to commercial utilisation of space or space based resources, providing they are within the rim of our governed space.
    ...
    I oppose indefinitely the commercial exploration of space for the very specific reason raise in my initial post, because once release, the unchecked consequences are too dangerous.

    But you are neglecting the fact that it is not lucrative for a government to pursue space-related activity except in very special circumstances. IE, a space race which is intended to break the bank of another nation, or in order to deploy space-based engines of war. Anything else is hard to sell to the people, and therefore difficult to implement. You have to convince people that NASA is a worthy place for their money to go, and most people just aren't equipped to understand the idea of all the plastics which came out of space research, let alone the more vague connections between what we learn by doing something new, and the seemingly unrelated advances in science that come from it.

    So basically, except war-related scenarios, governent has no incentive to explore space. Business doesn't have much more, but it does have some. If we are going to get into space in any significant way (IE, other than some orbits and maybe the occasional visit to Luna to pick up some rocks) then it's going to have to be commercially-driven. I am not advocating a lack of governmental control but I do think that it should be fairly light.

    Finally, the usual appeal; One comet could wipe us all out irrevocably and we wouldn't know anything about it until it was too late. It's time to put our eggs in separate baskets; Not now, but yesterday. Given a lack of a way to do it yesterday (or earlier) I'd say now is the time, by any means necessary as long as we aren't destroying our planet in the process. Indeed, by not going into space for keeps, we are destroying our planet.

  • by NeuroManson (214835) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @07:30PM (#4771415) Homepage
    The problem is with the Russian space program and NASA. Back when both organizations started out, it was an extension of the cold war. Both were formed as branches of each country's military forces, and were funded as their research also influenced the nuclear war that in the end never happened. They were in competition with each other for the upper hand, with national pride as the prize. As such, they recieved a massive amount of funding (to the point of bankrupcy on the Russian side). With that threat diminished, if not dispensed with entirely, both programs have been largely gutted. Add to that, a growing public apathy for a program that is largely still dedicated to science, porkbarrelling and what has become, for the most part, a military country club.

    For example, even though the Hubble telescope has proven invaluable as a research tool, in it's original deployment, it was a national joke. Even today, it's historical scope pales in comparison to the lunar landings.

    What I propose, is an international effort between private and public corporations and civilian space enthusiasts. Currently, what exists is a massively disorganized scattering of individuals and individual groups trying their own thing, truly only sharing two things: A massive interest in space, and a large amount of enthusiasm. What is needed, however, is a common ground to operate on, and the organization to build with.

    We need a largely centralized system to incorporate the best of the best concepts in space technology, independant from any government organizations or interferance. Governments beget beaurocracy, and beaurocracy begets stagnation.

    As for financing, it isn't THAT difficult. If we could just get 1/10th of the world's population to contribute $10, then that would be sufficient to get the first manned launch vehicle off the ground, complete with launch facilities, administration et al. It wouldn't be a space plane per se, but a manned two or three person capsule. Perhaps one could even sell a seat on the capsule with a raffle system, which would make an incredible incentive for large donations.

    Pilots and experienced space veterans are, frankly, a dime a dozen, I'm certain some of them would love the opportunity to be directly involved in a pioneering space program once more, one that'll influence it far more than any government controlled system today.

    Experienced scientists are a dime a dozen as well, first off, there's many in aerospace who, while they exceed many requirements of the space programs, aren't taken in due to budget constraints, or because they simply don't know the right people. Additionally, grab as many whistle blowers as you can. Why? Because they not only knew what was wrong with the current system, but they *acted* on it. That is what we need. Instead, NASA and the Russian space administration would fire them or kick them out, resulting in the continuing backslide both organizations have been experiencing. And that, in fact, would give us an edge.

    This is what needs to be done. Stop hoping and wishing for "space welfare" to come to the rescue, join forces and start your own space program! At the least, there's 2-3 million people around the world who want to go to space, and want to build rockets so they can do so, at least 1/4-1/3 of which are capable of doing so.

    All that NASA and Russia have, is a couple hundred thousand who're hobbled by beaurocracy and ineptitude in the very same government, that, for the ol' Slashdot tie in, consider file swapping as theft and viewing your DVD on another operating system as hacking (and subsequently a major felony deserving of a life sentance, thanks to one of the new riders on the Homeland Security Act). How can anyone in their right mind expect these same people to see any scientific viability in space programs?
  • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @07:43PM (#4771470) Homepage
    No, you don't appear to be modded down, and your questions are completely valid ones, if somewhat uninformed.

    Bootstrapping is entirely viable with today's technology. Consider the following:

    - Inflatable living habitats are a reality. They've been tested in NASA's vacuum chamber and are suitable for orbital or planetary use. Lunar colonists could excavate a depression in the moon's surface (with a digging tool or explosives), insert the uninflated habitat, inflate it, cover with the same soil that you excavated, and voila! You've got a sealed environment that has micrometeorite protection, both due to the inflatable construction (remember it was designed for orbital use as well) and then you've got the insulation properties of moon soil.

    - Cheap, efficient, compact solar cells are a reality. These could be deployed to recharge rover batteries, crack water into hydrogen and oxygen (for breathing, fuel, and later use in a fuel cell). Compact thermoelectric generators also exist that could provide additional sources of power.

    - Environmental systems exist that could easily keep a team of people alive, warm, and healthy on the lunar surface for months. These systems are already being used to keep ISS astronauts in a shirtsleeve enviroment.

    - The heavy-lift rocket technology exists to get all of the above to the moon -- it has, in fact, existed since the 60's in the form of a Saturn V. Russia's Energia could be pressed into similar service, and even the old Saturn could be built again, probably cheaper than the bill for the ISS is.

    As for your comments about the lack of factories on the moon, you're being too shortsighted. Complex factories are needed here on earth to produce complex goods, like microelectronics. But producing a brick, or an iron bar, or growing food is altogether much simpler. Witness that bricklaying an metalworking have been around for millenia without any need of specialized equipment. Primitive materials can be used to make primitive building tools on the moon. It can be done. It has been done, albeit in earthbound labs with lunar soil brought back almost forty years ago.

    It's not as hard as you might think.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @11:10PM (#4772402)
    Yes, in fact, it was.

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