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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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  • by Chastitina (253566) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:17PM (#4767777)
    Just think of the market for music video and movie productions, not to mention overpaid entertainers.

    "C"
  • commercialism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rppp01 (236599) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:17PM (#4767778) Homepage
    Wouldn't this be a good time to allow the private sector in on this? Why should the governments get all the fun up there? I can't help but think tourism and a private sector push into space will do for space industries and the like what the governments of the worlds could not: enable living in space- make it a reality.
  • by Viewsonic (584922) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:18PM (#4767790)
    Thats all they need to do.. I am unsure what the cost of launching 6 people up there a week is, but god knows there are some rich people who would pay that amount to live up there for a week. Minus the idiots that expect OTHERS to pay for them (*cough*lance bass*cough*) instead of rightfully paying their own passage and cause a lot of stupid money problems. If yer not gunna pay it yerself out of yer own pockets, dont bother signing up! Hell, Bill Gates could independently finance it all if they stuck a big ugly Windows logo on it..
  • Re:commercialism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pfdietz (33112) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:21PM (#4767838)
    The private sector doesn't want anything to do with manned spaceflight, unless a government is footing the bill. It's simply not even close to profitable, breathless nonsense about microgravity manufacturing or space tourism notwithstanding (those Russian tourist flights would not make economic sense unless ISS resupply were paying for the lions share of the launch.)
  • by Alomex (148003) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:22PM (#4767844) Homepage
    I attended a meeting of one of the ISS partner nations. In exchange for their contribution they are allotted space in "lockers" to run their experiments. They had a hard time finding any research institution or private interest who wanted to use the locker (the price was around $10,000 per pound). Apparently there is not much current scientific need for a zero gravity environment.

    They were willing to let you fly merchandise if you wanted to, so you could buy a space pen, or perhaps fly your uncle's ashes to outer space.

    I left the meeting thinking that the ISS should never have been built, and this comes from somebody who is enthralled about space exploration.

  • by pVoid (607584) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:22PM (#4767847)
    Everyone seems to talk about leasing and renting, and letting unqualified people live on the ISS.

    Think of it this way: would you ever leave your workstation, your baby, to be used by your computer illiterate aunt while you were going on a summer vacation?

    I'm personally happy they don't lease it out.

    As for mothballing, moth ball away... given the current economic trend of the world, the space program makes little sense anyways. Things have to be fixed down here before they can be sent up, IMHO.

  • Devil's Advocate... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:23PM (#4767853)
    Ok... ponder this for a moment. Maybe this isn't a bad thing?

    As long as the station lies dormant and routine maintence takes place, what is the worst that could happen to the ISS? 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.

    Maybe this sort of refocusing of our uses for the space station and immediate priorities is what is actually needed right now to give both American and Russian space programs a little bit of budget breathing room?

    -James
  • Re:Russia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by simong_oz (321118) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:23PM (#4767855) Journal
    Yeh, of course it was Russia that cancelled the module which would have allowed 6 astronauts to be up there conducting experiments 24/7 ... which was one of the main reasons to build a low orbit space station.
  • Quitting is easy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by citking (551907) <jay@@@citking...net> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:24PM (#4767864) Homepage
    I think that abandoning this project now would be an enitrely awful decision.

    Sure, Russia owes us money...but why can't we just finance them for a while? Someday, perhaps, they'll be able to pay.

    Another concern: How are the people going to feel who have put a lot of time and effort into this project? The shuttle launch was delayed twice, causing our astronaut on board to miss Thanksgiving. Shall we reward her by telling her that the last 6+ months she spent up there was all for naught?

    My suggestion: Keep at it until it is finished. We should have known from the get-go that Russia is a broke country and we should have foreseen the fact that we will need to support them until circumstances change.

  • Europe? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:25PM (#4767878)
    Why doesn't the European Space Agency jump in to become the most important partner of NASA in operating the ISS? Unlike the Russians, the EU can easily come up with the needed money.
  • by I_am_God_Here (413090) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:38PM (#4767985) Homepage
    Did you just call the hippies of the 60s greedy? Have you read "The Greatest Generation"? It was about the WWII era people. We went from the greatest generation to perhaps the worst. And yes polititions of today are wimps and coward compaired to 50 years ago.

    Just relax one party is in power now and hopefully we'll have a vision soon(for better or worse).

    Actually we could have been to mars by now but the moon was doable quicker so we did that instead. It was Kennedys fault we didn't get to mars. He decided we had to beat the russians to the moon. Meanwhile Von Braun wanted to get to mars but was told his dreams were to big and his plans were foolish by politicions.
  • Salvage rights (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigGar' (411008) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:38PM (#4767988) Homepage
    If it's abandoned and I can get up there, can I claim it under international salvage rights laws and sell off the pieces? It's only 20 million to get there should be easily able to make that back. Sell it as a weekend getaway with the best damn view on the planet, a steal at $500M.
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:42PM (#4768019) Homepage
    I disagree - If I am not mistaken, the pressure difference your body (14 lb/sqr inch) and space (~0) would cause you to explode almost instantly. Just like when they drag up samples from near the bottom of the ocean, sometimes they get the hollowed out remains of what was a deep sea fish, exploded by the difference in pressure between its natural habitat and ours.
  • A siren song (Score:2, Interesting)

    by christurkel (520220) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:46PM (#4768058) Homepage Journal
    I was never in favor of the ISS; its just a multibillion dollar turkey that sucked money out of other projects. With the money we could have saved on the ISS, we could have sent probes to every planet in the solar system but we let the siren call of the space station distract us.
    I am not against the space station, I just think it was ill concieved, thats all. I agree with a previous poster: Let's rent it and move on to other, more interesting things.
  • by Chris Y Taylor (455585) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:00PM (#4768175) Homepage
    "I left the meeting thinking that the ISS should never have been built, and this comes from somebody who is enthralled about space exploration."

    The problem with not building the ISS is, that we would have had to come up with some other gov't project to keep all those former Soviet rocket scientists busy. There isn't enough commercial work for them all, and we couldn't very well have them being unemployed. A large number of starving weapons researchers let loose in a multipolar world is just a Dr. Evil-style disaster waiting to happen.

    I would have preferred a moonbase, but I can also think of worse make-work projects that could have been chosen instead.

  • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:16PM (#4768327) Homepage
    One has to consider what we'd have if all the money spent on the ISS had instead been spent on a moonbase. In LEO, you have to drag everything of value up with you, but on the moon there's plenty of materials available to make life much cheaper to maintain.

    You can extract oxygen from moon dust. Mix with a little hydrogen in a fuel cell and you get electricity, heat, and water, all necessary for a moonbase. Then crack the water back apart via electrolysis using solar cells (or a small thermoelectric nuclear) and you've got breathing oxygen and hydrogen to use all over again.

    Experiments on moon dust from the Apollo missions even showed that if you mixed water with moon dust and a few other things you could get pretty good cement out of it, and protection from micrometeorites and cosmic rays to boot. Silicon, aluminum, and even titanium are present in moon dust and could be refined along with other elements to make some inefficient but cheap solar cells to put all over the lunar surface. Who cares if they're inefficient when you can have a few square miles of them with no atmospheric attenuation to worry about?

    We have wasted more than just money on the ISS, we've wasted time and we've wasted the legacy and inertia of Apollo. What a shame it would be if the last to set foot on the moon should die of old age before the next visitor should go there. Sad, and pitiful.
  • by Wampus Aurelius (627669) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:23PM (#4768403)
    The whole space station was originally intended to keep former Soviet rocket scientists employed so that they wouldn't go build rockets for Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. Even if this is a waste of money from a scientific/space standpoint, it was way to spend our foreign policy money to keep us from having nuclear tipped missiles built and pointed towards us and our allies.

    In Richard Feynman's book "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" he mentioned something about the space program's scientific value. Specifically, he said that he kept hearing about various experiments being performed in space, and people learning things and making scientific advances, but he never saw any studies or results published in any scientific journals. To him, this meant that whatever they were doing didn't have enough scientific value to be subjected to peer review, and the only reason that they were going on about "experiments" was to make people think that the space program wasn't a giant waste of money.

    The experiments I've heard about sounded like nothing more than glorified science fair projects: "How Do Plants Grow in Zero Gravity?" "How Do Animals Behave in Zero Gravity?" etc.
  • by Mac Degger (576336) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:35PM (#4768526) Journal
    Thing is, there's lots of thing which we learn of 'up there' that tell us how things are 'down here' and help us fix them. Green house effect was first discovered on Mars and paved the way for the discovery of what is going on here. Polution, weather, crumbling/shrinking icecaps, depleted fishery and other environmental effects are all best seen from space. We still desperately need the info we're getting from there, so much so that the minor economic twitters here on earth are not secondary or even tertiary concerns compared to what we get from spacebased imaging. Let alone the communication aspect....face it, the economic aspects in the US, EU et al are trivial, seasonal lulls.
  • by Bastian (66383) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:36PM (#4768527)
    Id say asphyxiation and freezing to death wouldn't be a very big problem.

    To freeze to death, you'd need to have some matter around to absorb the heat off your body. That ain't going to happen all that quickly in space.

    For asphyxiation, you would have the air sucked out of your lungs, but you would probably still have enough oxygen in your bloodstream to keep you going for a minute or two.

    I think someting related to part of your body bursting would be the worst problem.
  • Possible outcomes: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by seanellis (302682) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:51PM (#4768663) Homepage Journal
    So here's my personal best possible outcome of this:

    $$$ saved:

    1. ISS scrapped or mothballed long term.

    2. Shuttle upgrade program scrapped - expires at end of current lifetime.

    $$$ spent:

    1. Money allocated up-front to be spent on fast-track development of low cost, manned, VTVL reusable launcher (a la Roton, DC-Y, ISAS RVT, PHOENIX, etc.) with incremental build-and-fly development. Orbital 2-man demonstration vehicle to be flight ready by end of 2006.

    2. VTVL design licensed to multiple commercial implementers (Boeing, MD, ArianeSpace, ISAS, etc.) Commitment to buy cargo space from cheapest bidder, starting 2008.

    3. Award commercial, fixed price contracts for operating local spaceports (Mojave, Utah, etc.) If your state has a pro-space senator, then they can set up local jobs in space!
  • Not quite... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Orne (144925) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:06PM (#4768803) Homepage
    America is not suffering from a lack of vision; it is suffering from a lack of results, a plague of soured "return on investments". It's one thing to have lofty goals, but it is quite another to spend without purpose.

    Why was the ISS built? Was it so NASA scientists could perform all of these hi-tech crystal expieriments & gravity tests? NASA lists a set of reasons here [nasa.gov]. Some goals are noble... "To create a permanent orbiting science institute in space capable of performing long-duration research in the materials and life sciences areas in a nearly gravity-free environment", "To conduct medical research in space", "To develop new materials and processes in collaboration with industry"

    No, why was it really built? Two more "reasons" are more ominous (and really, the only goals that suceeded). "To forge new partnerships with the nations of the world." and "To sustain and strengthen the United States' strongest export sector-aerospace technology-which in 1995 exceeded $33 billion." In retrospect, we now know that that "export sector" was selling long range rocket diagrams & targeting systems to the Chinese, some of the more ethically dubious actions of the Clinton administration. ISS was a shortcut for the US government to funnel money out to other First World nations, which bloated the national budget and artifically increased our Gross Domestic Product... a surprising correlation to Wall Street's activities over the same time period.

    So, where is America's spirit of exporation today? In my opinion, it's not outward to the stars, but inward... the Internet. We're working to build a world of interconnected services, where a doctor can telemeter themselves accross the country to perform operations, or have digital paper, or communicate in virtual worlds (EverQuest & now the Sims Online). Each new network discovery has the same effect as throwing another satelite in space, for a much smaller cost.

    What will it take to rekindle the spirit to go to space? Money. Show me where I can make a profit, when the transportation costs are negligible, or maybe asteroid mining to find pure crystals of metal, or terraforming ... this time around, it's not government that's going to have to lead the way.
  • by swordboy (472941) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:17PM (#4768926) Journal
    As for mothballing, moth ball away... given the current economic trend of the world, the space program makes little sense anyways. Things have to be fixed down here before they can be sent up, IMHO.

    Yeah... Israel needs more US taxpayer money [globes.co.il]. They are much more important than any space program.

    Sigh...
  • by fferreres (525414) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:31PM (#4769038)
    First: I am looking forward to that day. Second, if a poll was made and all humans on earth consulted, I am pretty sure they would allow companies to try to reach the stars.

    Remember, thoughout history, goverment weren't any better than companies. In fact, they were mostly the property of a selected bunch of individuals, and that's still the case today. Regarding companies, as long as they are not granted monopolies from the states, they usually tend to favour developement and empower the people.

    Moreover, it the was motivation that opened up the way for the modern states, as you'd recall from when you studied history.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:52PM (#4769195) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Now maybe I grew up reading too much C.J. Cherryh, but I can't help but think that this is a good thing overall. While bad things (tm) are generally done during the expansion phase, once you become stable in a certain area morality starts creeping back in whether you want it or not. Personally I welcome the chance to live by my own morality, or at least to have a wider selection of moral codes to choose from when I'm picking a place to live.

    Face it, this mudball isn't big enough for everything humans want to do. At some point you have to leave it. You can't just tell people "No I'm sorry earth has reached its carrying capacity, we're going to have to sterilize you" -- Which is what we are moving toward. One of the sci-fi-esque predictions I don't want to see come true is the tight global control of child-rearing. A system like that won't work without a global government anyway, a prospect which I find highly unlikely given the various disparate moral codes found on earth.

    To not move industry -- especially polluting industry -- into space is short-sighted. Power generation would definitely best be done in space. Any other kind of heavy industry which creates a lot of pollution, likewise. Mining asteroids (and/or the moon) for metals would allow us to stop strip-mining large portions of our planet because there would simply be no need.

    While it's easy to take the coward's position, you wouldn't even be able to express it on a computer without the prior "unchecked" expansion of companies that we love to hate. What new technology will commercialization of space bring us?

  • Re:commercialism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:58PM (#4769261) Homepage
    NASA is never going to do anything with space but use it as a taxpayer funded playground to conduct a small number of experiments. They have no motivation to do anything that would actually make space useful...

    Who's this "they" you're talking about? Do you know any NASA employees? Have you actually spoken to them about their work, and why they do it, and what they hope for from the future? I'll bet you'd discover that the vast majority of NASA personnel, from the director level on down to the receptionists, are highly motivated to do useful things "with space". Certainly all the NASA employees I've met are not tiresome bureaucratic drones whose imaginations are so stunted that they can't think of anything better to do than waste your money. You don't have a monopoly on wisdom, common sense, professionalism, or enthusiasm, you know. And by the same token, isn't it a bit naive to expect that NASA should be magically free of PHBs and bureaucracy, simply because your romantic notion of "space" is offended by such things?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @03:09PM (#4769348)
    The current space station weighs in at about 200 tons currently, is at an altitude of about 225 miles and loses 1.5 miles a day in altitude due to high atmospheric gas drag and solar fields and particls drag. Every time a shuttle departs the station it uses some of its own fuel to boost the station ( and shuttle) from 10 to 25 miles up.

    When the space station is core complete it will weigh in excess of 300 tons and will have several more solar cell panels that will add even more drag.

    The original plans for the space station were to be at an altitude of 500 miles which is the maximum altitude that the space shuttle can reach from a circular equatorial orbit.

    When the space station went from Space Station Freedom to Space Station Alpha there was a reduction in overall human capacity but not much reduction in overall mass or size. The main reason for the reduction in height from 500 miles to 225 miles is that the 57 degree orbit that was chosen was to accommodate the Russian manned rocket launch orbit angles. This did two things: For the space shuttle to carry the same mass of hardware in its bay as before to the high angle orbit instead of equatorial orbit that maximum height of the orbit had to be lowered by half.

    This higher angle orbit could cover most of the earth from its viewpoint ( a good thing for instrumentation) but greatly increased the drag on the space station (a bad thing).

    If the space station is to be mothballed after core complete is reached, it must be raised in orbit to in excess of 350 miles, preferably 450 miles in order to preserve the station.

    That means that the Russian modules that are responsible for station keeping and orbit raising must be refueled. They can only be refueled by Russion Soyuz type rockets. If the russians are not able to sent manned missions they will not be able to send unmanned missions ( Progress) for the same reason which is that they use the same core rocket modules.

    The US would have to send a special shuttle mission up carrying extra fuel and no cargo and use the time to do final checks and then do a reboost. Carrying no cargo should allow the shuttle to boost the station by additional 100 miles.

    Failue to reboost the station from the current 225 mile altitude and with a fall rate of at least 1.5 miles a week means that the space station would fall to earth in less than 3 years.

    Boosting the station to 350 miles would buy time out to 5 years and boosting to 450 miles would buy time out to 8 years.

    Of course if the the station is boosted and then mothballed, then there will no reason for the Space shuttle to make flights anymore and it will be defunded down to no more than 1 flight a year. NASA will find its budget cut in half and then cut again. When it has no means to reboost the station or to reawaken it, the station will be abandoned politically and allowed to burn up, hopefully falling on Washington, DC.

    That will be the end of the US manned space program for the rest of this century. Since Russia is not able to take up the slack that leaves only the Chinese who are starting up a manned program very similiar to the current Russian.

    Maybe the final fallout of this is that in a few years the main long term residents of the space station will be Chinese instead of Russian.
  • by Winged Cat (101773) <wingcat@pacbe l l .net> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @03:29PM (#4769486)
    Why is it that you think it's possible to manufacture stuff on the moon?

    Because there's stuff there, not just void. Granted, it'd be technologically difficult, but there is nothing that would need to be developed that seems impossible.

    Let's take a simple moonbase, for instance - an area that is protected from solar radiation, large enough to live in, with a way to get in and out and send signals. Dig several meters underground, melting the sides of the tunnel into a solid wall (yes, there's no water involved - so what?). When you're far enough down that cosmic radiation is at Earth surface levels (blocked by all that lunar regolith), dig a cave at that point. Put in a ladder if you want (not an elevator, yet). Melt more regolith to make a couple doors, or maybe bring along an airlock, and seal the tunnel so you can pressurize the cave - slowly, using (in part) oxygen extracted from water ice. Bring a hydroponics facility with a few plants, and feed them with nutrients from the lunar soil you've been excavating. Use the plants to recycle carbon dioxide and human waste, and grow food (eventually, though you'd be importing food for a bit until enough plants grew). Put a solar oven up above to melt more soil, separating it into its components, then bring the refined ore down below so you can shape it by hand. Solar panels would be among the first things you build: sheets of silicon dusted with the proper impurities, with wires placed to capture the resulting electricity.

    Granted, you'd have to import a fair buch of stuff at first. The point is to eventually transition to self-sufficiency.
  • Re:commercialism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MacAndrew (463832) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @07:14PM (#4771337) Homepage
    What? You've never heard of the politically influential Flat Earth Society? They have a Web site and might send you a brochure. ;-)

    It's a textbook myth. You can find info about Columbus and his contemporary science online. It was pretty much impossible to be a sailor and not notice the round earth. I think C estimated its diameter at about 4,000 miles, so he was waaayyy off in his estimate of the distance to India, plus he had no idea of the intervening continent unless he was hanging out at the Viking bars. (The intervening continent turned out to be worth a lot, though.)

    I don't know where these idiotic ideas of flat earths and cherry trees come from. As a starting point you might enjoy the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me." It has a web site [uvm.edu]; with a quiz!

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