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Space

Actual Costs for the Space Station 780

Posted by michael
from the astronomical-expenses dept.
Cujo writes "This article in space.com discusses what the actual costs of the space station have been since it was first proposed by President Reagan in 1984. Depending on how you account for the cost of shuttle launches, the number is well over $40 billion in the U.S. alone. It begs the question of what else could have been done with the same money and far superior management."
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Actual Costs for the Space Station

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  • you could ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zoftie (195518)
    develop new type of nuclear warhead ...
    wage war on iraq ...
    extend your efforts in war on terrorism ...
    etc etc. I'd rather pour money into this *dead end* project then sponsor arms race.
    2c
    p
    • Re:you could ... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I think the question isn't whether space exploration is a dead end, just whether the project was being run effectively.
    • not quite (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hndrcks (39873) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:54PM (#4804653) Homepage
      wage war on iraq ...

      Not for $40 billion: best guesses by the administration put the tab around 200 billion - and do you think the administration is going to over-estimate the cost?
      • Re:not quite (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Master Bait (115103)
        That makes almost US$8,000 for every living Iraqui citizen, assuming about a 22-million population figure. We could fly each and every one over here for a nice Disney World vacation AND give each of them a new Macintoch computer for that kind of money.

        Guestimating that there are about 200 million taxpayers, doesn't that mean each one of them pays $1,000 apeace to wage war on Iraq? I wonder how many of the blowhard chicken hawks would be willing to write a check of their own money for $1,000 in advance to back their warmongering bravado?

        • Re:not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

          by susano_otter (123650) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @05:01PM (#4805224) Homepage
          I pay taxes, don't I? But yes, if this war was being funded directly out of citizen's pockets, instead of through taxation, I'd consider my $1,000 well-invested.

          Meanwhile, how many tax-funded services would you be willing to pay for directly? How many of these services would you be willing to opt out of, if your budget didn't allow for regular payments? How many of these services is it possible to opt out of--can you not use the highway system if you don't like how much it costs, or if you can't afford it this month?

          And according to the "pay or opt out" approach, how should we handle this war with Iraq? If you don't pay, should we exile you to a parallel universe where Saddam is free to nuke or poison every neighbor he can get his hands on? Where Iraq becomes the resort location for terrorist training camps? Or, since that's not possible, should we simply put up with your lifelong complaint that it was a waste of your tax dollars?

          Tell you what: let's vote on it. You vote for voluntary subscriptions to community services (instead of mandatory taxes), and I'll vote for whatever policies I think best serve my country, my community, and myself. See you at the polls!
        • OT, but this whole thread has gone OT.

          The total cost spent by the west on Afganistan for this year, towards 'rebuilding'. comes out to about $80 U.S an Afgan. Ouch.

          There are better places to spend your tax dollars than space stations. I hate to say it , cause I love space stations.....

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I mean, consider how much was blown by dot coms durings the 90s. Atleast space exploration is neat.
    • There is no exploration, or innovative technology development going on in regards to the space station.

      Its nothing but an absolute total waste of money.
      • "Its nothing but an absolute total waste of money."

        Which is more likely:

        - A numnber of very intelligent people from a variety of countries have teamed up to build a big waste of money.

        ...or...

        - A number of very intelligent people from a variety of countries have teamed up to do something that you don't have all the details on.
      • Yeah, and we didn't need that stupid velcro either! Why can't they just give that $40 Billion to me?
    • No real money was spent in the .com boom.

      It was all fake "internet" money, usually involving worthless shares! ;-)
  • by hpulley (587866) <hpulley4@Nospam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:14PM (#4804205) Homepage

    I hope NASA will stop wasting money in earth orbit getting no research done with expensive meatbots. They should save the big bucks and human beings for the real deals, the Moon, Mars and beyond!

    NASA claims that the ISS is paving the way for long-term space flight but Mir had already done that. Paying to help the Russians to keep Mir going would have been much cheaper but was not politically acceptable which is a real shame.

    • Mir was rapidly becoming unsafe, and the necessary upgrades to keep it safe would have required enough replacements that building one of similar size but newer construction would probably have been cheaper.

      The only problem here is mismanagement and political infighting, which alone caused the bloated wasteful expenses the ISS project has incurred.
    • by gorilla (36491) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:38PM (#4804499)
      No, Mir was a dead end station, it was well past it's design life (7 years) and degrading badly. However that doesn't mean that I think the ISS is paving anything. It's one thing to live in orbit around the Earth where you're one short progress trip home. It's a totally different thing to actually go somewhere.
    • Absolutely Agree with above post. The Space Station is simply too small a project to produce anything useful.

      What am I talking about? Think back to the hay days of NASA, when it made it possible for all us Slashdotters to even exist by championing the IC and making computers to handle those early spaceships. The amount of money brought back to the American Gov't in form of taxes through the econmic technology booms that followed more than paid for the investment on sending some guys up to the moon to walk around and thumb our noses at the Russians.

      The problem today is that NASA and the Congress is so concerned about cost cutting than just going for it. We need to get off this Rock in a big way and the results may be worth it. But just dinking around in a restricted space station without doing things we havn't done before will produce nothing.

      Until NASA finds a destination and the American Public's imagination is stirred once more to support it, the Space Station is just a big waste of money.

      I fear the only thing that will ever get us off this rock is finding some really frightening reason to do it, like alien contact or an actual asteroid actually on target to hit us. Neither of which are too likely. Maybe Star Trek could talk about all the economic benefits we saw from NASA in the 60's (Microwave ovens, computer pressurized ball point pens etc.) What would life be life without having gone to the moon?

  • quick question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rocket97 (565016) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:14PM (#4804207)
    is that the actual amount spent on it or is that including inflation? I am not sure what the rate of inflation has been since 1984 but I am guessing that it would be moderatly higher. Also you have to take into account that the technology back then was far more expensive than it is today so that can also drasticly add to the costs of the project.
    • Re:quick question (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Plutor (2994)
      According to the Consumer Price Index [bls.gov], $4,000 in 1984 would be worth $6,979.79 today (their calculator made me use less than $10k).

      This means that $40B would now be worth almost $70B. You ask me, those numbers are already too big to really be able to appreciate the difference between them. When you're standing between two fat women, it's hard to tell which is bigger.
  • I have mixed emotions about the ISS. On one hand, it is a boondoggle of epic proportions; huge amounts of money shot into space for results that could mostly be obtained from unmanned satellites.

    On the other, keeping people in space is important if we want to expand our horizons for manned missions to other planets. And, of course, space travel is neat. Is "neat" worth $40 Billion?
    • Re:Conflicted (Score:4, Insightful)

      by foistboinder (99286) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:25PM (#4804333) Homepage Journal
      On the other, keeping people in space is important if we want to expand our horizons for manned missions to other planets.

      Unfortunately, space stations have always been the "safe" fallback position for manned space flight. When it was clear the Russians lost the moon race, they shifted their program to space stations. Instead of more moon exploration or a manned Mars mission the U.S.A. did the same.

      When nobody has the balls to propose anything bold for manned spaceflight, we end up with a space station of somewhat limited utility. It would be cool if we had a space station that served as an assembly and launching point for manned expoloration, but that's not what we have in the ISS.

    • Re:Conflicted (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cyclometh (629276)

      Short answer: Yes

      Long answer- space exploration has produced or driven the techonolgy behind everything from cell phones to Tang. The fact that you use the systems you do, much of the technology that is available to you and your children (if any), and any number of other improvements in the quality of our lives can be traced back to the need to develop new technologies for exploring space.

      As I've said elsewhere, being unable to see the benefits of something yourself does not mean there are not any, and those benefits are not always quantifiable or what you would expect.

      Cool is fine, but frankly we need to explore space for the most prosaic reason I can posit- this planet won't last forever; our eggs are all in one cosmic basket. One decent-sized asteroid and everything from the Gutenberg Bible to molecular porn [slashdot.org] goes.

  • easy (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Omlette (124579) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:14PM (#4804210) Homepage
    1. Tell Congress to give us the money and stay the fuck away until it's time for us to ask for more money.
    2. Put two Soyuz capsules up there so two people can do science while another three do maintenance. A sixth person can be any random rich person paying oodles of cash for the opportunity to scrub toilets IN SPAAAAAAAACE.
    3. Let the Russians handle station operations. If that's disagreeable then hire as many Russians away from Russia as needed. They know how to handle space stations, we don't.
  • by Adam Rightmann (609216) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:15PM (#4804214)
    organizations that capitalize on the intellectual assets and fervor of their members, rather than throwing money at problems and overengineering them.

    If NASA has the attitude that having a space station that was 99% safe, instead of 99.99% safe, and relied on the skill of the residents astronauts to fix any problems, we'd have the dual torus in 2001, instead of a little tin can. Good luck getting that in today's wiffle world.

    Any history buff can tell you just how far a few, determined, idealistic men can go in changing history. Someday I may tell you how 13 men took on an Empire, and altared history (for the better), forever, 2000 years ago.
    • Or WorldCom, Tyco etc etc etc

      What can be done with $40bn by a large US Corporation.... well pretty impressive fraud by all accounts.

      This is not to say that NASA should not be more effective or efficient it is to say that the "free market" is not always the best way to deliver power to homes, so it won't be certain to be the best to deliver a space station.

      Private companies run railways in the UK, the goverment do it in France. I'd much prefer the French Goverment running the UK system than the companies currently doing it.
    • by .com b4 .storm (581701) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:44PM (#4804552)

      Any history buff can tell you just how far a few, determined, idealistic men can go in changing history.

      This is related to a point that I think is very important when looking at the "failures" of NASA and humanity's space programs in general. It can be summed up quite simply: we are too cowardly.

      It sickens me that in the space program (and indeed, in many things) we don't take a chance with human lives anymore. "Oh no! There's a 0.02% chance that someone could get hurt. Even though this could be a huge breakthrough, we can't risk it!" That's not the attitude we had about getting to the moon - we took the gambles, and at times paid for it with human lives. But those people knew the risks, and they knew that the potential gains far outweighed the potential losses. They dove head first into it knowing they very possibly might not survive - but that was a risk they were willing to take, and it paid off.

      If we are ever to move beyond this gigantic blue marble of ours, we need to stop being chickens and start taking some risks. I don't mean stupid risks, but calculated ones - the same ones that we took some decades ago that let us set foot on the moon. Without that same attitude, we won't get anywhere. And I bet you that the astronauts of yesteryear, who paved the way for what is now a weakling NASA, would agree with me.

      • by Thud457 (234763) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @04:06PM (#4804770) Homepage Journal
        The Russians aren't as risk adverse as NASA. (Hell, they're less risk adverse than I am!)

        As described in LEO on the Cheap [dunnspace.com], the Russians do have a more realistic and economical approach to spaceflight. That is, they build their rockets with shipyard-level technology, not ballistic missile-level technology. Big, heavy, tough and dumb vs light, high-performance and expensive.

        On point made in "LEO ..." is to split your man rated (99.99% reliable) boosters from your cargo haulers (99% (95%?) reliable). Exactly NOT what NASA did when they designed the space camel, err... shuttle.

        And for God's sake, have a plan with a definate goal, not "lets get everybody together and put on a show"!
    • by Zathrus (232140) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:53PM (#4804651) Homepage
      rather than throwing money at problems and overengineering them

      Yes, because it's so damn easy. Which is why, what, less than a dozen countries in the world have Earth to space launch capabilites right now.

      Of course, we'll also ignore that NASA happened to pioneer a lot of the technology that all but one of those other countries now use...

      If NASA has the attitude that having a space station that was 99% safe, instead of 99.99% safe

      Then we'd have nothing at all in space. Let's do the math... if you have a system that is made up of 100 parts and is 99% safe then, on average, one part will malfunction every use. If you take that same system and it's 99.99% safe then you have one part malfunction every 100 uses. And since orbital systems are considerably more than 100 parts, you can pretty much guarantee that there's going to be a problem everytime, even at 99.999% reliability. The idea is to make it so that when that problem does occur it doesn't become fatal.

      Has NASA made some mistakes? Hell yeah... the bureacracy is absurd, the NIH syndrome is rampant, and the reluctance to try new technologies is systemic. That said, most space buffs also tend to ignore the quibbling little issues that make NASA not pursue a lot of avenues... whether those issues are political, sociological, financial, or technical.

      Any history buff can tell you just how far a few, determined, idealistic men can go in changing history

      Mayhaps you should go looking into the X-Prize, which has this as its aim. I sincerely hope that one of the teams succeeds, since it would dramatically revolutionize the space game. I worry, however, that the teams with the most likelyhood of succeeding will be hamstrung by bureacrats that are too worried about turf and are, indeed, wiffles.

      and altared history

      Interesting typo there.. but I'll leave the troll bait alone.
      • one part will malfunction every use
        Just not true. See the post below about component-level versus system-level reliability. The shuttle track record puts the individual parts well above the five-9 mark, probably overengineered.

        The worst part about the program, though, is the overengineered nature of the design process as a whole. Too much testing, too much debate, too much bureacracy, too many signatures on a design change. These over-efficiencies add up to way more expense than the component manufacturing.

        There's another comment below that discusses the need to preserve lives for altruistic as well as political reasons. I would note that every worthwhile exploration in the history of man cost many lives and suffering before the fruits of exploration could be reaped. We need to allow privatized, courageous explorers to risk untimely death if we're going to achieve the kinds of leaps we all write about here.

  • Nothing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RebelTycoon (584591) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:15PM (#4804215) Homepage
    Let's face it... The money would have gone to the military. If you are thinking education, poverty, medicare, you are dreaming.

    Of course, for this $40B US there was probably some re-investment back into hi-tech, science, research grants, and areospace.

    I don't think its been wasted, its just hard to gauge the return on investment.
    • Re:Nothing (Score:2, Funny)

      by DAldredge (2353)
      There is another option. Pay down the debt/reduce taxes.
    • Re:Nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by athakur999 (44340)
      The real question is, if that $40B had been directly invested hi-tech, science, research grants, and aerospace, would we have gotten more for our money?
    • If you are thinking education, poverty, medicare, you are dreaming.

      Hmm, recent observations:

      Education: Finish REBUILDING playgrounds with FOAM this time, instead of woodchips. Apparently wood chips just aren't soft enough. Next year, rebuild with Charmin.

      Poverty: Yeah, right. Like the bum down the road needs another 40, and we should pay for housing for families with up to 12 kids.

      Medicare: Here's a potential good. But how about using government money for public medical research and licensing the results to companies for production, instead of just paying for the result of the research those companies are doing? ROI. Live it. Learn it. Love it.

      Just my .02.

  • Windows licensing fees!
  • expense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kharchenko (303729) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:16PM (#4804245)
    Why dont' people count how many space stations one could build at a cost of, for example, the most recent tax cut ? 10 ? 20 ? .. hell, I'd send back my $300 refund to have a few bigger space stations and an outpost on Mars. Would you ?
  • What's the military budget been over the same span? Let's say 18 years at a minimum of $200 billion/year, that's at least $3.6 trillion.

    I think the space station is a useless waste of money. But we have probably wasted many times that on weapons systems we don't need, that don't work, and that even the military doesn't want.

  • Cost VS Benefit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TTMuskrat (629320) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:18PM (#4804265)
    They had an astronaut on the morning show I listen to today talking some of the benefits of the Space Station. One was the ability to grow human tissue in 3D - in gravity, the tissue gets flattened when grown in a petri dish - which is helping them in researching tissue-type diseases like cancer (I'm sure this was much simplified for not-quite-awake listeners :) ). I think that if a cure for cancer comes out of the ISS, then the price was worth it. On the flip side, we would probably have to start living in outer space due to overcrowding caused by everyone living alot longer. :D
  • consideration (Score:2, Interesting)

    by John_Renne (176151)
    Allthough $40 billion is quit a lot you should consider the project has been of value too.
    - Scientist have been able to do research otherwise impossible.

    - The program has provided jobs to a lot of people on the floor

    It is often forgotten science and research are valuable investments. And also on the bright side. This money isn't spent on warfare, defense etc. At least they tried to spend with good intentions
  • Mars anyone?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dciman (106457) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:18PM (#4804269) Journal
    I realize that the space station *could* provide a great resourse for doing scietific experiments for the entire world. But, with the current budget situation and the chances of it being mothballed, I seriously think we could have spent that money in a much better way. I can't imagne that a manned mission to Mars would have cost much more than 40 BILLION, if it would even have been that much. Then at least we would have had something to show for the money. Honestly, I would be better pleased to have seen us allocated a large part of that 40 billion to building some more probes to get information on planets and moons of our solar system. Heck, even exploring the moon more in depth, and looking into lunar mining wouldn't have cost this much. Of course, since we now have George Jr. to contend with we all might as well just continue reading our SciFi books for the next few years.
    • Re:Mars anyone?? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mr_Ust (61641)
      The US would have been way better off if it had initially had the goal of building a space station instead of landing a man on the moon. Why? Because although landing a man on the moon was a great achievement, it has no long-term economic benefit. A space station could serve as a launching pad for future projects, lowering the cost for other missions (such as going to Mars). IMHO, it's still vitally important to get a station up and running so that other missions can reap the benefits of past work.
  • Think of how many farscape episodes this could have produced!
  • Waste of money? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:20PM (#4804288)
    The tone of this article is that the money was spent badly. I have no doubt that it could be managed better, but it's not like the project is a write-off. I'd respond to the "What could you do with $40 billion" except I don't want to take validity away from the ISS.

    I feel very strongly that we, as a species, need to have a presence in space. Right now, we are one asteroid impact away from extinction. The ISS is a very important step to ensuring that man-kind can survive a disaster like that. We need to get to Mars. We need to leave the solar system. We need to colonize other planets.

    The real question is: Is $40 billion too much to spend to start us down the path of being truely, and I mean truely independent?
  • by hpulley (587866) <hpulley4@Nospam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:21PM (#4804296) Homepage

    I sure hope China gets their Taikonauts up in space soon! If they put a space station up and start heading for the Moon, it should light a fire under NASA's @$$.

  • Whatever the cost, they would be building a ship destined to Alpha Centauri. :-)

  • Yeah, Whatever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vaulter (15500) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:22PM (#4804311)
    Big deal. Things cost money. It's estimated that building new WTC towers will be about $12 billion. And that's on Earth! We are talking about a Space Station ("That's no moon...That's a space station!" ), not some shed out in someone's backyard. It's not like you can just rent a truck from Home Depot to deliver the supplies you need. Not to mention that astronauts have a little bit more training, and are higher paid than carpenters.

    But on the other hand, we probably don't have to worry about terrorists flying airplanes into it.

  • by pknoll (215959) <slashdot.pk@noSPAM.grapefish.org> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:24PM (#4804318)
    $40 billion? Hmm... with that, we could have paid back 1.1% of the U.S. National Debt.

    The entire U.S. space program in the 1960's and 1970's cost roughly the same amount of money that U.S. consumers spent on cosmetics in the same period of time. The real cost of the space programs, even counting wasted money (it is still a lot of experimentation) is pretty low, depending on what you compare it to.

    And what they're doing, at least to me, is pretty important.

    • by newsdee (629448)
      ...if we force the trend-setters to stop wearing makeup, so "fashionable" people stop buying it, we could afford a second space station.

      Looks like the old Geek vs. Jock perceptual rifts in high school values... :-)

    • The entire U.S. space program in the 1960's and 1970's cost roughly the same amount of money that U.S. consumers spent on cosmetics in the same period of time.

      Yeah, but to be truthfull, I get off more on the things that wear cosmetics
  • Whoa.....$40Bil. How about giving 2.5% of that to cure blindness? We could start off with some of the easier forms of blindness like some types of retinitis pigmentosa with gene therapy as has been shown in Briard dogs, move on to diabetic retinopathy, wet and dry macular degeneration, and finally create an artificial retina both bionically and biologically. Perhaps 1 billion over ten years should do it, and think of all the technology that could be generated for NASA, DARPA, etc..etc..etc...

    $40 billion..........Damn.

    • Actually, assuming diabetic retinopathy is the condition I think it is (when blood vessels grow over the retina), aren't there treatments either in the works or in the field already involving laser eye surgery to destroy the built-up blood vessels?
  • by kakos (610660) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:26PM (#4804345)
    To all the people that are saying "Why not spend the $40B on going to Mars/Moon/Whatever?" A space station is *neccessary* to that goal. Unless you want NASA to perform a series of visits that last a day and then leave, you're going to want a orbital staging point. Any colonization efforts will almost certainly require a space station of some sort.

    Why, you ask? Because it costs too much to launch from Earth every time (And a colony WILL require a lot of launches at first). Ideally, what we want is a dry dock in space where we can build any space craft. Simply send materials up and have them built in space. Then launch the completed ship from there.

    Furthermore, a orbital habitat would give us a place to become acclimated to the environment of space.

    The ultimate plan should be to build a space station, and put people up there in a more permanent manner in order to get some people acclimated. After a simple space station is completed, a dry dock should be built. From that dry dock, a ship should be built. That ship would be sent to the Moon, where a colony and a similar space station/dry dock would be built. Once we have a staging point around the Moon, then we would be able to colonize Mars.

    I really don't care about putting people on Mars for a few days and then having them come back. Anything they could do on a two day mission, a probe can probably do the same thing. The only reason I want a person on Mars is to start a colony and a LOT of preparation must be made in order to feasibly do that.

  • by basiles (626992) <<basile> <at> <starynkevitch.net>> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:26PM (#4804348) Homepage
    I think that the better management sentence is a bit idealistic. I don't know about any huge (or even big) project which is well managed.

    Human beings are not able to manage big projects. (This is true everwhere, in every country, both in private and public sectors, etc...).

    So the initial hypothesis ("if better managed") is simply false.

  • I'm Confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nemesisj (305482) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:26PM (#4804353) Homepage
    Do we hate NASA today or love them? Or hate NASA and love space? Or hate space and love other things to spend money on? My 2 cents is that money spent on space is always recouped by space-related technologies making their way into everyday use.
  • A billion here, a billion there...
    It soon starts to add up to real money!

    --T
  • 1) Low-cost housing for low-wage Americans to eleviate the national homelessness problem.

    2) Government training programs and day-care centers to get people off of welfare and out working.

    3) Funding of federal free lunch programs and food stamp supplements to insure that no American child goes to bed hungry.

    Scientific endeavor is noble and inspiring. But let's fix the problems here on Earth first.
  • Let's face it--in an organization so badly mismanaged as NASA, almost any money spent is money down a rathole. After working two years with the NASA HQ global change group (the Earth Observing System, at the time, the 2d biggest office), I concluded that while DoD wastes more money, they cannot waste as great a percentage of their budget as NASA does. Those PhDs spend their days shoveling out money to their good buddies at various universities and NASA centers, barely looking at what comes back. Ergo my subject line: NASA is simply welfare for scientists.
  • Begging the question (Score:4, Informative)

    by Plutor (2994) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:29PM (#4804386) Homepage
    Goddamnit people, can't anyone use the phrase "begging the question" correctly anymore?
    Educate [skepdic.com] yourself [intrepidsoftware.com] regarding idioms.
  • argh (Score:4, Informative)

    by syrinx (106469) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:30PM (#4804393) Homepage
    No, it does NOT "beg the question". It may "raise the question", but "begging the question" is something completely different.

    Begging the question is "a logical fallacy, of taking for granted or assuming the thing that you are setting out to prove. To take an example, you might say that lying is wrong because we ought always to tell the truth. That's a circular argument and makes no sense. Another instance is to argue that democracy must be the best form of government because the majority is always right. The fallacy was described by Aristotle in his book on logic in about 350BC. His Greek name for it was turned into Latin as petitio principii and then into English in 1581 as beg the question."
    (http://www.quinion.com/words/qa/qa-be g1.htm)

    If you're going to use phrases, at least make sure you're using them correctly.
  • NASA Accounting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ChuckDivine (221595) <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:31PM (#4804403) Homepage

    Let's hope O'Keefe can put in reliable accounting. Fudged numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. If we can get good accounting data, we can see just what is working and not working in all of NASA's endeavors. Solid accounting might also promote honesty in the field. One frequent complaint about NASA made by former workers is the amount of lies they were told. Add to that abuse and exploitation and you have the formula for driving people from the field.

    We've seen too much throwing good money after bad. It's not only wrong to waste the taxpayers' money, it also diverts people from projects that might work. Too many failures also cause people who might enter space work to choose different careers -- ones where they might actually accomplish something. I mentioned to one friend that young people aren't going into aerospace any more. She commented that's because many people -- especially the technically oriented -- view aerospace as a dead end.

    In retrospect, it would have been wiser to spend the money on work to lower the cost of getting things into orbit. The United States could have funded multiple, diverse research projects rather than this centralized, mismanaged failure. Lower cost to orbit would have paid off across the board -- for satellites, probes to distant planets, human work in space and much more.

    Instead we got a project that put three people into a station that requires at least 2.5 people to just maintain it. And which might be mothballed any day because of problems with Russian participation.

  • Pure Irony. (Score:4, Funny)

    by DarkHelmet (120004) <.mark. .at. .seventhcycle.net.> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:31PM (#4804411) Homepage
    ...was first proposed by President Reagan in 1984 ... begs the question of what else could have been done with the same money and far superior management.

    Maybe it's just me, but I'd find it incredibly ironic if with another 40 billion in funding we'd be able to cure Alzheimers....

    Take that, Reagan!

  • --I don't remember the exact quote so I'll paraphrase, from movie Independence Day, judd hirsch's character talking to the pres about where they got the funding for area 51 and etc : "you don't think they REALLY spent 600$ on a hammer do you?"

    seems to fit in this situation...well, maybe it does, I don't know, just suspicious is all...

    I have always thought there was *perhaps* a "public" space program, then the "real as in serious" space program.
  • Yes, with $40 billion and far superior management, we could probably find a myriad projects that would have made a bigger difference in the long run. But would they have garnered public support? Would they have provided opportunities for the thousands of technologists that this project has employed, thus expanding the knowledge and skill base for the next wave of innovation? Had the ISS not existed, would NASA have been able to keep up the current level of activity, or would it not have shrunk drastically? Would a few thousand unemployed aerospace/electronics/materials engineers have made a good recruitment tool for our engineering schools?

    If you don't think NASA's vision is lofty enough or practical enough or cheap enough, then vote that way, or come up with a better vision and get behind it. But remember, that $40 billion isn't NASA's, it's the Government's, and if it hadn't gone to ISS, it would have probably gone to some program that you like even less.

    On a side note, I found this quote from the story interesting:

    One important factor in calculating the project's total cost, excluding shuttle launches to ferry people and materials to the orbiting research center, is the $11.2 billion spent from 1984 through 1993 on President Reagan's Space Station Freedom concept.

    In 1993, the Clinton administration canceled Freedom, approved a new station design, brought Russia into the project as a full partner, and told Congress it would cost $17.4 billion to build a permanent home for a team of six to seven astronauts and cosmonauts in low-Earth orbit.

    The original $11.2 billion was just sort of swept under the rug.


    Remember, a lot of technology was developed under that rug. A lot of engineers paid for their education, and a lot of ideas were tried and refined under that rug. The gizmo that enables the life-saving technology that makes the last fifteen years of your life may come from under that rug.

    I'm not naive about this, okay? I'm just saying there's more than one way to look at this. And if you think there was a better way to spend $40 million, maybe all those folks who were paid with that money think so too, and are spending it that way. The money didn't get sent into space, after all...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:34PM (#4804451)
    Where do you think that $40 billion went? Did it just disappear? Nope. It went back into our economy. It's just $40 billion we spent on ourselves. Granted, I'd rather have a tax break and spend it myself, but it's not like we destroyed $40 billion.
  • by Target Drone (546651) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:35PM (#4804464)
    For $40,000,000,000 we could have built a B Arc [google.com] and got rid of the useless third of our population.
  • You are misusing the term "begging the question". It means to use circular reasoning [nizkor.org]. You mean, "raises the question".
  • You know, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bnavarro (172692) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:47PM (#4804590)
    I got modded down for saying this last time (and linking to Libertarian "propaganda"), but why does everyone continue to belive that the government can do a better job at space exploration than the private sector? What the hell, I've got karma to burn, so I'll rant.

    $40 billion. The space station isn't even done. Humans haven't left Earth's orbit since the '70's. $40 billion. It sickens me.

    I suppose the argument goes something like, "Private companies won't fund altruistic space flight, so the gov't has to foot the bill." "Companies are too nearsighted; they wouldn't appreciate the impact of expensive space based R&D."

    Well, I could care less about argument #1. If you want a "feel good" space mission, fund it with Space Tourism. I think Lance Bass has some seed money for ya.

    As far as agument #2 goes: I read an interesting proposal by Harry Browne (LP candidate for U.S. President in '00): Instead of direcly funding a space agency, the government could hold a "competition". Set aside $X billion, and offer it as a "reward" for the company or companies that meet the stated goal. Hell, this concept should be considered for lots of "expensive" R&D things: Offer a few billion to the first auto company to break our dependancy on oil, for example.

    I truly belive that if 50% of that government spending had been set aside as an incentive for the private sector to go to space, we would have seen an appreciable return by now. There has to be people that would love to figure how how to mine asteroids, efficently harness energy from the sun, etc. Instead we can't even launch a Backdoor Boy into space. I mean, aside from the occasional tourist, has there been any appreciable return from that $40 billion yet? Not that I'm, aware of.

    So, I'll say it again, and I'll link to it again, and you'll mod me down again: Privatize NASA. [lp.org]
  • by wedg (145806) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:52PM (#4804633) Homepage Journal
    According to this [nyu.edu] the US spent almost $300B on defense in just 2001. So, if you're spending $40B from 1984 to 2002, that's nothing. Would you rather be killing people, or exploring space?
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:54PM (#4804655) Homepage
    Cost accounting is one of the most misused tools...

    40 billion over 19 years is something like two billion a year. Chicken feed.

    The management at NASA is one of the finest and most frugal in the world. They have performed freaking miracles on a shoestring budget.

    We spend hundreds of billions a year on armed forces with no real enemy in sight. The "war on terror" is a police action, requiring police resources. Any misuse of it, such as conquering oil fields, has nothing to do with defense.

    How much have we spent on our military in the last 19 years? Trillions. That's thousands of billions.

    How much have we spent financing the debt we ran up proving supply side economics works (for wealthy people)? We spend 17 percent of every federal tax dollar we pay, each year, to finance that debt. That's HUNDREDS of billions of dollars a YEAR paid to the holders of our debt.

    How much have we spent in 19 years to finance the supply side miracle? Let's assume 200 billion a year.

    200,000,000,000 x 19 = 3,800,000,000,000. Three trillion, eight hundred billion freaking dollars over nineteen years, to the biggest money redistribution government program in history. Where the hell is all this mew wealth coming from? 3.8 trillion in reinvested wealth in the hands of millions of rich people.

    And now, since it's "war" time, we are back to deficit spending, raising the debt limit to 6.5 trillion to finance tax cuts for the same wealthy people getting the debt welfare from the previous accumulated debt.

    THAT is where we are bleeding to dead. We are paying enormous treasure out to the wealthy to finance tax cuts for the same wealthy.

    And two billion a year is a problem? JEEEZUS.

    The space station, like everything else in the space program, was starved to death not only on yearly funding, but on the funding of something to actually DO with the damned thing. You can't get anything done with a damned basically military-run tin can complex that isn't part of a greater purpose. It's doomed. Mars? Forget it, no money, we're spending it on debt financing and military conquest of oil fields.

    In my opinion as the oldest and most avid space nut I know, the space station was a waste of time, along with the superspaceplane. A transport vehicle to a station which does nothing, except keep Lockheed Martin in contracts.

    Mars would have been even worse. It's the Apollo syndrome all over again: exploration for "science" alone is worthless. You have to send people, civilians and private contrators, up on cheap reusable vehicles to do real things.

    Like what? Setting up the who Gerry O'Neill/Princeton space industrialization project, to enable USE of it all. Metals, powersats, colonies, all self-supporting after a long time of expensive investment. It would give us a huge frontier with no moral qualms about killing people already living there, and ultimately enable powersats that would save our collective asses in the century to come.

    But we have no collective imagination to do such things. It's too outre. So NASA limps along with one leg and '70's castoff furniture in rusting buildings to save money while we borrow money for other things, like tax cuts for rich people and the future pacification of the world in our interests by military and other means.

    Ad astra, someday. not today.

    • by ChuckDivine (221595) <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @04:57PM (#4805183) Homepage
      The management at NASA is one of the finest and most frugal in the world. They have performed freaking miracles on a shoestring budget.

      That hasn't been true for some time. If it ever was. Yes, NASA has some real accomplishments to its credit. Sadly, laying the foundation for the other things you mention isn't really one of them.

      Back in the 70s I was inspired by O'Neill's vision. I became an SSI Senior Associate (donated money). Joined the L5 Society -- actually became a bit of a leader in that group. Organized events. Spoke up for NASA research. Wrote letters to Congress. Kept it up well into the 90s. Even though I was starting to notice flaws in the agency.

      You point out a major part of the problem. NASA has become entirely too much about full funding for the existing aerospace establishment.

      We need better engineering to actually build this new frontier. We're not getting that with NASA now. What we're getting are "spectaculars" that aren't all that spectacular and don't advance humanity's future in space.

  • by Ilan Volow (539597) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:59PM (#4804707) Homepage
    It begs the question of what else could have been done with the same money and far superior management."

    A moon sized space station capabable of destroying rebel bases.

    Assuming, of course, there isn't some OSHA regulation against telepathically strangling incompetant middle-level management .
  • Let's be rational (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kaz Riprock (590115) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @04:45PM (#4805097)
    We're talking about 23 years of expenditures. The first station design by Reagan was in '84, the 6.6 billion budget addition from GW Bush is slated to go until 2007. Even if the totals run closer to the highly overestimated answer of 100 Billion (by the GAO), that's still only about 4 billion per year for a technological marvel that was supposed to be supported by 3/4 of the world's space programs but is ultimately built primarily by the US.

    The Russians have been useless in getting any part of it done, so in order to maintain our own timetable and keep expenditures reasonable, we've had to either help them or replace their efforts, so that cadres of NASA employees weren't being bankrolled to sit on their hands waiting for the Russians.

    If the ISS weren't so stifled by a lack of support from countries who previously voiced their desire to be involved, then it'd not only have cost us less but have been bigger and more capable of sustaining a maintenance crew AND a scientific staff. Instead, they're limited to a maintenance crew who dabble in science, so the returns have been limited.

    Given that we spent almost 1 billion [hartfordadvocate.com] to blow up the dirt in Afghanistan for a month, I think 4 billion a year in space development is only fair.

    The only question that remains is could the 4 billion (or for that matter, the 1 billion from the DoD as well) be spent on more important domestic issues, like the economy, healthcare, education, and building Krispy Kreme's in Boston, Mass...

    The answer is of course, a resounding yes. I'm sure every teacher in America would like a 100% pay increase. Our kids would be the smartest around and in 15 years, they'd come up with fiscal savings plans to outdo even the tightest of Swiss banks. But the likelihood that something so radical would occur is miniscule, so instead of worrying about where 40 billion dollars over 20 years could have gone, worry about how to get American AIDS victims to give Bill Gates an 8 ft condom instead of the Indians AIDS victims. Get money that doesn't have to funnel through the government into the hands of those causes you find justify their cost. NASA will keep getting top dollar projects along with the DoD for the forseeable future. The short-term goal must lie in monies garnered from someone else's pockets.
  • by silverhalide (584408) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @05:00PM (#4805209)
    According to NASA propoganda [nasa.gov] (which I will take for face value), there is quite a bit of side benefits to the money that is "wasted" on the space program in general. Things like cordless tools, smoke detectors, quartz clocks, satellite communications, sports pads, etc have all been direct offshoots of this money "wasted" by the space program. Lets face it, even if NASA doesn't accomplish all the lofty goals set out 100%, they still are applying high quality research to real problems, which directly leads to useful technological solutions which apply to other aspects of life. I'd be interested to see what has sprung off of the space station program in particular, because that link sounds like stuff developed during the shuttle era.

    The main problem is we're lacking the stiff competition that the Russians used to provide to us, so we're just moping along at our own pace. We're not worried about some damn communists beating us into space anymore. NASA should create a rogue nation for the explicit purpose of competiting with us to get to Mars. We'd get there lickity split! (Hell, GM did it to themselves by creating Saturn, why can't NASA?)

  • Costs Shmosts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @07:36PM (#4806476)
    Well, we talk about "Costs" as if someone took
    $100 billion dollars, put it in a shuttle, and launched it into orbit.

    That's NOT what happened to the money.

    It paid for r&d infrastucture, it paid for development of materials and processes, and it paid salaries. It also paid for raw materials, and, yes, it probably built more than a couple of summer houses for a few politicians.

    We talk about the "Costs" of the program apparently without realizing that we PAID ourselves. Jobs were created, University programs were funded, and the only real problem here is that the "taxpayers" are now unhappy about it and wishing they could have it to do over again and spend that money on something else.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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