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Space Government Politics

Commission Suggests UK Should End Astronaut Ban 233

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the who-could-resist-the-allure-of-spaceflight dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to the BBC a British scientific panel has recommended that the British Government should end its ban on human space flight. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Commission pursued a 9-month investigation into 'The Scientific Case for Human Space Flight'. Professor Frank Close, Chair of the Commission, said, 'We commenced this study without preconceived views and with no formal connection to planetary exploration. Our personal backgrounds made us lean towards an initial skepticism on the scientific value of human involvement in such research.' The commission concluded that 'profound scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth can best - perhaps only - be achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems.'"
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Commission Suggests UK Should End Astronaut Ban

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  • ehhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SkankinMonkey (528381) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:30AM (#13824787)
    Isn't the real question - Why was it banned in the first place?
  • WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mboverload (657893) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:30AM (#13824788) Journal
    I mean, seriously. That's all I can say. What the fuck?

    I mean shit, I know it's a waste of money but to BAN it? Someone needs to get beat with a billy club.
  • Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geo_2677 (593590) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:32AM (#13824792)
    that the report comes out couple of days after the Chinese astronauts return to Planet Earth.
  • Re:ehhh.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TheRealSync (701599) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:44AM (#13824828)
    But believing there is no scientific value in going to the moon doesn't really justify a ban, there must have been more to it, or..?
  • Re:ehhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by baadger (764884) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:50AM (#13824847)
    No, I believe the 'real question' is why did we give up on our space program in the first place, really just a few years before people started seeing and reaping the commercial benefits of satellite technology.

    It is feasibly that if we had continued our efforts, unclamped by the government, we may have put a man in space ourselves.

    There was recently a brilliantly put together but saddening documentary on the highlights of the British space program on the BBC. Unfortunately there isn't a torrent in sight (if anyone finds one PLEASE me know) and there aren't many central sources for general information on the era to be found with Google (unless you know specific project names).

    Britain's first space pioneers [bbc.co.uk] - A nice summary of British space efforts, courtesy of the BBC.
  • Money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:57AM (#13824867) Journal
    There is a limited supply of it. The question is, do you focus on the automated robotics or on the human missions?

    A good example is that GWB is gearing NASA to spend heavily on the moon shot. So they just fired 300 top engineers at JPL. JPL has done a fair number of the automated systems. I would expect that the private enterprise will pick these ppl up. Most have a great deal of talent and interest.

    The moon shot will costs more than a 100 billion dollars to get us back there. Hopefully this time, we do not dismantle such an expensive set-up.
  • Re:ehhh.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:02AM (#13824876) Homepage Journal
    When the Commonwealth games came to town a couple of years ago, some Kenyan riders didn't know about this little law, and decided to go riding around on the motorway (at around 40mph!).

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/funny_old_game/215 1150.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    We have silly laws in this country, but this one I happen to agree with.
  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:05AM (#13825048) Homepage Journal
    all the world's a stage:

    The report warns Britain risks being isolated on the international stage if it continues its longstanding refusal to fund the human exploration of space.

    This kind of reasoning makes me break out in hives. It's like saying the way to be an innovative company is to look at other innovative companies and copy what they do. Sometimes the thing to do when everyone is doing A is to find something the B that everybody else is not doing, where marginal returns are higher.

    The RAS expert panel says the cost of joining other nations with astronaut programmes could be some £150m a year...

    Current policy only allows for tax payers' money to be spent on robotic missions, which means the UK, although a member state of the European Space Agency (Esa), gives no funds to Esa's astronaut corps...

    As part of its fact-finding exercise, the RAS panel tested public opinion through the BBC News website.

    So, putting two and two together, this is political and diplomatic rather than scientific an technical. Which is not to say "not worthwhile", but justifications have to be found elsewhere. A couple of hundred million pounds a year is not going to get Britain its own space capability by a long shot, but it will allow it to play with other nations.

    The men say robotic missions to the Moon and Mars can answer many of the questions we want to ask about the origin of the Solar System and the evolution of life within it - but machines do not yet have the ingenuity and flexibility of people.

    "Humans are good at making decisions that are impossible to predict ahead of time," said Dr Dudeney.

    "They can deviate from assigned tasks and kick over a rock just because it's a different colour and looks interesting. But there is a symbiosis between machines and man; it's not one versus the other, it's about what they can do together."

    As a counter example,engineers on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission found their equipment could be kept functioning well past their orignial goals and decided to keep them doing science until they die. We won't be doing that with astronauts. It might be the next best step for marginal returns is a manned mission, but I doubt it. My point here is that we should not be overly concerned with the apparent flexibility of a mission component, which after all people would be, without taking into the account their impact on the overall flexibility of the mission and the program.

    I wonder if some British national pride was hurt by the failure of the Beagle 2. That mission was way outside the box in terms of ambition for funding. It might have been a brilliant success. The lesson of the Beagle 2 mission should NOT be (in my opinion) that robotic missions are too risky. It should be that taking ambitious risks entails experiencing failure, otherwise it's neither ambitious or risky. Put in perspective, Britain could have launched twenty Beagle 2 missions (more if fixed costs are amortized) for the price of the dual Mars Exploration Rover mission; if it had a 10% chance of success they'd be in the same place in terms of mission success, but gained a great deal more technical expertise. Not only would this expertise enhance national prestige indirectly through increased capabilities, I believe that success after a number of failures would yield more prestige directly, ironic though that may be. It would remind people that you're trying something difficult and risky.

    I'm not against manned space exploration; I'm for getting the most science out of our buck -- er -- pound. I'm not convinced that a manned mission is scientifically or technically the best marginal investment at this time. Even in terms of national prestige, I'm not convinced that manned missions are what they used to be. If the public wants to see George Clooney in a s

  • Re:Money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:09AM (#13825056) Journal
    Unless I see the accounting figures broken down on paper, I cannot fathom such a missing costing 100 billion. It's not like we need to start from scratch all over again. The research and development has been done. The only major costs associated nowdays should be mainly hardware and administration.

    Ok, lets look at what those 4 steps entail.
    First off, we will be creating 2 rockets from the current shuttle stack.
    That means that the solid BOOSTER will now be turned into a man capable rocket. In order to get a human rating (vs. just freight), requires a great deal more tests. You have heard about all the issues of the Airbus A-380, right? Well, this is far more rigorous.

    In addition to creating the rocket, we will have to create a CEV; A crew exploration vehicle.
    Just determining which company to give it to, will cost NASA some 1-2 billion. The ship itself will probably be 10 billion or better (I am betting closer to 15).

    The above will get us with a crew of 6 up to the ISS. The good news, is that the launch cost is a fraction of what it costs today. In addition, we will be able to take the ISS back up to 7-12 ppl.

    From there, we then need the HVL vehicle. That is nothing more than moving the 3 engines from the shuttle to 5 on the bottom of the fuel tank. In addition, we will change the boosters to have 5 segments rather than 4. We currently are able to put some odd 28 tonnes into space via the shuttle (at a cost of 1 billion). When the new HVL is done, we will put 128 Tonnes in one shot (at a cost of 1.5-2 billion). This craft will also have to be human rated, which means undergoing rigourous testing.

    Then we need a whole new system that lands on the moon, and takes off again. That entire system is quite a bit more nebulus, but it will probably look like our old apollo stuff, but much bigger.

    The above illustrates parts of the costs for getting into space and to the moon, and back safely. You mentioned Burt Rutan's works as an example for NASA to follow. Well, First off, Burt did not go high. He went 60 miles. Well, now he needs to go to 300 miles. My understanding is that it gets exponentially harder as you go higher. There are no off-the-shelf stuff for this. In fact, the tspace group is looking to develop a great deal. The capsule that burt did, has a minimal life support system. It is nothing compared to what NASA does to get ppl to the ISS let alone to the moon. remember, once you are on your way to the moon, there really is no rescue group for you (hence tspace's idea of multiple groups going; not a bad idea). So these systems are designed and built to work. period. But it does not come cheap. Yet.

  • Re:Little risk (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:30AM (#13825108)
    Why the fuck are so many of your posts anti-British.

    You've got a giant chip of your shoulder. What's a matter, denied citizenship?
  • Re:ehhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:31AM (#13825111)
    After all, perhaps one reason they haven't before now is because the UK or another member country has had these kind of objections.

    Quite a lot of the reason, actually. ESA had a project in the 1980s to build a small spaceplane called Hermes. It was going quite nicely, then the Americans accidentally blew up one of their shuttles and that caused a bit of a flap over here too. Subsequent redesigns sent the thing way over budget. The Germans got cross at being asked to pay far too much for the thing, especially with the British refusing to pay anything at all for a manned spacecraft. End result: what was very nearly an independent European spacecraft ended up as a pile of extremely expensive paperwork.

    Since then European cosmonauts have mostly flown as passengers on Soyuz and sometimes on the Shuttle. This is a bit annoying, but then... Soyuz just works. What's to stop ESA contracting the Russians to provide capsules and rockets and conducting a space programme that way?

  • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:47AM (#13825148)
    More importantly, it comes out not long after ESA reached an agreement with the Russians concerning the development of the Kliper [wikipedia.org] spacecraft. Looks like the successor to Soyuz will be largely paid for by ESA and flown from French Guyana.

    But for ESA to do this will take money, and money is short as long as the second-richest country in Europe refuses to spend a single penny on manned spacecraft. British money might make the difference between this thing flying someday and this thing becoming another might-have-been. Not to mention that we'll probably get a good few lucrative contracts related to the development, and the incalculable value to British technology of actually inspiring the next generation. We have way too few new physical science or engineering students in this country right now, and we have sod all to be proud of since we retired the Concorde. America might have betrayed their dream when they cancelled Apollo to pay for Vietnam, but at least they had one. What are we trying for?

  • Re:ehhh.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:00AM (#13825684) Homepage Journal
    Ultimately this conversation (like every conversation about man vs robot in space) has deteriated into the "which gives the best science" arguments. That's great and all, and it's even on topic, seeing as we were talking about why the British have snubbed manned spaceflight whenever they came asking for science funding. But it's not the whole story. The reason we should be putting humans into space is not just science. It happens to be the only way to get a significant amount of work done in space. I guess, theoretically we could send teleoperated robots into space and run them from the ground, and that might even work as far as the Moon.. so maybe this argument isn't too strong. But if you want to setup a facility on the Moon to process asteroid impacts and return the materials to earth (and I argue that you should want that) then the absolute best way to do that with today's technology is to send up a whole boatload of people, build a settlement and live there. It'd cost about a trillion dollars, but you could do it, and the rare (on earth) materials that you could ship back from the Moon would pay for it twice over the next 50 years.
  • Re:Money (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GileadGreene (539584) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:54AM (#13826632) Homepage
    So they just fired 300 top engineers at JPL.

    I don't particularly lke GWB, but the lay-offs have little to do with his "vision for space", and more to do with poor budget management at NASA. AFAIK the primary reason they just laid off at JPL was that they ramped up staffing tremendously during the crunch to get the Spirit and Opportunity rovers finished on time (MER was completed on an incredibly short timescale for a planetary exploration mission - 3 years from start to finish). Unfortunately, the work on MER not only caused a staffing spike, it also went pretty heavily over budget, so several missions were pushed back to free up near-term money to finance MER. Now that MER has wound down there's nothing for a lot of the engineers that were hired during the staffing spike to do: NASA's near-term Mars budget was committed to paying for MER (already done), and the next big projects won't really ramp up for a few years yet.

  • Re:Sad statement (Score:3, Interesting)

    by amightywind (691887) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:58AM (#13826672) Journal

    For the last 10 years or more we've been saying there is "most likely" water in the form of ice at the poles. We have yet to land a probe, drill out a sample and test it. That'd be great science wouldn't it?

    There is no doubt that there is interest building to due this soon. Is is great science? I'd say it is a second order result. It is already highly likely given all of the indirect evidence. I think your idea of finding high concentration metallic meteoric deposits is at least as interesting.

  • by Manhigh (148034) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @11:04AM (#13826729)
    The comparison with shuttle IS fair, because its 60 tons to orbit is not really useful payload. True, its a life support system, but its also a crew return mechanism with features that aren't useful at all in orbit. Why count the landing gear or wings of the shuttle as payload to orbit? The new strategy is to significantly reduce the mass of the return mechanism in exchange for payload that doesnt need to be returned to earth.

    The side-mount launch configuration of the shuttle IS the least safe feature of the system. Columbia is a direct result of that configuration, and its debatable if Challenger would have resulted in a loss of crew if they were being launched on an in-line system.
  • Re:No jam for me! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Retric (704075) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @01:32PM (#13828279)
    Basically, it's much cheaper to send up a new satellite than it is to send the shuttle up to fix them. Do we send a 250,000 pound shuttle into orbit or a 20 ton satellite?

    It would have been cheaper to send up 3 Hubble replacements into orbit using the shuttle than it was to repair the old one. Just think of each of those missions as 1BILLION $ down the drain. OR we could have send ~6 Hubble's up in a non man launch vehicle.

    Now sending people into zero G for months at a time has value, but there is little value in sending up a shuttle when what we really want to do is replace a few parts on a satellite. What would have been useful would be to develop a remote controlled repair robot that we could send into orbit with all the devices needed to fix these satellites. With a good design we could use some ION drives and get the thing to pick up the needed pieces to repair a satellite and then fly by and repair them. You might think people are going to be more dexterous than such a ship but in with the gloves these people uses they don't really have much manual dexterity.

    Even if such a system where 1/2 the weight of the shuttle the extended stay in space coupled with a more efficient drive system would make for huge cost savings. Even if it took 5x as long to do a repair it would still be a lot cheaper than sending people to do such simple jobs. And if one of them blows up it might make page 6 news vs. setting back the space program several years.

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