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Space United States

NASA May Have to Buy Trips to Space 256

Posted by samzenpus
from the hey-buddy-can-you-spare-some-change dept.
MattSparkes writes "Budget cuts could leave NASA without a Space Shuttle replacement, and leave it reliant on private firms to get payloads into space. A similar scenario happened between 1975 and 1981 when NASA made the transition from Apollo to the Space Shuttle. It seems like a strange state of affairs when a magazine can take people to space, but the USA can't."
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NASA May Have to Buy Trips to Space

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  • Cost Effective? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:14AM (#17904532)
    If its cheaper than the shuttle, and works just as well, why not?
    • If its cheaper than the shuttle, and works just as well, why not?

      Without a reusable orbital vehicle, some of the military's more expensive spy satellites will be at risk. While I know the typical solution is just to spend more money and send up more equipment via rockets, without a vehicle our continued dominance in space would be questionable. As soon as someone brings up that tidbit of info, I'm sure NASA will get a check.

      In the meantime, expect China to be counting down the days until it can start

      • Re:Star Wars (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bastian (66383) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:58AM (#17905228)
        Right now, the Space Shuttle is only infrequently used to launch satellites. The vast majority of them (military and otherwise) are launched with standard rockets. It's much cheaper to just launch the satellite, rather than launching the satellite plus a bunch of squishy bodies plus all the thousands and thousands of pounds of equipment it takes to keep those squishy bodies from going squish.

        And we don't even need those squishy bodies there to successfully deploy a satellite; sending them up for such a mundane task is just wasting money and putting lives in danger for no good reason.
      • In the meantime, expect China to be counting down the days until it can start shooting down all our satellites that pass over it without fear of a shuttle going up there to figure out what happened.

        A shuttle is not necessary to determine that a satellite has been destroyed by a missile. The destruction of China's weather satellite was reported [bbc.co.uk] before China confirmed [bbc.co.uk] the test had taken place. And I'm pretty sure that no shuttle went to have a look.

        If I were China, I know I would.

        Then you would be
    • Just remember to always allow for taxes [slashdot.org]
  • by matr0x_x (919985) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:14AM (#17904556) Homepage
    Not to stir the pot, but think of how many space missions the war in Iraq could have paid for...
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Ingolfke (515826)
      Forget space... think about the massive Beowulf cluster we could have built.... OMGWTFBBQ!?!?!
    • Good point and as nobody put in the figures. A shuttle mission runs between $500mil to $900mill, depending on whether it is ISS or Hubble servicing (the higher cost). The war is costing the treasury about $364bill. Some of that money is the ongoing cost of the US military 'resting state' costs, i.e. salaries, training and equipment replacement. The fact is that the military has been upscaled for this and most of the costs are multiplied so most of that number realy is *extra* cost.

      Even allowing for giving

      • The above post describes my exact and honest thoughts on the matter of current US military expenditures.
        So, for this pointless war in Iraq, and which our leaders have taken on with our tax $, there could have been the equivalent of ~ 500 + shuttle flights launched?
        I rest my case.

        Z.
  • Not the same thing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:16AM (#17904578)
    A sub-orbital 90 second flight is not the same thing as what NASA usually does. These comparisons where NASA is ridiculed do not make sense.
    • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:39AM (#17904922)
      Indeed. There is not a single zillion dollar toilet seat on board, the average age of employees is somewhat less then 60, and they have a real fiscal agent called a Financial Officer looking at the bucks spent. The Shuttle on the other hand uses 8086 era tech, systems that are so obsolete that the fellow who designed them is not just retired, he is dead, and other such inovations. Yep. a company is not in the same game as NASA....Thank Goodness!
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        When a private company can put something into orbit like nasa does, call me with your criticisms. But as of now, they are likley the reasons that nasa can do more then private companies with reguargs to space.
  • by gentimjs (930934) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:16AM (#17904590) Journal
    Just swallow the pride and buy a few Soyuz .... too bad its built in the wrong congressional district .... :-(
    • by mnmn (145599)
      Great answer.

      The cold war is over and Russia isn't exactly on the opposite side. Give them some respect and do the right thing, buy Soyuz. The space program will keep going and USA will make friends which she so needs right now.
  • NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:20AM (#17904640) Journal
    This is despicable. We need to ensure that our astronauts are up in space. Down here, they try to kill each other [cnn.com].
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:20AM (#17904642)

    And a whole lot of other useful things like teachers, public housing, additional health care and other benefits to our country if we weren't spending our money somewhere else at the moment. [costofwar.com]

  • by errxn (108621) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:21AM (#17904648) Homepage Journal
    ...considering that as of this morning, the Shuttle crew has turned into its very own episode of the Jerry Springer Show.
  • Unlikely. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:21AM (#17904654)
    I'd expect this issue to be brought up during the 2008 presidential campaign. It'd be highly unlikely for the US to abandon the shuttle program until a suitable replacement is found, given the current Chinese space program's ambitions. Remember - it doesn't matter how much it costs, as long as it makes the US #1.
  • Looks like they'll be buying from American private companies as well as the Russians and Europeans. Actually, private exploitation of space will probably be a good thing if those companies find a way to make it turn a profit. Maybe we'll even get a permanent human presence in space -- NASA's work has been small-scale and mostly short-duration. About time we stick our noses out of this comfortable but aging blue ball.

    -b.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geoffspear (692508)
      Yeah, it's a "good thing" to funnel more tax money into the pockets of corporations. Oh how we love our corporate welfare state.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Yeah, it's a "good thing" to funnel more tax money into the pockets of corporations.

        Well, better American corporations than the Russians or anyone else. At least *Americans* get the tax money back in the form of wages, dividends, and benefits. And, BTW, those corporations are *already* developing the launch technologies without Federal help. So it might be cheaper to pay them to launch rather than reinventing the wheel again.

        -b.

        • by arivanov (12034)

          I apologise for the obvious questions. I probably should not ask them from someone who obviously has not thought what he is talking about:

          1. And what specifically prevents Russians from buying back American components?

          That is besides acts of congress which prohibit American companies to sell them.

          2. What is the expense ratio between payload/carrier? What fraction of it is R&D and what is the proportion left in each country?

          Launching is very very dirty business. Just ask anyone in Kazahstan down t

          • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
            Launching is very very dirty business.

            Depending on what propellants you use. Hydrogen + Oxygen as used in the main engines of the Shuttle are very clean, though the fuels used in the solid boosters leave something to be desired.

            Even discarding environmental damage (and all the children with missing limbs and other birth defects in Kazahstan)

            Are the birth defects from exhaust from space launches, or are they more to do with the fact that the Russians used Kazakhstan as a nuclear playground - plutonium

            • by arivanov (12034)
              Are the birth defects from exhaust from space launches,. - they are. Semipalatinsk (where the nuclear testing grounds are) is quite far away. Even the cleanest fuels like hydrogen + oxygen liquid engine generate a shedload of nitric oxides (and russians do not use that, their fuels are much more horrid). In addition to that you have all the horrid shit from solid boosters (if used). In addition to that you have all kind of nasty junk falling back onto the ground and most of it very dangerous environmentally
              • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
                Even the cleanest fuels like hydrogen + oxygen liquid engine generate a shedload of nitric oxides (and russians do not use that, their fuels are much more horrid).

                Well, there are solutions to that problem, namely taking a spaceplane to 40-50k ft (above most of the atmosphere) before igniting the rocket engines. Less air == less nitrogen oxides generated. Drop it from a large conventional jet plane, basically. And I'd suspect that the "more horrid" Russian fuels would be simply illegal to use in the USA

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:26AM (#17904718) Homepage
    The US government doesn't design and build trucks. If they need something shipped, they use a shipping company. If the president needs to make a speech, they buy microphones and pay TV stations. Space should be no different.

    This is just a small step toward the commercialization of space, and the use of off-the-shelf parts to get a job done. Perhaps one day, the Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, and Scaled Composites will be bidding to deliver the next satellite into orbit around Mars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      The US government doesn't design and build trucks.

      They sort of do - a lot of military trucks are built specifically to government contract and only sold to civilians later or as surplus. Look at the Humvees, the M-151 MUTTs, and the Gama Goats as examples of this.

      -b.

    • by dpilot (134227)
      Wouldn't be a problem, except that in this case, we're talking about a taxi or bus, and there are no commercial taxi or bus operators, yet. For that matter, as far as I know, there are no to-your-doorstep truckers either, except for Russia's Progress. (US truckers are to-orbit, not to-rendezvous/dock.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by twostar (675002)
      Exactly, and this isn't something new. NASA's robotic missions have been launched via rockets from Boeing and Lockheed for years. So they're finally moving the manned missions over, it's about time.

      Now they can focus on what they're good at, exploring and innovating, not running a hauling service.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      The US government doesn't design and build trucks. If they need something shipped, they use a shipping company. If the president needs to make a speech, they buy microphones and pay TV stations. Space should be no different.

      Well, we're in the early stages of that, but not quite there yet. (And, some special purpopse military vehicles like the HMMV or those big honking hovercraft used by the military are, in fact, designed for the government specifically, even if they don't build 'em.)

      Something like space

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      and when the US needs to fight a major war is hires a million mercenaries...
      Ok, it doesn't, the US has an army for that kind of thing. Some things are best done in-house, the discussion is whether space travel is one of them. Pointing out different situations where things are not done in-house isn't really very useful unless it's used to illustrate an advantage.
      Although it should be pointed out that while NASA operates the shuttles, all the major components were built by contractors anyway (Lockheed-Marti
  • Magazine vs NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonnythan (79727) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:26AM (#17904724) Homepage
    I'm no rocket scientist, but I think there's a big difference between:

    1) Sending someone on a sub-orbital flight at 62 miles altitude and;

    2) Bringing several working payloads into space, docking with a space station at 236 miles altitude, and performing orbital repairs on satellites at 355 miles altitude.

    It's not like NASA is so incompetent that some private firm is beating them at this whole space thing.
    • Not to mention sending probes to various planets, comets, and other parts of the galaxy.

      And then there was that whole "men on the moon" thing. Let me know when a magazine is offering THAT as a prize...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      It's not a fair comparison. Atlas V and Delta IV have capabilities that approach that of the proposed Ares I though these vehicles aren't designed for manned use. And unlike the Space Shuttle, these platforms do a variety of useful things. And the suborbital flights were using an almost completely reusable vehicle with rapid turnaround time which is a new threshhold that hasn't been reached before. If that can be scaled up to orbit (and I think it will within a couple of decades), then it's a huge step beyo

  • I remember being a kid and thinking these guys could do anything--that it was just a matter of time before they had us living in moonbases.

    Now, look at what they've become.

    Scrap it, before they just waste more. Time to focus on providing incentives directly to private industry. NASA is just a wasteful old baby-boomer pipe dream.

    Mod me down NASA-lovers. In your heart you still know what I'm saying is true.

    -Eric

    • by east coast (590680) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @11:58AM (#17905214)
      NASA is just a wasteful old baby-boomer pipe dream.

      On the plus side you must recognize that NASA is putting out a lot of research that is free to the public. This is going to be a keystone in the future of private space flight ventures. So while I agree that NASA is riding the edge of usefulness they have contributed a lot and still have room to contribute more in the areas where the private sector would not see enough ROI on some projects. This pure research could still offer a lot in the overall understanding of what it's going to take to get people into space, what it's going to take to keep them there on a functional basis and a reason to go that offers a profit motive to corporations.

      Without profit motive the private sector is going to be just as slow, if not slower, than NASA. We'd have to ride the coat tails of philanthropy into the final frontier. That's not exactly a glowing prospect.
    • Now, look at what they've become.
      A space program that has managed to keep two robots working on the surface of Mars for over three years???
      • by 0123456 (636235)
        "A space program that has managed to keep two robots working on the surface of Mars for over three years???"

        I think you'll find it's the part where they're spending $1,500,000,000 a time to fly pizza to the space station so that they can keep people up there to fix the things that keep breaking that is the part people are complaining about. You'll also notice that most recent unmanned probes have been launched on commercial rockets, not the shuttle.
  • One of my biggest inspirations growing up was the NASA of the 60's and 70's. Back then, NASA had a blank check and could not only afford the best of the best, but could also give them whatever they needed to accomplish whatever they had to. I remember Apollo 13....engineers with slide-rules frantically trying to figure out how to get those three guys back down. I was young and, in my mind, there was no question they would figure it out.

    I don't think those "seat-of-the-pants, just solve the damn problem"
  • Why not? Bush's aerospace program already tried to bail out Boeing [google.com] with $BILLIONS in wasteful jet tanker leases, rather than buying them upfront.
  • This could provide much needed funding for the fledging commercial space industry.
  • Not Space... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chiminea (696521)
    Calling a sub-orbital jaunt a "trip into space" is like calling wading in the Pacific "deep sea diving". Rocket science is difficult and expensive. Only an few private firms can actually get a payload into orbit and if you give a quick google you can get video of quite a few of these guys blowing up on the pad, or failing to get orbit and other mission failing scenarios. So before you pile on NASA make note that it is still the pre-eminent spaceflight operation in the world. No other organization has done w
  • Take the hit now (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jivecat (836356)
    IMO, NASA should mothball the Shuttle immediately and put all its effort into developing the Ares system. They would have to re-manifest some crews and hardware aboard Soyuz and Proton rockets for the next few years, but that would allow their current engineering talent to focus exclusively on the new system, avoid the brain drain that Administrator Griffin fears, and save a bunch of money in the process. I bet with focus they could have flight-worthy hardware by 2010.
  • - that in America the state is nothing and big money is everything. Some apparently think this is a good thing, but I think it is a shame to see that once great nation becoming just the property of a self-styled big money aristocracy.
  • When America goes off to war in far-off lands, it is not a vast fleet of US Navy vessels carrying the mountains of food and equipment to foreign shores. The material goods are transported by civilian cargo companies which the government hires, and the cargo goes on plain old civilian container ships.

    If the government needs to hire a civilian company to haul cargo to space, what is wrong with that? If it is more efficient, then I believe it is a better arrangement.

    The more "normal" space travel becomes, the
    • by Brunellus (875635)

      Indeed. Maybe if NASA got out of the launch business, it could focus more on basic science and engineering?

  • > It seems like a strange state of affairs when a magazine can take people to space, but the USA can't.

    Why is that sad? Private companies can get into space cheaper and easier. Just look at the bloated, over engineered shuttle that resulted from letting the government monopolize the space industry. If, instead of letting NASA build whatever it wanted, we had put the specs out and let companies compete for NASA's business, then we would probably already have a fully developed space tourism industry just l
  • ... and then get the bureaucracy out of the way.
  • by Doug Dante (22218) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @12:26PM (#17905720)
    NASA can fulfill its mission by expanding its existing COTS contract [spacex.com] with SpaceX [spacex.com] and expanding it to include manned launches using the dragon crew [spacex.com] module.

    The American people will still have a vibrant space agency, that can focus on exploration, rather than on space launch, which is rapidly becoming a normal, commercial business.

    NASA's COTS contract [nasa.gov] also includes Rocketplane [rocketplane.com], which also includes demonstrations for ISS support.

    The COTS contract was a polite way for Congress to buy some insurance in case Lockheed's Space Shuttle Replacement [popularmechanics.com] spins out of cost control in terms of either dollars or time.

    Which I think is a great move as a taxpayer, having watched ISS cost much more than planned and delivering much less than expected.

    We just need the safest, soonest, and cheapest way to get people and stuff into space. I don't care who does it, so Lockheed and those people at NASA in bed with Lockheed, watch out, you've got competition.

  • If they put a partial military payload on each flight, maybe the DOD could get the budget problems solved. The pres seems to have no problem giving the military carte blanche spending priveleges.
  • Misinformation (Score:4, Informative)

    by Edward Ka-Spel (779129) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @01:03PM (#17906386)
    There sure is a lot of misinformation in this thread. Here are some ideas I noticed that seem blatantly wrong.

    1) There are private companies out there who can do what NASA is doing: If you RTFA, you'll notice that currently only the Shuttle and the Russian Progress and Soyuz ships can make it to the ISS. There may be a possibility of a JAXA craft or an ESA craft in the future. Both government built craft.

    2) NASA is afraid/against private industry building space craft: Actually, NASA is highly in favor of a private company building a space ship to go to the ISS. They are actively funding two companies to help them build such a craft. In their current architecture, the CEV/CLV is not really going to be used for ISS. They would rather use a COTS solution for that.

    3) We should leave all of space exploration up to private industry: Private industry will only do something if they know they can get money for it. Can you show me the business plan to make money off of trips to the moon? Trips to the ISS? Remember, you have to have a net profit on these endeavors. Until the cost and risk are reduced to manageable levels, the private industry will not do this on their own. The Russians did not get a net profit from their space tourists. They got a little extra money from a mission that had to happen anyway. Virgin Galactic may actually be able to make money by sending people into space, but that is sub-orbital. A huge difference between that and going to the ISS. The reason for government funding into areas like this is to promote activity in areas that are too costly or too risky for a company to do.

    4) A magazine can take people to space: No, a Russian Soyuz capsule can take people to space.

    That will do for now.
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @01:04PM (#17906408) Homepage Journal
    Ever since the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 (PL101-611) NASA has been required by LAW to purchase all launch services from the private sector that could be reasonably provided by the private sector. As the person who testified before Congress about the passage of that grass-roots law [geocities.com] I was fairly galled by the invitation I received a few years later from NASA to sit in the VIP stand and watch them launch the Advanced Communication Technology Satellite upon a shuttle. Well, actually, by that time I had somewhat come to expect that it was hopeless for a grass-roots legislative effort to actually have an impact on a governmental behavior but to actually receive an invitation to see them blatantly violate the clear intent of the law was still annoying.
  • It seems that having no launch vehicle for *any* period of time represents a significant strategic vulnerability. China's military build-up may simply be a superpower coming into its own, as it were, but it may also be a prelude to the standard imperialist actions of a superpower--proxy wars and actual wars taken in what the nation in question believes are its best interests. If the military buildup is a precursor to a possible military solution to the Taiwanese issue, a move against US Satellites would s
    • *discovers rockets are the standard US satellite launch vehicle of choice*

      Oops. Silly me. The parent (Also by me) is based on mistaken assumptions. Ignore it. Sorry.
  • Doesn't NASA already do this? I think the only launch vehicle they own are the shuttles and they are only used infrequently for manned missions. The US Air Force launches more payloads than NASA and all their stuff is contracted. NASA does a few science missions a year this way too.
  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @01:52PM (#17907396) Journal
    It seems like a strange state of affairs when a magazine can take people to space, but the USA can't."

    Yeah, sure, because the magazine will use its own launchers and launching pad and won't turn to a third party to organize the trip...
  • NASA would have plenty of money for science missions if they didn't need to spend most of their money on a welfare program for the aerospace industry. The first thing they need to do is pull the plug on the entire manned space program. If contracting out is the cheapest way to get a payload launched, that's what they should do. What NASA should be concentrating on is the missions and the payloads, not overpriced, under performing launch vehicles. The Space Shuttle was marvel of engineering of its time aas w

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