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NASA Vets & Administration Clash Over Moon Plans 158

Posted by Zonk
from the can-we-just-go-somewhere-off-planet-geez dept.
mattnyc99 writes "There's a serious feud brewing this week over the Bush administration's plan for a manned mission to the Moon as an eventual stepping stone to Mars. The Planetary Society, a top group of former mission managers, space-based scientists and NASA astronauts argues, is set to rebuke the Moon plan at a conference next month in favor of hopskotching an asteroid on the way to the Red Planet. Agency chief Michael Griffin issued an abnormally strong response to the society, calling it an overly political criticism of Bush for a plan that he says was 'the best legislative guidance NASA has ever had.' Either way, it's clear that the stars are aligning for the whole space race to be reconsidered as a new administration steps into the White House. So far Clinton and Obama (who just added his) are the only contenders with space proposals."
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NASA Vets & Administration Clash Over Moon Plans

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  • by KillerCow (213458) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:57PM (#22161104)
    see false dichotomy [wikipedia.org].
  • by The One and Only (691315) * <[ten.hclewlihp] [ta] [lihp]> on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:00PM (#22161126) Homepage
    We shouldn't abandon space travel simply to explore the earth, but on the same token, we shouldn't abandon the earth simply to explore space either!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:06PM (#22161200)

    If the main opposition is truly because "BUSH" wanted it then it speaks volumes for just how juvenile the opponents have become. We need a direction, it has to come from the Administration,...

    Um, hate to break it to you kid, but Bush already chose a direction. It's not really clear what that direction is exactly but so far it has involved pissing away hundreds of billions of future tax payer dollars into the sands of Iraq.

    Maybe what you're saying is that the USA needs a change of direction (and I'd agree with you there) or maybe you'd like the USA to try for two directions at once. Personally, I'd say that trying to go in one of the Bush administration's directions is unpleasant enough - but maybe you're just a glutton for that kind of punishment.

  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:07PM (#22161220)
    In the 1960s, space represented many things and was very successful in focussing the USA in many ways. However, once done it has served its purpose and cannot easily serve it again.

    Sputnik put USA on the back foot. With the whole Communism vs capitalist theme going at the time, the space program was wrapped up tightly with the US national identity (gotta show those Russians who's boss). Space was patriotic. Space was exciting. The USA were the people doing the space thing. Space was completely intertwined in the national identity as well as the identity of a generation (the kids who grew up in the space era).

    The whole national obsession with the space program drove the interest in science which bootstrapped a generation of scientists and engineers. It was not space per se that did this, but the obsession that saw Apollo models hanging from the ceiling in every second kid's bedroom. That obsession was linked not only to science, but to selling cars, pens, breakfast cerial etc.

    Just rolling out another space program will do nothing to help education and science unless it is accompanied by the passion. What are the defining obsessions of today?

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:11PM (#22161264) Journal

    Specifically, she wanted to redirect our scientific efforts from focusing on outer space and focusing on Earth, and more specifically, underwater exploration.
    something tells me that isn't the least bit likely. The temptation to spend the ten billion a year NASA uses on something entirely useless to science and the world as a whole is too strong. Meanwhile, we'll still be in Iraq for some idiot reason spending money 100x the rate the space program has and doing nothing but killing and seriously p---ing off the locals. The benefits to science and technology from the space program are worth a lot more than the cash that is put into space programs. Never mind the resources outside Earth just sitting on comets and asteroids, think of all the data we've gathereed from space about the Earth and the universe billions of light years away from Hubble.
  • by dragonfire5287 (1213386) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:22PM (#22161362)
    Actually, they are taking it from a more scientific standpoint and the view expressed by the Planetary Society's founder Carl Sagan. We've been to Luna, there is not much more for us to learn from landing on her. However, a near earth asteroid would provide us with a wealth of new scientific data and possibly provide us with metals we will need to use on Mars.
  • by monopole (44023) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:23PM (#22161368)
    An asteroid has a much less steep gravity well than the moon. This would save a lot of fuel over a stopover at a moon base. The moon makes no sense as a stepping stone to Mars, but an asteroid might.
  • by GeneralCC (1206630) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:33PM (#22161476)
    Frankly I have little faith in NASA. I'm sure there's going to be some attempt to go to somewhere in space someday somehow (their "new" space shuttle is having serious problems and not to mention it a mock up it of the Saturn rocket used decades ago). I believe that the private realm of business will become dominant over NASA in the coming years. There is definitely potential for profit in space and NASA is too concerned about analytical science to figure out how to answer the entrepreneurial aspects of space. For example on the moon an isotope of helium could be used to create pure burning fuel for nuclear reactors. It's been estimated that the amount of platinum on certain asteroids would have market value in the trillions. NASA is too busy fighting a stubborn bureaucracy to really tap space's potential. They are never going to make bring space to the common person. Rather, I believe that private industry will take over as the dominant space explorers. NASA should fill in as a watchdog over the private space industry. I believe NASA should foster the growth of the space industry.
  • by CokeJunky (51666) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:35PM (#22161500)
    I was always under the impression that the moonbase plan was not really a hopscotch for going to mars physically, but rather a proving ground to test, develop, and prove that it is feasible to set up permanent installations on other planetary bodies. If something goes wrong in a moon mission (i.e. that Apollo mission), it's only three days away, and there is at least a chance of bringing people back home. A screw up on a year-plus mission is more certain death.

    I couldn't imagine trying to do something like that on an asteroid or going straight to mars until we have figured out how to get to the moon, and stay there for a while!
  • Re:Asteroid mining (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xanthines-R-yummy (635710) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#22161540) Homepage Journal
    I agree, but judging by your nick and the fact that you post on /. suggests to me that you aren't like the rest of the U.S. (hell, I'd argue the world...) Rather unfortunate, I might add...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:49PM (#22161650)
    ... one of assumptions.

    If all you're going to do is a one-shot mission to the moon, mars or an asteroid, then it doesn't matter which one they do.

    They'll go to the moon/mars/asteroid, come home and pat themselves for a job well done and if we want to go back we have to do the whole damn thing over again.

    Heinlein said "Get to low-Earth orbit and you're halfway to anywhere". We need a truck stop in LEO. If we have someplace in LEO where we can stockpile fuel, food and water, it becomes much easier to start a mission from there than to carry everything in one go from the ground (and no, the ISS isn't even close).
  • by tsotha (720379) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:06PM (#22161820)

    Have any of you looked at what NASA conducts most of its research in? It ain't Velcro or Tang, boys. It's missiles and fighter jets. NASA was part of the Air Force, and that's largely still who it "works for". Ever looked at what most of the stuff the Shuttle was used to throw up into space? It ain't satellite TV. It's spy and military satellites...

    Oh please. NASA has very little to do with the development of missiles or fighter jets. All that stuff is done by the Air Force under separate contracts. Virtually all of NASA's money goes to manned spaceflight these days. The Air Force would like nothing better than to be rid of NASA, since using disposable launchers is much cheaper than using the shuttle. But they're forced to use the shuttle (or at least they were) to help justify its enormous expense.

    NASA doesn't "work for" the Air Force, unless you intend the quotes to show the statement is blatantly false. It's not a defense program or even a science program - it's a jobs program. The purpose of NASA is to steer money to specific congressional districts. And that's why, no matter how little it does, it will never be cut significantly.

  • Re:Objections (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:14PM (#22161870) Journal
    "Essentially, you get the Moon and Mars for only twice the amount as getting the Moon or Mars."

    OK, you've listed all the non-advantages for a moon program. Now how about some advantages?

    1) by developing technologies for hard vacuum, you are in a sense prepping for one of the hardest parts of the Mars mission, that is, a months/years long transit time. You have a nearly perfect platform for testing technologies outside of the Van Allen belt(s), exposing them for long durations to solar heating and occluded cooling. Note: developing the tech for an asteroid mission is essentially saying that 'we can already do this part' - can we? Reliably to put a crew's lives at risk over extended periods of time?

    2) long-term value: geopolitical, military, commercial, geographic - as you dismissively point out, there are theoretically (only!) 2 places where solar power access is continual. Possibly more importantly these two places (the poles) are also the only places where the sun, the earth, in fact the entire ecliptic (north or south) is in clear line of sight. How much are those two spots worth today? How much will they be worth in a century? Want to surveil deep space while having a straight line-of-sight link to earth? Want to have a launch point for a flinger that could theoretically put lunar materials anywhere in the earth-moon system with the simplest ballistic solution? I'd argue that being the first with a permanent base there has an INCALCULABLE value over longer timespans. And if you have the first base on one pole, it's not a giant stretch to put a second one on the other pole and monopolize both. The lunar poles - for near-earth space - are practically 21st Century Suez or Panama canals in their strategic value.

    3) raw materials: again, a lunar base in the longer term answers one of the bigger questions to space exploitation. Tossing something up to an orbiting factory or processor module is trivial from the moon, and the effectively limitless raw material (including rather important oxides) doesn't hurt. Going to an asteroid lets you explore, but bringing that back where it could be usefully exploited is an ENTIRELY larger project with propulsive technologies we aren't even CLOSE to having.

    Personally, if I were looking at it as a game of Civ or something, I'd say the asteroid is probably the cheaper, higher payoff short range program. The lunar base is the more expensive, slower-to-develop programs that ends up being the incontestable game-winning economic- and military-power multiplier in the endgame.

    Needless to say, I don't see nearly the value you do in an asteroid mission. I see THAT as the 'flash in the pan' while the idea of a lunar base is the investment-growth option, for Mars certainly, but also for decades if not centuries further on.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:15PM (#22161880)
    You appear to be under the illusion that NASA receives more than a fraction of a percent of the US budget.
  • Naw, the private sector will always be followers because there is no money in exploration for explorations sake. Well, no money for the initial company, lots of money for the contractor that build the technology.

    NASA is an investment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:59PM (#22162226)
    I have been saying *all along* that Bush's Space proposal is *pure* vapor. He mentioned it once to leave a scant legacy, he never mentioned it again, and he very trivially increased NASA's budget.

    I can't believe how many space enthusiasts took this obvious bait.
  • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @10:32PM (#22162486) Homepage Journal
    First, not liking an idea just because it is a Bush idea is not such a bad thing. The idea to start a war sounded good at the time, but now has grown the deficit to an astronomical percentage of GDP, and has left us with little room to wiggle out of a depression. On another idea of he and his friends, you might want to ask the good people Arlington if the 135 million dollar tax funded toy was really worth it. It was worth it for Bush as it earned him nearly 15 million dollars with almost no investment(FYI major legue baseball is played in a field that cost only $190 million dollars, in 1990 dollars.

    But lets leave the fact that Bush waste money at the speed of light. There are real reasons to wonder if the moon is the best place to settle. the primary issue is that getting things off earth is very expensive, and we are the realm of throw away rockets. One way to curb this expense is have reusable vehicles in LEO, and only worry about getting people to LEO. The parts for these vehicles could be launched as cargo, which is much cheaper than launching everything at human safety values.

    It is much better for us to be patient and develop LEO as a transit point. The fanciful idea of the moon as a vacation spot is like flying cars. I am sure that all this is real in the fairy tale mind of our president, but in the real world, where we do not have rich parent to make sugar daddy deals for us, we have to make real concessions and real sacrifices.

  • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @11:03PM (#22162740) Journal
    There are a few issues with your post I would like to point out.

    The main opposition is because Bush wanted it, and then didn't fund it. He wants a positive legacy (since his *ahem* other legacy isn't looking so hot), but he didn't want to spend any of the political capital necessary to actually do it. It's like his suddenly trying to jump start the Middle East Peace Plan he'd been ignoring for 7 years, only here it's even easier to just "mandate" that it be done without doing anything substantive to accomplish it. He gets to seem like a visionary in the present, and if it somehow ever happens he can claim credit, and if not, nobody will remember that niggling detail of his Presidency anyway.
    First, Bush asked for 1 billion in new funding and diverted some from the then 11 billion budget which was supposed to be skimmed from existing project over the next five to 11 years. He stated that he would go back to congress and request more money as it progressed. As it is, we haven't spent the real money on going to the moon so the non-funding issue seems minor as it is. I also remember a directive coming down the pipe scolding NASA officials for starting new projects with the lunar funding that was set aside in 2004-05.

    Second, your concept of the middle east peace process seems to mimic a headline news blurb. Bush and his administration has been working for middle east peace since the start of his first term. It wasn't until recently that he actually took a trip there outside of US military bases and war zones.

    You can argue not enough or soon enough, or a combination of both and be correct. But claiming he didn't care or didn't find is a little disingenuous. It may seem like that to you if your mostly paying attention to headline news and the sorts (some call it the drive by media) so I can understand the position.

    Bush's "Mars, Bitches!" plan, and resulting budget problems since now NASA had a huge new project to worry about and no additional money to do it with, was one of the factors that directly contributed to the scrapping of any Hubble repair mission.
    You mean the arguments about being risky and so on were a bunch of lies? Tell me, what costs has NASA created that has zapped up close to 12 billion dollars in less then 3 years without producing a vehicle yet? Last I head NASA wasn't in the habit of waisting money or am I wrong about that? Oh yea, I remember now, NASA has been ignoring the budget redirections and Congress has been earmarking portions of the funding and spending the money on anything they damn well pleased which caused the hubbub about Bush re-redirecting funds about a year or so ago. Hardly a problem because of lack of funding, Maybe lack of oversight of congress pilfering for their contributers and rogue NASA officials.

    I'm actually surprised that your even blaming this on Bush too. It seems that the democrats are the ones wanting to cut NASA's budget. They wanted to pull 500 million so they could 1.3 billion to the global AIDS fund. Instead, they ended up placing the 2007 funding at 2006 levels. I think they are just as hard if not harder on NASA then any republican congress. It all depends on who's contractors are donating money and who is in power at the time I guess. This seems hardly a one sided issue though.

    You want to talk about generating enthusiasm? The continued operation of Hubble would generate ten times more interest than a moon/mars plan that in the most optimistic thinking of a hypothetical plan by a guy who had no intention of being around to see any of it turned into reality isn't going to do anything for a decade.
    Isn't there a repair mission already scheduled for the Hubble? I think it is slated for 2008 and will replace the batteries, gyroscopes, a spectrograph, and the main camera which should put it back in operation until at least 2013.
  • Re:Objections (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @12:13AM (#22163194)

    2) long-term value: geopolitical, military, commercial, geographic - as you dismissively point out, there are theoretically (only!) 2 places where solar power access is continual. Possibly more importantly these two places (the poles) are also the only places where the sun, the earth, in fact the entire ecliptic (north or south) is in clear line of sight. How much are those two spots worth today? How much will they be worth in a century? Want to surveil deep space while having a straight line-of-sight link to earth? Want to have a launch point for a flinger that could theoretically put lunar materials anywhere in the earth-moon system with the simplest ballistic solution? I'd argue that being the first with a permanent base there has an INCALCULABLE value over longer timespans. And if you have the first base on one pole, it's not a giant stretch to put a second one on the other pole and monopolize both. The lunar poles - for near-earth space - are practically 21st Century Suez or Panama canals in their strategic value.
    Jeez, if monopolizing lunar (or martian) resources is what is to motivate our space programs, we may as well forget the whole thing. We should just cut to the chase and focus our resources on killing each other here on earth rather than wasting them extending our greed and petty bickering into space.
  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:19AM (#22163548)
    >The idea to start a war sounded good at the time

    Yeah if you were either a psychopath or a moron at the time.
  • by mulhall (301406) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @06:13AM (#22164890)
    Not unusually strong but "abnormally strong"?

    One can only imagine Michael Griffin gurning, blood vessels popping, perhaps some sort of fit...has someone got the utube clip?
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @06:55AM (#22165052) Journal

    Bush CUT NASA funding early on then he gave some of it back later with plenty of strings to undermine earth science. I vaguely remember this from his 1st term. Entering office he stopped a ready to launch mission and even refused to let Japan or the EU complete it (because it could have strengthened or weakened global warming theories.)

    Yep, he sure did. He cut it by 51.3 million in 2000 and another 10.8 million in 2004. Of course I'm thinking Clinton should have still been in office for the fiscal year of 2000 so I don't know if we can blame that on Bush. But NASA's budget has been cut 6 times between 1995 and 2004, 5 of which has been at the hands of republicans in congress and they ad up to less then the one the democrats were behind in 1995. This has nothing to do with the recent cuts though. This Wikki article will give an idea of the current struggles. [wikipedia.org]

    My point wasn't that Bush is great or anything. It was that bush didn't fail to fund anything, congress and NASA fail to follow his direction. And don't look for solace in either party, It is that they both do it and the dems seem to have a history of cutting it deeper them the republicans do. Don't look to them as a solution.

    It is completely reasonable to question everything government does; but especially when IT IS so WRONG so OFTEN. The people questioning the planning are some of the best people to speak up about it and are less likely to do something for purely political reasons than most people (not to mention how political the Bush appointed people often are)

    I don't disagree..

    I've always been against the moon and mars regardless of Bush; it totally makes sense for him to continue his record of pushing forward poorly debated bad policy. Man on Mars will happen when it makes sense to do so and it does not make sense at this time to do it; even then, as people are pointing out it makes more sense to hop off a rock than hop off the moon.

    Neither man on mars or man on the moon will happen while he is in office. I suspect the real reason for this poorly debated bad policy to goto both is to raise the bar on what America is capable of. This seems to be important when we aren't battling the Russians for which country is better but we have India, China, Japan and Europe entering the market. We are losing a holdout from the cold war where we were number one in a lot of these areas around the world. If we had a commitment like we did in the 60's, it could recharge schools and children to product productive adult ready to meet the challenge that we would be faced with. Look at all the side benefits we have seen from the last generations participating in the idea, among other things, I would think computers as we know them today are a result of push toward science and engineering and math we had left over from the space race. Unfortunately, I don't think it is working out as he had planned.

    By the time humans get there, robots will likely out perform them as they do already today. You won't have anybody extending manned mars missions by even a week in 50 years. So a human does a years work in 1 month, you can't even get a human on mars for 20 years so there is no comparison. When its CHEAPER, SAFER, and EASIER go to mars, but not to explore it-- exploration is best left to cheap disposable robotics (which only get better with time and carry the same type of instruments the humans would need to use.)

    There is some things that people are just better at. But I don't think th idea is to get to mars for the sake of getting there. It is to relive a time of being superior in education, science and math skills. A time when tasked with a challenge was just an excuse to outperform any limitation in existance at the time. You get the idea, I hope.

    Perhaps bush's worker program's lost money or some of that lost Kat

  • by pnewhook (788591) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @10:19AM (#22166298)

    Isn't there a repair mission already scheduled for the Hubble? I think it is slated for 2008 and will replace the batteries, gyroscopes, a spectrograph, and the main camera which should put it back in operation until at least 2013.

    Actually one of the first things Griffin did was to cancel a near complete robotic program to repair Hubble. He only allowed a shuttle repair after the huge backlash from both the public and scientific community. If he hadn't cancelled the program, Hubble would have been repaired / upgraded right now.

  • by tsotha (720379) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:43PM (#22173620)

    Yes. In theory that's half of NASA's charter. And, to be fair, they do still have the odd high-speed wind tunnel project. Scramjets, too, which you could argue may benefit the military someday. Maybe.

    But the shuttle is the Monster that Ate the Budget. Most of the aeronautic work has been defunded, and important scientific work like interplanetary probes and high altitude astronomy is hanging on a thread. This will only get worse. CEV's configuration was, in large part, chosen to ensure nobody who works on the shuttle will be put out of work. Since the 20,000+ people doing shuttle work comprise most of the shuttle's cost that's bad news for the agency's orphan children.

    The idea NASA's budget is primarily spent on "planes and missiles" is laughable.

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