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Obama Team Considers Cancellation of Ares, Orion 870

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-infinity-and-maybe-not dept.
HanzoSpam sends us this story from Space News, which begins: "US President-elect Barack Obama's NASA transition team is asking US space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year. ... The questionnaire, 'NASA Presidential Transition Team Requests for Information,' asks agency officials to provide the latest information on Ares 1, Orion and the planned Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher, and to calculate the near-term close-out costs and longer-term savings associated with canceling those programs. The questionnaire also contemplates a scenario where Ares 1 would be canceled but development of the Ares 5 would continue. While the questionnaire, a copy of which was obtained by Space News, also asks NASA to provide a cost estimate for accelerating the first operational flight of Ares 1 and Orion from the current target date of March 2015 to as soon as 2013, NASA was not asked to study the cost implications of canceling any of its other programs, including the significantly overbudget 2009 Mars Science Laboratory or the James Webb Space Telescope."
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Obama Team Considers Cancellation of Ares, Orion

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  • Results (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retech (1228598) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:40AM (#25924679)
    Nasa has actually given results for it's money. What kind of return on the investment do other agencies produce? Perhaps a comparison vs. a kneejerk reactionary policy may be a better way to handle things... yes?
  • Thank goodness (Score:1, Interesting)

    by 2.7182 (819680) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:43AM (#25924697)
    These programs are the SDI of Nasa, although SDI turned out to be useful strategically. Basically the money for these programs would be pork. Why not give it to the NIH and the NSF ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:55AM (#25924793)

    .... Lockheed and Boeing

    ULA is just a shell company created to please some stupid congressman.

    Just like USA (United Space Alliance), it is a group of companies that fight between each other and never gets the job done because one is always trying to sabotage the other.

  • Re:Results (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Byron II (671689) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:58AM (#25924803)
    As I understand it, the Saturn V was never really considered safe. It just had a small enough number of launches that nothing bad ever happened. According to Wikipedia, it only launched a total of 13 times. I think because it is so impressive (in terms of size and lifting capability) of a rocket and because it was lucky enough to never have a failure, it has become viewed as a safe, reliable workhorse.
  • by savuporo (658486) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:10AM (#25924879)
    This is the best thing that can happen to a space program. NASA should not duplicate already existing capabilities, in this case earth to LEO launch. LEO launch is a commercially available service, there is no need for government-operated launch business. NASA lunar architecture should be built around existing launch capabilities, its perfectly feasible to mount big lunar, martian and other exploration efforts with our currently existing 20MT class launchers, and it will work out cheaper, more robust and future proof Government sponsored R&D should happen on frontiers, not recreating exising services.
  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:12AM (#25924891)

    Don't get so full of yourself, the Russians and Chinese seem to be doing fine with capsule designs. A lifting body isn't the best choice just because you like it more. A composite lifting body design is expensive when you can't guarantee resuability. And we all know how the reusability of the Shuttle turned out.

    The whole point of using many smaller rockets is some little thing known as the economy of scale.

    It's also rather difficult to completely eliminate vibrations from a solid rocket without an advancement in the manufacturing process used to create the fuel.

  • by Burdell (228580) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:34AM (#25925035)

    X-33 was an unmanned test platform that would never reach orbit. A lot was learned before the project was cancelled, even though it never flew. One big thing that was learned was that we don't have the materials capability to make a composite fuel tank that works; both the O2 and H2 composite fuel tanks failed.

    X-33 and SS1 were both sub-orbital vehicles and did not have to deal with orbital re-entry speeds, so comparing to them is not valid. You can't magically lower re-entry speeds; orbital velocity is fixed and you have to slow down somehow. If you don't use a heat shield of some type and allow for atmospheric braking, you have to carry enough fuel and engines to slow down quickly throughout your flight (which is a huge waste of launch mass as well as greatly limits any orbital maneuvering).

    Also, the Saturn V was not the only launch vehicle from the 1960s; the Saturn 1B was also used for launches of just a capsule (the first Apollo capsule test, the Apollo-Soyuz flight, and the manned missions to Skylab). Rather than try to make smaller and larger man-rated vehicles, it makes more sense to focus on one for manned launches and one for heavy-lift unmanned launches.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:43AM (#25925089)

    Yes...it's an old debate. But if you have a tight situation, like what we're in, you should definitely cancel the pointless space station "shuttle" before James Webb which will do real science. There's always the "exciting the public" argument in favor of manned flight - but I'd venture to say hubble and the rovers have excited the public more than the space station anyhow.

  • Re:Thank goodness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OriginalArlen (726444) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:49AM (#25925125)
    I'm a huge fan and proponent of robotic exploration of the solar system. NASA, JPL, the aerospace contractors and their partners in universities across the world have done an amazing job with comparitively tiny sums of money. Alan Stern (the head of NASA's Space Science Directorate who resigned when his plan to make visible the pain caused by the massive cost over-runs on MSL by shutting down the Spirit MER rover was overruled by higher-ups) has recently pointed out that routine cost overruns are crippling NASA [nytimes.com]. Ares and Orion show every sign of following this trend, and for what? To keep alive the fallacious dream that seems rather too popular that Star Trek is a plan for future space exploration, rather than an entirely traditional drama turned to SF by the addition of magic impulse drive / dilithium crystal devices. When we've done a robotic Mars sample return, which although fiendishly hard to accomplish is infinitely more practical than doing a manned mission), let's talk about Moonbase Alpha or whatever. (And whilst we're at it, for god's sake abandon the ISS, the most expensive white elephant ever to wreck astronomical observations.)
  • by Smallphish (320591) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:55AM (#25925187)

    This is an incredibly pro-space piece of news out of the Obama team, but what gets the focus is the potential termination of the boondoggle Ares program.

    This article is far more interesting due to the last paragraph:

    "Obama's NASA transition team also appears to be interested in a number of specific projects that have more or less languished in recent years. Among those projects are: the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a mothballed Earth-observing satellite formerly known as Triana; agency efforts to catalog asteroids and comets that could threaten Earth; and the harnessing of space-based solar power for use on Earth."

    The article also alludes to a potential expansion of the COTS commercial space program, potential uses for EELV launchers, etc.

    If the Obama team is serious about these projects (especially space solar power) it would mean a revolution in space funding and a committment to space development that would make Ares pale in comparison. SSP would mean a real orbital infrastructure that would enable a huge number of possibilities, such as real lunar bases and mars missions, not plant a flag crap which is where Ares is headed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:15PM (#25925303)

    As hard as it is to imagine, "all that money" (circa $15 billion) means almost nothing to the health & employment programs of the US, not to mention the bailout packages. NASA might be first on the chopping block because it seems to define discretionary spending & the popular perception is that it costs far more than it actually does.

    Cancelling Area & Orion won't get people out of their troubles any faster. Repurposing it I can agree with, the whole project looks to have been mismanaged & rushed, but outright cancelling it will just set us back years for little to no real benefit.

  • It may not be cuts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by confused one (671304) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:21PM (#25925345)

    The parent poster and editor did a poor job describing the article. The obvious thing was the questions about cutting Ares 1. As mentioned, they also asked about Ares 5. What's missing, Obama's office also asked about:

    • Possibility of continuing Ares 5 without Ares 1
    • Extending the Shuttle to 2015
    • Possibility of adapting CEV to other launch vehicles, including Ariane
    • Cost of funding the entire suite of Earth observatory satellites
    • Cost of picking up the pieces and funding some of the cancelled programs

    What it sounds like to me is they're doing due diligence with the intention of possibly increasing NASA's budget; but, they want to spend the money as wisely as possible.

    For once, I with people would read the damn article before jumping to conclusions, even here, on /.

  • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:32PM (#25925423)
    ...and heat pipes.
  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ironchew (1069966) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:42PM (#25925495)

    Rant!
    This is the main beef I have with people who call themselves "anarcho-capitalist economic libertarian" etc. Social programs like healthcare apparently mean nothing, but when scaling back our gluttonous military-industrial complex (well over 50% of our federal taxes) is ever brought up, you guys sound all butt-hurt. Sure, it could be a different technocrat group, but it sounds like it's coming from the libertarian camp. If I were to cut back government spending, the "richest military in the world" budget would be the first place I'd look.

  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin AT hotmail DOT com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:54PM (#25925607)
    A recent report by the Washington Post reports that over $49 Million in farm subsidies has gone to people who make more than cut off $2.5 Million per year. I've never been a fan of subsidies to begin with, I bet you can imagine how I feel when anyone making millions a year gets a check for free money

    Link [washingtonpost.com]
  • by Teun (17872) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @01:04PM (#25925699) Homepage
    So you believe a nation can (or even has to) continue using a centuries old constitution with disregard for the changes that happened during that time?

    When the times required it amendments have been made to the US constitution, do you really think that (a constitutional amendment) is the only way to include healthcare in the list of things the federal government has the right to promote as part of the general welfare?

    Please have a look around, the rest of the world is screaming past you.
  • by Detritus (11846) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @01:44PM (#25926081) Homepage
    What company provides a man-rated LEO launch vehicle? Nobody.
  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:3, Interesting)

    by budgenator (254554) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:13PM (#25926345) Journal

    That's not going to happen, Obama is already planning an end run around the constitution by establishing a Civilian National Security Force

    He plans to double the Peace Corps' budget by 2011, and expand AmeriCorps, USA Freedom Corps, VISTA, YouthBuild Program, and the Senior Corps. Plus, he proposes to form a Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, Homeland Security Corps, Global Energy Corps, and a Green Jobs Corps. Here a corps - there a corps - everywhere a corps corps. Obama's Civilian National Security Force [nowpublic.com]

    That sounds like a lot of poorly trained "troops" on the ground not restrained by the typical constitutional limits on authority and funding that the Army is under.

    Expand Service-Learning in Our Nation's Schools: Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service- learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience. Green Job Corps: Obama and Biden will create an energy-focused youth jobs program to provide disadvantaged youth with service opportunities weatherizing buildings and getting practical experience in fast-growing career fields. Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan for Universal Voluntary Public Service [barackobama.com]

    So basically once anyone wanting a decent education will have to become one of Obama's brown shirts and submit to indoctrination the powers that be deem necessary. The eventual NASA cuts will just be part of the "throw the baby out with the bathwater" approach typical of radical anti-estabishmentarians.

  • by grahamd0 (1129971) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:28PM (#25926487)

    Certainly Obama and company can find better places to trim in this day of multi-trillion dollar giveaways.

    Maybe it would help them to determine that if they asked NASA for some sort of report on the actual cost savings of scrapping those programs?

  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:3, Interesting)

    by forkazoo (138186) <(wrosecrans) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:41PM (#25926573) Homepage

    "supposed to be doing" according to who?

    if the majority of Americans want public research into space exploration, medical research, and fundamental research, then it is the government's duty to carry out these wishes. the only hard rule about what a government ought to be doing is protecting the interests of its constituency. even in a world without military conflict (and thus with no need for "common defense") government will still be a necessity, just not in its present form.

    believe it or not, not everyone is paranoid about a Soviet/German/Chinese invasion or terrorist attack. defense is far from the only common interest shared by a society. certain things like road systems, public education, communications networks, power grids, and other vital public infrastructure cannot be built by a lone individual. they require the collective efforts & resources of a community to develop.

    likewise, law enforcement, emergency services, courts, etc. are all public services that a modern society needs to function. because most people don't want to live in a dog eat dog world where might makes right, we establish social institutions to ensure law and order and promote social justice. these institutions do far more for public safety on a day to day basis than a ridiculously expensive military.

    There are two similar, but distinct conversations on this topic. You replied to somebody who talked about the common defense because that's in the constitution. The only reason the US Federal government exists is because some people drafted a constitution to create it. It doesn't inherently exist, and it has no inherent authority or duties except what the constitution says. Talking about what the government should be doing according to the constitution is one conversation. It's supposed to be doing (in this sense) some of what you talk about. For example, the constitution explicitly mentions post roads, so an interstate transportation system is among its duties and obligations.

    There is also a conversation about what an ideal government in an ideal modern society ought to do. It sounds like this is what you are talking about. It's not a bad conversation. And, frankly I support the idea of the federal government being more involved in education, which you mention. But, it's important to realise that there are two different conversations going on between yourself and the person you replied to.

    If the federal government fails to provide for defense, then it is violating the rules that permit it to exist, and the citizens have a right to dissolve it and declare the government null and void. That's the deal. If we get to a world where defense seems like an archaic task for the federal government, we could certainly create an ammendment to change the list of things that the government is "supposed to be doing." But, it's not about "according to who." It really is a concrete, not personal opinion lists of things that the government is supposed to do. (Though, interpretations of that list are of course wildly variable! That's the fun of vague arhcaic language.)

    So, I'm not arguing with you. I'm just pointing out that you aren't arguing with the guy you replied to.

  • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:44PM (#25926601)

    Might as well dump the whole thing; if you pick and choose the whole document becomes pretty much meaningless. There is really no "supreme law of the land" anyway, it's what the government says it is at that current time.

  • by khallow (566160) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:45PM (#25926607)

    Only by excessive weight reduction and throwing away big chunks of the launch vehicle does space travel work at all.

    And? We can limit ourselves (as we do now) to weight reduction that isn't "excessive". And those parts of the vehicle (especially the propellant) aren't very valuable.

    We should resign ourselves to launching small satellites and planetary probes.

    This is the kind of silly nonsense you hear from people who listen to nonexperts. Astronomers are notorious in the space industry for making all sorts of poorly thought out claims. The problem is that because they are astronomers, they are seen as having some sort of experise in anything space-related. What's missing is an understanding of economics and manufacture. The launch industry needs a higher launch rate. That's it. All current vehicles have high fixed costs: launch pads, launch crews, and other overhead whether they fly or not. More vehicles means that those costs are divided over more vehicles. Second, with a high launch rate comes greater reliability and safety. That's because the launch crews are more experienced and there's greater knowledge of the vehicle's faults and quirks. Double the launch rate of any existing launch vehicle and you will reduce significantly the cost per launch.

  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:5, Interesting)

    by StopKoolaidPoliticsT (1010439) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:48PM (#25926637)
    Since 1967, the federal government has appropriated the excess monies paid into the Social Security system into the rest of federal spending because after just 4 years of the Great Society, politicians realized it was already bankrupting us. In return, Congress gave Social Security an IOU, promising to return the money when Social Security needed it.

    That is, Social Security money goes into the general fund and is spent as fast as it comes in. It isn't invested and it isn't saved for the day Social Security starts paying out more than it takes in (projected to be 2017). So, yes, Social Security is as much a part of the federal budget as national defense spening.

    The fun will be, come 2017, when Social Security becomes insolvent. Benefits will have to be cut for the baby boomers (pissing off an entire generation), taxes will have to be raised extraordinarily on the working age people (pissing off multiple generations) or we're going to have to deficit spend until there is no tomorrow, obliterating the value of the dollar. We've been playing games and sticking our head in the sand hoping that the day will never come, but it will... if it isn't 2017, it'll just be pushed back another couple years. The best part is, the people who are responsible for the decades of wasteful spending, appropriating Social Security money for federal spending, refusing to reform Social Security, etc will be dead and gone, having left us with trillions of dollars in debt while they lived it up at our expense.
  • Re:Cut taxes, then (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:54PM (#25926701) Journal
    FCS and F-22 are needed not for Iraq, but for a different mission all together; In case we are attacked by another super power. Keep in mind that we WERE the ULTRA power prior to W getting in (that is, that we were alone in capability). Now, W and the neo-cons have destroyed our ability to fight as well as have allowed countries like China to become a superpower (mostly by doing NOTHING about the theft going on AND our companies selling and transfering tech and knowledge to there). Roughly, W has created a HORRIBLE situation in which instead of 1 ultra power, we now have 3-4 superpowers, which tends to lead to wars.
  • by mrraven (129238) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:18PM (#25926881)

    Mod parent up insightful! Hint hitting the wasp nest of terrorist harboring countries with a baseball does nothing but infuriate the terrorists for you CAN'T kill them all when they hide in the population. Air strikes just increase recruitment.

    Here is another riddle what EXACTLY do programs like nuclear subs do in fighting terrorism? Bonus points for links to actual research and not just spouting neo-con talking points you heard on O'Relly and talking vaguely of "national defense" How does missile defense help us when it can be defated by child's mylar ballons? Again bonus points for real research to refute my points and not just vague platitudes.

    And no a non military response does NOT mean doing nothing, hint the British ended IRA terrorism with diligent police work and not bombing Ireland back to the stone age. Too bad irrational thirst for revenge tinged with more than a little racism that discounts the value of brown lives blinded to better, longer term solutions to the terrorist problem.

    Hint #2 we could feed all the world people for about 50 billion a year. This would certainly help drain the swamp of the bitter young hopeless men who are easy targets for Al Queda recruitment. If we did that and it worked we could probably cut military spending in half and save 300 billion by closing the vast majority of overseas military bases. How would you like if the Chinese had a military base here? Be honest in your answer. Investing 300 billion to save 300 billion sounds pretty good to me. And having the U.S. know not for an empire of bases but rather a network of real substantive foreign aid out posts that is feeding the world would make me proud to be an American. And now that we are committing crimes against humanity like torture and bombing cvilians? Not so much...

  • Re:Thank goodness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by feepness (543479) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:57PM (#25927135) Homepage

    These programs are the SDI of Nasa, although SDI turned out to be useful strategically. Basically the money for these programs would be pork. Why not give it to the NIH and the NSF ?

    "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." - John F. Kennedy

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @04:04PM (#25927189)

    The ISS is far from pointless. Its main objective was to keep thousands of Russian rocket scientists from looking for work elsewhere and it did a splendid job.

  • As much as I am a proponent about spaceflight, and I have even talked about what NASA R&D money has been spent on in the past, I have one huge question to ask about what NASA is today:

    What is NASA doing today that is "bleeding" or "leading edge" for any of the technologies they are currently using or planning on using in the next decade or so?

    Computers? Hardly. Most NASA computers on spacecraft are not only far from leading edge, they are often worse than what you have on the desktop or laptop you are using to read this /. posting.

    Metallurgy? Again, NASA used to be super advanced in this area, but private aerospace companies use materials far more advanced than anything NASA is using or planning on using for the Ares spacecraft.

    Rocket Fuel/propellants? Still no. Everything NASA uses is pretty much the same as they've used for the past 40 years... although there are a couple of small exceptions here. NASA doesn't plan on incorporating any of that more exotic propulsion technology into their main stream projects for some time, if ever. Again, private American companies (not to mention others outside of the USA) are doing far more than NASA in this area, both in terms of raw dollars spend and off-the-wall ideas on newer propulsion technologies.

    Spacesuit technologies? Again, private companies. If you want to look at some real innovation, check out what is happening for extreme skydiving groups pushing for higher and higher altitudes. NASA isn't leading the way in any of this effort by any stretch of the imagination.

    I'll give credit to NASA for their ability to remotely operate vehicles, but the UAV and other robotic programs in the military, much less in private research groups are doing far more complex tasks than anything NASA has been working on. While NASA may be at the front of technology here, they aren't doing anything to really advance anything here.

    I could go on, but the point is that while NASA was incredibly useful in the past for building up new technologies, they haven't been that driving force for quite some time. Part of that, and I dare say most of that, is because NASA has become a backwater agency with a pathetic budget, no goals, and has not been doing what it is supposed to be doing: Explore space. Travel to low-earth orbit is a solved problem, together with things like docking, guidance computers, tracking, and communications to low-earth orbit. All I see from NASA is more of the same, and highly paranoid administrators who don't want to take the risks necessary to push space technology beyond its current limits.

    If NASA sends astronauts to the Moon much less Mars, within the remaining years of my lifetime, I'll be shocked and floored. I don't see it happening, nor anything really exciting and new beyond exploring a few more moons, asteroids, and perhaps some of the outer planets like Eris. Even a return trip to Titan seems to be out of the running for some time to come.

    Show me the vision for the future, and I might be a little more excited. Even this initial request for information by the future Obama administration seems to be like an older truck with its transmission stuck in 2nd gear.

    Even the arguments about manned vs. unmanned spaceflight are getting very tiring here and not very exciting.

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