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Does Obama Have a Problem At NASA? 479

Posted by timothy
from the hey-what's-a-few-trillion-in-deficit? dept.
MarkWhittington writes "Has NASA become a problem for the Obama transition? If one believes a recent story in the Orlando Sentinel, the transition team at NASA, led by former NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver, is running into some bureaucratic obstruction." Specifically, according to this article NASA Administrator Michael Griffin made calls to aerospace industry executives asking them to stonewall if asked about benefits to be gained by canceling the current US efforts to revisit the moon; we mentioned last month that cutting Aries and Orion is apparently an idea under strong consideration by the Obama transition team.
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Does Obama Have a Problem At NASA?

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  • by diskofish (1037768) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:48AM (#26089327)
    It's hard to believe that NASA would be against their program being cut. While I like the space program,if it's going to be cut spending on nothing or cut spending on the space program I would pick the former. While I'd prefer to cut other things, NASA spending is probably one of the easier things to cut, from a political standpoint.
  • by Pumpkin Tuna (1033058) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:59AM (#26089441)
    Sorry, but I have taught kids and the best way to turn children into future aerospace engineers is to launch some new rockets. I have shown 3rd graders poorly drawn CGI of a Ares 1 launch and it was enough to garner "oohs," "aahs," and "I want to do thats,"
  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:16AM (#26089627) Homepage Journal

    Maybe you should fix whatever is wrong with yours

    Probably because the last guy who tried in earnest to do just that [wikipedia.org] got shot.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:43AM (#26089991) Homepage Journal

    Obama's transition team isn't asking NASA programmes only about cutting their budgets to zero. The review is also asking them about accelerating those programmes, increasing their budgets so their benefits are delivered sooner.

    Griffin, the Star Wars scientist / CIA "entrepreneur" [wikipedia.org], is stonewalling any change by the new Chief Executive (Obama). Which is of course threatening those projects even worse, because there's going to be less time to evaluate and save the worthwhile ones, as the economic meltdown accelerates and Obama's busy leading the nation fulltime. And of course the stonewalling shows an agency that will need an even more radical makeover by the new administration.

    But why should NASA be any different from the rest of the government Bush built? Hey, over in Congress, a minority of the minority Republicans in the Senate (next month their numbers shrink to a nearly insignificant count) are stonewalling even a bridge loan from money already allocated to Detroit. They destroyed New Orleans and New York. Maybe if a Christmas Earthquake hits California they can have laid waste on every coast except Alaska's - which they maybe managed with drilling in ANWR.

  • by theaveng (1243528) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:06AM (#26090323)

    >>>we need to increase taxes across the board by about 50% to pay the debt down

    Yes. Or even better: cut spending by 50% for the same effect. The excess unspent money (50 cents per dollar collected in taxes) can then be used to slowly but surely pay off the ridiculously huge debt we borrowed from the Chinese and other foreign nationals.

    Once the debt is minimized from trillions to millions, we will better be able to service the Baby Boomer SS/Medicare payouts from circa 2030-to-2060 without going bankrupt.

  • by mysticgoat (582871) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:16AM (#26090493) Homepage Journal

    It always amazes me the mistakes people make because they don't study history, or blatantly choose to ignore it.

    The USA defeated the communist Soviet Union by outspending them in the specific industry of aerospace technology.

    The USA did not defeat the communist Soviet Union through outspending on any type of technology. The Soviet Union came apart because that kind of intensely centralized control of information could not withstand the subversive nature of widespread use of personal computers... and at the same time adoption of personal computers became absolutely necessary to maintain the Soviet economy.

    More than any other single cause, the destruction of the Soviet Union came about because of the self-serving efforts of Mr Bill Gates, MS-DOS, and the explosion of business related personal computer software in the 1980s.

    Or maybe it wasn't Gates. It might have been the effect of Mr. Dan Bricklin's VisaCalc on the Soviet penchant for Five Year Plans. Gotta think about that.

    Should also think about the way a lot of rocket scientists end up managing to become highly trained and influential persons without getting up any actual education anywhere along the way. There should be a Public Health epidemiological study done. This phenomenon seems all too common any more, and it tends to break all kinds of societal structures, producing unhealthy situations that, if approached from a Public Health point of view, could and should be managed. The same way that Public Health is involved in quality control of sewer systems.

    Okay, that last paragraph was prolly over the top, maybe even to the point of seeming paranoid delusional. Please forgive me, for not yet have I ingested sufficient caffeine for this day.

    Hmm. On rereading this, I think I'm trying to out troll a troll. Oh well. I've got karma to burn and I haven't seen mod points in 5 years so WTF. Mebbe this'll amuse somebody.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:35AM (#26090801)

    The call is wonderfully easy.
    Simply put a moratorium on manned missions and scrap manned programs for ten, twenty, or thirty years.

    We are losing sight of why we need to explore space, which is to increase knowledge, wealth and power.

    Sending meat while our technology is in its infancy is romantic but silly. We can design everything so we don't need meat tourists and use remote control instead. The technology required to do things without people is IMO more valuable because it is more cost-effective than sending meat, supporting meat, and getting meat back alive. There is far less political cost to vehicle loss. Unmanned vehicles can make one-way trips, and can be sent off to fly through space for decades.

    Our robots should be superb. Our humans should stay home and be their masters.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:35AM (#26090817)

    Or that is what they tell you...

    Any Large organization runs more inefficient then smaller ones (unless the small ones are just poorly managed)
    Lets take a look at labor.
    For a small organization say 9 people.
    1 Boss at 2x salary and 8 people at x salary.
    average salary is 1.11x
    With 0.8888 productivity

    Now Here is a larger organization (a Larger Small - Midsize company)
    1 Boss at 3x salary
    8 Managers at 2x salary
    64 Employees at x salary
    average salary is 1.14x
    With 0.8767 productivity

    Secondly Americans don't want an efficient government, they system was designed to be inefficient on purpose. Efficiencies a trade off from compromise (A good compromise is when both sides are equally unhappy), being too efficient creates a situation where one side wins big and the other side looses big. Also an efficient government can lead to corruption and other evils and dictatorships, which is very dangerous.

    Third, if you think your government is efficient then you are probably getting a bunch of propaganda from the government. Say for example some countries are creating record debt for themselves because of socialized healthcare. So the people are happy but there is a fundamental problems that need to be addressed.

    Forth American Government is an open government, besides what the conspiracy nuts thinks. You can turn to CSPAN and watch on TV the debate for nearly every bill being passed. So you can see all the problems, while other more closed governments will hide this. Thus seeming more efficient

  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:39AM (#26090889)

    Ares and Orion are the correct solutions to a NASA that has been traveling down the wrong technological path for nearly 30 years.

    NASA has indeed been on the wrong path for 30 years. But trying to recycle the very same hardware that put them on that path is not the correct solution.

    The space shuttle has been the most expensive and epic failure in the history of aerospace technology. Not one single rivet from that program should ever be used again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:39AM (#26090893)

    Well considering that the FY 2007 budget total NASA was .62% of the budget whereas the DoD was 16.1% of the budget, I think you should look somewhere else for your money first. And don't bail out the douchebags on wall street.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Fy2007spendingbycategory.png , graph requires a lil graph reading abilities.)

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:54AM (#26091155)

    who say they refuse to cooperate with the incoming administration make me laugh. What part of a 79% disapproval rating for their, that is, Bush's administration and their work do they not get? It has been de rigeur to clap their hands over their ears, say nah-nah-nah-i-cant-hear-you, and ignore reality for years in their places of work, but the reality train is about to run them over and they better get the hell out of the way.

    Obama doesn't seem like a vindictive guy, but absolutely pissing off the incoming teams at NASA, NSF, and all the other agencies that fund research and buy big dollar systems with these antics is a 100% sure-fire way to kill your career dead, dead, dead. What company, university, or lobbyist is going to hire a guy who is persona non grata if not dickhead #1 with the only game in town, aka the federal government?

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:08PM (#26091357) Homepage

    The space shuttle has been the most expensive and epic failure in the history of aerospace technology. Not one single rivet from that program should ever be used again.

    Don't be such a Drama Queen... The Shuttle program is a screwed up kludge, but, like many screwed up kludges (say, for example, the Internet), you can move forward instead of constantly reinventing the V2. The Shuttle (and it's attendant support programs and staff) work pretty well. Some spectacular failures - both of them directly attributable to managerial decisions gone wrong. But the damn thing actually works.

    NASA should work on a next gen system that doesn't use recycled Shuttle components. But that's a long ways away. Orion / Constellation is (are) a reasonable interim solution.

  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:10PM (#26091393)

    RS68s are being used because they have 80% fewer parts, meaning less things to go wrong.

    Also using direct for LEO is a waste of resources. Ares 1 is a much better solution for reaching the ISS and sending crews into space.

  • Especially when they decided to drop the Space Shuttle Main Engine in favor of the RS68 engine due to cost. The RS68 is cheaper, but much less efficient than the SSME.

    Your analysis is extremely one-sided. The SSMEs may be 10% more efficient, but they're also heavier, more complex, and more expensive to build. Like the use of the J-2s (which I was initally opposed to for similar reasons), the use of the RS-68s was a cost-cutting and reliability measure that made a lot of sense.

    The DIRECT project is where we need to be.

    You do realize that DIRECT also suggests the use of RS-68 engines, right?

    While I think DIRECT is a decent proposal, I have two key issues with it:

    1) The proposal was pushed part-way through the development of the Constellation program. This is a BAD idea. If you keep changing direction in the middle of a program, you will never have a launch vehicle. At some point, a firm decision has to be made and stuck with even if it's slightly less ideal. The only reason to outright cancel a program should be that it is failing in the feasibility department. Then you need to kill the program least it become a matter of sunk cost. The decision of the Constellation program was already made. Now we need to see it through.

    2) DIRECT relies on a one-size-fits-all vehicle. This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. It was a bad idea during the Apollo program, but it worked due to the unique political situation. Once that political situation disappeared, NASA was told to stop flying the SatV. Immediately, they were then told to produce a one-size-fits-all vehicle that would be cheaper to operate. We call such cost-savings "The Space Shuttle". If you work out the projections, I'm sure you can figure out how many negative billions of dollars it has "saved" us.

    An additional concern I have with DIRECT is that there is no guarantee that there won't be cost overruns with that program. Given the history of NASA engineering, I'd even say that overruns would be likely. Remember, this is rocket engineering. There are no easy answers. Only complex answers and REALLY complex answers.

  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:32PM (#26091775)

    The Shuttle (and it's attendant support programs and staff) work pretty well.

    No, they do not. They were originally supposed to be run like airliners, with a cost much lower than expendable rockets. They utterly and completely failed at that goal. Instead, it is by far the most expensive and unreliable (in terms of multi-year gaps in operational capability) launch system ever deployed, with cost ending up orders of magnitude greater than promised. The shuttle should have been canned in the late 70s as soon as they figured out that they had completely blown their original goals. (Yeah, the Air Force messed up their plans, blah blah. So what; they should have had the balls to dump project and start over.)

    I don't care that much about the thing blowing up a couple of times; that happens with rockets. (Although any engineer who's not an incompetent idiot designs redundancy and/or escape systems to minimize loss of life in those incidents.) The real tragedy here is how much of the taxpayers' money has been wasted on this lobbyist-driven boondoggle over the decades, and what we could have achieved in space, had we spent that money wisely.

  • by Pumpkin Tuna (1033058) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:58PM (#26092135)
    You are absolutely right. The key word there is "play." The best education comes when kids do authentic projects they are interested in with support from teachers who are willing to let the spotlight be on the student instead of the teacher. This, you'll note, is NOT the way most high schools work. We need to get away from "testing" kids and move towards letting them "play."
  • 10% is a huge difference in the context of rocket engines and vehicle design.

    Not in this case, it's not. The use of the RS-68s as part of the ground-launch engine stack means that pure thrust actually outweighs the need for efficiency. That's why there are Solid Rocket Boosters strapped to the side and why the Saturn V used kerosene-powered engines in the first stage rather than the more efficient LHOx engines.

    In fact, the RS-68 is two seconds MORE efficient at sea level than the SSMEs in exchange for the 43 second difference in a vacuum. Which, again, makes the engines ideal for ground-launches.

    That change should have precipitated a full-blown re-evaluation of options, and it didn't.

    Yes it did. There were only two engines on the market that would meet the needs: The SSME and the RS-68. Arguments were heard on both sides. The initial decision to come out of the arguments was that the SSMEs would be used on the first generation of the vehicle with a switch to RS-68s in the second generation of vehicle. Because the RS-68s provide almost double the raw thrust, greater payloads would be realized in the second generation of the vehicle.

    As it worked out, the RS-68 reached stability and completed testing soon enough to be considered for the first generation of vehicle. Given the significant cost savings in using these engines (~$36 million/engine), it became almost a no-brainer for NASA to switch over.

    As far as changing horses goes, this horse is still in the barn and will be for six more years.

    If you've already retooled your factory, you'd have to either have a damn good reason to lose that investment (e.g. you just retooled for Hummers and gas is now at $4/gal) or you'd have to be an idiot who likes losing money. Changing programs in mid-stream fits the latter definition.

    Developing one vehicle and one launch infrastructure to accomplish all current goals, instead of two completely different vehicles, two completely different launch infrastructures, two completely different everything, seems like an obvious decision to make.

    Only to the average layman. For anyone who has even a modicum of understanding in how rocketry works, it becomes clear that two separate vehicles based on the same technologies will be far cheaper in the long run. Why? Because your big vehicle is more complex than your small vehicle. By having to man-rate the big vehicle, you're loosing the cost-savings realized in flying 100s of tonnes of cargo in a single shot. Meanwhile, you're spending more money to send people into space than if you had a smaller, less complex vehicle that was purpose-designed to get people into space.

    To use a car analogy, DIRECT is like purchasing a semi as your primary vehicle because you occasionally need to haul a large amount of stuff. Does it make sense to keep driving the semi when 90% of the time you just need to go to the store? Sure, you can unhitch the trailer before using it for day-to-day activities, but that doesn't mean you're saving money on gas. Quite the opposite! Not to mention the safety problems of trying to fit such a large vehicle into roadways and spaces designed for smaller consumer vehicles.

    Having two launch vehicles is a no-brainer. Any one-size solution is wrong-headed and significantly outside the bounds of what is ideal under current technological limitations.

  • by rk (6314) on Friday December 12, 2008 @01:32PM (#26092689) Journal

    I have to respectfully disagree with you about Griffin. I don't necessarily have a problem with the direction he's taking (In fact, I concur with his ideas for a new manned program and end-of-lifing the shuttle) but the mistake he made was that he claimed he could do all this on the budget he's given. I know asking for more money isn't popular, but he also needs to give Congress and the president a reality check and say "We're trying for another Apollo-level project on a mac-and-cheese budget. We've got to get more money for this."

    I suppose we could get it by scrapping the science missions, but at least in the case of the Mars missions, a lot of that is gathering information for an eventual manned mission there. Canning all space science for five years doesn't end space science for five years, it ends it for a generation because all those teams will fall apart, and melt into industry and academia and it will take a decade or more to get where we were before. NASA's space operations budget needs to be increased. I wonder how many people know that just "No Child Left Behind" costs about 20% more than the entire NASA budget, and I don't know too many people who have a kind word for that program, apart from politicians.

  • by ab8ten (551673) on Friday December 12, 2008 @01:37PM (#26092741)
    Jupiter is still very much alive, and the team is busy making presentations to and reports for all the interested parties in this situation. Take a look at this thread over at nasaspaceflight for the latest rumblings: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=12379.3250 [nasaspaceflight.com]
  • by jafac (1449) on Friday December 12, 2008 @01:57PM (#26093019) Homepage

    well, that and the solids idea is pork for Morton Thiokol. . .

    (and, the fact that what comes out of the tail end of those things is horribly toxic for the environment.

  • by Dawn Keyhotie (3145) on Friday December 12, 2008 @02:03PM (#26093131)

    I am not saying that they should have chosen a different engine, and as you point out Direct also uses the RS-68. I am saying they should have re-evaluated the architecture and chosen a better approach.

    In the DIRECT plan, the Jupiter-120 is the equivalent of the Ares-I. It simply removes the Shuttle and puts the crew capsule on top of the shuttle stack. The J-120 can lift a fully functional capsule plus 25 metric tons to low earth orbit.

    The Ares-I can barely lift a stripped-down capsule to orbit, and has no cargo capacity.

    The Jupiter-232 is the equivalent of the Ares-V. It consists of the exact same components as the Jupiter-120, with the addition of an upper stage. The J-232 can lift 110 metric tons to LEO.

    The Ares-V will have to lift a huge amount material to make up for the inability of Ares-I carry anything but a small crew capsule. NASA is still trying to figure out how to launch that much mass, and the Ares-V design is changing all the time.

    Both approaches require two launches to get to the moon. Direct requires development and support of a single vehicle. Ares requires two completely different vehicles. There is no economy of scale, no saving through commonality, etc, etc.

    An Ares-I + Ares-V mission will lift about 165 tons to orbit.
    A dual Jupiter-232 mission will lift about 220 tons to orbit.

    In spite of your assertion that Ares will save money, it will actually be much more expensive, and NASA will not be able to fly nearly as many missions as it could with Direct. NASA is paying to develop two vehicles, two launch infrastructures, two support facilities, two of everything. It is not cheaper, not even close.

    Cheers!

  • by ktappe (747125) on Friday December 12, 2008 @02:10PM (#26093239)

    Michael Griffin is the best thing to happen to NASA since the Apollo program.

    Then why is he canning the shuttle before the replacement is ready? I know the stated reason is that he doesn't have enough resources for both, but I still find it very disturbing that we are planning for a minimum 5 year period during which we (supposedly the richest and most powerful country on the planet) have no manned space program at all. And that continues to be a major "WTF?" in my book. So if Mr. Griffin is the "best thing to happen to NASA," then I don't want to know what the worst thing would have been.

  • by chrb (1083577) on Friday December 12, 2008 @03:01PM (#26093943)

    The problem is believing that you were the one that did the forcing. When you perform some actions, and then some events occur, it is human tendency to correlate the two and believe that you somehow "caused" the events through your actions. This is a particularly appealing train of thought when the events happen to concur with your world view point.

    The Power of Nightmares [wikipedia.org] provides an interesting insight in to the various viewpoints surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union. Americans were told by the Neo-Con government that the United States had defeated the Soviet Union through proxy wars (e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan) and big spending on military projects like the Strategic Defence Initiative [wikipedia.org], and that belief persists to this day. Meanwhile, the Islamists fought a hot war against the Soviets for a decade in Afghanistan, until eventually the Soviets retreated and the Union collapsed. Thus, Islamists and those with a similar world view believe that they defeated the Soviet Union and brought about its collapse.

    Most people in the rest of the world think that it was long term economic instability and a stagnating economy that brought about the end of the Soviet Union. The other events may have been contributing factors, but the essential issue was that the combined economic and political model of the Soviet Union was flawed, and it would've fallen apart sooner or later anyway.

  • Re:Frankly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday December 12, 2008 @03:32PM (#26094365)

    Of course, humans can change. But when climate change is happening very rapidly (as is the case now), neither we, nor other species, will be able to compensate fast enough, and the results can be devastating.

    Two observations. First, climate isn't changing rapidly. Second, humans have a long history of quick adaptation to changes, whether due to climate or other causes.

  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:16PM (#26095097)
    Ares and Orion are the correct solutions to a NASA that has been traveling down the wrong technological path for nearly 30 years.

    I personally know four NASA engineers currently working on Ares (one of whom is my best friend and whose equipment on board Cassini is largely responsible for the quality of the images it returns) that strongly disagree with this assessment, and they in turn know a lot more. A couple of other folks my friend stays in contact with are former co-workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center who happen to be propulsion engineers, and he tells me the general attitude of those people is that what NASA's attempting to do with the Ares I is just ludicrous, and they expect no end of problems with the idea of using a solid rocket for the sole means of propulsion for the first stage.

    There are a lot of people that believe Ares is largely corporate welfare for Thiokol, and frankly I believe them. Thank you, Senator Orrin Hatch.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:28PM (#26097709) Journal

    This isn't about canning all of NASA, it's about canning an incredibly poor-designed project which has taken away funding from several other science and technology projects at NASA.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:25PM (#26098371) Journal

    As I mention in another comment [slashdot.org], the member of Obama's space transition team are very much pro-space exploration, and are huge space advocates. The problem is that Griffin's rocket design has itself been "hindering NASA's progression," gutting or canceling other NASA projects to pay for the inherently-flawed Ares.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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