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Obama Moves To Link Pentagon With NASA 491

Posted by Soulskill
from the thought-they-wanted-to-save-money dept.
Amiga Trombone sends this quote from the beginning of a story at Bloomberg: "President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the US's civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China. Obama's transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency's planned launch vehicle, which isn't slated to fly until 2015, according to people who've discussed the idea with the Obama team."
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Obama Moves To Link Pentagon With NASA

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  • by That_Dan_Guy (589967) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @10:30AM (#26319833)

    That's what they do. If this story is true, it is likely they have his ear.

  • I voted for Obama because I was hoping he was pro-peace.

    It seems that not only was I wrong, I was very naive.

    I was already concerned about his wanting to send more troupes to Afghanistan, but now this????

    1. Once again, the push to go to space is for all the wrong reasons. I don't want to see space militarized, and yet that's exactly what we're seeing.
    2. The government always needs a boogeyman to keep us off-balance. The cold war with Russia carried it for a while. Then when the walls came down and the USSR went bust, various domestic issues became the bogeyman, including a way over-inflated "danger" of child kidnapping and all the "dangers" of the Internet. Let alone the so-called "drug war", etc. Then it was "terrorist threat", ushered in by the events of 9/11. And now that that issue has fallen out of vogue, China is now going to be the next boogeyman.
    3. There will be a major culture clash between NASA and the Pentagon whilst they become "linked". The openness of NASA is at direct odds with the secrecy of the Pentagon, just for starters.
    4. Eventually, the Pentagon will push for more and more control and influence over NASA, and "reasons" will be created to "justify" the further militarization of NASA.
    5. China is a wildcard in all this, but this demonization will only hurt relations, and lead China to escalate its efforts. Also, keep in mind that China already has the US by its financial balls in a very assymetrical fashion, and I'm not sure what that would portend. But it does give China a lot of leverage over the US.

    Many years ago when everyone was so busy with 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the like -- and even before 9/11, I had always told everyone to keep eyes on China, for they would become the next rival of the US in the 21st century. And it would seem I was correct in that assessment.

    I also say something else: keep an eye on the relationship between Russia and China, as I suspect they will become strong allies in the years and decades to come, as a counter to the US and the EU.

    My 2 cents' worth of analysis of the geopolitical situation. Take it for what it's worth. Oh, and stay tuned.

  • by Mathinker (909784) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:09AM (#26320031) Journal

    My interpretation of the article is not that Obama will want DoD staff to help manage NASA projects, but rather he wants NASA to be able to use already developed DoD rocket technology (which is now too classified for NASA to use). Since it's already developed, the over-budget and over-time has already been paid for....

  • by Shakrai (717556) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:31AM (#26320153) Journal

    I was already concerned about his wanting to send more troupes to Afghanistan, but now this????

    Umm, Afghanistan != Iraq. You do remember why we are over there, right?

    The government always needs a boogeyman to keep us off-balance. The cold war with Russia carried it for a while.

    I don't think the populations of the countries that were effectively annexed by the Soviet Union thought of them as a mere bogeyman. The Cold War came about when the Soviet Union refused to honor her wartime agreements and decided to annex Eastern Europe. It didn't come about because our Government needed a bogeyman to distract the population.

    but this demonization will only hurt relations

    So we should turn the other check when they oppress human rights and just keep doing business with them as usual?

    Also, keep in mind that China already has the US by its financial balls in a very assymetrical fashion, and I'm not sure what that would portend. But it does give China a lot of leverage over the US.

    How do they have us by the 'financial balls'? They could dump their holdings of US Treasuries and pull the rug out from under that market -- but that would hurt them (and the rest of the World for that matter) at least as badly as it would hurt us. They have 400,000,000 people they need to pull out of poverty. That isn't gonna happen if they undermine their biggest trading relationship.

    I had always told everyone to keep eyes on China, for they would become the next rival of the US in the 21st century

    They may well become our rival. We'll see. We aren't without our own strengths and they aren't without weakness though. We might see a different World in the 21st century but we'll still be around.

    keep an eye on the relationship between Russia and China, as I suspect they will become strong allies in the years and decades to come

    It's just as likely they'll become rivals as it is they will become allies. Either way, it's part of the geopolitical game. We're laying the foundation for a future relationship with India. Think India might be a useful counterweight to China?

  • by Mordant (138460) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:41AM (#26320217)

    Yes, but the thing is, *we know how to do all that*, we've done it before. Far better and easier and cheaper, IMHO, than this Ares nonsense with SRBs ready to kill the crew during launch.

    Hell, we could take the Saturn Vs lying on the ground (3-4) of them, the unflown CMs and LMs lying around, and refurbish them, for starters!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:10PM (#26320421)

    ...that the military hasn't been running a black budget man in space program right along all this time. Their budget is huge compared to nasa, and right in the article, they have heavy lift rockets perfectly good for the task. And who's to say they don't have a two stage to orbit rocket plane or hybrid scramjet/rocket whatever dropped from a mothership already? Like they are going to brag about this, or we take it as gospel that they just stopped developing black budget advanced flying craft 40-50 years ago? The last one they finally fessed up to is the B2, we are now being made to believe they just gave that sort of research and deployment up? Really? They just stopped? And look at the near hysterical fit they went into when that dude in england hacked into some servers and he claims he found evidence of *just that*, a running black budget military manned space program. They want that guy shut up, locked away for the rest of his life in the US. Why? He didn't do anything but look, no damages, seems like a two year sentence or something like that is his native country would be sufficient, but nope, they went into serious overdrive to get him extradited.

    Don't dismiss the thought out of hand. My guess is, because I have yet to see any evidence that they have given up black budget advanced aeronautical research, is that we had the technology for man in space a long time ago now, and the military just kept doing it, with the nasa efforts beng the public misdirection effort to keep focus elsewhere for deniability purposes, They just got better at burying stuff inside the black budgets.

      Space is the high ground, no way in hell would they NOT want that advantage, including having humans up there and a way to quickly get them up and back. There's another guy out there who has been imaging rather large and pretty secret orbital craft, I don't have the url handy but I have seen his pics, those are some really large spacecraft, some of they completely large enough to hold a small crew.

  • by evanbd (210358) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:14PM (#26320451)

    While I agree with your conclusions, we can't just dust off the Saturn designs and reimplement them. For one, we don't have all the details. Some of them have been lost. For another, you'd have to redo a lot of things anyway -- do you really want to be using Apollo-era electronics? If you did, where would you get them? It would make sense to update the alloys used, at which point you have to recheck all the design parameters.

    Of course, I'm all in favor of building an all-liquid rocket that focuses on reliability over performance by doing things like modest chamber pressures and gas generator cycles, and eschews the minimal gains and large headaches of hydrogen in favor of kerosene. Huh, where have heard that before [spacex.com]? Building to similar specs as the Saturn V makes a lot of sense as well; it's an appropriate size for such a vehicle. But any idea that we can just dust off the old designs is as much a fantasy as the idea that the new Orion SRBs are just retouched Shuttle ones.

  • by lee1026 (876806) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @01:20PM (#26320957)

    It is entirely possible that they have given this stuff up. Keep in mind that the B2 was fairly close to being done by the time that Clinton came in. Clinton cut the military's budget by a fair amount, and black budget stuff is the easiest to cut (by definition, not very many people needs to know about it)It is somewhat doubtful that Bush can afford to keep funding these things, considering the wars that he is fighting, and the high tech planes he is funding. In any case, the military is hardly in desperate need of better stuff, and that the air force would probably much rather spend any of this money on F-22s anyhow.

  • Re:hallelujah ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skye16 (685048) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @01:32PM (#26321039)

    In all honesty, I'm for it. We don't have the phat loots right now to be going to the moon, or to mars, or any crazy shenanigans like that.

    Much like my retired grandmother, we have just about enough money to make a weekly run to the grocery store and church, provided our means of transportation doesn't break down.

    Unfortunately, that isn't the case right now. The shuttles are a bust, as unfortunate as that is.

    So our choice now is either scrap it entirely or piggyback on some military technology, provided it won't jeopardize national security in the process. If it would end up posing a grave threat to our security, then fuck it. We'll stay at home for a while. If it only poses a modest threat, then I'm for it. It's worth the risk, imo.

    With that said; NASA needs to run NASA missions and the AF needs to run AF missions. There's no reason to merge the two into one organization. NASA takes care of all the fluffy civilian stuff, and the AF can throw up military satelites to their heart's content. I'm fine keeping that as it is.

    But there's nothing wrong with sharing technology between the two organizations.

    That's my opinion, and whether a Democrat or Republican agrees with me, it doesn't make a whit of difference to me. Hell, you could say "robo mecha cyborg hitler (from hell) also agrees!" and I wouldn't give a shit.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @03:28PM (#26321887)

    -The American manufacturing base is declining.

    Source? Everything I've seen shows record industrial output [economagic.com] prior to the recent economic downturn. What indication do you have of a reversal in this long-term trend?

    -High school graduations and the overall literacy is down the tubes.

    Once again, the data that I could find [childtrendsdatabank.org] contradicts your claim. Why do you think any recent spike in dropouts is anything other than a temporary aberration in the larger trend?

    -The Baby Boomers are about to retire.

    That was certainly the case a few months ago, but the stock market crash took care of that problem. The evaporation of so much wealth has pushed out retirement [cnn.com] for a lot of boomers.

    -The 50+ trillion National Debt (by 2020) needs to be paid, or at least serviced, which means much higher taxes (and much more job loss)

    First of all, remember that even with low inflation $50 billion in 2020 is likely to be worth about $38 billion in today's dollars. Second, I find it hard to believe that people will continue to loan the US that much cheap money. If we run up that much debt, it will almost certainly cause high inflation. Cash would be a very bad position to be in with high inflation, as would bonds. If you have the stomach for commodities, they would probably weather inflation pretty well. So where would you suggest putting money in a high-inflation situation? Personally, I'm going for real estate pretty soon. But like I said, equities seem fairly well-priced right now, too.

    And what do you think Obama can do?

    Not much - the fed has pretty much blown its wad. The best I can hope for is that he spends all of this debt money on infrastructure, so that we at least get something lasting out of the political stunt called "stimulus".

    Do you think his voodoo reaganomics will spend us out of trouble?

    Reaganomics was usually applied to "trickle-down" theory, which isn't really what Obama is proposing. Nevertheless, any stimulus isn't going to change the broad direction of the economy, but it might take the edge off. The government is a lot bigger than it was during the depression, so don't try to compare government action then and now.

    If I were you, I'd convert your stocks into gold and get the hell out of here.

    Gold is way too erratic for me. If I had been a really smart guy and seen the stock crash coming in late september, I might have transferred to gold. Unfortunately, the price of gold crashed along with the stock market (after an initial spike). Now, it has since recovered - so if I held on to it I'd be fine, but no better off than if I'd stayed in cash. And who knows what it will do tomorrow? It's varied by roughly 15-20% in just the last month or so.

    Starving dudes with loose nukes, that's what it's coming to.

    Now you've lost me.

  • by khallow (566160) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @04:15PM (#26322269)

    What worries me in this plan is shifting the focus from science to defense objectives.

    Don't see why. Defense objectives are valuable. Space science is far less so. That's the primary reason that the DoD receives something like 20 to 50 times the funding that NASA receives. I think the concern here about NASA becoming, under an Obama administration, a subordinate program to the DoD is completely outlandish.

    What I think is the real driver for this idea is that the DoD often has to do part of NASA's job in order to sucessfully pursue defense objectives in space. A key example is space launch. Supposedly in the 70's, NASA needed DoD funding in order to complete the Space Shuttle. In return, the DoD would be able to use the Shuttle in order to launch the biggest defense satellites to date. This worked ok till the Challenger accident in 1986, which shut down the Shuttle program for two years. Given the unreliability of the Space Shuttle, the DoD pursued development of the Titan IV, one of the most expensive platforms ever developed in cost per launch. In response to the Titan fiasco, the DoD started the EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) program. They sponsored two launch vehicles, the Delta IV and the Atlas V with the idea to generate competition and launch platform redundancy by having two launch vehicles in the same class rather than just one. This was a truly novel idea. Before that, NASA encouraged, during the 80's and 90's, narrow monopolies in various launch niches of the commercial US launch market.

    NASA again disrupted this effort by selecting the Ares I instead of one or both of the EELVs for its manned space flights after 2011. If in 2005, NASA had selected the EELVs, my take is that we'd already have manned flights and no "gap" in manned space flight after 2011. NASA could be developing the next heavy lift vehicle. We wouldn't have consolidation of the two EELVs under a single company. And so on. Point is that in the critical area of launch vehicle markets, NASA has really messed things up (aside from the COTS program) while the DoD has been building up the commercial launch industry.

  • Re:hallelujah ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:21PM (#26322827)

    What this is starting to look like is the DoD grabbing a chunk of NASA's budget for their secret programs. We might never get to the moon this way, but lots of Star Wars hardware will get built on NASA's dime.

    Mil spec hammers don't cost $500. They cost $20, just like at Home Depot. The other $480 dissapears into a black ops project.

  • by suffe (72090) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:50PM (#26323537) Homepage Journal

    Again, nice calculations. I haven't bothered to look into them as such. Perhaps that sounds presumptuous.

    I'd just like to warn you slightly. Odds are you have not considered the time-value of money in your calculations. It's a common enough error and I won't try to go into detail too much here. I'm just noting it for your own (and others) benefit. Suffice it to say that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. By paying off a loan faster you are paying it off with more expensive dollars (the earliest the most so).

    If you were to delve into the banks calculations and look at things, you would most likely find that there is not that great a difference as to if you pay it of in 15 or 30 years. Of course they make a profit from you if they have you as a customer for longer, but the difference will be smaler than you would be led to believe from your calculations.

  • Re:hallelujah ! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by philwx (789834) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:43PM (#26324525)
    Oh noes! My feelings are hurt! I'll quote it again (even though you did):

    "Well that's the point of the factionalisation and faux-rivalry of US politics, isn't it? To get people so divided into their allegiance to a party name that you can then pull the same shit with either party and only 50% of the people will complain whilst the rest are obliged to rationalise it somehow."

    My question is how is Obama "pulling the same shit?" If you can answer that, you'll kick my ass in this discussion.

  • by khallow (566160) on Monday January 05, 2009 @01:36AM (#26326517)

    Requiring NASA to use DoD launch resources is a bad and costly idea.

    The EELVs are specified by the military, but they aren't military vehicles. They are made to order by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) which is jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

    The reason is man-rated products versus launch-rated products. The EELVs are launch-rated, meaning for cargo only. NASA products used for the STS are man-rated, requiring significantly higher costs to develop than launch-rated products. The solid fuel booster and external fuel tanks are already man-rated systems and require far less cost to convert to the Ares system than converting launch-rated EELV systems to man-rated systems.So, NASA went with proven systems to keep costs and development times to a minimum. It's my opinion that trying to convert to the EELVs would put NASA at least another 4-5 years behind the current timeline.

    The myth of "man-rating" rears its ugly head. As I understand it, there are two primary parts of this nebulous criteria. First, every part of the flight has to have a survivable (though not necessarily injury-free) abort option. The second is that the acceleration profile can't be too harsh. This has implications for the entire vehicle. For example, to detect a scenario where one needs to abort the launch, the vehicle needs some sophisticated avionics (this is a need for EELVs in particular). Second, virtually all measures cause some hit to performance of the vehicle. A lower acceleration profile means more delta v lost to gravity and perhaps air resistance, for example.

    It is interesting in this light to realize that the Space Shuttle is not man-rated. The first two minutes when the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) are lit do not have an abort option. Similarly, NASA claims to have solutions to the thrust oscillation problem in the Ares I. But if they don't and the oscillations are survivable, NASA can always obtain a waiver of its man-rating policy, such as it is. This is the ugly truth behind the "man-rating" issues. That they are used as a barrier to competition from private launch vehicles (LV). The NASA LV doesn't have to meet the criteria, but the private LV does.

    Also the distinction between a "man-rated" and "launch-rated" vehicle confuses the issue since the natural assumption is that man-rated vehicles are a subset of launch-rated vehicles. This is not the vase. The Ares V and Delta IV are designed to launch the most expensive and valuable payloads in the US market, namely, US Department of Defense military satellites and black budget spy satellites. The vast majority of manned missions simply will not be that valuable. In other words, "launch-rated" as used here is superior in a number of ways to "man-rated".

    Moving on, the Delta IV Heavy launches now with the desired payload capacity while the first Ares I launch, the Ares 1-Y doesn't launch until 2013 or later and the manned version of the Ares I won't launch until around 2016. It's an interesting theory that vehicles which launch now can't somehow manage to be man-rated in 10-11 years. I wonder if the Ares 1 will make that schedule either. It has, after all, slipped four years in the past three.

    Finally, the Ares I is just poor design. There's no option for expanding the launch vehicle because it is limited by the SRB used as the first stage. Meanwhile the EELVs can, as long as someone buys their LVs, continue to expand the payload and other capabilities of their LVs beyond the Ares I sized payloads. We also already have a variety of compromises due to flaws in the design of the Ares I and the CEV (crew exploration vehicle) that reduce the safety and reliability of the vehicle and the missions which depend on it (eg, thrust oscillation mitigation, reduced redundancy in the CEV, more sensitive to wind conditions at launch).

    I simply don't buy the "man-rating" argument. People are just another payload with unusual handling characteristics. If you have a vehicle that already handles more valuable payloads with a variety of difficult launch profiles, you've done most of the work.

  • Re:hallelujah ! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shiftless (410350) on Monday January 05, 2009 @02:00AM (#26326683) Homepage

    And who gives a shit, anyhow? Military weapons are the 'killer app' of space. We're going to get absolutely nowhere by attempting to convince people to "throw away" money on boring ass research "for the good of mankind." But just convince some generals that the next big thing is building huge space weapons platforms and spacecraft to counter the Chinese threat, and suddenly you'll have billions of dollars being poured into aerospace propulsion, ship design, etc. Sure, war is bad. But here we sit on this big rock, with a rapidly growing population and diminishing resources. What happens when the population gets too big and the resources are too few? What happens when someone accidently launches an ICBM and every nation on Earth follows suit? What if a huge meteor strikes? Humans are always going to be competitive and war-like. Let's bring the war out into space, develop new technologies in the process, start getting people off this rock, and deflate tensions here on Earth.

  • Re:hallelujah ! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dadamh (1441475) <(Dadamh) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday January 05, 2009 @11:33AM (#26330219)
    This is entirely accurate. I don't think humans have ever or will ever have a frotier or technological paradigm that isn't weaponized at some point, so trying to 'protect' space won't work.

    However, attaching NASA more closely to the, frankly, runaway military spending will help add funding to space exploration. Even if that means that the next Mars Rovers will have guns, it's a good thing.

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago

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