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Why Does the US Have a Civil Space Program? 308

Posted by timothy
from the why-indeed? dept.
BDew writes "The Presidents of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering have commissioned a study on the Rationale and Goals of the US Civil Space Program. In short, the Academies are asking why the nation has a civil space program (including human, robotic, commercial, and personal spaceflight). The study is intended to provide a strategic framework for the nation's activities in space that can provide consistent guidance in an increasingly interconnected world. The members of the study committee are interested in the views (positive or negative) of the general public, particularly those people with a scientific and/or technological interest."
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Why Does the US Have a Civil Space Program?

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  • And fund our research instead.

    • by ChipR (1424) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:10PM (#26364221)

      And fund our research instead.

      That would have been my first guess, given that there's a very vocal cadre who look for every opportunity to quash manned spaceflight, but TFA doesn't seem slanted in that direction. Could just be lip service, but I'm hoping it is what it says it is: A study to re-examine what we want to do, cross-index that with what we think we can do, and use that to create some concrete plans.

      Then again, if the Obama administration turns NASA into the US Space Force, civil space pursuits at the national level may dry up entirely, leaving only military and private space efforts. Not sure I like the sound of that.

      • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:27PM (#26364495)
        I agree that I don't like space to be militarized. However, if it is, that would be good overall for manned space flight. Nobody can get funding like the armed forces can, and they tend to push the envelope on things that normally wouldn't get looked at twice. Big waste of money? Yes. Possibly the best thing to promote manned space flight that could happen? Absolutely.
        • by Retric (704075) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:15PM (#26365175)

          The military seems to have zero interest in maned space flight due to 4 issues.

          1) Why send a person when you can send a bomb?
          2) It's hard to do stealthy reentry.
          3) How do you get people home once they are there?
          4) It cost way to much to send enough people do do something meaningful vs flying someone in from a near by base.

          • by DrWho520 (655973)
            Those sound like very reasonable issues to me.

            1) Why send a person when you can send a probe?
            2) It's hard to do safe, inexpensive reentry.
            3) How do you get people home once they are there?
            4) It costs to much to send a large party vs flying a bunch of bots there or looking through a telescope.
          • by dontmakemethink (1186169) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:06PM (#26366587)

            The military seems to have zero interest in maned space flight due to 4 issues.

            1) Why send a person when you can send a bomb?
            2) It's hard to do stealthy reentry.
            3) How do you get people home once they are there?
            4) It cost way to much to send enough people do do something meaningful vs flying someone in from a near by base.

            5) Aliens aren't known to have any oil
            6) Haliburton doesn't supply freeze-dried ice cream
            7) "Shock & Awe" doesn't have much effect in space since the explosions are dwarfed by supernovas
            8) We can't generate a warp signature for the Vulcans to detect yet

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by The FNP (1177715)

              9) The Shadows are trying to keep the Vorlon Presidency finding their ships on Mars.

              --The FNP

        • by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:22PM (#26365297) Homepage

          I don't think that military space flight necessarily means militarized space-flight, myself.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by FleaPlus (6935)

            It should also be noted that the "Obama militarizing NASA" story that was on slashdot a few days ago was complete bollocks. The EELV launchers were partially subsidized by the Air Force, but are entirely owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. NASA's used EELVs in the past to launch things like the New Horizons mission, and I don't think anybody claimed that this was somehow militarizing the exploration of Pluto. This article explains things well:

            http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/media-botches-story-on-obamas-nasa- [pajamasmedia.com]

        • by eln (21727) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:29PM (#26365381) Homepage

          What we really need is an alien race to show up, blow up a major city or two, leave us exact directions on how to get to their home planet and specs on what sort of weaponry they have, and then leave us alone for about 200 years. That's about the only way I can see the military getting into manned space travel in a big way.

          • Great idea (Score:5, Funny)

            by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:31PM (#26365423)
            That sounds like a fantastic idea for a book.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rhyder128k (1051042)

            Like the idea. I think that we could create a hoax that works just the way you say. Maybe we should try it on a smaller scale to begin with. I propose that we piss of some religious fanatics and get them to blow up some buildings. We can then pretend that some other country was in some way responsible and has masses of WMDs pointing right at us.

            So much for those who claim that the Bush admin wasn't working to a sensible plan.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by vertinox (846076)

            What we really need is an alien race to show up, blow up a major city or two,

            What we really need is a small asteroid to hit in a rural area causing a large explosion that doesn't cause a misinterpretation of a nuclear attack which scares the public into realizing without a space program they are going to eventually end up like the dinosaurs.

            Sadly, I suspect the asteroid won't be so polite to where it lands.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ihmhi (1206036)

          The Marines are already looking into suborbital fliers (like the SpaceShipOne setup) so they can get around nasty problems like negotiating passage through airspace (which only extends about 50 miles up) and bad weather. Boots on the ground in a couple hours instead of a few days.

      • by LifesABeach (234436) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @09:19PM (#26367195)

        When India [bbc.co.uk] says their going to map the minerals of moon, I think the time for excuses is over.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:28PM (#26364525)
      I worked at the National Academies for a year, and I've never seen such a disorganized, confused, and visionless organization in my life. There were no less than 5 IT departments managing their web site(s), none of which was answerable to the others, and no CIO or central IT management. We had a database driven web site with a crumbling database and I spent most of my year telling them it was critical we fix it before it died, they decided to put the effort into CSS and graphics instead. More relevant here... I had an executive director tell me, and I quote, "Our reports don't matter, what matters is that we have them." The Academies are in theory one organization, but in reality it's 4 divisions that operate like warring principalities, and what little theoretical high level unifying management there is mostly seems to be disinterested. Each of these principalities is run by an executive director, so one of them saying "we exist only to exist" is incredibly sad. The Academies were apparently once a prestigious academic institution, but it seems now they're just a floundering Beltway Bandit - except they aren't trying to make any money even, it's a nonprofit.
    • before aliens/search/destroy/mankind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rick Bentley (988595)
      No manned spaceflight means no warp-capable Starships, no green Orion slave women, no bare-knuckled fights on distant M-class planets, no time travel, no heart-warming self-sacrifice for the needs of the many...

      Sendng an unmanned "V-ger" out is great and all of that, but we really want the Star Trek/Wars/etc fantasy and are loath to let it go.
    • by jdb2 (800046) * on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:27PM (#26365351) Journal
      Such scientists would be poor representatives of Human Civilization and should reconsider their role in society. You see, at the core of Science ( from Latin "Scio"/"scire" -- "to know" ) lies the principle reason why Humans explore Nature : Our ingrained drive to map out the limits of our knowledge and push those limits back. As the late Arthur C. Clarke put it : "The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible." . If a society stagnates, and stops reaching beyond the possible -- stops exploring -- then searching History will show, time and time again, that such a society will inevitably collapse.

      Given the above, and given the geological record's testament to the finite probability of life on this planet being periodically ( not completely ) destroyed, and given the new factor that Human Civilization may be responsible for its own destruction, one may logically deduce from the basic laws of probability that our chance of extinction is an ever increasing number, slowly but surely approaching 1, and that the following quote from the late Carl Sagan rings true, now more than ever : "All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct."

      jdb2
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by philspear (1142299)

        Such scientists would be poor representatives of Human Civilization and should reconsider their role in society.

        Or else they just have different priorities as far as research goes. Curing AIDS vs landing on Mars, for me and a good chunk of the world's population, AIDS comes first, I'd advocate that research grants reflect that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joe_frisch (1366229)
      I'm a scientist working in an unrelated field but I'd still like to see manned space get more funding. If it starts doing something really interesting, I might even join. Why? To me space is the goal, not the means, but if you want a why: Either there is other intelligent life in the universe, or there is not. If there isn't it would seem a shame that nothing ever got to see 1-10^-20 of the universe. If there is intelligent life out there - well most examples from history show that when the guys on the
  • Seems simple enough.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by eclectro (227083)

      Yes, but we can't breathe their. Also, their is no oxygen, water, food, nor farmland to grow anything, It would be hard to haul cows up to milk and/or eat. While the shuttle *might* have been able to haul cows up, the shuttle fleet will be retired shortly. They also need hay and water. You may say well, why don't we just send up an extra load of steaks, dried buttermilk and Tang? The problem with this is that you will run out again and can not replenish supplies without it costing ten billion USD a load. Wh

  • by Swift2001 (874553) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:10PM (#26364199)

    That's why I'm very leery of scaling back NASA. The moon shot was propaganda, partially, but it also unleashed a ton of new technologies and trained a generation of engineers. Of course, we could go along with the privatizing globalists, but you see how well that's working?

    We may or may not find a role for men in space this generation, but space travel and investigation is absolutely fundamental for our survival as a species. And no corporation will EVER do what needs to be done, because it's not profitable except indirectly.

    • by z00_miak (1305831) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:19PM (#26364363)

      The problem with 'scaling back' NASA is that it's not like a factory or a bunch of servers that you can just switch back on in 5 years with a bit of maintenance.

      If you cut funding and they have to cut engineering jobs, you're going to lose talent: experience that may not return when you decide you're in another space race.

    • by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:35PM (#26364633) Journal

      Why do you think that saving the species is a good idea?

      Why do you think UP is the answer, when DOWN provides a much more affordable, immediate and suitable environment? (Subterranean living) Sure DIRT is boring. But its cheap!

      • by Swift2001 (874553)

        Why do you think that saving the species is a good idea?

        Why do you think UP is the answer, when DOWN provides a much more affordable, immediate and suitable environment? (Subterranean living) Sure DIRT is boring. But its cheap!

        You can't mean that. Of course we want to survive, and thrive. That's good. I suppose a lizard man from Saturn is indifferent, but humans can't be.

    • ObBab5 quote (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ChipR (1424) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:41PM (#26364707)

      We may or may not find a role for men in space this generation, but space travel and investigation is absolutely fundamental for our survival as a species. And no corporation will EVER do what needs to be done, because it's not profitable except indirectly.

      I can think of no better time to quote J. Michael Straczynski, using the voice of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, talking about why humans go to space:

      Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes, and - all of this - all of this - was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars.

      I can't improve on that.

      • by Retric (704075)
        We don't need to go to space, when the time comes we could just move the earth. Now it would cost a lot of money and energy but it is an option.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TerranFury (726743)

      The moon shot was propaganda, partially, but it also unleashed a ton of new technologies and trained a generation of engineers

      Indeed. A whole lot of control theory -- my area -- was developed explicitly for the purpose of supporting the Apollo program. So much was done in controls during the 60s.

    • Manned space exploration may not be economical given more pressing domestic needs at present. But cutting back there doesn't mean cutting back on space exploration as a whole. We still need to send people up from time to time to maintain all that stuff orbiting out there. Just maybe not as often... at least for now, until the situation on the ground improves.

  • by gravesb (967413) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:10PM (#26364209) Homepage
    I don't believe they are asking this because they want to kill it. I think it's because they want to provide it with a more defined purpose. Some clarity and consistency in spending.
    • I agree. I don't think the report is asking "what's NASA for?" it's going to try to ask "what do we want to do with NASA?" so that resources can be planned and goals set. We know that space exploration is valuable, but there's so many possible things to do. What do we, as a people, want out of space?

      We have communications satellites. We have the ISS. We have reusable space vehicles. We've done exploration satellites like Voyager. What do we want now? Mission to Mars? Base on the moon? What would s

  • by Daimanta (1140543)

    What is the real use of getting a man to Mars or another planet other thean bragging about it for the next 70 years? Somehow, some people are in favor of a manned space program. The question is, what is the tangible benifit of sending people to the moon/Mars/Jupiter/Proxima Centauri?

    I feel that there is a lack of a concrete goal, something to stand behind. Something that has a good probability of pay-off in the future. Is "finding out things about other planets" a goal that convinces people to support (mann

    • by ChipR (1424) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:20PM (#26364369)

      What is the real use of getting a man to Mars or another planet other thean bragging about it for the next 70 years? Somehow, some people are in favor of a manned space program. The question is, what is the tangible benifit of sending people to the moon/Mars/Jupiter/Proxima Centauri?

      That's right up there next to the question "Why spend any money on space at all when we have so many problems that need solving right here on Earth?" I can't buy into either viewpoint. Manned spaceflight has its place, and I'll fight any effort to terminate it.

      I feel that there is a lack of a concrete goal, something to stand behind.

      Now this I can totally get behind. Goals are good, and a lack of them, or more accurately a continuous redefining of them, has crippled the US space program for decades.

      Something that has a good probability of pay-off in the future. Is "finding out things about other planets" a goal that convinces people to support (manned or unmanned) spaceflight? What do we really want?

      Sounds like your answers would be "No" and "Profit". The whole "pay-off" bit is a club that has been used to beat the space program repeatedly over the years. "What's in it for me? What's the return on my investment?" As with other forms of research and exploration, it's nearly always impossible to give firm answers to these questions. But experience has shown that the real answer usually is, "Far beyond expectations."

      Ad astra per aspera!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      The ultimate goal, to me and most people I know involved in the industry/movement, is permanent, sustainable, and eventually self-sufficient human life beyond Earth. Of course, this is to improve the odds of the survival of our species in the long run (so Hawking says).

      At a lecture by Rick Tumlinson at ISDC 2007, he was talking about being in the working group defining what Bush's Vision for Space Exploration meant. The conclusion they came to is that the ultimate goal of any moon/Mars/etc. plan has to be

    • by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:50PM (#26364845) Homepage

      Robert Browning had an answer, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

      So did George Mallory: "Because it is there".

    • by tenco (773732)

      The question is, what is the tangible benifit of sending people to the moon/Mars/Jupiter/Proxima Centauri?

      Because we can. More serious: to spread the human genome and getting better survival chances if some catastrophe sterilizes the solar system or it reaches an equilibrium state with no entropy gradient left. So that some human can carry on the real purpose (IMHO) of being here: finding out how the universe works (before it reaches heat death - yes, i demand you silly gamers turn off your gaming machines NOW ;)).

    • by Nebu (566313) <nebu@gta[ ]s.net ['.ig' in gap]> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:52PM (#26364893) Homepage

      What is the real use of getting a man to Mars or another planet other thean bragging about it for the next 70 years? Somehow, some people are in favor of a manned space program. The question is, what is the tangible benifit of sending people to the moon/Mars/Jupiter/Proxima Centauri?

      "Sending people to the moon" had a lot of prerequisites. These prerequisites include:

      • Developed by NASA
        • memory foam (used in your mattresses)
        • home insulation (not exactly invented by NASA, but they changed it from adhoc hacks into an actual science and engineering discipline)
        • Satelitte Dishes
        • GPS
        • Laser thermometer
        • Invisible braces
        • Joystick controllers
      • Improved by NASA
        • MRI
        • quartz clocks
        • smoke alarm
        • Water purification systems
        • Automobiles
        • cordless tools
        • Thermal gloves and boots
        • Shock absorbing helmets
        • Lithium Batteries
      • Found new uses by NASA
        • velcro
        • kevlar

      And many, many more (see http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html [nasa.gov], http://spaceplace.jpl.nasa.gov/en/kids/spinoffs2.shtml [nasa.gov], http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/5-8/features/F_Spinoffs_Extra.html [nasa.gov] etc.)

      "Putting a man on mars" is simply an easy-to-define milestone. The real benefits are too long to lists.

  • Why? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Werkhaus (549466) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:10PM (#26364217)

    Because it's polite.
    An uncivil space wouldn't get much in the way of positive press.

  • What are the Clangers saying?
  • Because it's there. Space, that is.

  • NASA was formed to explore space as a peaceful endeavor, not as a conquest.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      Exactly. I think if we started running our scientific (or, more broadly, non-military) exploration of space via the DoD, it would surely be mis-construed by other nations. That's apart from the high potential for the objectives to shift away from science and general technology to military-specific goals.

      Honestly, NASA, for all its flaws, is probably one of the *less* bureaucratic outfits in the Federal government. The DoD has, from what I've seen, a much worse track record at poor choices in spending.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NullProg (70833)


      NASA was formed to explore space as a peaceful endeavor, not as a conquest.

      Bullshit. Your confusing your Federation/Starfleet history with NASA.

      NASA was created because Sputnik scared the shit out of everyone.
      http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/index.html [nasa.gov]


      The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In July 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (commonly called the "Space Act"), which created NASA as of October 1, 19

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CheshireCatCO (185193)

        Your link/quote doesn't disprove the grandparent's statement. What it states is that NASA was created to compete with the Soviets. Competition can be peaceful; consider the Olympics. (In fact, the space race was a way for the two sides to compete head-to-head without ever firing a shot. Far fewer people were killed and we got to prove ourselves to the rest of the world. Seems like a win-win.)

    • Do you think we would have achieved one-tenth the scientific advancements that we have if the military had been in charge of the space program? That's how Russia does it. Ask how many men they've put on the moon, or how many rovers they've put on Mars.

      On top of that, the brass hats would have classified everything they discovered, just because that's their institutional mindset.

      Keep the space program civil!

  • BECAUSE (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:15PM (#26364301)

    Because we can.

    That should be more than enough reason. We as a species have proven ourselves significant. We are the only know organism that has ever had the ability to leave the immediate confines of this planet. If we stop now then this monumental acheviement was not more than a cheap stunt.

    • by AaxelB (1034884)

      We as a species have proven ourselves significant.

      Well, we're either actually significant or we (and our planet) are so mind-bogglingly insignificant that it, uh, boggles the mind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jcgf (688310)
      I agree. I can't help but think that the people who are against space flight are either fat slobs who are in a tiff because they couldn't pass the physical or even worse those "solve the problems here on earth first" types. The first should be made to exercise to see their full potential and the second should be rounded up for "re-education".
    • by DCstewieG (824956)

      We as a species have proven ourselves significant.

      To who, ourselves? Gee, that was a hard sell. Reminds me a bit of Carlin [youtube.com].

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DoofusOfDeath (636671)

      Because we can.

      That should be more than enough reason.

      I'd say the original question was badly stated. A better form would be, "Why should we fund a civilian space program, rather than done one or more of the following with the money:

      • Providing better teacher-student ratios.
      • Researching renewable energy.
      • Providing food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, or clothing to the cold.
      • Researching safer cars and/or better treatments for deadly disease.
      • Reducing the taxation of people who barely make ends meet as it is. I.e., reduce sales taxes, which even hit those who
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:18PM (#26364343)

    The reason for a civil space program is pragmatic. The military and government is concerned with goals that are separate and distinct from civilian interests. But what are those interests?

    The military is concerned with control, management, and protection of national assets. Communications, surveillance, and counter-terrorism are primary goals. Towards this end, the military produces missiles and delivery systems capable of providing this. But the military has no need to explore space, or advance scientific research beyond this.

    There is no military or security reason to put someone on the moon, or map out the surface of other celestial bodies. However our understanding of these can advance civilian interest. For example, the helium-3 surface deposits on the moon could provide a energy source far greater than that of fission or conventional power generation. Exploration of the martian environment could provide clues to the formation of our own planet and answer a question long-sought after by both scientists, philosophers, and theologians -- where do we come from? How did we become what we are today? By deploying powerful sensing technology into space we can peer deeper into the universe and unlock many secrets, providing advances in physics, metallurgy, and many other fields. Putting people into space allows for research in microgravity and zero gravity environments. Certain molecular structures only form in the absence of a strong gravitational field. It could provide for advances in building materials, or allow for the development of quantum devices that may not be possible to produce terrestrially (or be prohibitively expensive) en masse. Frankly, there is considerable research that needs to be done.

    Military and scientific needs can sometimes be at cross purposes. The creation of a fusion power generator with a net positive output would be a major advancement for any country. Further exploration of the moon may in fact provide this as there are isotopes found there that are very amiable to this goal, much more so than any terrestrial source. However, such a powerful energy source could be used to create star-wars styled weapons, making land-based particle accelerators a reality, or other advanced weapons systems that simply aren't practical to deploy today. Localized atmospheric heating, strong RF fields to provide an ionization layer above a target, etc., all become possible with a large energy source. Because of this, the military would likely move to be an obstacle in such research because it threatens the balance of power. Perhaps it already has.

    The military and civilian programs should work in tandem when possible to reduce overall costs, but should also be allowed to initiate their own programs independently of each other, as the need arises. To collapse the two into a single entity gives rise to questions of trust, integrity, and overall effectiveness. Ultimately, it would not be as beneficial to society as the present system is, though in the short term it would offer some economic benefit -- but at the expense of long-term economic and social gain.
     

    • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:45PM (#26364759) Homepage

      For example, the helium-3 surface deposits on the moon could provide a energy source far greater than that of fission or conventional power generation.

      That's space PR bullshit.

      • We don't know how to build any kind of fusion reactor that works.
      • Fusing He-3 is harder to do that fusing deteureum. It's potentially cleaner. Maybe.
      • The density of He-3 on the moon is very low. A big fraction of the Moon's entire surface would have to be strip-mined. Deutereum, on the other hand, is easily extracted from water.

      Certain molecular structures only form in the absence of a strong gravitational field. It could provide for advances in building materials, or allow for the development of quantum devices that may not be possible to produce terrestrially (or be prohibitively expensive) en masse.

      Nobody has ever found anything worth manufacturing in space. NASA has tried. For small things, gravity isn't that big a deal. For big things, lift capacity is too expensive. Some early shuttle flights carried an electrophoresis apparatus to try to make some drug, but it turned out to be easier to do that via genetic engineering. Almost all the the "science projects" currently on the ISS are related to space flight as an end in itself. There's currently something up on "biological macromolecular crystals", but in fact, those can and are grown on the ground.

      • None of this changes the main thrust of my argument. First, you're right - we don't know how to build any kind of fusion reactor. But the biggest source of working fusion we know of is sitting at the center of our solar system and we'd do well to investigate it. Point still stands that exploring space might open up avenues we simply won't discover terrestrially. As to microgravity research... hey, I'm just throwing it in as a potential. I'm sure there's many better examples that the slashdot crowd can come

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:23PM (#26364421) Journal
    Then congress will find it easier to kill off individual space programs.
  • My submission (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:36PM (#26364647) Homepage

    Space exploration, intended to lead to significant off-planet industry and settlement in the long term, is essential for the future progress of humanity as a whole. Exactly what the benifits will be isn't something that can be usefully predicted, but simply ignoring the resources of almost all of our solar system is clearly not a reasonable plan.

    Currently only major governments have the resources to mount any sort of space exploration efforts. Since it's essential, and only major governments can do it, major governments must do it. That will remain true until it becomes viable for smaller organizations to take up the burden.

    In order for government funded exploration to effectively lead towards future off-planet industry and settlement, the exploration effort must contribute towards lowering the price of and broadening access to space exploration technology. Meaningful off-planet industry and settlement won't occur at major-government-only price points, and it won't occur with major governments as the gatekeepers.

    A military space program would be unlikely to meet these requirements. Technology would be kept secret rather than being shared, which would fail to contribute to advances by private sector entities and smaller governments. Flashy exploration spectacles would likely still occur - perhaps even more efficiently - but the main benefit to a government run space program would be lost.

    A government funded space program's primary task should be to provide seed knowledge and technology for future private space exploration. It will have succeeded when there are multiple separately owned private sector moonbases, asteroid mines, orbital power stations, and long term research habitats. A military space program would subvert this goal through misallocation of resources and refusal to publicly disclose publicly funded developments.

    • We really need to be able to have laws that let people and corporations claim extra-terrestrial property as their own. Much the same as the Railroads got a huge chunk of land they could sell to individuals and take that money to make the trans-continental railroad we need a similar model for the space colonization.

      These new "railroads" of the space age, (space X, Virgin Galactic, ect )"Union Galactic" so to speak could build the infrastructure for space colonization from both public funds and private fund

    • Re:My submission (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 5KVGhost (208137) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:40PM (#26365529)

      A military space program would subvert this goal through misallocation of resources and refusal to publicly disclose publicly funded developments.

      I agree with almost everything you said, right up until there. If you look at the history of technology you'll find that nearly every major new technology in the last 200 years has been advanced by military support, not hindered. Rockets, nuclear power, jets, RADAR, computers, etc. were all just curiosities at best until they became weapons. And as a bonus those weapons happened to have useful civilian and scientific applications. In practice, I think the US military, at least, is fairly pragmatic about keeping secrets, especially once they know that another major power has already figured something out. If we'd funded a real military space program back during the Cold War then I suspect most of the mass-prodced technology would long since be public knowledge.

      The military also has a healthy attitude toward risk, a very important factor that is missing at a publicity-shy civilian bureaucracy like today's NASA. Any kind of manned exploration is inherently dangerous, and NASA views danger as a threat to their funding and their existence. There's no profit motive, no patriotic motive, and no national security objective to fulfill. They have every reason to avoid danger and no reason to overcome it. Their robots work fine, but where people are concerned it's mostly lip service and paperwork. That's why we're having this discussion.

  • This is asking about the GOALS of the civilian U.S. space program. No one is talking about throwing out NASA. They're talking about what NASA should be focusing on. For example, the Bush administration removed from Nasa's job description the part about monitoring the Earth and its environment. To me, that should be one of the primary goals of NASA.

  • That's 3 questions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:46PM (#26364779) Homepage Journal

    Why does the US have a civilian space program?

    Because so many other nations do. Even India has a great space program. Why wouldn't the US?

    Why does the US have a civilian space program?

    Because militarization of space at this point in time is impractical and expensive, so international treaties require the separation of peaceful space exploration from military conquest in a transparent fashion.

    Why does the US have a civilian space program?

    Because space is the future of human kind. Earth was the cradle of humanity but one cannot stay in the cradle forever.

  • The US has a civil space program because people who want space development, for various reasons - national pride, science, etc - find it easier to use taxpayers money than to actually convince people to fund it voluntarily.

    It's right to have a space program, it's wrong to force people to pay for it if they don't want it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Microlith (54737)

      people who want space development

      Tend to appreciate what comes as a result, you know, the spinoffs of such research. Space research and development doesn't stay in space, it spreads into other fields like medicine, automotive technology, and sometimes general consumer products.

      find it easier to use taxpayers money than to actually convince people to fund it voluntarily.

      The money available from voluntary funding would probably be so small as to be insignificant. You won't see corporate donors of any real sca

    • by Gojira Shipi-Taro (465802) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @08:41PM (#26366921) Homepage

      By that logic it's wrong to force people to fund any programs if they don't want them.

      Yes including Welfare, Schools, victim support groups, anything.

      It's called living in a representative democracy. You don't get a direct say in any of these things. I'd love to stop having my tax dollars stop funding LOTS of things. My option is to elect representatives that reflect my desires and hope they aren't corrupt (heh).

      As long as pork barrel dollars are funding garbage I don't care about, I'm fine with them funding at least one thing I DO care about.

      Or were you going to get people to fund Welfare and Education and Food Stamps voluntarily too?

  • The reason NASA isn't a military project is simple: the aliens wanted it that way.

  • All Oobs did was announce his intention of replacing Ares I with EELV's. Then that exploded into headlines about merging NASA & the air force. Now that has exploded into commissioning studies into civil space programs of any kind. His original 1 sentence must now be creating 1 million jobs.

  • And tell me sir (Score:5, Insightful)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:05PM (#26365071)
    Why should Portugal fund your trip to find new trade routes to China? Even if such a route were to exist it would be much to expensive to travel that way. Good day Mr. Columbus.
  • Because we need a space program and the first completely-private orbital launch took place in 2008? Seriously, private enterprise is great and everything, but it doesn't do very well at the type of thing that won't show a profit for 50 years. While NASA is certainly not the height of efficiency it *does* take billions in research before you have anything to show when you're trying something really new.

    I'd love to see a thriving private space program, I just don't think that's likely to happen any time soo

  • I know I'd rather have given NASA 700 billion than the banks. At least we'd get something for our tax dollars in the end.

  • by symbolset (646467) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:15PM (#26365183) Journal

    The Toynbee tiles [wikipedia.org] are a warning to remind us of the perils of the militarization of space.

  • civil space program (including human, robotic, commercial, and personal spaceflight)

    WRONG

    The appropriate division isn't military vs "civilian" but private vs public.

    It's none of the government's business whether private individuals decide it is profitable, or just plain fun, to have a private space program or not.

    The government's only real interest is in minimizing the negative externalities of such private activities -- exactly as with any other private activity.

    That they're posing the question t

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:22PM (#26365293) Journal

    "In short, the Academies are asking why the nation has a civil space program"

    Asking what the future short and long term goals should be assumes the answer to be "to accomplish the goals chosen as most desirable" and assumes there will be such goals set. The last item ("how can") even more clearly assumes it exists to accomplish them and seeks to examine by what means it can best do so.

    The inclusion of "civil" is misleading because it's superfluous. They are asking about the program administered by NASA, but they are not asking about it comparison to any alternative. The recent news about Obama's transition team questioning whether to cancel the Ares program in favor of using "military" (read: already developed, tested and available, regardless of original customer; that story was badly flawed too) has nothing to do with the Academies' efforts. The latter had to have been in effect well before Obama's people raised the question.

    [from the site]:

    The committee will, inter alia â"

    â review the history of U.S. space policy and propose a broad policy basis for 21st century leadership in space;

    â examine the balance and interfaces between fundamental scientific research in space, human space exploration, robotic exploration, earth observations, and applications of space technology and civil space systems for societal benefits;

    â assess the role that commercial space companies could play in fulfilling national space goals and the role of the government in facilitating the emergence and success of commercial space companies; and

    â highlight options for government attention to address and potentially resolve problems that might prevent achieving key national goals.

    Illustrative examples of potential topics for the committee's consideration in the study include the following:

    â Near-term and long-term human spaceflight program goals and options for fulfilling them;

    â Utility of satellites in understanding global climate change and in advancing geophysical sciences (physical oceanography, solid earth sciences, etc.), and roles and responsibilities of government agencies in such Earth observations;

    â Potential opportunities in various space sciences, including planetary missions, space-based astronomy, astrophysical observations, extraterrestrial life searches, assessing planetary bodies in other solar systems, etc.

    â Reconciling total program content and total program resources for the civil space program;

    â Strength of the U.S. space industrial base;

    â Developing advanced technologies for applications in remote sensing and other areas;

    â Access to space, availability and cost of U.S. launch vehicles, use of foreign launch capabilities; and

    â International cooperation and competition in space programs.

    National security space issues will not be a main focus of the report, but may be addressed to the extent that they interact with or impact the civil space program.

    [and]

    The committee invites you to comment on this study by filling out a questionnaire. Questions you might consider when framing your input to the committee:

    â What should be the rationale and goals for the civil space program?

    â How can the civil space program address key national issues?

  • Government programs such as the civilian space program, the missile defense farce, and others that involve a lot of money and are very inefficient, or even pointless, allow large amounts of taxpayers money to be moved into the hands of the few. This, to a large extent, is their purpose. To see the greater scheme of things, take a closer look at how government finance really works: http://cafr1.com/ [cafr1.com]
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @06:35PM (#26365465) Journal

    That reminds me of how some say there are three schools of thought in space advocacy, which can be summed up as follows:

    http://theforvm.org/diary/bill-white/werner-von-braun-carl-sagan-gerard-oneill [theforvm.org]

    Saganites: "Space is big, billions of stars, isn't God's creation incredible...DON'T TOUCH IT." [though in fairness to Sagan, in his later years he became more supportive of human spaceflight]

    Von Braunians: "We vill go boldly into space, and you vill watch on television, and you vill enjoy it." That's the current space program.

    O'Neillians: "We will build the tools, go into space, and use its resources to expand humanity and freedom into the cosmos." ...

    In a paradigm Tumlinson dreamed up, the space world fractures into three groups: Saganites, O'Neillians and von Braunians.

    Saganites, named for astronomer Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996), are the philosophers and voyeurs of the cosmos, intent on low-impact exploration that promotes a sense of wonder. They consider the universe an extension of Earth, and want space explorers to be politically correct pacifists and environmentalists.

    O'Neillians take their name from Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill (1927 - 1992), who imagined city-size colonies in space contained on vast, rotating platforms (think of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its spinning rings and artificial gravity). Getting people out of here en masse was the thingâ"not to kiss Earth good-bye in the rearview mirror, but to give it a chance, by consuming extraterrestrial rather than terrestrial resources. (An O'Neillian motto, riding a bumper sticker of his day, read: âoeSave Earth: Develop Space.â)

    Von Braunians are, strictly speaking, the old guard, named for the V-2 and Saturn rocket-meister Wernher von Braun (1912 - 1977). Von Braunians advocate a centralized approach: large expensive projects like the ones NASA undertakes, projects that ordinary people can be proud of but not participate in.

    I'd add that there's also the Heinleinians, who want to use the power of private industry to bring about O'Neill's vision.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by earlymon (1116185)

      Interesting points. I'd like to add that they aren't strictly exclusive - the Saganite example speaks to motivation and behavior and the Von Braunian one speaks to how to accomplish building the vehicles.

      Therefore, I don't see that they fracture so cleanly into the various groups described.

      1. How to get off the rock - Von Braunian.
      2. How to behave once off the rock - Saganite
      3. Why get off of the rock in the first place - O'Neillian

      These attributes or their counterparts form very descriptive tuples.

      However

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @09:01PM (#26367071) Journal

        1. How to get off the rock - Von Braunian.
        2. How to behave once off the rock - Saganite
        3. Why get off of the rock in the first place - O'Neillian

        There's of course overlap and commonality, but the three mindsets still differ in each of the three items you mention. Stereotypical von Braunians tend to want huge manpower-intensive rockets and are largely motivated by national glory. Saganites don't think much about launch (they often consider it as something which will always have static economics) and are largely motivated by science and discovering the unknown. O'Neillians are largely concerned with making space launch as economical and sustainable as possible, and are largely motivated by spreading humanity throughout the cosmos.

        However, we're all still in the Von Braunian stage of knowledge for the first point (with many deep bows to Space Ship One as I say that) - light up explosives/propellents under/behind your seat and use bulky chemicals to reach escape velocity.

        Sure, but there's a difference between the von Braun approach (as exemplified by the Saturn V or Space Shuttle) where every launch is a huge national endeavor involving tens of thousands of workers, and the SpaceX approach which has a launch crew of 25 and only 6 people in mission control (the company as a whole has just 600 employees).

  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @09:54PM (#26367499)
    ...NASA commissions a study to determine why we have a national Academy of Science.
  • Most overlooked item (Score:3, Informative)

    by code_rage (130128) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @10:48PM (#26367915)

    I am surprised the following report has not been posted or submitted to /.

    Future of Human Spaceflight [mit.edu] (16-page PDF)

    The MIT Space, Policy & Society Research Group took a step back from the "do this" / "no, do that" debate and examined the very questions being posed by the National Academy of Sciences.

    The above link has a 16-page document that examines the reasons for a human spaceflight program. The report is compelling, challenging and thought-provoking.

    Give it a read!

  • In perspective (Score:3, Informative)

    by Enahs (1606) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @03:07PM (#26376187) Journal

    In terms of the Federal government's budget:

    Department of Defense: 52%
    NASA: 0.5%

    Gee...yeah...cutting NASA will save LOADS of money.

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