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White House Panel Considers New Paths To Space 151

Posted by kdawson
from the leave-it-to-yoyodyne dept.
Neil H. writes "The White House's Human Space Flight Plans blue-ribbon panel (the 'Augustine panel') has posted the material from their first public meeting on the future of NASA's spaceflight program, which was held on Wednesday. NASA officials presented their Ares I rocket plans and their belief that they can work around its design flaws, with projected development costs ballooning to $35 billion. The panel also heard several alternative proposals, such as adapting already-existing EELV and SpaceX rockets to carry crew to orbit; these proposals would have better safety margins than the Ares I, be ready sooner, and cost NASA less than $2 billion to complete, but are politically unattractive."
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White House Panel Considers New Paths To Space

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  • Men on the moon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:12AM (#28409831)

    We really ought to be way past the phase of getting wet in the crotch about putting a man on the moon. We've got the t-shirt already.

    What we ought to be looking at is beginning construction of a moon base and the development of the infrastructure to perform longhaul transport back and forth from the Earth to the Moon. That means both reusable capsule technology and low-cost fuel.

    If the original space race taught us anything, it's that there is a lot of prestige in doing the impossible. Putting a man into orbit is now not impossible. Putting a man on the moon is now not impossible. It's time to look beyond that towards building habitats elsewhere.

    • Re:Men on the moon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rbanffy (584143) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:21AM (#28410103) Homepage Journal

      "there is a lot of prestige in doing the impossible"

      Not only prestige: there is awesome a lot of money for those who invent the Next Industry. Had Minutemen not needed guidance systems, we could be using teletypes connected over phone lines to big mainframes.

      We need simple, cheap and reliable heavy-lift vehicles. über Saturn V's running on cheap fuel made from aircraft-grade parts. And putting a man on the Moon is not impossible, but making him stay for 6 months has never been done before. Only a dozen guys have that t-shirt.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)
      What near future goals are furthered by people living on the Moon? And is there a more effective way to achieve those goals than with a lunar outpost? I guess my chief problem with this sort of advocacy is that there is an obsession with far future needs (like human survival or the economic benefits of a human civilization predominately in space) with little attention paid to the gritty details of how to get from today to that wonderful tomorrow.

      A lunar colony with little to no near future return on inve
      • Re:Men on the moon (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MikeURL (890801) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @10:32AM (#28410575) Journal
        How about space exploration as entertainment? How many people on the planet would pay for live feed access to a manned mission to Mars? I know i would and I think I can count in every geek on the planet.

        I mean, maybe we need to open the definition of "value" a bit. If you add up the total US dollar value of the last 10 blockbuster movies made by Hollywood that might even get you close to paying for a manned Mars mission. Maybe it is a bit unseemly to sell space exploration as "entertainment" but we have been doing it as fiction for 100s of years. Why not do it as non-fiction?
        • by khallow (566160)
          I see entertainment as helpful. But as things stand, I just don't see ten blockbusters worth of entertainment value in a Mars expedition. It's not going to pay for the mission. But the extra cash which could be considerable could make a difference to the success of the mission.
    • Re:Men on the moon (Score:5, Interesting)

      by camperdave (969942) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:55AM (#28410291) Journal
      That means both reusable capsule technology and low-cost fuel.

      Fuel costs are at the level of noise in the costs of running a rocket. Liquid hydrogen costs $3-$4 per kilogram. The shuttle goes through 10600 kg of liquid hydrogen, so thats only $40,000. Liquid oxygen is about ten cents a kilogram, or $60,000 per launch. It costs an average of $450,000,000 to launch a shuttle, so even if fuel prices quadrupled, they'd still be less than 1% of the total cost of a launch.

      The problem with the fuel is that it is in the wrong location. We need fuel depots in strategic orbits: Low Earth Orbit, Lunar orbit, etc. The bulk of the mass that you lift to do a space mission is fuel, and the more massive the payload, the bigger and more expensive the rocket you need. You may be able to reduce the cost of a mission by launching several smaller rockets rather than a single large rocket.

      I agree with the reusability aspect, although I'd rather see an HL-42 [astronautix.com] style crew module rather than the Orion. Ideally, that would only be to "shuttle" the crew from planetside to orbit and back. Once in orbit, they'd go to the Moon or Mars in a much larger Trans-hab/Bigelow styled craft.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hubbell (850646)
        Nuclear Rockets [wikipedia.org] are the ideal choice, but just like reactors the public is insanely averse to anything with the word nuclear in it.
        • I would love to see a closed cycle gas core nuclear rocket, because they have the thrust to lift truly heavy masses. However, regardless of the power source, you still need propellant (a.k.a reaction mass).
    • by hey! (33014)

      Well, I'm not entirely sure you are correct about the need to put a man on the Moon. You see, it's not us with the t-shirt, it's us wearing our parents' t-shirt. For a lot of us it's grannie's t-shirt.

      When China puts a man on the Moon, they'll be making a statement: America doesn't do this sort of thing anymore. They're coasting. Look to us for leadership and vision.

      True, doing something that had never been done before would be even better for that purpose, but still they'll be doing something we don

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by demachina (71715)

      "What we ought to be looking at is beginning construction of a moon base and the development of the infrastructure to perform longhaul transport back and forth from the Earth to the Moon."

      NASA has had a problem since Apollo of plucking a goal out of the air to use as a justification to keep the manned space program alive, without actually setting a goal that really makes sense and is worth doing. We need to figure out a reason or reasons to have a base on the moon, ideally some reasons with some benefits t

  • I know, this is /., but the article was written by someone who wasn't even able to spell correctly the names of the rockets, and the summary fails to mention the stronger alternative that doesn't requires big jobs losses within NASA in the next few years (DIRECT).
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:42AM (#28409927)

    Obama's economists decided that they need to spend their way out of this recession, and even though Orion would not pass muster by my bang-for-buck standards, it's not the worst way to spend money if spending money is what you're trying to do.

    Of course we could do better: We could dream big like JFK and (for the first time since the 60's) try something truly ambitious and expensive. As Americans, it's time we finally accomplish something! Ever since we lost the Vietnam war, we've been complete pussies about big projects. (It doesn't help that when we do try we fail miserably, like when we try to impose Western democracy to Iraq) As far as I can tell, the largest public project recently was the Big Dig in Boston. We can't even rebuild Ground Zero. We act like a country who lost faith in ourselves, in a time when it's very important that the rest of the world has faith in us (and our currency). We lucked into the internet - yes, that was cool, but it wasn't something we deliberately set out to do as a public communication tool.

    I think that Obama should just ask to dust off the Titan V blueprints and build factory to produce them on a massive scale. Then use those to lift into space something really cool, like a 100m mirror for a telescope, solar collectors that beam power back to Earth, etc.

    • It may help get us there, but in a recession where media hype is king, spending on something 'with no immediate returns' will be frowned upon by the public; maybe cause an uproar or two. Obama will probably be looking for the fastest way out of the recession, so a big project is definitely not on the agenda at the moment.
    • Without it, nobody is interested in space.
       

      • Re:ownership (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hey! (33014) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @10:15AM (#28410435) Homepage Journal

        There's considerable truth to what you say. However what exactly is being claimed doesn't have to be the space equivalent of real estate.

        In the 1960s, a race to claim thenational prestige of doing things first drove the space race. The early goals, being relatively simpler and more closely spaced in an absolute difficulty, encouraged a leapfrog approach to competition. Going to the Moon earned the ultimate "shut your mouth" bragging rights. It was a huge jump, and the Soviets had no chance of beating us to it. All they could do is watch, knowing that sooner or later they'd have to send a message of congratulation to whoever the US president was going to be. The Soviets were forced drop their sights to Earth orbit -- more practical in countless ways, but a loss in the prestige race.

        Now I happen remember the Moon landing. I was only eight, but I read the newspaper every day. Not a few folks wondered why we didn't claim the Moon. We were planting our flag there, after all, in the time honored colonial fashion, so in their simple-minded way of looking at things it ought to be ours, fair and square. What those people didn't realize was that if we'd done that, we'd have wasted all the money we spent getting there. We weren't staking a claim to the most barren land ever trod by human feet. We were staking a claim for leadership of our species. Not absolute leadership of course, but a kind of first among equals status. That was worth far more to America than ownership of lunar real estate might have been. The only way to get it was to plant our flag there in the name of all humanity.

        One wonders if the course of the Cold War would have gone differently if we had turned the Apollo Program into a land grab. Even decades later, as the great technology transfer program that is the H-1B visa program got into full swing, I'd meet young foreign engineers who were delighted to be in the US, because they imagined America to be the great driver of human technological progress.

    • 100m mirror for a telescope, solar collectors that beam power back to Earth, etc.

      You know, with a 100m magnifying glass in space, we could create a free chicken toasting area right here on earth, thereby reducing the vast global power consumption of McDonalds, KFC, Burger Kings, etc.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      But that would cost us nearly as much as one month of war. Sorry, can't do that. Have to murder people, and be called "a true hero" by everyone. Including the commentators on the Colbert Report full episode site.

    • If it's a grand project you want I suggest you go manhattan-project on fusion power, the costs would be enormous and the benefit likewise.
    • NASA's highest budget years (in today's dollars) were 1963-69 and topped out at 5.5% of the federal budget. In the 70s this dropped to below 2% then below 1% where it stayed until the late 80s early 90s where it went back to 1%. It then went back down below 1% and has stayed there since. The total cost of Apollo was somewhere around $145b in today's dollars. For comparison the ISS is at about $150b with about $100b of that being paid by the US. The Interstate highway system between 1956 and 1991 cost about

    • Obama's economists decided that they need to spend their way out of this recession, and even though Orion would not pass muster by my bang-for-buck standards, it's not the worst way to spend money if spending money is what you're trying to do.

      Of course we could do better: We could dream big like JFK and (for the first time since the 60's) try something truly ambitious and expensive. As Americans, it's time we finally accomplish something! Ever since we lost the Vietnam war, we've been complete pussies about big projects. (It doesn't help that when we do try we fail miserably, like when we try to impose Western democracy to Iraq) As far as I can tell, the largest public project recently was the Big Dig in Boston. We can't even rebuild Ground Zero. We act like a country who lost faith in ourselves, in a time when it's very important that the rest of the world has faith in us (and our currency).

      I am with you, 100%

  • by Bjarne Bula (11937) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:44AM (#28409939)

    Call me crazy, but as far as I can tell, we're a month away from the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. The bulk of the current population of the earth was born into a world where man had walked on the moon.

    And NASA is asking for (another) $35B and a couple years to develop a rocket that can launch humans into space, never mind to the moon? Seriously?

    I'm all for space exploration (and exploitation), and I even partake in the probably misguided notion that there is real value in having humans go into space, even though for the most part, it makes more rational sense to have robotic probes go in our place.

    But even I have to question the sanity of pouring billions and billions of dollars into an organization so fscked up that they have to reinvent technology they provably had over forty years ago, and who keep losing people and equipment because they refuse to listen to their own engineers.

    I grew up admiring NASA and the astronauts, and with a burning desire to be one myself, or at the very least work there, but today I wouldn't buy a used car from the current crop of hacks running the place.

    • by turgid (580780) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:11AM (#28410055) Journal

      It's not NASA's fault that they lost the technology used to put the first people on the Moon. It's the fault of the government of the USA. They are the ones who set NASA's goals. They killed manned space exploration with the Space Shuttle, which was a compromise designed by committee for the purposes of putting up and bringing down spy satellites and to "build the space station."

      After the Challenger disaster (a direct consequence of the Shuttle's poor design), the spy satellites went up on different vehicles.

      How long did it take them to design a space station? It must have been the better part of a decade that they spent arguing about it before any of it got built.

      As people keep saying, they could have build it with about 3 launches of a Saturn V.

      The space shuttle is an over-engineered, fragile, over-complicated, unreliable piece of design by politics. It's an exemplary lesson in how not to design things.

      Politicians, as usual, ruined manned space exploration.

      But why should it be up to the Americans on their own to put human beings in space? Yes, Russia and China have done it, but I'm very ashamed that ESA hasn't done it yet.

      If China were to announce plans for a semi-permanently staffed Moon base by 2022, say, things would become interesting again. Go China.

      Russia should not be overlooked too. They have huge gas reserves, and if they stop being aggressive towards their potential customers, they could make huge amounts of money out of it to fund their space programme.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rbanffy (584143)

        "I'm very ashamed that ESA hasn't done it yet."

        Don't be. LEO is a very boring place for humans to be. Until there is a credible way to go somewhere (hint: the Moon) there is little reason for humans in space.

        Or, perhaps, a satellite repair crew could be stationed in LEO and operate a fleet of unmanned tugs to bring back and forth damaged satellites for refurbishing. I am sure the math would not work out at first, but it would be an insanely cool thing to try.

        And, if we develop the cheap launch technology, i

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by khallow (566160)

        It's not NASA's fault that they lost the technology used to put the first people on the Moon. It's the fault of the government of the USA. They are the ones who set NASA's goals. They killed manned space exploration with the Space Shuttle, which was a compromise designed by committee for the purposes of putting up and bringing down spy satellites and to "build the space station."

        Nonsense. NASA wasn't some powerless orphan pushed around by bigger forces. They were the only ones who really understood what they were doing. The Apollo program worked as advertised and possibly ended later than planned (after all, once someone walks on the Moon you've satisfied all the requirements laid out at the beginning by Kennedy!). Sure they didn't have the ability to retain their cushy Apollo era budget, but Congress didn't force them to design a vehicle that only made sense with an Apollo era bud

        • by gbjbaanb (229885)

          The "spy satellite" capability only was needed when NASA's vehicle became so big that they couldn't fund it solely with NASA funds.

          I understood part of the shuttle design had 'input' from the military who demanded it be big enough to launch spy satellites. NASA wanted a smaller one for crew.

          • by khallow (566160)

            I understood part of the shuttle design had 'input' from the military who demanded it be big enough to launch spy satellites. NASA wanted a smaller one for crew.

            I understand that came after NASA went to the DoD for funds. IMHO there's no way the DoD could force NASA to fly a particular heavy lift vehicle (especially since the DoD has the budget to buy its own vehicle). And if you think that the DoD tail wags the dog, then why didn't NASA continue to launch DoD payloads on schedule after the Challenger disaster? They had the cause nailed down within months (perhaps even weeks). They could have continued to launch the Shuttle while they investigated. That's how they

      • But why should it be up to the Americans on their own to put human beings in space? Yes, Russia and China have done it, but I'm very ashamed that ESA hasn't done it yet.

        ESA have kicked the idea around from time to time, most notably with the Hermes project of the 1980s to build a mini-shuttle to launch on an Ariane V, but politics got in the way. The Germans got quite irate about being asked to fund far more than their share, especially with the costs of reunification with the East. The British wouldn't p

        • Not just politics. The Hermes project was a disaster. They kept redesigning the vehicle until it was so big it couldn't be launched with an Ariane 5 any more. AFAIK nothing got out of it but reams of paper at the cost of $2 billion USD. After that crap the French decided they needed to scale back their efforts and try something less complex, so they launched their ARD [wikipedia.org] reentry capsule demonstrator. Which worked just fine and didn't cost a bundle. After which they promptly shafted the whole effort because the
    • But even I have to question the sanity of pouring billions and billions of dollars into an organization so fscked up that they have to reinvent technology they provably had over forty years ago, and who keep losing people and equipment because they refuse to listen to their own engineers.

      Standards have changed since 1969. The Apollo programme was expensive and dangerous. Building another Apollo mission today would still be expensive and dangerous, and worst of all it wouldn't meet modern ambitions. NASA is looking at building an inhabited lunar outpost, visiting an asteroid, launching a large deep-space telescope, and a mission to Mars. It might be a short hop from the Moon to Mars on a poster of the solar system; in real space it's a whole different prospect. Doing new stuff requires

      • by khallow (566160)

        Standards have changed since 1969. The Apollo programme was expensive and dangerous. Building another Apollo mission today would still be expensive and dangerous, and worst of all it wouldn't meet modern ambitions. NASA is looking at building an inhabited lunar outpost, visiting an asteroid, launching a large deep-space telescope, and a mission to Mars. It might be a short hop from the Moon to Mars on a poster of the solar system; in real space it's a whole different prospect. Doing new stuff requires new technology.

        The irony here is that if the US had launched Saturn V's all along, they'd already have this, probably back in the late 80s. Bending metal and launching the vehicle in question is a more certain routine to safe and reliable launch vehicles than paper rockets like the Ares V.

        My view is scrap the Shuttle after completion of the ISS and develop manned versions of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (or EELV) Atlas V Heavy and Delta IV Heavy (breaking up the ULA in the process). Develop orbital propellant

    • by rbanffy (584143)

      "it makes more rational sense to have robotic probes"

      No robotic probe can tell you how it "feels" to be there. A robotic probe is a machine. A manned spacecraft is a part of Humanity.

      But, about pouring billions into NASA... Well... I seems like they lost their mojo. They need to reinvent themselves, be willing to take risks more smartly (it took over 100 flights, 7 deaths and a lost spacecraft for someone to even look at what kind of damage a shuttle takes on launch? Seriously?).

      I guess NASA needs more test

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      The problem with NASA is that it has been hobbled by the past several administrations. NASA simply does not have enough money to do what it is supposed to do. This is particularly true with Bush's vision for space exploration. He wanted NASA to develop a new launch architecture, build a Moon base, and send people to Mars, all with the current level of funding. It is hardly surprising that things are not working. As Scotty might say... Ye canna change the laws of economics.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      But even I have to question the sanity of pouring billions and billions of dollars into an organization so fscked up that they have to reinvent technology they provably had over forty years ago,

      Actually, it's not just technology that NASA had forty years ago, but it's also technology that a number of commercial companies possess today. For some bizarre reason though NASA (or at least certain parts of NASA's management) has a not-invented-here syndrome when it comes to manned spaceflight, and feels the need to spend a few dozen billion dollars to try to duplicate and compete with what the commercial sector can already provide.

  • If we have to choose (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:48AM (#28409963) Homepage

    If we have to make a choice between health care and building a moon base, I say go with the less expensive lift vehicles and health care.

    The moon base will just have to wait.

    • by khallow (566160)
      That's a terrible choice. The US already has health care. (As I see it, the problem is that demand has been artificially boosted, supply artificially constrained, and an extremely broken market implemented for health insurance and health care). Meanwhile a moon base in today's political climate has a high potential of becoming a low value boondoggle.
      • I'll say. My mom was hospitalized in the States when she was on vacation last year. They charged her US$6.00 for an aspirin. Six dollars?!?! You could get 50 tablets over the counter for that much, and a bulk buyer like a hospital should be able to score a lower price than that.
        • by confused one (671304) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:23AM (#28410957)
          You didn't go to the pharmacy and buy them over the counter though, did you? You went to the hospital for them. A doctor had to write an order for the aspirin. A pharmacist had to pull the order for a single dispensary package of aspirin. A nurse had to get the aspirin for you. The nurse had to take time to double check the order against the chart and patient ID (that wrist band she was wearing). The lowest paid of those people make north of $30k/year. It has nothing to do with bulk cost. You paid for aspirin and the professional medical services, and all the support staff, that go with prescribing it and hand delivering the single dosage to you.
          • by TexVex (669445)
            And then there's the malpractice insurance. Part of the $6 for that aspirin was a lottery ticket, and if that one-in-millions number had come up and that aspirin caused harm, there'd have received a nice and disproportionately high cash settlement and a parade. A parade of happy lawyers.
          • You didn't go to the pharmacy and buy them over the counter though, did you?

            No, I didn't. She was in a different country, some 2000km away. Hospital meds are free where we come from (as is the entire hospital experience), so the very concept of paying for an aspirin is as bizarre as paying six bucks for the mint on your pillow at a hotel.
            • by Muad'Dave (255648)

              Hospital meds are free where we come from (as is the entire hospital experience)...

              They're not free. Instead of paying for them when you need them, you just pay for them over and over out of every paycheck whether you (or anyone else) need them or not.

            • Welcome to America. My wife's meds cost me over $650/mo, with insurance.
    • Science can make health care better. Health care can not make science better.

      Also, with 6.7 billion people on earth, who cares if 10% of them die? We reproduce quicker than anyone can kill us. Remember when we were at 6.0 billion?

    • by GaryOlson (737642)
      Most of the mess which is health care reimbursements is based on Medicare/Medicaid schedules -- what is allowed and what is not. And the regulations which in reality force my insurance to cover only what Medicare thinks is important. Excuse me, I am not an old person or a welfare recipient. My health care requirements are quite different.

      Health care problems don't require funding, they require the political courage to fix regulations.
    • The big problem with health care spending is rising faster than inflation. In a country where over 15% of the GDP is spent on health care, that ought to concern us. It's projected to hit 17% of GDP very soon.

      A simple minded projection would have us spending 1/5 of every dollar created on health care within a decade; 1/3 in about 25 years; 1/2 some time in the 2050s.

      Of course that won't happen. The economy will collapse well before then, if it isn't doing so now. There are basically two options: crash a

      • by shaitand (626655)

        That's not really realistic. Those costs are based on the largest economy in the world having a market driven healthcare system.

        Currently the cost of drug development is cost + profit, the same is true of every medical device, every healthcare facility, healthcare professional, every medical supply, medical school, etc. Every step and every person along the way is currently skimming off the top and they are skimming dramatically more than just cost. Even if socialized medicine were the inefficient nightmare

    • by blitziod (591194)
      see but it is not...when is the last time anybody here in the US was denied health care? not in a long time. Even if you are uninsured, you get treatment. The real problem with the healthcare system is political. We have less healthcare personal per 1000 people than we have in years. This creates an artificial shortage of supply and keeps prices climbing. If Obama wants to fix healthcare he will have to fix this flaw. He is not even talking about it, so i doubt it will be done. Instead he is using th
    • And that would be the BIGGEST mistake that we would ever make. Health care can be addressed WHEN WE CHOSE TO. Sadly, we have too many big business in this. The reason of pushing for the moon and beyond is because of LIMITED RESOURCES. Do not tell me that we do not have limited resources. We have lots of rare earth items that are found in various countries that are currently being grabbed by CHina. Down the road, the west will not have access to many elements that we will need. The simple fact is that it wil
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Like what... DOWN, this time?

  • Other than "up"?
  • by isolationism (782170) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:40AM (#28410215) Homepage
    The Manifold series predicted many of the problems we have here today; the aging Shuttle fleet, the private entrepreneurs trying to step up to the plate to supply heavy lifting capability, and all the political BS from "The Gun Club" (NASA) cock-blocking the private entrepreneurs.

    There's also no small mention of how asteroids are flying goldmines. If we want to head off-planet, it would be wise to take advantage of resources that aren't already at the bottom of a gravity well that costs what, $30,000/lb. to LEO?
    • by oni (41625)

      There's also no small mention of how asteroids are flying goldmines.

      Quite true. One moderately sized asteroid contains more nickle and more iron that has ever been mined on Earth - ever, in the history of our planet. Most of the world's nickle comes from a site in Canada where an asteroid hit. Most of our iron comes from banded iron formations and to get at them, we dig giant open pits that we can never refill and that eventually become toxic to the environment.

      Imagine a future where mining on Earth was ill

  • by cjsm (804001) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @10:03AM (#28410365)
    In a NYT article in the Sunday Magazine, Buzz Aldin thinks the Russians have a better idea in going to Phobos as a stepping stone to Mars. The moon..."is not promising for commercial activities."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/magazine/21fob-q4-t.html?ref=magazine [nytimes.com]
  • I know a lot of people are down on the idea of sending people to the moon, or to mars, or to any other place outside of earth's gravity, for the sake of doing so. I think that is exactly why we should do something. In the short term, there is no logical reason to put people in space. But in the long run, we know that we must go there, and thus, we must make halting, childlike, inefficient steps to learn how to get there.

    As a species, our first craft to traverse the waters with were not 70,000 ton container ships, 100,000 ton aircraft carriers, or 200,000 ton oil tankers. Most likely it was a crude piece of wood that floated. Later, we would learn to hollow things out, or put pieces of wood together. It took us many years to get from those days to now.

    There does not need to be a contest of manned exploration versus unmanned science. At most we are quibbling about an additional 5 to 10 billion dollars per year. Out of a federal budget of several trillion dollars, this is chump change. I would shocked to find that as we have achieved some sort of victory in Iraq, we cannot use some of the nearly 700 billion dollars a year in military spending for this purpose.

  • I already went through this with the government back in the early 90s [archive.org].

    What I learned is that Adam Smith's invisible hand is broken -- although technosocialism like the Shuttle program is even worse.

    So fix the invisible hand by reforming government to attend to its real business: Paying out citizens dividends under the social contract that brings us together to protect property rights that would not exist in the absence of that social contract. As with any dividend stream, there is an optimum for the s

  • by solios (53048) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:52PM (#28411517) Homepage

    Politically unattractive is the idea of depending on the Soyuz to get to the ISS while we continue to develop a new launch vehicle that by any reasonable metric should be done by now.

    I'm a huge fan of the Russian space program, but I also feel that it's a matter of national pride to have our own crew launch vehicle(s). If NASA is incapable and commercial interests can step up, then let's go with commercial interests - bidding out to American companies means it's still an American project; an American "win."

    What's more attractive - sending US Astronauts into space on a SpaceX or Scaled Composites launch vehicle, or bidding for space on a Soyuz launch (at over $40 million a seat) while bureaucrats continue to insist Ares/Orion will work?

    • The pols that are fighting against SpaceX and even ULA, are the ones that pushing for Russian launches. Why? Because EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM ARE WORRIED ABOUT JOBS IN THEIR AREA. They would rather ignore what is happening to America, ignore the issues of depending on a country that is NOT our best friend, to protect a few measly jobs.

      It is a sad state of affairs that the west has become.
      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        The pols that are fighting against SpaceX and even ULA, are the ones that pushing for Russian launches. Why? Because EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM ARE WORRIED ABOUT JOBS IN THEIR AREA. They would rather ignore what is happening to America, ignore the issues of depending on a country that is NOT our best friend, to protect a few measly jobs.

        Yup, this pretty much sums up the problem. Even if having a vibrant commercial space transportation industry would benefit their congressional district in the long term, if it means fewer NASA jobs in their district in the short term they fight against it tooth and nail.

        • Yeah, it is kind of odd. I have always been a fan of Ares V, but have been re-thinking things. It seems to me that Direct really is the better START PATH to the moon. We have the infrastructure in place and jobs spread out. The development cost for it is LESS than what remains on Ares I, let alone Ares V. It seems to me that if we were smart, we we would boost COTS and perhaps fund something like spacedev's dream chaser, and buy one to two Bigelow units while at the same time doing Direct. Direct would giv
          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            It seems to me that Direct really is the better START PATH to the moon.

            I like the DIRECT design and think it's the most straightforward way to get a heavy lift rocket if it's truly needed, but I'm still not convinced that a heavy lift vehicle is really needed for a lunar architecture. What are your thoughts on using things like orbital fuel depots [selenianboondocks.com] to enable a lunar architecture using only vehicles in the class of the Delta IV Heavy and SpaceX Falcon 9?

            • Oh, I LOVE the orbital fuel depots. I really like the idea of it for DIRECT. The reason is that it would enable us to send a LOT OF CARGO to the moon each month. In addition, it would allow for much larger volume, which the EELV and falcon9 do not do well. In addition, the falcon 9 will get at MOST 29000 KG to LEO and Delta IV Heavy even less, while direct will do 64000KG up 92000 KG to leo. That is a good enough size for a time, and that can be pushed cheaply to the moon via the fuel depot. In addition,
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      What's more attractive - sending US Astronauts into space on a SpaceX or Scaled Composites launch vehicle, or bidding for space on a Soyuz launch (at over $40 million a seat) while bureaucrats continue to insist Ares/Orion will work?

      Are you asking what's more attractive to and better for America in general, or what's more attractive to senators from congressional districts where the Ares/Orion will be built?

  • For those unfamiliar, the White House panel (the "Augustine Commission" on human spaceflight plans) was given the following objectives in their charter [nasa.gov]:

    The Committee shall conduct an independent review of ongoing U.S. human space flight plans and programs, as well as alternatives, to ensure the Nation is pursuing the best trajectory for the future of human space flight â" one that is safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable. The Committee should aim to identify and characterize a range of options that spans the reasonable possibilities for continuation of U.S. human space flight activities beyond retirement of the Space Shuttle. The identification and characterization of these options should address the following objectives:

    a) expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station (ISS);

    b) supporting missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO);

    c) stimulating commercial space flight capability; and

    d) fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.

    Unfortunately, as the "Restore the Vision" blog notes, while the presentations by SpaceX and ULA (maker of the EELVs) addressed these issues, NASA's Constellation presentation largely ignoring these objectives:

    http://restorethevision.blogspot.com/2009/06/thoughts-on-june-17-human-space-flight.html [blogspot.com]

    On "expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station (ISS)", the Constellation presentation was silent. It mentioned having ISS crew transport by 2015, the current goal, and how they'd made changes to improve confidence they'd meet that date (eg: reducing initial crew size to 4 on ISS missions). However, "expedite" doesn't mean "increase confidence you'll make the current late date". It means "accelerate the process or progress of : speed up". The presentation doesn't suggest any ways to have Ares/Orion ready for ISS transport by, say, 2013, nor does it suggest any ways to have any other U.S. system ready by that time.

    Even former NASA Administrator Griffin always claimed that Ares/Orion was only meant as a backup for ISS support, and commercial transportation services were the intended route. Thus the natural inclination should be for NASA management to encourage commercial services to take on that role. The Constellation presentation could have suggested a COTS-D or similar competition for human transportation services, or some other means to get commercial vendors working on basic ISS transportation. Then Constellation could concentrate on the Moon and Beyond. Alternately, the presentation could have suggested ways to alter Ares/Orion to be ready by 2013. It did neither.

    On "stimulating commercial space flight capability", again the Constellation presentation was silent. It has a line about "promoting international and commercial participation in exploration", but no details on what that participation is. Where is this participation in the plan? The original goal of the Vision for Space Exploration was for launch support to be done commercially, except perhaps for heavy lift, if needed. Where is that in the plan? The presentation didn't suggest that any of the components of the Constellation architecture be implemented commercially. There's a picture on "Future Exploration Capabilities" with an Ares V linked to some "Commercial and Civil LEO" spacecraft, but what commercial activity is going to be launched by Ares V? There's a slide on "Economic Impact: Contractor" and others on billions of dollars of prime contract value (as if high cost is a virtue), but that's not commercial, it's government contracts. If a contractor is going to sell commercial services enabled by its government contracts, I'm willing to call that commercial, but how much of this Constellation contract work fits that description?

    One gets the impression that commercial services are left for some distant future generation, after Constellation has become operational and the NASA base is constructed. Then, if the future NASA is so inclined, there might be some room for a little commercial supply to give NASA some room to work towards Mars.

    Finally, on "fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities", the Constellation presentation is once again silent. There are notes about how "development and operations costs must be minimized", how life cycle costs are reduced, and so on, but the point isn't whether or not Constellation is straining really hard to reduce costs. The key question is: Does Constellation fit within the current budget profile? The budget profile is what it is. If, as former NASA Administrator Griffin has suggested, Constellation doesn't fit within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities, Constellation needs to change to fit, or be replaced. Either show that you fit the profile, or what changes will allow you to fit the profile. The Constellation presentation didn't do that.

    Fitting the current budget profile is a key point. All sorts of trends suggest that the budget will continue to be difficult for NASA exploration in the years ahead, just as was often noted by many commentators starting in 2005. Note the wider political, budget, and demographic trends. Note the charter of the Human Spaceflight Review Committee, which opens up a real possibility of shifting exploration resources from Constellation proper to ISS support after 2016, expediting ISS support (shrinking the gap), and R&D plus robotic exploration activities that complement astronaut exploration. There's a lot of justification for these potential budget shifts, so it's important for the astronaut transport plan to fit within a budget that allows a sufficient amount of such actitivies. Fitting the current budget profile is just a start in that direction.

    In contrast to the Constellation presentation, the EELV presentation addresses the central HSR key objectives head on, showing how it can fit the budget, expedite ISS support, implement Moon missions, and work commercially. It would be interesting to see if the ULA is willing to put "skin in the game" and also to not get funding until milestones are reached, similar to the COTS A-C arrangement.

  • The elephant in the room (which doesn't get enough attention) is that the Ares rocket design is fundamentally flawed due to politics taking precedence over engineering. The Ares first stage will be a solid rocket booster which not only is inherently less controllable than a liquid fueled rocket (since it can't be throttled), but also makes the whole vehicle aerodynamically unstable (since it has a smaller diameter than the upper stage). The proposed reusable solid first stage has the same segmented design t

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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