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Mars Moon NASA Space The Almighty Buck

NASA's Cashflow Problem Puts Moon Trip In Doubt 357

Posted by kdawson
from the as-for-mars-talk-to-the-hand dept.
krou writes "According to the Guardian, the Augustine panel is going to declare that there is simply no money to go back to the moon, and the next-generation Ares I rocket is likely to be scrapped unless there is more funding. The $81B Constellation Program's long-term goal of putting a human on Mars is almost certainly not going to be possible by the middle of the century. The options outlined by the panel for the future of NASA 'are to extend the working life of the aging space shuttle fleet beyond next year's scheduled retirement until 2015, while developing a cheaper transport to the moon; pressing ahead with Constellation as quickly as existing funding allows; or creating a new, larger rocket that would allow exploration of the solar system while bypassing the moon.' All of this means that NASA won't be back on the moon before the end of the next decade as hoped, 'or even leaving lower Earth orbit for at least another two decades.' Another result of the monetary black hole is that they don't have the '$300m to expand a network of telescopes and meet the government's target of identifying, by 2020, at least 90% of the giant space rocks that pose a threat to Earth.'"
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NASA's Cashflow Problem Puts Moon Trip In Doubt

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  • It seems to me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by moogied (1175879) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:21PM (#29067869)
    NASA's only real problem is that the government is giving them a crap ton of stupid projects to do. What good is identifying the asteroid that will kill us all? We can't stop the stupid thing. Why exactly are we going to the moon again? As a launch platform for mars? How about we use that other launch platform we have.. you know, earth. We got to the moon in the 60's because NASA was told "Get to the moon.", so sure enough they hopped right onto it.
  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vertinox (846076) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:31PM (#29068013)

    Or the Chinese. They'll probably be there in less than 10.

  • Re:It seems to me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:32PM (#29068031)

    Why exactly are we going to the moon again?

    Uhhhh-- You're not from around here, are you? The non-geek answer is here [nasa.gov]. The geek-trying-to-not-be answer is here [nasa.gov]. And the real geek answer is... well, anything modded +5 on this thread that isn't "Funny".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:40PM (#29068175)

    Read this book [wikipedia.org] and repost. $2B gets you to Mars. $20B gets you a network of sites on Mars. That's a whole lot cheaper than $81B mentioned here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:41PM (#29068185)

    Please explain to me why the nations of this world cant get together and share budgets, knowlege and whatever is necessary to get to where "humanity" wants to go when it comes to space exploration.

    all i hear about is "humanity" followed by NASA ... Americans perhaps, not Humanity. The fact of the matter is that this world has changed since the 1960's ... and america isnt what it was before. I dont think getting to mars is something the NASA should be working on by itself, this is a project that should bind nations together... not set them apart. i wouldnt be surprised if eastern countries start teaming together to get to mars in the near future, leaving whats left of NASA behind... time will tell i guess.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:45PM (#29068265)

    B.S. Corporations don't have the giant amount of capital needed to fund any serious space exploration, especially when the financial rewards are questionable and probably many decades away (asteroid mining, space-based solar power, etc.). Corporations have to get their capital from investors, who want to see a return quickly, not 50 years from now after they're all dead (since most investors are older and saving for retirement; young people are busy spending all their money at the mall or other disposable things).

    The problem is that our government has mismanaged our tax dollars, and instead of investing it in space exploration to keep America at the forefront of technology (with all the spin-off technologies developed, in addition to the potential new industries named above), we've wasted our money on useless wars (Vietnam, Iraq, Iraq II, etc.), welfare for people who don't want to work, and more recently idiotic corporate bailouts for companies that were mismanaged and failing. If we had devoted 1/4 the Defense budget to NASA all these years, we would have had a Moon base by now, and probably a Mars one too.

    Instead, what's going to happen is that a government with real vision for the future is going to take over as the #1 power on the planet, and they're going to push space exploration. That country is going to be China. And with that, Westerner's prior dreams of humanity being led by Western cultures, with their focus on individual freedoms, (as seen in shows like Star Trek) will be dead. Instead, to be realistic, we should start writing sci-fi stories where everyone speaks Mandarin, and everything big is done for the glory of the Party.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:45PM (#29068273) Homepage Journal

    The "get off this rock" crowd is a magical-religious cult, not a serious proponent of realistic, feasible, affordable, desirable, or even specific projects.

    Except that space advocates have been for decades proposing projects which are entirely realistic, feasible, and specific. Whether they're affordable is of course an open question, and whether they're desirable is a matter of opinion, but there is nothing like the ambiguity you claim.

    Manned colonization of the cosmos is, at the present time and likely for centuries to come, no different from a belief in an afterlife filled with saints, virgins, and angelic personages.

    By saying "cosmos," you're conflating science-fantasy ideas about warp drives and such with well-understood science and engineering problems involved in colonizing the Solar System. I suspect you're doing this deliberately to make it all look equally silly. In case you're really so ignorant that you don't understand the difference:

    Cosmos -- not going to happen without fundamental changes in our understanding of physical laws. Too bad.

    Solar System -- easily doable with technology that exists right now, using little more than a Newtonian understanding of the world.

    It is not real.

    Human footprints on the Moon are real. Many of the people who put them there are still alive. That's as real as it gets.

    If you want inspiration, stick to anime.

    How about being inspired by the actual record of what people did? Are you actually more inspired by fiction than by real life?

  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by causality (777677) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:53PM (#29068381)

    A space elevator is probably out of reach right now

    There is one objection to the space elevator that I've mentioned here before but never seen anyone seriously address.

    The earth is built like a gigantic capacitor. The ionosphere has a relatively strong negative charge, while the ground has a relatively strong positive charge. An insulating layer of dielectric air is between them. It's a leaky self-adjusting capacitor because of lightning. A space elevator would bypass this insulating layer of air, making a direct physical connection between the negative and positive charges. Additionally, I believe that the carbon nanotubes proposed for its construction are electrically conductive, but even if they weren't there is probably more than enough current for electrical breakdown to take place considering that lightning does this to air molecules about three million times a day. What would keep the elevator from instantly vaporizing due to electrical arcing the moment it's installed?

  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:54PM (#29068403) Homepage
    Manned exploration of the solar system is far from "easily doable with technology that exists right now." It is colossally expensive, and devising safe, prolonged missions to other problems is not even close to being a solved problem in practical, feasible terms. True to my post, you are forced to resort to emotional arguments. You have neglected to explain why humans need to be present in space. It is very much a magical-religious cult.
  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14, 2009 @01:57PM (#29068453)

    10 - 8 = 2

    http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5751078/description.html

    NASA has has this patent for years, 1960's I think, and a lot of hobbiest play with it but to many folks say it will never work. The chinese bought rights to use the patent almost 10 years ago and have publicly said they will be on the moon by 2012. I suspect, lacking details, that guess what they figured out and now the space race will begin again.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:23PM (#29068865) Journal

    ... which includes aiding, rather than usurping and suppressing, the development of PRIVATE spaceflight technology and business, the way they historically aided (somewhat) private air flight.

  • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:26PM (#29068899)

    My prediction is that there will not be a human outside of low Earth orbit for at least the next 50 years, with the possible (unlikely) exception of the Chinese attempting a lunar orbit or landing.

    • The cost of human spaceflight is going up. In part, this is because we haven't made significant investments to improve propulsion technology since the 1960's, so efficiency hasn't been improving. At the same time, we as a nation seem less willing to accept risks with spaceflight than we used to. At one time, astronauts were mostly former military or test pilots, people used to the idea of real risk. Now we treat the Space Shuttle like some kind of bus into space, and we expect the bus to be safe and comfortable. We send up teachers, congressmen, scientists, tourists -- pretty much anybody who wants to go. The expectation of safety means more engineering margin and backup systems, driving up cost.
    • The capabilities of robotic craft are steadily improving. Moore's Law and all that. What will an autonomous rover on Mars be able to do, with another 30 years' development? It's hard for me to imagine sending a person on a 15 year voyage to Europa to dig through the ice, or to Titan to explore the hydrocarbon oceans.
    • Nobody has identified a compelling economic, scientific, political, or military rationale for sending people into space. Arguments based on national pride, or fear of being surpassed technologically, have for now evaporated.
    • The ISS. This $xxB useless boondoggle must be playing some role in tempering Congress's enthusiasm for Big Projects.

    Perhaps in the 50-100 year timescale, we'll have figured out radically different approaches: Nuclear propulsion, a space elevator, a launch loop. Or we'll be able to upload our minds into hardware, and send people into space without sending bodies. E.g., your consciousness gets radioed into the probe once it's tunneled through the Europan ice.

  • Re:Sure they do! (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:37PM (#29069025)
    and how about every time I see a black man who I think is a street thug, I get to punch him in the face for being a stereotype and not contributing to something useful(oh the irony).
  • Re:NASA Benifits (Score:3, Interesting)

    by S.O.B. (136083) on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:50PM (#29069167)

    Many of the NASA technologies on this list would not have been developed if it were an unmanned only operation.

    http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html [thespaceplace.com]

    Don't get me wrong, I think there's an incredible amount of science that can be accomplished using unmanned probes, landers, etc. but to not have any manned exploration would be a mistake.

    And no matter how good we make the robots a real human being is infinitely more adaptable. As an example, one of the Mars rovers (I think it was Spirit) at one point had trouble keeping it's batteries charged due to the build up of dust on the solar panels reducing the efficiency. The unmanned rover couldn't do anything about it because it was not designed to handle that task. A human being on the other hand would simply brush off the dust. A seemingly simple task that even the most advanced robot can't do.

    I think both manned and unmanned spaceflight have their place.

  • by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:53PM (#29069207) Homepage Journal
    It can be helpful to look at some actual data once in a while, calming, even. The problem is big, yes, but the historical record shows that the USA was able to reduce it's total national debt as a percentage of GDP, consistently since World War II, with the notable exceptions of the years of Reagan, Bush, and Son of Bush. This was done by growing the economy. It could be done again. One of the best ways to stimulate that kind of massive economic growth would be to use space exploration and alternate energy as a replacement for the military research and development, which drove much of this growth during the Cold War. USA National Debt as Percentage of GDP [zfacts.com]. If we choose not to do something like this, the debt will be crushing, yes.
  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by damburger (981828) on Friday August 14, 2009 @03:19PM (#29069539)

    Whilst it is always fun to kick the beancounters (I do often enough) I don't think it is entirely their fault in this instance.

    Space travel is not a field that allows much real experimentation. As a programmer now moving into space science, I can attest how different this makes things. A programmer can compile-debug-compile 50 times a day until something is just right. The NASA equivalent of compiling something costs $300 million each time.

    This led in the 1950's and 60's to the development of complicated methods of systems management, which because they enabled Apollo to be a success have been copied and rigidly adhered to around the world ever since (Europe is a prime example; our native systems management experiments in ELDO were a dismal failure whilst Americans were walking on the moon. So we scrapped everything, simply copied NASA system management techniques, and now we have highly competitive heavy lift launchers)

    Rigorous documentation, interface management, and change management do tend to drown space agencies in paper work but by the same token shit doesn't blow up quite so often anymore. Space systems management is conservative (in the literal, not political sense) because it would be extremely costly to explore any different ways of doing things.

    The way things are done now may well represent a local maxima in our ability to build and fly rockets, but randomizing the function could easily cost trillions.

  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday August 14, 2009 @04:38PM (#29070655) Journal

    Look around. Do you see private companies lining up to fund Moon travel?

    http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/02/22/65477.aspx [msn.com]

    Even as Bigelow Aerospace gears up for launching its second prototype space station into orbit, the company has set its sights on something much, much bigger: a project to assemble full-blown space villages at a work site between Earth and the moon, then drop them to the lunar surface, ready for immediate move-in.

    In an exclusive interview this week, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow confirmed that his company has been talking about the concept with NASA â" and that the first earthly tests of the techniques involved would take place later this year. The scenario he sketched out would essentially make Bigelow a general contractor for the final frontier.

    That role would be a good fit for Bigelow, who made his fortune in the real estate, hotel and construction business and is now focused on developing inflatable modules (or as he prefers to call them, "expandable systems") that can serve as the building blocks for orbital living complexes.

    The first big step down that path came in July, when a Russian booster put Bigelow's Genesis 1 prototype module into orbit. Bigelow has said even he was surprised by the success of that mission, and he has committed himself to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to follow up on that first launch.

  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TorKlingberg (599697) on Friday August 14, 2009 @05:04PM (#29071009)

    Sometimes I think Science Fiction is actually bad for real space exploration. We get people saying things like "Why is NASA dicking around with ISS and the Shuttle, they should get to Mars already". Well, you don't think we should practice being in space reliably for extended periods before setting out on a trip that takes years and any failure means the crew dies? But no, they skip over such details in SciFi so NASA should do the same.

  • Re:Screw it!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by turbidostato (878842) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:01PM (#29073267)

    "It only looks that way with hindsight."

    No, it doesn't.

    "At the time it wasn't a dead cert that the 747 was going to be a success."

    Looking at the number of transoceanic travelers and its tendence it was obvious that lowering the per-passenger costs and increasing capacity was a no-brainer.

    "Some people probably thought there was obvious profit to be made from Concorde"

    Which only makes my point stronger. See that I didn't say that 747 benefits were *certain* but that they were *obvious*. The same is true for Concorde: at least for those that put money in the project the positive prospects were obvious -time demonstrated they were not certain. On hindsight the "why" comes obvious and I already stated it: while the 747 directly answered to a certain tendence -lowering per passenger costs and increasing capactiy at current conditions (those of, say, the 707 or DC-8; but it even was protected against planned obsolescense: its double deck was in place to recover costs as a cargo plane in case supersonic airliners won the transoceanic battle and its wide cabin allowed it to survive as a militar cargo plane too), the Concorde project "abused" an unstated asumption that in the end resulted false: "those that currently cross the Atlantic in seven to nine hours will be mad about crossing it in four and a half"... specially if you can only take the advantage if flying from London or Paris but not from Madrid, Berlin, Roma, Bucarest, Bern, Helsinki, etc.

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