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Future of NASA's Manned Spaceflight Looks Bleak 452

Posted by kdawson
from the send-out-the-machines dept.
coondoggie writes "Things don't look good for NASA when the report outlining its future begins: 'The US human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. [NASA] is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources. Space operations are among the most complex and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations.' Today the Augustine Commission handed to the White House the Review of US Human Space Flight Plans Committee summary report, after months of expert review and testimony. Many observers expected a bleak report, but ultimately the future of US manned space flight will hinge on how the report's conclusions are interpreted. Keep in mind too that NASA has spent almost $8 billion of a planned $40 billion to develop systems for a return to the Moon."
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Future of NASA's Manned Spaceflight Looks Bleak

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  • How can you... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sgage (109086) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:14PM (#29359697)

    ... fund a manned space program when you blow all your resources on worthless, unnecessary wars?

    Why is it we can afford a f***ing trillion dollars on the f***ing wars, and not put together a credible space program?

    I guess there's no profit in it, and our state religion won't allow that. That's why we're not only not going to have a manned space program. It's why we're fucked as a nation in general.

    It's just mind-boggling, but there it is.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Samy Merchi (1297447)

      Well, arguably, a nation that doesn't turn a profit will see things like -- well, like last year. Yes, I know that's an oversimplification, but still. If you let the nation's economy go down the tubes, it will have pretty bad effects.

      Having said that, I have personally a strong belief in non-profit scientific expenditures. And if the US wants to maintain its role as a superpower, there is really no alternative. It has to produce some results -- not just profit -- if it wants to be seen as the leader of the

    • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@ g m a i l.com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:49PM (#29360095) Journal

      What I don't get is why we don't just buy some Soyuz spacecraft [wikipedia.org] off the Russians and be done with it. The Soyuz has a proven track record, the damned things are built like tanks, it is solid and dependable.

      I think it is pretty clear by now that Ares is turning out to be a giant clusterfuck, and we lost all the plans for Apollo and the Saturn 5 from what I understand, so why waste billions on something that will never fly, when we have proven technology that we can buy for a HELL of a lot cheaper than Ares? I'm sure the Russians will be more than happy to take some cash from us, and we can get all the rockets our little hearts desire. Hell I'm sure for the right price the Russians will even sell us plans so we can build our own spare parts, even our own Soyuz, but it would be probably cheaper to use their already existing facilities to manufacture them.

      Just seems like a win/win to me and a hell of a lot more sensible than pissing money down a rat hole for something that will most likely end up shitcanned anyway.

      • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:10PM (#29360295)

        What I don't get is why we don't just buy some Soyuz spacecraft [wikipedia.org] off the Russians and be done with it.

        Because buying Soyuz wouldn't create many jobs in Florida and Texas. The manned spaceflight side of NASA is a jobs program which just happens to occasionally put some people into space.

      • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Informative)

        by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:12PM (#29360303) Journal

        and we lost all the plans for Apollo and the Saturn 5 from what I understand,

        Urban legend. http://tafkac.org/science/saturn_v_blueprints.html [tafkac.org]

        They're on microfilm at the Marshall Space Flight Center

        • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Suzuran (163234) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:14PM (#29360907)
          That is not entirely true.

          I am part of a research project that is reconstructing the Apollo project, and I can say authoritatively that large parts of the Saturn V knowledge are indeed missing. Only some of the booster physical structure blueprints are on file at MSFC. That does not include the wiring diagrams, the internal diagrams of the Instrument Unit, or the software that actually flew the booster. That was designed by IBM Federal Systems, and when IBM was broken up as a monopoly the documentation and software were lost. We have been chasing after this stuff for YEARS. If it existed we would have found it. We have taken to searching out and contacting former programmers and engineers to see if they took anything home with them that we might be able to scan. We have even gone so far as to take apart one of the remaining Saturn LVDCs to try to read the core memory out and see if the software is present. (This is a potentially destructive effort and is still ongoing. It will be at least a year before we know anything.)

          Also missing are the procedures by which the software was used, the prelaunch checkout procedures, we have almost NO documentation of the software, tools, and procedures that the ground controllers used, and so on. There's a lot of missing pieces.
          • And there is more (Score:3, Interesting)

            by WindBourne (631190)
            What is really missing is that the blue prints were designs. During production, the builders found that the BPs would not work on many items. So, they would talk to the other part builders and make changes. And those changes were NOT incorporated back into the blue prints. That is similar to the Boeing 747. The old blue prints could never be used to build the crafts. The guys on the line would make parts slightly different from the specs. Thankfully, Boeing has since worked to get that info back into Cati
      • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by steveha (103154) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:25PM (#29360433) Homepage

        we lost all the plans for Apollo and the Saturn 5

        Not quite. According to Henry Spencer, what we lost was not the plans, but the know-how to turn the plans into hardware.

        There is a whole lot of undocumented know-how. Suppose you want to build some part. What kind of heat treatment was used on the metal? Are you certain you know the exact alloy used, or what might change by using a slightly different alloy? How did the master machinist shape the part... did he have some sort of custom jig, and if so, what did it look like? It's too late to ask him; that was 40 years ago, and you probably can't find him now.

        We could, with great effort and cost, recover all this missing know-how, being certain to test everything at every step to make sure we know what we are really doing. And if we did all that, the end result would be a 40-year-old design. We know more now, and we could improve on the design; and the amount of time and money it would cost to reproduce the Saturn V is probably similar to what it would cost to develop a new launch system.

        http://www.faqs.org/faqs/space/controversy/ [faqs.org]

        In any event, what we really need is not another Saturn V. We need a cheap and reliable way to put small payloads into orbit over and over and over. A "space pickup truck" if you will. You can do almost everything by sending up modules and assembling them in orbit, and anything you can't do, you could handle with a few heavy-lift launches; and then use the pickup truck to send fuel, supplies, and crew up.

        steveha

        • Re:How can you... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by bertoelcon (1557907) <berto...el...con@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:07PM (#29360837)

          In any event, what we really need is not another Saturn V. We need a cheap and reliable way to put small payloads into orbit over and over and over. A "space pickup truck" if you will. You can do almost everything by sending up modules and assembling them in orbit, and anything you can't do, you could handle with a few heavy-lift launches; and then use the pickup truck to send fuel, supplies, and crew up.

          steveha

          Sounds EXACTLY like what the Shuttle was made to do.

          • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10link ... inus threevowels> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @05:39AM (#29363433) Homepage

            The shuttle was designed as a compromise between a load of different requirements and ultimately ended up with a number of major flaws including

            * while it was reusable most of the advantages of reusability were lost because of big refurb requirements every flight. Furthermore the reusability made incremental development harder. So IMO we ended up with the worst of both worlds there.
            * The shuttle is essentially a mini space-station that goes up and down every time. Great for standalone work in space but very wasteful when working with a proper space-station.
            * the side-mount "stack" is fundamentally dangerous because it means if something goes wrong with the stack it is far more likely to damage the crew compartment than with a traditional stack. The foam that took down columbia would have been a non-issue with a traditional stack and even an incident like the challenger one would probablly have been more survivable with a traditional stack.

      • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:36PM (#29361089) Homepage Journal

        I think you don't "get" it because you don't know what you're on about. The Soyuz is a great little vehicle, but its complete lack of capability is the reason why the ISS is in the terrible orbit it is in - Space Station Freedom was supposed to be in a sensible orbit that would allow building spacecraft to go beyond LEO, that plan was down-rated when the Russians were invited to participate because they were incapable of reaching such a useful orbit. The Soyuz rocket can put about 8t into LEO.. that's less than the smallest EELV currently in service in the US. The Proton rocket is a little better but doesn't have this glorious service record you mentioned.

        In comparison, the Ares I (if it ever flies) will carry over 20t to LEO and the Ares V (presuming they don't downrate it again) will carry 188t to LEO. *And* they will do them with much lower marginal costs. I think your objection here is to the political bullshit that gets in the way of making these vehicles.. well that's just as bad in Russia.

        SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, two commercial companies making rockets in the 13t to LEO range might be more your cup of tea.. less political bullshit, but less of a published schedule too, so you might get what they promised, when they're damn well ready.

    • by shadowblaster (1565487) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:56PM (#29360707)

      You will need to adjust the funding slider on your empire to reduce military spending and increase technology spending.

      Alternatively convert some of your citizen to scientists, that ought to get you the space flight tech quicker.

    • Re:How can you... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sillybilly (668960) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:12PM (#29360885)
      We, in the US, can't do it. Money alone isn't enough. We don't have the technical expertise anymore, and brainpower is getting more difficult to import/adapt, as we are no longer the leader of the free world, but possibly have one of the more oppressive regimes amongst the technically advanced nations. Creative minds are attracted to freedom. Moreover anyone creative here is caught up in mere making ends meet issues, including my engineering college professors considering 5 bux being too steep for a non-profit professional organization dinner, and casually noting that in 2 years we students will all make more then they are making. Something is wrong with that picture. That should not even be on their minds. Having comfortable incomes that allow hobbies passions, such as developing aluminum electrolysis in a backyard in Oberlin, Ohio, or airplanes in a field in Dayton, Ohio by bicycle repair men, are a thing of the past. We don't have backyards anymore, and the DHS descends on you if you try to do anything in it, such as aluminum, or flying. Everything requires a permit anymore. Permit to attempt to fly. Permit to electrolyze aluminum. With police holding a straitjacket at the appeals session in court waiting for the verdict from the jury of twelve deliberating the testimony of psychologist witnesses pushing drug company agenda about mental illnesses. Soon we'll have officially stamped and approved toilet paper tissue slices with expiration dates.

      Every penny is ultra important anymore. We no longer have things like Bell Labs, we can't justify Bell Labs anymore on mere financial terms. What's money got to do with it? Unfortunately, everything. We can no longer afford space programs, because we can't afford taxes, car, life, health insurance and credit card fees. And regulation requiring even more mandatory insurance fees is imminent. Space program? What space program? Who cares? We're in dog eats dog fights over who gets what, how we're gonna dice up the pennies of each dollar we make. In the end we end up not making the dollars because we're too busy fighting over how we dice up the ones we did make. Creativity is the only generation of true wealth of a nation. You can only fight over limited resources so much, no matter how good you get at fighting over it, if there is nothing left to fight over. The first rule of any successful parasite is that you don't kill the host, but let it flourish. We can't produce brainpower because we're still fighting a public vs. private education war - can't afford private/religious schools, and public education is, well, something smells fishy there, because a lot of poor countries can do a lot better job at it.

      It's gonna be Japanese(expertise, freedom of creativity) and Chinese(resources, chinese-wall-building-like stamina, centrally focused government of the ancient Egyptian type) only in space as far as massive space stations go, unless they end up in a war against each other. We will be watching as bystanders. Like the British empire is today, watching space shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, reminiscing of old days glory, when half the world's GDP was funneled to London as colonial income. Good old days.

      But do we really care these days for space stations? The energy problem is more crucial. But we no longer have backyards of Oberlin to figure it out, and even if we do, people are too busy working too jobs to make ends meet and don't have the time anymore for it. Look at houses built in the US in the 1890-1920 period, and the decorations on them. Compare ones built in 1960-2000. Who had free time on their hands, and extra resources they could turn to creativity? What about education of their children?
    • Flame my ass, mod me down, I don't support this level of idiocy that exists here.

      NASA does not get a real budget because NASA does not generate votes.

      What gets votes are two categories...

      The masses through one handout after another, to keep them placated between elections and loyal to their local politicians who "did this for them out of the goodness of their heart"

      The money on Wall Street. Those who deliver the real campaign donations through various routes, direct and indirect.

      We have seen trickle down e

  • by Samy Merchi (1297447) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:21PM (#29359755) Homepage

    I think the most important thing can be crystallized:

    Without more money, there will be no meaningful human space flight.

    As for the details, I agree with the report where it says that Mars is not a good first destination. I concur that the Flexible Path scenario would be pretty smart. There's a wealth of information and experience to be made in exploring the Lagrange Points and Near-Earth Asteroids.

    Basically, is the United States willing to cede space to China and Russia?

    • by Neon Aardvark (967388) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:26PM (#29359825) Homepage

      Without the usage of something other than chemical rockets, there will be no meaningful human space flight.

      Every space agency should temporarily abandon manned space programs and pour the money they would have spent into propulsion research.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        Without the usage of something other than chemical rockets, there will be no meaningful human space flight.

        What do you mean by "meaningful space flight"? There's still quite a lot of room for cost-efficiency with chemical rockets -- Elon Musk of SpaceX figures there's at least room for an order of magnitude of a price drop. IMHO, NASA should focus on getting the prices of chemical rockets to drop with things with things like commercial space transport procurement [thespacereview.com], while using the money it saves to resume its efforts into developing new space technologies. Unfortunately, when the Ares I going overbudget, instead

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:22PM (#29359775) Homepage Journal

    All the options presented to the White House will include shuttle extension in one form or another, however only Option 4B extends the shuttle beyond 2011 (you may remember the shuttle program was supposed to end in 2010). The arguments for extending the ISS beyond the currently deorbit date of 2016 are very attractive. It seems likely that US support for the station will continue until 2020, at least. With ISS extension comes commercial crew to orbit, but the committee seems convinced that this capability will not be available before 2015.

    The administration needs to make 3 decisions:

    * Get out of LEO or not. This is a non-decision, they have to or there's no program.
    * Extend the shuttle to 2015 or not. This is an unlikely decision, the production lines are closed, restarting them is incredibly expensive.
    * Return to the Moon or not. The whole "flexible path" thing is gaining traction, but its basically just a nice way of saying don't go anywhere, or stay there.. and the political capital of going back ot the Moon remains strong. In my mind this is a non-decision, we're going back to the Moon and on to Mars.

    And so, with that I feel confident in saying that the White House will choose option 4A, in form if not in name, probably with some bonus thing tacked on the side.

    • by Samy Merchi (1297447) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:34PM (#29359909) Homepage

      The whole "flexible path" thing is gaining traction, but its basically just a nice way of saying don't go anywhere, or stay there

      I don't really agree with that. Putting an ISS at a Lagrange Point would be far more stable and a 100x better long-term investment than putting an ISS in LEO.

      Since an ISS at LEO will require *constant* re-boosting to keep its altitude (its orbit naturally decays about 20km lower every month and fuel needs to constantly be ferried up to keep it from falling down), but an ISS at a Lagrange Point would require trivial stationkeeping.

      Therefore, an LP base makes more sense than a LEO base. Now, one could say that a Moon base makes more sense because it has raw materials available, but that is ignoring all the Near-Earth Asteroids, which could be reached from an LP at trivial fuel amounts. You can mine the NEOs just as well as you can mine the Moon, thus building a nifty base at an LP that would serve as a great staging ground for humans in space. No gravity well to descend into or try to get out of.

      The #1 thing humanity should build is a mining/smelting/shipyard at a Lagrange Point. Before a moonbase, before anything else, really.

      And Flexible Path accommodates those kinds of goals.

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:43PM (#29359993) Homepage Journal

        Carrying any significant amount of raw materials from NEOs to an LP requires a lot more than "trivial" amounts of fuel.

        The only way to practically move an NEO is by utilizing the mass of the NEO as fuel. The typical suggestion is to do this with mass drivers (you can't use ion engines because you need high thrust). If you're moving icy NEOs you can "just" make rocket fuel and propel it with traditional thrusters.

        All of this is way beyond our technology level, and requires mass in orbit that we're unable to get from Earth.. so you need to mine the Moon for it in any case.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Samy Merchi (1297447)

          Carrying any significant amount of raw materials from NEOs to an LP requires a lot more than "trivial" amounts of fuel.

          The delta-v required once you've achieved Earth escape velocity, to the closest NEOs, is 0.8 km/s. That's *half* of what you need to get from lunar surface to lunar orbit, in other words the Apollo lander module's fuel supply would be enough for a trip to a NEO and back, once you've gotten out of Earth's gravity well.

          All of this is way beyond our technology level

          Not really. It just hasn't been tried yet because NASA, for all its achievements, isn't exactly a daring and innovative agency.

          There's no big technological barrier preventing us from an L4 - NE

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by QuantumG (50515) *

            delta-v is irrelevant, you're comparing the millions of tons of raw material on the Moon with the minuscule amounts of raw material that you can get from an NEO with current rocket technology.

            Or, let me put it another way, once you land on the Moon you have access to millions of tons of raw material for 0 delta-v.

            Once you setup shop at a LP you have to spend delta-v every time you want some raw materials. That's why it is more sensible to talk about moving the NEO to the LP.. and that's the part that is wa

            • by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:31PM (#29360489)

              okay this needs to stop.

              yes the moon has lots of raw resources. Do any of you understand how much work it takes to make something simple like a metal wall, how many people it takes to dig up the ore, break it into pieces, smelt it down to purification levels, forge blocks, with which to forge the other objects, and the presses to stretch it into sheets. You need 100,000's of tons of equipment to build a simple airtight box that the moon walkers can live in. It would take way to much effort for a simple colony for a few hundred people. It would take a century to pay of that kind of investment. no current government, or business is thinking that far ahead. No investor would back such an endeavor.

              We need something better than current ion and chemical rockets. When we figure out that part So it is cost effective to ship a nuclear aircraft carrier there then will a real colony start to be seen that will take advantage of those resources. Since none of those resources included large sources of fuel(or even water to make fuel from) then the moon will sit there for a while.

              This isn't star trek. the effort to bring you something simple like a pair of scissors is huge involving the jobs of thousands,

              • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:53PM (#29360681) Homepage Journal

                Umm.. that's a nice strawman you've setup there and knocked down for yourself, well done.

                Making oxygen, potable water and methane fuel from lunar ice (using solar or nuclear power) is currently on the plan for lunar exploration.. it'll be done with a fully automated processing plant that is basically as complex as a truck engine. Digging a hole in the ground and planting a habitat module in it that can be covered with dirt to provide radiation protection is something than be done with manual labor, but more likely will be done with a 1 ton backhoe type vehicle, which btw will run on methane.

                But hey, you wanna talk about processing metal on the Moon? Fine. The metal you will find there is a result of meteor impacts and is very pure. On Earth, meteor impact metals are the most pure ores we mine. A solar furnace is all you need to melt this kind of ore and forming it into useful products is easy at small scales. What kind of small scales? The kind necessary to make fuel tanks. The kind necessary to make rocket motors.

                That kind of "cottage" industry on the Moon is all you need to bootstrap an outbase into a colony.

      • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:45PM (#29360039)

        Moving the ISS to a Lagrange Point would require an enormous amount of fuel, and getting that fuel to orbit. You would need to attach engines, and the station structure cannot handle the force. There is also currently no way of getting supplies and people there. The Space Shuttle cannot leave earth orbit. The ISS is also not built for the radiation outside the earths magnetosphere. Seriously, you cannot just take a spacecraft and put it somewhere it isn't made for.

      • The #1 thing humanity should build is a mining/smelting/shipyard at a Lagrange Point. Before a moonbase, before anything else, really.

        That's all nice and science fiction-y, but the cold, expensive reality is that we can barely get stuff to, and keep things at LEO. Langrange points are much harder and much more expensive to obtain. In the near future, this is going to be done incrementally, if at all. There is no room in anyone's budget for enormous programs that are orders of magnitude more expensive th

  • Is as NASA to what?
  • Keep in mind (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:23PM (#29359789) Homepage

    NASA has spent almost $8 billion of a planned $40 billion to develop systems for a return to the Moon.

    Yeah. And, when NASA spent all the money on the X-33 [wikipedia.org] they ended up with nothing to show for it.

    Post-Apollo, NASA has a poor track record of developing new launch systems. I'm certain there are many bright and dedicated engineers at NASA, but as a collective organization, NASA just sucks at developing new launch systems.

    I propose we take the remaining $32 billion that NASA hasn't spent yet, and deposit it in a bank somewhere. The first American company that lands human beings on the moon, keeps them there for one day, and returns them to Earth can collect $20 billion. The second company that does this can collect $10 billion. The third can have the last $2 billion.

    No money will be paid for designs or plans, no matter how sincere. Only results will be paid.

    It would be even better still if there were bounties for a useful space station (with fuel tanks and other infrastructure) to encourage solving the problem in a long-term way, rather than an Apollo-style pure race to the moon. These bounties should all be tax-free, of course.

    I am 100% confident that bounties like this would result in America developing manned spaceflight capability. If we keep giving money to NASA bureaucrats to spread around to the military-industrial complex, I am less than 100% confident.

    steveha

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TorKlingberg (599697)

      I am 100% confident that bounties like this would result in America developing manned spaceflight capability.

      What gives you this confidence? Political ideology?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by steveha (103154)

        What gives you this confidence?

        What an odd question.

        First, I believe it is possible to go to the moon and return, because it was done about 40 years ago. Are you with me so far? If you aren't sure, consider that technology has actually improved just a little bit since then, and the laws of physics are about the same.

        Second, I believe that 20 billion dollars is still kind of a lot of money. The Ansari X Prize [wikipedia.org] was only 10 million, and it accomplished its goal of getting privately-built launch vehicles into

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Andrew Cady (115471)

          Did you actually read your Ansari X Prize [wikipedia.org] link? "$10 million was awarded to the winner, but more than $100 million was invested in new technologies in pursuit of the prize."

          So apparently the prize resulted in a 90% loss of investment (in the short-term). Now take into account the fact that there are a lot more people capable of losing $90M than $180B...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Keebler71 (520908)
      Most of the coverage of this report thus far has been along the lines that NASA can not accomplish its goals within its available resources.

      NASA gets slightly more than half of one percent (~00.6%) of the federal budget. Isn't it also worth debating if this is the right percentage of our tax dollars to spend on this endeavor and what other federal programs should be cut (or even taxes raised) to *properly* fund NASA?

    • Re:Keep in mind (Score:4, Informative)

      by demachina (71715) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:23PM (#29360423)

      Its a little sad how obsessed that report is with international partnering ISS, Shuttle, etc. It is way to much looking back and not enough looking forward. Not sure I'm surprised considering the makeup of the group that wrote it. They are a bunch of status quo people, still cowering in the shadow of the Shuttle accidents to the point they couldn't do anything bold if their lives depended on it. They needed a Richard Feynman, Robert Zubrin, Isaac Asimov, Kelly Johnson, Burt Rutan, Elon Musk, or Robert Bigelow. Instead they got a bunch of bureaucrats, trying to figure out what is wrong with a bureaucracy, like that is gonna work....

      Its nice sounding to say how space exploration should be international and global and you do gain some resources and expertise partnering with the Russians, Europeans, Asians etc. But you also start with one organization drowning in its own bureaucracy, NASA, and multiply it by 10 more bureaucracies drowning in red tape all fighting for different agendas. By the time you build consensus you end up with a program to no where, and compromised by compromise. I could be wrong but I think the international cooperation part of ISS is a key reason it ended up another 10 years late and devoid of anything resembling a point. My impression is the Russians want nothing to do with NASA again after ISS.

      Only way you are likely to get to Mars is to find a nation/organization with a laser focus, a visionary leader, the right people with the right skills and most importantly willingness to invest the resources in doing something bold and adventurous instead of wallowing in wars, weapons and socialism. I kind of doubt that would be the U.S. at this point. You figure China and India are probably the only two with the potential. India has too many problems, too much poverty and an obsession with fighting wars with Pakistan. China might be the one but its not like that country exactly has its ideals in order, question whether a corrupt bureaucracy can pull it off thanks to one party dictatorship.

      No doubt someone will say we should spend it all at home until there is no hunger, poverty, disease etc.... The problem with that is its a bottomless pit. You can spend an infinite amount of money on it and make little progress, especially until we stop making so many babies.

      This world seriously needs people breaking through frontiers and doing things that are hard or we will turn in to more of a miserable treadmill planet than we already are, full of people going nowhere.

  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:24PM (#29359797)

    When the shuttle program ends, it will be the end of the US manned space flight program. People have been asking why are when spending $X (what seems like a really big number) on manned space flight when we've been there, done that, and have Y number of problems still back on earth. This has been going on since Apollo 11. We stop sending people to space, people won't miss it. NASA may continue to fund some great robotic programs, but it doesn't capture the public's mind. And if they can't do that, they'll find their budget dwindle a little more each year. How many people, outside of slashdot, really care that the Mars Rovers are still going how many years later? And I think it barely survived the last budget cut. Even then you get into the politics of , "Yeah, it maybe doing something, but your eating up $Z dollars that could be funding my new flashy thingy!".

    Back in the 1960's, NASA had a mission. Since they completed that mission, they've been floundering in the wind. They still done a lot of good work, but they've not really had a well defined goal to reach since 1969.

    And as far as costs go, what is NASA's budget, $18B or there abouts. Didn't the Federal Government just give the state of New York $18B to improve the IT department of the states health services.

  • seed the planets (Score:2, Insightful)

    NASA's mistake in sending the last rovers to Mars was not to bring some gold, raw diamonds and black gold to seed the surface and report these as discoveries on the planetâ(TM)s surface. You would have De Beers, Mobile and a dozen other companies spending their profits from extorting us, their loyal customers, for a good cause this time. The American tax payer would not have to spend a dime to support the new space frontier
    • by Kartoffel (30238) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:49PM (#29360097)

      Actual NASA guy here. Back when I was a starving grad student, I contracted a bit with a big oil company. News had just come out about the hydrocarbons on Titan, and my boss asked me if those crazy astronomers were serious. I looked into and confirmed that indeed, those planetary geologists (ahem) had evidence of BIGNUM barrels of cryogenic liquid petroleum gas just laying around on the surface of Titan.

      I actually did some back of the envelope estimates for what it would cost to bring some of it back to Earth and burn it here in our atmosphere. It was too long term, and several orders of magnitude bigger than even the most ambitious terrestrial oil production project. Not to mention what burning all of Titan's carbon would do to Earth's atmosphere, if it did ever happen.

      I'm glad they didn't go for it, 'cause hydrocarbon fuels aren't exactly the awesomest reason to go to Saturn's moons. Some day though, something will come up that DOES pass the cost/benefit test, and there's going to be new wave of pioneers leaving Earth to earn their fortunes.

      In the mean time, I'm working to make Ares I as safe as possible with smart sensors and abort logic. If it gets canned, we'll have to do the same thing with the next rocket... and the one after that, too, and....

  • [NASA] is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.

    So what you're saying is that NASA is run by the same people who manage software projects.

    Maybe we would be better off if we put them on a rocket and aimed it towards the sun.

    Want to go back to the moon? Replace the Aries with an updated Saturn 5. Cheaper, proven tech.

    • by pecosdave (536896) *

      The Aries V more or less IS an updated Saturn V. None of the leftover Apollo stuff if really usable anymore, time has taken it's toll. The Aries V J2x engines are so close the the Saturn V J2 engines they're considered the same series.

      You're suggesting the current proposed path.

    • by Kartoffel (30238)

      It's like a software project where very 4 years the boss tells you to halt all your work, archive it, and start all over on a different project.

      Augustine is telling the very people who allocate our resources that NASA is pursuing goals that cannot be met with said resources. Well, if the government gives NASA orders to do something and then fails to back it up with realistic funding, whose fault is that? We're talking a paltry 18 billion dollars. If you think that's a lot, look up how much the War on Ter

  • NASA is outdated and no longer serves a very viable purpose. Yes, 50 years ago it was necessary (well maybe not necessary, but at least helpful) to have the government organize space flight and research. However, the knowledge and technology is there (as has been shown by the X-Prize) for space exploration to go private. Private companies will achieve the results that we need while costing significantly less. Universities can also collaborate with companies to further research. Slashdot is always so fu

  • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:31PM (#29359879)
    This "Send Robots Instead" nonsense is just that -- Nonsense. Mankind's Manifest Destiny may have nothing but an unmarked grave in your hearts, but for millions, perhaps billions, the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

    If there's anything robots don't do, it is "look to the stars." It is men who comprehend the insignificance of this world in relation to the vast emptiness of space, and the costs it will take to traverse that scape. It is men who want to watch the enormous Earth grow smaller and wax philosophical. It is men who walked upon the lonely face of the moon and felt enormous elation and accomplishment coupled with their nigh-incomprehensible solitude.

    If NASA is having its intercelestial driver's license revoked, it should at least be given the directive to help direct traffic of the private industry. Apparently we need half-insane men and women blasting themselves and their employees and friends off to distant space rocks if humankind wants to travel across this galaxy. We do not need them crashing into satellites and ploughing into nearby cities due to lack of launch pads or proper orbital-traffic readouts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)

      [quote]
      This "Send Robots Instead" nonsense is just that -- Nonsense. Mankind's Manifest Destiny may have nothing but an unmarked grave in your hearts,
      [/quote]

      Your asserted conclusion does not make it so. We can, by leading with robots, learn much and learn it cheaply. We can then use it to eventually send humans AFTER we perfect doing the heavy lifting remotely.

      Sending humans early on is an artifact of Cold War penis-waving coupled with the primitive technology of the times. Now, just as we are removing pil

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If you can tell me with a straight face that we have one-hundredth the tech gained today from sending a robot to Mars that we would have had from sending a man to Mars, I'll agree with you. We don't need to improve robots or conditions for robots. Who cares about a robot's way of life compared to a human's? It's ridiculous to think that sending one rock into another is comparable to going there. That we've extended our tethers all the way to the moon is an unbelievable achievement.

        It's worse than sayi
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 2short (466733)
          "It's worse than saying 'I never need to visit Paris, because there are human beings who have already visited it. I have no need to dive the Great Barrier Reef, because I can watch videos of it on Youtube. In fact, there's no point for ANYONE to go, since we've got footage of it."

          I would love to go to Paris; I have little interest in paying for someone else to go to Paris. I would love see the Great Barrier Reef, but scar tissue in my ears means I'll never dive again. I've watched videos of
  • by orcateers (883419) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:37PM (#29359943)
    Programs like the Hubble Telescope, Voyager, radio telescopes, mars rovers, etc, are all projects that teach us immensely more for the invested dollars than manned space flight. Maybe we should encourage more of this type of research? I think Americans have a special fetishism of the frontier that gives fleshy-contact primacy, but intellectual contact with astral elements is exciting too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PieSquared (867490)
      Hubble would have failed miserably without constant manned spaceflight. Or did you forget that we had to go fix its mirror right away, and do dozens of maintenance flights since? Robots are nice, but a scientist on the ground for five minutes may well have gotten more done then everything the mars rovers have done since they arrived (well, spotting the evidence of moving water might not have happened since it required time, but that was just pure luck anyway). It would cost more, yes... but it really does g
  • ...The U.S. Department of Defense.

    It is not a civilian agency. It simply employs civilians along with its military talent.
    So expect any money that is "better" spent (from the POV of $1000-plate politicians and ex-military people) on defense to go to those matters than to NASA.
    • Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shag (3737) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:01PM (#29360211) Homepage

      NASA is an independent agency of the US government; the NASA administrator reports directly to the President (but doesn't serve on the cabinet). NASA and DoD do have overlapping interests, co-operate on a lot of stuff, and have a lot of inter-agency agreements, which you can find at http://www.sti.nasa.gov/codeid/ [nasa.gov] but if NASA were under DoD, there wouldn't be any need for inter-agency agreements.

  • by Jon Abbott (723) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:44PM (#29360015) Homepage

    According to WallStats [wallstats.com], NASA's funding for 2010 is $18.7 billion. According to The New York Times [nytimes.com], the amount of bailout funds committed by the U.S. Government to Bear Stearns and AIG (both of which are fraudulent companies) is $82 billion. That is 4.4 times the amount of funding that NASA is receiving next year. If the manned space program is canceled, let it be known that it was due to debacles such as this.

  • by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:44PM (#29360023)
    rename the rocket to "planetary missile testing platform" and call the space program the strategic defense initiative. Or you can go one step further and rename NASA to Department of Homeworld Security.
  • Different summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:47PM (#29360057) Journal

    Ok, not to be whiny, but I didn't like this particular summary, as it mentions the panel's conclusion that NASA's current path is unworkable, but doesn't make any mention of the alternative paths forwarded presented by the Committee (and discussed in the article). Here's an alternative summary, with some links to the actual report summary (which I suspect none of the commenters so far have actually read):

    A summary [nasa.gov] of the Augustine Committee's [nasa.gov] upcoming report on the future of US spaceflight has been submitted to the White House and NASA, and made available to the public. The committee's analysis found that NASA's current plans for a human lunar return by 2020 are unworkable, with NASA's status quo not likely to place them on the moon 'until well into the 2030s, if ever'. Raising NASA's budget by $3B/year opens two primary options: 'Moon First' with a lunar return and possible base-building starting in the mid-2020s, or 'Flexible Path,' which would initially focus on building an in-space architecture for supporting progressive exploration, starting with Lagrange points and Near-Earth Objects (asteroids and comets) in the early 2020s, and exploring the moons of Mars or Earth in the mid-2020s. Options for a heavy-lift launcher were also outlined: NASA's current plans for an Ares V, a less costly 'directly Shuttle-derived' vehicle, or the least costly (but politically most difficult) 'new way of doing business' of purchasing launches on an upgraded EELV. Other key findings are that the ISS should be extended to 2020, that developing in-space refueling would benefit all of NASA's options, that NASA should make use of commercial crew transportation [thespacereview.com], that NASA should revive its space technology development program (which had largely stagnated in past decades), and that while Mars should be the ultimate destination for human exploration, it is not the best first destination. The White House and NASA will review the report and announce NASA's forward path [nasaspaceflight.com] in early October.

  • Fine by me. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:48PM (#29360079) Journal
    Unmanned space exploration has proven to be so much more enlightening and worthwhile. What the HST, Voyager, Cassini, the Mars Rovers, and countless other probes and satellites, and soon, Kepler, have provided us has completely dwarfed the ISS and Apollo.

    RS

    • Re:Fine by me. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mbone (558574) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:06PM (#29360259)

      First, that's not actually true, at least for Apollo, and, second, the Hubble is actually an argument for manned spaceflight. It would not have returned a fraction of the science return it did without the manned servicing missions (which, among other things, fixed the error in the mirror surface).

      I predict that the Kepler will be serviced in-orbit as well. I also predict that the 40 years+ of Mars probes will become a historical footnote approximately one week after the first manned mission reaches Mars orbit.

      • Re:Fine by me. (Score:4, Informative)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:40PM (#29360575)

        First, that's not actually true, at least for Apollo, and, second, the Hubble is actually an argument for manned spaceflight

        For the cost of a Hubble servicing mission we could have launched another one to replace it; from what I remember, the people who built Hubble offered to build a second for a small fraction of the price of the first, and if you were building half a dozen on a production line over a decade or so then they'd be pretty cheap.

        It's noteworthy that not a single science satellite since Hubble has been designed for in-orbit servicing; it made sense back when NASA were claiming they'd charge $10 million a flight, but it makes no sense now that we've discovered that the real price tag is over a billion a flight.

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:50PM (#29360105) Journal
    Wouldn't it be cheaper to just outsource manned spaceflight to China and India?
  • Look at the mess people create on earth. It's probably best that we keep our distance from other worlds. It makes me kind of happy to know there are vast expanses of uninhabited space. Our resources should be focused on fixing problems here first, then we can look to the stars. At this point, going to Mars seems like a pointless endeavor when crack-heads line the streets of the Capitol of the United States after dark. I'd like to see a thriving space program as much as the next nerd, but exploring the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Look at the mess people create on earth. It's probably best that we keep our distance from other worlds.

      Why, because we might make some rocks dirty? Seriously, I want you to explain why we "messy" humans should keep away from other worlds.

      exploring the universe can wait until we've mastered being human without killing each other, the air, the seas, and the land upon which we walk.

      You're going to be waiting a very, very long time. Odds are that humanity ending would be a precondition for that, but I have a suspicion that wouldn't be an undesirable outcome for you.

  • NASA took a bold step down the road to oblivion when it bet the house on the shuttle as its primary launch vehicle. They've never recovered from that gigantic, world-class screw-up. They had reliable, proven heavy lifters, and the approach used by SpaceShipOne would surely be viable for orbiting smaller payloads if NASA had spent even half the development money that went into the shuttle on that kind of project. I don't know what the final answer is, but I see no evidence right now that NASA is anything

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:01PM (#29360213)

    I hope that they chose the "flexible path," maybe with a little more than $ 3 billion per year in extra spending they view as the minimum price. The asteroids are where it's at in a bunch of ways - easy to get to the first ones, easy to deal with, and the likely source of economic activities in space (raw materials, etc.) for the rest of this century. Plus, if a NEO was discovered that looked like a threat to the Earth, the flexible path would provide the infrastructure to deal with it.

      One interesting thing you could do with the flexible path is build a lunar space elevator with existing technology. If that was done, you could then land on the Moon without building a new generation of lunar landers. That to me sounds like a cost effective and forward-thinking way to go to the Moon and develop a space flight infrastructure, not the lunar option outlined in the Augustine report summary.

  • by Robotbeat (461248) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:01PM (#29360761) Journal

    The deep space option where you learn to visit and land on Near Earth Objects (and perhaps later the moons of Mars and asteroids in the asteroid belt) is more interesting, because it allows you to reuse your exploration infrastructure. With the Moon and Mars, you leave much of your equipment at the bottom of a deep gravity well instead of bringing it back to Earth orbit to reuse it. Also, this is absolutely NECESSARY for the survival of human beings on Earth, since you learn how to work on and around potentially-killer-space-rocks. This is what makes us better than the dinosaurs, otherwise we'll die.

    Also, the Deep Space option allows progressive increases in capabilities, without a decade of nothing interesting going on. Deep Space infrastructure could evolve all the way to a manned mission on Titan:
    1)Characterize radiation environment and shield (passive or active) or otherwise protect (anti-radiation pills? Pick people from Iran or India with innate genetic resistance to radiation?) your astronauts, if necessary. Do this while you are doing other interesting missions (checking out NEOs, etc) in Deep Space that are shorter than a trip to Mars.
    2)Characterize whether artificial gravity is needed or not (as opposed to just exercise).
    3)Experiment with fuel depots in orbit. This is helpful, but necessary for Deep Space. This is where commercial launch providers can compete and shine.
    4)Add electric-propulsion (like VASIMR) at your leisure, without needing them to work before you start doing interesting missions. Fuel Depots are a backup plan in case this doesn't work.
    5)For electric-propulsion, you can start out immediately with solar power (which has a LOT of growth potential in Power per kg) in the inner solar system and upgrade to Nuclear reactors for missions further out in the solar system.
    6)Develop increasingly closed-loop life support systems to reduce consumeables on long trips.
    7)Flyby and orbital missions to Mars would allow teleoperated rovers, which would be much more productive than autonomous rovers.
    8)Develop and test a small lander for short stays on the Lunar surface.
    9)Make the lander's tanks bigger and send it to Mars with your now-mature Deep-Space orbital mission package. You spend most of the time in orbit around Mars but make a short trip to the surface before returning to orbit.

    Now, you've made boot prints on Mars. This time, don't let your human spaceflight infrastructure rot and make you spend 40 years more stuck in LEO. Take the momentum and go with it:

    Really awesome options:
    10)Develop ISRU on Phobos, if you find water-ice or other volatiles. This would enable refueling of Mars craft, which greatly reduces mission costs and risks and also will allow reuseable Single-stage-to-martian-orbit Mars Descent/Ascent craft (notice, this isn't really possible on Earth, but it is on Mars because of the lower delta-v).

    11)Take your ISRU technology already used on Phobos (Martian moon) and perhaps the Earth's moon (if there's ice in the craters) and use it on Mars to support longer stays and a base.

    12)The Final Exam on this whole thing would be a mission to Titan. You'd need nuclear power, Electric (or nuclear thermal rocket) propulsion, ISRU, closed-loop life support, mature lander technology, and long-term radiation-mitigation technology. And gonads.

    13)After you've gone to Titan, sit back and reap the benefits of your human spaceflight infrastructure: launch costs cheap enough to make space-based solar power viable, mining of the asteroids has already begun (Phobos was once an asteroid), and you probably already have a permanent base on Mars that could someday grow into a colony.

    Notice, this doesn't require space elevators (although I'm a fan of them).

  • eh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:51PM (#29361623)
    I've never understood why the slashdot crowd has such a collective hardon for manned space flight. Are there not enough other "big problems" to solve down here on the planet?

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