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NASA Government

NASA Trying To Reinvent Their Approach 123

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the handle-my-lightweights dept.
coondoggie writes to tell us that NASA has started down the road to reinvention with the addition of four new committees to the external advisory group that drives the agency's direction. "The four new committees include Commercial Space, Education and Public Outreach, Information Technology Infrastructure, and Technology Innovation. The council's members provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA administrator about agency programs, policies, plans, financial controls and other matters pertinent to NASA's responsibilities. In the realm of commercial space, NASA has been pushed by outside experts to leave low Earth orbit flights to other aerospace firms. The Review of United States Human Space Flight Plan Committee report recently took that a step further in recommending: A new competition with adequate incentives to perform this service should be open to all US aerospace companies. This would let NASA focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit based on the continued development of the current or modified NASA Orion spacecraft."
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NASA Trying To Reinvent Their Approach

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  • Quick summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:19PM (#29955112)

    Slashdot user A: This is great!

    Slashdot user B: What a waste of money! We may not even need unmanned missions to space, let alone manned missions. Let's fix earth, instead.

    Slashdot user A: You jackass. We need to be able to colonize other planets, either because (1) we such at conservation, or (2) eventually we'll get hit by a killer asteroid, or (3) eventually the sun will go out / go boom.

    Slashdot user B: Those are all very speculative or a long time off. We have more pressing problems here and now.

    I just wanted to get that preliminary stuff out of the way.

  • by Plasmic (26063) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:19PM (#29955116)

    More committees. Way to think outside the box.

    If they want to reinvent their approach, perhaps they should start by not creating multiple committees every time they want to accomplish something ... or am I forgetting the long track record of success by new committees at already-bloated government organizations?

  • Re:Sorry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln (21727) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:24PM (#29955194) Homepage
    What it's supposed to do is stuff that's valuable to humanity, but costs a lot of money and isn't expected to make a profit. This is essentially the role of any government organization: Do the things that will benefit everyone, but that businesses are unwilling to take on because there isn't enough money in it.

    Low Earth Orbit is now at the point where we can see possibilities for how to make money there, so the time is right to hand it over to commercial interests. However, there is no particularly obvious or near-term profit motive for exploring other planets. Thus, if we want it done, NASA is going to have to do it, because nobody else will (except other governments).

    Of course, in order for NASA to do that sort of stuff, it needs a lot more money than it has now. Personally, I'd like to see NASA get at least 2% of the total budget, which is more than 3 times what it gets now, but I seem to be in the minority on that one.
  • Re:Quick summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebrain (944107) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:24PM (#29955204)

    Slashdot user C: Did it ever occur to either of you that (a)the same technology we use to colonize other planets can help fix climate problems on earth, and (b) trashing earth is not a prerequesite for space colonization? Indeed, running conservation and colonization programs in parallel can help preserve earth rather than destroy it! That's why you go out and colonize, specifically so you don't have to use up all the earthbound resources.

  • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:27PM (#29955262) Homepage Journal

    Let's form some committees to help our advisory group figure out how we can fix this gigantic bureaucracy!

    I've got a clue for them. They need to follow some simple rules.

    1. Rockets should look like cocks
    2. People should only ride on liquid fuel rockets.
    3. If you're the booster designer, double the requirements.

    4. Success!

    Explanation:
    1. Rockets should look like cocks. Stacked vertically, not side by side. Both shuttle failures resulted from the orbiter, tank, and boosters being in a side-by-side configuration. If the thing had been stacked vertically, there's no need to worry about ice hitting what's next to you, or fire burning the attachment to what's next to you.

    2. Liquid fuel rockets are way safer than solid fuel rockets. It's going to be damn hard for astronauts to escape alive if they abort anywhere near a full blast solid fuel candle. Maybe do a hybrid solid, but what we have now is a fucking hazard to the astronauts and ground crew. Just ask the Brazilians. Oops, they're fucking DEAD. booom!

    3. The moon mission was saved by the genius Nazi von Braun increasing the Saturn V weight capability well above the requirements. The payload turned out to be a bloated mess compared to initial projections, but the Saturn could handle it. A huge problem was averted. Compare that to the current Constellation program, where the booster was designed to lift what the payload guys said they'd need. And now that the payload has gained weight, there's some serious doubt that Ares will ever be able to fulfill the design requirements. FAIL.

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:32PM (#29955332) Journal

    Jupiter does a pretty good job as our defense system. There have been a few asteroids on possible collision courses with Earth, and they all got sucked up by our bigger brother.

    Asteroids are not our biggest concern. Just because one wiped out the dinosaurs doesn't mean that one will wipe us out too. We've evolved a long way to survive in harsh conditions.

    In all honesty, I can't even imagine a practical asteroid evasion plan short of evacuating Earth. Armageddon and other Hollywood flicks have lead us to believe that we have the power to blow apart masses thousands of kilometers wide, which I really don't think we do.

    We find an asteroid heading towards us thats the size of the moon - there won't be much we can do to stop it.

  • by eln (21727) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:39PM (#29955428) Homepage

    Should be to develop and test asteroid detection and avoidance systems.

    Okay, sure. In order to detect incoming asteroids, it's going to need to be able to scan the entire sky. It can't do that now, and doesn't have the funds to develop the capability to do that. Once it has the capability, it has to figure out a way to neutralize the threat of any incoming asteroid. Since we can probably rule out the possibility of altering the orbit of the planet to get out of the way, we need to either alter the orbit of the asteroid, or destroy it, and we're going to have to do it well before it reaches Earth. So, how do we alter the course of or destroy something that big that far away? Well, we're going to need a big fucking rocket, one that's big enough to travel that far and carry whatever big-ass thing we decide to use to render the asteroid harmless.

    Of course, asteroid detection and avoidance is really boring. No one grows up wanting to fuck up an asteroid. However, lots of people grow up wanting to visit other planets. So, we could probably get some funding if we decided to go exploring other planets instead. But what will we need to explore other planets? Probably a big fucking rocket, one that's big enough to travel that far and carry whatever big-ass thing we decide to put on the other planet.

    So, I say we fund planet exploration. That way, we get people excited about space again, and we also develop the big fucking rocket you need to take care of those pesky asteroids.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:43PM (#29955456) Homepage Journal

    I can't even imagine a practical asteroid evasion plan short of evacuating Earth

    It is highly unlikely we will get hit by anything the size of Ceres. The biggest risk IMHO is from comets in the range 500 metres to about 70km in diameter. If we can see objects like this coming we should be able to evacuate the impact site ahead of time. Doing that will take remote sensing (something we already do well) and politics (which we are slowly getting better at).

  • by Plasmic (26063) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:50PM (#29955544)

    Yes, but important decisions at large organizations are made by CEOs or other key executives (CMO, CTO, etc.) with clear lines of responsibility and accountability, not by establishing several dozen committees. Only in government (and poorly-run, similarly-bloated conglomerates) is this kind of bureaucratic, process-obsessed operation characterized as "reinventing their approach".

    Don't forget to separate execution of the plan from development of the plan. It will clearly take thousands of people collaborating to execute on the vision of "go to the moon by 2017" -- but deciding what the top priorities are while keeping in mind resources, timelines, and feasibility, simply does not require four more committees at NASA.

  • Re:Sorry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:56PM (#29955620) Journal

    Oh there's profit in it... The asteroid belt alone has enough resources to sustain humanity at current rates of consumption for 150 million years or more. Space travel entails a very large barrier to any competitive entities surviving long enough to be profitable. The X-prize provided a near term reward which spurred tons of research into cheap sub-orbital space flight and now there's some rudimentary space industry that can be used to get the ball rolling. The next step is obtaining resources for LEO cheaply and that likely means making use of volatiles and such from NEOs. Then once that is all set up, we can start making real progress into expanding into places that aren't as easily profitable without all of the space infrastructure already in place. Really, I think what NASA needs most is competition through x-prize style incentives. Just a few hundred million a year might be enough to do the trick. It's comparatively tiny compared to their 17 billion$/year budget but it'll probably get things really going.

  • by ianare (1132971) on Monday November 02, 2009 @06:01PM (#29955682)

    Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.

    Cooperation is one thing, but we shouldn't rely on other nations to provide us with space access. It would be bad for the economy : US funds and technological advantage going to other countries.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday November 02, 2009 @06:06PM (#29955746) Homepage Journal

    Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.

    Cooperation is one thing, but we shouldn't rely on other nations to provide us with space access. It would be bad for the economy : US funds and technological advantage going to other countries.

    Deep space exploration should be an international activity, if only because it is so expensive.

  • Re:Sorry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday November 02, 2009 @07:07PM (#29956492)
    Education projects are a minuscule portion of NASA's budget. The real problem is that NASA of the past has not seriously attempted to put forth a credible manned space development/exploration plan. It has willingly served the interests of the NASA supply chain - the tail wagging the dog.

    With a little backbone and support from the President, NASA could hold its own against both Congress and the contractors. Instead, NASA hasn't shown that it can handle its current funding responsibly much less three times as much budget.
  • Failsauce nasa (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 02, 2009 @08:08PM (#29957106)

    India and China, homes of cheap and mass-produced, are busy going forward and they'll take the lead if NASA keeps on reiterating what a great shop it was in the seventies. It wasn't, Feynmann showed conclusively and in great detail what a structurally shoddy shop it was, but there wasn't anything better. Now? All budget cuts are more than deserved, for it's a dedicated pointy-hair support shop drenched in aint-we-cool sauce to the point of religion. In fact, you could cut it down to a ten person government grant approval office for commercial space flight challenges and you'd come out ahead.

    To fix that, it's not difficult to see where they should be going:

    - Go metric. All the way. Don't quibble over a couple hundred milllion as an excuse to preserve past failures. Go metric, you're well behind 95% of the world here. How is that pushing the technology forward?

    - Put a proper drive behind low earth orbit taxiing. The space shuttle was a neat idea 30 years ago, but 20 years ago it became clear it wasn't so much cheaper than the usual rockets up to the point that now it's actually cheaper to launch those rockets again than launch the space shuttle. Why are the low earth orbit taxi rides more expensive than premium gold plated limo rides? Something is fishy here.

    With both of the above there's room to look outside and push achievements again. But to make real progress there is something more to be done:

    - Cut the crap, the red tape, the bullshit, the top-down design and millions of botches to make it fly despite management fiat. Engineer bottom-up, skunk works style. Make it work quickly, then make it work good enough to achieve the thing you wanted to explore, then make it work well. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do all that well before it's started to rust, thanks.

    As Burt Rutan said: If we're not killing people, we're not pushing hard enough. There is a reason why it's called the bleeding edge. But who wants to die in an exploding space shuttle because of an engineering defect that could've been fixed a score or more years ago? Or through sheer aging of the materials? So make space exploration wort dieing for again. By making the taxi rides to work reliable and safe.

  • by Leebert (1694) * on Monday November 02, 2009 @09:22PM (#29958132)

    Could be that the submitter uses British English. They generally treat collective nouns as plural.

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