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NASA Mars Space Science

NASA Prepping Plans For Flexible Path To Mars 175

Posted by kdawson
from the getting-there-is-half-the-fun dept.
FleaPlus writes "A group at NASA has been formulating a 'Flexible Path' to Mars architecture, which many expect will be part of the soon-to-be-announced reboot of NASA's future plans. NASA's prior architecture spends much of its budget on creating two in-house rockets, the Ares I and V, and would yield no beyond-LEO human activity until a lunar landing sometime in the 2030s. In contrast, the Flexible Path would produce results sooner, using NASA's limited budget to develop and gain experience with the technologies (human and robotic) needed to progressively explore and establish waypoints at Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moon Phobos, Mars, and other possible locations (e.g. the Moon, Venus flyby). Suggested interim goals include constructing giant telescopes in deep space, learning how to protect Earth from asteroids, establishing in-space propellant depots, and harvesting resources/fuel from asteroids and Phobos to supply Moon/Mars-bound vehicles."
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NASA Prepping Plans For Flexible Path To Mars

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  • by ionix5891 (1228718) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:05AM (#30887760)

    if it gets "rebooted" very 4/8 years by new president/administration

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      if it gets "rebooted" very 4/8 years by new president/administration

      Yes, it seems to be a shell game. Making an "exciting new announcement" every couple of years creates the illusion of things happening without ever producing any tangible results. I've pretty well lost faith in the proposition that we're going to be going anywhere in my lifetime again. John Derbyshire wrote an insightful article [nationalreview.com] detailing a number of reasons why. I think he's hit it on the head.

      • by lennier (44736)

        John Derbyshire wrote an insightful article [nationalreview.com] detailing a number of reasons why. I think he's hit it on the head.

        That would be the article where he says this?

        It starts you down the path to true wisdom—the "fixed incredulity" that Mrs. Thrale remarked on in the character of Dr. Johnson. (It took Johnson's friends six months to persuade him that reports of the great Lisbon earthquake were true. He was, said one of them, "the last man on earth to whom one should bring a wonder.")

        Why does he think such hard-core skepticism as represented in Dr Johnson's six-month lag in accepting the reality of a simple earthquake i

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by captainpanic (1173915)

      What, you can't design and build a simple rocket within 4 years?

      Come on, this is 2010 - surely we can design rockets a lot faster than in 1969...

      [/sarcasm]

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I know you're being facetious, but we can design 'em faster than in 1969, largely because we still have the designs from the 1969 rockets as a starting point. They only starting point that they had back in the '60's when they started the plan to shoot for the moon were the V2 and the rockets used in the Mercury program. Nothing of the size/scale that could push a capsule to the moon had ever been built before.

        We can't say that in 2010... people have been to the moon, and rockets of the scale needed to push

        • by CecilPL (1258010)

          The goals for the next series of lunar missions are very different than the goals for Apollo.

          The point of Apollo was to prove that it could be done. We sent 2 men at a time down to the surface in a tin can, with a computer no more powerful than a graphing calculator. They walked around for a few hours collecting rocks and taking pictures, spending a couple days at most on the moon.

          What we want to do now is send 6 people at a time in relative comfort, have them do real science, and figure out how to actually

      • by vlm (69642)

        What, you can't design and build a simple rocket within 4 years?

        Come on, this is 2010 - surely we can design rockets a lot faster than in 1969...

        I can't think of any rocket designed in '69...

        Depending on how you want to count the saturn-1, it took somewhere between 1960 to 1967 or 1962 (really 1961) to 1967 to design and build the moon rockets, so figure 5 to 7 years back in the olden days.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V [wikipedia.org]

      • by camperdave (969942) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:46AM (#30889852) Journal
        Design is not the problem. Politics is. Mike Griffin had a pet project which has been nicknamed "the stick", or ARES-I. A single solid rocket capable of launching a 20 tonne payload into orbit. ATK, the folks that build the SRBs for the shuttle were given the contract to develop and build the solid rocket. ATK is based in Alabama, and Alabama's senator, Richard Shelby, holds NASA's purse strings. So, no money for NASA unless ATK gets a big fat juicy contract.

        Another problem is NASA's "Not Invented Here" syndrome. ARES-I is a 20 tonne launcher. Billions have been spent developing it. However the US already has a perfectly fine rocket that can launch 20 tonnes into orbit; the Delta-IV Heavy. Oh, but that was designed by the Air Force. Can't have that at NASA.
        • by jgtg32a (1173373)

          But isn't the ARES-I the smallest of the ARES series, and it matches the Delta-IV max load.

          • But isn't the ARES-I the smallest of the ARES series, and it matches the Delta-IV max load.

            Exactly. It's a pointless rocket. Billions of dollars have been spent developing a rocket that duplicates the capabilities of an existing rocket.
            • by Golddess (1361003)

              But isn't the ARES-I the smallest of the ARES series, and it matches the Delta-IV max load.

              Exactly. It's a pointless rocket. Billions of dollars have been spent developing a rocket that duplicates the capabilities of an existing rocket.

              I don't know much about rocket development, but isn't that a bit like saying "why'd Western Digital spend billions developing a 1TB HDD when they've already got 1TB HDDs" when in reality the new 1TB HDD is just a single-platter version of their brand new 2TB HDD?

              • You're putting too much stock in the word "series". ARES-I and ARES-V are not minor variations of the same rocket. They are two entirely different rockets. All they have in common is the five segment solid rocket motor. On the ARES-I, this SRM makes up the entire first stage. There is a small second stage, and the service module of the Orion acts as the third stage in order to get the crew into orbit. By itself, the ARES-I cannot launch an Orion module into orbit.

                The ARES-V shares the same overall s
        • by flitty (981864)

          ATK is based in Alabama

          No, they are headquartered in Minnesota, but they do have facilities there, along with california, minnesota, utah, virginia, ... you get the idea.

          So, no money for NASA unless ATK gets a big fat juicy contract.

          Or it could be that they are basing ARES-I on 20 years of engineering data, rather than starting from scratch to make a new human-flight rated rocket, which is no small proposition.

          Geeze, if you're gonna get all conspiracy theorist you could at least get the basics right.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pe1rxq (141710)

            The Delta-IV and Atlas-V both have more than 20 years of history.... And can launch the Orion just fine. Only thing needed was some human rating on those rockets which would have been cheaper than the sinkhole Ares-I turned into...

        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          First of all, it's Ares I. ARES is a completely different project.

          The reason why Ares I has costed billions of dollars is that they are trying to develop the next generation of aviation development tools.

          See, ever since the 60s rockets have been developed much the same way people write software. You hack something together and then you test it. If it blows up, you add a patch or two to the design, build another one and test it. Repeat until you get a rocket that flies n times without any major faults, w

          • The simulations showed that Ares 1 could not lift the Orion module into orbit. So what did they do? Build a more powerful Ares 1? No, they stripped down the Orion. It has gone from a six person crew to a four. It has gone from landing on land to an Apollo style splashdown. They've even stripped out the toilet. Guess what? It still can't lift the Orion into orbit. Orion now has to use it's service module engine to get into orbit, which means less fuel for manoeuvering.

            NASA's job may have been to p
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:55AM (#30889126)

      In this case, no. The Bush plan was underfunded and overplanned. Ares has proven to be a colossal money sink, using a contracting method that has been incapable of creating an actual working vehicle since the space shuttle, and kept alive by political considerations rather than practical reasons.

      The flexible path provides new and early 'Firsts' that can be accomplished much more cheaply and fits better within expected budgets. It moves to take NASA out of the LEO ferry game, and keep it doing what it does best -- Exploration. The mission steps outlined by the Augustine commission were designed specifically to deal with the always changing political goalposts. The flexibility means that if funding changes our the target changes its not a cessation of an entire program, just some relatively minor revisions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)
      Decision paralysis isn't the only threat to space development and exploration. Shitty programs that actually harm space development are worse (such as the Ares program, which builds a government funded competitor to commercial launch vehicles, in effect both building an inferior, unnecessary launch vehicle and undermining US commercial activity in space at the same time).
  • by addsalt (985163) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:10AM (#30887800)

    sounds like a marketing term for "one way"

  • Going Nowhere (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rally2xs (1093023)

    NASA is going nowhere unless the gov't stops the loss of our prosperity overseas. Yes, I mean outsourcing. Good manufacturing jobs get replaced with crap-wages retail jobs so more and more people live near the poverty line. You can't tax people like that to pay for sky adventures by NASA, and there's fewer and fewer rich people to tax, too. Eventually the Chinese are going to wise up and stop lending us money, and that'll be that for a whale of a lot of things, with things like NASA getting the axe firs

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I'd agree with that. We need to stop outsourcing [american3p.org], virtually unlimited immigration [american3p.org], and starting pointless and expensive wars [american3p.org], and then we might be able to achieve a space program [american3p.org] that isn't chronically dysfunctional.

      Support the American Third Position! [american3p.org]

    • Re:Going Nowhere (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hal_Porter (817932) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:14AM (#30888120)

      Eventually the Chinese are going to wise up and stop lending us money, and that'll be that for a whale of a lot of things, with things like NASA getting the axe first.

      I do wish people would stop saying that.

      Total US debt in 2009 $12,867.5 Billion [wikipedia.org]. Total debt owned by China 789.6 Billion [ustreas.gov]. China owns only about 6% of US debt and the odds are they will reduce that gradually to reduce their risks if the dollar depreciates or there is inflation in the US. The Iraq war is forecasted to cost $2 trillion by the CBO - Afghanistan is a bargain at a mere $500 Billion [wikipedia.org]. The US spends almost that much a year on defense. $8.3 trillion [wikipedia.org] evaporated in the financial crisis, way more than any of these numbers.

      So even if the Chinese T bills were destroyed instantaneously it would still be a shock 10x less severe than the financial crisis, or less than half an Iraq war.

      Of course the Chinese gradually diversifying away from US debt is likely to have much less effect than that.

      • Compare that to World War II and consider that we use technology more and (as a result) less Americans have died (then include inflation..)
        http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/art14_world_war_ii_spending.html [usgovernmentspending.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        and i wish ppl would stop calling it defense.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Out of curiosity, is that US total debt figure including or not including the portion owed to Social Security? See, there was a wonderful bait-and-switch pulled on the middle and working classes over the last 25 years or so that went like this:
        1. Notice that Social Security will eventually be broke unless we do something about it. A commission led by Alan Greenspan is formed to figure out what to do about it.
        2. The commission recommends raising FICA taxes to build up a surplus in the so-called Social Securi

        • Out of curiosity, is that US total debt figure including or not including the portion owed to Social Security?

          That figure is the external debt. Which does not include the "debt" to the Social Security Administration. I have read that the unfunded liability of the SSA (you know, the sort of thing that corporations get slammed for in court regularly) is on the order of $100 trillion.

          See, there was a wonderful bait-and-switch pulled on the middle and working classes over the last 25 years or so that went li

          • by jackbird (721605)
            Plus, of course, opposing his proposed income tax cut on the grounds that the "surplus" that Clinton had achieved wasn't REALLY a surplus would have made the Democrats and the Media look bad....

            Wasn't that Al Gore's "Lock Box" campaign promise?

        • by rwa2 (4391) *

          Wow, pretty cool stuff. Where can I read more? Google got me to one blog, but it might as well be yours? :>

      • Unlikely. The Chinese buy US T-bills because they /have to/, to maintain their dollar-yuan peg which helps keep their currency low, and their squillions of workers employed. They're doing this to contain unrest and prop up their odious totalitarian regime. As always with the Chinese, this is COMPLETELY about naked Chinese self-interest, or rather, the naked self-interest of the Chinese government.

        As an aside, the US could play some financial games to make life REALLY hard for the Chinese government. Perh

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Hal_Porter (817932)

          Well this is true too - in fact this shows the T bills are far more important to China than they are to the US. Without them the Chinese currency would appreciate and their trade surplus with the US would reduce. On the other hand Chinese domestic demand would grow. Of course there are lots of other places that want to export to the US - Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are obvious ones. All of them would buy T bills to weaken their currencies.

          In fact if China started to unload them quickly the price would dro

  • Can't wait until we all start spending loads of money on space programs again.

    I believe that it's all money well spent.

  • by AllyGreen (1727388)
    They need to settle on a plan and stick to it!
  • by master_p (608214) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:09AM (#30888098)

    An alternative they never consider is the creation of a 'mothership', i.e. a big enough spaceship that can act as a space station and as as a small planetoid, complete with its own gravity (out of rotation) and nuclear propulsion (project Orion). Assembled in space and never landing itself on planets, it can be a stepping stone for mankind to the solar system, and make the trip Mars-Earth a commodity.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      Our hardware is too unreliable

      Launching from Earth is too expensive to build something which will mass thousands of tonnes

      Assembly in vacuum and microgravity by humans is too dangerous and expensive

      I could go on. We are just not there yet. We won't be there in 100 years either.

      • We could start now (Score:4, Insightful)

        by coder111 (912060) <[coder] [at] [rrmail.com]> on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:45AM (#30889040)
        Thousands of tonnes could (theoretically) be launched by something like Project Orion. The estimated cost of the fallout would be ~20 people getting cancer across the world. I think more than that get killed in car crashes, wars and famines and other pointless ways each weekend, . So I think this is the price humankind is able to afford to do more space exploration.

        Computer hardware was even more unreliable in the 70s-80s, and people managed to get by. You can always have some redundancy and hot-swappable modules, both with computer and with other hardware.

        Assembly under the sea is just as dangerous, and we still manage to do it.

        For the price of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we would probably be in Mars already. It's just a matter of priorities and long term goals. We don't have any anymore. It's all about next quarter profit, getting rich and doing 2 chicks at the same time. There aren't any big plans or visions anymore.

        --Coder
        • by FleaPlus (6935)

          Thousands of tonnes could (theoretically) be launched by something like Project Orion. The estimated cost of the fallout would be ~20 people getting cancer across the world.

          Um, yeah, and the next day after the proposal you'd get front-page headlines saying "Dangerous NASA Plan Would Give Cancer Dozens of People" and the day after that you'd have the already tenuous popular opinion set against NASA. NASA has to be funded by Congress, and can you seriously see more than half of Congress willing to support that plan and face the resulting political attacks when they run for office again?

        • Thousands of tonnes could (theoretically) be launched by something like Project Orion. The estimated cost of the fallout would be ~20 people getting cancer across the world.

          Lets launch it from your home town, since it is your idea.

    • If you don't mind going back to the Stone Age while we divert all the earth's engineering and energy resources for a decade or so, feel free to assemble enough like minded people to put it to an electorate that screams when oil goes to $4/US gallon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by OldBus (596183)

      How do you know they never consider it? I've not heard anything specific from NASA, but they do seem to have plenty of people who do dream up long terms plans and ideas. Don't forget that most of the people there read/watched science fiction just like we did and many of them were inspired to take up their careers at NASA because of it (see various bios on the NASA sire if you don't believe me).

      The problem comes in turning those blue-sky ideas into reality. There is no 'just' when it comes to space. Wh

      • ... but I get fed up with all the unrealistic ideas and whining about NASA on Slashdot

        I too am surprised (and often annoyed) with the 'Star Trek' scenarios that some posters build on. Even Kim Stanley Robinson's Mar's Trilogy required enormous amounts of resources that magically appeared - both from Earth, then from Mars itself.

        We're not anywhere close to being resource independent. Anywhere. Budgets exist for a reason - we don't have enough money to do everything we like. Yes, keeping the US governm

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      An alternative they never consider is the creation of a 'mothership', i.e. a big enough spaceship that can act as a space station and as as a small planetoid, complete with its own gravity (out of rotation) and nuclear propulsion (project Orion). Assembled in space and never landing itself on planets, it can be a stepping stone for mankind to the solar system, and make the trip Mars-Earth a commodity.

      The reason they never consider it is because it is a terrible idea unless you build them in quantity. Building just one that does everything, would be immensely expensive even by the current and past standards of space development and exploration. Hence, in no way would it make the Earth-Mars trip a "commodity" unless you had a large fleet of them. It also doesn't do much to address the expensive Earth to orbit trip or the other trips from significant gravity wells to space (Mars, Moon, etc).

    • An alternative they never consider is the creation of a 'mothership', i.e. a big enough spaceship that can act as a space station and as as a small planetoid, complete with its own gravity (out of rotation) and nuclear propulsion (project Orion). Assembled in space and never landing itself on planets, it can be a stepping stone for mankind to the solar system, and make the trip Mars-Earth a commodity.

      To build such a ship would require lifting a hell of a lot of material into space, a very expensive proposition for rockets and they are the only definite, we've-done-it-before way to get into space (although sending up lumps of raw material sounds like a great use for a space gun, if any ever get built). Whether that comes from Earth or any other planet, the difficulty remains (although at least on Earth we are already here, with heavy machinery, manufacturing, people and fuel). In my opinion, if you're go

  • by BodhiCat (925309) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:29AM (#30888184)
    Orbiting Fuel Depots, 'bout time. Use of the LaGrange points, asteroids, yes! Scifi has known this for years, 'bout time that NASA caught up and went for long term development of space instead of quick one-shot missions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Orbiting Fuel Depots, 'bout time. Use of the LaGrange points, asteroids, yes! Scifi has known this for years, 'bout time that NASA caught up and went for long term development of space instead of quick one-shot missions.

      This. Not everybody realizes that the vast majority of mass you need for space missions (particularly those beyond Earth orbit) is fuel. Fuel itself is cheap, and nobody cares if you lose it, so you can just launch it up to a fuel depot to whoever the lowest bidder is (making it a great catalyst for commercial space startups). Then you can launch the much-lighter unfueled spacecraft up by itself (or construct it in orbit), allowing you to launch much more elaborate spacecraft using smaller rockets. Fuel dep

      • And the nice thing is that fuel, water, many items could potentially be launched via another cheaper mechanism.
      • Orbiting Fuel Depots, 'bout time. Use of the LaGrange points, asteroids, yes! Scifi has known this for years, 'bout time that NASA caught up and went for long term development of space instead of quick one-shot missions.

        This. Not everybody realizes that the vast majority of mass you need for space missions (particularly those beyond Earth orbit) is fuel. Fuel itself is cheap, and nobody cares if you lose it, so you can just launch it up to a fuel depot to whoever the lowest bidder is (making it a great cata

  • They have no Idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by Torino10 (1369453) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:03AM (#30888352)

    Where they should be going. The main purpose of manned spaceflight should be to develop the technologies to form permanent self sustaining colonies off of Earth.

    With the abandonment of the Centrifuge Accommodations Module (CAM) we cannot determine if Humans or even most vertebrates can reproduce in reduced gravity and how much gravity is required.

    All experiments with mice in microgravity have have indicated that cell division after fertilization does not occur, and that more advanced fetus that were launched do not undergo cell migration and/or cell differentiation properly.

    If it is found out that Centripetal acceleration is an adequate substitute for gravity, then the asteroids may be our best bet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)

      If it is found out that Centripetal acceleration is an adequate substitute for gravity, then the asteroids may be our best bet.

      If the rotation rate is low, then centripetal acceleration is indistinguishable from gravity at the human scale except for subtle effects (like things not falling straight down or a slight decline in acceleration with height). We have done experiments with people in long term rotating systems and below 1 revolution per minute there's no obvious effect (no nausea, etc). Even in faster rotating systems, people tend to adapt rather quickly. I believe current thought is that even 10 revolutions per minute shoul

      • Last I knew, the theory held that 2 RPM was about the limit where humans didn't really notice the apparent motion. 10 RPM is pretty high - one rotation per six seconds. That's the difference between the "scenery" drifting lazily by, and whizzing by. Your estimation of 9m at 10 RPM is very, very bad. The difference in acceleration between your head and your feet at that scale would be very noticeable. I'd be willing to bet that it would be very, very unpleasant.

        The calculations I had a physics class

        • by khallow (566160)

          Your estimation of 9m at 10 RPM is very, very bad. The difference in acceleration between your head and your feet at that scale would be very noticeable. I'd be willing to bet that it would be very, very unpleasant.

          I doubt many people could move normally under such circumstances. The trick here is that you are lying down parallel to the axis of rotation. So your entire body would roughly be at the same level of acceleration. One hypothesis is that merely sleeping at one gee would be enough exposure to keep the human body healthy. You would work/exercise in zero/low gravity the rest of the time.

    • by jgtg32a (1173373)

      On a somewhat related topic I just finished Planetes, which I highly recommend.
       
      Its suppose to be hard SciFi for the most part, but one thing that I've always wondered about and I can't really find anything about it is human growth in low gravity. One of the secondary characters was born on the moon, and she was 12y/o and was I guess about 6' tall. I was wondering if there was any truth to that?

      • One of the secondary characters was born on the moon, and she was 12y/o and was I guess about 6' tall. I was wondering if there was any truth to that?

        Given that there is at least one 13 year old child who is over seven feet tall right now, there's no special reason to believe it can't happen on the moon.

        In any case, it's a common scifi meme, so it's not terribly surprising that they went with it.

        • by jgtg32a (1173373)

          yeah but her growth was because of the moon, I was wondering if there was an validity to it

          • yeah but her growth was because of the moon, I was wondering if there was an validity to it

            As I said, a fairly standard scifi meme.

            Alas, it'll be at least 30 years before we know for sure. It'll be at least that long before someone born on the moon has had time to grow up to age 12. And probably a great deal longer, since the odds of us getting past the ISS in the next 20 years is pretty slim.

            Unless, of course, Bill Gates decides to aim his fortune at the Final Frontier. And that's none too likely....

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:46AM (#30888606) Journal
    tells me this: "We're not going to Mars".

    This is a bureaucratic method of killing the overall project of a Mars mission. What happens is each sub project runs into "unexpected delays and expenses" that make it impossible to complete the sub project, or delay it so that it splits up the co-ordination with the other projects for a Mars Mission. Apologists will take up the side of NASA, and they should, but in reality there are facts mitigating against NASA even existing, such as the simple fact that the USA is bankrupt and can't pay its bills, and (according to the Hirsch Report from the DoE [doe.gov]) the USA needs to spend 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars converting itself to a non-fossil fuel culture if it hopes to maintain a technical civilisation at all.

    In short: good luck with this new plan - cool if it works out - but it has "Cover My Ass" and "Plausible Deniability for Mission Failure" written all over it.

    RS

    • by khallow (566160)

      Reading Between the Lines tells me this: "We're not going to Mars".

      This is a bureaucratic method of killing the overall project of a Mars mission.

      I wasn't aware that there was an "overall project" to go to Mars. Or the Moon. Or anything past LEO for that matter. Merely saying that there's some goal to do something isn't a project. You can't kill what didn't exist in the first place.

      and (according to the Hirsch Report from the DoE) the USA needs to spend 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars converting itself to a non-fossil fuel culture if it hopes to maintain a technical civilisation at all.

      Perhaps you would like to provide evidence for your assertion? I glanced through the Hirsch Report and it speaks of peak oil, not of peak fossil fuels. A lot of people seem oddly unaware that there are more fossil fuels than just oil. They also seem unaware of biofuels, el

    • by Domint (1111399) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:41AM (#30890754) Homepage Journal
      . . . in reality there are facts mitigating against NASA even existing, such as the simple fact that the USA is bankrupt and can't pay its bills . . .

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget [wikipedia.org]
      The money allocated to NASA from the 2009 Federal Budget was 0.55%. Saying that NASA is the source of our financial woes (or that its complete dismantling will do anything to correct them) is like arguing that the reason a person is going bankrupt is due to the 1$ they give to the Salvation Army bell ringer every Christmas. It's a retarded argument, and one that really needs to stop.
      • I don't think they were arguing that NASA is whats driving the USA to bankruptcy.

        It seems to me that the only large scale, extravagance that the USA funds these days is war.

        And that is whats driving the USA to bankruptcy (in more ways than one) and what will ultimately prevent the USA from having a viable space program.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      "We're not going to Mars".

      You just now figured THAT out. Actually, its more accurate to say "NASA isn't going to Mars." One day a man *will* set foot on Mars, but there won't be a NASA logo on their spacesuit.

  • if they keep getting "rebooted" every 10 years
  • interesting but, this sounds vague enough to be part of an election campaign.

  • What's new (Score:3, Funny)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:05AM (#30889234)
    Haven't we been on the flexible path? So flexible they were able to bend it right back around upon itself making circles around the Earth...
  • by khallow (566160) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:11AM (#30889296)
    The Augustine committee assumed with the Flexible Path option, that the NASA budget would not expand significantly. As a result, this plan is designed to do useful and daring things without requiring that everything gets developed at once. Staggered development of technologies is a notable property of this option. However, it does require that NASA will get somewhere around $3 billion more per year to support manned space flight development including a Saturn V-class heavy lift launch vehicle, fly supporting unmanned space missions, and pay for the missions described in the report.

    It is intended to be a stepping stone to some more advanced exploration scheme, but neither Mars nor Lunar exploration is required as part of the program.

    Some proposals mentioned in the Slashdot article simply cannot be afforded on even that enlarged budget (for example, the space telescope construction mission). At this point, many of these proposals are merely a theoretical study of what sorts of missions are possible with the infrastructure and tools proposed by the option plan rather than serious plans.

    Finally, it's worth noting that there's a good chance even the relatively low funding needs of the Flexible Path option will not be supplied by Congress. At that point, I don't know what will happen. As far as I know, the Augustine committee simply could not generate a useful manned space plan with the budget manned space flight currently gets. My view is that the dependence on a heavy lift vehicle is the reason why. Eschewing heavy lift should be possible, but that does generate a new set of problems and technologies which NASA has yet to explore (propellant depots and orbital assembly of spacecraft in particular).
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      However, it does require that NASA will get somewhere around $3 billion more per year to support manned space flight development including a Saturn V-class heavy lift launch vehicle, fly supporting unmanned space missions, and pay for the missions described in the report. ... Finally, it's worth noting that there's a good chance even the relatively low funding needs of the Flexible Path option will not be supplied by Congress. At that point, I don't know what will happen. As far as I know, the Augustine committee simply could not generate a useful manned space plan with the budget manned space flight currently gets.

      There's a few possibilities for what NASA can do if there's no budget increase:
      * If I recall correctly, the Augustine Committee couldn't make any assumptions about international cooperation, as this is more of a political question. If there is international cooperation (i.e. parts of the project handled and paid for by other countries), and it's not done in a totally mangled fashion like the ISS (wishful thinking, perhaps), this could substantially reduce the cost to the US. I suspect Obama would also want

  • The successor NASA manned programs are underfunded and behind schedule. Its optimistic that NASA will be able to put people into Earth orbit by 2020.
  • by JohnFornaro (1729384) on Monday January 25, 2010 @02:06PM (#30893178)

    The Flexible Path option would be an excellent example of a pay-go approach to exploring the inner solar system. In theory, it could be able to accomodate different missions based on the value of the scientific discoveries as the program progresses, and our evolving technical abilities. However, the fact that it has no specific goal, opens the Flexible Path to political manipulation which will probably adversely affect its execution. In other words, it seems to be too flexible to ensure success in its endeavors, given the liklihood of the American political system to tinker with programs as vaguely expressed as the Flexible Path.

    Although the economy is currently in a trough, an optimistic long term prediction would envision a return to healthy economic growth. In any case, the cost of a space program must be budgeted and the current costs and benefits of that program must be funded by Congress. The current situation clearly forces the prioritization of space program missions. It is crucial that the Flexible Path propose initial missions which are prioritized on cost and time to implement.

    There are many possible missions which could be encompassed in the Flexible Path, including the visit to Phobos, which is discussed briefly in the linked article. A cursory examination of that portion of the article, by an interested voter, would reveal at least two fundamental, common sense flaws in the suggestion of this particular mission. These flaws are fatal in the sense that they prove that this particular mission should have a priority much later than a less ambitious Flexible Path mission of a lunar return mission, to pick but one example.

    The first flaw is scientific in nature. While Phobos is a "large, dramatic world", per the article, the Moon is larger, more dramatic, and much closer. The terms "large" and "dramatic" are emotionally laden marketing terms and distinctly unscientific reasons to embark on such a mission. The term "closer" is a scientific fact, readily verified, and intrinsically linked with the cost of either mission. The second flaw is also scientific. The article suggests that the "mystery of the origin of Phobos can be resolved". If that is indeed true, then a similar lunar mission could resolve, to the same accuracy, the currently unsolved mystery of the Moon's origin.

    Other flaws in that particular Phobos mission pertain to the ease of returning samples, the establishment of the initial inventory of water on either Mars or Phobos, the suggestion that material color is a sufficient criteria for collection, the implication that rover operation would be easier there than closer to Earth, and the further implication that a Phobos mission could demonstrate solutions to these problems that other missions could not.

    These types of arguments will be used to prioritize other Flexible Path missions as well, but they are clearly incomplete and do not seem to pass a simple analysis for ranking on a rational basis. The major obstacles to such an ambitious mission as a Phobos visit, cost and time, are given short shrift in the article, and seem to exemplify serious problems in the early determination of the Flexible Path itself.

    In contrast to the Phobos mission, for example, many people argue that any lunar mission is futile, based solely on the idea that we have been there and have done that. This particular argument can only be interpreted that human space missions are only a game to be won or lost one time, and one time only. Having won the game, one can study science at that location no longer by this immature and incomplete analysis. With respect to human spaceflight, the "been there, done that" argument is always false, and should be rejected by the voter and the scientific community every time it is brought up.

    The larger issue, no matter one's preferred mission, is the question: What is the purpose of human space flight? Today, there is no shared, common sense of what this purpose should be. Part of this purpose is surely the expansion of human

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