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NASA Space Science

NASA To Propose Commercial Space Initiative 151

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the healthy-competition dept.
MarkWhittington writes "The Wall Street Journal is reporting that starting with the FY2011 budget request for NASA, the Obama administration intends to propose a new program to encourage the development of a commercial space flight industry. 'The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the US space program. The goal is to set up a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying US astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system. Congress is likely to challenge the concept's safety and may balk at shifting dollars from existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration programs already hurting for funding to the new initiative. The White House's ultimate commitment to the initiative is murky, according to these people, because the budget isn't expected to outline a clear, long-term funding plan.'"
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NASA To Propose Commercial Space Initiative

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  • This is just another step in the hollowing out of the state. Private firms already fight our wars. What's next, private firms taking over the "service" of governing the country? Oh wait...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by macintard (1270416)
      I make this post with the caveat that I usually fall more toward the left on the political spectrum. To me this seems like an area where the private sector could greatly assist this government program and possibly help reduce cost to the taxpayer. This also seems to comport with my belief that our President is really more of a middle of the road politician, as opposed to the "leftist" that we consistently hear. Let's give it a chance and see what happens.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spun (1352)

      Yeah, given recent SCOTUS decisions, the government is now available to the highest bidder. Expect to see the power and privileges of multi-national corporations skyrocket, while the little guys get the shaft. I expect that Disney will buy up all our national parks. Everything will be privatized, and the uber-corps will make sure all public services are illegal. Private police forces, fire departments, roads: everything. And if you can't pay, don't expect help. Those who can't pay will be expected to starve

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        I would love to see the world through you eye just for a day.

      • by Aeros (668253) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:54PM (#30897296)
        wow..thats all in this bill?
        • by spun (1352)

          No. That's all what I like to call 'encouraging a vigorous discussion,' but others usually refer to as 'trolling.'

          Or, to put it another way, 'ha ha only serious.'

      • by tyrione (134248)

        Yeah, given recent SCOTUS decisions, the government is now available to the highest bidder. Expect to see the power and privileges of multi-national corporations skyrocket, while the little guys get the shaft. I expect that Disney will buy up all our national parks. Everything will be privatized, and the uber-corps will make sure all public services are illegal. Private police forces, fire departments, roads: everything. And if you can't pay, don't expect help. Those who can't pay will be expected to starve to death, like stray dogs in the streets.

        The funny thing is that some people on the right still think Obama is a socialist. He's the opposite of that. He's going to make sure health care reform dies a messy and painful death, and he's going to sell off the government to the highest bidders. He showed his real colors when he kowtowed to Wall Street.

        Gawd I can't decide whether you missed out on the 60s or fully understand the separate but co-equal three branches of government where the US Congress just got told to get off it's collective ass and explicitly define language about Campaign reform if they truly want to be serious about it. They now have a shot at doing it correctly and not the bulls***, watered down crap called McCain/Feingold.

        • by spun (1352)

          Yeah, well, after this, we will need a Constitutional amendment to keep money out of politics, and that's going to be a hard sell.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CodeBuster (516420)

        Yeah, given recent SCOTUS decisions, the government is now available to the highest bidder.

        If the government wasn't so darn powerful then there wouldn't be as many or as high bids and yet the Libertarians here on Slashdot are always modded down for having the temerity to suggest that bigger government is not the answer. One cannot have lots of individual choice and freedom in a big government country; the desire to use the power of big government to limit choices, "manage" freedoms and control outcomes is simply too much for some to resist. The high-minded left often forgets or ignores the fact t

        • As if government is the only source of power. Democratic government is a check on the power of powerful, nondemocratic groups. Just getting rid of government would allow the powerful to control everything. It would NOT magically balance a very unbalanced system. It would make things much worse.

          Money is a VERY big lever of control. In fact, beyond a certain dollar amount, all money does is allow you to control others. The more money you have, the more power you have. The more power you have, the more money you can make. Money does not need to be funneled through government to be used to control others. If you are starving you aren't really free at all, and you can be controlled by anyone with a bite to eat. Without government, the powerless have NO recourse.

          • Money is a source of power in this world that is true, but it is not the only one. The ultimate power is the power to destroy (which is also a power of the government via the military). Governments reserve both of these powers, the power to destroy and the power of money (the money supplies of the world are ultimately controlled by governments) onto themselves. However, please note that I did not say no government, but rather limited government...there is an important difference. It is wrong to frame the ch
            • by spun (1352)

              Governments do not 'reserve' anything. In a pure free market capitalist economy, if someone is unable to feed themselves (say because a powerful group has decreed 'no one give him any work if you want to do business with us.') then that person will starve to death. Destroyed, and not by a government. Corporations destroy people's lives all the time, and what do you think this financial mess was about? Corporations making money up out of thin air.

              The bailouts: bad. The stimulus: meh, not done right. Health c

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by CodeBuster (516420)

                Most recent polls show a supermajority of the population supports radical health care reform and socialized medicine.

                No way. That's completely bull. The Massachusetts election is only the most recent proof that Americans absolutely don't want socialized medicine ala single-payer or individual mandates. It was a mistake on the part of the left to assume that because many Americans favor some sort of health care reform, they also favor socialized medicine ala single-payer; THAT WAS IN ERROR! There is no way that so many Americans, from such diverse and varied backgrounds, could all be so clearly against the Democratic b

                • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                  by spun (1352)

                  No, that's bullshit. They polled MA voters, and they still want socialized medicine. Coakley is a shill, she ran a craptastic campaign, and people are pissed that Dems haven't done enough.

                  http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/01/20/poll-majority-of-massachusetts-health-voters-wanted-to-save-ref/ [politicsdaily.com]

                  • people are pissed that Dems haven't done enough.

                    Perhaps the people on the left are, but they are NOT the mainstream. Your answer to the mainstream backlash is, "they are angry because we weren't radical/revolutionary enough"? That's just brilliant; it completely absolves the left of having to explain why it is that they failed. While it does have a certain sort of Nihilistic appeal, it is flawed none the less. Think about it, that excuse could be used anytime by anybody and cannot be tested or refuted; it ads nothing to anyone's understanding, it is like

                    • by spun (1352)

                      Keep telling yourself that you are 'mainstream.' I'll believe the polls I've read. Of which this is just one. Sorry to piss on your parade.

                      Single payer is the only real way to go. Simply look at countries that have it. Look at health care outcomes. Look at costs. You DO realize that our current system is, quite literally, the worst per dollar spent. The. Absolute. Worst.

                      But that's the free market for you: when it comes to things like health care, it fails. You can't 'shop around' for health care.

                      Personally,

                    • Single payer is the only real way to go. Simply look at countries that have it. Look at health care outcomes. Look at costs.

                      You're opinion. Different people want different things. My problem comes when you say that I have to surrender a portion of my property to pay for whatever it is you want. You want it? Buy it for yourself and do it with your own money. One should not, IMHO, force people to be charitable through taxes, giving is by definition voluntary, otherwise it is taking. If you think that single payer is so great then why not consider a move to Sweden, Norway, or any number of other places where single payer is the sys

                    • by spun (1352)

                      You have to surrender a potion of your property to pay for a public good. Know what that is? Something that benefits everyone. Sick people spread disease. Desperate people do desperate things. I'm not going to let selfish free riders like you force me to pay the whole cost. You are basically refusing to help pay your share, so why should you get the benefits? If you don't like it, you can leave.

                      You don't understand the Constitution. Do you really think filibusters should be a matter of course, or do you thi

                    • by spun (1352)

                      You might find this article [wikipedia.org] a helpful starting place in learning the truth about the so-called 'nuclear option,' rather than the Faux News tripe you've been feeding on. Look at who used it, and when. Hmm, funny, it was okay when Republicans used it. Hypocrite.

                    • A primary purpose of the Senate, as outlined in the Constitution, is to protect the minority interest; any Constitutional Scholar will tell you as much. That is why large states and small states have equal representation (2 senators). If protection of the minority was not an issue then why have two chambers in the legislature? Of course, the Constitution is not going to have every last detail; it is a statement of basic principles and a mostly brilliant achievement in concise language and clear meaning. Thu

                    • Hmm, funny, it was okay when Republicans used it. Hypocrite.

                      Please don't put words in my mouth. IMHO the filibuster is a valid and necessary rule of Senate procedure and attempting to skirt those rules, for whatever reason, is a particularly odious act no matter who is doing it or for what purpose . Again, why does everyone around here take these binary positions? What ever happened to nuance and its appreciation?

                    • by spun (1352)

                      Way to dodge the issue. Please show me in the Constitution where it says that EVERY issue needs sixty votes. Show me where it says the word 'filibuster' at all.Look at my other post. Republicans have used reconciliation to stop filibustering Dems before, and you know what? Turnabout is fair play.

                    • by spun (1352)

                      Filibuster is a procedure. It is not enshrined in the Constitution. The founding fathers didn't even think of it. It's a way for the minority to dictate terms to the majority, which is even less fair than the tyranny of the majority. It's the tyranny of the minority.

                      So, it was okay when the Dems filibustered, and the Republicans shouldn't have used reconciliation? That has to be your position, or you are a hypocrite. Your position amounts to 'it takes sixty votes to pass anything in the Senate.' Which is no

                    • From the reply (you do read right?): "Thus, the US Senate has the power to set its own rules of procedure"

                      The Constitution allows the Senate to work out the details of its own procedures (in that it does not explicitly prohibit them from doing so and having some form of formal procedure is necessary as a practical matter). If those procedures need to be changed, then the Senate should debate that separately outside the context of any particular issue and then make whatever changes they deem necessary. The

                    • by spun (1352)

                      Reconciliation is a procedure. Like the filibuster, it isn't in the Constitution. People use both to the letter of the law, not the spirit. The spirit of the law is, simple majority to pass a law. That is what is in the Constitution. So, reconciliation is more in the spirit of the actual constitution, which is simple majority to pass a law. You may not like this, but as you mentioned, you have the option of running for the Senate and changing the procedures if you think they are worded too loosely. I just a

                    • So, it was okay when the Dems filibustered, and the Republicans shouldn't have used reconciliation?

                      If the matter was not strictly budgetary, then yes it is was okay for the Dems to filibuster and the Republicans should not have used reconciliation to halt that procedure.

                      Which is not what the Constitution says, by the way.

                      Please, the Constitution was NOT designed to spell out in exacting detail the complete rules of Senate procedure. It was and is a statement of our principles and highest law; hence the need for a legislature to pass laws to cover the details. The rules of Senate procedure are a matter of practical necessity (as they are in any other par

                    • which is simple majority to pass a law

                      Which has always been the case; cutting off debate and voting on the actual bill are two different things.

                      but as you mentioned, you have the option of running for the Senate and changing the procedures if you think they are worded too loosely.

                      Actually, I have a few more years yet for eligibility (the Senate requires minimum age of 35 years) and moreover, I don't have a problem with the Senate rules as they stand. I would however prefer to see Senators and parties play by them rather than attempting to subvert them. IMHO the language of reconciliation pretty clearly limits it use to budgetary matters. It takes some pretty extraordinary mental

                    • by spun (1352)

                      Well, I'm sorry then, but if Senators did not want people using reconciliation, they should have worded it differently, don't you agree? That's the pro-filibuster argument that you used. It's a procedure, and if Senators didn't want it that way, they should have worded it differently.

                      I just love the way Shakespeare could turn a phrase, don't you? Like 'hoist on his own petard.' That's just brilliant, don't you think?

                    • the Senate requires minimum age of 35 years

                      correction...30 years (still a bit short); 35 for president.

                    • by spun (1352)

                      But obviously, not carefully worded enough. Personally, the idea that a minority of senators can hold up every non-budgetary decision indefinitely is simply ludicrous.

                      What that means is, the minority wins. How is that fair? It does not sound like any version of democracy I've ever heard of. And don't try the 'protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority' bullshit, either. We have that, it's called the constitution, and you need to jump through some serious hoops to change it. You shouldn't ha

                    • but if Senators did not want people using reconciliation, they should have worded it differently, don't you agree?

                      I was under the impression that the reconciliation language was pretty carefully worded precisely to prevent its use in non-budgetary matters. This is the most commonly accepted reading as far as I am aware.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          If the government wasn't so darn powerful then there wouldn't be as many or as high bids and yet the Libertarians here on Slashdot are always modded down for having the temerity to suggest that bigger government is not the answer.

          If the government wasn't so powerful there would be no need to bribe it before doing some grievously evil corporate sheningan. Libertarians get modded down because they refuse to see that, in the absence of government, some other powerful group would take over and become new ruler

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      This is just another step in the hollowing out of the state. Private firms already fight our wars. What's next, private firms taking over the "service" of governing the country? Oh wait...

      This one is the biggest one you've never heard of [serco.com], operates in all western democracies, everything from prisons to nuclear weapons handling.

      • by zifferent (656342)
        Please tell me, I mean whatthe? Dear sweet humanity, tell me that there isn't a single company with its hand monetarily so far up the govt's anus that they insinuate themselves at such crucial levels. This is some kind of joke, right? Have they slithered into the US system much? The level of profiteering on tax-payer dollars and the inherent feedback loop of control is staggering.
    • Actually I would be all for it, to have competing governments in a country. Instead of the monopoly that it is now.
      Then again, a “free” market never stays free, because freedom includes the freedom to stop it from being free... or not a monopoly. (And because the “free market” is essentially the law of the jungle. As opposed to democracy.)

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Actually I would be all for it, to have competing governments in a country. Instead of the monopoly that it is now.

        Having competing governments in a single country is not fun [wikipedia.org]. If you want competing goverments, you need multiple countries. And we already have those.

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:12PM (#30897510)

      You know there are some things that Private Companies can do better then the government. Some things the government can do better. And then there are things that companies can do well with the correct regulations.

      For some things the government does creates a lot of red-tape and a lot of trying to please the right person and a lot of compromises in order to get everyone happy or at least equally unhappy. Companies have a more direct approach to this, less politics and more getting the job done. So they can make a profit and complete the project under budget.

      However... Private firms are focused a lot of keeping profits high and costs low, which could effect quality. For that case you will need government control or at least regulations/oversight to make sure that nothing critical is being cut or skimped on.

      Then there are other tasks such as maintenance wich has a defined job this can run will with government control such as Trash,Water, Sewer etc...

      So it is really the right organization for the right job. I personally hate the Politics of saying X is better then Y... It is about getting the right balance.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      Not many commenters here seem to realize this, but private firms already handle space launches for the DOD and NRO, as well as all of NASA's unmanned science missions. This has been working well. The only new thing about the recent proposals is to have these same private launchers place people in orbit as well.

    • by paeanblack (191171) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:00PM (#30898828)

      This is just another step in the hollowing out of the state. Private firms already fight our wars.

      And before you know it, we'll have private companies paving our roads, building our courthouses, driving our ambulances, uniforming our police, everything!

      And they will be competing with each other to do this! It will be chaos!

      • by zifferent (656342)

        And before you know it, we'll have private companies paving our roads, building our courthouses, driving our ambulances, uniforming our police, everything!

        So you missed the bit about it being devil's advocate and such, interesting.

        You may have also missed that paving our roads, building our courthouses and uniforming our police our not crucial tasks in servicing a community. Somewhat important in a voter way, but less than important in a real way. Bad roads, inadequate courthouse shacks and old uniforms are not the stuff of a crumbling government. On the other hand ambulances are very important and hence are usually contracted out to several companies with

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:16PM (#30896878)
    how about you just let private enterprise go to space or not, and just get out of their way? government $ is the last thing we need to give the private sector at this point.
    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:31PM (#30897074)

      Yeah, as can be seen with the horrid, corrupt mess that constitutes the defense-contracting business, this approach gets you the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, you have no real market forces, because everything is funded by guaranteed government dollars--- in most cases, even cost overruns above the original contract amount get charged directly back to the government, not eaten by the company that generated the overruns, so there's no incentive not to generate them. On the other hand, you have none of the transparency and oversight that at least nominally you can get with government-run things; e.g. FOIA requests do not apply.

      If the private sector wants to go to space, let the private sector go to space. If the government wants to go to space, let it go to space. But the government paying for the private sector to go to space makes no sense.

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:26PM (#30897710)

        Except that NASA's current modus operandi is already what DOD does. Apollo and STS were built by private contractors under cost-plus contracts, same as defense systems are.

        When you hear 'commercial space' interpret it as 'fixed-price contracts.' Its not new in the fact that its giving money to private companies to do things the government wants, its new in saying "we'll pay you this much to do (blank)" instead of asking "how much can you do this for, and oh yeah, if you run over, we'll help cover that too."

        Cost-plus has its place, in high-risk situations where final cost may be highly variable. However, getting to LEO has been done over and over again, so fixed-price makes much more sense, and will ultimately save money.

        • It's a good idea. (Score:3, Informative)

          by mosb1000 (710161)
          My company has had a lot of trouble convincing our government clients to go with fixed firm pricing. Ultimately, it comes down to control. They like cost plus because it keeps them in charge, they continually approve additional work and ask for things to be redone particular way, and if it costs more it costs more. With fixed firm, they can't really micro-manage us because we will come back and say that it's not what were planning on doing and we can't afford to change it under the fixed firm price.

          There
    • by bughunter (10093) <.ten.knilhtrae. .ta. .retnuhgub.> on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:55PM (#30897314) Journal

      Fine. Let them do it with their own astronauts, and with their own money. Nothing's stopping them.

      What troubles me is when we decide to throw away a nearly 50 year tradition of manned space excellence with a better than average track record and replace it with contracts to commercial space companies who have been making more promises than results for the past 25 years.

      Only Orbital and SpaceX have made it past the "Step 2" phase, and they both had to learn the hard way that the space biz is exceptionally technically challenging and extremely risky, both technically and financially.

      When there's a real financial incentive to be in space (e.g., mineral rich asteroids or selling water on the moon) then for-profit companies will succeed. Until then, they're just a vehicle to privatize what is otherwise be a government research function.

      • Nonsense. Commercial, or at least semi-private space operations have been putting satellites in orbit for years now. And there is a profit in it.

        Admittedly, there is a difference between putting a satellite in orbit and putting a man on the space station or the moon. But progress is being made.
        • by bughunter (10093)

          or at least semi-private... there is a difference between putting a satellite in orbit and putting a man on the space station

          It appears that you at least suspect you know what I meant.

          Yes, lots of for-profit companies are successful at taking technology developed under government sponsorship and applying it to launching comm satellites or conducting the operations of government owned systems.

          But what we're talking about now is letting these companies manage the development. Development of systems where prioritizing management needs over engineering advice [wikipedia.org] will sooner or later have disastrous [wikipedia.org] results [wikipedia.org].

          Pardon me if I don't have muc

          • But that is exactly my point. Here you have government contractors who haven't been responsible. And they have little motivation to be responsible. I understand that.

            To quote the article you linked to: "Feynman's own investigation reveals a disconnect between NASA's engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected."

            That is of course the problem, and it has been an issue at NASA since before the Challenger disaster. The President at the time even ordered NASA to clean up their burea
          • by Deosyne (92713)

            So you're more concerned that the managers in for-profit companies, who live and die by the bottom line and would be financially devastated by an accident of the magnitude in your examples, would be more negligent in terms of engineering efficiency and safety than managers in a government office that simply has taxpayer money handed to them via Congressional mandate? Or is it that you believe that those of us who work in the private sector value human life less than government employees? I could understand

      • by Necron69 (35644) <jscott,farrow&gmail,com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:35PM (#30897806)

        You do realize that virtual everyone with experience in developing a working launch vehicle at NASA retired years ago? Your 50 year legacy is dust or in the nursing home.

        SpaceX has at least built a rocket that flies and is more than vaporware. Better yet, they did it with ZERO taxpayer dollars, and no government bureaucracy.

        What the New Space industry needs right now is more customers, and for that, the gov't is perfect to help jump start the market.

        Necron69

      • by timmarhy (659436)
        I think you should try launch something into space and then come back and tell me nothing was stopping you. the level of red tape involved would be astronomical.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by CodeBuster (516420)

        Until then, they're just a vehicle to privatize what is otherwise be a government research function.

        Which raises the question: "What more is there to learned about manned space flight given our current limitations"? After all, you can only do the "study of weightlessness on human body" experiments so many times before nothing new or useful is learned by additional repetitions. Personally, I feel that we should shelve manned space flight, or at least place it on the back burner, until we have substantially better propulsion systems (aka interstellar drives) and somewhere interesting to go. As you have alre

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      how about you just let private enterprise go to space or not, and just get out of their way? government $ is the last thing we need to give the private sector at this point.

      Back in the late 80s, Reagan was pushing to get private industry up into space. A company called Space Industries Inc. put together a proposal to build a "private" space station in orbit and Reagan tried to force NASA to lease it for $700 million/5 years. In 1989, the recently retired NASA administrator opposed the program, a senior VP from Raytheon led a panel that concluded the private station was a bad idea, and ultimately Bush Sr. let it die.

      I only give you this abbreviated story in order to show that p

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      The FAA Office of Commercial Space (AST -- I don't understand their abbreviation scheme) is doing a good job of creating a regulatory environment that 'gets out of the way' as much as is responsible. The people working there are sharp minds and have their hearts in the right place, so I think this is a good sign.

      However, I think there is a place for government involvement here as well. Don't forget that in the early days of aviation, startups got a big boost from the US Postal Service. The guaranteed mar

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Exactly how is government in the way?

      I don't exactly see private industry falling over themselves to get into space. (Not silly "space tourism" schemes, serious economically self-sustaining space travel.) And why should they? We're talking billions of dollars up front with no return for many, many years.

      Government can help private ventures by providing incentives. That's how the transcontinental railroad got built [wikipedia.org].

      The choice isn't simply between unchecked government [systocracy.com] and unchecked business [al.com]; both are recipes

  • Gee - this is encouraging. Just a week ago, an expert panel warned NASA not to outsource manned space to commercial entities. [wsj.com]

    Clearly, this panel was stacked with government bureaucrats, obviously biased against upstanding American businesses. The fact that commercial space has been 90% vaporware for the past three decades had nothing to do with it. And God forbid anyone suggest that for-profit organizations would cut corners for the sake of making more money.

    And certainly corporate capture of NASA had nothing to do with today's announcement. Perish the thought.
     
    /sarcasm

    • by jpmorgan (517966)

      Commercial space is 90% vaporware? You realize, of course, that almost all launches in the USA are commercial? Huge swaths of NASA's operations are already contracted out to private firms.

      I don't know whether commercial is fully up to the challenge of what NASA wants, and maybe there'll have to be some form of technology transfer... but NASA has been running low-earth orbit operations for decades. Maybe it's time to admit that LEO isn't actually that hard, and fully commoditise that traffic. Let NASA refoc

      • by bughunter (10093)

        To clarify the statement you are quoting: commercial space =/= government contract space

        Of the launch vehicles that are currently operating, only the Pegasus, Taurus and Falcon aren't built using motors designed under contract to (i.e. using the money of) either NASA or the DoD.

        Not that lots of people haven't tried. But only Elias and Musk have met with any measurable success.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jpmorgan (517966)

          So? What's the problem with using motors designed originally under contract for the government? It's great that SpaceX have accomplished what they did, but would the expertise and knowledge that they relied upon exist, had the government not contracted for the development of rockets like Titan and Atlas?

          The government is one of the biggest customers, and one of the few organizations able to front the enormous R&D cost of such items. But now that the R&D has been done, let the commercial sector do th

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      The fact that commercial space has been 90% vaporware for the past three decades had nothing to do with it. And God forbid anyone suggest that for-profit organizations would cut corners for the sake of making more money.

      Commercial space is vaporware? During the past decade or so the DOD, NRO, and unmanned NASA missions have all been exclusively getting to orbit on commercial launchers. All those organizations seem to be perfectly happy using commercial vehicles for billion-plus dollar spacecraft. It's only manned NASA missions which are still being operated largely in-house.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Actually it is encouraging. And actually, the panel was stacked with long-time NASA contractors who benefit from the current cost-plus contracting methods. And corporate interests and petty politics already dominate NASA -- Ares 1 isn't being kept alive for its technical merits, its because ATK and the senators from Alabama are fighting hard to keep it alive.

      As far as vaporware, though I must admit I can be a little optimistic about companies like SpaceX, I'd point out that NASA has become a master of vapo

    • by tsotha (720379)
      NASA was urged not to outsource manned space... by "[a] key U.S. federal aerospace panel"? You don't say.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:24PM (#30896988)

    How many shuttle successors have come and gone? And the whole Aeres thing looks like it's fixing to be another clusterfuck.

    It seems like the current government agency/government contractor model of development and procurement is broken. The same boondoggles we see in the military are repeated pretty much across the board. I know they say not to ascribe to malice what can best be described by incompetence but it seems like there's usually malice and greed at work here. The government will sign a very lucrative contract with a company that will then have massive cost overruns, fail to deliver on time and thus draw even more funds to eventually deliver a poorly-designed piece of shit that cannot do what was requested of it.

    Sometimes you can blame the government for screwing things up. The shuttle was promised to do too many things for too many people and the engineers were left with trying to make the best compromise they could. That was the government's bad. And the whole Ares bit, that sounds like a government bad, too. NASA got all turned on by the idea of reusing shuttle tech and saving bundles on false economies and it was the contractor's fault for not disabusing them of this notion. Engineers both at NASA and the contractor probably knew better but management would have been unwilling to listen, obviously, or else we wouldn't be in the situation we are now.

    The thing that really kills me is the contractor's motivation as a business is maximizing revenue from the contracts and thus maximizing profits. It's not in their interest to be on-time and on-budget. And it's also not in their own interest to offer cheaper, better solutions. So we get this perpetual game where they promise the moon for low prices and NASA pretends to believe them and the costs spiral and until projects are canceled. I would see that as a complete failure but the business would regard that failure as a profitable venture and thus a success. Therefore, there's no incentive for them to do things any differently!!! Argh.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      The thing that really kills me is the contractor's motivation as a business is maximizing revenue from the contracts and thus maximizing profits. It's not in their interest to be on-time and on-budget. And it's also not in their own interest to offer cheaper, better solutions. So we get this perpetual game where they promise the moon for low prices and NASA pretends to believe them and the costs spiral and until projects are canceled.

      A large part of point of going commercial is that you use competitive fixed-price contracts instead of the cost-plus contracts typically used by NASA. With cost-plus, if your sole contractor goes over-budget, you just have to pay them more money as long as they fill out the proper paperwork. With fixed-price with multiple competitors, if a contractor goes over-budget they have to either eat the cost, or you cancel the contract and buy launch services from their competitor instead. This is pretty revolutiona

    • All the more reason, IMHO, to cut the budget for manned space flight and spend the money elsewhere in the Federal government or, gasp, return it to the taxpayers from whom we took it in the first place. I don't think that its too controversial to say that manned space flight is the highest cost and lowest value program that NASA is currently involved with. The International Space Station has become little more than an orbiting hotel for bored billionaires subsidized by ordinary taxpayers. There are virtuall
  • The right way (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skal Tura (595728) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:25PM (#30897004) Homepage

    to go about it. Commercialising helps to drive costs down, as an goverment program, being the only one capable to do, without a drive to use commercial sector for it's operations, NASA is inherently flawed: No ultimate, inherent need to drive costs down. Businesses survive only by driving costs down, and down, further down. Businesses have to get their base cost down in order to be profitable, in order to survive.

    Yes, definitely businesses will cut corners etc, but not at the expense of human lifes, as that would mean end of business for them. Space endeavours are really tight on safety, and despite a company being able to do way cheaper than anyone, if it's not safe, they will not gather good business.

    • Re:The right way (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:37PM (#30897138)

      Businesses in the private sector, selling actual products or services to actual end users, do indeed have incentives to drive costs down. But businesses contracting for the government do not, as can be seen by the money-pit that constitutes the defense-contracting business.

      In fact, the opposite is true: businesses contracting for the government have a strong profit incentive to drive costs up.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        Businesses in the private sector, selling actual products or services to actual end users, do indeed have incentives to drive costs down. But businesses contracting for the government do not, as can be seen by the money-pit that constitutes the defense-contracting business.

        In fact, the opposite is true: businesses contracting for the government have a strong profit incentive to drive costs up.

        I think what you actually mean is "businesses selling actual products or services at a fixed-price to end users have

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      PRICE is not same as COST.

      Let's give a real-world example that's had time to play out. In California Proposition 13 was supposed to benefit renters because it would drive taxes down, and with lower property taxes well OF COURSE the landlords would pass this savings on to the customers. A lower COST would naturally result in lower PRICE right? BZZZT wrong the landlords pocketed the difference and kept rents aligned as always with incomes and WHAT THE MARKET WILL BEAR.

      Also I recall this ame argument abou

  • Commercial Space Initiative abbreviates to CSI. Must... resist... urge to... make... a one-liner...


    Okay. Urge suppressed. Well, back to topic. I think that when NASA goes commercial, average people will finally have enough... space.

    Yeeeeeeeeeah!

    Damn!
  • Noble Pursuits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:32PM (#30897776) Journal

    I hope my American friends don't take this out of context but I really hope that one day the people of America regain control of their country from the vested interests that are controlling it.

    What seems to be the state of the union at the moment is a parody of the original goals set down as the purpose of America for American people and indeed all freedom loving people. I don't mean a hippy commune where we all hold hands and sing kom-by-yah but real freedom as opposed to the image of freedom, real democracy instead of the lobbying for vested interests that occurs today and real capitalism instead of the propping up of the "Too big to fail"s. Somehow the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has been converted to the pursuit of wealth because money must mean all those things, right?

    I don't see it as a political issue anymore more but a series of structural issues designed to deceive and contrived to limit choices. Even Benjamin Franklin said the constitution, as it was framed, would not stop the U.S being a victim of despotism. Perhaps it's a day when Americans accept discomfort for things that are important and real. Noble pursuits.

    I hope you don't think I'm a troll, because I'm sincere about missing the nice America who used to be a champion of freedom. It will be a truly awesome and frightening thing to watch a people finally regain control of their country.

    • There is a core group of Americans who are all about "getting back basics" or restoring America to the "original formula"; we are called libertarians. Unfortunately, as you have already stated, most of our neighbors are more concerned about what goods or services the government can offer to them gratis or how the power of government can be used to enforce morality than they are about true freedom as the founding fathers envisioned it. They would rather "get theirs" (never mind how) than be free; sad but tru
  • For far too long, the West (esp. America) starts projects and then does not finish them; Too expensive, when the simple truth is, the next party does not have the fortitude to follow the vision. Clinton killed the Super Collider as well as the IFR. Both were short times away from being done. He started the X-33 as test craft to replace the shuttle. When it was headed towards testing, W/neo-cons killed it. Worse, when DOD BEGGED for multiple years to have the X-33, W/neo-con had the craft destroyed. So then,
    • by zifferent (656342)
      An interesting an thoughtful take on the situation. Is this really Slashdot? Obviously, you are an outsider to the US and its space policy, or you would have nonsensical version of the current NASA. For those uninformed, NASA's budget has been cut beyond the quick and the unstaunched bleeding while crusting over is in the continual process of the scab being picked over and over again. As several admissions have substantiised NASA just needs to get beyond the political football and create something of val

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