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Government NASA Space Science

Give Space a Chance, Says Phil Plait 279

Posted by timothy
from the to-not-bless-is-not-to-negate dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "A lot of pundits, scientists, and people who should know better are decrying the demise of NASA, saying that the President's budget cutting the Constellation program and the Ares rockets will sound the death knell of manned space exploration. This simply is not true. The budget will call for a new rocket design, and a lot of money will go toward private space companies, who may be able to launch people into orbit years ahead of Ares being ready anyway."
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Give Space a Chance, Says Phil Plait

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  • Yeah, orbit! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:16AM (#30968232)

    Weee! They'll be able to launch people into orbit years ahead of Ares! Because putting people into orbit is exactly why Ares was being built, since NASA can't do that with their current rockets.

    The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today. It's at least a century away from what NASA could do 40 years ago. They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it. Government funding is the only way space exploration can go forward.

    • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:25AM (#30968274) Journal

      They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it.

      Oh really? Because to me, Phobos and Deimos (Mars' moons) are little more than a few trillion tons of metal, ceramics, volatiles and a few million tons of precious metals sitting in a nice stable orbit over Mars. Just perfect to supply the Earth with some rare metals, the moon and LEO with volatiles and any space tourism around Mars. The view is fantastic and I'd bet there's people who would pay pretty big bucks to take a vacation to Martian orbit or even visit the surface. You woyuld have to have a profound lack of imagination to not see any "profit" in going to Mars and in space exploration in general. Resources, tourism, research etc. plenty of profit to be made, it's just a matter of building up the necessary technology and infrastructure.

      • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:39AM (#30968332)

        Seriously?
        I just can't see mining a trillion tons of anything to carry it back to earth being a good idea. And mining a moon seems fraught with peril, an generally a bad idea. For Christ sake if exhaling can destroy earth's environment, how could de-orbiting a trillion tons do the planet any good?

        The only way to gain the riches of mars is to live there. You can't bring it home.

         

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by wizardforce (1005805)

          The volatiles, metals and ceramics are only worth mining for industry/economies already in space. Only the precious metals and various other materials would be sent back to Earth. The volatiles etc. would be used for space tourism and colonies as sending up those cheap materials to orbit is very expensive.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by icebike (68054)

            Precious = Rare.
            Cease being Rare = Cease being precious.

            • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:5, Insightful)

              by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:23AM (#30968492) Journal

              The supply of space metals shipped to Earth can not lower the price of precious metals on Earth lower than what it costs to ship them no matter how abundant they are in space. Hence why even though there are quadrillions of tons of salt on Earth, the price isn't near zero due to the cost of transport and extraction.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Trepidity (597)

                That's not strictly true: a lot of the value of precious metals, especially gold, is simply derived from the fact that they're rare, and thus seen as a store of value. If some major change happens that causes people to no longer perceive gold as rare (for example, we discover huge piles of the stuff elsewhere and a practical way of transporting it to earth), its price could fall precipitously as people stop considering it valuable, and all that's left are industrial uses.

                • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:4, Insightful)

                  by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:53AM (#30968590) Journal

                  and a practical way of transporting it to earth

                  The price can never drop below the cost to maintain the rate of supply that is profitable. Never. It doesn't matter how much of x material there is. If it costs 500$/kg to extract, purify and transport it then the price must be at least 500$ over a period of time. If the price is set below that, the further ability to maintain the level of supply that results in that low price goes away which causes supply to drop and prices to rise to the point where it is again profitable to extract.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by Trepidity (597)

                    Sure it can: if people stop wanting it, the price can drop quite low, as gluts of the stuff languish unsold and people are unable to unload it. There is no guarantee prices would rise back up again if demand never recovers.

                    In gold's particular case, if the perception ever becomes that gold is not a rare, hard-to-acquire metal, its price will collapse and not recover, because it doesn't really have that much intrinsic value.

                    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                      by wizardforce (1005805)

                      Sure it can: if people stop wanting it, the price can drop quite low, as gluts of the stuff languish unsold and people are unable to unload it

                      I'm pretty sure people value Platinum and other rare metals as they are chemically, metallurgically and catalytically useful. There is no evidence that the demand for the metals will just suddenly disappear. Even if it did, the supply would simply drop to the level of demand. Econ101.

                    • by Trepidity (597)

                      Even if it did, the supply would simply drop to the level of demand.

                      Indeed, and if that demand is less than the available terrestrial sources, space-mining would go out of business entirely, and therefore be a complete bust.

                • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

                  by masshuu (1260516)
                  dude, its shiny and metallically, its precious. End of story.
                • Yes, IIRC Queen Victoria had a small collection of aluminium jewelry.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Tumbleweed (3706) *

              Precious = Rare.
              Cease being Rare = Cease being precious.

              Not necessarily. Air is plentiful, yet each of us can't live without a constant supply of it. It depends on what precious thing you're talking about. Not that this means your argument is wrong, just your analogy. :)

              I'm reminded of a sci-fi book I read a few years ago (I _wish_ I could remember the author or title!) where a man wants to bring the riches of the astroid belt to earth, but needs to develop technology to bring the transportation cost down e

        • Some very rare metals may only be available from deep in the crust of astronomical bodies. On Earth that means digging down thousands of kilometres. On Phobos and Deimos that means going down a few kilometres at the most. And we might only need small quantities of these things any. Increasingly the applications are going to be in space. It will be a long time before we bring down more matter than we have sent up.

        • And mining a moon seems fraught with peril, an generally a bad idea.

          Well, you know, compared with normal mining, which is, like, historically one of the safest career choices ever.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          Some materials have an intrinsic cost that is higher than the cost of transport. Building a mass driver on the moon would offset the transportation costs a lot. For these calculations, people use to compare the cost of the Apollo program to the few tons of lunar rock they brought back, that is a bit silly when you know that a big trebuchet could send tons of rock back to Earth. But yes it is not going to be economically sound quickly, but it can be a way to offset costs if someone wants to build a moon colo
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by c6gunner (950153)

          I just can't see mining a trillion tons of anything to carry it back to earth being a good idea.

          Why?

          And mining a moon seems fraught with peril, an generally a bad idea.

          Again, why?

          For Christ sake if exhaling can destroy earth's environment, how could de-orbiting a trillion tons do the planet any good?

          Talk about a non-sequitur. If inhaling pure CO2 can kill you, how could ingesting 500 liters of oxygen per day do you any good?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          For Christ sake if exhaling can destroy earth's environment, how could de-orbiting a trillion tons do the planet any good?

          The only way to gain the riches of mars is to live there. You can't bring it home.

          And yet the earth gets hit by tens of thousands of tons of meteors annually [helium.com], with no apparent adverse effects. Thats not to say that all will be well if we escalate that to millions of tons per year, but since we can control the manner of entry its quite likely that significant reductions in temperatures or emissions as a result of deorbiting can be achieved.

          In any case, I think you are quite right in saying that for example raw materials from asteroids will probably not be sent directly back to earth, at

      • by anagama (611277)
        People like going to Europe, Asia, N. America, wherever to see the sights and taste the foods and yet, commercial airlines seem to often be in financial trouble.
      • by Dr. Evil (3501)

        The ethics of manned commercial space flight are scary. One accident and the whole thing is going to be held back 50 years.

        And you'd get more resources digging a hole in my backyard than you would from digging a hole on the Martian moons.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wizardforce (1005805)

          The ethics of manned commercial space flight are scary. One accident and the whole thing is going to be held back 50 years.

          In the US this might be true but China will probably think otherwise. The US is far too risk adverse to actually do anything interesting and if it continues, China will kick the US's ass badly.

          And you'd get more resources digging a hole in my backyard than you would from digging a hole on the Martian moons.

          Phobos and Deimos are C/D type asteroids rich in Nickel and contain roughly 4

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stan Vassilev (939229)

        Oh really? Because to me, Phobos and Deimos (Mars' moons) are little more than a few trillion tons of metal, ceramics, volatiles and a few million tons of precious metals sitting in a nice stable orbit over Mars. Just perfect to supply the Earth with some rare metals, the moon and LEO with volatiles and any space tourism around Mars. The view is fantastic and I'd bet there's people who would pay pretty big bucks to take a vacation to Martian orbit or even visit the surface. You woyuld have to have a profound lack of imagination to not see any "profit" in going to Mars and in space exploration in general. Resources, tourism, research etc. plenty of profit to be made, it's just a matter of building up the necessary technology and infrastructure.

        Based on your business plan, I come to the conclusion that the difference between business and sci-fi is that the latter needs to be at least remotely based in reality.

        • You're right, sending more ships to the Americas is a complete waste of our resources... It is a good thing that our ancestors weren't so pessimistic about exploration. Bonus points to whomever realized that colonizing space doesn't involve enslaving the natives.

          • The difference is that Europe and the Americas weren't in gravity wells.
          • Yep, and various "states" sponsered those ships. It's said that Colubus cost the Spanish as much as Armstrong cost the US. Mars is at least an order of magnitude more difficult. And while I'm sure there were a few early tourists, what kept the early ships coming to the Americas was Inca gold, in less than half a centrury Spain doubled the total amount of gold in Europe and most of it entered via their treasury.
      • Resources, tourism, research etc. plenty of profit to be made, it's just a matter of building up the necessary technology and infrastructure.

        You have just answered your own argument. No business is going to pay the billions or possibly trillions required to build up the necessary tech and infrastructure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Indeed. Government funding is the only way manned space flight has proceeded for the last 50 or so years. I'm as big on the free market as anyone, but there are some things worth doing that are simply not profitable in economic terms. In fact, some of humanity's greatest achievements obviously weren't profitable. I doubt the pyramids ever provided the Egyptians with a profit. Well - at least not for several thousand years.

      Sure, private industry, say SpaceX, might be able to develop the technology. But who w

      • What company, with several billion dollars at it's disposal, has an incentive to go to the moon or Mars? What would the incentive be?

        Google is funding the Lunar X-prize, of course this isn't anything more than a "probe" but the bigger stuff in terms of Lunar tourism come later. How much would someone absurdly rich pay to take a vacation near the moon or Mars? Or be the first human to step on either of them from a private space program? How about NEO mining? An ore that is 500x as rich in some precious

        • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Idiomatick (976696) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:31AM (#30968526)
          I've thought for a long time that the US gov should pitch 100mil or so to the lunar X-prize, maybe 500mil to a martian prize. The prize system has shown that this method is highly efficient. Why not use it?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by QuantumG (50515) *

            Part of that prize system is the requirement that the money be put into escrow until it is claimed. That's the hardest part to convince NASA of, please pay now for something that someone may never claim, and then we'll give it back ok?

        • Why are you dragging your feet on releasing streetview Mars? Or even streetview Luna for that matter?!!! It's a simple matter of robotics engineering.
        • That's it! We just have to convince Warren Buffett to spend his vast wealth to finance a Mars mission so that he can become the first person to set foot there! It's like one really expensive space tourism trip.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        What would the incentive be?

        Making money?

        Right now there's no money to be made from flights to the Moon or Mars so no company is going to spend the money to do so; but the cost of spaceflight is dropping and sooner or later there will be an economic case for both, even if only as a 'holiday of a lifetime' for rich bankers.

        In the meantime, if there's no economic case for business to go there, why do you think that spending billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to put a few burrowcrats on the Moon is a good idea? They'll be about as u

        • by anagama (611277)
          You need glasses or a new prescription to help with that short-sightedness. For example:

          Thanks to the Moon missions, Black & Decker was able to pair cordless electricity with elbow grease and make the job of building America easier than ever. While on the Moon, astronauts were tasked with gathering soil and rock samples for analysis back on Earth. To help them, NASA asked Black & Decker to build a special drill for boring into lunar rock. The drill had to be small, lightweight and, most importantly

          • NASA asked Black & Decker to build a special drill for boring into lunar rock.

            I thought that movie was overrated.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        What company, with several billion dollars at it's disposal, has an incentive to go to the moon or Mars? What would the incentive be?

        This is pretty much what the proposal is -- having private industry focus on the well-understood problem of low-Earth orbit access, so that NASA can use its limited funds to explore the actual frontiers (i.e. Moon/Mars).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      "They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it. Government funding is the only way space exploration can go forward."

      Good thing you read the summary. "...a lot of money will go toward private space companies..."
    • I second that. What could be the direct profit (because that's all anyone in privat industry cares about) of space exploration?

      Mining? Be serious. First, prospecting is already insanely expensive, and that being cheap (compared to the extraction of the materials) makes mining profitable on Earth in the first place. You don't just send a geologist to the site where you expect stuff to be, you send that geologis to another planet without knowing jack whether he will find anything or not. This is already prohi

      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

        Mining? Be serious.

        Helium-3, man, Helium-3. Go rent Moon. If it's worth inventing human clones, it's financially profitable.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      NASA has been banned from throwing money at a Mars mission for decades now. The only person throwing serious money at a manned Mars mission right now is Elon Musk. He might not have enough money to do it, but he's the only one trying. When asked why he says because there's profits to be made..

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zig007 (1097227)

      The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today.

      Actually, it is the private industry that does what NASA do for NASA. Rocketdyne, Boeing, Lockheed et al ARE private companies.
      The private industry can already do what NASA can, and probably more, given a budget. NASA is mostly there to manage the projects.
      So it not decades away, it is billions of dollars away.

      The only reason companies like Virgin Galactic don't do what NASA do is the fact that their customers aren't willing to pay billions.
      It is probably just as hard, if not harder, to get people into LEO

    • Re:Yeah, orbit! (Score:4, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:00AM (#30969092) Journal

      The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today.

      This is a common meme, but unfortunately quite false. Private industry has been successfully designing and building new orbital rockets for years (Delta IV, Delta IV Heavy, Atlas V, Falcon 1, Pegasus, etc.). In contrast, NASA hasn't successfully designed a new orbital rocket in ~30 years, although they've had several severe management-related failures (X-33, X-34, NLS, etc.).

      Also, keep in mind that NASA already uses commercial rockets for all of its unmanned launches -- craft like the Spirit and Opportunity rovers weren't launched on NASA rockets, but on commercial Boeing Delta II Heavies.

      They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it.

      Which is precisely the reason the proposed plan is better. By letting private rockets handle the routine problem of accessing low-Earth orbit, NASA can use its limited funds to focus on actual exploration instead of rocket-building.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      First, Ares 1 is actually designed only to get astronauts on board an Orion capsule to LEO. (However Orion is a much more capable capsule than Dragon.) Ares V, which is even further from reality is what's needed to leave LEO. And no, NASA can't get to LEO on its current rockets, since once the shuttle retires it has none of its own launch vehicles. And for the record, keeping the shuttle out of retirement is not trivial, if thats what you're going for.

      And you seem to imply that experience is attached to

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)

      The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today.

      That's debatable. With the shuttle being terminated this year, the NASA will have no more programs to launch humans into orbit. It can still launch satellites but so can SpaceX, Musk's private company. They even subcontract launches for NASA.

      It's at least a century away from what NASA could do 40 years ago.

      While I agree that NASA was more audacious and had more far-reaching missions in 1970, I'd like to point out that the Google-Ansari lunar Xprize aims at doing what was done about 50 years ago by the NASA : landing (well the NASA crashed it IIRC) a probe on the moon. I t

  • Bravo. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:17AM (#30968238)

    I follow Phil via twitter, he's pretty spot on about space and space exploration. He even goes into the false dichotemy of funding social spending programs first then NASA in one of his posts. NASA research lead to cheaper, more viable foodstuffs for the poor in the past, I don't see why it's breakthroughs couldn't assist us in our search for solutions to problems here on Earth.

    • Re:Bravo. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:46AM (#30968366)

      Phil is absolutely correct on this.

      NASA spending also makes jobs. Everything from top level engineers and administrators down to bag boys in the grocery stores.

      I wish people could get it thru their head that we are not launching stacks of 100 dollar bills into space. Every last red cent is spent here on earth.

      Why make the poor into hand-out wards of the State? I have never understood the so called (self called) "Progressive" parties propensity to enslave population thusly, and lose the first derivative of government spending.

      If NASA did nothing at all and delivered nothing at all but stacks of study after study it would STILL be better for society than handing out food stamps because there were no jobs.

      • Because I believe that most people who are on handouts generally don't want to be. Generally there's more money to be made working, not to mention social and intellectual satisfaction to be had. I was on unemployment for about 7 months, and while I didn't mind being paid to search for a job, it's pretty unappealing overall to be on the dole. It's a safety net, not a teat. Even teats stop giving milk at some point, in some mammals.

  • by syousef (465911) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:24AM (#30968266) Journal

    What you need is for people to realise the benefits that come with space exploration so that they demand, through their votes, that it be included in the budget. What you don't need to do is give up on NASA in favour of private companies that can only ever be expected to be SELF serving. Capitalism as a tool is a good thing, but as a religion it is as stupid as any other religion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      If you want to convince people of the benefits of space exploration, you need to first convince them you are sane. Anti-corporatism for the sake of anti-corporatism is silly, and that's what you seem to be doing there. Sometimes it makes sense for the government to outsource its projects to other companies; if you think that is not the case here, then you should come up with reasons why.

      I am in favor of space research, but right now it has no real direction. Sending the shuttle into space to do more ex
      • by syousef (465911)

        If you want to convince people of the benefits of space exploration, you need to first convince them you are sane.

        I guess the way to do that is to use childish personal attacks discrediting the sanity of someone who's opinion is different to yours.

        Anti-corporatism for the sake of anti-corporatism is silly, and that's what you seem to be doing there.

        If you read what I said carefully you'll see that I made no such remark. No, corporations certainly have their place. They did in the Apollo missions too. They

        • I guess the way to do that is to use childish personal attacks discrediting the sanity of someone who's opinion is different to yours.

          Sorry man, no offense meant, I was just trying to give you a bit of perspective.

          There are plenty of good reasons for space exploration.

          And yet you didn't give a single one of them.

    • by Rei (128717) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:20AM (#30968482) Homepage

      It amazes me how many people think that what we're dealing with is a choice between outsourcing to industry vs. having the government do it. That's not the case. It's a choice between outsourcing to "small" (relatively) companies vs. outsourcing to huge corporate giants (Lockheed, Boeing, etc), which they currently do. The former should give much better pricing and innovation, at the downside of greater risk.

      • by syousef (465911) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:15AM (#30968800) Journal

        It's not big corp vs small at all. It's a question of a lack of leadership. Businesses, and certainly small businesses are ill suited to leading when it comes to such long term goals. Outsourcing sub-tasks to them is fine. Outsourcing projects that could take decades is a recipe for corruption and failure.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Yes and no.

          In theory one advantage of outsourcing something long-term is that it makes it immune to political changes.

          If you just outsource every part, then every two years the whole project is up for cancellation.

          If you sign a contract that commits the government to pay $2B for delivery of some launch vehicle that meets a set of specifications, and milestone payments along the way, then it can't be canceled. The government can of course take delivery and throw it away, but that's about it.

          In theory the pi

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        It's a choice between outsourcing to "small" (relatively) companies vs. outsourcing to huge corporate giants (Lockheed, Boeing, etc), which they currently do. The former should give much better pricing and innovation, at the downside of greater risk.

        Actually, the important choice seems to be between monopolistic single-supplier cost-plus contracts, as are currently used, vs. fixed-price commercial contracts with multiple competitors. In the ideal scenario, you have both the small and large companies operating in parallel, and the ones who make the better product get more of (but not all of) the purchases.

  • by physburn (1095481) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:31AM (#30968294) Homepage Journal
    Years of work have gone in Ares I,5 and the capsules. Yes is was just a bigger Apollo with more modern components, but if its cancelled and NASA have to restart then those years and dollars are gone, any moon or mars mission is setback at least 5 years. But as Phil said, these are just rumours, we don't yet know what will happen to NASA.

    ---

    Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

    • by osu-neko (2604) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:40AM (#30968342)

      Years of work have gone in Ares I,5 and the capsules. ... but if its cancelled and NASA have to restart then those years and dollars are gone

      You are suffering from the "sunk costs" fallacy. Those years and dollars are gone, not "if its cancelled", they're gone, period. The question is, what is the best way to proceed from where we are today. If the Ares program is not a good investment, then we shouldn't throw any more money at this. This is equally true whether we've spent nothing or spent a trillion dollars...

      • This is equally true whether we've spent nothing or spent a trillion dollars...

        Not really. Lets take the space shuttle for instance, if, after Challenger we figured that it was an unreliable means of transport (and as Columbia proved it was unreliable) and then we decided to scrap the entire thing, that would be a bad idea. Sometimes, even with a flawed design it costs less to do something 95% of the way, than it does to do it 100% of the way.

        • by NNKK (218503) <nknight@runawaynet.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:20AM (#30968480) Homepage

          Try again. Wikipedia (optimistically) puts the current incremental cost of a Shuttle launch at about $60 million. There have been over 100 launches since Challenger. In other words, we have spent at least $6,000,000,000 -- six billion dollars -- on shuttle flights since NASA's incompetence was put on display for the world.

          In the last eight years with just a few hundred million in funding, SpaceX has developed vehicles now capable of launching payloads to LEO at roughly 2x the price of the Shuttle, and cost to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit is actually the same or _LOWER_ for the Falcon 9.

          Can you possibly imagine how cheap spaceflight would be if that six BILLION dollars had been poured into something other than NASA's horrifically broken bureaucracy for the last 24 years?

          • by Rei (128717) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:27AM (#30968502) Homepage

            The Shuttle was a great research program. We learned an awful lot. The problem was that we turned what should have been a first generation reusable pilot project into a workhorse.

            It might have been a suitable workhorse in some of its original incarnations. Might. But after the design compromises that led up to what we currently know as the shuttle, its chances for affordability were ruined.

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Try again. Wikipedia (optimistically) puts the current incremental cost of a Shuttle launch at about $60 million. There have been over 100 launches since Challenger. In other words, we have spent at least $6,000,000,000 -- six billion dollars -- on shuttle flights since NASA's incompetence was put on display for the world.

            Using variable costs is silly when the annual fixed cost of the shuttle program is several billion dollars. In reality, NASA have probably spent over a hundred billion dollars on shuttle flights since Challenger, the greatest achievement of which is to build a spam can in orbit which the US government plans to drop into the ocean in a few years.

            Just imagine if that $100,000,000,000 had been spent on developing a low-cost spaceflight capability instead.

            • Just imagine if that $100,000,000,000 had been spent on developing a low-cost spaceflight capability instead.

              This is my thought about the SpaceX Falcon 1 [wikipedia.org]: I wonder if you could build a single occupant capsule, similar to Mercury within the 670 kg limit which that vehicle can lift into low earth orbit?

              • by NNKK (218503)

                I can't find the precise weight of the Mercury capsule, but the spacecraft's "landing weight" is listed as 1,098kg. A more modern capsule, the current Soyuz Reentry Module (the part humans actually ride in for the trip to orbit and landing), is about 3000kg.

                If you're going for bare-bones and starting over with modern knowledge and materials, you could probably rip out enough to bring a one-man module under 670kg while still keeping the occupant alive. You couldn't really carry anything but the one human, th

                • Yeah, its for the millionaire who wants to emulate John Glenn. I am thinking $10 million per flight. Half the cost of a week on the ISS and you get to go solo.

            • by NNKK (218503)

              You are in no way _wrong_, but I carefully chose to focus on incremental launch costs in order to be conservative and avoid an exceedingly nuanced discussion about development costs. One can reasonably argue that some substantive portion of the R&D put into the Shuttle program (both at startup and since) benefits SpaceX and other commercial companies, as well, since most of the information is publicly available. A lot of knowledge was gained just by having a functioning reusable launch vehicle.

              Comparing

            • by thaig (415462)

              Just imagine if that $100,000,000,000 had been spent on developing a low-cost spaceflight capability instead.

              Then it would quickly have become high-cost.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by seriesrover (867969)
            NASA incompetence? Nothing in engineering is truly bug-free. Unfortunately with NASA the consequences can be dire; doesn't make them incompetent. And your analysis is off the mark - you need to understand that what we got from the money spent on the shuttle [since Challenger] was 20+ years of grunt work. Are your preposing that NASA should've stopped at the Challenger disaster and wait 20 years until SpaceX has the technology to start doing things 'better' ? Getting something done, as the parent says a
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by NNKK (218503)

              This isn't about engineering. Have you read the investigation reports from Challenger? If not, I suggest you do so. NASA management was absolutely and unequivocally incompetent.

              Then go read the reports from Columbia. They haven't gotten any better. NASA shouldn't be allowed to launch a bottle rocket.

              As for "waiting 20 years", you're completely missing the point. It wouldn't have _taken_ 20 years if the money had been spent on worthwhile work instead of a vehicle that should have been retired the minute Chal

      • It isn't a fallacy assuming we are going to eventually create a similar rocket...

        Sort of like making half a pizza, throwing it out, buying a pizza then later making a pizza. If instead you made a pizza then bought a pizza you'd have gotten the same results for less effort/money. (/trying to make pizzaanalogyguy proud)

        I do though think that this sort of fallacy is problematic and we should make certain to avoid it.
    • Mercury, Gemini and Apollo (and their counterparts in the USSR) made sense because of the cold war. Now that the cold war is gone the old justifications don't apply. The best thing NASA could do would be to buy commercial launches from private operators who prove that they can deliver reliably. That way launch vehicles will be available for public and private exploration.

      • Either way, a -huge- amount of taxpayer's money would be lost in the process. How much was spent between the finalized design of the shuttles and today on possible new launch vehicles? I'd imagine quite a bit, yet now all of that is lost. What makes sense is the either NASA A) continues like it has been or B) gives all of its assets to the collective whole of the USA. B is not going to happen because of so much classified data (after all, build a rocket, attack a nuke and you have an ICBM) and due to the ga
        • I have the impression that the standing army which supports the Shuttle has to be kept employed because they represent a large bloc of active voters. So the money is spent to keep those people happy with the government of the day. This is why so many Shuttle derived launchers are being proposed.

    • The years and dollars aren't gone. Most of the effort of Ares from what I can tell has been relearning how to do what we did in the past, slightly better, with modern technology and the team at NASA now. Its not like that team will magically forget everything they learned with that time and money if the White House and Congress want a different rocket. They will only lose the marginal differences between the old design and the new design requirements.Overall, it could actually save years and dollars if the
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VentureStar [wikipedia.org] That was an excellent example of private industry dropping the ball without a guaranteed flow of money from the government. Yes, I can see private industry handling low earth orbit. But the moon or Mars? There is no way that they will pay so much risk money ahead of time without promise of near-term profits. American corporations have forgotten how to invest in the future and only concern themselves with quarterly reports. Lockheed wouldn't even fund its share of 50

  • Chances are though, a -lot- of taxpayer funded research is now going to be either A) unneeded (private space companies are going to use a totally different design) B) unaccessable (classified to the companies) C) unfinished or D) going to be redundant (private companies are now going to use taxpayer money to do the same exact thing)
    • True, a couple billion will be lost. Long term though is this a better way to proceed with space travel? If so, we'd need to flip over eventually so the cost isn't much.
  • He called me a yarf. I don't know what that is, but I think it's something goofy.
  • by BlueCoder (223005) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:18AM (#30968810)

    We really need to get away from all this political BS.

    Let's just setup a multi trillion dollar trust fund over the next 20 years and be done with it. Then we won't have to support it with taxes anymore. I think we can afford to spend 20 years frugally developing space engineering. Let's work on getting garbage collectors and street cleaners in space before we start polluting the moon and mars.

    We spend how many billions of dollars putting the ISS into space and it's scheduled for a 2020 end of service...? How many billions do we spend on satellites only to have them come crashing back into the atmosphere? It costs way too much money sending all those pounds of metal up there only to waste it.
    We need to concentrate on manufacturing and recycling. We need more automation in space.

    We need plans to harvest asteroids and comets and put then into orbit around mars and Saturn for future manufacturing; I seriously doubt with all the asteroid doomsday movies that putting asteroids into earth orbit will get that much support. Mars is the scene of the next industrial revolution. The next wild west though it may take us a couple hundred years. And if you didn't realize it farming is destined for space. Power? You don't want a nuclear reactor next door? Guess where we can put it? It's all about real estate baby. Always has been and always will be and fortunately there is a quite a bit of it.

  • Why we can't put the capsule on a D4-Heavy and get people to LEO and the ISS? I know the D4H has only had a couple launches, but the Delta II series has had a pretty solid track record. I understand the need for the Ares V and it's super heavy lift capability. But I never understood the point of the Ares I. Why spend the money when it seems like the Delta IV series could work and it's available now.

  • The current issue is heavy lift. This is the struggle we have had for a few decades.

    Once we can lift LOTS of equipment and personal we need into high earth orbit things start to change. Why? Well we can finally start lifting equipment that can finally start to live off of the environment. Currently the only thing we extract in space is solar radiation. Why? Well we simply can not lift equipment that can harvest the matter that exists in space. Why can't we? Well it's bloody expensive. Case in point

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