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Can the US Still Lead In Space Despite Shuttle's End? 365

Posted by samzenpus
from the with-one-hand-tied-behind-our-back dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden says that the future is bright and promises that one day humans will land on Mars. 'American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we've laid the foundation for success,' the nation's space chief said in a speech at the National Press Club. 'When I hear people say that the final shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human space flight, you all must be living on another planet. We are not ending human space flight. We are recommitting ourselves to it.' Bolden says within a year private companies can take over the process of sending cargo shipments into orbit and by 2015 industry can take over astronaut transport, freeing NASA to focus on the long-term goals of reaching beyond Earth's shadow. 'Do we want to keep repeating ourselves or do we want to look at the big horizon?' says Bolden. 'My generation touched the moon today, NASA, and the nation, wants to touch an asteroid, and eventually send a human to Mars.' A group of former astronauts and other critics have blasted the agency and the Obama administration for ending the 30-year-old shuttle program, once the cornerstone of NASA. 'NASA's human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing. We will have no rockets to carry humans to low-Earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years,' write Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan. 'After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent.'"
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Can the US Still Lead In Space Despite Shuttle's End?

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  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:01PM (#36647354)

    SpaceX's Dragon Capsule is going to be on display until July 10th at the Kennedy Space Center Air Force air/space museum, right down the street from the last shuttle launch (disclaimer: I'm going to see the last shuttle launch, and to see the Dragon capsule that has been to space and back). This is no accident.

    The shuttle has been NASA's workhorse for the last 30 years, but its time for it to make way for the next generation of orbital launch vehicles. Goodbye Shuttle, and thanks for all the hard work.

    • by impaledsunset (1337701) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:16PM (#36647430)

      They are asking the wrong question. The question is "Can the US lead in space thanks to shuttle's end?" The Shuttle program was too expensive for what it actually brought on the table, and it was already too old. Replacing it with something like the Dragon capsule (and the other lifting capabilities in development by private companies) would only be an improvement. It's going to be more efficient, it will allow for more space project to be done with the money that would be saved, it will fund the private industry to develop space-faring technologies. The end of the shuttle will be good for the US space program and the human space program in general. Will the US lead? I doubt it, my bet is on China, but the shuttle going away is the biggest improvement.

      • Why couldn't they have redesigned a shuttle-type vehicle using more modern technology and components to 'update' the shuttle program? It would be an improvement over shutting it down completely and replacing it with some ho-hum lifting rockets that will get stuff to the ISS and back, but not much else.

        • by Truth is life (1184975) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @04:04PM (#36648232)

          There are a few reasons for that. First, the entire Shuttle paradigm--a big vehicle that carries humans and a pretty good amount of cargo, and is reusable--has been pretty well discredited by Shuttle's poor performance. Carrying cargo and humans together has been shown to be inefficient, since the safety standards for each are so different, and cargo just doesn't need people around to manage it, high-profile failures like Skylab, Hubble, or Palapa 2/Westar 6 notwithstanding. People would be (rightly) very skeptical that a follow-on vehicle with the same design could perform much better, even with better technology. That means that any follow-on would probably be much smaller, just a crew transport, IOW similar to the vehicles proposed during the Orbital Space Plane project back before Columbia, or Orion and the other proposed crew transport vehicles.

          Second, many of the details of the Shuttle design have proven unsafe. Any follow-on vehicle, for example, would have to be a series-staged vehicle, like most rockets, as opposed to the Shuttle's parallel-staged design in order to avoid damage from foam shedding, as with the Columbia accident, or booster failure, as with the Challenger disaster. Along with the above point, this means that any new vehicle would basically be a completely new design, rather than just a copy of the Shuttle aeroframe.

          Third, we've had advances in materials science and aerospace engineering that mean we could do better now in terms of the details of the Shuttle's design that they could back then, many of them gained due to Shuttle experience. We've flown a winged vehicle through high-Mach regimes at very high altitudes in the Shuttle program, something that hadn't been done before. So, by using a new design, we could produce a vehicle that did better than Shuttle. Again, a reason to simply not copy Shuttle with better internals.

          Fourth, doing so would be very expensive. Since, as noted above, the Shuttles have not been particularly successful, there's no reason to spend a lot of money copying them. Instead, people are spending money on copying Shuttle's big unique capability--ie., crew transport--while cutting out all the irrelevancies that cost a lot of money. Even then it's expensive, but you skip the need to design a lot of stuff and it works out to be cheaper than trying to also build the carrier rocket, a big payload bay, etc.

    • by Artifice_Eternity (306661) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:21PM (#36647446) Homepage

      Yep. SpaceX and Dragon are clearly the emerging future of American human spaceflight. This video [youtube.com] is a pretty cool demonstration of how the system is evolving.

      Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan are -- knowingly or unknowingly -- lobbying for an old, failed model of government contracting, not for the continuation of the American space program.

      The program continues -- it's just being done in a different (and from everything I can see, better) way.

      • by BeanThere (28381)

        Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan are -- knowingly or unknowingly -- lobbying for an old, failed model of government contracting, not for the continuation of the American space program.

        Yup, what I was going to say, but better said.

    • by queazocotal (915608) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:24PM (#36647456)

      The shuttle was not a shining example of the US doing well.
      It was a shining example of how much pork you can pack into one project and have it stumble along and achieve a bare fraction of the aims at huge cost.

      For example.
      Do you know why the shuttle has large wings?
      It's largely so that it can take off, launch a military satellite into a polar orbit, and land back in the continental united states, without overflying russian territory.

      Needless to say, it's never actually needed to do this.
      But the requirement to do so meant the need for SRBs, and the complex thermal protection system. This was so that the DOD would kick in some funding into the project early on.

      A shuttle launch costs a really, really large slice of a billion dollars.

      SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is currently selling twice the amount of payload to low earth orbit, for well under a quarter of the price.

      Yes, it's not quite as nice, as you need a few percent of that to be able to push it around a bit to match orbits you can reach with the shuttle.

      And you need a bit more payload sacrificed if you actually want anything of significant weight recovered.
      But the shuttle has only done that task perhaps half a dozen times, for payloads where in many cases it was debatable as to the value of doing so.

      The shuttle has basically been the shining light akin to the caver that finds his way by periodically lighting his hair on fire.

      • It's largely so that it can take off, launch a military satellite into a polar orbit, and land back in the continental united states, without overflying russian territory.

        I enjoyed your post, but I'm a little fuzzy on this. The only place I can see that you could do a polar orbit starting on US territory and not end up overflying former Soviet territory would be from Hawaii, and the only proposed military launch location I know of was Vandenberg AFB. Would you mind explaining?

        • by rerogo (1839428)

          The idea wasn't to not overfly the Soviets, it was to only overfly them once.

          Any second orbit would have been extremely predictable and run the risk of being intercepted.

      • by bmo (77928)

        >Do you know why the shuttle has large wings?
        It's largely so that it can take off, launch a military satellite into a polar orbit, and land back in the continental united states, without overflying russian territory.

        I don't know where you picked this up from, but this is bullshit.

        The precedent for flying over a country with a spacecraft was established with Sputnik. Go torrent the Nova episode "Sputnik Declassified."

        --
        BMO

        • The precedent - yes.
          However in times of war you don't want to overfly as for one that'll give them a really accurate position on where the satellite is.

        • by Chairboy (88841)

          Sorry, friend, but you're mistaken. The wings gave the shuttle the crossrange needed to launch, release a payload, then de-orbit back at the launch spot (which has at this point rotated a thousand plus miles away from where the orbit ended.

          The wings were needed so they could re-enter, then glide back to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

      • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @02:39PM (#36647720)

        Why the shuttle has wings at all:

        http://history.nasa.gov/sts1/pages/scot.html [nasa.gov]

      • Whatever the issues the shuttle may have had, it certainly helped fuel the public imagination. When conceived it was ahead of it's time and we were dealing with the a cutting edge which no one had explored before.

        I also wonder how much the contractor oriented obligations NASA has hurt the shuttle.

        It is a shame no direct funding has been given to focus on single stage to orbit space vehicles, that can be put back into service within a week. The lifting body is certainly a sound idea, but while we need to dep

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The shuttle is in it's current form because:

        SRBs are used because the fly-back booster (think bigger shuttle to carry little shuttle to altitude and Mach 6) cost too much.

        The large delta-wings are to give the shuttle the 1500 mile cross range it needed to land at it's point of launch from a single polar orbit, from Vandenburgh (KSC is only suitable for conventional orbits as these launch over water).

        The 60 foot long cargo bay was to accommodate military satellites - thi

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There is a nice PBS program called "The Astrospies". It reveals that a major purpose of the manned space program was to operate space stations to take pictures of enemy nations, much like the U-2 spy plane. By the late sixties, unmanned spy satellites were comparable to manned spy satellites. The manned space program then received major cuts. The use of manned spy satellites was classified in the US of course for a long time, and I bet major parts are still classified.

        In the early 90s, Congress was ready to

  • keep dreaming (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:06PM (#36647376) Homepage Journal

    'American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we

    - aha, keep dreaming.

    The US bond crisis is coming, followed immediately by the currency crisis. I bet there will be more pressing needs, like more weapons to start resource wars against multiple countries much before the US will once again be able to go far into space in its new ships, never mind having humans on board there....

    • by BeanThere (28381)

      Can't start wars without money, and after the abovementioned, who would lend it?

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Oh, it's easy. You just have to do what USSR did - use the people as slave labor, then you need much less money, as long as you are OK sacrificing large numbers of people...

        • Isn't this what we call the prison system in the USA? ;) Okay, it not slave labour, but it is close enough in principle.

    • Re:keep dreaming (Score:4, Informative)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @02:00PM (#36647596) Homepage

      'American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we

      - aha, keep dreaming.

      The US bond crisis is coming, followed immediately by the currency crisis. I bet there will be more pressing needs, like more weapons to start resource wars against multiple countries much before the US will once again be able to go far into space in its new ships, never mind having humans on board there....

      While you may well be correct, remember that the percentage of the GDP that the US expends for space exploration is pretty much a rounding error [thespacereview.com]. We can afford it.

    • There's an alternate view presented by some professor of foreign affairs [googleusercontent.com] that I have been pondering since I read it.

      Basically he says, yeah, America faces some crisis in the near future, but so does every other country, and a lot of them are worse. China for example, will face the fallout of the bond/currency crisis, and on top of it they face the constant 'threat' of the populace demanding democracy, and a rapidly aging population that results with a one-child policy.

      He suggests that the thing of most
    • by DesScorp (410532)

      'American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we

      - aha, keep dreaming.

      The US bond crisis is coming, followed immediately by the currency crisis. I bet there will be more pressing needs, like more weapons to start resource wars against multiple countries much before the US will once again be able to go far into space in its new ships, never mind having humans on board there....

      While everything you say is true... there IS an economic storm coming... it's coming everywhere, not just the US. China has some very structurally deep financial problems that are obscured by all of the trinkets they sell abroad. There's a reckoning coming, but the US will probably be better off than most when it comes.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Wishful thinking.

        US lost so much capital (tools/manufacturing capacity) to other nations and it owes so much, and is willing to monetize the debt, that when the crisis actually hits, it will hit US and other Western nations the strongest, and I actually truly believe that those with manufacturing capacity will fair very well, even though they won't get their loans back in any meaningful way. But once they stop subsidizing the welfare states, they'll be able to grow much faster, their currencies will go thr

  • Stop or Go? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Garrett Fox (970174)
    It's underwhelming to slowly, ambiguously plan for maybe going to an unspecified asteroid someday. There won't be much excitement from the general public for such a plan, especially with the way it's been marketed so far. Say "in 10 years we'll have people on the way to Mars [or to a lesser extent, the Moon] to build a permanent base" and it becomes a different story.

    We're in a budget crisis right now though, with fundamental moral, legal and philosophical disputes over the proper role of the US governmen
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      I hear this a lot, and I think the destination-oriented approach to the problem is the wrong way. As part of the Frontier movement, who whole-heartedly argue that settlement is the only economically justifiable reason for human exploration, we don't just want to go to the Moon, or an asteroid, or anywhere else. We want to go to all of these places, and more.

      Destination-oriented approaches aren't going to open the solar system to us. They may ramp up public excitement a bit, but lets be honest, public exci

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:13PM (#36647408)

    Space exploration may be a technological feat, but it is also a wonder of human intellect. By abandoning the shuttle, that human intellect is being dumped on the streets with nothing but promises for the future. Promises to the nation, though there will be very few promised to the people who will be pursuing other careers.

    Even if things did start up again: within a year, most of those people would need to refresh their training. Within a decade, you would be training most of the workforce from scratch. Within 50 years, even most of the documentation would be lost or incomprehensible.

    Don't believe me, just look at Apollo.

    If you're a Canuck and don't believe me, look at the Avro Arrow.

    Nations loose technical capabilities because those capabilities depend upon the people behind them.

    • by shess (31691)

      And yet ... with all that awesome technical know-how, we were unable to replace it with a next-gen manned launch vehicle before end-of-lifing it.

      I'm not saying your wrong about knowledge bit-rot, but it is entirely possible that the vast experience we had developed was hindering future developments rather than helping them. It's also likely that expecting coherent development from a political program is expecting too much.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @02:25PM (#36647684) Homepage

      We're not quitting space exploration, last I checked there was plenty probes and rovers and telescopes on the drawing board that'd go into space or observe space. The question is the cost/benefit of sending humans out there to do the exploring. To make an analogy, does submarines bring us any closer to building underwater cities? Or are we just really travelling around in a big tin can burning resources to make the submerged life like surface life? In the same way I don't think we'll get any closer to a Mars colony just doing more loops in a shuttle. Obviously a manned mission to Mars can do more than the rovers we have there today, but for the cost we could probably send a hundred more with various instruments.

      Most the hard tech challenges are the same for improving robot exploration.as they are for manned exploration, we want better instruments, better communication, better solar panels, reliable rockets, lighter spacecraft, better propulsion and so on. The challenges of adding a crew section with low g-force launch/entry, radiation shielding, breathable air composition and pressure, livable temperature, food and water is not fundamentally different from the Apollo days and won't change in the foreseeable future. What we will miss is the technology that'll eventually result in a colonization of space, but there we lack a lot of earth-based research. We need to learn how to make an ecosystem in a can, a small self-sustained system that'll function over time.

      Once we have that, once we can say "if only we had the technology to place this on the Martian surface, we'd have an extraterrestrial colony" then we should pick up that thread again. Right now my impression is not that the humans would enhance the robots, but rather that pretty much the whole mission would exist to sustain the humans. I guess there's a point to doing it to prove that we can, but we've sort of already proved that. If the conditions on the inside are right, it doesn't matter if it's on a submarine or a research base in the Antarctic or on the Moon, people will survive and so they will on Mars too. It's just a matter of how strong the shielding must be.

      Quite frankly in my opinion the most interesting part of space exploration happening right now is something we haven't got a snowflake's chance in hell of exploring with current technology, manned or not. By finding exoplanets we're really mapping unexplored territory, getting closer and closer to finding planets like Earth. The only thing that'd come close in this solar system is if we found traces of life (extinct or otherwise) on Mars. Don't get me wrong, the rovers are really cool but the planet is still just a big barren, lifeless rock until proven otherwise. Or until we learn terraforming, but that's a long ways off.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Space exploration may be a technological feat, but it is also a wonder of human intellect. By abandoning the shuttle, that human intellect is being dumped on the streets with nothing but promises for the future.

      No-one would build another rocket like the shuttle, and NASA hasn't designed a new rocket in forty years; most of the people who designed it retired years ago.

      If that 'intellect' was so valuable, private space companies would be lining up to hire them, yet in reality they seem to avoid hiring NASA's cast-offs. Probably because NASA engineers spent about as much to put a fake upper stage on top of an SRB and launch it into the sea as SpaceX did to build two new launchers from scratch and fly them into orbit.

    • Nations loose technical capabilities because those capabilities depend upon the people behind them.

      It's not really that big of a deal. We can just outsource those capability requiring positions to India or China.

      Hint: Telemarketing, Tech Support, and now IT has never been stronger in the US. A friend of mine works in the Mortgage industry, her company is owned by an Indian company and much of the paper work is outsourced overseas. Just look how well the Mortgage industry is doing...

      Manufacturing jobs only provide lower income positions -- It's not like we can't manufacture our own goods any more;

  • _ Chinese are planning multiple mir like station, yes at first they will suck but with big budgets, they could have their sputnik moment
    _ if aerobreathing engines like the one planned on the skylon are operational, they too could be a game changer. yes it is unmanned but drastically decreases costs
    _ jaxa is planning a robotic base on the moon... and japanese definitely know their robots
    _ if multiple changes mid programs don't cause nasa to redevelop the wheel, it will fall behind ....

    maybe it can stay ahead... and I really hope it will get a big boost but I don't see that happening, especially with cost saving measures in budget... nasa is definitely not a priority

    What I would love is all space faring countries to combine efforts and launch some big ass missions and really get the space race going... but because of pride never gonna happen :(

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      if aerobreathing engines like the one planned on the skylon are operational, they too could be a game changer. yes it is unmanned but drastically decreases costs

      If I remember correctly, Skylon's estimated cost per kilo is about the same as Falcon 9 Heavy, which should be flying soon for far less than the tens of billions of dollars required to build Skylon.

      Skylon used to look like a great idea, but now that governments are getting out of the space business and leaving it to private corporations, it's starting to look like another expensive white elephant designed around 'cost no object' government funding.

  • The 'next big thing', manned missions to Mars and beyond, is going to be so expensive no single nation can afford to do it. International cooperation is IMO the only way forward. The ISS was a decent first effort in that direction, but also shows the problems that will crop up in such a cooperation. The weird orbit dictated by the requirement that it can be reached from both Canaveral and Baikonur, different docking systems being used, etc.
    Nations will have to put the cooperative effort above petty national

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The 'next big thing', manned missions to Mars and beyond, is going to be so expensive no single nation can afford to do it.

      Bollocks. Spaceflight is expensive because governments will pay a billion dollars a time to fly seven astronauts and a few tons of pizza and toilet paper to a space station which serves no purpose that anyone can adequately explain.

      I'd bet $10 that the first human to walk on the surface of Mars will be a billionaire tourist, not a government bureaucrat.

      • by damburger (981828)

        No human has ever lived in space for a single stretch equal to the length of mission to Mars.

        There, that one sentence encapsulated just ONE of the many reasons for the ISS. Don't mistake your churlish lack of imagination for a disproof of a concept.

  • by phayes (202222) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:29PM (#36647468) Homepage

    How is the coming hiatus any different that that between the end of Saturn V & the first Shuttle or for that matter the multi-year launch stoppage after Columbia? Why MUST it be a NASA developped rocket? Is it because parts NASA have turned into the aerospace work assurance administration?

    I'm a manned space exploration fan but I have come to the conclusion that it would be better off for Manned space explorattion were Nasa to get out of the development of it's own launchers & buy from SpaceX or whoever else develops a reliable launcher without falling into the trap of growing a self justifying administration.

    • "Why MUST it be a NASA developed rocket?"

      Because NASA is the only group who has gotten it right so far. I don't see an ESA shuttle, or a JAXA shuttle...I don't see their own independent space stations.

      The fact is, the WORLD came to NASA for the ISS project, because they knew what they were doing. This hasn't changed. NASA still has far more experience and information about space travel than ANYONE else in the world.

      The worry for me is that if they just shut down, as they're doing, they will lag behind and o

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:40PM (#36647506) Homepage

    The US is changing its HUMAN space exploration program, but the space exploration program is returning far more knowledge than it ever has. We've sent robots to almost every planet. We've been to Mars many many times. That may not be as inspirational as landing on the moon, but it's produced a hell of a lot more knowledge than did putting people on the moon.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:40PM (#36647508)

    we have more probes on mars then any other nation.

    And look at mars rover that lasted for YEARS longer then planned.

  • by yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:45PM (#36647528)
    *Real* space exploration these days is performed by robots. Humans have the wrong senses, the wrong body form, and needs that are very difficult to satisfy in space. But we're very good at building and directing robots, and getting better very fast.

    The shuttle? Absolute garbage engineering. Sold as the cheapest way to get to space, it wound up the most expensive of all time. It was supposed to be as safe and easy to operate as an airliner, but it proved extremely dangerous. It proved the capability of the USA only in the sense that no other entity could possibly have thrown enough resources at it to make it work at all. NASA has finally come to its collective senses and decided to quit "throwing good money after bad", a decision that's about 35 years too late.

    Human beings will have a future in space when the resources and infrastructure to support them can be gathered, constructed, and maintained by robots. But we have proven beyond any reasonable argument that using human beings as "space laborers" is hyper-expensive and counterproductive.
    • by Strider- (39683)

      *Real* space exploration these days is performed by robots. Humans have the wrong senses, the wrong body form, and needs that are very difficult to satisfy in space. But we're very good at building and directing robots, and getting better very fast.

      Let's be honest, a trained geologist with a quad-bike type vehicle could have done all the work that the MERs have done in the course of their mission within a couple of days. I'm not trying to discount the work that the rovers and their controllers here on earth have done, but you simply can not equate their capabilities with what a living, breathing human could do in the same location. MSL (assuming the somewhat rube goldberg-esq landing system works) will be an amazing machine, and well worth the inves

  • by drgould (24404) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @01:58PM (#36647586)

    The Shuttle and ISS are black holes in NASA's budget sucking all the money away from almost every other project. Everything at NASA has been secondary to maintaining the Shuttle and ISS.

    The best thing that could happen is that shutting down the Shuttle program will free up budget money to develop better, cheaper, faster manned and unmanned space programs.

    The worst thing that could happen is that NASA decides to create another white elephant space program simply to keep the massive army of NASA employees and contractors who worked on the Shuttle program employed.

    • Or they could always, I don't know, end some bullshit wars across the globe and put a little MORE money into NASA? Develop a more efficient shuttle BEFORE dismantling the old program? Not rely on a single barely-tested ballistic rocket to achieve everything their space program wants?

  • We need to come up with a way of keeping most of the fuel for lift on the ground instead of carrying it up too.
    There's several ways.
    Space Elevator - awaiting the materials tech. Also be a terrorist attack target.
    Lasers - awaiting laser tech.
    Magnetic acceleration - This would work now. Except that to launch people at a acceptable Gs would require a track 3 miles long. It would also be politically problematic because the same tech could be used to drop a bomb anywhere on the planet and be a terrorist targe

  • Following my usual policy of dividing any optimistic-sounding number quoted by a government official in half, I give it 25 years before someone else (Russia? China? Uzbekistan?) takes the lead.

    • russia has massive natural resources and a good base in the technology, but they will never be as razor focused as they were during the cold war. decision makers in russia now have to worry about things like getting votes and political upheaval, like the US and other western nations.

      china on the other hand is ripe for political revolution. do you expect chinese citizens to put up with longer work hours in poorer conditions with less compensation than other countries, with less political and personal freedom

    • I give it 25 years before someone else takes the lead.

      I suppose it depends which lead you mean. There are several.

      Sure, the USA is about to give up it's manned flight capabilities - though whether the scuttle represented a lead in that field is open to question. However, it still has a lot of capabilities in military launches (the military space budget is at least the size of NASA's - that's not going to be cut) and civil satellite operations.
      You probably can't assign the non-governmental space business as "american" as it's, well, non-governmental so does

  • We're too busy bombing democracy into people in foreign lands and spending billions of dollars per month to do so.

    You got an 8 year old girl that wants to go into space?

    Have her study her math, physics, *RUSSIAN* and *MANDARIN CHINESE*

    Because the only way she's going to get there is with the countries that have the launch facilities and vehicles. We have *nothing* man-rated after STS-135. We don't even have spam-in-a-can on top of a fucking Titan, or Atlas like Gemini to get to the ISS.

    But we sure have fu

  • The Shuttle program set back access to space and kept it from recovering. It's [oocities.com] been [oocities.com] a decades [wired.com]-long [wikipedia.org] effort [wikipedia.org] to get NASA out of the space transportation business but it may finally be happening due in no small part to the fact that NASA is perceived by the Obama administration, however inaccurately, as competing for minority preference civil service jobs.
  • Oh for Pete's sake. Obama did NOT cancel the Shuttle program, George W Bush did! Obama canceled Constellation, the rocket program to followup on the Shuttle, but he did so because it was overbudget and behind schedule. I have a long-ish article about this in the New York Post today [nypost.com]. NASA has some serious problems right now, mostly due to lack of a strong vision and the ridiculous turf wars between the White House and Congress. Most of these problems aren't hard to solve in theory, but in practice, with the rabid partisonship going on right now? Hmph.
    • by Myopic (18616)

      Holy shit, Plait reads Slashdot? Wow, that's a real injection of relevance for this shady corner of the old Internet.

  • Leadership in space (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Myopic (18616)

    Uh, America hasn't led in space since around the time I was in third grade, in the 80s. Sorry to burst your bubble NASA, but you've been irrelevant and anachronistic since the end of the Apollo program. America hasn't led in space since that time because nobody has led in space since that time.

    If America wants to lead in space, it should remember: HUMANS ON OTHER WORLDS, OR NOTHING. Low-earth orbit doesn't count. Telescopes don't count. Robots on Mars, though cool, don't count.

  • A group of former astronauts and other critics have blasted the agency and the Obama administration for ending the 30-year-old shuttle program,

    So the Obama administration was in charge when the program ended. He's been in office the last three years of a thirty year program. Is it credible to blame it all on him? Of course not.

    These programs have huge momentum. They take a long time to ramp up and to ramp down. Years. If the Bush administration had enabled a meaningful strategy then the future at NASA, i

  • by strangedays (129383) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @03:55PM (#36648186)

    NASA has done a great job, they got us all to this point.
    Now, NASA's strategy and role needs to change, their funding must change, it's way overdue, they know it, we know it.

    To their great credit, they are doing it, they are adapting and embracing the change; it's hard for them, an era is ending.

    Space is big, the opportunities are literally infinite, but science budgets are always way too small, efficiency matters.

    So we cut the well known tech and commercially viable elements loose from the taxpayers dollar.

    Let whatever NASA morphs into, fund and guide the basic research and science, spend more on that, less on vehicles.
    That's the stuff NASA does well, the right stuff, basic research, initial exploration, the stuff that shareholders and businessmen looking at next quarters results typically do poorly.

    NASA exploration vehicles and science packages can buy rides on whatever commercial launchers they need, at the going rate.
    We buy planes and ships, trains and trucks from commercial vendors, shipyards, and aviation companies, so whats different?

    Clear out the cold war, legacy buck rogers, pointy spaceship with fins thinking, and move onto real space-drives, profitable commercialization and real sustainable colonization.

    As for the shuttle.... well I am as jingoistic as the next fella, I admire their bravery just getting into the thing (i think i would be terrified, but i'd also go...)
    However... continually launching the mass of 7 people crammed into a vehicle that has twice failed, killing the entire crew...

    Empirically, it seems obvious that the efficient way to do successful science in space is, small fast vehicles, robotics and AI's; humans should only boldly go... when their is a proven and compelling reason to do so, and little expectation of them making it back alive if anything fails.
    Spirit and Opportunity did more, for far less, for far longer... than any human crew could likely have done.

    That's the kind of research I want my tax-money to fund. Efficient hard science.

    So lets figure out how to mine and move asteroids, survive indefinitely in deep space, harvest the oort cloud, build CHON Food factories, go where the resources are available, easy pickings...

    If we want to get off this unguided mud-ball, we must adapt to new strategies as necessary, however hard they may be.

    http://youtu.be/zxsJeND_D-k [youtu.be]

  • by macraig (621737) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (giarc.a.kram)> on Sunday July 03, 2011 @04:18PM (#36648288)

    CAN the United States "lead" in space exploration? Certainly... but that's the wrong question, not the one to be asking. The useful question is: does the United States WANT to lead in space exploration? It doesn't matter what some bureaucrat or politician proclaims; what do the office clerks and farm hands and factory workers and service industry people think? Do THEY want to colonize Mars or the Moon or even L-5? Do THEY anticipate the benefits or necessity of doing so?

    Further, there's that whole sickening competition thing again. How about we evolve the confidence to fully cooperate in exploring space, rather than once again setting the ultimate goals as dominance and some form of monopoly?

    I wonder... what was it about the fictional Borg that so terrified people? Was it really the whole assimilation thing, or was it perhaps their ability to operate in perfect unison and harmony like a colony of ants? We could learn something useful from both.

  • No. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hackus (159037) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @05:40PM (#36648706) Homepage

    For the simple reason, human presence defines empires and civilization and freedom and tyranny.

    You can't flee disaster whether it be man made or nature made with robots.

    The single driving goal should be manned colonization of space, and building the science and technology to make it happen.

    If you really are a proponent of man made global warming, you wouldn't be wasting time like Al Gore and his billionaire pals proclaiming we have to pay taxes to him and his pals or Man Made global warming will doom the planet.

    You also wouldn't be meeting in secret places like Bill Gates does to discuss how we can kill off 2/3rd's of the "useless eaters" because it is just too hard to put 6 billion people under your thumb to rule them.

    If anyone is serious about what are future is, what we are and actually believe in the future of humanity in a compassionate way, we would have given 27 trillion dollars to start a new era or Golden Age of space exploration to tap the limitless materials and energy which space holds.

    Instead, we decided to give it to a bunch of bankers.

    Humanity is running out of chances and missed opportunities. Time and time again throughout history, we have had civilizations rise to our level and beyond and we have squandered the chance to remove the tyranny and injustice which plague our world. Instead, a handful of people end up torching the entire surface of the globe into lifeless soot, or just end up burning libraries because the fire looks "glorious" as entire human lifetimes are wasted in pursuit of knowledge.

    Only to end up getting burned and having to be "rediscovered" all over again.....well....in between centuries or eons dark ages at least.

    I doubt the Universe or God or whatever you believe in is going to let this nonsense go on indefinitely. The next Dark Age may find us in a bit of a disadvantage when we sit around the fire in the grass hut village and the elders talk about a time when men flew in the skies and walked like Gods on the moon.

    Or when Men hurled "thunderbolts charged with the energy of the universe" and obliterated whole countries in a single hour.

    And what will children say when they look at the sky at night and point out to the elders the new star?

    Will they know that the new star up in the sky that night they notice spells DOOM for the human species as a rock 23km in diameter heads for Asia and wipes out anything larger than a mouse on the surface.

    Too bad too. Because we have had many attempts to get off and stay off this planet and they have all been squandered by a few very foolish people who always tend to get in the way.

    -Hackus

  • by Vandil X (636030) on Monday July 04, 2011 @07:59AM (#36651602)
    Astronaut John Blaha was available for a group lunch last week at KSC and I attended. When asked about the end of the Space Shuttle program, his disgust and frustration was clearly communicated in his response. He blamed politicians Washington. When asked about life in a post-STS world, he said: "We need another Kennedy to get us (humankind) further. It doesn't have to be a U.S. figure, just any Kennedy-like person somewhere who can get the ball rolling."
  • by glatiak (617813) on Monday July 04, 2011 @08:44AM (#36651828)

    Prior to the launch of Sputnik the US was still absorbed in licking its wounds from WW2 and Korea -- space exploration was the dream of a few. Then the Russians launched Sputnik and I came back from summer break to find that the wood shop had been transformed into a science lab. From then on it was just good old competition. I remember JFKs speach with particular fondness -- 'not because it was easy but because it was hard'. Our lives have been transformed by the things we have learned -- and yet our will to succeed has flagged. The US (and to a more limited extent Canada) prospered because of the challenge of new frontiers where one was constantly challenged and not continually fenced in by vested interests that made sure that 'the right people' made money and not just anybody. I doubt we could do the Manhatten project again or any other big project. We struggle to keep the water running and the bridges standing and argue vigorously in favor of the profits of the few. The largest frontier lies over our heads and is vast beyond comprehension. And it will be populated by some of us -- who understand the strategic value of owning the high ground. But as for the US and its leadership...we are legends in our own minds.

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