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Mars NASA Space The Almighty Buck Science

NASA Pulling Out of ESA-led ExoMars Mission? 144

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-buy-one-when-you-can-get-zero-for-a-big-discount dept.
astroengine writes "It's a strange irony that to afford the expense of space exploration, international collaboration is often sought after — spreading the cost across several international partners means the biggest space missions may be accomplished. And yet in times of austerity, national budgets balk at the prospect of investing in international projects like ExoMars. Sadly, that's exactly what could be facing the ambitious ESA-led Mars rover/satellite mission if NASA's Science Mission Directorate budget is slashed in the next financial year. NASA may pull out of the project, leaving ExoMars with no rockets or a means to actually land on Mars. Could Russia help out? Possibly, but it will still lead to ESA taking on more cost than it has budgeted for."
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NASA Pulling Out of ESA-led ExoMars Mission?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would fund them!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Save us, Invisible Hand Man!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Russian tech and systems seem to have a hard time achieving a safe Martian landing, so the program may really be screwed.

    • by icebike (68054) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:26PM (#38945851)

      NASA/JPL have already solved most of the problems that this project is trying to replicate, launch, descent, landing and roving.

      The Curiosity Rover [nasa.gov] is already en-route to mars.

      NASA and JPL will have a full plate managing this rover along with the existing rovers over the next few years. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida managed the launch. NASA's Space Network provided space communication services for the launch vehicle, and the rover.

      Dealing with yet another program would be a huge distraction, entail a large resource drain bringing ESA up to speed, and transferring a lot of technology to them in the process, and being asked to pay for the privileged of doing so.

      • Umph! Way to put a damper on our government-funding-cuts-will-cause-disaster hyperbolefest!
      • by multi io (640409)

        NASA/JPL have already solved most of the problems that this project is trying to replicate, launch, descent, landing and roving.

        Aren't those just means to solve the problems, and the problems are things like "finding life on Mars"?

  • NASA has limited funds these days, and there isn't much to gain for them in a mission which they can't even take full credit for or get much PR out of.

    This is hardly anything new. NASA has always been very isolationist when it came to working with other space agencies. ISS was a very rare exception, and there has been tension even in that case (with NASA and the Russian butting heads [go.com] over space tourism, for example). They've just never played well with others.

    • by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:44PM (#38945345)

      Parent comment is plain wrong. NASA is desperate for funds, happy to work with any capable and trustworthy collaborators. Cassini-Huygens is an example of a working collaboration.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Is your implication that they're walking away because they consider the ESA incapable and untrustworthy?

        • I don't think ExoMars' defunding, if the rumor is true, would be an example of a choice NASA has made, but rather a budget choice coming down from higher levels in the administration. If all that is true, it's really unfortunate, because, in the long term, its in America's interests to engage with other competent space programs, and to prove ourselves to be a trustworthy partner.

          • by icebike (68054) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:43PM (#38946053)

            Assuming there is any competency worth engaging. We have landers and rovers on mars and another one (Curiosity [nasa.gov]) enroute.

            Why isn't ESA buying into our program instead of relying on us to fund theirs?

             

            • Well, there's plenty of competency in ESA, I think. Space is hard. More than half the missions sent to Mars don't arrive safely, that's one data point. ESA has a list of successful missions also - Mars Express is a good example, and an example of what makes ESA a stakeholder in Mars exploration. ESA contributes a lot of good instruments to missions we fly. Also, SpaceWire (and its follow-on, SpaceFibre) is an example of a technology in which Europe has taken the lead, and NASA follows. And, in fairne

            • by Xiaran (836924)
              The ESA buys into plenty of NASA led programs. Hubble and the James Webb sapce telescopes are both NASA/ESA projects.
          • and to prove ourselves to be a trustworthy partner.

            I think the ship has already sailed on that one.

    • by Mojo66 (1131579)

      NASA has limited funds these days, and there isn't much to gain for them in a mission which they can't even take full credit for or get much PR out of.

      My thoughts exactly. Whereas NASA usually lets us europeans pay and take all the PR and credit to themsleves, this one is ESA-lead so as soon as budgets get tight this one is the first to get abandoned. The saved money is much better spent on a new war, I suppose.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      There's more value in blowing people up, instead of learning about our solar system!
  • Space/X (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cassini2 (956052) on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:30PM (#38945159)

    Space X [slashdot.org] has some ideas on how to land a rocket on Mars, and is already testing some design principles, like the SuperDrago rockets for landing its Dragon capsules.

    If I were the Europeans, I would be contacting them. The cheapest and best original thinking in the space race is currently at Space/X.

    • How much they paying you, hoss?
  • by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:31PM (#38945173)

    I think it's disingenuous to say to ESA "hey, we can't cover this, hope you can find another partner" this far in. Maybe one can look at the overruns for MSL and JSWT and say that this is the responsible thing to do, to allow those two programs to finish, but in the middle and long term, this is going to prevent any further NASA-ESA collaboration. Where is the big dividend from having shut down the shuttle program?

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:50PM (#38945431)

      One of the articles talks about rumors [nasawatch.com] of MAJOR cuts forthcoming at NASA (in the 50+% range) for the 2013 budget. If that's true, it explains why they've been gutting so many programs recently. It's likely that the administration has had this in the works for at least the last year or two. And with cuts like that, it's not like NASA is going to have much choice. They've already cut the shuttle program and taken a big hit on the Webb telescope. It's likely they'll cut a bunch of other stuff before they're done (wouldn't even surprise me if they abandon ISS ahead of schedule).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      US needs to take $5bn out from any federal budget, even war funds would suffice and use it for NASA. NASA barely hits 1% in the federal budget

      • by Cassini2 (956052)

        US needs to take $5bn out from any federal budget, even war funds would suffice and use it for NASA.

        Unfortunately, the US Deficit [wikipedia.org] is $1.56 trillion dollars on revenues of $2.314 trillion and with expenditures of $3.36 trillion. Huge budget changes need to happen to correct the imbalance. Compared to this, NASA is small potatoes, and will probably get severely cut as it is "low hanging fruit."

        No other federal government in the world could run the deficits that the U.S. is currently running. It is amazing we get away with it.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          "Compared to this, NASA is small potatoes, and will probably get severely cut as it is "low hanging fruit." "

          But if you cut all of NASA's funding it would barely pop a pimple on the butt of the budget deficit.

          If you're not going to slash the big programs, you might as well just party on to bankruptcy... a few billion here and there would only delay it a week or two.

        • by lgw (121541)

          We only get away with it because Europe sucks worse right now, and China's a joke. So we'll probably skate by this downturn. If either of those economies get it's act together soon, however, we're doomed come the next crisis: if federal interest rates soar, as they should, we'll find debt service a crushing burden.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's already preventing collaboration. ExoMars has been in trouble on the US side for a long time now, and ESA has been planning appropriately. On some of the more recently accepted project proposals, such as the Euclid telescope and the Solar Orbiter mission, NASA have approached ESA wanting to participate and essentially been told to fuck off until they get stable funding.

  • If I were paranoid, I might say somebody doesn't want landings on Mars. But I'm not paranoid. Why are you looking at me like that?
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      The aliens warned us that if we didn't back off they would come back with much bigger probes.

      • by Miseph (979059)

        And if that doesn't work, they'll stop coming back with bigger probes. Something's gotta work...

      • by vlm (69642)

        The aliens warned us that if we didn't back off they would come back with much bigger probes.

        I've seen the goatse; he was neither black nor (visually obviously) military. Just saying.

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Am I the only one who got the memo? It's Europa we can't land on. Maybe NASA got confused and thought it said the Europeans can't land?

  • Public interest (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Teun (17872) on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:37PM (#38945235) Homepage
    Practical issues like the availability of rockets are in the end just a matter of finances, both Russia and Europe have rockets large enough to support a Mars mission, because the US has more expertise they have a better chance of success.
    The biggest problem for all participants is public interest, without it politicians take the easy road and cancel science missions.
    With the present status of education in many EU countries and the US there is little chance to get the population interested, science loses from real time trash TV.
  • How is international collaboration 'ironic'?
    • by ArcherB (796902)

      How is international collaboration 'ironic'?

      I believe it's because international collaboration is meant to save money, but in order to save money, NASA is cancelling the international collaboration.

      I'm no English major, so if you have a term that better describes the situation, I try to add it my vocabulary.

      • by vlm (69642)

        I'm no English major, so if you have a term that better describes the situation, I try to add it my vocabulary.

        How about "American". Its right up there with the old "we had to burn the village to save the village" from the Vietnam war.

      • by tgd (2822)

        International collaboration, particularly with space-related activities has almost never been about saving money. Its either been about cold war competition and posturing with "enemies", or international political bribery with "allies". (This is particularly true of manned spaceflight, where projects amounted to corporate welfare for defense contractors, billion dollar bribes to partner nations, and other such shenanigans... do you really think the ISS would've taken 20 years and $100b to build if we just w

    • I think it was the "pulling out of a cost-saving strategy to save costs" part that was ironic. Don't let that stop you from continuing to believe that people communicate in mechanically parsable language with a consistent order of operations. And that falling objects experience linear motion under normal Earth gravity and atmospheric conditions. And that the world is flat. And that P = NP. And that the halting problem will be solved some day.
      • Still not ironic. It sounds like they're planning to pull out of the whole deal because the money just isn't there. The 'cost-saving strategy' really has nothing to do with it. This is more like having to call your buddy to tell them you can't go on the road trip you two had planned for years, because you're totally broke. Now you're just staying home. End of story.
        • Nah, you're overthinking it: It's dramatic irony. We the readers realise that this tragedy is unfolding because the US's spending priorities are from Cuckoo Land. Presumably the policy makers themselves toil desperately in ignorance of reality. Sadly, there will probably be no peripeteia.
  • So, isn't this going to be a whole lot like the US pulling out of the LHC project, when they thought that by doing so, it would torpedo the whole project?

    And as for "Leaving ESA with no rockets" -- whose rockets are going to space station? In fact, whose technology was vital to the space station, what country flew the first piece of the US "origami" space station? It wasn't the US. NASA is great at viewgraphs and theme parks, but as far as science goes, they're rapidly falling behind.

    • by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:17PM (#38945731)

      Comments like the parent here just drive me nuts! I should give up even reading much less replying to any space-related items here. "NASA is great at viewgraphs and theme parks, but as far as science goes, they're rapidly falling behind." Where does this kind of sentiment come from? Is it in any way bounded by reality? NASA's recent track record for planetary science is pretty good, held up to that of other national space programs (not to disparage those other programs, but just as a point of comparison);

        - JAXA's Akatsuki-Venus mission failed to enter orbit around Venus last year
        - Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission to Martian satellites failed to escape Earth's orbit
        - ESA's Mars Express mission lost it's Beagle-2 lander (crashed?)
        - Cassini's Huygens probe had a fair number of problems, including, at one point, its spinning in the opposite to intended direction during descent
        - India's Chandrayaan lunar probe operated for 312 days before failing , rather than its nominal 2-year mission (probably for thermal reasons)

      Compare with
      - NASA's MESSENGER, in orbit around Mercury for a year and producing a ream of science data
      - NASA's Kepler mission, boosting our count of exoplanets by something like an order of magnitude
      - NASA's Mars Rovers, 8 years into a nominal 30-day mission
      - NASA's Juno probe, on its way to Jupiter
      - NASA's Cassini flagship mission, far into extended mission already and aiming to keep working through 2017
      - NASA's MSL, over budget but successfully on its way to Mars
      - NASA's New Horizons, now closer to Pluto than any other man-made object, and moreso every day

      For the record, other current missions up for extensions include EPOXI, GRAIL, MRO, Mars Odyssey Orbiter, and LRO.

      Yes I'm cherry-picking a bit here, but overlooking dozens of other programs also. It's not my job to document all this - but before posting snide little "NASA's good at viewgraphs" comments, maybe do a minimal amount of search.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Monday February 06, 2012 @03:42PM (#38945319)

    This is quite outrageous these cuts, and the mission is a good is a very good value. It is simply a terrible state of affairs that high value and relatively low cost probe programs are being cut when we have politicians talking about a much more expensive manned mars mission, if we can't afford unmanned probes we have no business contemplating a much more expensive and much worse cost-benefit wise manned mission,. Ask scientists and they will say unmanned probes are the best value, give us the most data for least money and have best scientific value compared to manned missions, which are vastly more expensive. It is indeed almost a twighlight zone insanity and backwardsness when we have people talking about spending massive amounts of money on a hugely expensive (hundreds of billions) human mars mission programme, which has terrible comparative value and return on investment to unmanned probes, and we face this kind of cuts to real science probe programs.

    Unfortunately, US space exploration policy is driven more by buzzwards and hype than it is by real science. A human mission to mars would be very expensive and would, considering we can get a lot of data from unmanned probes, have very little additional value. For many people an manned mission is for entertainment value, it would be a very expensive and entertaining stunt. There is room for entertainment but spending hundreds of billions for this really way over the top.

    It has mostly been Republican politicians who threaten huge cuts to the space probe programs and to NASAs science missions but then they see to have these crackpot ideas of sending a manned mission to mars just after they have attacked much higher value probes. ThIs i think speaks to the immaturity of them and the lack of understanding of science and the finer points of what are actually the most cost effective ways to obtain data. Republicans are simple minded, they are too ignorant to understand the value of a probe mission and satellites and unfortunately it takes a glitzy circus like manned mars mission stunt which has comparatively little science value, it is because they dont understand the science and what the probes are doing. It is similar to how they view foreign policy, they don't have any like of anything that requires the use of the mind rather than muscle,. such as diplomacy, the only thing that stimulates the Republicans is outright aggression, bombs, missiles, fighting etc, so GOP foreign policy is full of wars and plans for wars but with very little room for diplomacy.

    The US clearly needs better leadership that is scientifically acute, that will continue to fully fund satellites, space probes and so on and is less aroused by stunts and entertainment that woujld be a manned mars mission,.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      It is simply a terrible state of affairs that high value and relatively low cost probe programs are being cut when we have politicians talking about a much more expensive manned mars mission

      I bolded the key word there. Politicians know damned well that no manned mission is ever going to happen. They're just talking about it for show. Take a hard look at what's actually happening on the ground at NASA and you'll get a sense of the REAL situation. Looks like someone (the President or Congress, or both) is preparing to take a serious axe to NASA's budget.

    • by tgd (2822) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:38PM (#38945997)

      Unfortunately, US space exploration policy is driven more by buzzwards and hype than it is by real science. A human mission to mars would be very expensive and would, considering we can get a lot of data from unmanned probes, have very little additional value.

      US space exporation policy has always been hampered by two fundamental, and diametrically-opposed priorities. The first (and MASSIVE majority) is projects of specific strategic value to national security. The space shuttle, the ISS, the technology behind the hubble, most of the launch systems, weather satellites, GPS -- these are all developments that were purely based on national security interests. They were about keeping particularly important contractors in business, about political back scratching, testing launch hardware needed for weapons systems, detecting NBC weapons testing around the world, etc.

      A *tiny* amount of the budget has been focused on pure science. International partnerships are, generally speaking, never a priority for those projects. The overhead is too high, and costs too high. Its cheaper to do it ourselves if you don't have some other political justification for the partnership. You may have contributing scientists and engineers, but you won't see billions being spent on something internationally for pure science coming out of the US.

      That's the reality of space flight in the US. That's why talk about expanding the manned space program always comes up during election years, when people are standing on podiums in Houston or along the east coast in Florida. There isn't even a fraction of the budget that is needed for the programs the politicians are talking about coming out of that "non-political" budget. They know that, but the hope and promise buys votes.

      You're not going to see any major progress on BIG space technology in the US until we have a real enemy the politicians can rally the public behind, and can justify hundreds of billions of dollars for national security reasons. If you want to see the US get behind space exporation, what you really want to hope for is a permanently manned Chinese base on the moon, or a space station more sophisticated (in the public's eye) than a bunch of modules bolted together.

      Until that happens, its all just fantasy.

      • by khallow (566160)

        US space exporation policy has always been hampered by two fundamental, and diametrically-opposed priorities. The first (and MASSIVE majority) is projects of specific strategic value to national security.

        [...]

        A *tiny* amount of the budget has been focused on pure science.

        There's also the third priority, bringing home the bacon, which dominates those other two "priorities". You sort of hint at it with "political backscratching" in your discussion of the first priority.

        My view is that sure, a common enemy is one way to drive focused space spending. But so is disengaging space activities from the US federal government. Private groups and individuals tend to be a lot more focused and effective than a public organization.

    • by gtall (79522)

      The Democrats are just as dumb, I don't see them standing up for anything except Hollywood.

      The basic problem is that career politicians think research grows on trees. They don't have science or engineering degrees. They are little more than grownup teenagers who's sole experience with technology is their game controller and cell phone, and science, well they've heard of it...isn't that something those geeky little kids went into when they went off to grad school while the pols went off to law school?

    • Get this out of the way, we deficit spend the equivalent of NASA's budget in about week now. That is how insignificant their budget is. I know , I know, but daddy its good for points to bash Republicans and claim they are ignorant of science. Sorry, doesn't fly. Both sides are after one goal, to buy off the most voters they can with whats in the pot. The trouble is they are looking outside the pot for money too and there wasn't any, so they just pretend the pot is bigger.

      I suggest you just read over Wikiped

    • While it makes more sense to scrap the TSA there is so much money going into so many pockets that it would be difficult and even possibly political suicide. Those scientists don't fight dirty (as seen with the gobal warming "debate" where any bug-eyed loonie can safely stick in the knife) so you can safely take their money away with little or no political risk.
    • by khallow (566160)

      A human mission to mars would be very expensive and would, considering we can get a lot of data from unmanned probes, have very little additional value.

      That consideration is bizarrely wrong. There are basic questions about Mars that will take many decades to resolve, not because they are intrinsically hard, but because of the snail's pace of current robotic exploration. It has taken us 35 years to repeat the labeled release experiment of the Viking missions. A manned missions can revisit and answer such questions in minutes to weeks rather than decades.

      And it's not like we don't have a human-based case study to work off of. The Apollo missions did a rem

  • If disease, global warming, nuclear proliferation or political catastrophes manage to destroy humanity, we will see what a sound investment space travel would have been.

    Having only one planet for our species means we're only one disaster away from extinction. No other species (on earth) has this ability.

    If our scientists agree that our best efforts will not stop global warming, only lessen it, we might consider transferring that money into space programs. That way even if we destroy our climate here, our sp

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's very clear the only reason humanity has been so tame has been the consequences of high-yield war on this one, lone, home of humanity. Add another colony and pretty quickly some faction or other will implement a scorched earth policy with the reasoning: 'we can just flee to our Ceres habitat and get ready to rebuild.'

      I also contend that being greeted by some form of extrasolar sentient life will not have any great benefit. I expect 20% to want to kill it on sight, 60% to be uninterested and want to be

    • by 32771 (906153)

      Solving our problems here means solving our problems in space:

      http://www.nss.org/settlement/nasa/spaceresvol3/pmofld1a.htm [nss.org]

      "This discussion of geochemical availability and extractive metallurgy implies that extraction of minor elements in space is questionable unless specific natural concentrations are discovered or energy becomes very inexpensive. The relative costs of scarce and abundant metals will become even more disparate in the future on Earth as well as in space."

      Coincidentally this substitution freq

  • by tekrat (242117) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:03PM (#38945589) Homepage Journal

    As the United States tries to get their out-of-control spending more in-line with the rest of the world, what seems to be first on the chopping block? Basic research and science. Meanwhile, the government is doing everything is can to limit the freedoms of citizens and making it more difficult to enter or leave the country.

    It looks as though America is on a fast-track to going from superpower to third-world nation. Oh yeah, it'll still be the bully of the globe militarily, but that will be at the cost of the entire middle class, and frankly, that enormous military will be turned against it's own citizens when the riots start.

    With religious zealots running the show, it won't be long before we're talking about how great it was when the USA had electricity, and the Middle Class enjoyed a lifestyle that was the envy of the world. You guys are turning into Romania, but with nuclear weapons.

    I fear for our planet.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)
      Yeah, I vaguely remember the US having a middle class. Been awhile, though...
    • by geegel (1587009) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:31PM (#38945909)

      Hey, I'm from Romania you insensitive prick.

      P.S. Since Romania IS part of ESA it will participate in ExoMars and we have no legal concept of illegal download, so maybe US turning into a balkanic country isn't such a bad idea

    • by poity (465672)

      Hey it could be pretty smart, why throw money into research when you can let others do it? The US can surreptitiously hack into ESA's servers later like China and take whatever they want, or maybe just pick up the "information wants to be free" banner and take it publicly without compensating the EU. How many people on Slashdot would oppose sharing ESA's data with the US? Probably not many. Maybe it's time for others to take the lead and for the US to coast along and reap the benefits with minimal investmen

      • by jamstar7 (694492)
        Just gotta remind the politicians that we gotta convert from metric, the data should be ok.
    • by rgbrenner (317308)

      they're talking about or have proposed military cuts, cuts to programs for the poor, cuts to social security, medicare, and medicaid, freeze/cuts on federal pay and benefits, amtrak subsidies, national endowment of arts, repeal healthcare, and on and on and on.

      Just because NASA is your pet project doesn't mean it's immune from the budget problem.

      Here's a fact: NASA received 18 billion last year. ESA: 5 billion. JAXA: 2.5 billion.

      Europe has 1.25x the number of people, but gives ESA less than 1/3rd the fundin

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:16PM (#38945725)
    JPL is responsible for many successful planetary robotic mission including collaborationsas happened with Cassini and MSL. JPL has executed a many highly successful missions such as Voyager and MER2 (Opportunity) while never killing anyone or blowing huge budgets. Do not confuse JPL with the manned scapeflight porkbarrel in Houston. JPL does science; Houston does hugely expensive stunts and kills people. Unfortunately NASA is run by ex-pilots and astronauts; when robotic missions are cut, which happens all the time, Houston is usually behind it. The amount of money spent (wasted) on the spacestation and the shuttle dwarf the amount of money spent on Mars missions.
    • by thrich81 (1357561)

      It's well known in the community that MSL blew a huge budget on the way to being launched. From 'Space News', 28 January 2011, : "MSL’s price tag has grown by more than $660 million since 2008, according to a February 2010 audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which attributed much of the increase to a 68 percent rise in hardware development costs since the program’s 2003 inception. Although NASA had planned to launch MSL in 2009, technical setbacks forced the agency to postpone t

    • by Solandri (704621)
      NASA's budget for the current and previous years are available online [nasa.gov]. I happen to agree that manned spaceflight is (was) mostly pork, but there were only a few years in the last 25 where it ate up >50% of NASA's budget. It's not as big a part of NASA's budget as you're making it out to be. Unmanned exploration missions are the second biggest chunk (the remainder being terrestrial research and educational outreach). So it is pretty inevitable that some of them will be cut or scaled back as well.
  • Dick waving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kubernet3s (1954672) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:38PM (#38945993)
    Why does every discussion of a space program devolve rapidly into people calling every space program that isn't their favorite a bunch of incompetent jerks. Guys. Space travel is fucking HARD. There is no agency with any kind of pedigree that doesn't also have a lot of embarrassing screwups. SpaceX is just as bad as any of them: if it has fewer failures, it's because it has fewer successes.

    Everyone working in any kind of aerospace program is very intelligent. They are doing something very difficult, with very little room for error, in a room with a lot of different people. I think it's safe to say that space travel has a fairly consistent success rate across agencies, at least up to a reasonable error.

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