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NASA The Almighty Buck Politics

Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion For Commercial Crew 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the nobody-is-happy dept.
FleaPlus writes "NASA and the White House have officially released their FY2013 budget proposal, the first step of the Congressional budget process. As mentioned previously on Slashdot, the proposal decreases Mars science funding (including robotic Mars missions) down to $361M, arguably due in part to cost overruns by the Webb telescope. The proposal also lowers funding for the in-house SLS rocket and Orion capsule to $2.8B, while doubling funding for the ongoing competitive development of commercial crew rockets/vehicles to $830M. The ranking member of the Senate science committee, Sen. Hutchison (R-TX), expressed her frustration with 'cutting SLS and Orion to pay for commercial crew,' as it would allegedly make it impossible for SLS to act as a backup for the commercial vehicles."
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Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion For Commercial Crew

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:04PM (#39036797)

    Texas, home state of NASA's Johnson Space Center, much of NASA's manned space program, and about 12,000 NASA jobs. A state that, unlike its counterpart in Florida, is solidly red and at open war with the President. So surprise, surprise most of the NASA stuff the President wants to cut is in Texas, and the Texas Senators are fighting him on it. Relevant article [chron.com] on the subject.

    Just thought I would point that out in case any of you are actually still naive enough to think this debate is about science, exploration, and all that shit.

    In other news, Texas and Alaskan Senators say oil industry is "over-regulated," midwestern Senators defend corn subsidies, and Michigan Senators defend auto bailout.

    • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:16PM (#39036927)

      In other words, "hands off my pork, dammit!".

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Sponge Bath (413667)
        It is hypocritical coming from the party that say government is not good at *anything*, and that privatization is *always* the best route.
        • by TC Wilcox (954812) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:49PM (#39037303)
          Both of the two major US political parties are mostly hypocritical. They just pander to different groups to get in power.
        • Both parties say that to different degrees. They disagree which portions of government should be reduced.

        • by ArcherB (796902) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @05:31PM (#39037803) Journal

          It is hypocritical coming from the party that say government is not good at *anything*, and that privatization is *always* the best route.

          Republicans say "smaller" government, not "no" government. They also say that government is "inefficient", not "never" the best route.

          If you don't want conservatives to say that liberals *always* do this that or the other or that all liberals are X, then don't do the same or else YOU are the one being hypocritical.

          So, please, allow me, as a conservative to FTFY:

          Government is usually inefficient compared to the private sector, but there are some things that private industries should not control. NASA and the military are two good examples.

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by publiclurker (952615)
            So the parent was correct, it's just that conservatives think they are entitled to their pork.
            • by ArcherB (796902)

              So the parent was correct, it's just that conservatives think they are entitled to their pork.

              I'm not going to say that conservatives are not guilty of pork barrel projects, but there seems to be some confusion about what should be considered pork. The GP was saying that conservatives are ALWAYS against spending of any kind and that private industry should ALWAYS do the job and it was hypocritical for them to want the federal government to spend money anywhere for anything. I think he has conservatives confused with anarchists... or Ron Paul, who loads bills with pork that he knows will pass and t

              • Is it still not pork if we don't need the military base, but we want it in $SENATOR's home state so there is more cash in the area?

                • by lgw (121541)

                  There's actually a system that protects against your specific example, put in place when it became glaringly obvious that we had pointless military bases in every state, distributed with no thought to military strategy, and it would greatly harm us when the Reds finally invaded the Homeland. Military pork takes the form of expensive and dubious weapon systems R&D now, rather than needless military bases.

                  But since that's also the only significant tech R&D spending the government does any more, I won

              • NASA is pork, it's just that you like it so you feel that you are entitled to that particular cut of piggie.
          • by yurtinus (1590157) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @08:35PM (#39039745)
            D'oh! Classic mistake.

            You referred to Republican and Conservative like they're the same thing. Conservatives have a perfectly valid view of how government should work (small, local, and out of the way). Republicans want the same thing as Democrats do: a big powerful government that they can use to funnel money and business to their buddies. It's too bad that the conservative and liberal political philosophies have been aligned with the major political parties who have very little interest in following what they've co-opted.
      • by trongey (21550) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:43PM (#39037243) Homepage

        In other words, "hands off my pork, dammit!".

        Which is why we should only elect Jews and Muslims. They hate pork.

        • by idontgno (624372)

          I can write off pork, no problem.

          I'll just up my intake of ham. And bacon. Tasty, tasty, smoky, bacon. Baaaaconnnn.... <drool>

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          In your district it's pork. In my district it's a jobs creation program vital to the economic recovery of this great nation of ours.

        • by demachina (71715)

          Reminds me of an ad campaign by the pork industry a while back:

                    "Pork, the one you love"

      • And their constituents support them keeping their pork coming and fighting the pork going to other states.

      • by ArcherB (796902)

        In other words, "hands off my pork, dammit!".

        Do you consider NASA to be pork? I mean, sure, if rocket parts is made in six different states and assembled in a seventh, then we are talking about pork. But that's not what we are talking about here. Do you think Mission Control is pork?

        • by mbkennel (97636)

          Do you think Mission Control is pork?

          No, it isn't, and that's not what this is about.

          This is about funding inefficient rocketry and aerospace development program through traditionally red-state and red-senator-funding Big Aerospace, when an alternative is new freer-market innovative and much lower overhead producers. And that is bloody red Pork.

          OK, that's a French-derived word which isn't acceptable, so lets rename it to Aero-Swine.

          True story, I had a relative in with an important job in NASA. He was testif

          • I'll back that up with a little detail: The SLS program is the worst idea anyone could have come up with. It uses 30+ year old technology to provide a launch vehicle system at a development cost more than 5 times what private experts have said developing a new vehicle from scratch should cost. And to make matters worst, would not be completed till at least 2017...making it's technology even more severely outdated by the time it takes it's maiden flight. That's not even mentioning what it's operational c
            • These days NASA probably shouldn't be in the chemical rocketry business at all. We need some fundamentally new, and potentially cheaper ways of accessing low Earth orbit.

              Ion engines, launch loops, space fountains or space elevators - whatever. NASA needs a general mandate to discover the next technology we should be moving to, not to refine something which we've got plenty of commercial interest in already doing.

              There's a big problem in the US and around the world in an overemphasis on applied, rather then

        • Mission control several thousand miles away from the launch site is Pork. Other that it being a convenient pestilential swamp, there was no reason to put the Manned^HLyndon B. Johnson Spacecraft Center where they did. It just happened to be in Texas which needed a few bones to be thrown in their direction.

          • by ArcherB (796902)

            Mission control several thousand miles away from the launch site is Pork. Other that it being a convenient pestilential swamp, there was no reason to put the Manned^HLyndon B. Johnson Spacecraft Center where they did. It just happened to be in Texas which needed a few bones to be thrown in their direction.

            Blame whoever was president at the time. I believe it was Kennedy or Johnson.

            Johnson was from Texas btw, so you may have something. But there is a benefit to not having mission control at the launch site, and it had to go somewhere. Clear Lake is as good of place as any. And if something has to be built somewhere, I don't know if I'd call the target site, "pork". Otherwise, every government building, no matter where it is located is pork.

            • It's been a long time, but if I recall correctly that was Johnson's price for supporting the space program, when he was Senator. Why should Florida get all the business?

            • by demachina (71715)

              Its not a "may have something". JSC is in Texas only because LBJ wanted it in Texas.

              Sts a totally horrible idea to have so much geographic separation between the major centers involved in the manned space program, mainly Johnson, Kennedy and Marshall. As best I recall the horrible communication between Johnson and Kennedy was a direct contributor to the Columbia disaster.

              I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Morton Thiokol team would have done a better job of stopping the Challenger launch if everyone had

          • by Thuktun (221615)

            ManneLyndon B. Johnson Spacecraft Center

            I think you forgot a few backspaces.

        • Do you think Mission Control is pork?

          Actually, yes it is, and I say that as a contractor who worked at the Johnson Space Center for a while. The old mission control (pre-1995) was set up to only handle the Space Shuttle, and they had 602 civil service staff working there. The new mission control replaced all the old consoles with newer ones based on DEC alpha computers to run the displays, and was set up to run both the Shuttle and Space Station, which was going to fly a few years later. Know how many jobs there were in the new mission cont

          • Know how many jobs there were in the new mission control? 602, exactly the same. They designed it on purpose to preserve civil service jobs. That is pork.

            That belief is based on your unsupported assumption that somehow they should have gone from running one vehicle to running one vehicle and one facility and still have fewer jobs. (Or, IOW, bullshit.)

            How many NASA centers were closed after the Apollo program ended, and NASA funding dropped by 2/3? Zero. Keeping those centers open, with an average o

        • by yurtinus (1590157)

          Do you think Mission Control is pork?

          Yes, I do. There is nothing which requires a nation to have a manned presence in space. Sure, there are great scientific benefits, but ultimately no core reason for the government to be responsible for putting people there. That said, I am not opposed to NASA or Mission Control or government spending on manned space exploration. Yes, it's pork, but it's pork that I like and think is beneficial to the nation.

          Look at this another perspective, I don't like farm subsidies. I think it's a waste of government

    • by fatboy (6851) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:23PM (#39037017)

      It is about "all that shit". No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

    • There were so many things backward about this I thought it was opposite day, not valentine's day: a Republican from Texas arguing for more spending by the federal government instead of privatization -- for science! WTF?

      Thanks for bringing the facts.

    • by Gravatron (716477)
      As Someone who lives and works in Texas, I could care less. We go with the vehicle that works, and has demonstrated flight. I on't see a reason to pay billions for pork projects that are not giving us a return on investment.
  • Backup? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:09PM (#39036861)

    Spending vast billions on a rocket which will only be a 'backup' for commercial launches makes as much sense as building a new aircraft the size of a C-5 Galaxy from scratch and maintaining a special airport it will fly from as a 'backup' in case NASA employees can't book a flight on a commercial airline.

    • SLS isn't only a "backup". It will be the primary means of launching heavy materials and vehicles beyond orbit for deep space missions. It is only intended as a backup if the commercial services aren't able to provide a launch to the space station.

      Granted, it is an expensive backup, but the commercial launch companies are proving themselves as we speak. Commercial access to a space station has been theorized since the 1960s when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, now it's becoming a reality.
      • Re:Backup? (Score:4, Informative)

        by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:47PM (#39037273)

        SLS isn't only a "backup". It will be the primary means of launching heavy materials and vehicles beyond orbit for deep space missions

        What "heavy materials and vehicles"?

        No such missions are funded. No such vehicles are funded.

        "Backing up" commercial launches, at $1.5 billion per launch, is the only mission SLS has.

        • Spy satellites and orbital weapons come to mind. Most likely not the type you'd attack the ground with, but perhaps other satellites, perhaps Chinese satellites.

          • Then why isn't the vastly better funded DoD at all interested in, or funding, SLS development? The DoD is only paying for the X-37, Atlas and Delta.

            • I don't know. It was just a guess. Though, I do seem to remember the DoD funding Atlas and Delta development while still flying payloads on the Shuttle.

              • by khallow (566160)
                And will the DoD then fund heavy lift versions of those rockets while they use SLS at $1.5 billion a pop? Or maybe not use yet another unreliable NASA launch vehicle at all? My take is that the US military was burned badly by the Challenger accident and NASA's timid response to it. They aren't going to tie US security to the SLS unless Congress forces them to. Even then they probably have tools for getting out of such an onerous burden.
          • by mbkennel (97636)

            These already go on the well-funded and expensive United Space Alliance rockets which get funded much better than NASA's.

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          Why are you buying fighter jets that will last 30 years when you are not currently at war with russia or china?

          There's no point in funding something to go into space you can't get there. Well ok, there is, once you're reasonably sure the vehicle will be available and how much exactly it will carry, but until that point, and even at that point, most of what you're doing is relatively cheap planning and talking about things not actually building.

          A lot of government spending, especially this stuff, is long te

          • This makes no sense. The reason you build military hardware in anticipation of a war is because wars can flare up much faster than hardware can be built.

            So you are assuming that, while it takes a decade to build the launcher, the mission hardware is somehow available immediately, without warning? That's just silly.

            You don't want to decide 8 years from now you need ANOTHER space launch vehicle because this one is too small for something critical.

            Why the hell not? You'll then know precisely what capacity you need, what payload diameter, and what budget you have. Why piss $70 billion-plus on a launcher for an unknown, unfunded, unspecified

          • Re:Backup? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Blackjax (98754) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @09:29PM (#39040239)

            You're kidding yourself if you believe that the SLS is truly about fielding a rocket. There are very few people intimately familiar with the space industry (outside those with a vested interest in saying so) who believe it will ever fly. Massive NASA projects like this get canceled before completion, the history of the last 35 years has been almost completely consistent about this. The ISS is the sole exception and that squeaked past by the only the thinnest of margins despite bringing in international partners and using it as a means to keep certain kinds of technical talent in Russia legitimately gainfully employed in the decade following the fall of the USSR. The supporters of SLS know quite well it won't run to completion, but they don't support it for what it could do for US space capabilities, they do it because for however long they string it along, it means jobs in their districts, influx of capital to their districts, and it provides a way to funnel funds to particular contractors. Once it gets canceled, they just rig up a new project targeted to sound impressive to the sheeple in the general public who don't know enough about space to realize this but who are generally willing to support NASA.

            Moreover the whole idea that heavy lift of some arbitrarily high size is 'required to do human exploration beyond LEO' is just the fig leaf they use as an excuse, banking on the fact that the general public will never doublecheck and find out that it is completely false. Heavy lift is not at all required. Don't believe me, have a listen to this NASA conference call on the subject:

            Logistics and Operations versus Heavy Lift: Examining Approaches to Human Exploration in a Cost-Constrained Era
            http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Akin_12-14-11/ [utexas.edu]

            If we need heavier lift than is available right now, we'll have the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX available in 2-3 years and I'd be willing to bet that the ULA could field the heavier versions of the Delta IV and Atlas V that they have on the drawing boards 3ish years after NASA commits to needing them. Neither of these options costs NASA tens of billions of dollars or a decade of work...which is precisely why congress doesn't like them.

            NASA could be doing a lot of cool stuff in space both cheaper and sooner, but from a congressional standpoint that is not what NASA dollars are for.

        • SLS isn't only a "backup". It will be the primary means of launching heavy materials and vehicles beyond orbit for deep space missions

          What "heavy materials and vehicles"?

          No such missions are funded. No such vehicles are funded.

          "Backing up" commercial launches, at $1.5 billion per launch, is the only mission SLS has.

          So you want them to spend money now on missions that will only be viable if the SLS works out?

          • So you want them to spend money now on missions that will only be viable if the SLS works out?

            (I don't want them to spend money on SLS at all.)

            SLS will cost $3 billion to maintain whether it has a mission or not. (Fixed costs.)

            Say it takes 8 years to develop mission hardware (say a lunar lander and a base module). During that 8 years you are funding the development of that hardware and you are spending an extra $24 billion on a launcher you aren't actually flying.

            So, if you insist on building SLS, then you can either spend that extra $24 billion on mission hardware while SLS is being developed, or y

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          There is no one besides NASA funding the development of a Saturn V magnitude rocket. This thing carries 5-6x the payload of the largest commercial rockets. If we ever even want the option of sending astronauts beyond Earth orbit, this is it unless we can get the Russians to resurrect Energia.

          • This thing carries 5-6x the payload of the largest commercial rockets. If we ever even want the option of sending astronauts beyond Earth orbit, this is it

            But they aren't funding BEO missions. They aren't funding BEO hardware. And, as I said elsewhere, such hardware won't materialise suddenly and without warning, so it's not like you have to be ready. If it takes another 8 years to develop mission hardware, you're spending $3 billion per year just keeping SLS flight-ready. $24 billion to not fly missions while waiting for the hardware. The only way it saves money not developing mission hardware until SLS is finished is if you expect to cancel SLS.

            Saturn V was

        • What "heavy materials and vehicles"?

          No such missions are funded. No such vehicles are funded.

          Care to guess what no such missions/vehicles are funded? (Hint: Think *really hard* about how likely a mission or vehicle is to be funded that doesn't have a launcher available.)

      • Granted, it is an expensive backup, but the commercial launch companies are proving themselves as we speak.

        Bullshit. SpaceX has already proven itself, as the only private company to orbit a vehicle. Falcon Heavy? Ahead of schedule. SLS? Still a dream.

        Why are we giving the government more money to waste? Privatize what you can, aggressive fund R&D and not pork.

        • 1.) Falcon Heavy is still only half as powerful as Saturn V, while they are planning an SLS variant on par with Saturn V. Elon Musk did claim he'd build one for $2.5B though.

          2.) SpaceX proving themselves will take a lot more than one successful demo flight and one successful satellite in orbit (they had three demo flight failures). Orbital's Taurus XL had five successful launches right out of the gate, and look how that worked out for OCO and Glory.

        • Falcon Heavy? Still a dream. SLS? Still a dream.

          Fixed that for you.

          Bullshit. SpaceX has already proven itself, as the only private company to orbit a vehicle.

          Bullshit yourself. There's no magical fairy dust that private companies (Since all launchers in the US are built by private companies and most are launched by private companies) that aren't SpaceX get that makes their launches easier.

    • by wiggles (30088)
      Your analogy is only valid if there are exactly two commerical airlines, each with a fleet of one plane apiece that take six months to refuel and prep for the next trip.
  • by bit trollent (824666) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:22PM (#39036995) Homepage

    Wait.. so now Republicans are the ones pushing for government built spacecraft while Obama and the Democrats fund corporate space travel.

    I thought Republicans wanted government to be just big enough to fit in your bedroom. When did building spaceships get added to the list of things Republicans think government should do instead of private industry?

    I've got a feeling government contractors like Lockheed martin have given generous "campaign contributions" to every Republican politician pushing for government spacecraft construction, with government sized profit margins for their chosen defense contractors.

    • Only some (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149)

      Yes, some Republicans are for big government.

      We already knew that from those that voted for the various stimulus packages.

      The Tea Party is attempting to weed them out.

      No real fiscal conservative thinks using NASA as a backup for the commercial entities makes prudent financial sense.

      The thing is there are examples just like this across the nation from both Republicans and Democrats. Why are the Democrats not decried when they pull exactly the same stunts?

      • Re:Only some (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bit trollent (824666) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:33PM (#39037147) Homepage

        It's the blatant hypocrisy that kills me.

        When it's time for government to help the country out of a recession or help the poor get into the middle class we're "all out of money"

        Every time sensible policies come up for a vote, Republicans all vote in unison, "We can't afford it".

        Bridges - we can't afford it. Schools - we can't afford it. Compasion - we can't afford it.

        Every single Republican. Almost every single time.

        Yet, when their campaign contributors or pet causes come up, all the rhetoric they used to sabotage the recovery goes out the window, and government is the only answer.

        • by lwsimon (724555)

          Wrong.

          The Republicans that go after pork as a primary means of staying in office get up and yell about their pork. That's the space program, farm subsidies, and defense mostly.

          The Republicans that want smaller government stand up and yell about additional entitlement programs.

          Note that the first group stays sitting quietly while second group yells, and vice versa. There is no lack of consistency, you're simply lumping in multiple groups' pet interests and saying that is representative of half of America.

          I'm

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          Prisons - we can afford that
          Upgraded fighter jet designs - we can afford that
          Missile defense systems - we can afford that
          An extra war to help out during elections - we can afford that
          A fence along the border - we can afford that

          If it's something you want then it's wasteful spending. If it's something I want then it is a prudent investment.

      • Dear mods:

        The parent post is not a "Troll".

        This post, however, could be considered "offtopic". Now try using your points according to the rules, not your ideology.

      • by Myopic (18616) *

        Yeah, only "some", such as 100% of Republicans ever elected to office.

        I dare you -- dare you -- to tell me the last Republican President who cut the budget during his term in office. I dare you.

        Republicans always, always grow the budget faster than Democrats. Always. Not just do they grow the government, they always grow it faster than Democrats.

        But hey, you know, after 75 years of being lied to, maybe THIS TIME Republicans will pick a President who won't be a gigantic hypocrite. I doubt it, but hey, anythi

        • You are, perhaps, unaware that the budget is a Congressional thing, not a Presidential thing...

          Ultimately, the President can send suggestions to Congress, but, for all practical purposes, any Presidential "budget" is "Dead on Arrival" (a phrase used a lot when Reagan was President) once it's sent to Congress.

          So, look carefully over the budgets for the last 50 years or so. Then look at the Party controlling Congress over those same 50 years...

          Note, for reference, that, Constitutionally, only the House ca

        • by lgw (121541)

          I dare you -- dare you -- to tell me the last Republican President who cut the budget during his term in office. I dare you.

          Eisenhower [wikipedia.org], who coincidentally was the second-to-last GOP president working with a GOP congress. The last was Bush Jr, much despised by fiscal conservatives. The national debt (as a % of GDP) has gone down under every single Republican president who had a Republican House this century, except GWB.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      I know a lot of people get the idea that republicans are for small government, but they are almost as bad as the Democrats when it comes to being all encompassing every bit of your private life. Just because they are the lesser of 2 evils doesn't make them not evil. Vote for a 3rd party.

      • I know a lot of people get the idea that republicans are for small government, but they are almost as bad as the Democrats when it comes to being all encompassing every bit of your private life. Just because they are the lesser of 2 evils doesn't make them not evil. Vote for a 3rd party.

        Vote for Ron Paul and you won't have to.

    • "By dividing the voter through the political party system, we can get them to expend their energies in fighting for questions of no importance. It is thus by discreet action we can secure for ourselves that which has been so well planned and so successfully accomplished."

      -American's Banker Association, 1924
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      The bedrooms of Texas politicians actually are big enough to fit a spaceship into.

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      I've got a feeling government contractors like Lockheed martin have given generous "campaign contributions" to every Republican politician pushing for government spacecraft construction, with government sized profit margins for their chosen defense contractors.

      Your answer lies in the data [opensecrets.org]. Somewhere.

  • by fortfive (1582005) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:23PM (#39037007)

    I'm all for funding NASA, so many good and not directly things have come from our space program, plus it's just darn cool. But I have not heard any sound justification for public funding of commercial development. This has happend many times in the pharmaceuticals industry, where public funded basic research provided excellent treatments which private firms then took over and distributed (profiting immensely), without giving back to public coffers. Also, I think this happened with broadband funding in the 90s.

    • by javakah (932230)

      The issue is that NASA has become quite politicized. It's suffering because projects are not being decided based upon what are the best engineering options, but by the pork provided. So far, the commercial development has been making large strides, and doing so far more efficiently.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Launch_System#Criticism [wikipedia.org]

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Yeah, in many things I tend to be on the Texas side of the issue, but this is wrong. If they want more space industry in Texas, they should try to entice more commercial business, not negotiate more of my tax money.

    • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @05:34PM (#39037841)

      But I have not heard any sound justification for public funding of commercial development.

      NASA has a space station, ISS, run jointly with international partners. With the end of the shuttle program, NASA has no ability to launch crew or equipment to the ISS, and must purchase flights on a foreign launcher. The cost of seats has increased sharply since NASA became dependent, and the reliability of the foreign launch vehicle has decreased sharply. Each time the foreign launcher is grounded for safety reasons, there's a risk that the ISS will have to be abandoned because there is no alternative vehicle, and their capsule cannot land in winter. And NASA has no control over them, or any way to enforce standards.

      So NASA is spending less than a billion dollars on subsidising (but not fully funding) four US commercial crew launchers, and two cargo launchers. That enables them to bring forward the first commercial crew flights, and gives them a powerful guarantee that the commercial systems will meet NASA's requirements. Judging by SpaceX prices, this will, in the long term, at least halve the cost of launching US astronauts to the ISS compared to the foreign launcher.

      Once developed, some of the commercial players may also carry tourist flights and non-NASA funded science flights. This creates a secondary market that, from NASA point of view, subsidises the continued development of launch capacity to NASA's benefit.

      Importantly, if any of the four commercial players do not meet NASA's goals, they will not be paid.

      By contrast, NASA is spending $3 billion per year on commercial contractors to build NASA's own SLS launcher and MPCV capsule. This will likely launch no more than twice per year at about $1.5 billion per launch, and carry no more than 4 astronauts per year. It is estimated to cost about $70 billion to develop, and launch crew no earlier than 2021, assuming it doesn't go over-schedule or over-budget. (Prior to its cancellation, the schedule of the previous program, Constellation, was slipping 1 year per year.)

      All risks of this project are NASA's, all cost overruns come out of NASA's budget.

      So the issue is which of these two approaches is the most cost effective way for NASA to fulfil it's goals on the limited budget it is given.

      Advocates of Commercial Crew believe that being able to develop four new commercial carriers on a budget of $200 million per year each, is much more cost effective than developing one launcher on a budget of $3,000 million per year. Thus cancelling SLS and directing it's $3 billion per year budget to CCDev style goal-driven development will allow NASA to leverage a much greater capacity for BEO missions.

      Hope that helps.

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      NASA should not develop a commercial rocket but do research and provide test facilities for commercial rocket companies. Like what its predecessor N.A.C.A did in the 20th century. They did not develop commercial airplanes but did research and provided test facilities for commercial (USA) airplane companies.

      Useful publication for aero people is the NACA 1135 "Equations, tables, and charts for compressible flow" which was very tedious to compile from numerous flight tests and wind tunnel measurements, all d

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      You do realize that in order to allow a drug to be freely prescribed by doctors it needs to have undergone clinical trials, right? These trials usually cost about $150M (by the time you end up going through 5 drugs that didn't work out to get to the one that did). I've yet to see the government really fund these to completion - if they did then I'll be the first to agree that they shouldn't give away the patent rights.

      Oh, and once on the market there is always the risk that it will turn out to cause heart

  • Fuck these pork loving congressional bastards. We don't need SLS at all. It makes absolutely no sense to spent all that money developing a launch system that's probably going to be more expensive and less reliable than what we can simply buy from the market.

  • by robot256 (1635039) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @04:40PM (#39037219)

    Straight from the horse's mouth: The whole reason they want to increase the funding for commercial vehicles is so they can keep more than a couple competing companies in the running. The goal of course is to have multiple systems working in the end, which isn't going to happen if we start picking winners before they've even launched anything. Republicans should know that better than anyone, seeing how much they gloated over the Solyndra affair. The truth is that industry is much better equipped than the government to get something working and in orbit, given that all the underlying research has been done already, in order to get American astronauts back in American spacecraft as quickly as possible.

    Plus, I don't know what Sen. Hutchison is smoking, but the part of SLS (also known as the "Senate Launch System") that remains funded is the smaller version of the rocket which is good for low Earth orbit--precisely the part that can be used as a backup to the commercial system(s). Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the committee won't gut what's left of the Mars budget to fund their local firecracker factory.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      I don't know what Sen. Hutchison is smoking

      She's on the pork. Stuff is worse than crack.

  • .... check out how long it has been since Congress has passed a budget...

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @05:19PM (#39037651) Journal

    ...but shouldn't commercial spacecraft be backed up by other commercial spacecraft?

    Were I being snarky, I might point out that backing up, say, Virgin Galactic with Orion seems a lot like backing up Fedex Overnight with the US Post Office.

  • The Obama administration claims to be for the middle class. That's the rhetoric anyway. But we are cutting 100,000 middle class jobs (Army and Marines), we are cutting science across the board (NASA, Science Grants, Education Grants).

    I keep hoping that people wake up, and get rid of these corrupt politicians. But the TV keeps telling everyone how great they are since they own the media. Sheople are so disappointing.

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