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Space Government NASA The Almighty Buck

NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope 107

Posted by timothy
from the infinite-desires-finite-resources dept.
Scientific American reports that an ongoing budget crunch at NASA may spell doom for the Spitzer Space Telescope, the agency having "taken stock of its fleet of orbiting astrophysics telescopes and decided which to save and which to shutter. Among the winners were the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Kepler planet-hunting telescope, which will begin a modified mission designed to compensate for the recent failure of two of its four stabilizing reaction wheels." Also from the SciAm article: "Until JWST comes online, no other telescope can approach Spitzer’s sensitivity in the range of infrared light it sees. The Senior Review report noted that Spitzer had the largest oversubscription of any NASA mission from 2013 to 2014, meaning that it gets about seven times more applications for observing time from scientists than it can accommodate. ...'The guest observing programs were very powerful because you get people from all over the world proposing ideas that maybe the people on the team wouldn’t have come up with,' [senior review panel chair Ben R.] Oppenheimer says. 'But it’s got to be paid for.'"
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

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  • Anybody still remember this Hollywood movie "Apollo Moon landing" ? Isn't cheaper to use Hollywood again?
    • by Lotana (842533)

      When will this meme finally die?! It was never funny. Just used to point out how fucking retarded some Americans are!

  • So we won't have super hi res images inside of Rebecca Woodard?
  • Budget Perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoKaOi (1415755) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:16AM (#47086175)

    In 2014, for example, the total astrophysics division funding was about $1.3 billion

    Or about 5 days cost of the Iraq/Afghan wars, or 1/50th the cost of the F-22 program, or 1/33 Larry Ellison's net worth, or 1/58th of Bill Gates' net worth, or 1/2 the cost of a single B-2.

    • by mmell (832646)
      Yup, that's where our priorities are. And before the flames begin, let me say that here in the US we have the best government money can buy. I truly believe that; we're all very proud of ourselves here.

      Besides, what's more important - bombing people who are not like us or exploring space? I think history has shown the answer (hint: even when we spent more on our space program it was only to beat them commie Ruskies to it after they put a satellite and a person into orbit).

      • You obviously don't play enough Civilization. You can win the game much earlier if you go for the world conquest win instead of the science win.

        Duh.

        • But who wants to live in a world like that, when you, or your nation is alone, with all the other variety RIP disappearing? It's extremely hard to maintain balance in Civilization, and to win via a spaceship, because the natural tendency is for 1 to overpower all the others and emerge as the winner, just like in the business world there is a tendency for monopolies to arise and exterminate all the competition, if nothing else, through mergers with them, but when you go out into nature, you learn that there
          • In order to live you have to kill, you have to destroy, if nothing else, murder a carrot on your lunch plate, and sometimes you have to kill another human in self defense so that you live, but may decide not to kill 2 others and instead die, or be a kamikaze or suicide bomber killing many but protecting even many more of your nation vs one life of your own, it gets complicated, especially if you follow things like trying to sustain genetic variety and then you have one native american with one kid vs. 100 w
      • George Carlin has a "Bigger dick" theory of why it's important to bomb people who are not like us. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com] I think he did that gig before the war on Serbia, and we went to war with Serbia just to prove that white people are not racist, they can bomb white people too, with the same size dick, not just brown people, who have bigger dicks.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GNious (953874)

      Better hope that you don't suddenly need more B-2s

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Better hope that you don't suddenly need more B-2s

        Don't need any of them. Nor the B-1. I don't think the B-1 was ever used - except for scaring the shit out of the Soviets.

        The B-52 is the bomber of choice.

        I loved COSMOS (ep.11) last week and how the civilizations, like ancient Sumaria, who valued military conquest ended up destroying themselves.

        It's a lesson from history we should take to heart.

        See, all these wars we're fighting are slowing eating away at our economy - along with a few other factors like: offshoring, automation [technologyreview.com], and aging populace. Althou

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)

          I loved COSMOS (ep.11) last week and how the civilizations, like ancient Sumaria, who valued military conquest ended up destroying themselves.

          I thought religion was the drain of these civilizations, not the military. At least in case of Egypt, cutting off the X-box division otherwise known as Karnak, Inc. was one of the first business decisions by their Roman acquirers.

        • The B-1 was used in Iraq first during Operation Desert Fox and later during the 2003 invasion, and was also used in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The B-52, while still a very good bomber, is showing its age. While the Air Force still has it in the plans for another 30 years or so, it's not what you want to use should you have to go up against any serious air defenses, as they have to be neutralized first. Boeing has proposed several modernization ideas including new engines that would improve fuel efficiency a

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @06:54AM (#47086699)

      . . . how about the money and news coverage for Kim Kardashian's wedding . . . ? The general public just isn't interested in science and space.

      Sad, but true. If the general population isn't interested, Congress has no incentive to fund it.

    • Or about 8 hour' borrowing 3 years ago, or 12 hours' borrowing today.

      Congress should grow balls and schedule cuts rather than letting them auto-happen across the board.

      They won't. As You Like It.

  • by thesandbender (911391) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:54AM (#47086249)
    The vast majority of US Representatives and Senators do not understand the distinction between the Spitzer and James Webb Missions. Nor should they, there primary job is taking care of local and internal politics here. However:

    If a lot of people call/email/write in saying "Save Spitzer", they'll have their assistants do some research and run the numbers. Unless one of those assistants is a space/astronomy junkie, the result will come back the same for all parties. Spitzer is "up there" and "doing science".... James Webb costs more and is risky (it hasn't even launched yet)... so back Spitzer. It's the politically "safe" move.

    Personally, I don't want to see that happen. If we have to sacrifice Spitzer (and even other projects) to get James Webb... so be it. Astronomy is, after all, all about the very long game.
  • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @02:57AM (#47086253)

    What exactly would the funding cover?

    It seems that a private consortium could operate the instrument, given its oversubscription ratio, and thereby have enough funding to run both the subscription selection process and the ground station equipment (or build their own), and that the real problem here is that NASA is in between the people who want to use the instrument and the instrument itself, and are using it as a means to blackmail outrage out of the people who want to use the instrument, in order to obtain more funding for NASA.

    Am I missing something? Why, other than they have the code keys, is NASA involved, once the instrument is up there in orbit, so long as there are parties willing to pay the freight for the ground stations in exchange for observation slots? I know it's a little harsh to turn around and say "NASA, you're fired as caretakers of this instrument", but is that any less harsh than shutting it down so that no one has use of it, unless they get the funds they want?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      lol.

      You do not understand how these telescope missions are funded, or, apparently that it costs millions simply to keep a space telescope running once it is up. The scientists who want to use Spitzer do not, and can not, pay for it out of pocket. There are no parties willing or able to pay for anything related to telescope operations, other than NASA itself. The oversubscription indicates its scientific usefulness and relevance, not some economic market model potential.

      In fact, it is the other way around. A

      • No, NASA - aka the USG - is the sugar daddy to the astro researchers. There hasn't even been thought to seeing what it would take to operate a project independently. In fact, maybe if these projects were done privately from start to finish they would not see multi billion dollar cost overruns time after time.

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          In fact, maybe if these projects were done privately from start to finish they would not see multi billion dollar cost overruns time after time.

          You are probably right as they would just run out of money an not be completed.

      • by tlambert (566799)

        lol.

        You do not understand how these telescope missions are funded, or, apparently that it costs millions simply to keep a space telescope running once it is up.

        The major sunk costs are getting the bird in the air. Once it's up there, it's about ground facilities to talk to the thing, and the costs are all administrative, unless you are also giving out data analysis grants that are perhaps better funded by those who want the data in the first place. Either way, even if it's a grant, it's an NSF grant at that point, and it's not a NASA budget line item.

        The scientists who want to use Spitzer do not, and can not, pay for it out of pocket. There are no parties willing or able to pay for anything related to telescope operations, other than NASA itself.

        To be fair, the instrument itself is fairly broken (it ran out of liquid Helium half way through May 2009), and i

    • Am I missing something?

      Pretty much everything.

    • Maybe NASA could start begging for money like PBS and Wikipedia do, and email photographs of latest captures to donors as thanks, and if lots of people donate a few dollars, that could add up to a few hundred million, and help keep stuff in operation, even if not enough to create and launch new telescopes.
  • The chinese probably have a Spitzer of their own on the drawing board. Should be up there in a few years.
    The military industrial complex doesn't need science, well, not astrophysics anyway.
    • The Chinese may look smaller and weaker, fragile than whites and blacks, but they built the Great Wall, and also the US Trans Continental Railroads west portion, through the grueling treacherous mountains, the hard part, the eastern portion through flat terrain being piece of cake comparatively. They are good at an love to build large projects with backbreaking work, and they have the stamina to accomplish them. They are like masochists when it comes to working, pervertedly getting off on the pain and suffe
  • by rossdee (243626) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @03:14AM (#47086281)

    getting some funding from some billionaire or corporation, and they get to have their name on the telescope rather than a former governor of New York or an olympic swimmer...

  • Every time NASA has a budget crunch, they look for the most popular program they have an suggest that's the first one to go. How many times was the Hubble mission in jeopardy? I'm all for giving NASA more money, it's one of the few things government does that doesn't involve screwing one group of people or another, but I've heard them crying wolf far to often to come running this time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No. NASA followed the ranking of facilities in the Senior Review report that were set by an external non-NASA advisory panel composed of prominent scientists.

      Although scientifically Spitzer was rated as excellent and unique, given its somewhat lower ranking in the report and the comparatively large cost of the extended mission, it is vulnerable to shutdown.

      NASA has said in the official response to the Senior Review: "The Spitzer project is invited to respond with a request for a budget augmentation to condu

  • I am not from the US (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fufufang (2603203) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @03:29AM (#47086315)

    I find it extremely sad that the US has recently lost the ability to conduct human spaceflight. I also find it extremely sad that the funding for NASA is still under threat. I don't know what to say really... I hope the future exploration of mankind doesn't depend on countries with questionable human right record like Russia and China.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      I hope the future exploration of mankind doesn't depend on countries with questionable human right record like Russia and China.

      It always has. The US only developed its space programme so quickly because it wanted better ICBMs and got into a somewhat imaginary race with Russia to the moon. I'm not saying its a bad thing, only that conflict with Russia was the major driving force.

      The only way I can see NASA being well funded again is if China starts sending people to the moon. They don't have to land, just orbiting should be enough to light that fire.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        I agree the space race was an ICBM development/demonstrator program, but that means China going to the moon will not re-ignite it, since we have no need to re-develop ICBMs. Even if China beat us to putting a man on Mars, it wouldn't have any direct security implications.
      • "The US only developed its space programme so quickly because it wanted better ICBMs". The other way around. The first space launch boosters, both US and Soviet, were almost all military ballistic missiles first. First US satellite was launched aboard an uprated and modified Redstone IRBM with upper stages stuck on. First US manned mission was launched aboard a Redstone IRBM. First US manned orbital mission was launched aboard an Atlas ICBM. First US two-man missions (Gemini) were launched aboard a Ti

    • Manned space flight is a huge drain on NASA's budget. If you got rid of the space pork like manned space flight and the space station you'd have enough money to fund the real science.
    • by Solandri (704621)
      Manned space flight still takes up a huge chunk of NASA's budget [nasa.gov]. $3 billion for ISS operations alone in 2014, a lot more than the $1.3 billion allocated to astrophysics (from what I can tell, roughly half of that $1.3 billion is development of the JWST).

      Anyhow, the U.S. didn't lose manned spaceflight capability because of budget problems at NASA. It lost it because our Senators inserted too many provisions requiring NASA to use certain designs and/or parts contractors. It was engineering design by ac
      • by fufufang (2603203)

        If you are from the US, please tell your senators to STOP BICKERING and get US back into space. Quite a lot of people outside the US feel this is not just about the US, it is about the humanity.

  • NASA should automate their operations so that it requires less manpower to manage these instruments.

  • and you have a ton of dough for everything else. There is no good reason to send men to mars. I'm not even sure there is a good one for establishing a base on the moon, the "lesser" challenge.

  • I am sure the NSA needed quite the budget to be able to record Everything from Everyone, Everywhere.

    Perhaps some of that NSA funding could be reallocated to NASA instead.

  • NASA officially says - 'Without a budget boost from Congress or cost savings within the Spitzer project, money for the mission will run out Sept. 30 and NASA will decommission the telescope beginning this fall. Spitzer received $16.5 million to operate in fiscal year 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Helou said the initial proposal considered by NASA's senior review called for a reduced operating budget of $15.35 million in fiscal year 2015.'

    This over subscribed for observation time mission that cost billions to l

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