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Space Science

NASA Task Force Recommends Radical Changes 170

darrellsilver writes: "As reported at the nytimes (free reg, etc) here and msnbc here, an independant task force initiated in July by the now resigning Dan Goldin concluded this week that "radical changes" need to be put into place if the space station is to continue functioning. The full report in PDF format is available from NASA here." We've reported on this before but we didn't have a link to the report itself. Budgetary woes have already taken their toll on the station and this report is recommending even more cuts.
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NASA Task Force Recommends Radical Changes

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  • We're too busy spending all our money blowing the hell out of each other..
  • by Hanzie ( 16075 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:34AM (#2521559)
    It's really a pity that they couldn't find anybody willing to PAY for a trip to the ISS. It would solve so many financial problems.

    • No it wouldn't. A tourist paying $10 million wouldn't cover the costs of his own launch. Instead they should work on cheap access to space with an SSTO that would eliminate the use of the shuttle for passenger and logistics cargo, then use cheap ELVs for the rest.

    • by hughk ( 248126 )
      A shuttle launch costs in the region of $100mil, this is far too expensive. However, the Russians can launch for $10mil which means that the entire three man flight costs less than the shuttle does per person.
      • more like 600 million for each shuttle launch. Then threres the overhead for each launch which takes up another 300 million.

        Storey Musgrave (astronaut extrordinaire) once remarked that the shuttle didnt launch, until NASA had completed enough paperwork that it could create a stack as tall as the orbiter itself (in the vertical launch position.
      • If it costs so much for a shuttle shot, and it's so cheap for a soviet launch...

        Mabye we should hire the soviets.
  • by Colin Bayer ( 313849 ) <vogon@i[ ]lus.org ['ccu' in gap]> on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:35AM (#2521561) Homepage
    Used car parts: $50
    50,000 rolls of duct tape: $25,000
    Bottle of Elmer's Glue: $0.99
    • The sad part is that would probably be denied, whereas something like the NSA's budget would be approved right away:

      New cars: $2,000,000
      50,000 rolls of duct tape: $11,000,000
      17 toilet seats: $160,000
      Bottle of Elmer's Glue: $14,000
      Rubber doorstops: $6,350,000

      Ah well, we have our priorities I guess.
  • by purp ( 12986 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:40AM (#2521565) Homepage
    It seems like what's being lost in this analysis is that any project you're going to launch into space has to be done safely and properly ... or your cost-managed investment amounts to naught.

    It's all well and good to insist that NASA manage to a budget and a schedule; however, to hold these as the two highest priorities as they attempt to coordinate something no one has ever tried before is ludicrous.

    --j, insomniac at large.
    • It's all well and good to insist that NASA manage to a budget and a schedule; however, to hold these as the two highest priorities as they attempt to coordinate something no one has ever tried before is ludicrous.

      Instead of rewriting history, would it not be better to learn from it? The Russians launched and ran a space station for many years ( remember ), until the costs crippled the program. The same thing seems to be happening to NASA.

      NASA has to understand that a large percentage of tax payers see little point in a Space Station, and unless it embrasses budget cuts it will either alianate tax payers even more, or face another Challenger.

      Personaly, I hope for neither.
    • If I'm not mistaken the current emphasis lies in reudcing the projected capabilities of the ISS in order to maintain both safety and an acceptible budget. I don't think that safety will ever NOT be a primary concern for the ISS. Instead, I think what is being said is that if, with X dollars, they cannot make the ISS safely do A, B, and C, but can make it safely do just A, B, or C, then two of the three functions must be discarded.
    • I think you're right. Because the ISS and the shuttles are manned missions, incredible safety measures and costs start enterring the picture.

      So why are we sending people into space still? We're no longer in a my spaceship is better than your spaceship deal with the Russians. The ISS and the shuttle program need to be considerred on their merit alone, and given the huge cost and questionable scientific value of experiments done up there, I don't see why we're doing it at all.
    • You have to do all four. They're all necessary conditions for success. And yes, that makes it hard. What makes it impossible is when you have no compelling mission.

      Im my view, a fundamental error of ISS is the effort to justify it in terms of science. This has led to all sort of distortions. The real reason for doing is to further space developement. The problem is that there is no meaningful strategic plan for this into which ISS fits.

      The real reason for keeping ISS flying these days is the huge dislocation and job loss it would cause if it was canceled. Without a real plan for space development, this will continue to be the case.

      One solution is to radically repurpose the ISS and evolve its design accordingly. A simpler solution would be to cancel it, but then what do you do with all those people whose value-added was dubious to begin with, and would then be not even illusory? Not so simple for a political beast like NASA.

    • I agree - scheduling groundbreaking projects is a nightmare. Usually, the only time you'll get an accurate timeline is when the project is done, and putting "no freaking idea, no-one's ever attempted this before" in your budget is pretty much going to torpedo your funding.

      This is the edge - some of the most insanely complex, mind-bustingly difficult science in on the planet, with devastating penalties for failure. The entire Mars Climate Orbiter mission failed utterly because of a simple metric conversion error [nasa.gov] - rigid budgets are going to just add to the difficulty.

      We'll either see more mission failures (prompting another round of budget cuts, nice one) or a scaling-back of missions to simple, straightforward, budgetable and LAME projects, like launching weather balloons.
    • I'm not in favor of making spaceflight any more risky than it needs to be. But the Young task force noted that Station is way overstaffed with ground personnel sitting in front of consoles. The commission proposed that much of the support be shifted from "on duty" to "on call", based on the notion that few Station problems require immediate response. Those which do require immediate response can be dealt with by the Station backup systems & Station crew, and the on-duty skeleton crew, until the real experts can be called in to get the station back to normal. That doesn't impact safety, just productivity of station time.

      As to holding NASA to a budget -- well, actually Congress is holding NASA to a greatly inflated budget (relative to original estimates, which themselves grew several times). And the Young Commission report says that NASA's budget estimation has no credibility, such that the Commission could not even evaluate whether current outyear projections could be met based on current knowledge of the program. Unless Congress is going to write a blank check, there has to be some limit. Goldin has not hesitated to kill scientific projects which went over budget -- why should there be a doube standard for Station?

  • budget cuts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:41AM (#2521567)
    Damn. The ISS took yet another hit, and more NASA engineers who love their jobs will be told to leave. The article makes these panel members sound inscrutable, but who knows what kind of backseat politicking is going on here? Finance and law seem to be tearing engineering apart.

    Since when does science take a backseat to finance? Welcome to the federal hegemony of America, where culpable deniability and reactionary motivation rule the day. This is the same kind of stuff that makes American engineers cry: when Goldin parachutes matter more than scientific progress. It makes me want to resign my own piece of scholarly hide to some country that is friendlier to engineers and hard scientists.

    Unfortunately, the "American way" is being imposed almost everywhere, and many countries are pervaded with an overarching sense of responsibilty to itemize their science into the ground. Just where does NASA think this will take them? More importantly, why in the hell is Johnny Lunchpail equating NASA cuts with more money in his pocket?
    • Budget Black Hole (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alien54 ( 180860 )
      As reported in the Observer over the weekend, NASA has budgetary problems not being well reported state side. You can read about it in full here:

      http://www.observer.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4291653,00. html [observer.co.uk]

      Paraphrasing here, "the agency's main hopes lie with persuading Congress to bail it out. It is estimated it needs 8 billion dollars to fulfill its commitments and to cover a 5 billion dollar debt, a vastly improbable sum given that America is on a war footing and has priorities far removed from space travel. Instead, a desperate slashing back of costs and missions seems the agency's likely future."

      Not a pretty picture at all.

      • by mcelrath ( 8027 )
        So turn the ISS into a profit generating place. Send up more people like Tito and suck them for as much as they'll pay.

        It's about time Space moved into the private sector anyway. I'm sick of NASA and federal regulations keeping space in the hands of governments only. I WANT TO GO TO MARS!!! (ME, personally, and I don't see that happening under the current administration, or under NASA)


        • Who's keeping what in the hands of private companies?

          Let's get serious here boys and girls. Governments aren't keeping the private sector out of space - in fact, there are already companies that will launch your satellite into space for a few million $$$.

          You know what it took to start these companies? Billions and billions of dollars in up-front investment. You have a couple billion in your pocket? Then you can go to Mars.

          Let's face it, with a couple billion lying around, most entrepreneurs would choose to invest in something else.
    • by code_rage ( 130128 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @01:16PM (#2523118)
      Anyone remember the Superconducting Supercollider? That project was terribly mismanaged, but at least it was going to bring us cutting edge science. I would be willing to keep funding the bankrupt Station IF I believed something valuable would come out of it. Let's examine the historical evidence:
      • Scientific discovery -- the manned space program is fairly spotty on this. Peer review of scientific proposals has been criticized at JSC (the 'manned spaceflight center') as being inadequate or absent. Papers published in peer-reviewed journals are relatively few, considering the billions of dollars spent. Is it unfair to expect some results in exchange for the money spent? I think so. Contrast this with other space research such as Hubble or the Very Large Array / Very Long Baseline Interferometer. Those facilities have yielded large numbers of papers. Sure, we can quibble over whether the quantity or the quality of the science is important, but ultimately there has to be some quantity.
      • Inspiration -- Some argue that you can't put a price tag on inspiration, and that Astronauts and Cosmonauts inspire children "of all ages". Frankly, I just don't see the interest. Maybe if we put J.Lo and Kid Rock up on the Station this would change. We've seen a huge upsurge in interest in careers at FBI & CIA recently -- contrast this with the exodus at NASA.

      So, what is the mission of the manned space program? What are we paying for? I'm all in favor of a manned space program -- but not boring holes in the sky.

      So what do I propose for the manned space program? Drastically increase research into advanced transportation technologies:

      • Propulsion -- e.g. Franklin Chang-Diaz's VASIMR engine, which will permit faster trips to Mars. [rice.edu]
      • Space tethers -- to provide artificial gravitational acceleration, to offset bone demineralization and muscular atrophy.
      • Access to space -- the Space Launch Initiative might be OK, but we need to make sure it does not hinder commercial development, as previous initiatives and policies have.

      In short, I think that the time has come for NASA to focus on the basic building blocks of space utilization, rather than pursuing missions as the primary focus. The missions will come when the building blocks are ready. I would like NASA to return to its R+D roots a la NACA.
      • Access to space probably isn't something that NASA should stick their nose into:

        a) subsidised launch systems are a bad idea
        b) NASA are bad at it (~$500 million per launch of the Space Shuttle? I don't think so.)
        c) they can't compete with the much cheaper Russian hardware (it's a factor of 4 cheaper, and it's not a factor of 4 worse).
        d) to a pretty reasonable degree the cost of access to space is related to frequency (the costs of getting to space are in launch pads, R&D, factories etc., not so much in fuel or rocket hardware), so because NASA doesn't launch much- the price goes up massively, and so they can't launch much because it's too expensive, so it goes up even more.

        Propulsion, space tethers, sounds good. Space exploration, maybe a manned mission to Mars and asteoids- that can make sense.
  • Hmmm, if they cancel, or even worse they cut down the project budget I am afraid there will never be job opportunities for geeks up there... sigh!
  • About Time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by augustz ( 18082 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:45AM (#2521575) Homepage
    I'm tired of the $2 billion/year ego project that the ISS is. I'd go back to really good 100 million buck science projects, and fund 20 of em a year, or 5 bigger and 12 smaller ones. I suspect a few scientists would agree. And that's basically what the report comes down to. No good science looks like it'll be getting done any time soon.

    People forget that it takes foundational science to do sexy science, and there are TONS of really worthy and interesting projects that get sidelined by sex appeal.

    Even the dreamers should realize that ISS does much less to get folks on mars for example than real good focused R&D here on earth. NASA has a horrendous record in cost control, timeline estimates, and it is about time they paid the price. Redirect all that money to folks who'll use it well untill NASA get's its house back in order.

    Man on mars (one way trip to start) is definatly cool, but let's take a pause to do some real science for a while, say 5 years, then see where we are.

    Sure, this'll get modded down by all the NASA lovers but all these blind science geeks need to realize something. Unless you allow stuff to fail you never will evolve. Basic evolution in action.

    That's something the miliary for example, which refuses to admit huge procurment mistakes time and again, has never has got. They can't admit a mistake and end up chasing down dumb roads to the tunes of billions.
    • I'm tired of the $2 billion/year ego project that the ISS is.

      The goal for ISS is to "conduct the most balanced, efficient, and effective space program". Moreover, it provides unprecendented breakthroughs in research. I think the price tag is worth it.

      Others: For more info, read here:

      • Re:About Time! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by augustz ( 18082 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @06:00AM (#2521687) Homepage
        Point me to these research breakthroughs.

        "The station program is expected to cost about $25 billion to develop and build"

        If you gave me that kind of money I could come up with some research breakthroughs of my own. Realize that even on the scale of large science, and not sure how large a level you work on, that is some SERIOUS money.

        And including shuttle costs this stuff approaches $100 billion.

        Christ, pick up any science news letter and you'll see folks getting much larger bang for the bug across science, including astronomy and space research.

        The articles you linked to undermine you point, include higher cost numbers, and repeat the question of the quality of science that will be done on the ISS going forward.
    • Re:About Time! (Score:3, Offtopic)

      by John Zero ( 3370 )
      How about that "other" project, called military, getting $260 billion/year?
      Now, that's a real ego project.

      The ISS is built by several nations.
      • Re:About Time! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by augustz ( 18082 )
        Good point. They too have trouble in procurment as well, because they too refuse to:

        A) Admit mistakes and let projects fail which means they run a risk of wasted money

        B) Have a monopoly on their area.

        Neither of these things needs to be true of the space program.
    • I couldn't agree more. I view NASA's budget overruns not as mere incompetency, but as willful theft. They're stealing from the future, both directly by "pre-spending" and indirectly by sending the message that space is a money pit.

      The solution? Give NASA 5 years worth of funding and all their current assets ($10,000 hammers and all), and wish them good luck as a private company.

    • Re:About Time! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chocky2 ( 99588 )
      I'll start off by saying that, unfortunately, we shouldn't be thinking of initiating a manned mars program for at least 20-30 years. However, having said that...

      ISS, or a similar facility, will be necessary before any manned Mars mission for a number of reasons, not least of which is that we still don't have much good information on the long term effects of microgravity on people, and the information we do have is from scenarios which wouldn't map accurately onto a manned mars mission (particularly, the mission astronauts would be subjected to months of microgravity either side of high-g during orbit/surface/orbit transfer, and this we don't have good models for).

      Some science needs to be done in low/micro-g, and in these cases the return on the investment for the ISS will be very high, primarily because of it's reuseability and the fact that much of the equipment will only need hauling up there once rather than carrying it up on every shuttle flight as happens now when micro-g experiments need performing.

      That said, there is critical underfunding in a wide number of un-cool areas of science, and the scientific infrastructure is starting to suffer as post-docs leave academe for business and undergrads have little reason to stay on for a PhD in, say, physics, when starting salaries in industry are, even during recession, treble what they'll get in a university as a doctoral student. If these issues aren't addressed soon, then in 10-15 years time we won't have the scientific infrastructure necessary for advanced projects - we need to do un-cool science now in order to do cool science in 10 years time.
      • Re:About Time! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Monday November 05, 2001 @10:35AM (#2522174) Homepage

        First of all, the Russians have lots of on-orbit time. Their cosmonauts exhibited some loss of bone strength, but it came back rapidly when they were back on Earth.

        Secondly, there's no reason to do a Mars mission in microgravity. Put a tether between the spent upper stage of the rocket, and the crew module, and spin the thing like a bolo. Believe it or not, you CAN do astrogation on a rotating platform like this.

        Robert Zubrin's "The Case for Mars" debunks this and all other so-called reasons not to go to Mars. Many of his papers are available at http://www.marssociety.org

        30 years? Hell, if we don't have a viable colony on Mars by that time, we're a bunch of jackasses.
        • It appears I wasn't clear - whilst we do have lots of information on some microgravity scenarios, there's little available for the specific case that will be experience in a mars mission of several months micro-g followed by a short period of high-g (during landing/take-off at mars) followed by several more months at micro gravity.

          Also, there are very significant technical issues which would restrict the usefullness of a spun habitat module - not crippling, but aside from complicating stability (particularly as the module would be single spun, the torque would heavily conflict with the gravitational torque and radiation pressure torques occuring during transfer between earth and mars) the weight cost of a spun module is very high, and this I suspect would be crippling to the viability of a spun habitat module.

          > Believe it or not, you CAN do astrogation on a rotating platform like this.

          I do believe it, I did a degree in it.

          I strongly support manned exploration of space, however long term desireability must be balanced against short term practicality - whilst we could initiate a manned mars mission program today it wouldn't be practical, and I doubt it will be practical for another 20-30 years.
          • It appears I wasn't clear - whilst we do have lots of information on some microgravity scenarios, there's little available for the specific case that will be experience in a mars mission of several months micro-g followed by a short period of high-g (during landing/take-off at mars) followed by several more months at micro gravity.

            I'm not sure I'd call Mars gravity "micro-g", since it's really about 1/3 g. But anyway, you might be interested in the Mars Society's upcoming Translife [spacedaily.com] mission, which will test how well mice do in 1/3 g, hopefully indicating whether adult humans can not only survive 1/3 g but also reproduce after living on Mars for a while. The mice will be brought back to Earth, and during the fall to Earth, the mice will experience the high-g you're talking about.

            the weight cost of a spun module is very high, and this I suspect would be crippling to the viability of a spun habitat module

            You can use the spent upper stage of the rocket, which should already be going at about the same velocity as the hab. I'm not sure how much energy it takes to get the two spinning around each other, though.

            I strongly support manned exploration of space, however long term desireability must be balanced against short term practicality - whilst we could initiate a manned mars mission program today it wouldn't be practical, and I doubt it will be practical for another 20-30 years.

            I think it's practical today, and I don't think it will become more practical 20-30 years from now if all we do is wait.
            • I'm not saying that mars is micro-g, but rather that you've got micro-g during earth-mars transit, followed by a period of higher-g followed by another period of micro-g, the effects of this on musculature and, particularly, bone aren't known.

              It's not the weight of the spun module, or the energy cost of spinning it that would be the problem, but the structure that would be required to support the spun module and connect it to the rest of the craft; having a spun hab module would be far more complex than any spinning currently used in satellites.

              I don't think it will become more practical 20-30 years from now if all we do is wait

              My point exactly - work needs doing in the meantime, but it's looking more and more likely that it won't be.
        • Put a tether between the spent upper stage of the rocket, and the crew module, and spin the thing like a bolo.

          I think North American actually proposed doing this very thing for a Mars flyby using the Apollo CSM in the 70's. I'm having trouble finding a link though. I also think an extra supply module was used for the other end of the tether, since they would need to extend the life of the capsule by quite a long time to make it to Mars and back. The idea was killed in favor of the Shuttle, as I recall.

        • Although Chocky2 has some good points about the torque needed and such he forgot some other problems with the tether idea.

          Centripetal force, which is what the tether idea is based on, is F= v^2/r, where v is the tangential velocity and r is the radius from the center of mass. Now assuming that the rockets are roughly the same weight as the module the tether is going to be, of course, twice that length. I haven't read "The Case for Mars" yet, even though a lot of my friends keep pushing it on my, so I am not sure if Zubrin goes over the minumual radius needed to prevent people from getting sick from the radial motion. I have read papers on that though, and the tangential velocity needed is rather large, in fact it is impractial. I have heard of the Translife experiment, but mice are much smaller animals, with their center of gravity much closer to the ground, so the radius needed for mice is much much smaller than the radius needed for you average human.

          Just a sample calculation. Let us say that the radius needed to prevent someone from getting sick is 1/30 the radius of earth, which is ~6400 km. And we want 1/6 g.
          1/6 g * 1/30 * 6400000 = v^2
          v = 420 m/s = 1.5E7 m/hr

          When you have large velocities on a long tether you really have to worry about the strength of the tether. It has to hold up against the initial acceleration. On top of that the constant centrifugal (which is real in the frame of reference on either end of the tether) along with it being constantly weakened by the bombardment of radiation. The tether would have to be HUGE, not just really really long but also very thick.

          It really isn't practical for anything really large, sorry.
          • Centripetal force ... is F= v^2/r
            Actually, that's centripetal acceleration. (Look at the units.)
            Let us say that the radius needed to prevent someone from getting sick is 1/30 the radius of earth...
            Where did you get that number from? Your whole argument depends on it. Why not 1/30 the radius of the galaxy?


            • 1/6g
            • 1km tether
            • 29m/s rotation
            • 33 revolutions per hour
            I'm no materials scientist, but I suspect we could build a tether like this today.

            Remember that your feet point outward, so the vertigo effect isn't as bad as if you were turning sideways. AFAIK, vertigo comes from two sources: coriolis effects, and the rotating view out the window. The latter could be corrected by using non-rotating video cameras instead of windows. As for coriolis, I don't know how to compute that, but I suspect it's small enough to go unnoticed by the inner ears of the crew.

    • Totally agree. They sort of, kind of, think that the ISS will be the first step to space stations - but from the start it was so vague and underfunded (because no one could justify more money for the vague - this isn't a military project!) that by the time it is finished or stopped I believe that many of the lessons needed for the next generation will have been learned by cheaper means, independent of the ISS. It's the CueCat of astronautics.
    • Re:About Time! (Score:2, Informative)

      by JThaddeus ( 531998 )
      Amen! I've worked all sorts of DoD projects and I've worked at NASA. IMHO, while DoD might waste more dollars (they have more to waste), NASA wastes a far greater proportion of their budget than DoD can even imagine.

      I did analysis and wrote software for various budget systems in the NASA headquarters group responsible for earth observation and global climate change. I saw millions of dollars thrown away on redundant studies whose apparent sole purpose was to fund obscure pet projects and university pals. In many cases, the NASA "scientist" has no bloody idea what the money was going towards. I recall trying to track down the recipient of a multi-year grant who hadn't been at his university in two years. The NASA "scientist" responsible had continued to sign checks on this account although even she didn't know how to reach the guy and had never tried do to so since awarding him the grant. We never did found him during my tenure.

      From what I saw, NASA is largely a bunch of bloody imbeciles passing out welfare dollars to washed up scientists. I'm amazed that anything they touch works.
    • Sure, this'll get modded down by all the NASA lovers but all these blind science geeks need to realize something.
      Coward. Can't you make your point without the blatant mod-proofing? :-)
      • Give me a break...

        If you take the time to read stories you'll find a tendency for folks to knock down stuff they don't like. Read the other posts in this discussion, many claiming that the solution is to give NASA more money not less such as:

        #2521653 [slashdot.org]

  • by Soft ( 266615 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:45AM (#2521578)

    Bush never cut the space station's budget... His administration simply agreed on the already-planned funding, but told NASA they wouldn't get a single buck more than that. Aren't they already several tens of billions over budget? (If I'm not mistaken, the planned cost was about $40billion and the current estimates are more like 80...)

    And now they say they can't make it, due to an absolute failure to track costs. Giving them more money is encouraging them to soak more of it into their virtual monopoly on spaceflight. That said, not completing the space station is a violation of the US' international commitments.

    How about calling for bids and letting a private company complete program? Preferably a small one - not Boeing and the likes, they're already the ones running the show...

  • Get full report here (Score:3, Informative)

    by m_evanchik ( 398143 ) <michel_evanchikATevanchik@net> on Monday November 05, 2001 @04:56AM (#2521589) Homepage
    As usual the really good stuff is in the appendix, which is available here:
    ftp://ftp.hq.nasa.gov/pub/pao/reports/2001/imce_ ap pdx.pdf
  • What cutbacks? (Score:3, Informative)

    by wronkiew ( 529338 ) <wronkiew@protonmail.ch> on Monday November 05, 2001 @05:00AM (#2521593)
    The report detailed a plan to maximize the research capability of the station while keeping down costs. So far NASA has not shown the ability to hold down total program costs. This report addresses that in a way that does not endanger the construction of the station. "Core complete" is not the intended final configuration. It is proposed as a milestone. When NASA demonstrates competency at managing project costs, they get more toys, and a station crew of seven.

    The idea of using visiting crews to supplement the station crew is brilliant. I only hope that NASA takes this advice seriously.

    The report also made the point that cutting more hardware will do little to reduce the cost. The proposed solution is to cut support personnel, which of course NASA will fight tooth and nail.
  • by Heph_Smith ( 513724 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @05:13AM (#2521605)
    I am highly interested in progress in space. I want to see many more things happen before I die. I am all for any way to increase the amount of funding that advances space sciences.

    Although nasa may not be the best place to put all that money in its current state, that does not mean we should just cut the funding for space projects.

    To say that we are at war or that there are more important ways to spend money is short sighted and a narrow view of the benefits of this science.
    • What benefits? To say there are better ways to spend the money makes total sense. And there are, but it is folks like you who probably have never been in a lab that only pay attention to the sexy projects such as ISS and have no idea what REAL science is getting done.
      • Well, "folks" like me understand that just because its not labeled "NASA" that it can come from technology developed in space programs. I will not cut and paste tons of data that can be easily found elsewhere to people who look, but you can take a look at this url to educate yourself:
        I'm sure you can find many more examples.

        So in other words, if you "pay attention to" more than just ISS (its sexy? phallic maybe....) you will see my point.

        btw, you sure got a mod point quick after posting.
        • 'Folks' like me understand that we are talking about the ISS here and would appreciate it if you avoided trying to confuse the issue by posting links to stuff the report didn't even cover.

          PLEASE PLEASE read the links you have been posting before including them in your messages. They often have no bearing or contradict what you are trying to say.

          Please free to post 2 examples that are worth even $1 billion each that are from the ISS (out of a total $100 billion). The fact is, better science can be done for the money.
          • "Although nasa may not be the best place to put all that money in its current state, that does not mean we should just cut the funding for space projects."

            I was originally talking about the idea that money should not be spent on space projects and how it would be a bad thing. Many people come to this conclusion and I see it as a problem. So we were not just talking about the ISS.

            I would find it possible that the ISS (also being a platform for research) that is still in progress has yet to produce a 'spin-off' from the research. Do I think that nothing positive has been learned from the work so far or that nothing will ever come out of it in the future to be worth it? Hardly.

            btw, how can one posted url (defending my true position actualy) mean that the links I post _often_ have no breaing or contradict what I say? Lets not flame here, thats no way to learn.
            • No one doubts that SOMETHING will come of the ISS, they will spend $100 billion after all. But few doubt that they couldn't have found better ways to spend $100 billion that would have resulted in better and more science, and more "spin-offs" you like.
              • Predicting the future success of the ISS and comparing it to the predicted future of other unknown projects is a sketchy way to argue against the ISS. That only comes with hindsight, something we don?t have.
    • i'd guess we'll see more and more space projects financed by venture capitalists in the near future. the government may give less, diff. priorities (like war against terror (if u look at cia's own definition of the word terror, u might have to consider the essence of the american international affairs as being t...)), but space exploration won't die. well imho...
      • I'm unsure of how much government funded groundbreaking will be required before the venture capitalists pick up the ball and make it the next financial boom. Hopefully it will be enough to make that happen before things slow down too much. Its just too bad that nasa has so far discouraged commercial funding like the Russians have embraced. Hopefully that act has not slowed the process to the future we both see.
  • by Inez{R} ( 144441 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @05:45AM (#2521653)
    There is something in this analysis that strikes me as odd.
    1) Apparently, the NASA did not have enough money these last years, and solved this by pushing costs to the future.
    2) The solution suggested for this problem is giving them even less money. Strange.
    If you look at item 1, you would think that giving them *more* money, or more time on the current budget, would be a logical solution. At least, give them the same amount as before and allow for some time to reorganize their management.

    Of course, budgetting is a real world issue, so just doing the logical thing is not always feasible. Spending for ISS has been going down for some time, even before the current maybe-recession and the attacks on Afghanistan. But even though wars costs lots of money, a wise government would not stop spending money on all research. Imagine when they would have said in WWII "we're at war, we don't have time for this research on atoms". The outcome could have been way different from what it was.
    And on a side note, wouldn't you be giving the terrorists more credit than they're due? They are already disrupting normal life, which is surely one of their targets.

    • Um... Informative?

      How about they spend the money on research that is usefull? No one is argueing about cutting research, but it is idiots like you that equate the ISS with the only research going on. That money could be better spent elsewhere, and anyone paying attention knows that.

      And please stop trying to yank the terrorists into this.
    • The point is, if costs are spiralling out of control, at some point someone needs to pull the punch from the party.

      Imagine that you have invested $50,000 in a business that is now going to go bankrupt, management says they can keep it afloat for another month if you cough up another $30,000. Next month, they ask for another $40,000.............People appear don't have the guts right now to axe the whole thing, but congress isn't going to continue to throw cash at a budgetary AND scientific boondogle.

      The ISS has had absurd cost overruns and has science of incredibly low merit. Read over some posts and notice there is absolutely no informed person has ANYTHING GOOD to say about the science being done on it. It's cost is estimated somewhere in the $80 billion dollar range?!?!?

      Also, when examining NASA, I would look at manned and unmanned seperately. Unmanned missions have had lots of interesting things going on, but the manned side has been a cash hemmorage.
    • Don't get me wrong - I don't think money spent on space exploration is a waste. I am a huge proponent of a continuing space program, and an even more aggressive one if possible.

      HOWEVER, I have done a little contract work for NASA here and there, and they are nothing but one huge bureaucracy with a history of mismanagement. (Much like the DOD, et. al.) Throwing them more money just makes them think that mistakes, bad fiscal management, and scores of incompetent middle managers is A-OK with everyone and business should go on as usual.

      I don't want any funding cut...but I do want them to act a little more like a business instead of a public works project. Either that, or let's start handing out R & D grants to people who can actually put the money to work effectively and efficiently. You can't say a project will cost $8 billion/year and then spend $10 billion/year and defer the extra $2 billion till five years down the road. What happens when five years go by and you now have to face the fact that you have spent $2 billion of your budget before you have even done one thing?

    • Frankly if NASA can't coordinate the finances they are given, why give them more? That only reinforces their poor accounting.
  • I'm glad that they at least brought all these issues to attention. I have been really disapointed in the lack of activity and intrest in our space program over the past few years. I hope this will at least be the start of some change.
  • Space is important (Score:2, Insightful)

    by John Zero ( 3370 )
    If humanity wants to survive, we must get off the Earth.
    And that certainly starts with small steps, like the ISS.

    But, hell, we can't even take that small step :-(
    • survive to which immediate menace ? self-destruction?

      the faster we'll get into space, the faster we'll develop space weapons to kill ourselves with...

      shouldn't we learn how to live, how to respect what's around us so we don't have to simply survive...?
      • Did you know that 98% of all species that have ever walked the earth are extinct and not all of them killed themselves? Explain to me why you're so absolutely sure mankind will never be added to that list. Self-destruction is one possibility, but so are asteroidal impacts, ice ages, runaway greenhouse effects, solar flares, plagues, the list goes on and on. On a long enough time scale, it's not safe here, not by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, weapons are a bit more potent in space, but living space is correspondingly easier to come by. No one single goof would be able to wipe us all out.
  • Then the US government should break up NASA. NASA is now a great big lead weight on the progress of space flight. Ever since the "low cost" shuttle was created.
  • In the appendix [nasa.gov], which is much more interesting, it says on page 21:

    Some of the assumptions behind the selected 1993 Space Station "Alpha" design and cost estimate of $17.4B now appear to be ridiculously optimistic.

    The space flight software would total 500,000 source lines of code (SLOC).

    It is now projected three times as high, tripleing the costs. And this is only to speak of the software onboard, the whole project software has 4M source lines it says later. Why do I think that in the majority of cases the software costs is the part which is underestimated mostly? Shouldn't they have learned from the Ariane V disaster [eiffel.com]?

  • by geoffwa ( 42720 ) <geoffwa@@@optushome...com...au> on Monday November 05, 2001 @06:48AM (#2521747) Homepage
    A little while back New Scientist, 14th July 2001, had a great article on all the little engineering hickups that were plaguing the ISS.

    Props go to New Scientist for excellent journalism, and me for subsequently stealing it (subliminal message: subscribe! subscribe!)

    Problems with the space station are: <riff>
    • Incompatible electrical supplies between the Russian and American modules
    • Russian and American water supplies cannot be mixed. Russians used silver ions to preserve water, Americans use iodine, mix and you get silver iodide which clogs any/all filters/valves.
    • The crew couldn't get to an air-circulation fan to fix it due to a large piece of "substrucutre". Out comes the impact driver... which solves the problem... sort of.
    • Lack of tools. Stuff like vice grips are being used to hold together temporary odds and ends as well as tightening and loosening things.
    • "Crew Squawk" program, designed to report when systems aren't working, isn't working. =(
    • 3-page procedure for putting a maintenance panel back on is on the back side of said maintenance panel.
    Other problems have been:
    • Crew are using hair shampoo for all personal hygene, since it's hard to grip bar soap in weightlessness. Supply issues resulted since NASA wouldn't send more shampoo.
    • Velcro strips are also food traps, very difficult to clean.
    • The US-made Kapton tape has been abandoned in favour of the Russian "gray" tape, which upsets the ground control crew because it leaves a residue.
    • The station's inventory manglement system both doesn't function, and doesn't work. Several hours a day is wasted chasing down equipment.
    • Printer for said inventory manglement system fails on a regular basis.

      Fortunately most of these problems have been ironed out. The whole thing reads like a Dilbert cartoon. Just goes to show that money doesn't solve everything. Said article appeared in the July 14 edition of New Scientist and was written by James Oberg.

      Best quote is from ex-ISS Commander Bill Shepherd:
      "We need to get a handle on the anal-retentive engineering approach to everything."
      Fortunately the crew left the station on the 18th of March.

      (PS - subscribe to New Scientist - the Women's Weekly for geeks(TM))
  • I don't see much purpose to the ISS. We should concentrate on robotic missions for now: they yield much more information per dollar spent. NASA seemed to think so as well; the ISS seems to have mostly been pushed through for political reasons, not for scientific ones. (Of course, I still prefer the ISS to bombs, but that's another matter.)
    • You're exactly right: the ISS was dreamed up in a time when NASA thought "private industry" would find all sorts of things to do in space, so they would fork over money and have it done in their station.

      By the time everyone figured out there was basically nothing of scientific value that needed the whole space station, NASA was already committed. What they should have done is said "oops, actually could we just please have all the space station money and use it for something else?" -- but that's understandably hard to do, because it would make them look incompetent. What they went with insted is the "let's cook up some thin stories to justify this monstrosity; they only need to be good enough to fool some senators."

      It kills me that we have already spent enough NASA money on this to fund the Pathfinder mission 200+ times over. That's when NASA was at their best (in science, bargain-hunting and self-promotion).

      The space station is now operational, but we don't hear anything about it because nothing is happening there. And there won't be, even when all the parts are attached! Sure, they'll act like all kinds of neato science things need the space station, but for any experiment they do, ask yourself whether the same thing could have been done in an independently-launched, self-contained experimental satelite, which would have been much cheaper. Most things, like growing crystals and perfect vaccuum research, will require independent satellites anyway, because of the vibration caused by motors and centrifuges on the ISS, and because the ISS will inevitably leak a little bit, so it will be surrounded by a cloud of gas. Any studies on physiological effects of weightlessness would just duplicate what was done on the MIR... and let's see... what else was there supposed to be?

      My first reaction to the ISS is that though it's useless, it's still cool, just because it's a SPACE STATION, and I always hoped we'd have a nice one. But it's not innocent like that: Not only does the ISS draw money from much more interesting and budget-constrained experiments; it also makes NASA look like bumbling fools when in 2005 a panel concludes (correctly) that we basically didn't learn anything on the ISS that experiments costing 1/10 as much could have told us. In the next budget, NASA's funding request will get lauged at. NASA's epitaph will curse the ISS, and that's why it sucks.

    • by BDew ( 202321 ) on Monday November 05, 2001 @09:39AM (#2522000)
      The essential point you and many of the other posters this morning have missed is that the NASA budget is not a zero sum game, for two reasons:

      1) The Space Station budget is ENTIRELY divorced from that of the Office of Space Science and the Office of Earth Science. Congress decreed that NASA had to fix ISS within the confines of the ISS program budget, and NASA has been doing that.

      2) (this is the big one) Money not spent on Station WOULD NOT BE SPENT BY NASA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congressional budgeting doesn't work like this. NASA fights with the Veterans Administration, EPA, and HUD for its dollars, so money not being sunk in the ISS hole would just as likely be sunk in the VA Hospital hole as go to NASA Science.

      The trap in robotic missions is that they are then all you will ever get. NASA Does quite a few robotic missions, and most of them work. Try this link: http://spacescience.nasa.gov/missions/index.htm for the comprehensive list. Many scientists would be happy to just use robots forever, but NASA's mandate is broader than that.

      NASA made an immense mistake in trying to sell ISS as a Science platform. It's true that, as originally designed, it would have been good for that. In truth, though, ISS is a massive engineering and design project. It is MUCH more complicated than a glorified Mir station. Nearly all of the work done on ISS has been groundbreaking in space engineering, and the knowledge generated is necessary to move the manned program forward.
  • Of course the budget's overrun. No-one ever got a budget approved by being honest about it. The only really unbelieveable thing about budget overruns is that people get surprised by them.

    However, we have proven here that all is not lost. If we combine all the suggestions here presented we have a viable solution:

    Save Money
    Use the ISS to drop a few bombs every time it passes over Afghanistan (or Kosovo, or wherever happens to be a problem). Save $200million in B52 fuel.

    Make Money
    There must be several more multi-millionaires who would pay for the privilege of a trip into space. Let's say 100 millionaires paying $100m each - that's $10billion. Not to mention the ones who would pay to drop bombs.

    Combine the two, and a couple of advertisement hoardings on the back of the solar panels and you're in credit by quite a bit. Put half of that into non-sexy research on earth, and the rest can keep the station running.
    • Save Money
      Use the ISS to drop a few bombs every time it passes over Afghanistan (or Kosovo, or wherever happens to be a problem). Save $200million in B52 fuel.

      How about: Fit the B-52 fleet and (AWACS fleet for that matter) with modern fuel efficient engines, save $X billion on fuel and channel the savings into Science research and space flight.


      Resurrect the shuttle program, build a the new shuttle, scrap the old shuttles and save $X billon because the cost per Kg of freight has gone down by a factor of 10. Use the saved money on Science research and space flight.
  • I agree the ISS is a collossal waste of money, but those who think the main purpose of the ISS was ever scientific are pretty naive. The point of the ISS is to keep the Russian rocket/space industry afloat, thus keeping their scientists and engineers employed in peaceful pursuits instead of working for the missile programs of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Pakistan, India, etc. etc.

  • On the non-manned mission side, NASA has pushed a whole new approach of smaller and cheaper space vehicles and satellites. Using this strategy, NASA has gotten more satellites into space and had the first mission to Mars in decades.

    At the exact same time, NASA has also been pursuing the International Space Station, which is neither cheap, small, nor effective. It is currently only being manned by a skeleton crew, so they can't hardly do any experiments. Furthermore, it has been recently pointed out that the ISS wobbles a bit, which could render many microgravity experiments useless. Basically, the ISS is an endeavour to pay hundereds of millions if not billions of dollars for experiments of very questionable scientific value.

    Consider all the interesting science that could be done if this were instead channelled into real science.
  • In this weeks issue of the Economist, there's an article about the departure of some heads of NASA: The search for intelligent life at NASA [economist.com].
    The story is basically that NASA, or the world, doesn't need the ISS, and that the money spent on keeping it there should be used on unmanned missions to various places. Economist goes as far to claim that there is no reason for men to be in space, and that all can be done by machines at a fraction of the cost and with more reliability.

    • "Economist goes as far to claim that there is no reason for men to be in space, and that all can be done by machines at a fraction of the cost and with more reliability."

      I think the Economist and other advocates of a purely unmanned space program are being very shortsighted. The ultimate goal of space exploration, IMHO, is the same as the ultimate goal of terrestrial exploration: Colonization and expansion. Watching space on television will prepare us for that goal, but it won't accomplish it unless we are willing to get off our butts and go there.
  • Think of how many billions of dollars go to taking away people's rights to liberty and the puruit of happiness via the Drug Enforcement Agency. Think of how many people that could put in orbit if they made drugs legal...
  • ...sticking with metric units! Then they wouldn't have to pay people to screw up the conversions, and less expensive scientific equipment would accidentally crash into planets (crashing into them on purpose is OK, and shouldn't necessarily be discouraged).

    Don't get me wrong, my truck gets about 285 Leagues to the Oxhaft and that's the way I like it, and I love NASA and what they do, but honestly, this is a scientific organization. What the hell are they doing using "standard" measurements?!?

  • That NASA proposal is mostly budget tweaks, not radical proposals. The Economist, in contrast, recommends termination of all manned spaceflight as pointless.
  • Date: Thu, 5 Oct 89 08:24:10 PDT
    From: mordor!lll-tis!oodis01!riacs!rutgers!pnet01.cts.co m!jim@angband.s1.gov (Jim Bowery)
    To: ucsd!nosc!crash!space@angband.s1.gov
    Subject: SAVE NASP [purdue.edu]!!!

    All PROspace activists should lobby congress heavily to favor NASP [purdue.edu] over Space Station. The reason is simple: Since NASP is totally bankrupt technically and is promising "results" in a few years, we could kill off Space Station almost immediately and NASP would die in another 5 years or so.

    The situation with NASP dying to save Space Station is terrible. We really do need space facilities. Now we will end up with a gold-plated, bureaucrat-controlled CDSF [www.abo.fi] about 10 to 15 years after we could have had an affordable, industry-controlled CDSF [www.abo.fi]. Giving NASP enough rope to really jerk its head off when it falls would be a great wake-up call to Congress.

    Unfortunately, Congress has just enough knowlege to see that NASP won't work and that maybe NASA can fly something called a Space Station. They don't have any deeper insight.

  • We can claim their stuff, right? Will there be big sell-offs and auctions? I'd pay $1.5k for a shuttle, but that's my final offer. Since they'll either space the station or leave it in orbit, it theoretically could be claimed or *ahem* stolen...

    Russia made it into space with five missles welded together. We could do likewise. Eh? Eh?

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato