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NASA Space Science

NASA Admin Says Shuttle and ISS are Mistakes 642

Teancum writes "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was recently interviewed by the USA Today Editorial Board regarding the current direction of the U.S. Space Program, and in the interview he suggested that the past three decades have been a huge mistake and a waste of resources. As a total cost for both programs that has exceeded $250 Billion, you have to wonder what other useful things could have been developed using the same resources. Griffin quoted in the interview regarding if the shuttle had been a mistake "My opinion is that it was... It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible." Regarding the ISS: "Had the decision been mine, we would not have built the space station we're building in the orbit we're building it in.""
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NASA Admin Says Shuttle and ISS are Mistakes

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  • ISS Orbit (Score:5, Informative)

    by bohemian72 ( 898284 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:56AM (#13665967)
    I'm sure I've heard that the ISS was supposed to have a more equatorial orbit, but when Russia came on board the orbit was tilted to give them easier access to it.
    • Alpha was supposed to have a more equatorial orbit. But Russians needed to came, and prerequsite to that was changing orbit of future station, ISS from this point.
    • Re:ISS Orbit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:09AM (#13666053)
      Yes, Freedom was supposed to be in a different orbit that the Russians cannot reach, but it would have been disasterous after the Columbia accident, as either the Shuttle fleet would have had to have been flown with a known (and now highly public) flaw or grounded and the station abandoned for the interim period. Could NASA have gotten away with flying Shuttles after Columbia?
  • by sdaemon ( 25357 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:56AM (#13665972)
    Sure, that $250 billion could buy us another year in Iraq!

    But seriously, the ISS is not a waste of money. When you think of all the research done there, the international goodwill spread there, it is well worth the cost. I do wish the degree of internationality was a bit larger. Simply having Americans and Russians isn't very diverse -- it would be nice to see China/India/other aspiring space powers to join in the fun (and help with the bills).

    • by mjpaci ( 33725 ) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:06AM (#13666034) Homepage Journal
      That's exactly the reasoning I use when arguing FOR the Big Dig here in Boston.
    • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:18AM (#13666130)
      I disagree.

      Read up on the history of the shuttle program, and what alternatives were dumped in favor of it. Make note that they knew perfectly well the numbers they were telling congress for flight costs were wrong.

      Then read up on the history of the ISS. A lot of people here were probably not born when they first started making those plans, and don't remember the fiasco around it -- the ISS has been a political project that was known was going to never be productive since day one. Its a technical corporate welfare program meant to keep defense contractors in business, really nothing more. They've known for a decade it would never get constructed to the size required to do productive science, but science was the bedtime story told to the American public to keep support for it.

      Some people tend to look at the manned space program through rose-tinted glasses and think everything is so romantic, man in space. Its been a collossal failure since the end of Apollo, and from a science standpoint even Apollo was really a failure. NASA and the Government killed the program once the political goal of beating the Soviets was done -- science was never a primary goal, or even in the top ten. Even Skylab was intended to develop technologies with military use.

      NASA, in general, has always been better at non-manned science. You get 100x your bang for your buck doing that, so thats a good decision on their part. The problem is more the public's misguided belief that the manned space program existed for anything more than military applications and keeping companies critical to the defense industry afloat. Science is just the shiny thing to keep the public's ADD distracted from the real motivations.

      If China wasn't rattling its space saber right now, Bush wouldn't be getting a boner over getting man back on the moon. Its not a coincidence its planned to use so much of the Shuttle components -- the research is done on them, and production of those components are pure profit for the contractors that build them.
      • by RFC959 ( 121594 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:52AM (#13666399) Journal
        Thanks for pointing this out. I was doing some research on NASA knowledge management a while ago, and I came across a quote to the effect that "The Shuttle was built to supply the ISS, and the ISS was built to give the shuttle someplace to go", which I think fits in pretty well with what you mention. The only thing I'd disagree about is why Bush is talking up the Moon/Mars again - I think it has little to do with China, it's just that he knows it sounds good and inspiring, but all the real problems and expenses will be safely pushed onto his successors.
      • [the ISS is ] a technical corporate welfare program meant to keep defense contractors in business, really nothing more.

        Wasn't it also seen as a useful way to keep Russian scientists, etc. occupied instead of roaming around unemployed, working on projects for less desirable nations?
      • by Rei ( 128717 )
        Essentially the whole manned space program, in its current incarnation, is technical corporate welfare. Most (not all, but most) research could be conducted by robotic craft for cheaper. However, it is "manned spaceflight" that sells to the public (with the exception of a few high-profile robotic craft, such as the MERs), and allows space programs to get the money that they need for real science**.

        The question is, however: would it be better that money be thrown at shuttle/ISS, or some other manned progra
    • All the research that has been done there?

      As one commentator put it recently, "the only research that has been carried out at the ISS is of the caliber of a high school science fair."

      If you can name any hard hitting science that has been done at the ISS (aside from humans-in-space-duration sort of research), I'd be interested to hear it. I'm an astronomer, and I haven't heard of a single thing useful having been produced by the ISS.

      We seem to have fallen into the faulty logic that, "we've invested
      • by darkfrog ( 98352 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:20AM (#13666636) Homepage
        This is complete fud. There is lots of interesting research that has/is going on in the ISS. Any attempt to say otherwise is just ignorant.

        For some quick ideas see: []

        or for a more detailed list of publicized experiments try: html []

        Some of interest I've found: APS.html [] (Antibiotic Production) html [] (Radiation Damage) html [] (Protein Crystal Growth) html [] (Viscous Liquid Foam/ Metallic Glass)
      • by oni ( 41625 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:23AM (#13666665) Homepage
        If you can name any hard hitting science that has been done at the ISS (aside from humans-in-space-duration sort of research), I'd be interested to hear it.

        Here's what the current crew is working on: []

        • advanced diagnostic ultrasound
        • biopsy of human skeletal muscle after prolonged spaceflight
        • chromosomal aberrations in blood lymphocytes
        • dust aerosol measurement
        • spaceflight induced reactivation of Epstein-barr virus

        if you ever need to get an ultrasound, I doubt that the doctor is going to take the time to tell you that the equipment was developed or improved on the space station. The benefits of the research they do up there make it into our lives, but it happens decades later and we never really notice. Oh well.

        I'm an astronomer, and I haven't heard of a single thing useful having been produced by the ISS.

        Be careful buddy. If the standard of good science is that it has to be "useful" then I think you'll find that a lot of the funding for those fancy telescopes you love so much will quickly dry up. I haven't heard of a single useful thing that any astronomer has done in my lifetime.

        We should fund science - not because of a selfish "what do I get out of it" mentality. We should fund it because it is the search for truth, and that's *always* important.

        Think of all the poor, hungry homo habilis' that could have been fed if Ogor hadn't wasted so much time rubbing sticks together in his useless "fire" research. He should have been out gathering rotten banannas with the rest of the tribe. Right? Right? Can I get an a-men here?
      • Part of the problem, of course, is that the station is still under construction. It's hard to get much research done when half your facilities are still on the ground and you have only a skeleton crew that's just sufficient to maintain the infrastructure.
      • by StillNeedMoreCoffee ( 123989 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @11:40AM (#13667306)
        Exactly my point on Iraq. Faultly logic in, faulty logic to stay.

        But the ISS is a different matter. It was the right thing to do to de-millitarize space and have a platform where all the world (well the developed countrys) could work together to start to reap the benifits from that new platform in the sky with micro gravity and a veiw of the stars that we don't have here on earth.

        There was a lot of research that went into the ISS but most of it is expressed as the engineering to solve the issues of creating a good stable maintainable manned facility in space. The first work is building the platform that the research can happen on. The goal is to provide the world's scientists and industry a new research facility to develop new and better science and technology for all our futures. It was not a waste, it is not a waste, it will not be a waste.

        You build the plane before you load in the passengers to take the trips. You have to do things in the proper order and not be too impatient. This is a long term project. The problem is short term thinking that micro manages scientific research.

        What we are really lacking in the current legislative and executive branches is the "Vision Thing". Bush with his Cowboy "Yahoo" lets go to Mars space race mentality is wanting to re-kindle the cold war environment of international competition that just wastes your dollars and my dollars.

        Scientists know about the benefits of cooperation. Thats how science progresses. It's the polititians that are greedy and possesive and try to hold back the advances of mankind because they haven't gotten their cut of the process, or their friends in industry that support them haven't gotten their cut.

        What we need to do is realize things like there is Global Warming and that we are responsible for it and there are things we can do about it and to listen to the scientist and take real action, not "Well it will adversly effect my business friends so I'll find some detractors and hold them up as reasons for doubt so I can back out of Global Warming treaties, cause I don't want to pay the price for our past mistakes, let our grandchildren do it when were not here anymore". As one clear example where the current politics ignores the facts, and/or the clear advice of the scientific community. Another example of this old "I wish I lived in the Dark Ages again, as a King of course" is the administrations comments on Intellegent Design. Can the inquisition be far behind (seems like they have inquisitors in training right now).

        Did you personally sign the Geneva Convention, No well sorry.

  • Wrong headline ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VitaminB52 ( 550802 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:57AM (#13665976) Journal
    The ISS itself is not a mistake, only the orbit it is in is a mistake.

    Headline doesn't reflect the Michael Griffin quote in the summary :(.

    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )
      no, it doesn't. In fact, it is more than just misleading; it's very wrong. Mr Griffin did state that ISS was in fact important, he just said, like you pointed out, that he thinks the orbit is wrong.
    • While I agree, I might add that it sounds as if he doesn't agree with the actual design of the ISS either. Too bad NASA is so political - a lot more could get done.
    • Can't they fix the orbit though? It's not like the ISS is anchored in stone.

      Well, that is, after we get a space vehicle that can go further up than the shittles
  • $250 billion. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:58AM (#13665983)
    I wonder if he is aware of the recent wars that the US has gotten involved with. Talk about real wastes of money. At least the Shuttle program, and the ISS to a lesser extent, have furthered our knowledge of science and engineering, rather than just our ability to mindlessly destroy.

    • Re:$250 billion. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ahsile ( 187881 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:01AM (#13666000) Homepage Journal
      I do believe that war drives a lot of R&D as well. Heck, didn't the Internet we all love come out military research?

      Not saying I'm pro-war or anything, but killing each other has lead to many advances as well.
      • Re:$250 billion. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pubjames ( 468013 )
        I do believe that war drives a lot of R&D as well.

        Well, you should consider how much money the USA spends on defence. It's astronomical. Just because some R&D benefits come out of it doesn't mean that it's not an inefficient and wasteful use of resources.
    • Re:$250 billion. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thc69 ( 98798 )
      Not that I want to defend, or indeed offer any opinion, on any particular war (it's OT for a discussion of the space program), but war drives our knowledge of science and engineering (and new technologies) as well as, or possibly better than, the space program.

      Think DARPA-derived Internet, and GPS.
  • His point? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kawika ( 87069 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:59AM (#13665989)
    I RTFA and can see what he's saying that the shuttle and ISS were basically mistakes, and I agree. However, I'm not so clear about his proposed alternatives. Is he shilling for Bush's "Man to Mars" mission and saying that should have been our goal since the 1970s? That would certainly be a wise career move (at least for the moment) but what purpose would it serve to send a man to Mars? We can't even get some of our unmanned probes to the Martian surface successfully. Maybe we could try to get a probe there and back to Earch first.
  • Comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scoria ( 264473 ) <> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:01AM (#13665997) Homepage
    When you consider our prodigious investments in both combat and weaponry, it's hard to see any kind of space exploration as anything other than progress.

    Having no space program would be a mistake. Having an inefficient one just reminds us that there is always room for improvement.
  • Useful? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mblase ( 200735 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:02AM (#13666005)
    As a total cost for both programs that has exceeded $250 Billion, you have to wonder what other useful things could have been developed using the same resources.

    "Useful"? I hate it when people use words like that in reference to the sciences. It's like they think every last penny of the national budget that's not being spent on Medicare or disaster recovery should be spent feeding the homeless.

    How do you define "useful"? This is NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Their entire charter is building giant cans that explode out of one end in order to throw chunks of metal into orbit. They're science, which means $99 out of every $100 they spend goes toward what amounts to research and development of ideas nobody else can implement, and then working with them for a couple of decades to see what comes of them.

    How can you gauge the "usefulness" of the Cold War space race in the 1950s and '60s? Yet that race eventually led to the technology and processes which, today, have placed hundreds of communications, weather, and astronomy satellites in orbit. Was any of that "useful" at the time? Heck no. We haven't gained one "useful" bit of knowledge from our trip to the Moon in 1969, but we didn't know that would be the case until we actually went there.

    NASA's budget is on a shoestring as it is. Give them credit for doing what they do with as few dollars as it is. You never know when an investment will pay out until it does.
    • We haven't gained one "useful" bit of knowledge from our trip to the Moon in 1969, but we didn't know that would be the case until we actually went there.

      It's posts like yours that keep me reading Slashdot.

      Getting to the moon, in terms of the science of it, was a bit like Robert Powell's first voyage down the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869. People knew there were canyons there, and the Grand Canyon at the end, and that it was about a mile deep. They didn't have maps of the region at all, even to

  • I tend to agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:02AM (#13666007)
    It's fairly well known that the space shuttle was a compromise [] between NASA and the military. In order to get the budget, they agreed to design requirements that involved weird payloads and the ability to launch them into polar orbit. That in turn drove the design to be what it is today.

    In terms of the space station, it seemed to quickly turn into an exercise to divide up the money according to country and state. I'm not even sure what science goes on up there any more. These days the reduced crew seems to spend their time repairing the place. Crazy.
  • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
    "Had the decision been mine, we would not have built the space station we're building in the orbit we're building it in."

    That's a whole different kettle of fish to the saying the ISS was a mistake. Several NASA officials are on record to the effect that NASA didn't want to build the ISS in such a low orbit, but agreed to do so in order to accomodate the Russians. Some of that might be coloured by the failure of Skylab, but it was also to enable the station to be of use of the ISS as a launch point to t

    • Re:ISS (Score:3, Informative)

      by VitaminB52 ( 550802 )
      It's not the altitude of the orbit, it's the orbits angle with the equator that Michael Griffin is referring to.

      The Russians put the first parts of the ISS in orbit, and did it in an orbit that is easier for them than for the Americans. The large angle with the equator reduces the amount of payload the shuttle can bring to the ISS.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:06AM (#13666038)
    1) Cheap, reliable, frequent trips to geosnychronous orbit.
    2) First generation platform at one of the Lagrange points [].
    3) Lunar observatory on the dark side.
    4) Another Hubble-like telescope at L3.
    5) Space elevators, aynone?
    • There is no "dark side" of the Moon. There's a *far* side that we don't see from Earth, but it gets about as much sunlight as the Earth-facing side.
    • I just want to point out that a working space elevator solves basically every problem of human civilization. Quickie example: energy. With a space elevator, you power your whole planet with nuclear energy. "but, but what about all that terrible waste???" No problem, you put the waste in beer-keg size container and lift it above geo-sync. Release it such that it impacts the moon at a crater that we've designated as a dumping ground. Absolute worse-case senario, the elevator breaks during one of the was
  • He offers plenty of criticism of the current plan, but the article lacks one important detail:
    - Exactly what would Mr Smartypants have had us do with the money?

    I mean, he states the shuttle was "deeply flawed". What would he have built? Kept shooting Apollo capsules up forever more? Built an Apollo 2? And if the ISS isn't in a good orbit, what orbit would he prefer? And additionally, how were we supposed to know the Shuttle wasn't a solid idea, until we had actually built a few and tested them operationall
    • Mod parent Troll. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nlinecomputers ( 602059 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:42AM (#13666303)
      Who the fuck modded this guy insightful?

      And additionally, how were we supposed to know the Shuttle wasn't a solid idea, until we had actually built a few and tested them operationally?

      Engineers were criticizing the shuttle as it was being built and pointing out the flaws in it's design before it was built. The problems that the shuttle has have all been predicted. One doesn't need a operational test to know that if I fling my self off a 100 story building I will end up as a crumpled dead smear on the ground.

      What would be the point of outlining an entire plan of "What would I have done if I was king of NASA?" I prefer that he outline what he will do NOW. Which if you note the beginnings of this was announced last week.
    • Atypical bureaucrat (Score:4, Informative)

      by amightywind ( 691887 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:09AM (#13666535) Journal

      I mean, he states the shuttle was "deeply flawed". What would he have built? Kept shooting Apollo capsules up forever more? Built an Apollo 2? And if the ISS isn't in a good orbit, what orbit would he prefer? And additionally, how were we supposed to know the Shuttle wasn't a solid idea, until we had actually built a few and tested them operationally?

      After nearly 35 years imagine how the original Apollo design might have evolved? We might be on the 10th iteration! The ISS orbits sucks because it is highly inclined and low altitude. Highly inclined orbits are less accessable from low latitude launch sites (thanks Russia). Throw in the new lighting requirements for the Space Shuttle and you have absurdly few launch opportunities from the Cape. The low altitude of the station results in the need for frequent reboost due to atmospheric drag. It is also of marginal use in earth remote sensing because there is no global coverage.

      I do agree that a shuttle-like vehicle has great R&D value. Perhaps a smaller reusable vehicle could have been built that integrated smoothly with Apollo launch capabilities.

      It seems to me he's just trying to ride the wave of popular opinion that says the shuttle must go and the ISS isn't interesting.

      Better that than ride the wave of mindless groupthink that left the US without a space architecture. Now that there is a negative (and richly deserved) feeding frenzy against shuttle/ISS lets make sure we kill the beast!

    • by Watcher ( 15643 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:22PM (#13668274)
      You call this guy a "Typical bureaucrat". Have you even read his bio? Have you even looked at his accademic credentials, let alone his prior professional experience? This guy isn't some mid level numb skull bureaucrat whose only redeaming quality is he knows the right color for his nose and he can shuffle paper like a champ-he's a fricking engineer who is quite willing to tell people that something was a complete was of time and energy. He's right, too-the shuttle should have been an X program research project run in parallel with the Apollo/Saturn program, not the only means of getting man into space for the last 25 years.

      The article is thin on information because...well, its USA Today, not exactly a paper I look to when I want in depth technical information. I'd be very interested to hear an audio recording of the interview he gave, doubtless if the interviewer had half a clue a lot of very interesting information and opinions were offered.
  • by justanyone ( 308934 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:11AM (#13666078) Homepage Journal
    As Richard Feynman's brilliant analysis from 1986 clearly states, the shuttle's main engines were NOT designed properly and are doomed to be both expensive to maintain and markedly dangerous to use.

    A link to his comments is at ml []

    He has a wonderful explanation, in terms that non-engineers as well as engineers can understand, about how to build complex devices. Good engineering, he says, comes from dividing the task in to component parts, creating specifications for those parts, building samples, testing them to their limits, retesting them to various other limits, until you have a complete understanding of all the failure modes of that component, as well as the reliability of your manufacturing process for that component. Then, you assemble multiple components together and test that assembly together in all the modes you can conjure up, to create what I have always heard termed, "A Well-characterized System".

    As he points out, the space shuttle main engines (SSME's), though complex and "groundbreaking" in the sense that they were very big and incorporating some (at the time) quite advanced technologies, they were NOT WELL CHARACTERIZED on a component basis. To my knowledge (although I'm not a NASA watcher with as much fervor as some) I don't believe the SSMEs have EVER BEEN analyzed and re-engineered to create characterizations of their failure points, reliability, etc.

    The fact that NASA's next plan is to use them in the follow-on vehicles for heavy lift only testifies to NASA's complete lack of focus here. They should put out several contracts for heavy lift engines with well-characterized failure modes, with focuses on reusability, reliability, maintenance cost, and overall operating cost.

    We're soon going to be stuck with the next-gen heavy lift using components of unknown reliability, which forces us to replace component parts ("tune-up" or "overhaul") the system too often and with too large an expense.

    Feynman was right. Solve the root cause. Engineer these things with good methodologies. And don't tie us down to next-gen-of-schlock-engineering if we don't have to be. I congratulate the able engineers who worked on the SSME's, but I respect Feynman's analysis that correct procedures benefit lowering long-term costs and ensure safety of the admirable crews who pilot our national spacecraft.
  • Not the same thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slapout ( 93640 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:14AM (#13666096)
    NASA Admin Says Shuttle and ISS are Mistakes

    is not the same thing as

    he suggested that the past three decades have been a huge mistake and a waste of resources

    which is not the same as

    "It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible....we would not have built the space station we're building in the orbit we're building it in"

  • by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:14AM (#13666100)
    This is not meant to be a troll. I love the space program and everything about it. But I do have a serious question to make sure I'm not overlooking something.

    At this stage of the game, what is it that we can do on Mars with a manned mission that we cannot accomplish better, cheaper, and safer, with a robotic mission?

    I really don't see a point in a manned mission to Mars until we've been on the Moon long enough to have a permanent station of some kind there.

    As much as I loved Apollo, I'm not sure I see that it really accomplished anything with manned missions that a robotic mission couldn't have done. Especially since if I'm not mistaken only one or two real 'scientists' went on any of those missions.
    • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <<robert.merkel> <at> <>> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:51AM (#13666390) Homepage
      The reason why only one scientist, Harrison Schmitt [], went up on Apollo is simple. The program got killed by Congress (for a saving of only $50 million dollars or so, chickenfeed in the context of the US federal budget even then), stopping the flights that were supposed to have the bloody scientists on them! It's on top of the many other things you can blame Nixon (along with morons in Congress like William Proxmire) for. From an exploration/scientific perspective, having humans on Mars makes a great deal more difference than having them on the Moon. On the moon, you have near real-time communication with any remotely controlled robot; on Mars you have to wait half an hour for the results to get back. That's the real reason why the Mars rover have to work so slowly; if you even had a team of people in orbit around Mars it would make a huge difference. If you have people actually on the surface, properly equipped with a science lab, the speed and flexibility of having humans on the spot would do more science than a hundred rovers.

      As for the scientific aspect, one point that manned Mars exploration advocates have made is that military test-piloting skills will, at most, only be needed for a few minutes, while scientific skills will be needed every day. Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to select scientists and engineers and pick ones who show a reasonable level of piloting skills, rather than pick the hottest flyboy they can find and try to teach him to become top research scientist. But, as I understand it, NASA's already figured that out. The whole insistance on having a crew made up entirely of test pilots ended with Apollo.

    • At this stage of the game, what is it that we can do on Mars with a manned mission that we cannot accomplish better, cheaper, and safer, with a robotic mission?

      Create a date in history that will be remembered for thousands of years?
  • Duh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by kjeldor ( 146944 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:15AM (#13666104)
    I think most of us SysAdmins new that IIS was a mistake for years now.
  • by 03Cobra ( 826073 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:22AM (#13666151) Homepage
    Omg what are you talking about, we got the memory foam bed out of nasa teknol0gy. Definately worth the 250 billion
  • ISS Purpose (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:33AM (#13666231)
    The ISS had its start under Reagan, and there were no doubt many political and bureaucratic reasons for it getting started. But by the Clinton Administration, it was _continued_ primarily for one purpose: to allow the US to indirectly subsidize the Russian space industry, and give all those soon-to-be-unemployed Russian rocket scientists a paycheck. Thus giving them less reason to wander off to Iran, Pakistan, China, etc. And that seems to have been fairly successful.

  • by busman ( 136696 ) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:42AM (#13666301)
    This site has a good summary of the Shuttle history []

    As far back as 1970 cost was an issue ..

    June 19790 - Launch Vehicle: Shuttle.
    Independent studies of NASA's shuttle ordered. Nation: USA.
    The new NASA Administrator, James Fletcher, had found that the NASA internal estimates of the cost to develop and operate the space shuttle were treated by the Office of Management of the Budget with great scepticism. Therefore he authorised several independent studies. Lockheed was to report on how the shuttle could reduce payload costs. Aerospace Corporation was to make an independent estimate of the cost of developing and operating the shuttle. Mathematica was to use these studies to make a definitive report comparing the cost of the shuttle with that of using existing expendable boosters.

    The Mathematica study would become notorious, for it forecast enormous savings in the use of the shuttle. It became very influential in government and congressional circles in shifting opinion to support the project. This, as NASA Administrator Low would dryly comment later, was 'unfortunate'. All earlier studies for the USAF and NASA, notably a RAND study in 1970, showed no cost advantage for reusable boosters when research and development costs were taken into account. RAND had concluded that a manned space station supported by expendable boosters would be cheaper, and more flexible and useful.

    Fletcher also directed NASA to take US Air Force requirements for the shuttle into account. The US Defence Department's requirements included the ability to carry 18 m long payloads, and deliver a mass of 18,000 kg to a polar orbit from Vandenberg AFB, or 30,000 kg to a low earth orbit from Cape Canaveral. The 4.5 m diameter for the payload bay was a NASA requirement, established by the planned diameter of future space station modules. 18 m x 4.5 m also corresponded to the dimensions of a liquid hydrogen tank with a mass of 30,000 kg, the lowest-density payload imaginable. The USAF also wanted an 1800 to 2400 km cross range on re-entry, and an initial operational capability of December 1977.

    The Aerospace Corporation study of NASA Phase A proposals concluded that the weight of a shuttle's thermal protection system would vary in relation to the fourth root of the required cross range. Aerospace also believed that sequential ignition of the booster and orbiter was a better approach than the triamese-type all-engines running at lift-off. It also declared that the USAF's desired operational date was unrealistic -- the earliest a shuttle could be available was mid to late 1979.
  • by romit_icarus ( 613431 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:47AM (#13666349) Journal
    There may be argument and historic evidence in science and technology to show that projects that are succesful and then scaled up dont have good returns, and innovation and breakthrough come from small, tightly controlled projects. There could be innumerable examples to support this, notable of them being the Mars Explorer project, which forced NASA to be innovative given its relatively small budget. []

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:49AM (#13666368) Homepage Journal

    "My opinion is that it was... It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the point of space exploration as a whole? That it's really hard, fraught with danger, and constantly pushes the envelope of what's possible with our technology and ingenuity?

    We stunned the world by putting men on the moon, but for chrissakes, that was decades ago. With advancements in technology since then, we should have half the solar system under our belt by now.
  • Return on Investment (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:05AM (#13666502) Homepage
    NASA used to be the shining example of a good Federal agency. They lost that status after Challenger and instead of regaining it they sank even further with Columbia. The unmanned programs are still doing well. The unmanned propopents say we get a better return on our investment with robots. From a scientific point of view, the answer is yes, but from a public perspective, the answer is no. Without manned space travel we have no visions of space as a frontier. The lure of the frontier is deeply embedded in the American psyche. We look to the people, the astronauts, who enter it. NASA needs to do a better job with it's manned program. The return on investment with a manned space program isn't the same as those of an unmanned one. We need both.
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:50AM (#13666883) Homepage Journal
    Back in 1993, I had just come through a period of being one of the most visible opponents of NASA's big programs and determined that political activism was a losing battle for technologists. That's when I wrote the following, "modest proposal" defense of big science programs [] and which Griffin now admits were a big mistake:

    From: (Jim Bowery)
    Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1993 07:16:54 GMT
    Local: Tues, Jun 29 1993 12:16 am
    Subject: Who I am and why I support Big Science

    There have been some questions about who I am and what my positions are. Here are the relevant details for readers:

    As chairman of the Coalition for Science and Commerce [], I have, over the last 5 or so years, been the principle activist promoting the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 and the launch voucher provision of the 1992 NASA authorization.

    To preempt some noise:

    Allen Sherzer has yet to apologize to me for his repeated slanders in this forum 2 years ago, declaring that my contributions to the passage of the LSPA were insignificant compared to those of Glenn Reynolds [], then chairman of the legislative committee of the National Space Society. However, during congressional hearings on space commercialization, the LSPA's sponsor, Congressman Packard, gave me a personal introduction (the only panelist out of over 10 to receive such an introduction) and my organization credit for passage of the LSPA. Congressman Packard did so with Glenn Reynolds sitting next to me on the same panel -- and he did not mention Glenn Reynolds or the NSS. This is in the Congressional Record and on video tape. Allen Sherzer's words are in the archives of late spring to early summer 1991. I encourage those with access to the archives to retrieve them and see exactly what Allen Sherzer said and the manner in which he said it.

    I've been involved in several other, as yet unsuccessful, legislative efforts to reform NASA, DoE (primarily fusion []), NSF and DARPA. In so doing I've come across gross inefficiencies in technology development -- inefficiencies that some small high technology startups were ready to fill with technical advances of great economic and social import. The government agencies I just mentioned see these high technology startups, not as vital partners, but as deadly political threats to the credibility of those, within the agencies, that picked incorrect technical directions. These government-funded individuals drive funding away from those who would bring us critically needed technical advances -- rather than working with and help them.

    The dollars we spend on NASA, DoE, DARPA and NSF to promote technology are actually used to suppress this country's technology in a frighteningly effective manner. But when one looks at the political incentives of these institutions, one wonders how anyone could believe it to be otherwise.

    My first and most tragic experience in this area was George Koopman's statement to me, made in person just before his untimely death, that NASA had been relentlessly driving his suppliers and investors away from doing business with his company, AMROC. NASA appeared to reverse its behavior in a tokenistic manner just prior to Koopman's death. The first test of an AMROC booster, shortly thereafter, failed and AMROC was forced into capitulation with established aerospace firms. This pattern of hostile behavior from NASA, combined with the means, motive and opportunity, leave room for reasonable suspicions of murder against individuals within or funded by NASA.

    This is only one story and I wasn't even inv

  • Politics? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:25PM (#13667746) Journal
    I think NASA is back on doing politics instead of science.

    Quote: "It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Griffin said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can."

    So, Griffin thinks the path was wrong? Couldn't it be that the path was right but the conduction was wrong, or some minor planning?

    For me that sounds like big games of politics again.

    The original purpose of the Shuttle Fleet was not only small lifts and minor exploration. As everybody knows the shuttles carry a hughe main tank, which is dropped after burn out.

    The original plan was: take the main tank into orbit, move them into parking orbits, use them later for space stations and interplanetary vehicles.

    This was first reduced to: drop them on a parachute for refuling and reuse. And later it was reduced to: just drop them.

    If NASA did not had stepped back from the original path we now had about 111 empty main fuel tanks in orbit around earth. If you use 6 main tanks to produce one ISS like space station the shuttle starts would translate to 5 space stations with together 30 fuel tanks used. There would still be 80 fuel tanks left for building manned Lunar vehicles or a lunar orbiting station, or 2 Earth/Lunar L4/L5 stations, probably several manned Mars vehicles and unmanned Mars supplies vehicles.

    Landing some on the moon for having a starting base for a manned Lunar base would also be an option. Selling them to other nations with a space program, but not the resources to place "containers" in orbit would have been an option also.

    The Shuttle path was completely right, but it got stripped down more and more until only the shuttles itself where left. The reason behind that mainly are political, the cold war was over, no need anymore to to show presence or impress the enemy or to fund the "military industrial complex". In fact budget cuts where needed to use the resources elsewhere (but they did not get used wisely anyway, look at the education system e.g.).

    And now, we hear a NASA politician/bureaucrat making big words .... that stinks like politics again for me.


Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"