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NASA Space

The Fight Over NASA's Future 288

swestcott writes "The New York Times has an interesting article about the transition to the Obama administration and NASA's transition to the new Orion."
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The Fight Over NASA's Future

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  • NASA will last exactly as long as the American people are willing to keep spending money that we don't have and adding to the U.S. national debt. Coincidentally; that is also the exact lifespan of medicare/social security without income limits, the Iraq military budget, the government bailout packages, and the budgets of a wide variety of unnecessary pork projects.

    Sadly, NASA is a drop in the bucket compared to most of this other stuff and is doing important research, but it is still money spent that we ju

    • The dinosaurs died because they didn't have a space program.

      If you want to die in a fire, then I suggest you go do so.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:13AM (#26267947)
        Actually, we have no freaking clue what killed the dinosaurs. But even if it was a meteorite/asteroid (as you smugly imply), it would still be a LOT smarter to pump our money into digging tunnels here on earth (where we at least have large existing supplies of oxygen, water, geothermal heat, and survivable atmospheric pressure) than pumping it into a pipe-dream of surviving the MUCH more hostile environs of any other reachable planetary body. Even after a large asteroid hit, I'd still rather be on Earth than anywhere else in the solar system.
        • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:19AM (#26268011) Journal

          Even after a large asteroid hit

          Why do we have to take the hit if we have a workable space program? I'd rather deflect [wikipedia.org] the damn thing than start digging tunnels while meekly accepting the fact that the vast majority of the human race and biosphere would die off.

          The space program is pretty cheap if you look at it that way.

          • Except that diverting an asteroid from hitting Earth isn't really NASA's area of expertise.

            The response for such a threat would involve nuclear missiles almost certainly delivered by existing (or modifications of) ICBM rockets and infastructure.

            • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

              Think again. Most of the deflection strategies I've seen don't necessarily require the use of nuclear weapons. Even if you were to use nukes to accomplish it though you wouldn't be using ICBMs to deliver them. ICBMs don't have the energy to achieve earth orbit -- let alone escape velocity.

          • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
            An interesting idea. But there is just one problem is equating this with NASA. NASA has, AFAIK, never done any research into deflecting asteroids and has never implemented or even proposed such a program.
            • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

              I didn't "equate" it with NASA. I used it as a justification for keeping a workable space program in place. You seemed to shoot down the idea because it's a "pipe-dream" to think we'd be able to survive on other bodies within the solar system. I pointed out that a space program gives us multiple options -- including saving our own planet.

              Besides, if not NASA, then who? Do we have another institution with similar spaceflight experience that I'm not aware of?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by extrasolar ( 28341 )

              But there is just one problem is equating this with NASA. NASA has, AFAIK, never done any research into deflecting asteroids and has never implemented or even proposed such a program.

              Thought I'd do some checking on this and share with the class:
              B612 Foundation [b612foundation.org]

              We've been anticipating the conclusion of a contract we issued to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in early 2008, and it's now available. We asked JPL to analyze, in detail, the performance of a transponder equipped gravity tractor (t-GT) in determining the precise orbit of a NEO with which it has rendezvoused, and to evaluate the towing performance of the GT per se.

              And elsewhere on their site: [b612foundation.org]

              NASA's NEO Report to Congress (see #15 below) has stirred considerable controversy due to both its rejection of Congress' request for a recommended program to support the new Spaceguard Survey goal and it's technically flawed deflection analysis. The analytic work supporting the summary report to Congress is being withheld from public review by NASA despite it having been published as a 3-color glossy "Final Report" and distributed internally.

              The sky is falling, really [iht.com]:

              The bad news? While this all looks fine on paper, scientists haven't had a chance to try it in practice. And this is where NASA's report was supposed to come in. Congress directed the agency in 2005 to come up with a program, a budget to support it and an array of alternatives for preventing an asteroid impact.

              But instead of coming up with a plan and budget to get the job done, the report bluntly stated that "due to current budget constraints, NASA cannot initiate a new program at this time."

              Why did the space agency drop the ball? Like all government departments, it fears the dreaded "unfunded mandate." Congress has the habit of directing agencies to do something and then declining to give them the money to do so. In this case, Congress not only directed NASA to provide it with a recommended program but also asked for the estimated budget to support it. It was a left-handed way for the Congress to say to NASA that this is our priority like it or not. But for some reason NASA seems to have opted for a federal form of civil disobedience.

              I think this ties in with NASA's, and specifically Administrator Griffin's, emphasis on manned missions over unmanned missions. I hope Obama replaces the man. Because, not having a space mission is a good excuse for the dinosaurs, we can't use that one.

        • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:11PM (#26268467)

          Actually, we have no freaking clue what killed the dinosaurs. But even if it was a meteorite/asteroid (as you smugly imply),

          Given the evidence, the odds point to it almost certainly being an asteroid that did the deed. The crater at the same time, the iridium deposits, etc, all support the theory. Can we say that it was an asteroid without a shadow of a doubt? No, there is a slight possibility it was something different, but we're a hell of a long way from having "no clue" as to what did it. That's the same backwards ass thinking that throws up evolution as "just a theory" every time it's brought up.

          As to the rest of your post, as another poster pointed out, a space program is far more useful in deflecting asteroids than in evacuating the whole planet. Something as simple as parking a satellite next to the incoming body for long enough (talking a span of years/decades here) can gravitationally perturb it enough to move it off of a collision course.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by camperdave ( 969942 )
        The dinosaurs died because they didn't have a space program.

        Why do you say that? Because some asteroid hit the planet and wiped them out? Maybe they just didn't have ships large enough to get the entire dino population off of the planet. Maybe they didn't have anything large enough to deflect the killer asteroid. Maybe there's a fleet of dinosaur ark ships fleeing to another star right this very moment.
      • by Darth_Burrito ( 227272 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @01:51PM (#26269405)
        What makes you think they didn't have a space program? More importantly, what makes you think they are all dead?

        I find it highly suspicious that we haven't been hit with an ELE from space in the past 60 million years. The most probable explanation for that would seem to be that, roughly 60 million years ago, someone or something blasted off into space with a mission to protect the earth from future bombardment.

        It was probably the raptors (it always is). I'm guessing they saved as many as they could in the seed ships while sending hunter-killer probes after near-earth asteroids. Even now, a society of hyper evolved Raptors are probably awakening from their cryogenic fugue out in the Ort cloud. Any day, they'll be sending a probe our way to evaluate the habitability of Earth as they've no doubt done every 20 million years or so.

        What's gonna happen when they find out an infestation of not so furry primates have taken over and are now molding the remains of their ancestors into cheap plastic hello kitty christmas ornaments? I'm guessing they'll either capture a comet from the Ort cloud and send it hurtling our way, wipe us out with death beams from space, or send crack teams of Raptor ninjas down to exterminate us in hand to hand combat.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I find it highly suspicious that we haven't been hit with an ELE from space in the past 60 million years.

          You may have been going for a funny mod, but...

          Actually there was a "minor" extinction level event approx 35 million years ago at the end of the Eocene. There are several craters associated with this event, including the one under Chesapeake bay, and one in what is now Siberia.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eocene-Oligocene_extinction_event [wikipedia.org] is a good place to start if you want to know more.

    • by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:24AM (#26268035)
      I disagree. A large portion of US Government owned patents come from NASA. These patents are then licensed out, or auctioned off in exchange for money. Give them funding to create money for themselves and US. It's only a liability if you refuse to utilize it as an asset. Where the other things you mentioned are pork, funding NASA can easily reap economic benefits if the administration in charge would choose to use it like they did back in the 1960's.
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )
      You seem to be assuming that the 'American people' are in control of the government budget. Very naive...

      The government budget is controlled by corporate interests who bribe our politicians. The only role of the 'American people' is to pay for it.

  • I think that maybe the only photo I've ever seen with someone in normal clothing anywhere near a piece of kit belonging to NASA and going into space.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:28AM (#26267647) Homepage Journal

    TFNYTA seemed head and shoulders above what I've read of Aries before. This quote struck me:

    NASA officials say the Constellation program is actually coming along well. In an interview in November, Mr. Griffin said, "I can't imagine somebody thinks you're going to develop a new space transportation system and encounter no challenges." The ones NASA is encountering, he said, are "routine in the extreme."

    Douglas R. Cooke, a leading space agency official on the Constellation program, told reporters this month that the weight and vibration issues were well on their way to being fixed. And Neil Otte, the launching chief engineer for the Constellation rockets, said that solving tough problems was what engineers did for a living. When they encounter a particularly difficult challenge, he said, their attitude is, "Hey, it's starting to get fun now, and we're earning our money."

    TFS wasn't nearly as good; the transition team was barely mentioned. Actually I was glad; there was more discussion of the actual Aries project itself and the problems with abandoning space for a few years while Aries is being finished.

    • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:45AM (#26267759) Homepage

      Griffin's quote and basic sentiment reminded me of JFK's 1962 Rice University speach:

      ... We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. ...

    • by jswatz ( 99824 )

      Well, you know, my journalistic motto has always been "dare to be dull."

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Were you TFA's author or simply its submitter? If you wrote the NYT article, then bravo, sir.

  • Alternatives (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WED Fan ( 911325 ) <akahige.trashmail@net> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:34AM (#26267679) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to see a move away from the Ares-Orion stack and a move towards the more versatile Jupitor plan.

    I'd also like to see us make serious use of the press and make our move back to the Moon and eventually to Mars as much as an event as the original Mercury-Gemini-Apollo missions. You have to make it romantic for the public so they feel like writing their Congresscritters to support funding.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:42AM (#26267731)

    NASA is being set up to fail, because of the prevailing pro-corporate attitude in the US. The idea is that private entities are efficient, responsible, and capable of long-term planning and technological development. So nobody wants to be accused of being 'socialist' by giving more money to a government agency.

    The original Apollo program cost $135 billion in modern(ish) money over about 10 years:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program#Program_costs_and_cancellation [wikipedia.org]

    Whereas Constellation is being given $3 billion a year for about 20 years, or about $60 billion in current money.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/expectmore/detail/10004394.2006.html [whitehouse.gov]

    So the US government is expecting a great deal more, for a lot less money, when there has been no real development in interplanetary manned travel since Apollo.

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )

      there has been no real development in interplanetary manned travel since Apollo.

      Sure, but there has been Apollo. We already went there. That's supposed to change some things.

      • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
        How does that help you making a launcher with specs comparable to those of the Saturn V? Not much.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by shmlco ( 594907 )

          Yeah, it's not like there have been any major advances in computer-aided design or modeling since then. And materials research has been at a STANDSTILL.

          And don't even get me started on the sorry state of the slide-rule industry...

    • The moon program was sold in a time when people in the US were afraid of a world ruled by Soviets. Manned space travel needs to be sold better, or rather, it needs a reason to be. Science is a hard sell since robots can do maybe 95% of the same work with maybe 5% of the budget.

      • "Science is a hard sell since robots can do maybe 95% of the same work with maybe 5% of the budget."

        Exactly, and that was even the case during the Apollo missions. Kennedy had been told that, in terms of science, all the work planned for human astronauts could be done by robots, which would be less dangerous and less expensive. Of course, non-scientists are not really aware of this...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by chazzf ( 188092 )
      Historical context is important here. Apollo was a crash program sparked by (incorrect) fears of Soviet technological supremacy. Post-Sputnik, it was important to the United States that a civilian space agency be the public face of the American program, given the military dominance of the Soviet program. We also thought it important to emphasize the benefits of free enterprise (vis a vis socialism), which is why the vast majority of the actual hardware was bid out to corporations. It's true that NASA remain
      • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:39PM (#26268725)

        How does space exploration have "no obvious returns"? The return is the ability to travel into space. Just because something is not profitable doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.

        This is why corporate space exploration will never be any good.

        • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

          This is why corporate space exploration will never be any good.

          I wouldn't be so sure about that. If we are really facing a metals shortage [slashdot.org] here on Earth that could change. There's a whole solar system full of resources just waiting to be utilized.

      • Bailouts should NEVER be just gifts of cash (as recently done). A quid-pro-quo should always be demanded. A space program as a bailout is not good (it should be done for itself), but it's far superior to a cash handout.

        Similarly, the bailout of the finance sector should have resulted in massive government ownership and control of the sector. It should have then sold those things off as quickly as the market would bear, but a cash handout was extremely bad. It follows an extremely bad precedent and maintains it. The lesson is "It's ok to gamble recklessly with other peoples money. If you lose, someone else will pay."

  • i worked for a government agency in partnership with NASA, and unfortunately we were told last year that our budget was stagnant for 3 years in a row and wasn't going up (possibly down).

    it is pretty ridiculous to keep budgets stagnant or to lower them and then expect the same output or better. inflation, hardware price increases (we used a lot of legacy systems that were very expensive), annual raises (believe me, not much), and everything else make up the shoestring budget that we were running off of. i
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vlm ( 69642 )

      it is pretty ridiculous to keep budgets stagnant or to lower them and then expect the same output or better.

      Better not say that too loud or the private sector managers might get some ideas...

    • by Skye16 ( 685048 )

      The main problem is that these things going on under NASA aren't understood by the public. And until someone in NASA can come along and sell them to the average person, all we can do is take your (and other engineers') word for it. Seeing as how you are making money from it (even if it isn't quite enough), the average person has every reason to question you at your word. This is not to say that you are lying, but to say that, despite evidence (and subsequent understanding) to support your word, the avera

  • by RobBebop ( 947356 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:49AM (#26267775) Homepage Journal

    "I don't frankly know what the answer is," [Dr. Crowley, of MIT] said, "but I know it's a lot closer and a lot more complicated answer than the one playing out in the media and the blogs."

    I think they're talking about us.

    ===

    But in all seriousness, the cost of running the shuttle for 5 years is $x and the cost of developing the Constellation program in 5 years is $y. Meanwhile, NASA's budget is not x+y and if they wanted to try to develop Constellation in 3 years its cost would be closer to $y^2.

    It seems like people can't grasp the rudimentary guideline of engineering development: you've got limitations in quality, cost, and timeliness, and on any challenging project you need to pick one of those limitations that you won't particularly worry about.

    I do like the articles conclusion though... NASA's budget is way too small for the amount of good that it can do for the world and for the amount of high-tech science jobs that it can create. As long as everybody in the nation has food, shelter, telecommunications, and power... there is no reason NASA's budgets shouldn't balloon.

    • Screw *everyone* having food shelter and other luxuries, so long as it stays reasonable then NASAs budget should skyrocket and stay that way. We can't fix the human condition but we can advance mankind scientifically.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Food and shelter are NOT luxuries. If you can die without something it is a NECESSITY, not a luxury. And anyone who is heartless and callous enough to simply let people die when those people can be saved by something that there is enough of to go around, like food, well, I see why the world's economy has collapsed. Hint: it wasn't socialism or liberalism, it was the failure of capitalism.

        The failure of capitalists like YOU. Funny how the people who cause the world's misery never suffer themselves. Your atti

        • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:28AM (#26268063) Journal

          How many people in the USA lack food and shelter because of circumstances beyond their control, and how many of them lack food and shelter as a direct result of their own choices?

          Is it right to take resources from productive people in order to allow other people to survive the consequences of their bad decisions?

          • How many people in the USA lack food and shelter because of circumstances beyond their control, and how many of them lack food and shelter as a direct result of their parent/guardian's choices?

            There, fixed that for you. In all seriousness though, there will always be people who failed on their own, and people who were given no chance to succeed.

            Maybe you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but then turned around and used the spoon to cook up a hit of heroin.

            Or maybe you were born into a poor, abusive family, but had a natural aptitude for science & math. Unfortunately, you'd get beaten to a pulp in school if you actually showed off your talent, and made the self-defense decision

            • <quote>Unfortunately, you'd get beaten to a pulp in school if you actually showed off your talent, and made the self-defense decision to learn to play football instead</quote>

              What fantasy word are you living in? Every state has gifted schools for kids who do well in math/science.
              • But how often do the kids in the situation I've described actually get to the gifted school?

                If they're lucky, they'll stumble across a teacher who's good/interested enough to get paperwork started to get he kid admitted (provided the school isn't full with a waiting list). It's not likely that the gifted school is near the bad neighborhood, so the kid is either going to need daily rides from their parent (hah!), or hope that the school district has the resources to bus them in.

                And even then, they're sti
                • Wow... People don't just get beaten up at bus stops, you must have some really bad experiences in your life...

                  You seem to have this fantasy were Jocks rule and "Nerds" are beaten to a pulp on a daily basis...
          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            How many people in the USA lack food and shelter because of circumstances beyond their control, and how many of them lack food and shelter as a direct result of their own choices?

            OK, take your average dirt-poor ghetto kid. His mom's a crack whore, he never had a dad, all of his neighbors are gang bangers.

            Did he CHOOSE to be born to a drug addict in a neighborhood where all the schools are abysmal and none of the adults are responsible?

            I know several people who have become homeless. Only one of them had any

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Almost nobody is without food or shelter as a result of their own decisions.

              At a street corner near my workplace, there is this (presumably homeless) guy that continually hold up a sign "need a hamburger and a beer".

              I know for a fact that jobs are easy to come by (even now) in this city. I also know that my boss actually offered this man a job (janitor) but he refused.

              Perhaps the majority of hungry and homeless people throughout the nation are truly victims of circumstance. But right here in a city where f

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by camperdave ( 969942 )
                Some "Homeless" people pull in $40/hour begging - tax free. Taking a job would mean a cut in pay.
            • It's guys like Donald Trump, Ken Lay, and the guy with the fifty billion dollar Ponzi scheme. The people who never wanted for anything whatever in their lives, who never got their hands dirty, who think that they're somehow better than the poor slob who actually produces his wealth for him.

              This should probably be modded off-topic because it's far from the discussion about NASA, but I'd leave Trump off the list of "arrogant rich". Having read his autobiographical "The Art of the Deal", he grew up as a normal shmoe in Brooklyn with a dad who built 6 family houses in the seedier parts of the 'hood. And his wealth, IMHO, is created from (a) being a visionary, and (b) not taking shit from contractors who make promises that they can't keep (i.e. time and cost guarantees).

              And I was in Trump Towe

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 )
          You sound about as ignorant as all those stupid beauty pagent bimbos who only want "world peace". Live isn't fair, nor will it ever be. If we devoted all of our resourced trying to accomplish such a hopeless goal we would never progress at all. Where would we be if instead of spending resources to build societies infrustructure we instead decided to spend all of out money feeding the poor? Think before you speak you ignorant fuck.
  • That's heresy in some quarters, but at this point, I don't think we can justify another trip to the moon, because we certainly aren't going to Mars anytime soon anyway, which was the whole point of going back to the Moon in the first place... to begin the process of setting up a Lunar base for future Mars exploration.

    As expensive as it is, right now, the Shuttle is actually useful for some tasks that we're committed to... ISS support, for instance. The whole Orion program was basically just a re-do of Sat

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:28AM (#26268061) Homepage Journal

      The whole Orion program was basically just a re-do of Saturn/Apollo anyway.

      Columbus' journey was basically just a re-do of Leif Ericson's anyway. The ISS was basically just a re-do of MIR.

    • by Amiga Trombone ( 592952 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @12:33PM (#26268665)

      We managed to find $25 billion to fund bailing out a moribund auto industry. It seems to me putting that money into a forward-looking industry rather than a backwards-looking one would have been a much more worthwhile use of the money.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by J.R. Random ( 801334 )

        We managed to find $25 billion to fund bailing out a moribund auto industry. It seems to me putting that money into a forward-looking industry rather than a backwards-looking one would have been a much more worthwhile use of the money.

        A common logical fallacy -- "We wasted $x on A, so it's okay to waste $y < $x on B.". I am not in favor of the government bail outs. So far as I'm concerned GM should just spin off Corvette to Honda (the only GM car people actually dream about owning) and let the rest o

  • You need to look at Direct Space Transportation System [launchcomplexmodels.com]...

  • NASA history (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:27PM (#26272977) Homepage

    What would worry me here is NASA's history. The Apollo 1 fire. Challenger. Columbia. The common thread in all of them is NASA engineers saying "We have a problem, we need to stop and fix it.", and NASA management going "It's OK, we haven't had a problem yet.". So when I hear NASA engineers saying "This isn't going to work.", and NASA management going "Everything's going to work, we just need to fix a few little things.", I start wondering what reason I have to believe things aren't going to work out just like the last few times.

    NASA engineers are really good at solving problems. NASA management is very bad at acknowledging they have a problem that the engineers need to solve.

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