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NASA Space Science

US Manned Space Flight Taking a Budget Hit 182

An anonymous reader points out that Congress has quietly begun dismantling NASA's manned space flight program. "Other recommendations contained in the bill include a $77million reduction in NASA's proposed space operations budget, which includes the space shuttle and international space station; a $6 million reduction in science; and a $332 million shift in funds from the Cross Agency Support account to a new budget line-item included in the subcommittee's mark. Dubbed Construction and Environmental Compliance, the new account would be funded at $441 million. Congressional aides said the new line item and accompanying funds are aimed at consolidating NASA's various construction efforts into a single pot of money."
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US Manned Space Flight Taking a Budget Hit

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  • by transami ( 202700 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @05:38PM (#28257095) Homepage

    Bush's "goals" were all a setup. There is no real intention of a manned mission to Mars. His father did the same kind of thing when he was in office. Make big promises only to have the whole thing undercut quietly later on.

  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @05:43PM (#28257165) Homepage Journal

    That is exactly how they would like it portrayed. The real truth is we are lucky to have any budget for NASA currently. Considering the reckless, if not criminal, debt being piled up in just the first year I will be surprised if NASA doesn't get bigger cuts going forward. How long can the funny money last? The real threat to scientific investment by the US government is all the new entitlements and "stimulus of the moment" bills coming down the pike. Eventually reality will bite us hard, we cannot print our way into having it all, someone pays the bill.

    NASA's budget has always been pitiful. It will continue to be so because it isn't the science of the rich and powerful climate groups who have the money to buy influence to get even more money. I expect NASA money to be directed into more "Climate" areas as a way of funneling money to payoff people who voted right or supported the right people.

    Each year we seem to get new reasons to blame NASA's budget shortfall but in the end it really all boils down to NASA is being kept around because they have to keep it. If it were not for other nations reaching for space currently or the military needing to keep progress going I would have had no doubt that NASA would be reduced to unmanned flights.

    Until NASA becomes a real public interest it won't get money. NASA generates very few votes. It would probably take a meteor or Extraterrestrial's to get people interested enough to where they get the funding many of us here like.

  • by mosel-saar-ruwer ( 732341 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @05:44PM (#28257185)
    People tried to warn you that an Obama administration would mark a massive shift in focus away from high-IQ pursuits and towards low-IQ pursuits, but nobody wanted to listen:

    Obama: cut Constellation to pay for education
    November 20, 2007 []

    The consistently weird thing about Obama is that all of the very worst predictions about him keep coming true [Bill Clinton, for instance, was far more inconsistent in his politics] - Obama really does subscribe to this tribalistic, Bolshevik form of Mugabeism - he really is a true believer.

  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @05:59PM (#28257403)

    I think the answer to the question (whether sending humans is worth it) really depends on what you/we think the goals are.

    For pure science, I'd argue that sending humans to deep space definitely is not worthwhile. While you may get more science/dollar for it (another debate), the total cost is so high that the current state of politics cannot sustain it. That is, the cost is too high to be able to complete it within 6 or 7 years when an administration change is going to rework everything anyway. For pure science we get a lot more value out of robotic missions because they can be finished more quickly and are sustainable in the political sphere.

    However, if your goal is the eventual development of a human ability to leave the Earth permanently then of course its important to keep sending people. There are legitimate questions as to how best to utilize limited funding to advance that goal, particularly when the final goal is decades or centuries away, but I think they all involve continuing to send people to space and pushing further and further out.

    Finally, if you're goal is an international pissing contest, let the other two groups decide and keep sending them the checks. I think Hubble and the Mars Rovers give us as much prestige as the shuttle (maybe not as much as Apollo though), so it ends up working out the same in the end for this group.

  • by spacemandave ( 1231398 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:14PM (#28257657)
    Wow, an astounding amount of ignorance is on display in this post. Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs, or NEOs if you prefer) may indeed be easier to visit than the Moon, and they are quite a bit easier to visit than Mars. Mainly this is due to the lack of appreciable gravity, so that the escape velocity from the surface adds only a negligible delta V to the total delta V budget required (for both landing and taking off again). You're not going to find yourself on a 100+ year orbit on an NEA. If you did find yourself on a 100+ year orbit and on on your way out of the inner solar system, then, by definition, you would have landed on a Halley-type comet (or perhaps even a long-period comet if you were *really* on your way out). Take as a typical NEA 433 Eros. The NEAR spacecraft successfully landed on it, despite the fact that the spacecraft was designed to be an orbiter (which, I think, succinctly illustrates how easy it is to land on an asteroid). Its perihelion distance (closest approach to the Sun) is 1.13 AU (1 AU is the Earth-Sun distance) and has a period of a bit less than 2 years. Once nice thing about asteroids is that they basically represent remnants of the original solar nebula from which planets were formed, and most of them never differentiated (melted and formed iron cores and rocky mantles). That means that they are relatively rich in many raw materials compared to the surfaces of planet-sized bodies. A carbonaceous asteroid contains valuable metals (often as little blobs of pure metal), water (up to 30% by weight in many cases), and organics (kerogen). Some other asteroids are nothing but metal, and would require very minimal processing to make them useful (unlike many ores found on Earth). Going to asteroids makes a lot of sense. The main difficulty with an asteroid vs. a lunar mission is that the mission length to an asteroid would be longer than one to the Moon (although depending on the asteroid, it could be much shorter than a Mars trip).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:26PM (#28257847)

    I wish Bush had set a more realistic goal... landing on near earth asteroids.

    Are you insane? Do you have any idea how hard it is to land on asteroids? Any "near earth" asteroids would be on eccentric orbits. I doubt it would even be possible to land on an asteroid and return to Earth. It certainly would be extremely dangerous (you know, with the risk of being stranded in a 100+ year orbit, ejected from the inner solar system, etc, etc). The Moon and Mars are targets for two reasons: they are close and they are "easy" to land on. The hard part about either is getting there and getting back. Asteroids are harder to get to, more dangerous to approach, more difficult to land on, and far more difficult to leave. You don't know what you are talking about.

    First of all, who said anything about returning to Earth? Hell, we haven't returned to Earth from Mars yet either, yet we set out to go there. We've barely returned from the Moon, and that's practically at our doorstep. And landing isn't quite as hard as you make it out to be; landing on Mars is one of the hardest things we've done engineering-wise, yet we've done that via auto-pilot. As long as we picked an asteroid with sufficient mass and with a clear enough neighborhood, it should be just damned hard instead of damned impossible (like we thought Mars was during the years of the Martian Curse).

    So let's do what NASA is incredibly good at: Send Fucking Robots. They're dirt cheap. If you build them right (and the Martian landers have proven that we can), they last fucking forever, and they do more exo-planetary science than the International Space Station has, at a tiny fraction of the cost.

    Quite frankly, we have too much to learn about our solar system to be so fixated on one target like we have been with Mars. Let's look around to see what else we can learn. You never know, it might actually help us get to Mars more quickly.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:33PM (#28257957)

    "In a bad economy, pure science and space exploration seem to be first on the budget chopping block."

    Dump the manned program and devote the remaining resources to advancing robotic systems. We can afford to wait centuries to send meat tourists, while learning how to economically exploit space by remote control.

    Human explorers were fine when they were cheap and expendable. The loss of a ship and crew was nothing near as damaging to exploration as the loss of a Shuttle is today. Now humans are expensive and robots are cheap, so leave the tourists at home.

  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:37PM (#28258013)

    You want innovation? You fund and use your military. The vast majority of man's innovations have come about through necessity, and the thing that most necessitates innovation is someone trying to kill you.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:40PM (#28258051) Homepage

    NASA has produced a helluva lot of useful technology. The drive to miniaturize onboard guidance systems and other computers in the Apollo program pretty much lead to the blossoming of integrated circuits and microprocessors in the 1970s.

    That's what the urban legend says. But it's utter bullshit. The Apollo computers and guidance system were based on those of the Polaris A-1/A-2. The USAF and the USN miniaturized the computers and guidance systems, all NASA did was issue spiffy press releases.
    You find the same thing almost universally when you run down the list of technologies 'developed' by NASA. They were first developed by someone else, and then like a technological Sylar NASA sucks them up.

    guys like you who just mindlessly go "money shouldn't be wasted on space research" are tragically ignorant of just how important the Unites States' space exploration programs have been to the technological innovations of the last few decades.

    The tragically ignorant are people like yourself who endlessly regurgitate NASA press releases. As far as results for dollars expended, the NASA PR department is probably the most efficient in the US government.

  • by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:59PM (#28258293)

    No, we know for sure that spending money on direct research will have some benefits. You're saying that focusing on a goal that has no direct benefits will probably have greater knock on benefits than direct research would have done. I think that puts the burden of proof onto you.

    If you're claiming that research for research's sake is better for technology, then the burden of proof lies with you. Neccessity is the mother of invention. Money is not. Dumping money into a cloud named "research" is going to get you nowhere, no matter how much money you dump into it. Asking the world to conjure solutions to problems it doesn't even know exist will net you waste. In the 60's (and stretching even much later), everyone was sure that computers were going to get bigger and louder. The limitations of space travel completely reversed the direction of circuit research for this small group of engineers, and that revolutionized the evolution of computers. Were that money directed elsewhere, personal computers could still be a pipedream today.

  • by Jherico ( 39763 ) * <bdavis@sa i n t a n d r e> on Monday June 08, 2009 @08:40PM (#28259295) Homepage
    Even if what you suggest is true, that progress is derived from military applications more readily than from exploration, I'd rather see the money spent on putting a man on mars than trying to kill people.
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 @ g m a i l . com> on Monday June 08, 2009 @08:52PM (#28259425) Journal

    But honestly, how much of that was strictly by/for NASA and how much was by/for DARPA and the defense industry. I would argue that despite the money wasters like the Raptor that the defense industry has fueled more new products that ended up in civilian hands than NASA. Just look at the Internet you are surfing on (ArpaNET) [] and IIRC flash storage was originally thought up because of the trouble with data storage on spy satellites.

    But I bet if one was to compare the amount of new tech gained from the defense industry VS the amount gained from NASA the defense industry would win hands down. Sadly we always seem to be able to come up with new and ever more spectacular ways of killing ourselves, but as a side benefit those new inventions can also be used for peacetime applications. So while I do appreciate our study of the stars for pure amount of inventions to fuel the economy I don't think NASA holds a candle to the defense industry. I also don't really see the point of spending all the extra cash to stick men up there when robots can do the job so much more cost effectively, at least until we can come up with a lot faster means of interstellar transportation.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @01:46AM (#28261941) Homepage

    Right. NASA didn't do much in the semiconductor area. The USAF put tons of money into basic research into transistors and ICs, but not NASA. (I still remember the whining from the Air Force types in the 1980s, when the commercial market finally pulled ahead of the military one.)

    NASA sometimes takes credit for Teflon, but that was a spinoff of the Manhattan Project, which needed a sealant resistant to uranium hexafluoride.

    NASTRAN, the finite-element analysis program, is considered perhaps the most useful spinoff of the space program.

  • by rumith ( 983060 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @08:22AM (#28263955)
    As a someone put it, "Research is the transformation of money into knowledge. Innovation is the transformation of knowledge into money".

"Spock, did you see the looks on their faces?" "Yes, Captain, a sort of vacant contentment."