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White House Panel Considers New Paths To Space 151

Neil H. writes "The White House's Human Space Flight Plans blue-ribbon panel (the 'Augustine panel') has posted the material from their first public meeting on the future of NASA's spaceflight program, which was held on Wednesday. NASA officials presented their Ares I rocket plans and their belief that they can work around its design flaws, with projected development costs ballooning to $35 billion. The panel also heard several alternative proposals, such as adapting already-existing EELV and SpaceX rockets to carry crew to orbit; these proposals would have better safety margins than the Ares I, be ready sooner, and cost NASA less than $2 billion to complete, but are politically unattractive."
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White House Panel Considers New Paths To Space

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  • Men on the moon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:12AM (#28409831)

    We really ought to be way past the phase of getting wet in the crotch about putting a man on the moon. We've got the t-shirt already.

    What we ought to be looking at is beginning construction of a moon base and the development of the infrastructure to perform longhaul transport back and forth from the Earth to the Moon. That means both reusable capsule technology and low-cost fuel.

    If the original space race taught us anything, it's that there is a lot of prestige in doing the impossible. Putting a man into orbit is now not impossible. Putting a man on the moon is now not impossible. It's time to look beyond that towards building habitats elsewhere.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:42AM (#28409927)

    Obama's economists decided that they need to spend their way out of this recession, and even though Orion would not pass muster by my bang-for-buck standards, it's not the worst way to spend money if spending money is what you're trying to do.

    Of course we could do better: We could dream big like JFK and (for the first time since the 60's) try something truly ambitious and expensive. As Americans, it's time we finally accomplish something! Ever since we lost the Vietnam war, we've been complete pussies about big projects. (It doesn't help that when we do try we fail miserably, like when we try to impose Western democracy to Iraq) As far as I can tell, the largest public project recently was the Big Dig in Boston. We can't even rebuild Ground Zero. We act like a country who lost faith in ourselves, in a time when it's very important that the rest of the world has faith in us (and our currency). We lucked into the internet - yes, that was cool, but it wasn't something we deliberately set out to do as a public communication tool.

    I think that Obama should just ask to dust off the Titan V blueprints and build factory to produce them on a massive scale. Then use those to lift into space something really cool, like a 100m mirror for a telescope, solar collectors that beam power back to Earth, etc.

  • by Bjarne Bula ( 11937 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:44AM (#28409939)

    Call me crazy, but as far as I can tell, we're a month away from the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. The bulk of the current population of the earth was born into a world where man had walked on the moon.

    And NASA is asking for (another) $35B and a couple years to develop a rocket that can launch humans into space, never mind to the moon? Seriously?

    I'm all for space exploration (and exploitation), and I even partake in the probably misguided notion that there is real value in having humans go into space, even though for the most part, it makes more rational sense to have robotic probes go in our place.

    But even I have to question the sanity of pouring billions and billions of dollars into an organization so fscked up that they have to reinvent technology they provably had over forty years ago, and who keep losing people and equipment because they refuse to listen to their own engineers.

    I grew up admiring NASA and the astronauts, and with a burning desire to be one myself, or at the very least work there, but today I wouldn't buy a used car from the current crop of hacks running the place.

  • by turgid ( 580780 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:11AM (#28410055) Journal

    It's not NASA's fault that they lost the technology used to put the first people on the Moon. It's the fault of the government of the USA. They are the ones who set NASA's goals. They killed manned space exploration with the Space Shuttle, which was a compromise designed by committee for the purposes of putting up and bringing down spy satellites and to "build the space station."

    After the Challenger disaster (a direct consequence of the Shuttle's poor design), the spy satellites went up on different vehicles.

    How long did it take them to design a space station? It must have been the better part of a decade that they spent arguing about it before any of it got built.

    As people keep saying, they could have build it with about 3 launches of a Saturn V.

    The space shuttle is an over-engineered, fragile, over-complicated, unreliable piece of design by politics. It's an exemplary lesson in how not to design things.

    Politicians, as usual, ruined manned space exploration.

    But why should it be up to the Americans on their own to put human beings in space? Yes, Russia and China have done it, but I'm very ashamed that ESA hasn't done it yet.

    If China were to announce plans for a semi-permanently staffed Moon base by 2022, say, things would become interesting again. Go China.

    Russia should not be overlooked too. They have huge gas reserves, and if they stop being aggressive towards their potential customers, they could make huge amounts of money out of it to fund their space programme.

  • Re:Men on the moon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:21AM (#28410103) Homepage Journal

    "there is a lot of prestige in doing the impossible"

    Not only prestige: there is awesome a lot of money for those who invent the Next Industry. Had Minutemen not needed guidance systems, we could be using teletypes connected over phone lines to big mainframes.

    We need simple, cheap and reliable heavy-lift vehicles. über Saturn V's running on cheap fuel made from aircraft-grade parts. And putting a man on the Moon is not impossible, but making him stay for 6 months has never been done before. Only a dozen guys have that t-shirt.

  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @09:49AM (#28410257) Homepage Journal

    "I'm very ashamed that ESA hasn't done it yet."

    Don't be. LEO is a very boring place for humans to be. Until there is a credible way to go somewhere (hint: the Moon) there is little reason for humans in space.

    Or, perhaps, a satellite repair crew could be stationed in LEO and operate a fleet of unmanned tugs to bring back and forth damaged satellites for refurbishing. I am sure the math would not work out at first, but it would be an insanely cool thing to try.

    And, if we develop the cheap launch technology, it may even work.

    The only reason for a shuttle-like spacecraft is to bring bus-sized payloads back from space. Every other role could be played by simpler, more reliable, cheaper spacecraft.

  • by mrsquid0 ( 1335303 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @10:23AM (#28410493) Homepage

    The problem with NASA is that it has been hobbled by the past several administrations. NASA simply does not have enough money to do what it is supposed to do. This is particularly true with Bush's vision for space exploration. He wanted NASA to develop a new launch architecture, build a Moon base, and send people to Mars, all with the current level of funding. It is hardly surprising that things are not working. As Scotty might say... Ye canna change the laws of economics.

  • Re:Men on the moon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MikeURL ( 890801 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @10:32AM (#28410575) Journal
    How about space exploration as entertainment? How many people on the planet would pay for live feed access to a manned mission to Mars? I know i would and I think I can count in every geek on the planet.

    I mean, maybe we need to open the definition of "value" a bit. If you add up the total US dollar value of the last 10 blockbuster movies made by Hollywood that might even get you close to paying for a manned Mars mission. Maybe it is a bit unseemly to sell space exploration as "entertainment" but we have been doing it as fiction for 100s of years. Why not do it as non-fiction?
  • I know a lot of people are down on the idea of sending people to the moon, or to mars, or to any other place outside of earth's gravity, for the sake of doing so. I think that is exactly why we should do something. In the short term, there is no logical reason to put people in space. But in the long run, we know that we must go there, and thus, we must make halting, childlike, inefficient steps to learn how to get there.

    As a species, our first craft to traverse the waters with were not 70,000 ton container ships, 100,000 ton aircraft carriers, or 200,000 ton oil tankers. Most likely it was a crude piece of wood that floated. Later, we would learn to hollow things out, or put pieces of wood together. It took us many years to get from those days to now.

    There does not need to be a contest of manned exploration versus unmanned science. At most we are quibbling about an additional 5 to 10 billion dollars per year. Out of a federal budget of several trillion dollars, this is chump change. I would shocked to find that as we have achieved some sort of victory in Iraq, we cannot use some of the nearly 700 billion dollars a year in military spending for this purpose.

  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:23AM (#28410957)
    You didn't go to the pharmacy and buy them over the counter though, did you? You went to the hospital for them. A doctor had to write an order for the aspirin. A pharmacist had to pull the order for a single dispensary package of aspirin. A nurse had to get the aspirin for you. The nurse had to take time to double check the order against the chart and patient ID (that wrist band she was wearing). The lowest paid of those people make north of $30k/year. It has nothing to do with bulk cost. You paid for aspirin and the professional medical services, and all the support staff, that go with prescribing it and hand delivering the single dosage to you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:26AM (#28410977)

    Hmmm... Get out of the recession a little faster? I'd propose killing off the ability to patent software and business methods. That would open the door for new players and spur the creation of small businesses. Right now, a part of the market is locked out because of that bullshit.

    Another idea? Give some modest money to people with debts to pay off. Perhaps folks who are having trouble finding work despite recently getting various degrees. If there was some kind of national job placement program that would help cover relocation and educational debt, maybe there would be some spending money once the burden is gone and real income becomes a possibility. Companies participating in this would be able to get some kind of tax break, and there would be some kind of standardized tests for pool qualification instead of random and arbitrary HR screening B.S. (Experience schmecsperience! If you present the skills necessary to do the work, you get sent to the job if your number comes up.)

    But noooo. What do they do? Dump money upon the debt holders while doing nothing for the people that really need to get out of the hole. I guess nobody cares enough to apply compound interest equations to compounding debt, if you help out the people that owe the least and have the smallest earnings it's easier to fix. But if they don't get help ASAP, then they end up in a financial black hole. And then there's some kind of stupidity that the holdings of debt with no ability to get past the event horizon (they lost their job, etc.) had some kind of value to it. Believe it or not, the economy is built like a pyramid. (I believe that's part of the reason why chose that symbol to put on the back of the national seal and the dollar way back when.) Right now the base of the pyramid has been dug out to patch the bricks on the top, and now the whole thing is sinking.

    Anyhow, getting serious about space travel would be nice. But the majority of Earth society is too far inward looking right now in regards to the issue. It'll probably take an earthly encounter with a space rock that causes kinetic energy transfer on a national scale to snap humanity out of it.

  • by solios ( 53048 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:52PM (#28411517) Homepage

    Politically unattractive is the idea of depending on the Soyuz to get to the ISS while we continue to develop a new launch vehicle that by any reasonable metric should be done by now.

    I'm a huge fan of the Russian space program, but I also feel that it's a matter of national pride to have our own crew launch vehicle(s). If NASA is incapable and commercial interests can step up, then let's go with commercial interests - bidding out to American companies means it's still an American project; an American "win."

    What's more attractive - sending US Astronauts into space on a SpaceX or Scaled Composites launch vehicle, or bidding for space on a Soyuz launch (at over $40 million a seat) while bureaucrats continue to insist Ares/Orion will work?

  • Re:Men on the moon (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cold hard reality ( 1536175 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @04:27PM (#28413255)

    The Earth-Mars round trip time lag is way beyond the attention span of an average Homo Sapiens.

  • Re:Space Elevator (Score:3, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @04:33PM (#28413309)

    Granted, the device that could generate the required energy is "BIG", but the last time I checked, the sun keeps going 7/24, in space

    Well, yeah, if you brought the sun down to the surface of the earth, it might provide enough power to do what you're proposing. The side-effects might be a problem, though.

    The power of a magnetic field falls off exponentially with distance. Even if you could shape your field in such a way that all the leakage doesn't fry electronics for hundreds of miles around, you'd still need an insane amount of power in order to get the kind of speed / distance required for orbit. And by "insane" I mean "not even close to feasible". Using a magnetic rail mass-driver would work better, but is still impractical on the Earth (on the moon, it'd be a lot more effective).

    And by the way, pointing at the sun and yelling "LOOK, FREE ENERGY!" is just stupid. We can't even figure out how to effectively harness it for our day-to-day use, let alone for some super-duper Dr. Evil style sciency gizmo thing. If large energy demands are a problem for your proposal, then pointing to the sun is definitely not a solution.

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