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NASA Science

Neil Armstrong To NASA: You're Embarrassing 409

astroengine writes "Neil Armstrong, Apollo legend and outspoken critic of NASA's current direction for human spaceflight, was joined by three other space experts to address Congress on Thursday. It wasn't pretty. Amongst the other criticisms was Armstrong's tough statement: 'For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable.' He might have a point, but Apollo 17's Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, suggested the shuttles should be brought out of retirement to fill the U.S. manned spaceflight gap — a suggestion that probably rolled some eyeballs."
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Neil Armstrong To NASA: You're Embarrassing

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  • Unsurprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dward90 ( 1813520 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @08:19AM (#37489812)

    A guy who walked on the moon thinks manned space flight is a good idea. Full story at 11.

    In all honesty, manned space flight makes no sense right now, as it's not something that can be done half-assed. With the current state of American finances (and the petty squabbling surrounding it) , NASA will never get the investment they need to put a human anywhere that matters. Robotic and satellite exploration, however, is not out of reach at all. We need to do more of, and we need to invest more in it if we (the US) are ever going to maintain some innovative power going forward. Space exploration is the right thing to do, but we don't yet have the knowledge or technology to make meaningful manned missions.

    • by MrMickS ( 568778 )

      I have to agree that the current state of the US economy pretty much rules out meaningful human space exploration at the moment. Economic cycles being what they are things could be very different in 10 years. The problem is that a new manned spaceflight program is long term. There is nothing to stop NASA from planning for manned spaceflight now, to show some ambition and state what they intend to do. That way when an upswing comes they would be in a better position to move forward.

      Time after time NASA seems

    • Re:Unsurprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tophermeyer ( 1573841 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @08:30AM (#37489910)

      Space exploration is the right thing to do, but we don't yet have the knowledge or technology to make meaningful manned missions.

      We didn't have the knowledge or technology prior to 1961 either. But spending money to learn how to do those things was the right thing to do.

      IMO the goal of our space programs isn't just to put humans into space. It also serves to dump piles of money into US science an tech development. Our space program is an investment in the US that allows us to maintain a technological edge. We've lost hope of outproducing developing countries like China, out best chance now is to keep ourselves ahead of them technologically. We can't do that unless we are keeping our scientists and engineers working and advancing our sci/tech industry.

      TL;DR: We must do this in the name of SCIENCE!

      • IMO the goal of our space programs isn't just to put humans into space. It also serves to dump piles of money into US science an tech development.

        That's why we have the Department of Defense. And, it has the added benefit of getting to use the technology to kill people on the other side of the planet rather than just meander aimlessly through space. /s

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        IMO the goal of our space programs isn't just to put humans into space. It also serves to dump piles of money into US science an tech development.

        I guess that's why the NSF's (National Science Foundation) budget has expanded greatly while NASA's has not. Because the NSF does US science better. We could just end NASA and redirect the funding to the NSF.

      • Science was outsourced to China as well. Soon there will be nothing but service jobs in North America.

        Repeat after me -- "Do you want fries with that?"

      • Unmanned spacecraft require just as much science and engineering, and is a better investment.

      • Re:Unsurprising (Score:4, Insightful)

        by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @10:14AM (#37491062)

        "We didn't have the knowledge or technology prior to 1961 either. But spending money to learn how to do those things was the right thing to do."

        But that of course is the debate.
        We should spend money to explore space, fix diseases, take out 3rd world dictators, rebuild nations, build high speed rail lines, research electric cars, take of the mentally ill... and so on and so forth.

        Advancing science is hardly a trump argument to do something. Not saying it is not a worthy goal, but virtually all such goals are worthwhile. To many exploring space is nothing... a who cares proposition. No different from government spending on operas.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What a lot of people do not realize is NASA never really 'had' the money for the moon shots. The Air Force had it all. Every single missile was 'on loan' from our defense program. They had the money to do the research and get contractors to build the lander/capsule. The people, the money, the resources were coming out of our defense program. It was THAT big it didnt even make a dent in it.

      NASA has always been 'underfunded'. The 60s we were in a good spot where we had enough missiles to wipe out our en

      • WTF are you talking about? The Saturn V was a purpose-built human space flight rocket. It was never used or planed to be used by the Airforce as an ICBM. Sure, the early mercury rockets were converted ICBMs but that was more to do with the fact that they were behind and trying to catch up fast, and the ICBMs served the purpose.
  • As a former "booster" of the space shuttle myself (way WAY back when I believed the promises being made about it), it was ridiculously expensive for the capabilities it brought. If they had kept the Satun Vs rolling off the production line, we would probably have had a HUGE space infrastructure by now with a colony on the moon and an outpost on Mars!

    Reminds me (sadly) of the Arthur C. Clarke short story "Superiority" which describes a country at war that keeps developing ever more astonishing weapons in fe

    • I think we have to ask ourselves if a moon colony is worth the cost. Sadly, the answer is "probably not". However, the space program of the 1960s and 1970s *was* worth it, in my opinion, far more than the Vietnam war, for example, and at a considerably lower cost in both dollars and lives. It, along with the general realization that our government was not infallible and the Civil Rights and women's movements, were probably the major accomplishments of those decades.

      Now, as to the benefits of continued
      • by stdarg ( 456557 )

        Back in the days when a country went somewhere, planted a flag, and claimed the whole landmass it probably would have been worth it even if it didn't pay off for a few centuries. Now, with most foreign policy initiatives leaning towards the welfare and compassion angle, you're probably right.

      • I think we have to ask ourselves if a moon colony is worth the cost. Sadly, the answer is "probably not".... The challenges here on earth: global warming, feeding the world population, satisfying our energy needs...

        Did you know that the popular environmentalist movement was largely kicked off by a single image? This one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg [wikipedia.org]

        It's because of the challenges here on earth that we need manned space missions. They give the perspective required to take whole earth problems seriously.

    • Your comment about the Clarke story is interesting, because its largely true - WW2 saw over 38,000 of the top two allied aircraft produced (the P-51 and the Spitfire), with build times down to a couple of days per aircraft.

      Today, the USAFs top air superiority aircraft is the F-22, which costs a whopping $180M per unit, and takes over two years to build. It costs that much, and it takes that long, because it is an aircraft with significant technological advances in it - and it also shows in its operational

      • by _merlin ( 160982 )

        As the saying goes, quantity has a quality all of its own. Its how the Soviets defeated the tank battalions of the German army - the German tanks were technologically advanced (power steering, active suspension systems etc etc - a leap ahead of other tanks of their days) but the Soviets produced their T-34s in vastly superior numbers, alongside the massive output of the US Sherman tanks...

        That's not entirely fair - the T-34 was superior to German tanks in a number of ways. It was fast, difficult to spot be

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        Ahh no.
        Every F-22 would take out 8 P-51s per fight if not more. They could carry external weapons so maybe 12 per plane. The thing is that yes you could build them at that rate for a while but you couldn't get pilots at that rate.
        You would have zero air to air kills since the f-22 would stay out of reach of a P-51 class air craft. The factories that made them would be pounded into rubble because those air craft couldn't defend them. The bases that they flew from would be nothing but craters. The pilots woul

      • After the first couple dozen F-22s are lost, and the first several thousand enemy planes, the enemy will be reduced to sending barely-trained newbies up to fight. The kill ratio will get larger and larger.

        The Tiger II tanks weren't all they were made out to be, prone to failure and poorly built especially near the end of the war. Tactics used by the Germans didn't help, storing rounds in the turret, using it in sandy environments, and letting themselves get flanked so the light side armor could be hit.


      • What do you think would happen if we pitted a modern equivalent of the P-51 against the F-22? Take a cheap-and-quick-to-build airframe, put 10,000 of them in the air, and keep the replacements coming. What would the outcome be?

        A massacre of the P-51 because the F-22 does not exist in a vacuum. P-51s would be shot out of the sky in massive quantities by modern anti-aircraft defenses, other fighters, and destroyed on the ground by attack aircraft that can level operating bases with a single sortie. How are your P51s going to operate when their bases are turned into smoldering ruins?

        Furthermore your notion that you could bring 10,000 P-51s to bear, to be generous, and absurd hypothetical. Real wars don't work that way.

      • "perhaps 5 or 6 a sortie, against 300 or 400 enemy destroyed"

        I'm pretty sure that if the F-22's used missiles, ran out, afterburned back to base to reload, rinse, repeat, there would be zero loses. But I get your point in general.

        I think your point is accurate as long as the 2 sides have technologies which are separated by some small gap. In your example, both have the technology of military flight, and the difference between the two techs is X. But at some point past X, there are zero fatalities for th

    • Reminds me (sadly) of the Arthur C. Clarke short story "Superiority" which describes a country at war that keeps developing ever more astonishing weapons in fewer and fewer quantities eventually leading to its defeat by its technically inferior enemy. (Probably was written before WWII where huge technological leaps clearly affected the war's outcome: A-bomb, radar, enigma).

      Actually it was the Nazi's who were doing most of the innovations at the time, Germany was the country that had invented the tank, they invented long range missiles, and jet planes. However they were both heavily out-produced by the Allies, (in particular America which wasn't having it's factories bombed on a daily basis), and Hitler made the fatal mistake of fighting a two front war with one of them being a winter campaign in Russia. You should also realise that the Enigma machine was a German invention

  • Yes and No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @08:29AM (#37489898) Journal
    In broad, total-budget-allocation numbers, it is unequivocally the case that the US seems to have backed out of a great many 'big picture' projects in favor of a mixture of foreign policy adventuring and financial jiggery-pokery.

    In that sense, Armstrong is correct.

    However, it must not be forgotten that Armstrong is also speaking in his capacity as one of the White Elephants. The people we sent to the moon pretty much to show Ivan whose dick was bigger. An impressive feat of engineering(that conveniently aligned with the Cold War enthusiasm for big missiles); but not really a high point for science. Those unassuming little RC cars on mars that survived so long did a fair bit more extraterrestrial data gathering, and a combination of orbital and improved ground telescopes have done extraordinary deep-sky work...

    So far as Armstrong is arguing that there is something rotten in the US, he is correct. However, I can only take them seriously so long as he stays there, rather than expanding into a lamentation over the decline of the impressive, but scientifically dubious, in favor of unsexy but productive and increasingly robotic space work.The fact that it's easier to find money to save gamblers from the consequences of their own folly than it is to explore the universe is sad. The fact that tinned-monkey 'space exploration' is being supplanted by increasingly sophisticated robotic systems is not.
    • Those unassuming little RC cars on mars that survived so long did a fair bit more extraterrestrial data gathering

      Opportunity is still going.

  • by Maow ( 620678 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @08:30AM (#37489908) Journal

    NASA sure has its problems, but I think Congress can be blamed for most of the embarrassing things.

    I'm thinking pork barrelling, micro management, underfunding of stated goals.

    When I think of the Mars landers that were planned for 3 month mission and 1 may still be running *years* later, I am in awe of NASA.

  • it's going to be cheaper and faster in innovation that the endless pork NASA projects that seem to cost more than the GDP of most countries

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

      The problem is that private space flight isn't profitable, beyond some space tourism to LEO. If you're looking for private enterprises to venture beyond low orbit (without NASA contracting them to), you can forget it. There is no gold in them hills and no money to be made by going to them.

      • by MrMickS ( 568778 )

        The problem is that private space flight isn't profitable, beyond some space tourism to LEO. If you're looking for private enterprises to venture beyond low orbit (without NASA contracting them to), you can forget it. There is no gold in them hills and no money to be made by going to them.

        I'm pretty sure that there is gold, or at least rare metals, in them there hills but that the current cost of getting them back to Earth is prohibative for private space flight. It would probably be better done by automated systems anyway.

    • The problem is that private investors expect a return on their investment. Is there such thing in space exploration, besides launching satellites and the dubious 'space tourism' proposal?

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        today it costs $50 million for a quick space tourism flight. as the money is invested the cost will drop.

        same with computers. 50 years ago it was huge supercomputers that only governments and large corporations could buy. now cell phones are more powerful

        in fact the pace of innovation has increased as more consumer dollars have been spent on technology

        • I get that, but space tourism is a very thin slice of space travel. Who will invest in actual exploration, particularly planetary and edge of the solar system probes?

          Sure, getting them to the top layers of the atmosphere will be cheaper. But I fear there won't be a financial incentive to more further than that.

  • To Congress (Score:5, Informative)

    by michael1221988 ( 1613671 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @08:37AM (#37489982)
    He didn't say this to NASA, but to congress.
  • Really, I have a ton of respect for all astronauts and consider them true heros, but please don't resort to making sensationalist statements like (FTFA):

    "A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain,"

    That doesn't even make sense, how is it nearly impossible to regain a "lead"? The only reason he said that was to scare people. Remember at one point the Soviet Union was winning the space race, but the US eventually overtook them by landing on the moon. Now he is claiming that we are at risk of losing our leading position in space to the Russians. It seems

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Yup - crank up the engines. We're talking about multi-billion-dollar investments the same way we'd talk about maybe taking the car in the garage to the shop for a $1000 tune-up.

      The shuttles are a distraction. They're a dead end. We already know we can do it. Let's do something we haven't already done.

      Doing something you can already do is fine if there is some kind of demand for it. We know how to make apples, but people still want to buy them so people still do it. On the other hand, people aren't wil

  • In a word, NASA's problem is: Congress.

    Congress's attitude towards NASA alternates between using it as pork spending, and seeing it as a horrendous waste of money. The major points of the space program from Congress's point of view was never to promote science or human exploration of space - it was to learn how to launch spy satellites, and prove to the world how much smarter the US was than those dirty Commies. Since the real motivations are gone, you're left with an agency that has a lot of smart engineer

  • "manned spaceflight gap"

    Not the "gap" crap again. Look up Kennedy's "missle gap" or "bomber gap" sometime to see how our overwhelming superiority in each area was successfully used to convince Congress to overspend on the same things even more.

    (I wouldn't be surprised if we start hearing about a "carrier gap" soon now that China is poised to launch a group of their own.)

  • Unless we are planning to stage nuclear weapons in space, the government is not really suited for the ongoing business of exploration. Such endeavor entails risks, both financial and human. The public will not tolerate it politically. Private enterprise, particularly corporate, is designed for this. A company knows how to quantify a human life and weigh it against the commercial gain. It may seem ruthless because it is ruthless. Space exploration by humans is not for the faint of heart or weak of will
  • I am the last person who disrespects the way past generation, but I do believe we have to take what they say with a grain of salt. Each generation has to define their own direction, and not be hobbled with the pat saying this is how it is because this is how it was. People going into space may not be the best use of funds right now. If we had been irrationally attached to people in space, we would not right be exploring the Heliosheath. We would not know what we know about Mars. I would like to see hun
  • NASA's strategic goal was to force the Russian's to spend more money on their space program, while they maintained a healthy defense budget to protect itself from potential US threats. Now the USA has an obese defense/ security budget protecting itself from... ???? and it has managed to "bail out" several large companies with large PAC's to protect the USA and "global" economy from.... ??? If there is any question as to why the USA is falling behind, just read a little history about the cold war, or if you
  • There really is a lock of money out there right now and manned space flight is expensive.

    The government is in a hole right now because taxes ( via the Bush tax cuts ) are the lowest on wealthy Americans since the 1950s. Add to that two wars paid for with loans ( mostly benefiting the wealthy through defense spending and securing resources like oil ) and a bailout of the financial sector ( also paid out to the wealthiest Americans, no convictions ).

    If you want manned space flight back, stop supporting going

    • If you want manned space flight back, stop supporting going to wars on a whim and stop supporting candidates ( i.e. the Republicans ) who want to keep tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and who want to reduce taxes on the wealthiest Americans further.
      If you believe that Democrats want to spend for NASA instead of any of their other pet constituencies, but the eeevil Republicans keep cutting taxes, you are mistaken. After all Whitey's on the Moon.
  • i agree mr armstrong! so lets cancel that nasty pork barrel that is constellation and buy up more spacex falcon 9s and falcon 9 heavies, and fully fund spacex's crew escape system for the falcon 9. well be able to drive down the price per kg to orbit, and send up more weight than we ever have before!
    • Agreed. For the price of the SLS, NASA can buy 300 Falcon 9 rockets (or a mix of F9 and F9 Heavy for an average price of $100M).

  • This is not surprising given that the U.S. military spends more annually on air-conditioning than the entirety of NASA's budget [gizmodo.com].

    When talking trillions of $ in government spending, it's thoroughly and completely embarrassing that an accomplished org like NASA has to scrap for a few billion

  • Gene and Neil want to go on the shuttle, right?
  • THANK YOU NEIL! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 172pilot ( 913197 )
    Neil Armstrong is a true American hero and patriot, and I'm glad he had the opportunity and guts to tell Congress the very sad truth that under the current administration, our government has allowed NASA to completely fall apart. According to Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA) the ENTIRE 2008 BUDGET of NASA (NOT just the shuttle) was $17.3 Billion. This administration has wasted over $800 Billion in failed stimulus, all while castrating this agency which has provided America with so much t
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:07AM (#37491942)

    Dear Mr. Cernan,

    While I respect your contribution to the space program, you're wrong. Specifically, with respect to the Space Shuttle, it is too late. They've been pulled out of service, stripped of flight hardware, and decomissioned. Contracts have been cancelled. Staff has been layed off. Necessary support infrastructure and hardware has been mothballed. It's done.

    In addition, required airframe inspections were postponed in order to complete the final missions by the deadline. So, even if we were to renew all the contracts, re-hire all the staff, and pull the ground support harddware out of mothballs, a recertification of all three airframes would be required. This takes time; and, for the duration of the recertification process we would have no launch vehicles. Given that we did not have facilities to do more than one full tear down and inspection at a time, (or have not had the capability for a considerable period of time), the recertification would be drawn out until at least two airframes were inspected, sequentially -- flight rules require a second shuttle be available on standby in the event of an on-orbit accident.

    No, Mr. Cernan. As embarrassing as it is to have no capability, returning the Shuttle to flight, now, is not the option. Our best option for NASA designed hardware is a return to flight leveraging proven components and technology, in the form of the SLS (or whatever you choose to call it) If you want it sooner, get it funded faster. And although your past arguments make it clear you find commercial options distastefully, I feel you should review your decision. One option is the ULA Atlas V+ Boeing CST-100. Another option is to use the Lockheed Orion on either ULA vehicles (Atlas or Delta) As these contractors are the people who built and maintained the Shuttle, they're already intimately familiar with the manned space flight requirements. Frankly, they're likely to be ready before SLS.

    Finally, You should not be so quick to dismiss alternatives such as SpaceX. Yes, it is rocket science. Yes, these are the "new kids on the block", upstarts some may call them. Consider that SpaceX is hiring many experienced people from both NASA contractors and NASA itself. Consider that the work being done by SpaceX is under contract to NASA and the Air Force, and is under constant review by NASA and Air Force personnel. Consider that their designs, while new, are based on existing works. They may be the "new kid on the block" but they are clearly leveraging the industries 5 decades of experience.

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday September 23, 2011 @12:14PM (#37492890) Homepage

    If Congress had let rocket scientists design the shuttle, instead of lobbyists, not only would NASA have achieved the design goals, but it would have been a safer system, and we would have been able to afford to invest on new technology and follow-on systems.

    ATK(Morton-Thiokol)/Lockheed/Boeing, and their congressional Pork-Piggie enablers killed the goose that laid the golden egg. And as a result, yes, NASA looks embarrassing. But they can hardly help the design constraints that were forced upon them by IGNORANT LEGISLATIVE FIAT. And Neil Armstrong should know better, for fuck's sake~!

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