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Commercial Space: Spirit of Apollo Or Spirit of Solyndra? 157

MarkWhittington writes "Andrew Chaikin, the author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, believes that the spirit of Apollo no longer resides at NASA, but rather in the nascent commercial space companies such as SpaceX. This assessment is disputed by many, who see in the Obama administration program of government subsidies for commercial space the spirit of Solyndra."
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Commercial Space: Spirit of Apollo Or Spirit of Solyndra?

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  • SpaceX rocks! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NixieBunny ( 859050 )
    They deliver stuff that works. They also don't have Chinese competition (at least for US customers). Solyndra had a bit of an Iridium-style problem, where the market got undercut by other sources.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is they deliver stuff that works the same way stuff worked 50 years ago. There just isn't any room in physics and engineering to allow the massive amounts of energy the overoptimistic delusions of the Space Aged promised.

      • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:03PM (#38037440)

        The space shuttle cost between a billion, and half a billion dollars per launch.

        Of that, well under a percent was the fuel.

        A Falcon 9 launch retails at $50m, and of that perhaps .4% is fuel. (300 tons of propellant at $1/Kg, which is a high estimate)

        There are plans to make portions of the falcon reusable.
        There is _CONSIDERABLE_ room for launch cost reduction, if they suceed.

        • There are plans to make the entire launcher reusable. Huge improvement.

        • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:25PM (#38038288)

          Too bad there's still no destination for people, eh? It's still a vacuum, it's still a radiation-blasted hell, and it's still empty. Low Earth Orbit is not "space"... Too bad we still need massive amounts of material to build rockets, too bad there's no new physics of propulsion... Why are the dead dreams of bygone eras so important to a small segment of rich, white middle-aged geeks?

          What happened to the 1997 Japanese space hotel? Oh yeah, nothing. What's going on with the PG&E space based solar power? Oh yeah, nothing. Space is dead. None of the delusions about orbital ball bearing factories, commuting to the office on the Moon or retiring on Mars make a shred of sense. The two most powerful nations on Earth entered a no-holds-barred contest to get people on the Moon, and even THEY, at the PEAK of their power, weren't able to sustain it.

          But somehow, CEO and his magical sidekick, the Free Market, will do it? It's time for a reality check. Metal tubes filled with chemicals don't compensate for the basic fact that people arent' meant for space, there's nothing IN space, and space is so enormously bigger than anything we can conceive... Think we'll colonize the universe with balding middle-aged apes with bad eyesight? Where is the free market life extension effort to go with the size of the universe?

          It's very simple. Even here on Earth, where EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is, we couldn't even sustain Concorde. Where are these magical rich people just waiting in line to shower money at the private space buff(oon)s? After the novelty of going nowhere wears off, then what? It wore off already in 1972. It won't change.

          • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

            Too bad there's still no destination for people, eh?

            Bigelow is supposed to be launching his first hotel soon. So the fat-cats will be able to take their mistresses on a vacation where they can be pretty sure their wife won't find them.

            • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

              So the fat-cats will be able to take their mistresses on a vacation where they can be pretty sure their wife won't find them.

              That market will last about 6 months, until the novelty wears off, and word gets around that zero-g is bloody uncomfortable. Even once the vomiting/motion-sickness phase wears off, you spend the rest of your 'vacation' with a bloated head, feeling like you have a minor head cold. And I suspect the much-anticipated space sex will turn out to be more comical than erotic.

      • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:25PM (#38037544) Homepage Journal

        The Space Shuttle could have been considerably more efficient, had the budget for it not been slashed many times over. Nuclear propulsion was entirely possible 50 years ago, but this thing called an Arms Race made it politically a no-go. Had there been a more enlightened attitude on both sides of the curtain, we'd have colonies on Saturn's moons by now, never mind Mars. Ion drives make extended-mission space probes a real possibility, but the lack of isotopes to make nuclear energy cells (due to a total lack of decent nuclear facilities in the US) means that the probes will still have propellant long after the batteries are dead.

        Ok, launch systems. ARLA is a real possibility for low-mass satellites. TAR is a real possibility for larger systems. NASA is experimenting with ski-jump assisted launchers but I doubt that will go anywhere - Congress keeps slashing the budget. Blended-Wing Body aircraft could have been released by NASA by 2010, but Congress - guess what! - slashed the budget and the program was killed off.

        NASA could do a hell of a lot better, but it can't do it for free. The current rocket program is a mistake - NASA is an R&D facility, a discovery facility, not a mass production facility. Multiply NASA's budget by 10 or 20, build it a dedicated reactor for producing the necessary isotopes for batteries, devolve it as a quango so it has less political interference, and you'll see what it is capable of. All without breaking a single law of physics.

        • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:34PM (#38037602)

          Nuclear propulsion was entirely possible 50 years ago, but this thing called an Arms Race made it politically a no-go.

          More the lack of an arms race, really. NERVA was pretty much ready to go, but had no use for ICBMs: it was aimed squarely at a mission to Mars. A very expensive, not particularly-useful-in-competing-with-the-USSR mission to Mars.

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          we'd have colonies on Saturn's moons by now

          Doing what and for what purpose and at what cost?

          (Don't say "mining" unless you're an actual mining engineer who knows how much heavy industry is required by mining.)

          • by jo_ham ( 604554 )


          • by jd ( 1658 )

            A small base on Saturn would make controlling things like space probes and rover-type landers viable. The delay is otherwise simply too great. It makes it possible to custom-build experiments in a way that can't be done on Earth - again due to latency. It also makes it possible to rig up experiments that are too fragile to launch from Earth's gravity well.

            • by Nutria ( 679911 )

              controlling things like space probes and rover-type landers viable.

              Better AI would be much cheaper and than keeping humans alive, functional and not wracked with cancer.

              Anyway, what about when Saturn is on the opposite side of the solar system from what you want to control.

        • Have you ever read about the few airborne nuclear propulsion tests they did? Running a small research reactor in a plane, the small amount of shielding they could put in it left the aircraft so radioactive from neutron activation that they couldn't get near it for weeks.

          Plus, the plutonium for RTGs is some REALLY nasty stuff. It would be a lot safer if we could put that reactor in lunar orbit - since the RTGs are only used on deep-space missions, and we're getting pretty good at remote processing of fuels,

    • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:5, Informative)

      by geckipede ( 1261408 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @06:26PM (#38037250)
      SpaceX have had only a single successful commercial flight, and even then that was somebody being willing to take a risk on putting their payload onboard a testing flight. I'm happy to be hopeful, and I see no reason why they can't in time develop into a company with a record for reliability, but it's premature to say that they deliver stuff that works.
      • Re:SpaceX rocks! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:29PM (#38037574) Homepage Journal

        I agree with you to a point. SpaceX has been able to prove they can get stuff "up there" in one piece, and that they can nail orbital parameters that they set out to achieve.

        This next year (2012) is going to be the big year for SpaceX to put up or shut up. Either they are going to have several successful launches or they are going to have several spectacular failures including their collapse as a company. Assuming they get the NASA COTS demos completed, they will certainly have a proven track record including to paying customers.

        There are several commercial customers that are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward SpaceX, and presuming these flights are successful there are more flights that will go onto their backlog of flights []. It is also worth telling that SpaceX has already sold more flights this past year to new customers than all other spaceflight companies in the world, including the Chinese, Russians, Indians, and ESA combined. That should say something which should be worthy of notice, and also tell a sad tale of the incredibly small market that there currently is for commercial spaceflight. It isn't a completely dead market, but it is still incredibly small... and I'm talking about people willing to pay for telecom satellites and other proven commercial markets for spaceflight.

      • The rocket they delivered worked. End of story.

    • I know I'd go work for Elon in a heartbeat - free if I could afford to. There's a man with brass ones, and my idea of a visionary. This is a strong statement from a guy like me, a serial-offender CEO of engineering firms. I just never made as much money to go big as he did, myself....
  • by Ironchew ( 1069966 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @06:26PM (#38037246)

    If SpaceX gets humans back on the moon, then more power to them. Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

    I'm starting to think we haven't gone to the moon since 1972 because we forgot how.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      I'd agree. Space is experimental and there's bugger all anything outside of geostationary with any commercial value at this time. It's an area where governments have the cash to do things that no-one else can, though if you want outside involvement then I'd suggest throwing that cash at eccentrics, inventors (though not innovators) and geeks - the people who are capable of coming up with new ideas.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @11:03PM (#38038758) Homepage Journal

        Iridium is able to make a small profit after admittedly a financial disaster over the previous decade. The next generation satellites look like they will finally have some real bandwidth as well.... being flown up into space on Falcon 9 rockets no less, so it looks like Elon Musk has that market cornered as well.

        Really, commercial spaceflight currently falls into the following categories:

        • Telecommunications - including GEO orbits and stuff like Iridium. If anything this is a growth industry, and the stuff going into space has even become larger over time where it is definitely a growth market for heavy lift. It is also a pretty saturated market, however, with most of the players in this market segment very well known to each other. Another Ted Turner type could emerge here, but not likely. It is a multi-billion dollar industry though and something not to ignore.
        • Orbital reconnaissance - while government customers are painfully obvious, there are numerous commercial customers as well. Some of them are famous and can be found with Google Earth, but there are other commercial groups that have specialized remote sensing applications including agriculture and mining industries which aggressively use satellite data and will pay billions (collectively) for the data that these satellites produce. If mining leases come up, you had better believe that satellite views with different sequences of color filters (including multiple UV and IR filters) have been applied on potential plots to help identify potential mineral deposits. Included with this is weather observation data that has a similar kind of value... and isn't strictly GEO either.
        • Remote sensing sort of a combination of the two previous areas but with the need to have something on the ground. Basically this is sending data from very remote areas to be collected in a systematic fashion and sent to a central data warehouse. Some of this is now being done over fiber optic lines, but satellite transmission of data still serves the needs in many areas. Some surprising "customers" including Wal-Mart and other retailers, but it is a mainstay for mining and petroleum extraction. It certainly wouldn't be out of the question for a dedicated satellite being used to handle very sensitive information from remote sensing equipment, and having companies being willing to pay for the launch of a multi-million dollar satellite for the value of that information.
        • Navigation - obviously the governments of the world are heavily invested into this area of space economic activity, but the fact that there are huge economic benefits to nations that have space-based navigation systems is certainly a market that can arguably be called "commercial" as well. There is no possible way I could ever imagine the U.S. Congress ever cutting funding to the GPS constellation, although if that ever were to happen I would expect a commercial replacement to happen in a very short period of time. It certainly fits on a list of commercial enterprises directly related to space and utterly depend upon space-based assets. It is also a market for launchers as well.

        To add to these areas, two other very likely and emergent areas of commercial spaceflight can be summed up in the two following areas:

        • Hypersonic Courier Services - if you have a package that absolutely positively has to get somewhere by yesterday (literally a possibility across the international date line), a very high speed courier service can be very beneficial. There are most definitely companies who would be willing to pay for a courier service that has the current rough price point per kilogram that spaceflight has at the moment (about $10k per kg).... if only it was dependable and regular between destinations. The trick here is to get a regular flight service going where you can be certain as to when something launches to within an hour or so rather than the current rough prediction of the neighborhood of several months of rel
        • by jd ( 1658 )

          Agreed, especially on the hypersonic. But to do that, you'd need one of the higher-speed waveriders and a working scramjet. Currently, nobody has the former - NASAs projects keep getting killed - and the Australians are the only ones with the latter after NASA's project got killed. I don't see private enterprise being willing to step in and complete a technology Congress has deemed profitless. For starters, if they tried and failed, their shareholders would roast them with garlic butter precisely because Co

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or it could be that there's nothing at all on the Moon, it's far away, deadly and hostile? Is there a big market for radiation blasted vacuums?

      • Who the fuck marked this as insightful? You really aren't serious are you?

        There's plenty to be found on the moon. We should be investing in the tech to get there cheaply, so we can start exploiting the assets around us and stop gouging holes in our own home rock when there is a universe of materials floating around us. We have to evolve out of our reptile brained thinking at least long enough to understand "the big picture" and get moving on it.

        How many billion of us are there now? 7? We either have to expa

        • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

          One thing you don't understand is that exploiting space will make little difference to earth's population. The human race will simply become 7 billion and growing plus whatever is in space in addition, in fact, earths population may possibly grow faster while earth is a direct beneficiary of those resources.

          Note that I don't necessarily share your pessimism about population issues either.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by lexsird ( 1208192 )

            The more the merrier. But unless we find more resources, such as in space, this planet isn't going to sustain this many damn people. Especially as they wish to start raising their lifestyle up the carbon footprint scale. We are dragging our feet at planetary atmosphere scrubbing technology. It's right in front of us in our bongs, but we haven't been smart enough to realize it. Hemp will scrub the shit out of carbon in our atmosphere, give us petroleum, feed us, give us construction materials, paper, clothes

        • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @11:54PM (#38038970)

          the tech to get there cheaply

          Physics (gravity, heat dissipation, fluid dynamics, structural integrity, physical properties of aluminum and rubber) and chemistry (unless there are some easily transportable fuels and oxidizers in some lab somewhere that have more energy and less toxicity and cost than kerosene and LOX ) aren't going to change any time soon. Fiction writers hand wave over a STUPENDOUS amount of complexity.

          there is a universe of materials floating around us

          Except that
          1) it's REALLY FSCKING FAR AWAY,
          2) bathed in high-energy radiation,
          3) we're at the bottom of a deep gravity well,
          4) surrounded by a friction-inducing atmosphere, and
          5) require on a consistent basis food and a pretty narrow range of temperature and oxygen and nitrogen partial pressures.

          • Fiction writers obviously do that, but engineers often lack balls and imagination. I think it stems from the inherent need to be "right" that comes from the field. You obviously can't be another drone, or lackey or salary slave and expect to pave new frontiers. Nor can you expect the corporate mindset or government mindset to produce it either. You have to get tired of waiting for it to happen and just do it yourself. Of course we are lacking sorely of people of that freedom, and caliber.

            I think the problem

    • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:43PM (#38037664) Homepage Journal

      It all depends on what you want to accomplish. I would dare say that the "problem" of getting to low-Earth orbit (LEO, aka what the Space Shuttle did and what most other spacefaring countries are currently doing) is a "solved problem" and really something that needs to be handed over to private companies completely. Back in the 1950's, there still was doubt it could be done at all or at least reliably done. That isn't even a remote issue any more. LEO is hardly even a frontier any more and there are some serious traffic issues in terms of dealing with what is up there because so much stuff [] is up there at the moment.

      Turning over actual launches to private companies seems like a very wise use of tax dollars, and try to set up the means for private individuals (or companies) to be able to launch their own payloads on the same vehicles.... just like is done currently with commercial aviation. The U.S. government often does buy flights on commercial carriers or even individual seats on regular commercial routes. Why can't that same business model be applied to spaceflight if you can get similar economies of scale?

      As for going to the Moon, the notion that you have a disintegrating pyramid that absolutely must start on the ground here on the Earth is the first idea that needs to be killed. Once you give up that notion, it becomes much, much easier to design a vehicle and system which can go from LEO to the Moon and back. We certainly don't need a multi-billion (with a giant "B") dollar boondoggle [] that is only really designed to keep rocket engineers busy in key congressional districts that does more of the same and even duplicating services being done by private companies.

      It isn't really so much we forgot how to go to the Moon, but that the cost of doing so with this massive disintegrating pyramid is so huge that designing a unique vehicle to accomplish that one task is cost prohibitive. The circumstances which created the original Apollo program won't be duplicated and currently don't exist either. We (as a country or even as a species) aren't in a particular hurry to get to the Moon either.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        keep rocket engineers busy in key congressional districts

        I've often wondered why Space-X doesn't open an office in Huntsville. There's got to be more than a few different-thinking unemployed "rocket scientists" there.

        • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )

          I've often wondered why Space-X doesn't open an office in Huntsville. There's got to be more than a few different-thinking unemployed "rocket scientists" there.

          Like this one []?

          • by Nutria ( 679911 )

            From the article:

            It will be a small office with a few employees as the company explores new business opportunities, Brost said..

            SpaceX already does business with the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command here.

            Business development isn't what I had in mind.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I think part of the problem is that Apollo didn't make good use of the capability to get to the moon. There was some useful science but only one of the men who walked on the surface was a scientist, and it seems like no thought was given to commercial opportunities at all. To be fair a lot of that is due to simply not knowing enough about the moon or about the potential for commercial operations like mining, and the limits of the technology of the time making long term or robotic exploration impossible.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          There was an attempt to leverage the engineering and technology developed under the Apollo program into something incredibly useful. It was called the Apollo Applications Program [], of which only the space station portion ever got developed. Today that is known as Skylab.

          If you want to see a NASA that could have been instead of what actually was, that Wikipedia article should at least give you a good glimpse into a very interesting alternate history of what NASA and America could have been doing.

          I still arg

    • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:06PM (#38037804)

      It's not really about commercial vs private, they've framed it that way to simplify the debate for the public. This is about fixed firm contacts versus cost plus contracts. And if the early results are any indication, fixed firm is much better.

    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:41PM (#38038024) Journal

      Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

      Not a lot of people realize this, but -all- DOD launches and all non-Shuttle NASA launches, plus of course all commercial satellite launches, have been on privately-built rockets for quite a few years now. This includes multi-billion dollar satellites critical to national security. It's somewhat nonsensical to have a separate government-designed/operated launcher just for manned US launches, especially when NASA hasn't successfully developed a launch vehicle in the past 30 years (plenty of failures, though).

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by lexsird ( 1208192 )

      The private sector is at least trying to pick up the slack, give them a break. Our "government" has turned out to be a bunch of whores in this "slash and burn" capitalist environment. We need industry in America or we will not be able to produce pop bottle rockets if we keep going. Wall Street has turned into the new Vegas, and "fuck 'em all" financial practices have rendered us a nation of fast food industries. Face it, we are seriously screwed.

      Is there any end in sight? Yes, a bad one. The fact that we ar

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

      Compared to what?

      I'm starting to think we haven't gone to the moon since 1972 because we forgot how.

      Or it could be because we couldn't spend 4% of the US budget on space exploration any more.

    • If SpaceX gets humans back on the moon, then more power to them. Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

      I'm starting to think we haven't gone to the moon since 1972 because we forgot how.

      We haven't gotten back to the moon because of a lack of a compelling reason to do so. .Many people forget that the mission of Apollo was not to chart new frontiers and advance science. It was to beat the Russians to the first manned landing on the moon, a mission accomplished in 1969. Once that was done the public perception quickly changed to the idea that Apollo was no longer needed, hence the quick fall off of interest in the moon flights after the brief drama of Apollo 13.

  • by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @06:47PM (#38037362) Homepage

    I generally see Mark Whittington as being the chief cheerleader for the "let's do Apollo again" school of space flight. There's nothing wrong with that, except that NASA has pretty definitively proven over a period of decades that it's too bureaucratic, too sclerotic, and too much organized as a patronage/jobs organization to do anything big in manned space flight. Even were that not the case, it's a shame that Whittington continually elides the fact that the commercial space contracts — both cargo and crew — only pay out when specific milestones are achieved, and they pay fixed amounts for those milestones. In other words, this isn't Solyndra, where money is just thrown down the drain with no expectation of success; that actually better describes NASA's normal manned space flight program than it does the commercial space companies.

    I think Chaikin's right, and that the entrepreneurial spirit that characterized NASA in the 1960s now resides in the private space companies. And as a bitter critic of the Obama administration on pretty much every other point, I nonetheless have to say that this is the one area where they've definitely improved on the Republicans.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kogut ( 1133781 )
      >except that NASA has pretty definitively proven over a period of decades that it's too bureaucratic, too sclerotic, and too much organized as a patronage/jobs >organization to do anything big in manned space flight. Your criticisms may be valid, but you're conclusion is absurd. The state-sponsored behemoths of the USA, Russia, and China are the *only* organizations that have definitely proven it can do big things in manned space flight. I don't count flying a rocket-powered plane really high as
      • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:27PM (#38037558)

        "Name the only organization to have sent a man on an extra-orbital space flight"

        That organization hasn't done that for nearly 40 years. Most of the people at that organization who did do that have retired or passed away. You simply can't keep milking your long past accomplishments forever. You pretty much have to stop when none of the people who did the great things is in that organization now.

        If you saw the feeble attempt that was the first test launch of Ares, or watched every other one of NASA's failed attempts at a new launcher design since the Space Shuttle you seriously have to question if NASA can ever build a successful new launcher. The Space Shuttle, though it had some positives, was a pretty flawed one too and its over 30 years old.

        SpaceX may ultimately fail but a lot of people are really pegging their hopes on it being the best shot the U.S. has of actually leading and innovating in space again.

        If you've actually watched NASA, Boeing or Lockheed over the last 40 years you can be pretty confident they've just been milking Congress to perpetuate a high tech jobs program, while feeding the states and districts of a few poweful Congressmen who are adept at doling out port. They seem to have very little fire in their belly to do ANYTHING interesting, innovative or risky. When youÂclosely couple that with a political system that completely changes direction every 4-8 years you have a system designed to go nowhere. SpaceX is at least somewhat decoupled from all that BS.

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          They seem to have very little fire in their belly to do ANYTHING interesting, innovative or risky.

          Because they're sensitive to the wailing, moaning and histrionic caterwauling that blasts forth whenever anything bad happens. Reference the "wussification" comments.

          Someone must stand up and say, "Shit happens, people die."

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        The state-sponsored behemoths of the USA, Russia, and China are the *only* organizations that have definitely proven it can do big things in manned space flight.

        What have they done lately? And I can't help but notice that China hasn't actually done anything big in space.

    • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @07:11PM (#38037474)

      Consider this.
      SpaceX designed and built Falcon 9 for under 20% of what it would have cost NASA.

      The proposed new launcher from NASA would cost 30 billion over the next decade, and provide 2 launches, totalling around a hundred tons.
      If the money was spent purchasing Falcon 9 launches, you would get 7500 tons in LEO.

      With the development of Falcon heavy, that rises to 20000 tons.
      If you can't bootstrap a decent space industry with what in an earlier age would be a respectable mass for an aircraft carrier - you're doing it wrong.
      And this assumes SpaceX fails in their goal of making the rockets partially reusable, which will significantly lower costs.
      The fuel is under a percent of the costs.

      • Consider this. SpaceX pretty much raided JPL for lots of engineering talent. Experienced engineering talent.

        • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:20PM (#38037896)

          Who were not making rockets at the time.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:03PM (#38038174) Homepage Journal

          It wasn't hard to recruit junior engineers with the following proposal: Do you want to spend the rest of your career building power point presentations and attending conferences, or do you want to work on a clean sheet engine design and actually fly stuff into space?

          It doesn't take much brain power to figure out which career path will help you out both professionally and intellectually.

          BTW, SpaceX didn't raid just JPL, but also Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and several other major aerospace companies. They also did a pretty good job of raiding the NASA astronaut corps (as have some other private commercial spaceflight companies) and have been picking up other people along the way that are also extremely talented, including some recent college graduates who also like working for companies that have an active production floor. The manufacturing plant at El Segundo is as busy as any factory was during the glory years of the Cold War when Atlas missiles (and others) were being built for ICBMs. SpaceX right now has more engines in its production queue than all other countries of the Earth combined, with an estimated completion of about one engine each week if the production line goes to full production as is anticipated.

          Which place would you rather work for... a company where things are happening or a place where they are reliving the glory days and lamenting why it will never come back?

        • Raided or offered them an opportunity to work on the exciting, high risk project that get the real space geeks adrenalin pumping; the kind of projects that NASA rarely does anymore.

        • by khallow ( 566160 )
          And there's a lesson here. The US probably would get a lot better a space program, if they break up the Space Shuttle supply chain than if they keep it. That's because all that talent would move into more useful fields than pursuing cost plus contracts for a moribund agency.
  • by decora ( 1710862 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @06:59PM (#38037412) Journal

    what these fucking morons forget is that the only ONLY ONLY reason we went into space was because the Soviet Union did.
    the ONLY reason we went to the moon was to beat the Soviet Union.

    there hasn't been a Soviet Union in 20 years. there is not going to be another space program.

    • You overstate your argument a bit, but have an important point. However, salvation is at hand.

      The Chinese.

      No Red Blooded American politician will allow a significant space gap once they actually get past the 1970's in terms of accomplishments.

      • There's also the issue that for China, national pride and showing up America is pretty much exactly what their ruling class and population want from a space program.

        I do imagine that when they go to the moon they're probably going to be pretty ambitious with for how long and what they want to do there.

  • by alispguru ( 72689 ) < minus physicist> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:10PM (#38037830) Journal

    The Obama administration has a lot of problematic policies related to tech (Solyndra, Yucca Mountain, green energy, etc.) but as far as NASA and space is concerned, they for once have the right idea of buying services from the private sector.

    Congress is the group that wants the return to the old NASA, primarily because that keeps the money flowing to the old NASA centers.

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      And by old NASA centers you mean pork barrel spending in republican districts like, say, Thiokol. At this stage of the game, pork-barrel spending is completely hobbling NASA with ridiculous restrictions like "you have to develop a rocket using technology from from my district" etc. I say spend the money on SpaceX and friends.

  • Of course advancing space travel sounds good, we all grew up with science fiction. Also, the notion of "leaving the cradle" has a nice ring to it.
    But the main problem is the incentive. Why should we really go into space? The cradle argument is valid, but not a very big short-term motivator.
    Instead, I think harvesting resources is the real motivation. Getting materials from the asteroid belt alone would end resource problems pretty quickly. Running out of iridium, indium, platinum ... ? These rocks are fille

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @11:32PM (#38038886)

    Anecdotes from a supplier of NASA and Space-X:

    NASA: They called for support, but could not follow suggestions because the person on the phone was a software person, not a hardware person. They were not authorized to use a screwdriver and reseat a PCI card.

    Space-X: Support calls from knowledgable people around the clock and on weekends. Apple employees had their "90 hours a week and loving it" t-shirts. From what I can tell, Space-X is living that sentiment.

  • The fact is that Apollo was one of our greatness. So is Solar PVs. The problem with private space, like solar PV, is that others are cheating. For example, here in America, federal law PROHIBITS the feds from competing against private space. Yet, with Ares and now with the Senate launch system, that is exactly what they are doing. Add to that the fact that China is dumping on the world their heavily subsidized launches, as well as money manipulated system, and it is just digusting.

    Now, as to 'Spirit of Sol
    • by emt377 ( 610337 )
      Almost half the cost of PVs is that of the silicon used to make them, and the price of silicon went up from $40 to $200 per 1kg in just 5 years. What held back wide acceptance of PVs was the price of silicon - there simply wasn't enough supply to meet demand. Solyndra was creating a business of making non-silicon PVs to bring down prices. There was nothing wrong with the company or their technology, or their business model. What happened was that the price of silicon dropped due to additional supply bec
  • Mark Whittington is notorious for getting these things so very wrong. For some reason, we're supposed to view SpaceX and related companies as nacent Solyndras waiting to go wrong, but not the companies that will consume vast amounts of federal funding on the space launch system, a heavy lift vehicle that a) isn't planned to do anything for a decade (and may never launch at all!), b) has no payloads planned for it, c) is vastly more expensive than alternatives (such as commercial plus orbital propellant depo

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