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NASA Mars Space The Almighty Buck

NASA's Bolden Claims NASA Is 'Doomed' Unless It Stays the Course To Mars (spacenews.com) 162

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in Space News, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a speech at the Center for American Progress in which he declared that if the next president deviated from the Journey to Mars program, the space agency would be "doomed." The point he was making, that programs of that nature, have to have consistent support over several presidencies and congresses, was a valid one. The point was equally valid in 2010 when President Obama abruptly and without warning canceled the Constellation space exploration program. Bolden, however, had a ready answer for that, which may not be convincing on close examination.
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NASA's Bolden Claims NASA Is 'Doomed' Unless It Stays the Course To Mars

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  • It's an unfortunate byproduct of our electoral system that most government departments have trouble seeing beyond the 4 year election cycle, because a whole new group of people could be in power by then and completely reverse the direction they've been taking for this time.

    This problem is amplified in the United States, it seems. Countries like Canada, Australia, most of the EU don't have this problem; the political parties are often quite similar in terms of their policies, differing usually only in name a

    • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:05PM (#50829137)

      In Canada we just had nine years of anti-science, anti-environment, racist, and slash taxes for well off families. No other party is like them and the last few years they were showing their true colours. It's going to take a long time for us to recover from them. For example in our census we had a short form and a long form. Both were mandatory. The short form was sent out to the majority of households while the long form went out to the rest. The Conservatives eliminated the long form and added an optional extra bit. We had some of the best census data in the world and even if we go back to using a long form in the next census that data won't be as useful as it could have been because we're missing that year's data.

      I think it seems amplified in the US because the space program is such a high profile item. In Canada our high profile issue is how to equip the military but that wouldn't make headlines in any other country.

      • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:07PM (#50829151) Journal

        In Canada our high profile issue is how to equip the military but that wouldn't make headlines in any other country.

        Depends on how many F35s you buy from us.

        • Considering that the Liberal party won the election, and one of the platform promises was to cancel the F35 order immediately and go with something less expansive and more reasonable, I think the answer to that question is going to be zero...

        • Just imagine if the 300 billion wasted of the F35 development were spent on NASA and space tech instead.. It isn't even a very good aircraft, too complicated, expensive, fragile, not very reliable. Looks like the old method of having different specialist fighters for different combat roles was cheaper and more effective..

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Just a quick counterpoint. It is quite gullible to think that middle class taxes are not about to rise under this liberal gov. Having been around for the prev. Trudeau, I know first hand how buying his way back into office every election eventually nearly bankrupt the country. I was there to see my middle class taxes rise every budget. Don't get me wrong, Harper had some big problems, but at least he didn't milk the middle class.

      • In Canada our high profile issue is how to equip the military but that wouldn't make headlines in any other country.

        I thought your high-profile issue was who was gonna anchor the third line for the Leafs.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You got years of solid growth and balanced budgets. The reward for solving Canada's economic problems and so providing the leisure to resume indulging grievance politics is getting thrown out for a shirtless Quebecois libtard. 16-24 months and they'll have wrecked your finances again. Capital flight is already underway. Enjoy.

        • Because oil extraction and tax cuts to upper middle class families is such a great way to manage an economy!

          (I was being very sarcastic in case you didn't notice.)

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @08:39PM (#50829653) Journal

      That's certainly true. Mars isn't in the top three priorities for NASA under the current administration. Mr. Bolden (the head of NASA), said these are the three things Obama asked him to do with NASA:

      When I became the Nasa administrator, he [Obama] charged me with three things.
      One, he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math;
      he wanted me to expand our international relationships;
      and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good

    • Expensive science NASA wasted it's slim credibility on the CAGW scam. We need a different funding and reward model for ***successful*** science talent. More prizes, fewer sinecures. Let industry tackle Mars, asteroids and / or the Moon for profits, we already have the basic technologies. A smaller NASA should focus on science beyond Jupiter or inside Venus orbits, and the stars.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        this is the stupidest thing I have read all week.

        • No your post is the stupidest thing. The poster is correct: NASA should focus on science beyond Jupiter or inside Venus orbits, and the stars. That's the point of NASA. We are in no way close to colonizing anything in our solar system AND we have more pressing needs for our limited budget. Tell a homeless guy going to Mars is really important.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            How about spending less in pointless wars, tax the rich at the same rate as the poor, end subsidies to the big companies and tax them accordingly, etc? Those will solve a lot of budget deficits

    • It's hard to think of a solution that might help the US situation, apart from an agreement between the two major parties that, for major undertakings like the mission to Mars, if the other assumes power then it will continue.

      Seems pretty easy to me. With consent from the current government, NASA outsources most of the development to a company staffed by former NASA employees and various other private companies. A contract is signed that 'orders' the Mars mission and when it is breached entitles the private companies involved to get high penalty payments.

      Aren't these kind of contracts with private companies made all the time in large defence projects?

      The government is not above the law. (Or at least shouldn't be).

    • A friend of mine who is a manager on some NASA project explained it well to me once: Space exploration is a legacy issue for a president. Your entire first term has to be focusing on solving problems that will influence your reelection. In your second term, you need to service your party's congressional bids, but you have a bit more room to focus on how you will be remembered in American history. Pushing space exploration is one of those ways to shine in American history. But that means that NASA is on
    • It's SPACE exploration. Not MARS exploration. Mars is but one point in space. There's nothing to be gained by going to Mars. Space exploration is going beyond our solar system. Space exploration programs like Voyager and Pioneer. That's where you want to spend your money.
  • enough of Mars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @06:53PM (#50829059)
    Whenever I hear/read "Case For Mars" I'm thinking here we go again... I'm thinking NASA is doomed to keep a single course to Mars (there's other stuff ya know). Matula posted this on NASAwatch:

    I blame most of the destination argument on the creation of the Mars underground in the 1980's. Prior to that NASA was focused on using the Shuttle for industrialization in LEO with projects like demonstrating the repair and return of satellites, building structural items in orbit, tethers, etc., all logical starting points for building a Cislunar industrial capability that would have given us the Solar System. NASA didn't even have plans to send robots to Mars. By advocating that we needed to skip the Moon and go rushing off to Mars they started this entire useless destination debate that has paralyzed space policy ever since.

    Although their arguments made no rational or economic sense, falling back on outdated ideas like "manifest destiny" and painting Mars like a second Earth, they struck some cord among a very vocal hard core group that has shouted down any rational space strategy ever since. We see it now with Senators force feeding the SLS with money it doesn't need while starving commercial crew because the SLS would, in theory, be able to take astronauts to Mars. As a result the ISS is only one Soyuz failure away from being abandoned.

    We need to give Mars a rest and once again spend the limited budget on building capabilities in space, space tugs, orbital refueling, lunar LOX, that would serve for going to all the interesting destinations beyond Earth, not keep wasting money on plans to go to a single one that is already well mapped and explored.

    end quote

    • Re:enough of Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

      by spauldo ( 118058 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:49PM (#50829413)

      While I agree Mars was probably a bad choice, changing course again will just make things worse. That's the main problem; we don't have the political will to stick with one strategy and see it through.

      We'll get good science and engineering out of the Mars missions, and hopefully open some opportunities for the private sector in space as well. I was hoping we'd get a moon base first, but I'd rather we stick with a plan and actually accomplish it than switch back and forth and accomplish nothing.

    • by IceAgeComing ( 636874 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:49PM (#50829415)

      Unlike NASA's mission to the moon, there are non-government entities that are now funding missions to Mars.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      http://www.space.com/28215-elo... [space.com]

      NASA could focus on actual Science, like sending unmanned missions into space and collecting data, as opposed to manned missions. This seems like a much more cost-benefit way to spend taxpayer money. Let the private companies fund the projects with questionable value.

    • Re:enough of Mars (Score:5, Informative)

      by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:51PM (#50829437)

      Calling Mars "well-mapped and explored" is a bit of an overreach. The bottom of our oceans isn't even well-mapped and explored, much less another planet that no one has stepped on and has only a handful of decent rovers. At 300 feet per hour, Curiosity is in no danger of running out of places to explore.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Mars is far better mapped than the bottom of the oceans. Far, far better.

        Lookup HiRISE for an example. It's on MRO which is in a low orbit around Mars, yet from Mars it was able to image Earth and the moon at 90 and 24 pixels across, respectively. It's taken pictures of 1% of Mars's surface at a resolution of *0,3 meters per pixel*. The highest resolution on Google Maps of Earth is 0,5 meters per pixel. I think the last full-planet coverage of Mars I saw was 3m/pixel, but it could be higher by now. Do you

        • Actually, it is 25cm now. It was 41 cm, not 50, limited by US government regulation, which was relaxed.

          For scientific use you can get 5 cm.

          Mars is better mapped than Earth, but Earth is at least well-photographed.

        • I didn't say that Mars or the ocean is better mapped than the other. I said that neither Mars nor our oceans can be referred to as well-mapped and explored. For example, when James Cameron dove to the Challenger Deep he became the third person to do that, and the first to do it solo. Compare that with the number of people who have summited Everest. That means that 4 times as many people have walked on the moon than have gone to the deepest part of the ocean. 0 people have walked on Mars.

          I wouldn't say

    • Re:enough of Mars (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @09:11PM (#50829765) Homepage

      Oh god, don't get me started on SLS. Have you seen the launch cost estimates? They're currently looking at $14k/kg to LEO not counting development costs, and assuming that you can manage to load the thing fully. Counting development, that depends on how many launches they make before they inevitably decide to cancel the way-too-expensive rocket. Most estimates I've seen so far put the development-included per-launch figure in the very rough ballpark of $40k/kg.

      For people who know space, you already know that an "average" launch cost is $10k/kg to LEO. Russian and Chinese costs are usually around $7k/kg, sometimes cheaper. Falcon 9 is... if I recall correctly, about $5k/kg right now, maybe less. A rocket that costs $14k/kg, and that you have to lift something very heavy with every time, a billion dollars every time you fire the thing off... they might as well just paint the words "CANCEL ME" on the side.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Seriously. Here's why:

        All military and space programs in the US are budgeted with completely phony accounting that is never applied to the rest of the government. When One of these programs is created, it is priced according to the following sort of equation:

        ProgramCost = R&D costs + Setup costs + personnel training costs + operating costs + costs of facilities used during operation

        and then:

        UnitCost = ProgramCost / number of units.

        This LOOKS rational, but it's not. Here's why:

        1. The R&D of any prog

        • Unit cost = total program cost / number of units is seriously broken. It needs to be broken down into initial costs, overhead, and cost per launch. You're right about that. However....

          1. The results of Apollo R&D did, in many cases, help out the civilian economy. I believe that turning those people loose on civilian technology would have helped out even more. The effort spent in designing and testing the Saturn V could have been spent on other projects. The accounting is good here.

          2. You ar

    • While I agree that the fetishization of Mars is bizarre, I don't think it's that simple. Ultimately, NASA killed itself. The shuttle was a disaster from day one. The plans for a permanent presence on the Moon were incoherent and impractical. Actually, I use the term 'plans' loosely, because it's clear that after Apollo, NASA never had any real plans except jobs and pork.

    • Re:enough of Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @09:42PM (#50829933)

      I blame most of the destination argument on the creation of the Mars underground in the 1980's. Prior to that NASA was focused on using the Shuttle for industrialization in LEO with projects like demonstrating the repair and return of satellites, building structural items in orbit, tethers, etc.

      And the shuttle, an overpriced and poor design, shows that they weren't up to the task.

      We need to give Mars a rest and once again spend the limited budget on building capabilities in space, space tugs, orbital refueling, lunar LOX, that would serve for going to all the interesting destinations beyond Earth, not keep wasting money on plans to go to a single one that is already well mapped and explored.

      I think NASA should focus on science earth observation and interplanetary probes. Leave the industrial stuff to industry.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Cislunar

      :( Does that mean I'm a space-shitlord?

  • Once NASA was a driven motivated organisation that excelled at achieving its goals, worked with external entities and well and achieved impressively.
    Long has it lived on the reputation it earnt then, however..

    Times have long since changed. It has become a bureaucratic slow moving monolith that fights for total control of everything it can get its hands on, participates happily in pork barrel politics, and appears to primarily exist to build its own empire where possible. It is permanently decrying its lack

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:09PM (#50829163) Journal

      In the early 1960's the USA had the fear of Soviet missiles to motivate it. We don't currently have anything equivalent. Maybe if the Chinese send a person to the moon we'll finally get worried enough to devote the resources.

      The closest thing to the "Sputnik scare" of late is 9/11 (twice), which basically drove us to invade random countries, snoop on ourselves, and hold endless email hearings. We landed on our own moons this time.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Maybe if the Chinese send a person to the moon we'll finally get worried enough to devote the resources.

        No, we won't - we'll just utilize them to get our dudes to the ISS for cheaper'n the Russians'll do it.

        God help me, I kind of miss the cold war. What a time to be alive - actual dreams were dreamed.

      • by tsotha ( 720379 )

        In the early 1960's the USA had the fear of Soviet missiles to motivate it. We don't currently have anything equivalent. Maybe if the Chinese send a person to the moon we'll finally get worried enough to devote the resources.

        Why? There's nothing there. The only possible use for a moon presence would be manufacturing rockets to go somewhere else. And we just don't have the technology to make that work.

    • At any given point, NASA is exactly what congress wants it to be, which is the problem.
  • Popular support (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanEHdian ( 1098955 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:01PM (#50829111)

    Back in the time of the Apollo program, NASA was very popular. Today the Moon is been there, done that. Mars rovers? We currently have G3 roving around. G4 isn't going to generate tons of excitement. But going to Mars? To put, since it's NASA, good ol' American Boots on the soil of another planet? To be the first to have Real American Heroes planting the Stars and Stripes on the Red Planet broadcast "live" to a worldwide TV and streaming audience? That's going to generate a hype we haven't seen since, indeed, Apollo. Without sending Americans to Mars, NASA will only be of significance to the science community, with the associated budgets appropriate for that role.

    What NASA can learn from the Mars One project is their idea to use tv coverage for funding. Set up a consortium of broadcast partners from around the world and negotiate. No need to give everything away for free.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      My sense is that the science part of NASA isn't inspirational to the general population. It produces the occasional interesting pictures in the paper, but two days later we're back to stories about the Kardashians or whoever the latest transgender phenomenon is.

      And this isn't to say that the science side isn't valuable, but it only really enthuses scientists. The Apollo missions transfixed the public for days. Even the first shuttle launch was a big deal, I can remember them setting up TVs in classrooms

  • Not about Mars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Livius ( 318358 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @07:17PM (#50829215)

    Bolden has a point that NASA needs a high-profile, long-term goal.

    Whether Mars is the best option for that goal (probably not) is a completely different issue.

  • Sorry, but we need 100 new state-of-the-art stealth bombers. Victory is Life!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not against human presence in space : it would be good to create a space economy beyond LEO, even just for species survival.
    However, I see hardly any work being done in this direction : the first step would be understanding and building closed systems (aka Biosphere) that would allow us to stay in space. We do not know how to do that and the ISS is far from a closed system as it completely depends on Earth for supplies.
    Once that step is perfected, you could literally go anywhere in the solar system.

    Inst

  • Bolden is saying "Don't do what we did".

  • What would be doomed is his vision of what NASA should be doing ten to twenty years out. At present manned exploration of Mars is not even big enough to warrant a line item in NASA's 2016 budget request, which means it's not a big part of what NASA is doing now. Mars exploration *is*, though, with 412 million requested to do serious and productive science.

    You know what *would* doom NASA? Gutting its Earth and planetary research to fund an astronomically expensive manned mission to Mars in twenty years. I

    • indeed we should be concentrating on unmanned probes while basic engineering challenges of prolonged manned missions can be resolved on earth and in near earth orbit. In fact, technically we already nave means to to send a probe to the proxima centauri system in a reasonable amount of time at 0.1 C with pure fission reactor, let's also do that

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday October 29, 2015 @09:06PM (#50829749)

    The point was equally valid in 2010 when President Obama abruptly and without warning canceled the Constellation space exploration program.

    "Without warning"? You mean that the Augustine commission was secret? Nobody saw it coming that a lousy program that had delivered too little by that time for too much money got scrapped?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Obama administration killed Constellation when it rolled-out its 2010 NASA budget proposal in Feb 2009, then faced bi-partisan outrage in congress and THEN came up with a committee in May 2009 to justify what it had done. Like all such committees created to justify pre-selected outcomes, the members were handpicked by the administration, thereby guaranteeing the results that were desired. No honest commenter will cite the results of any such hand-picked political committee on any subject. Had the commit

  • So what Bolden is really saying is that they have nothing to fall back on if the Mars thing doesn't work out. If the rocket fails. If there's some biological problem that comes up. or even if some other mission of importance comes up. It's Mars and only Mars and if it's not Mars it's nothing. Goddamn NASA how fucking stupid are you rocket scientists anyway? WTF?

    This is like my four-year-old cousin who throws a fit if he can't have the exact candy bar he wants. He proclaims he'd rather starve than eat s

  • The problem with NASA and indeed all human efforts at anything is that we can't see beyond 4-year cycles in the West and somewhat longer cycles in China, negated by the lack of most of the space program needed to make the plans happen, if they had the plans.

    Getting to other planets takes a lot of money over a long time scale. Apparently Mars will take a couple decades or so. And we may not make it.

    Getting to anything farther away, or long development projects like the warp drive and so on, threaten to t

  • When putting humans on Mars finally approaches inevitability, historians will attempt to define the starting place for the journey. "...and it all began back in the year ???? with President [NAME]". Bolden's statement is simply posturing the Obama administration as the Kennedy-like launching point to Mars. It is just political bullshit, nothing more.

    NASA can wipe the slate clean in 2017, and as long it provides a new plan to keep an experienced work-force from fleeing, the start-over will not doom NASA. In

  • As probably a good chunk of Slashdot is already aware, this problem is not new, has been around for a long time, and will continue to be around for a very long time. About the only difference in terms of NASA is the scale of the issue, and perhaps some enhanced interdependence.

    If you work in IT and government, two of the biggest problems you will face are:

    1) Generally speaking you get a yearly budget. That is all you get to spend. You need to spend all of it. You can't save it. You can't plan ahead. You wil

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