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Mars Government NASA The Almighty Buck Politics

SpaceX's Mars Vision Puts Pressure on NASA's Manned Exploration Programs (marketwatch.com) 142

An anonymous reader shares a report: Entrepreneur Elon Musk's announcement late last month accelerating plans for manned flights to Mars ratchets up political and public relations pressure on NASA's efforts to reach the same goal. With Musk publicly laying out a much faster schedule than NASA -- while contending his vision is less expensive and could be financed primarily with private funds -- a debate unlike any before is shaping up over the direction of U.S. space policy. Industry officials and space experts consider the proposal by Musk's Space Exploration to land people on the red planet around the middle of the next decade extremely optimistic. Some supporters concede the deadline appears ambitious even for reaching the moon, while Musk himself acknowledged some of his projected dates are merely "aspirational." But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration doesn't envision getting astronauts to Mars until at least a decade later, a timeline NASA is finding increasingly hard to defend in the face of criticism that it is too slow.
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SpaceX's Mars Vision Puts Pressure on NASA's Manned Exploration Programs

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  • ... as well as the same level of oversight... and they can race Musk. fact is, Congress has been starving NASA since the first shuttle blew up. and it's getting worse by the year.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In what world does NASA have less access to money than SpaceX?

      The problem is that government agencies waste money. If you don't believe it, go work for any city, county, state or federal agency in the USA. Keep a critical eye out for waste and inefficiency. In less than 3 months, you will see why NASA cannot keep up with the private sector. If you cannot see it after 3 months, then you are a perfect fit. Enjoy your new job.

      • Question: How many CENTURIES will it take for a Mars colony to stop needing massive subsidies from Earth? We need a discussion on who is going to pay the many Trillions of dollars needed to support this.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          It's a tough issue. Any reasonable colonization plan calls for decreasing reliance on imports per capita over time as, one by one, they develop local production lines for various feedstocks and finished products. But at the same time, the population keeps growing. So the question is, how does the balance of these factors play out? As you rightly note, total independence will not happen any time remotely soon. But how quickly can the bulk be reduced relative to how quickly consumer demand on Mars grows?

          The

          • by Anonymous Coward

            According to the sci-fi I have read and watched, Martian [wikipedia.org] colonization [wikipedia.org] has [wikipedia.org] never [wikipedia.org] ended [wikipedia.org] well [wikipedia.org].

        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          None. If it can't make things locally, it's not going to survive. You can't just ship a spare part to Mars overnight when it breaks.

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            Many spare parts would just be fabbed on-site. 3D printing (and the next gen of multi-material micro/nano-scale assembly) is robust enough to cover a lot and related cutting/milling/grinding/shaping/finishing equipment is ripe for a generational improvement and consolidation. It's probably one of the most important techs that will come out of a mars colony project and key to short term survival.

            But for all that you need feed stock. Raw iron, steel, gold, carbon, and so on. Sourcing those locally is the

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Question: How many CENTURIES will it take for a Mars colony to stop needing massive subsidies from Earth? We need a discussion on who is going to pay the many Trillions of dollars needed to support this.

          Nobody can answer that question. We don't have a functional transport method, we don't know the complications of living on Mars, we don't know the feasibility of using local resources which is why we need to do experiments. Perhaps we send a greenhouse and it'll over-perform massively like the Mars rovers and become a semi-permanent food supply. Perhaps it'll die and the astronauts will have to eat MREs until they can return home. There's a theory we can produce methane fuel using the CO2 in the atmosphere,

      • So what exactly are these gross inefficiencies at NASA, how does SpaceX do it better, and why can't those fixes get applied at NASA? You'll need to do better than "it's gubmint" to sound like you aren't talking out of your ass. Please, amaze me with your knowledge of the problems at NASA. If there's some actual insight you have to these organizations, spit it out, that's why I come to Slashdot.

        I'd also like to know the methodology you used to gauge that NASA "can't keep up". Because as things stand, Space
        • by esonik ( 222874 )

          NASA--the National Aeronautical and Space Administration doesn't manufacture that much. They manage projects, contract out to subcontractors and then assemble the stuff and then put the NASA sticker on it. Their strength is in having subject matter experts, long term view, strong project management, strong quality and risk management (some say too strong), and lots of funding (no fear of going bankrupt). What they do is define interfaces to make sure everything will fit together, manage timelines etc.
          SpaceX

          • See, I hadn't remembered the degree to which NASA farms out to outside aerospace contractors. Having everything vertically integrated certainly promotes financial efficiencies if nothing else. Since nationalizing the whole industry isnt a good idea, it seems there is an opening for a company like SpaceX to get started.
            NASA has also been lacking leadership and vision for the past few decades. However, for planetary-scale projects, I think some level of centralized planning is not just a good idea, but crit
      • In what world does NASA have less access to money than SpaceX?

        Possibly this one.

        NASA has access to more money than SpaceX. NASA--the National Aeronautical and Space Administration--spends some of it's money on aeronautical research. They also spend money sending robot probes to various places. They also spend money on the International Space Station.

        Yes, I'm pretty sure if you gave NASA the money they have now and told them to can all that other stuff and just worry about putting a man on Mars, things could get done much faster. Is that a good idea? Nope.

      • by HuguesT ( 84078 )

        Large companies waste money too. If you don't believe me, you should try working for one for a few months, look for waste and inefficiencies and report the results. The reality is that humans are not very good at running complex shows.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      NASA has plenty of money for science and exploration, they just need to stop wasting half their budget on Manned Spaceflight (that does neither).
      • Ah the sciencey people need to stop doing science to do science. Only a Conservative could loop their head around that logic!
        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          Manned spaceflight produces very little science, and most of it is science about how humans live in space.

          But it's not really true. Congress need to stop telling NASA to waste billions of dollars a year building rockets that will cost billions of dollars per launch and have no funded payloads. Then NASA could afford to do something useful.

          • > Manned spaceflight produces very little science

            What criterion do you base your hypothesis on? What are you defining as "science"? What about the technologies produced/influenced/spun off from research done for Manned Space Flight? Pacemakers, for example, utilize several technologies developed by NASA engineers for the manned spaceflight operations.
            • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

              "What are you defining as "science"? "

              You know. Science.

              'Spinoff' arguments are almost entirely bogus, because if you wanted those technologies, you could have just spent the money on developing them and forgotten the whole man-in-spam-can thing.

      • So in order to save money for manned explorations to Mars, NASA should stop spending money on manned spaceflight? Are you reading your own words?
    • You're an idiot if you think NASA doesn't have way more money than SpaceX does.

      • by esonik ( 222874 )

        Their entire budget is certainly big - problem is most of it is earmarked for many ongoing projects and there is little left for discretionary use.

        Moreover, now they have to fly to the moon first before they can send people to Mars: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a... [wsj.com]

        • Honestly I don't really think the moon is a good place for NASA; they've been there and done that. They shouldn't even be bothering with earth either because the tech has advanced so well that now the private sector is doing well enough there...And leave the climate science to the NOAA; for space based observations, they can obtain everything they need cheaper and faster from the private sector than NASA can do right now. NASA should be setting its sights on deep space, including how humans might safely rea

    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      NASA has 'access' to far more money. NASA also doesn't have to EARN that money - it's given to them. Now, they DO have to document everything in triplicate and form a committee on a regular basis to discuss if they need more committees or more paperwork or both and then put all the suggestions into practice to test which is the most efficient and then have a round of committees discuss further...and hopefully at that point they will be able to order lunch.

      SpaceX is a for-profit company. They don't get fr

  • "increasingly hard to defend"

    Seems to me the defence is quite easy.

    "We're going to do it properly and safely and with some kind of guarantee."

    • "increasingly hard to defend"

      Seems to me the defence is quite easy.

      "We're going to do it properly and safely and with some kind of guarantee."

      What kind of guarantee?

      I really don't want to be on that first SpaceX trip to Mars though... This thing is SO expensive that taking the crawl, walk, run and then fly approach is going to soak every bit or profit SpaceX can create and then some, for little or no commercial benefit that I can come up with.

      The real purpose of this story is that Musk is trying to soak up more taxpayer funding for Manned spaceflight, not that he actually knows how long it will take him to develop the technologies.

  • Let him. He won't do it because he's all hot air. Great talker, horrible on the follow through. He'll soon understand why space exploration is costly, both in terms of dollars and lives.
    • Tesla cars don't exist? Solar roofs? If that's all vapor then it is truly spectacular vapor.
      • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @01:04PM (#55337191)

        Tesla cars don't exist? Solar roofs? If that's all vapor then it is truly spectacular vapor.

        OP was confused by the vapor trails from all those rockets.

        Taking off: "All I see is vapor!"

        Landing first stage: "It's just a big cloud of vapor!"

        It's a problem for those with a stiff neck and hardening of the attitude. It's difficult for them to look up.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        Where are the solar roofs? I mean a complete working installation on a regular customer roof. Right now, solar roofs are still vapor, though I am relatively confident it will turn into a real product. After all, solar shingles are not breakthrough technology. I am not sure about the economies of it though.

        Tesla cars and Falcon launchers are very real. Hyperloop and Mars missions... not so much. Musk is not all hot air, but there is still a lot of it between the real products. He is a smart guy, he knows how

      • Being able to build an electric car is pretty darned far from building a mission to take people to Mars and bring them back successfully.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      "Let him. He won't do it because he's all hot air. "

      Yeah, I mean just look at his rocket company. Whatever happened to that?

      I'm no Musk fanboy, and I think Tesla is a massively-overvalued dead end (except to the extent that self-driving electric vehicles will be very useful on Mars), but there's no denying that he's revolutionized the rocket business. His Mars plans are optimistic, but there's nothing impossible about them.

    • by jeti ( 105266 )
      SpaceX is on its way to provide more rocket launches than any other company this year. All hot air.
      • Mars is hot air, yes. They were a great orbital rocket company. It would have done a tremendous lot for the world if they'd stayed an orbital rocket company. They might have even been able to finish the economic part of bringing 17 rockets back, which is flying them again at a net cost savings. They haven't done that yet, and it will take several years, probably at least three, to achieve that.

        • They are a great orbital rocket company, and will continue to be the best they can, because everything in space depends on stuff getting to Earth orbit. This includes any Mars-bound spaceship. Therefore, Musk has every incentive to make Space-X work inexpensively (well, inexpensively for space shots) and reliably.

          I don't really care about sending people to Mars in the near future, but I do appreciate reduced cost to near Earth orbit.

  • He's from South Africa, not Russia.

  • Musk's problem isn't getting people to Mars... it's that he's not sinking any R&D funding into keeping them alive once they get there, while mouthing off about establishing a significant permanent colony.

    We still don't know if a mammal can remain healthy in 0.38g, nor where we'd get all the resources required, how to do much with the ones we're pretty sure are there under local conditions, or how to maintain a closed biosphere indefinitely.

    I'd love to see a Mars colony, but first I think we need to do s

  • Using old rocket tech will not result in new technology filtering down through industry like it did before. After 60 years we already have just about all the secondary tech we are going to get out of rocket based spaceflight initiatives. Now is the time for physics research on non-relativistic propulsion and next gen nuclear reactors for self sustaining permanent outposts. I will not advocate banging our heads against the rocket wall for the sake of being able to say that we clawed our way to Mars and achie
    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      WTF is "Non-relativistic propulsion"?

      • I would assume the poster means some type of propulsion that avoids time dilation or such. Like the "Alcubierre warp drive ", some type of stabilized wormhole, or such. You know, stuff that NASA isn't really researching due to the fact that these are still mostly science fiction. Now, I DO think that NASA should be putting FAR more research into tech like VASIMR, and NASA should give White's "warp-field interferometer" experiments some actual orbital time somehow.

        As for "next-gen reactors", we're STILL
        • I am talking about LFTR and other associated reactors which compliment it. LFTR solves the main problems with nuclear power, meltdowns (passive safety), cooling failures and inefficiencies, proliferation risks, fuel costs and proprietary supply, waste type and volume, and burning old "waste" fuel which is mostly useful fuel and not waste at all. Here's the original presentation on LFTR by NASA engineer Kirk Sorensen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    • We need a launch loop or an orbital ring to make space travel cheap. Once we have that the total flight cost to Mars is less than flying across the Atlantic, even using old rocket tech.
    • I propose a test for any new unconventional propulsion. Bring it to ISS, and raise the orbit. Even a little bit, we can measure that orbit very precisely. Call me back after that works, please. Not interested until it does.

  • From TFA: But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration doesnâ(TM)t envision getting astronauts to Mars until at least a decade later, a timeline NASA is finding increasingly hard to defend in the face of criticism that it is too slow.

    That criticism largely comes from the legions of ill-educated members of the Cult of Elon. Not that being ill-educated is all that notable in the space fandom community, it's practically a defining characteristic. Another defining characteristic is their credul

    • by jeti ( 105266 )
      You missed a presentation or two. Red Dragon is no longer planned.
    • I count myself as a Musk cultist, but you won't need a retardant suit. The thing is, Musk has at least delivered on some of his promises and they actually seem like a fairly well reasoned approach to getting us somewhere. Musk's work is showing results in cheap, high cadence (and high cadence over time spawns reliability) access to space, what the Space Shuttle promised but didn't come close to delivering, and what no one else was showing any progress toward, until Musk came along and forced everyone else

  • by kbonin ( 58917 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @01:28PM (#55337433) Homepage

    NASA for decades has been primarily a program to send pork back to all 50 states, by using cost-plus contracts and making sure that as many congress-critters as possible can point to jobs they brought to their district. One report put ARES/SLS spending at $19B to date, and Orion at $13B to date. So we've spent nearly half the adjusted cost of the Apollo program with no hardware in flight yet. And the same report puts NASA overhead at 72% of Orion cost. NASA isn't really trying to return us to space as much as they're trying to run a jobs and pork program. Now I love NASA, have since I was a kid. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize an out of control government program thats been taken over by MBAs and politicians.

    • So we've spent nearly half the adjusted cost of the Apollo program with no hardware in flight yet.

      In other words... Pretty much the same as in the Apollo program itself.

      • by kbonin ( 58917 )

        The Apollo program included the Little Joe II and Saturn 1, 1B, and V rockets in addition to one CSM stack and a Lunar Lander, by Apollo budgets we should be at least into the Saturn flights, while SLS is still busy redesigning 40 year old Shuttle hardware.

        SLS is likely going to end up north of $1b a launch to put about the same payload as Falcon Heavy for $90M a launch? And Falcon is expected to fly in a few months, while SLS first flight is officially now Dec 2019, insiders say more likely 2021.

        I'm sorr

        • The Apollo program included the Little Joe II and Saturn 1, 1B, and V rockets in addition to one CSM stack and a Lunar Lander, by Apollo budgets we should be at least into the Saturn flights

          Not really no. CSM flights didn't start until late '66.

          SLS is likely going to end up north of $1b a launch to put about the same payload as Falcon Heavy for $90M a launch?

          Not really, no. SLS payload to LEO, 70,000 to 130,000 kg. Falcon Heavy payload to LEO, 63,000 kg. Not to mention that SLS can handle larger

  • Elon Musk and NASA have different goals, hence the different timelines: NASA wants to send astronauts to Mars and bring them back alive.
    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      Naah, Nasa _pretends_ to want to send men to Mars but their primary function (as defined by Senate funding) has become keeping the pork pipeline of continual studies on "how to get to mars" open.

      • Naah, Nasa _pretends_ to want to send men to Mars but their primary function (as defined by Senate funding) has become keeping the pork pipeline of continual studies on "how to get to mars" open.

        I'm sure that NASA would love to send people to Mars, but they know that's not going to happen and only mention it because every administration since Bush the Younger wants to say they're working on it. There's not enough NASA money going towards Mars to even claim it as pork.

  • and return him safely to earth then we can talk. Yes, it's been done before but can we do it again? Can we sustain a human(s) in a sealed spacecraft outside the earth's magnetic field? Can we build a spacecraft that can land on another celestial body? And take off again? crashing is easy, getting it to fly again is hard. I admit I haven't thoroughly studied these plans (much of it none of us have access) but so far it doesn't add up. I see lots of flashy graphics, I have yet to see a habitat module that can
  • But I'm pretty sure staying there will not be economical perhaps for centuries. Even "The case for Mars" [google.fr] says so. Humans are not very good at planning for centuries.

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