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Give Space a Chance, Says Phil Plait

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the to-not-bless-is-not-to-negate dept.

Government 279

The Bad Astronomer writes "A lot of pundits, scientists, and people who should know better are decrying the demise of NASA, saying that the President's budget cutting the Constellation program and the Ares rockets will sound the death knell of manned space exploration. This simply is not true. The budget will call for a new rocket design, and a lot of money will go toward private space companies, who may be able to launch people into orbit years ahead of Ares being ready anyway."

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Yeah, orbit! (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968232)

Weee! They'll be able to launch people into orbit years ahead of Ares! Because putting people into orbit is exactly why Ares was being built, since NASA can't do that with their current rockets.

The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today. It's at least a century away from what NASA could do 40 years ago. They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it. Government funding is the only way space exploration can go forward.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968274)

They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it.

Oh really? Because to me, Phobos and Deimos (Mars' moons) are little more than a few trillion tons of metal, ceramics, volatiles and a few million tons of precious metals sitting in a nice stable orbit over Mars. Just perfect to supply the Earth with some rare metals, the moon and LEO with volatiles and any space tourism around Mars. The view is fantastic and I'd bet there's people who would pay pretty big bucks to take a vacation to Martian orbit or even visit the surface. You woyuld have to have a profound lack of imagination to not see any "profit" in going to Mars and in space exploration in general. Resources, tourism, research etc. plenty of profit to be made, it's just a matter of building up the necessary technology and infrastructure.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968332)

Seriously?
I just can't see mining a trillion tons of anything to carry it back to earth being a good idea. And mining a moon seems fraught with peril, an generally a bad idea. For Christ sake if exhaling can destroy earth's environment, how could de-orbiting a trillion tons do the planet any good?

The only way to gain the riches of mars is to live there. You can't bring it home.

 

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968350)

The volatiles, metals and ceramics are only worth mining for industry/economies already in space. Only the precious metals and various other materials would be sent back to Earth. The volatiles etc. would be used for space tourism and colonies as sending up those cheap materials to orbit is very expensive.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968372)

Precious = Rare.
Cease being Rare = Cease being precious.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968492)

The supply of space metals shipped to Earth can not lower the price of precious metals on Earth lower than what it costs to ship them no matter how abundant they are in space. Hence why even though there are quadrillions of tons of salt on Earth, the price isn't near zero due to the cost of transport and extraction.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968556)

That's not strictly true: a lot of the value of precious metals, especially gold, is simply derived from the fact that they're rare, and thus seen as a store of value. If some major change happens that causes people to no longer perceive gold as rare (for example, we discover huge piles of the stuff elsewhere and a practical way of transporting it to earth), its price could fall precipitously as people stop considering it valuable, and all that's left are industrial uses.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (3, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968590)

and a practical way of transporting it to earth

The price can never drop below the cost to maintain the rate of supply that is profitable. Never. It doesn't matter how much of x material there is. If it costs 500$/kg to extract, purify and transport it then the price must be at least 500$ over a period of time. If the price is set below that, the further ability to maintain the level of supply that results in that low price goes away which causes supply to drop and prices to rise to the point where it is again profitable to extract.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968614)

Sure it can: if people stop wanting it, the price can drop quite low, as gluts of the stuff languish unsold and people are unable to unload it. There is no guarantee prices would rise back up again if demand never recovers.

In gold's particular case, if the perception ever becomes that gold is not a rare, hard-to-acquire metal, its price will collapse and not recover, because it doesn't really have that much intrinsic value.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968648)

Sure it can: if people stop wanting it, the price can drop quite low, as gluts of the stuff languish unsold and people are unable to unload it

I'm pretty sure people value Platinum and other rare metals as they are chemically, metallurgically and catalytically useful. There is no evidence that the demand for the metals will just suddenly disappear. Even if it did, the supply would simply drop to the level of demand. Econ101.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968716)

Even if it did, the supply would simply drop to the level of demand.

Indeed, and if that demand is less than the available terrestrial sources, space-mining would go out of business entirely, and therefore be a complete bust.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Funny)

masshuu (1260516) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968760)

dude, its shiny and metallically, its precious. End of story.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Insightful)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968594)

Precious = Rare.
Cease being Rare = Cease being precious.

Not necessarily. Air is plentiful, yet each of us can't live without a constant supply of it. It depends on what precious thing you're talking about. Not that this means your argument is wrong, just your analogy. :)

I'm reminded of a sci-fi book I read a few years ago (I _wish_ I could remember the author or title!) where a man wants to bring the riches of the astroid belt to earth, but needs to develop technology to bring the transportation cost down enough to make it worthwhile. He hires a genius to figure that problem out, and the method the genius comes up with to make the transportation cheap results in materials so much better what what would be mined from the asteroids worthless in comparison. The technologies developed to get us living and working in space and on other planets/moons will almost certainly result in technologies that will make mining asteroids pointless, but it will be enough motivation to GET us there.

The biggest longterm hurdles I see are the need to develop medical technology that keeps us from astrophying in microgravity and protection from radiation that we are protected from by Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. If those can be solved, we won't need to live on a planet or moon's surface, but can live anywhere. These technologies will come only from our continued manned space programs.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968362)

Some very rare metals may only be available from deep in the crust of astronomical bodies. On Earth that means digging down thousands of kilometres. On Phobos and Deimos that means going down a few kilometres at the most. And we might only need small quantities of these things any. Increasingly the applications are going to be in space. It will be a long time before we bring down more matter than we have sent up.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968596)

And mining a moon seems fraught with peril, an generally a bad idea.

Well, you know, compared with normal mining, which is, like, historically one of the safest career choices ever.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

anagama (611277) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968582)

People like going to Europe, Asia, N. America, wherever to see the sights and taste the foods and yet, commercial airlines seem to often be in financial trouble.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Dr. Evil (3501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968626)

The ethics of manned commercial space flight are scary. One accident and the whole thing is going to be held back 50 years.

And you'd get more resources digging a hole in my backyard than you would from digging a hole on the Martian moons.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968668)

The ethics of manned commercial space flight are scary. One accident and the whole thing is going to be held back 50 years.

In the US this might be true but China will probably think otherwise. The US is far too risk adverse to actually do anything interesting and if it continues, China will kick the US's ass badly.

And you'd get more resources digging a hole in my backyard than you would from digging a hole on the Martian moons.

Phobos and Deimos are C/D type asteroids rich in Nickel and contain roughly 400x the concentration of Plainum group metals as your backyard. They have masses in the range of 10 trillion tons each. So no, you wouldn't get more resources by "digging a hole in your backyard."

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Rollgunner (630808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968744)

Only because we choose to think that way.

The real value of a dollar depends entirely on how it is spent, and the same goes for human lives, I think...

Re:Yeah, orbit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968664)

Sure, but like the parent said... centuries before that will happen...

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Rollgunner (630808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968710)

A one ton mass of solid 24kt gold appears in low earth orbit...

1 ton = 2000 lb = 32,000 ounces
gold is about $1100 per ounce
Total value = 35.2 million dollars.
It costs 60 million to launch the space shuttle.

We need to wait for a *second* one to show up for the trip show a modest profit.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968826)

The shuttle is the government's doing. SpaceX could do it for less than a million$ as it is. Even better considering that the price drops with time and when we start building structures in space for the purpose of space industry. Self sufficient colonies don't need to launch much from Earth. Mine the Gold and de-orbit it using a space tether and a flat, ablative, throw away heat shield.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

tbischel (862773) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968726)

They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it.

Oh really? Because to me, Phobos and Deimos (Mars' moons) are little more than a few trillion tons of metal, ceramics, volatiles and a few million tons of precious metals sitting in a nice stable orbit over Mars.

Yeah but shipping charges from Mars are a bitch

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Insightful)

Stan Vassilev (939229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968730)

Oh really? Because to me, Phobos and Deimos (Mars' moons) are little more than a few trillion tons of metal, ceramics, volatiles and a few million tons of precious metals sitting in a nice stable orbit over Mars. Just perfect to supply the Earth with some rare metals, the moon and LEO with volatiles and any space tourism around Mars. The view is fantastic and I'd bet there's people who would pay pretty big bucks to take a vacation to Martian orbit or even visit the surface. You woyuld have to have a profound lack of imagination to not see any "profit" in going to Mars and in space exploration in general. Resources, tourism, research etc. plenty of profit to be made, it's just a matter of building up the necessary technology and infrastructure.

Based on your business plan, I come to the conclusion that the difference between business and sci-fi is that the latter needs to be at least remotely based in reality.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968832)

You're right, sending more ships to the Americas is a complete waste of our resources... It is a good thing that our ancestors weren't so pessimistic about exploration. Bonus points to whomever realized that colonizing space doesn't involve enslaving the natives.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (3, Insightful)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968292)

Indeed. Government funding is the only way manned space flight has proceeded for the last 50 or so years. I'm as big on the free market as anyone, but there are some things worth doing that are simply not profitable in economic terms. In fact, some of humanity's greatest achievements obviously weren't profitable. I doubt the pyramids ever provided the Egyptians with a profit. Well - at least not for several thousand years.

Sure, private industry, say SpaceX, might be able to develop the technology. But who will be the customer? What company, with several billion dollars at it's disposal, has an incentive to go to the moon or Mars? What would the incentive be?

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968336)

What company, with several billion dollars at it's disposal, has an incentive to go to the moon or Mars? What would the incentive be?

Google is funding the Lunar X-prize, of course this isn't anything more than a "probe" but the bigger stuff in terms of Lunar tourism come later. How much would someone absurdly rich pay to take a vacation near the moon or Mars? Or be the first human to step on either of them from a private space program? How about NEO mining? An ore that is 500x as rich in some precious metals like Platinum has to be worth mining at some point.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (4, Interesting)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968526)

I've thought for a long time that the US gov should pitch 100mil or so to the lunar X-prize, maybe 500mil to a martian prize. The prize system has shown that this method is highly efficient. Why not use it?

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968794)

Part of that prize system is the requirement that the money be put into escrow until it is claimed. That's the hardest part to convince NASA of, please pay now for something that someone may never claim, and then we'll give it back ok?

goddamit, google! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968546)

Why are you dragging your feet on releasing streetview Mars? Or even streetview Luna for that matter?!!! It's a simple matter of robotics engineering.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968618)

That's it! We just have to convince Warren Buffett to spend his vast wealth to finance a Mars mission so that he can become the first person to set foot there! It's like one really expensive space tourism trip.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1, Funny)

Robin47 (1379745) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968436)

What company, with several billion dollars at it's disposal, has an incentive to go to the moon or Mars?

Apple?

Re:Yeah, orbit! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968544)

When they go to Mars can they take the jigaboos and dune coons with them? Please?

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968504)

What would the incentive be?

Making money?

Right now there's no money to be made from flights to the Moon or Mars so no company is going to spend the money to do so; but the cost of spaceflight is dropping and sooner or later there will be an economic case for both, even if only as a 'holiday of a lifetime' for rich bankers.

In the meantime, if there's no economic case for business to go there, why do you think that spending billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to put a few burrowcrats on the Moon is a good idea? They'll be about as useful as ISS (i.e. hardly at all) and cost even more.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

anagama (611277) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968602)

You need glasses or a new prescription to help with that short-sightedness. For example:

Thanks to the Moon missions, Black & Decker was able to pair cordless electricity with elbow grease and make the job of building America easier than ever. While on the Moon, astronauts were tasked with gathering soil and rock samples for analysis back on Earth. To help them, NASA asked Black & Decker to build a special drill for boring into lunar rock. The drill had to be small, lightweight and, most importantly, battery powered. Black & Decker's new drill proved to be a fantastic success and spawned the development of cordless tools for the medical, manufacturing, building and home consumer industries.

from: http://www.nasa.gov/missions/science/f_apollo_11_spinoff.html [nasa.gov]

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Informative)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968474)

"They're never going to get us into mars, because there's simply no profit in it. Government funding is the only way space exploration can go forward."

Good thing you read the summary. "...a lot of money will go toward private space companies..."

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968560)

I second that. What could be the direct profit (because that's all anyone in privat industry cares about) of space exploration?

Mining? Be serious. First, prospecting is already insanely expensive, and that being cheap (compared to the extraction of the materials) makes mining profitable on Earth in the first place. You don't just send a geologist to the site where you expect stuff to be, you send that geologis to another planet without knowing jack whether he will find anything or not. This is already prohibitive expensive. Next, you would have to send mining equipment there. Mining equipment isn't exactly known for its lack of weight. That company would first have to spent a fortune to research lightweight alternatives which should also work in space (so dependency on petty things like a certain atmosphere or a certain gravity is out of question). We've already spent more than anyone would be willing and we're not even yet drilling. Hell, if the moon was made of platinum it's doubtful whether it's profitable.

Space tourism? NEO is good enough for that. Most people appearantly see little difference between a NEO and a trip to the moon. Take a cursory look at the difference between a Titan and a Saturn V rocket. See the difference? NASA didn't build the Saturn because they had something to compensate, ya know? And then we (or rather, 3 people and a few (few!) tons of equipment are on their way to the MOON. We're not even talking about leaving our planetary system here. Oh yeah, we managed to get probes to other planets with smaller rockets. Sure. And if you don't plan on coming back, that's certainly a viable way to do it.

Exploration? Yeah. Sure. Private enterprise is certainly interested in that. Care to show me the profit?

PR stunt? Only if Coca Cola manages to get a few thousand tons of white paint onto the red planet paint their name mark in the sand.

So please tell me why anyone with his eyes on direct profit would ever willingly send anything past the NEO. Space exploration is certainly a driving force behind development. A lot of important discoveries we use today were made because of the needs of space travel, especially in a field important to us, computers. But the expense could never be recovered by a private enterprise, not even if anything and everything that could possibly be discovered would be patented by them.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968608)

Mining? Be serious.

Helium-3, man, Helium-3. Go rent Moon. If it's worth inventing human clones, it's financially profitable.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968834)

Please put it in my inbox, right underneath the "invent cold fusion" plan.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968612)

Private companies are going launch people into orbit years ahead of Ares, but are wo is going to get those people back to the earth ?????

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968698)

NASA has been banned from throwing money at a Mars mission for decades now. The only person throwing serious money at a manned Mars mission right now is Elon Musk. He might not have enough money to do it, but he's the only one trying. When asked why he says because there's profits to be made..

Re:Yeah, orbit! (2, Interesting)

zig007 (1097227) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968792)

The private industry is decades away from what NASA can do today.

Actually, it is the private industry that does what NASA do for NASA. Rocketdyne, Boeing, Lockheed et al ARE private companies.
The private industry can already do what NASA can, and probably more, given a budget. NASA is mostly there to manage the projects.
So it not decades away, it is billions of dollars away.

The only reason companies like Virgin Galactic don't do what NASA do is the fact that their customers aren't willing to pay billions.
It is probably just as hard, if not harder, to get people into LEO on a small budget, than it is to get them to Mars on a huge one.
Personally, I am far more impressed by SpaceShipTwo and its carrier(which is really cool) than I am of most of the (new) things the constellations program was supposed to create.

Re:Yeah, orbit! (1)

Nebulious (1241096) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968844)

I can think of a very wealthy client named NASA. One that can outsource the risk of development and have a competitive market of capable launch vehicles.

For decades, NASA has been woefully risk adverse.

Bravo. (4, Interesting)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968238)

I follow Phil via twitter, he's pretty spot on about space and space exploration. He even goes into the false dichotemy of funding social spending programs first then NASA in one of his posts. NASA research lead to cheaper, more viable foodstuffs for the poor in the past, I don't see why it's breakthroughs couldn't assist us in our search for solutions to problems here on Earth.

Afro-American Racism Against Whites and Asians (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968250)

During the election, about 95% of African-Americans voted for Barack Hussein Obama due solely to the color of his skin. See the exit-polling data [cnn.com] by CNN.

Note the voting pattern of Hispanics, Asian-Americans, etc. These non-Black minorities serve as a measurement of African-American racism against Whites (and other non-Black folks). Neither Barack Hussein Obama nor John McCain is Hispanic or Asian. So, Hispanics and Asian-Americans used only non-racial criteria in selecting a candidate and, hence, serve as the reference by which we detect a racist voting pattern. Only about 65% of Hispanics and Asian-Americans supported Obama. In other words, a maximum of 65% support by any ethnic or racial group for either McCain or Obama is not racist and, hence, is acceptable. (A maximum of 65% for McCain is okay. So, European-American support at 55% for McCain is well below this threshold and, hence, is not racist.)

If African-Americans were not racist, then at most 65% of them would have supported Obama. At that level of support, McCain would have won the presidential race.

At this point, African-American supremacists (and apologists) claim that African-Americans voted for Obama because he (1) is a member of the Democratic party and (2) supports its ideals. That claim is an outright lie. Look at the exit-polling data [cnn.com] for the Democratic primaries. Consider the case of North Carolina. Again, about 95% of African-Americans voted for him and against Hillary Clinton. Both Clinton and Obama are Democrats, and their official political positions on the campaign trail were nearly identical. Yet, 95% of African-Americans voted for Obama and against Hillary Clinton. Why? African-Americans supported Obama due solely to the color of his skin.

Here is the bottom line. Barack Hussein Obama does not represent mainstream America. He won the election due to the racist voting pattern exhibited by African-Americans.

African-Americans have established that expressing "racial pride" by voting on the basis of skin color is 100% acceptable. Neither the "Wall Street Journal" nor the "New York Times" complained about this racist behavior. Therefore, in future elections, please feel free to express your racial pride by voting on the basis of skin color. Feel free to vote for the non-Black candidates and against the Black candidates if you are not African-American. You need not defend your actions in any way. Voting on the basis of skin color is quite acceptable by today's moral standard.

Re:Bravo. (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968366)

Phil is absolutely correct on this.

NASA spending also makes jobs. Everything from top level engineers and administrators down to bag boys in the grocery stores.

I wish people could get it thru their head that we are not launching stacks of 100 dollar bills into space. Every last red cent is spent here on earth.

Why make the poor into hand-out wards of the State? I have never understood the so called (self called) "Progressive" parties propensity to enslave population thusly, and lose the first derivative of government spending.

If NASA did nothing at all and delivered nothing at all but stacks of study after study it would STILL be better for society than handing out food stamps because there were no jobs.

Re:Bravo. (0, Troll)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968490)

"Every last red cent is spent here on earth."

Getting out of a debate with some right wingers made that stand out for me, never use the word red when talking about funding. They'll be sure to think it is a communist plot to get to space.

Re:Bravo. (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968412)

NASA research lead to cheaper, more viable foodstuffs for the poor in the past, I don't see why it's breakthroughs couldn't assist us in our search for solutions to problems here on Earth.

Poverty is a social problem, not a technological one.

Re:Bravo. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968624)

Nope, not true in general. While poverty is usually partly due to a few people grabbing too large a part of the resources, a big factor is often that there isn't enough stuff to go around for everyone. In Europe at least a lot of poverty was solved (some of it quite visibly within my lifetime) not by socio-political change, but simply because new tech meant more wealth for everyone. When you look at my country, there are relatively speaking still rich and poor people, just like 50 years ago. The difference is, now the "poor" people can afford enough food and gigantic televisions. There's just more to go by for everyone, and birth control (also a technological solution) has complemented that. Life's wonderful these days, and we mostly have tech to thank for it.

Re:Bravo. (5, Insightful)

EzInKy (115248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968642)


Poverty is a social problem, not a technological one.

Social problem: Famine
Technological Solution: Irrigation
Result: Civilization (Just ask Sid)

Solving social problems with technology is what separates men from animals.

Meh. I don't like it one bit (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968254)

There's a reason you have multiple types of rockets, just as you have multiple flavors of Linux. Some are better for doing certain things than others. Sure the private rockets are great for cheap LEO work. But you're eventually going to come across situations where you're going to need your own heavy lifters. And you won't have any design/engineering talent left in that sector.

Re:Meh. I don't like it one bit (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968290)

They're not the Saturn V, but rockets like the Delta IV Heavy [wikipedia.org] seem pretty capable [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Meh. I don't like it one bit (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968550)

But you're eventually going to come across situations where you're going to need your own heavy lifters. And you won't have any design/engineering talent left in that sector.

Most things that can be done with a heavy lifter can also be done by splitting what you're delivering into smaller payloads. It's unlikely to be as efficient since at a minimum you'll need extra hardware to connect those payloads together, but if it costs less than the billions spent on building a heavy lifter and maintaining the launch capability, then it's a better choice. Indeed, given that a heavy lifter that flies once or twice a year is likely to be significantly less reliable than a small launcher that flies hundreds of times a year, there are strong arguments for launching your payload in small chunks rather than putting it all one one launcher which has a much greater chance of blowing up.

And right now, the market for heavy lift (say 100 tons plus to LEO) is approximately zero: very few people who would like to put that much payload into orbit in one go can afford the couple of billion dollars a launch would probably cost (Saturn V, for example, was over $2 billion a launch in today's money).

Wishful thinking is bad science too (5, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968266)

What you need is for people to realise the benefits that come with space exploration so that they demand, through their votes, that it be included in the budget. What you don't need to do is give up on NASA in favour of private companies that can only ever be expected to be SELF serving. Capitalism as a tool is a good thing, but as a religion it is as stupid as any other religion.

Re:Wishful thinking is bad science too (2, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968384)

If you want to convince people of the benefits of space exploration, you need to first convince them you are sane. Anti-corporatism for the sake of anti-corporatism is silly, and that's what you seem to be doing there. Sometimes it makes sense for the government to outsource its projects to other companies; if you think that is not the case here, then you should come up with reasons why.

I am in favor of space research, but right now it has no real direction. Sending the shuttle into space to do more experiments of weightlessness on people is silly. We need to come up with a real reason for exploring space, something that will really capture people's imagination, we need to explain why it is possible, and then we need to design the path to reaching that goal. If we can't design the entire path because of unknowns, then we need to at least have the next step outlined clearly.

If you can't get people to clearly see those three points, then they will never demand space exploration through their votes. Or anything else, really.

Re:Wishful thinking is bad science too (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968790)

If you want to convince people of the benefits of space exploration, you need to first convince them you are sane.

I guess the way to do that is to use childish personal attacks discrediting the sanity of someone who's opinion is different to yours.

Anti-corporatism for the sake of anti-corporatism is silly, and that's what you seem to be doing there.

If you read what I said carefully you'll see that I made no such remark. No, corporations certainly have their place. They did in the Apollo missions too. They just shouldn't be relied on to be leaders.


I am in favor of space research, but right now it has no real direction. Sending the shuttle into space to do more experiments of weightlessness on people is silly. We need to come up with a real reason for exploring space

There are plenty of good reasons for space exploration. Most benefits are long term. The trouble is politicians look in terms of 3-5 years as long term, whereas we're talking centuries.

If you can't get people to clearly see those three points, then they will never demand space exploration through their votes. Or anything else, really.

Well you'd need to start with a basic education in science, which too few people have today. I'm not proposing I can single handedly fix the situation. I am saying that putting your money on corporations to take up the slack for long term goals such as this is not realistic. Corporations can be part of the solution but they are even less suited to pursuing long term goals.

Re:Wishful thinking is bad science too (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968482)

It amazes me how many people think that what we're dealing with is a choice between outsourcing to industry vs. having the government do it. That's not the case. It's a choice between outsourcing to "small" (relatively) companies vs. outsourcing to huge corporate giants (Lockheed, Boeing, etc), which they currently do. The former should give much better pricing and innovation, at the downside of greater risk.

Re:Wishful thinking is bad science too (3, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968800)

It's not big corp vs small at all. It's a question of a lack of leadership. Businesses, and certainly small businesses are ill suited to leading when it comes to such long term goals. Outsourcing sub-tasks to them is fine. Outsourcing projects that could take decades is a recipe for corruption and failure.

Losing Constellation is a set back (4, Informative)

physburn (1095481) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968294)

Years of work have gone in Ares I,5 and the capsules. Yes is was just a bigger Apollo with more modern components, but if its cancelled and NASA have to restart then those years and dollars are gone, any moon or mars mission is setback at least 5 years. But as Phil said, these are just rumours, we don't yet know what will happen to NASA.

---

Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (5, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968342)

Years of work have gone in Ares I,5 and the capsules. ... but if its cancelled and NASA have to restart then those years and dollars are gone

You are suffering from the "sunk costs" fallacy. Those years and dollars are gone, not "if its cancelled", they're gone, period. The question is, what is the best way to proceed from where we are today. If the Ares program is not a good investment, then we shouldn't throw any more money at this. This is equally true whether we've spent nothing or spent a trillion dollars...

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968378)

This is equally true whether we've spent nothing or spent a trillion dollars...

Not really. Lets take the space shuttle for instance, if, after Challenger we figured that it was an unreliable means of transport (and as Columbia proved it was unreliable) and then we decided to scrap the entire thing, that would be a bad idea. Sometimes, even with a flawed design it costs less to do something 95% of the way, than it does to do it 100% of the way.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (3, Interesting)

NNKK (218503) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968480)

Try again. Wikipedia (optimistically) puts the current incremental cost of a Shuttle launch at about $60 million. There have been over 100 launches since Challenger. In other words, we have spent at least $6,000,000,000 -- six billion dollars -- on shuttle flights since NASA's incompetence was put on display for the world.

In the last eight years with just a few hundred million in funding, SpaceX has developed vehicles now capable of launching payloads to LEO at roughly 2x the price of the Shuttle, and cost to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit is actually the same or _LOWER_ for the Falcon 9.

Can you possibly imagine how cheap spaceflight would be if that six BILLION dollars had been poured into something other than NASA's horrifically broken bureaucracy for the last 24 years?

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968502)

The Shuttle was a great research program. We learned an awful lot. The problem was that we turned what should have been a first generation reusable pilot project into a workhorse.

It might have been a suitable workhorse in some of its original incarnations. Might. But after the design compromises that led up to what we currently know as the shuttle, its chances for affordability were ruined.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968516)

Try again. Wikipedia (optimistically) puts the current incremental cost of a Shuttle launch at about $60 million. There have been over 100 launches since Challenger. In other words, we have spent at least $6,000,000,000 -- six billion dollars -- on shuttle flights since NASA's incompetence was put on display for the world.

Using variable costs is silly when the annual fixed cost of the shuttle program is several billion dollars. In reality, NASA have probably spent over a hundred billion dollars on shuttle flights since Challenger, the greatest achievement of which is to build a spam can in orbit which the US government plans to drop into the ocean in a few years.

Just imagine if that $100,000,000,000 had been spent on developing a low-cost spaceflight capability instead.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968620)

Just imagine if that $100,000,000,000 had been spent on developing a low-cost spaceflight capability instead.

This is my thought about the SpaceX Falcon 1 [wikipedia.org] : I wonder if you could build a single occupant capsule, similar to Mercury within the 670 kg limit which that vehicle can lift into low earth orbit?

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

NNKK (218503) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968728)

I can't find the precise weight of the Mercury capsule, but the spacecraft's "landing weight" is listed as 1,098kg. A more modern capsule, the current Soyuz Reentry Module (the part humans actually ride in for the trip to orbit and landing), is about 3000kg.

If you're going for bare-bones and starting over with modern knowledge and materials, you could probably rip out enough to bring a one-man module under 670kg while still keeping the occupant alive. You couldn't really carry anything but the one human, though; no real cargo or experiments.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968772)

Yeah, its for the millionaire who wants to emulate John Glenn. I am thinking $10 million per flight. Half the cost of a week on the ISS and you get to go solo.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

NNKK (218503) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968696)

You are in no way _wrong_, but I carefully chose to focus on incremental launch costs in order to be conservative and avoid an exceedingly nuanced discussion about development costs. One can reasonably argue that some substantive portion of the R&D put into the Shuttle program (both at startup and since) benefits SpaceX and other commercial companies, as well, since most of the information is publicly available. A lot of knowledge was gained just by having a functioning reusable launch vehicle.

Comparing just the incremental launch costs of the Shuttle since 1986 against SpaceX's total costs since 2002 provides a clear, easy-to-understand picture that no one can reasonably argue is unfair to NASA.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968524)

You're delusional. That amount of money would turn any organization into a disfunctional bureaucracy.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (2, Insightful)

seriesrover (867969) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968652)

NASA incompetence? Nothing in engineering is truly bug-free. Unfortunately with NASA the consequences can be dire; doesn't make them incompetent. And your analysis is off the mark - you need to understand that what we got from the money spent on the shuttle [since Challenger] was 20+ years of grunt work. Are your preposing that NASA should've stopped at the Challenger disaster and wait 20 years until SpaceX has the technology to start doing things 'better' ? Getting something done, as the parent says at 95% well, is better than not at all and waiting for the perfect vehicle.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (2, Insightful)

NNKK (218503) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968748)

This isn't about engineering. Have you read the investigation reports from Challenger? If not, I suggest you do so. NASA management was absolutely and unequivocally incompetent.

Then go read the reports from Columbia. They haven't gotten any better. NASA shouldn't be allowed to launch a bottle rocket.

As for "waiting 20 years", you're completely missing the point. It wouldn't have _taken_ 20 years if the money had been spent on worthwhile work instead of a vehicle that should have been retired the minute Challenger disintegrated.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968508)

It isn't a fallacy assuming we are going to eventually create a similar rocket...

Sort of like making half a pizza, throwing it out, buying a pizza then later making a pizza. If instead you made a pizza then bought a pizza you'd have gotten the same results for less effort/money. (/trying to make pizzaanalogyguy proud)

I do though think that this sort of fallacy is problematic and we should make certain to avoid it.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968392)

Mercury, Gemini and Apollo (and their counterparts in the USSR) made sense because of the cold war. Now that the cold war is gone the old justifications don't apply. The best thing NASA could do would be to buy commercial launches from private operators who prove that they can deliver reliably. That way launch vehicles will be available for public and private exploration.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968442)

Either way, a -huge- amount of taxpayer's money would be lost in the process. How much was spent between the finalized design of the shuttles and today on possible new launch vehicles? I'd imagine quite a bit, yet now all of that is lost. What makes sense is the either NASA A) continues like it has been or B) gives all of its assets to the collective whole of the USA. B is not going to happen because of so much classified data (after all, build a rocket, attack a nuke and you have an ICBM) and due to the games Obama is playing with our finances A apparently isn't going to happen. So in the end we are going to pay more for companies with more failures than successes for our future in space...

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968486)

I have the impression that the standing army which supports the Shuttle has to be kept employed because they represent a large bloc of active voters. So the money is spent to keep those people happy with the government of the day. This is why so many Shuttle derived launchers are being proposed.

Re:Losing Constellation is a set back (1)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968606)

The years and dollars aren't gone. Most of the effort of Ares from what I can tell has been relearning how to do what we did in the past, slightly better, with modern technology and the team at NASA now. Its not like that team will magically forget everything they learned with that time and money if the White House and Congress want a different rocket. They will only lose the marginal differences between the old design and the new design requirements.Overall, it could actually save years and dollars if the new design winds up superior to the last, in a certain way of thinking.

Losing Duke Nukem Forever is a set back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968808)

Years of work have gone in Duke Nukem Forever. Yes is was just another Duke Nukem with more modern components, but if its cancelled and Take Two Interactive has to restart then those years and dollars are gone, any Duke Nukem is setback at least 5 years. But as Phil said, these are just rumours, we don't yet know what will happen to 3D Realms.

YEAH!

Anyone remember Venture Star? (1)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968894)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VentureStar [wikipedia.org] That was an excellent example of private industry dropping the ball without a guaranteed flow of money from the government. Yes, I can see private industry handling low earth orbit. But the moon or Mars? There is no way that they will pay so much risk money ahead of time without promise of near-term profits. American corporations have forgotten how to invest in the future and only concern themselves with quarterly reports. Lockheed wouldn't even fund its share of 50%, or even a single year of development.

taxpayer money wasted (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968340)

Chances are though, a -lot- of taxpayer funded research is now going to be either A) unneeded (private space companies are going to use a totally different design) B) unaccessable (classified to the companies) C) unfinished or D) going to be redundant (private companies are now going to use taxpayer money to do the same exact thing)

Re:taxpayer money wasted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968380)

I completely agree, get the USA out of debt now.

Re:taxpayer money wasted (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968528)

True, a couple billion will be lost. Long term though is this a better way to proceed with space travel? If so, we'd need to flip over eventually so the cost isn't much.

Re:taxpayer money wasted (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968852)

Good thing the government on the other hand is so very efficient and trustworthy

Private Companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968374)

And why, pray-tell would private companies be interested in space exploration?

Outside of space tourism or communications/military sats there's no profit in space.
And if all we're getting is LEO then why bother with manned space travel at all?

WE (humanity) need to get off this rock. Having the rovers up there is nice and all, but we would be far better served with a permanent base.
I'd like to live to see the day when someone can call themselves "martian born".

Re:Private Companies (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968806)

Yeah, why would private companies be interested in making cars? Outside selling cars, and renting them, there's no profit to be made in making cars.

Ya, I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

Obama Is Right But for the Wrong Reason (1)

rebelscience (1717928) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968420)

Space exploration is really cool but there are good reasons to believe that spending money on more rocket propulsion systems will be money wasted. It’s not just because rockets are an extremely expensive, limited and dangerous form of space transportation but because almost every form of transportation and energy production on planet Earth will be obsolete in the not too distant future. Let's face it. We will not colonize the solar system let alone the star systems beyond with a bunch of primitive rockets.

We are on the verge of a revolution in physics. A new analysis of the causality of motion leads to the conclusion that we are immersed in energy, lots and lots of it. Normal matter moves in an immense lattice of energetic particles without which motion itself would be impossible. Soon we’ll have vehicles that can move at enormous speeds and negotiate right angle turns without slowing down and without incurring damage due to inertial effects. Floating sky cities impervious to earthquakes, tsunamis and bad weather, New York to Beijing in minutes, Earth to Mars in hours; that’s the future of energy and travel. Read Physics: The Problem with Motion [blogspot.com] if you're interested in a novel and truly revolutionary understanding of motion.

Re:Obama Is Right But for the Wrong Reason (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968448)

Re:Obama Is Right But for the Wrong Reason (1)

rebelscience (1717928) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968494)

Is this the same Baez who once wrote:

I would prefer to say that there are infinitely many "nows", but no one "now" that is any better than the rest. In special or general relativity, we can define a "now" to be a spacelike hypersurface - or more technically, a Cauchy surface. In one "now", I am typing this article while sitting at my desk on a hot summer morning in Riverside. In another, I am asleep on an airplane flying to Portugal. In most of them, I don't exist.

(Source [cornell.edu] )

Baez is like a pot arguing against kettles. LOL.

Re:Obama Is Right But for the Wrong Reason (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968530)

Your metaphor-fu needs practice, grasshopper.

Re:Obama Is Right But for the Wrong Reason (2, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968738)

Leaving aside your stupidity (or should I say gullibility) what you've just presented here is the old "spaceflight will be easier in the future so why bother now?" argument. It's true that there may be new technologies available tomorrow, or next week, or next decade, but the majority of evidence suggests that chemical rockets remain the only known technology to produce high enough thrust to get out of planetary gravity wells, and to perform short duration missions beyond LEO. It's lovely to think that maybe we're on the verge of some breakthrough that will render chemical rockets unnecessary, but even the greatest optimists of alternate propulsion techniques are unwilling to claim that. Even if we develop cheap, reliable, compact and light fusion reactors tomorrow, to get high thrust you still need a rocket nozzle with a high temperature propellant flowing through it, and most likely that propellant will be even higher temperature than in chemical rockets (otherwise, what's the advantage?) and that's likely to involve an even more complex design. Even if the design isn't more complex, it is necessarily more *new* and that means most likely less mature than needed for a human rated booster.

The future of spaceflight only gets easier than today if we fly today.

What Phil Plait also says (1, Offtopic)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968424)

He called me a yarf. I don't know what that is, but I think it's something goofy.

the only reason we ever went to space (0, Flamebait)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968428)

was as a nationalistic machismo chest thumping exercise

like two drunks at a party trying to impress the same chick by grandstanding who can catch steak knives in their mouth

i'm sorry, but for all those who see spacefaring as the noblest of mankind's pursuits, the actual reasons for getting our butts into space was amongst the basest of motivations: tribal rivalry

india wants to thump its chest now, china, brazil, etc., and let them. its an enjoyable quaint nationalistic pasttime at this point, like hosting the olympics or setting off a nuclear bomb

i await the peruvian national space program launching a man into space, i look forward to the jamaican space ageny's first man on the moon, all the way on down to vanuatu

the future will be chest thumping by multinational corporations. what better way for microsoft to win PR for its product line over google's than to have its probe to ganymede run on windows 7 starter? or have it actually serve up search returns for select searches, with a slight latency?

and if a man ever gets into space again, his craft and his suit will look like nascar. gloves by nike, second stage booster with "viagra" on the side. its the american way, privatize everything: space agency, healthcare, prison systems, hired mercenaries. god bless america. i'm sorry, is that trademarked?

With all due respect, this is BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968536)

Space programs were motivated not by "chest thumping", but by the arms race. Man-in-space rockets were built by the very same people who designed the ICBMs. Soviets believed the space shuttle was primarily a weapon. Look at this Soviet propaganda poster:
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/UeuInMEVvBmQMCIroR7zgg and certainly intended theirs to be one.

It's OK to pick on America, but doing it out of ignorance does not make a good impression.

Re:the only reason we ever went to space (0)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968702)

i await the peruvian national space program launching a man into space, i look forward to the jamaican space ageny's first man on the moon, all the way on down to vanuatu

I await the day when you stop smoking crack and start using punctuation.

New Launch Vehicle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968498)

What we need is a new design for a launch vehicle, something a 3rd the size of the shuttle, for passengers only, and something larger then the shuttle, a normal rocket, for cargo. The new human lift vehicle needs to be single stage to orbit, and be capable of refueling in orbit for trips to the moon, and should be capable of runway and VTL. I don't know why they have been cheap and spent all this time working on trying to improve 40 year old designs with some modern upgrades. It just isn't going to be capable enough to advance things.

Re:New Launch Vehicle (2, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968554)

The answer to your question is, it's a lot easier for congress to allocate funds to maintain operations than it is for them to allocate funds to build a new system. So they tend to underfund system development, and pay for that many times over in increased operating costs. In particular, there's virtually no consideration given to ground-up redesign, even though we know we could gain a lot of benefits by doing so.

Yes, we do need to separate crew and cargo costs. Again, the Shuttle is an example of underfunded system development, as by merging the two together, they only had to develop one launch stack (there are a lot of even bigger development-cost compromises in the shuttle program, but that's a whole different story).

The SSTO issue is a problem. We need more basic research before we can feel confident in our ability to build a good SSTO. Scramjets or some kinds of metastable fuels could probably pull it off. New types of advanced composites might help. But it's really tough.

underinvesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968592)

Yes, the way to innovate is to under-invest, it makes perfect sense! Let's try this with all of our other problems...

Not an economic matter (1)

mozzis (231162) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968662)

but maybe a political one. The governments of India and China both have announced intentions of establishing presences on the Moon. I would rather that the US be a participant in that rather than an onlooker - or hitchhiker.

private industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30968740)

Suppose some private corporation decided to invest in space travel, and presently established a mining colony on the moon or Mars.

Government(s) would at once try to tax the crap out of that corporation rather than allow it to soak up those riches. Not that the governments are providing any real benefit to the corporation for the tax revenue.

Any corporation that has the capability to establish a colony in space has the capability to figure out the conclusion in the previous paragraph. Before they even embark upon such a project, they are going to prepare their response.

That response will almost certainly be to establish themselves as their own sovereign entity, with the military capability to defend their sovereignty.

Uh-oh.

Time for a trust fund (3, Interesting)

BlueCoder (223005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968810)

We really need to get away from all this political BS.

Let's just setup a multi trillion dollar trust fund over the next 20 years and be done with it. Then we won't have to support it with taxes anymore. I think we can afford to spend 20 years frugally developing space engineering. Let's work on getting garbage collectors and street cleaners in space before we start polluting the moon and mars.

We spend how many billions of dollars putting the ISS into space and it's scheduled for a 2020 end of service...? How many billions do we spend on satellites only to have them come crashing back into the atmosphere? It costs way too much money sending all those pounds of metal up there only to waste it.
We need to concentrate on manufacturing and recycling. We need more automation in space.

We need plans to harvest asteroids and comets and put then into orbit around mars and Saturn for future manufacturing; I seriously doubt with all the asteroid doomsday movies that putting asteroids into earth orbit will get that much support. Mars is the scene of the next industrial revolution. The next wild west though it may take us a couple hundred years. And if you didn't realize it farming is destined for space. Power? You don't want a nuclear reactor next door? Guess where we can put it? It's all about real estate baby. Always has been and always will be and fortunately there is a quite a bit of it.

By private you mean private contributers to .. (1)

JoshDD (1713044) | more than 4 years ago | (#30968896)

election campain??
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