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The Upside of the NASA Budget

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the new-astronaut-ice-cream-flavors dept.

Government 283

teeks99 writes "There are a lot of articles circulating about the new changes to the NASA budget, but this one goes into some of the details. From what I'm seeing, it looks great — cutting off the big, expensive, over-budget stuff and allowing a whole bunch of important and revolutionary programs to get going: commercial space transportation; keeping the ISS going (now that we've finally got it up and running); working on orbital propellant storage (so someday we can go off to the far flung places); automated rendezvous and docking (allowing multiple, smaller launches, which then form into one large spacecraft in orbit). Quoting: 'NASA is out of the business of putting people into low-earth orbit, and doesn't see getting back in to it. The Agency now sees its role as doing interesting things with people once they get there, hence its emphasis on in-orbit construction, heavy lift capabilities, and resource harvesting hardware. Given budgetary constraints and the real issues with the Constellation program, none of that is necessarily unreasonable.'"

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Economy of Scale (5, Interesting)

teeks99 (849132) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998710)

There's also a pretty good article [space.com] from space.com that talks about a couple of the different points

They go into some more detail about the commercial space transportation part paving the way for more "space tourist" like stuff. Obviously this will still be extremely expensive, but I hope that it could increase the total number of launches, and help bring some economies of scale.

This is also the reason I'm excited about the orbital propellant storage and automated rendezvous technology. These items will allow us to launch big (weight wise) missions by using a bunch of smaller launch vehicles, instead of one really huge (and really expensive) one.

Re:Economy of Scale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998826)

These items will allow us to launch big (weight wise) missions by using a bunch of smaller launch vehicles

So, a slashdot trip to moon will actually be possible in future? That's good news!

Re:Economy of Scale (4, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999638)

This is also the reason I'm excited about the orbital propellant storage and automated rendezvous technology.

We are never going to get out of sight with our current propellant technology. The money spent on this is a waste, like building yet another pony express station. Its time to focus in another direction.

As for automated rendezvous, the Russians have been doing this for years. Just buy it from them.

Re:Economy of Scale (3, Insightful)

happy_place (632005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999778)

No matter how you look at this issue, it's really just putting rosed-colored glasses on a tough situation. Sure, scientists and such are clever and will try to figure out how to continue to expand the sciences, even without financial support systems of the past, but the demand in aeronautics will continue to diminish, fewer experts will get involved, and any incentives to stay will simply go away.

Of course I might be wrong, but honestly, if this philosophy really worked in governing bodies (the idea that you slash the budget to marginally operating ability, and suddenly you get better "products") then you should not expect record spending, but instead we should expect to see record budget slashing.

The truth is, there's no great plan, instead these cuts are politically motivated due to the demographics of states affected by this change. Of course that's a president's prerogative and presidents do political things. I just won't pretend it's good news for NASA or US space tech.
   

Re:Economy of Scale (4, Interesting)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999860)

So what they are proposing is that we will do lots with relatively small rockets, and anything BIG that is needed can be built piecemeal. That is an approach - the one followed by ISS. The other approach is Skylab. We had a Saturn IVb knocking around, so we built a space station and lofted it up in one shot. Skylab was still probably bigger in total volume than the ISS is today, as it nears completion.

Maybe this new approach will work, and I hope it will. But I believe that it won't. The Mercury astronauts said it best. No Buck Rogers, No Bucks. Without manned spaceflight, we'll mostly turn our attention to unmanned spaceflight, which is cool, and cheap, and makes great discoveries. The public will tire of this too. Robots are good and they can be used successfully, but "boots on the ground" or in this case "boots in space" are also required.

The US has now essentially ceded manned spaceflight to the Russians and the Chinese... just as Spain and Portugal ceded the new world to the English and French. Unless there is a national commitment to a GOAL in manned spaceflight, not much of it will make sense, other than going back and forth to the ISS.

By all means, we should look on the bright side... but the bright side is considerably dimmer now

Re:Economy of Scale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31000064)

These items will allow us to launch big (weight wise) missions by using a bunch of smaller launch vehicles, instead of one really huge (and really expensive) one.

And the savings of which would be precisely amount to what? The payload to absolute mass ratio tends to be smaller when using small launchers. So, without actual numbers it remains debatable whether small launchers are indeed more efficient.

A breath of fresh air (5, Insightful)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998758)

This new program is far better than the old one. It is so very heartening to see in a NASA program a stated goal to reduce the cost of human spaceflight, along with R&D of enabling technologies (orbital refueling, etc). NASA is finally shifting its human spaceflight focus in the right direction. As I've heard said before, it's not NASA's job to put a man on Mars (or the moon). It's NASA's job to make it possible for National Geographic to put a man on Mars.

Now congress just has to not be a bunch of idiots and ruin it (possibly the greatest challenge to human spaceflight yet).

Re:A breath of fresh air (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998916)

I couldn't disagree more. The private sector has yet to put a man on the moon after 40 years of the government having done so, and they also have shown no interest for mars. This is the absolute wrong direction for the government to be going. We need to go back, and to boldly go, while we still can.

Re:A breath of fresh air (5, Interesting)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999092)

Constellation was just "Apollo on steroids", as described by Griffin. How does sending a few government employees to the moon help open access to space for everyone? That should be the point, not just going to the moon for the sake of planting flags and making footprints (or "boldly going").

And perhaps the private sector would have gone to the moon, had they been given 150 billion dollars (apollo cost) [wikipedia.org] and a mandate to go there ASAP. But it was NASA that was given the money and the mandate, so they went. And where did it get us, ultimately? There hasn't been a single person past LEO since. Sounds to me like a different approach is needed. Perhaps one that builds and refines basic technologies, opening access to space and making it cheaper and easier to operate there. That way, when we do go back, we go back to stay.

Re:A breath of fresh air (5, Insightful)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999326)

Well I guess you and I will have to agree to disagree. Let me rephrase what I said earlier. What is the private sector's motivation for going into space? Rich people's tourism. What is NASA's? Science. I chose the latter over the former.

Re:A breath of fresh air (2, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999572)

Well I guess you and I will have to agree to disagree. Let me rephrase what I said earlier. What is the private sector's motivation for going into space? Rich people's tourism.

Wrong answer. The correct answer is: To make money.

Now, space tourism will likely make them the most money, and therefore they'll probably focus on that part. But then, as soon as they have a reliable space vehicle, they will just bring up anyone who pays for it, be it some tourist who just wants to experience weightlessness and view our planet from space, or a scientist who wants to perform some experiment. The only question will be: "What do you pay?"

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999934)

Now, space tourism will likely make them the most money, and therefore they'll probably focus on that part.

You're kidding right? You think a company can make more money on a handful of very rich vacationers than it can on government contracts? Manned commercial space (orbital) transport will likely have one kind of customer....rich governments. They are the only ones who can afford it.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999990)

Exactly, you said it, not me. To make money. My argument is for science, yours is for penny pinching accountants.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999724)

Well I guess you and I will have to agree to disagree. Let me rephrase what I said earlier. What is the private sector's motivation for going into space? Rich people's tourism.

You got that wrong. The only private sector motivation is money. Doesn't matter what the money is for.

You need to look at it as a time line. NASA did the science to get people into space. Now there is demand for space tourism. The private sector can begin by improving NASA's initial science with the goal of decreasing the overall cost of getting to space. While the private sector handles that portion, NASA will be developing additional science and technology related to doing things while in space. Building, constructing, lifting, mining, moving, growing things, etc. As the cost for space tourism decreases, and NASA improves the tech for doing other things in space, the private sector will naturally follow the potential profits and expand further into space.

Baby steps. Eventually we will reach a critical mass of science, technology, and potential profit and the private sector will unleash a ton of investment into space.

Re:A breath of fresh air (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999420)

You simply can't make the arguement that's NASA's fault we havn't been back to the moon since the early 70s and have never been to Mars. NASA had plans for a third round of Apollo missions and had mission plans to bel anding us on Mars by 1985. 1985! Thats 25 years ago!

Why didn't they do it? Not for any lack of know-how, willingness, or determination. It was for lack of funds. Congress cut the hell out of NASA's budget. Perhaps it was NASA's fault for expecting that Apollo era funding would continue, but you can't say they didn't WANT to do all the things you're saying they didn't accomplish.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999890)

+1, couldn't agree more.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999242)

I couldn't disagree more. The private sector has yet to put a man on the moon after 40 years of the government having done so, and they also have shown no interest for mars.

The private sector will be quite happy to put you on the Moon if you're willing to give them $100,000,000,000 to do so.

Otherwise, what exactly would be the point of a company spending all that money just to send someone there to plant a flag and bring back some rocks?

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999406)

Prestige. If you had a choice of LEO capable companies, wouldn't you be more apt to choose one that's gone to the moon? Sure, LEO and the moon are wildly different, but that's the point: To stick out and say "Hey, look what we can do!" There's no way that wouldn't impress potential clients.

But, then that's beside the point either of you are trying to make...

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999524)

Prestige. If you had a choice of LEO capable companies, wouldn't you be more apt to choose one that's gone to the moon? Sure, LEO and the moon are wildly different, but that's the point: To stick out and say "Hey, look what we can do!" There's no way that wouldn't impress potential clients.

Impress them enough to cover the cost ? Doubtful.

Re:A breath of fresh air (2, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999600)

No, it won't cover the costs. But, to be the company behind the first (even second or third) private moon landing? That's the sort of reputation that sticks with a company for a long time. Not everything in business is about profit. Or atleast it didn't use to be...

Re:A breath of fresh air (2, Informative)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999694)

If you had a choice of LEO capable companies, wouldn't you be more apt to choose one that's gone to the moon?

That's a pretty big if. There are no LEO capable companies.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999798)

That is false.

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999942)

How much for me and 5 of my friends to go to mars one way with 2 years of food/air/water

Re:A breath of fresh air (1)

trickyD1ck (1313117) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999362)

Isn't it good that as space exploration moves towards private sector, it will focus more on pragmatic goals instead of sticking it up to russkies?

Re:A breath of fresh air (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999950)

While we still can? What do you mean? While your still alive? It sounds to me all this new tech and research will eventually make it possible to travel to far away places.

Re:A breath of fresh air (3, Insightful)

Minimum_Wage (1003821) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999100)

The manned spaceflight program has always been the most popular element of NASA, both to the general public and to Congress. If the planned cuts to the manned program are successfully enacted, I'm not sure the how long the rest of this stuff will survive in the current bugetary climate. Note that I'm not necessarily saying the Constellation program is on the right track, but there is an element of the old proverb about a rising tide lifting all the boats that I think applies here.

Re:A breath of fresh air (2, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999496)

As I've heard said before, it's not NASA's job to put a man on Mars (or the moon). It's NASA's job to make it possible for National Geographic to put a man on Mars.

That's insane. National Geographic's great expeditions followed in the footsteps of many gov't funded expeditions, particularly, all these expeditions were descended from the British sending out the likes of Cook, and geez, Darwin.

Stupid, really (1, Informative)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998794)

You can change the NASA budget all you want, but the major impediments to commercial space launches are still the FAA and the EPA. If you can't get a license for a launch, you aren't going anywhere. And between the FAA and EPA it is almost impossible to get a license in the US.

Maybe Mexico would be open to allowing their skies to be used and for the remote possibility of some kind of pollution. Unfortunately, it is pretty clear they have not been open in the past - or we would be doing it.

Re:Stupid, really (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998868)

Citation needed

Re:Stupid, really (4, Funny)

skine (1524819) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998882)

Well, Mexico did once send a killer whale to the moon for $200.

Re:Stupid, really (1)

Wolvenhaven (1521217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999352)

We're whalers on the moon, we carry a harpoon, but there ain't no whales so we tell tall tales and sing our whaling tune.

Re:Stupid, really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999892)

Gah, not again.

FUD (3, Informative)

llZENll (545605) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999070)

Any company that has the resources to make a manned space flight will have no problem either pulling the correct strings [dot.gov] to get licensing, or simply finding their own island [virgin.com] to do so.

Re:Stupid, really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999094)

In 2005 there were 18 orbital commercial launches worldwide, of which 5 were licensed by the FAA. Those 18 launches represent 33 percent of the 55 total launches conducted in 2005 for government and commercial customers worldwide. This marked an increase over 2004, which saw 15 commercial orbital launches worldwide.

How many commercial launches take place each year? in the FAA FAQ [custhelp.com]

This means that the FAA licensed 1/11th (about 9%) of the total launches in 2005. That's not that bad, is it?

Re:Stupid, really (4, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999110)

OMG brilliant!

Build a cylindrical wall surrounding the launch complex and the outbound trajectory. Put a hefty airlock at the bottom, at ground level. Make the wall tall enough to poke out of the atmosphere. Install really big vacuum pumps.

Move the spacecraft into the wall through the airlock. Get everyone out of the walled area. Close the airlock and evacuate all the atmosphere from the walled region. (Pump it into the surrounding open air.)

When the walled in area is a hard vacuum, from ground to space, launch! The FAA has no say, because there's no atmosphere! The EPA has no say because there's no air!

The spacecraft never undergoes aerodynamic stress during launch and can be any dang shape you want! Spherical ship? No problem!

Note to all slashbots: I am joking. Maybe.

Re:Stupid, really (2, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999246)

Better yet: Not any shape. Place it on a disk, that fits semi-loosely in your cylinder. (Tighter will get more wear, but be more efficient. There'll be a range of 'good' values here.)

Then you let the air back in from vents under the disk. It'll launch most of the way from air pressure alone.

Re:Stupid, really (3, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999526)

Even more brilliant... collect atmospheric C02 and use it to pump the platform up. When the platform clears, keep pumping that evil C02 into space.

It's the pneumatic space elevator of global warming stopping!

Re:Stupid, really (1)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999746)

Umm, the maximum air pressure you could get (at sea level would be 14.7 psi, so you can only lift 14.7 pounds for every square inch of cylinder. The amount of weight that the space shuttle can lift to LEO is 53,600lbs, so you'd need an area of 3650 square inches to lift it. Which is less than 6' in diameter. Unfortunately, the amount of air pressure rapidly drops as you ascend, and getting a vacuum seal around that payload slug will be hard as hell. Not to mention making a 6' diameter pipe that is air-tight and structurally sound enough to reach all the way out of the atmosphere and resist imploding.

Re:Stupid, really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999340)

The FAA will want you to put lights on your extremely tall 'smokestack', but other than that you are fine from a regulatory perspective.

Re:Stupid, really (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999716)

For the mentally-challenged: Instead of blasting your ship into space, bring space down to your ship :)

Re:Stupid, really (3, Insightful)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999112)

...but the major impediments to commercial space launches are still the FAA and the EPA.

Perhaps the most attractive point of the commercial swing is that it makes the FAA/EPA factor moot. A launch provider is a launch provider...if the payload sports an American flag on the delivery vehicle, so be it. If it is economically more feasible to hitch a ride into orbit on a Cold War R-7 out of Kazakhstan, that will be the commercial solution.

Re:Stupid, really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999122)

It's that defeatist attitude that will have you stuck on this planet when it finally goes belly-up.

The FAA and EPA are social obstacles, and like all others they'll crumble given enough time, pressure, and opportunity. Furthermore, where's it written that the technology NASA develops has to be launched from within US borders?

Figure out the whole space travel thing first, then start worrying about convincing your neighbors. By that point it probably won't even be an issue anymore.

Re:Stupid, really (5, Informative)

georgewilliamherbert (211790) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999142)

Please stop the FUD. Approximately nothing of what you have said is true, cdrguru.

The FAA's office of Space Transportation (AST) has a mandate written in its authorizing law to both regulate and promote commercial space activities. They take both parts of that quite seriously.
Please do not spread FUD.

I am not aware of any commercial space activity which was denied an AST license or permit. There have been a few "Can't fly from this airport" snafu's from the aviation side, who are alternately happy and sad about rockets, but the AST crew are doing the "promote" thing quite seriously.

Is it always a completely smooth relationship? No. Is any of the startup companies spending most of their time (more than 10-20%) on paperwork? No. People are getting licenses and permits, they're flying.

From a reasonable standpoint, someone does need to be an external review to make sure we don't kill someone on the ground. If the industry neglected that, we'd eventually *really* get shut down when we did something neglegent. The reviews and regulation are appropriate to avoid dropping rockets on some poor family some day, which would be a tragedy both for the victims and for the industry.

EPA has no authority, the FAA has a standing environmental finding that there's no significant impact from the reusable rocket industry.

Am I personally flying rockets? No. Have I had to talk to AST about some proposed activities? Some. Do I know the people flying stuff now (Xcor, Armadillo, Masten, Unreasonable)? Yes, in most cases for decade-plus and personally. When we all get together, most of the griping is about operational lessons, and learning new things about rocket design, and high-fives for new successes. Only a small fraction of it is regulatory. It's there, but we know how to deal with it.

Re:Stupid, really (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999238)

And between the FAA and EPA it is almost impossible to get a license in the US.

Don't forget OSHA. And that's a GOOD thing IMO. Note that it didn't stop Space Ship One from reaching space. What it will stop is unscrupulous corporations from using a poisonous propellant because it's cheaper than a nontoxic one, and having pieces of the blown-up rocket land on somebody's house. Let alone shortcuts that endanger workers.

When they made the Blues Brothers movie they had to do tests to get FAA approval to drop the Nazi's Pinto from a helicopter in Chicago in that one scene; they wanted to make sure it would drop straight down instead of sailing into a residential neighborhood. After dropping three pintos in the Salt Flats in Utah, the FAA granted permission.

The EPA, FAA, and OSHA protects YOU from corporations who don't care whether you live or die, whether you realize it or not. They're not protecting you from yourself, they're protecting you from ME. Any corporation rich enough to put people in space are rich enough to get EPA, FAA and OSHA approval.

If government went away tomorrow, you'd be wishing it was back the day after.

Re:Stupid, really (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999796)

When they made the Blues Brothers movie they had to do tests to get FAA approval to drop the Nazi's Pinto from a helicopter in Chicago in that one scene; they wanted to make sure it would drop straight down instead of sailing into a residential neighborhood. After dropping three pintos in the Salt Flats in Utah, the FAA granted permission.

Your assumption appears to be that the Blues Brothers fx team never thought about wind or aerodynamic effects, rather than they were competent and confident and the FAA just made them jump through a bunch of bureaucratic hoops to arrive at what people in the industry already knew. So, they didn't actually protect anybody in that case (either way).

Re:Stupid, really (4, Insightful)

rijrunner (263757) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999394)

Depends on the type of license. The manned reusable license is actually pretty well thought out. (Scaled was easily able to get such a license). The FAA is more than reasonable about that. You might want to actually research that.

    Mexico is not really an option as American companies - or companies with primary American ownership/staff - are still subject to US laws. Space and associated technologies are too close to arms proliferation and the laws are written with that in mind.

    The reality is that US companies can, and do, get all the necessary licenses.

      What is difficult is the reverse engineering of existing technologies. Almost everything NASA paid for in X programs the last 30 years is still owned exclusively by the company whom they contracted the work. The Linear Aerospike engines that were tested for X-33 has been sitting on shelf at LockMart for almost 10 years, so other companies wanting to explore the concept have to rebuild the design. The only real design in the last decade to come out of NASA itself without outside contracts has been TransHab. (Which they promptly signed a sole-source distribution contract with Bigelow to handle).

    And therein lies the problem with NASA. Their R&D programs are not like the old NACA development programs. The technology is not moving to off-the-shelf. They are on-the-shelf technologies because that is primarily where they stay. Any company that wants to build a small orbital vehicle will have to do that from scratch or with whatever they can leverage.

Re:Stupid, really (1)

iso-cop (555637) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999772)

Because NASA has be largely encouraged to "get stuff from industry" for so long--shrink its workforce and farm out all of the details as much as possible, most everything paid for by the taxpayers is proprietary to the companies to which NASA contracts. Nobody else can use it and we get 30 years of stagnation of space travel. Will we get more of the same with the new proposal?

Whilst america is pissing about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998818)

China will build lunar factories, and India will have orbital call centers.

Re:Whilst america is pissing about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999088)

And the Dutch will license low orbit cat houses.

Survival of mankind (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998820)

Personally I feel NASA's ongoing mission should be the distribution of people into outer space for permanent relocation. We should focus on saving humanity from the off chance we kill each other with nukes or get hit by an asteroid.

Re:Survival of mankind (1, Funny)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998898)

So NASA's job should be the colonization and terraforming of Mars?

No, thats not what NASA should be focused on, it should be focused on what it used to do best, develop and test aviation systems. Including space

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998946)

some of us would disagree

Re:Survival of mankind (2, Insightful)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999018)

I think this illustrates one of NASA's biggest problems. Different people have different and incompatible ideas of what its mission should be. They work on projects that take more than a decade, so changing missions with changing administrations can result in nothing getting done. Should they do manned space? Environmental monitoring? Aerospace R+D? Deep space science? These all require very different infrastructure.

My personal vote is for manned space and deep space science because I don't think any other (US) organization is likely to do these, but there are many other reasonable options. As a country we need to decide, and stick with that decision.

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

Gravatron (716477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999626)

they should be doing the pure science missions, both manned and robotic. I expect private companies to do the economic missions: comm satellites, mining/energy operations, space tourism, etc. I expect the military to do the well, defense/intelligence ops. Is there overlap at times? Of course, and there should be. Each side should be free to exchange what technologies they feel proper.

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999914)

"And stick with this decision." EXACTLY. It was decided already, but someone had to go and change their minds.

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31000066)

Should they do manned space? Environmental monitoring? Aerospace R+D? Deep space science? These all require very different infrastructure.

However, lowering launch costs, one of the main goals of the new R&D program, facilitates all of those things.

Who the hell modded this comment 'Troll'? (1)

mmell (832646) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999158)

Moron.

I generally don't touch posts by A/C, but in this case . . . WTF? The man has a valid point, he put it succinctly and clearly. Whoever modded the post 'troll' needs to re-read the moderator guidelines.

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999464)

Personally I feel NASA's ongoing mission should be the distribution of people into outer space for permanent relocation.

There, fixed that for you. There was some humorous nonsense about *saving* humanity obviously tacked on by a hacker.

Re:Survival of mankind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999564)

LOL.
If such a disaster made the Earth inhospitable and difficult to live in, how is that any different from a barren planet with no running water, vegetation or other means of sustenance?

The idea to me is ridiculous. Seems to me that by the time we can actually terraform another planet, we'll also be completely capable of "terra re-forming" Earth.

Re:Survival of mankind (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999764)

Personally, I feel that if we're going to colonize the moon (or Mars), that responsibility should not be put in the hands of NASA, the USA, or any other hypercapitalist nation for that matter. What these bean counters love to ignore is that, once we hit space, money/wealth will quickly become irrelevant. I don't know about you, but I can't picture debt collectors chasing me through the galaxy so some dirty banker can buy a diamond-encrusted iPad.

News Analysis (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998856)

An another article [nytimes.com] summarizing some of the proposed changes for NASA and their implications.

Fantasy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30998884)

None of this is going to happen. Hanson owns NASA now. If they do continue launching stuff it will be more atmospheric monitoring satellites. The last astronomical observatory of significance launched by NASA will be the JWST. After that there is nothing. The deep space network will wither.

China owns space now.

Re:Fantasy (1)

megamerican (1073936) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999132)

Wrong. There is plenty of money for black budget projects and the militarization of space that'll be launched out of Air Force Space Command, just not enough for peaceful purposes.

Re:Fantasy (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999416)

Hanson owns NASA now.

Has he been appointed Grand Poobah of the Illuminati yet? What is he going to have the Trilateral Commission do next?

So (5, Funny)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30998920)

From the article:

allowing multiple, smaller launches, which then form into one large spacecraft in orbit

So NASA's building a version of Voltron?

Re:So (4, Funny)

xleeko (551231) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999030)

From the article:

allowing multiple, smaller launches, which then form into one large spacecraft in orbit

So NASA's building a version of Voltron?

They don't say so explicitly ... you have to read between the lions.

NASA's budget is nothing more than a (2, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999014)

rounding error with what the President proposed for FY2010. Considering they are spending an unheard of 40% over their income I guess we should feel damn lucky NASA got anything.

Being a geek I want NASA to receive funding an put people into space and on the moon. The space station comes off to me as a camper, someone looking for excitement and adventure but not wanting to commit to the log cabin in the mountains.

Being a cynic, this unabashed spending has got to stop. If it means shutting down the manned space program then please do so. Just cut everything else you can to get a budget down where my children dream of space and not how to pay off the debt of my generation. The cynic in me also says, we canceled all of this because Bush pushed for it and therefor it has to be wrong, and if not wrong, well damnit WE WON.

So NASA will become what? Beholden to corporate interest who may or may not sell services to it because of regulation? Is that the future? We no longer get to dream about going to the stars?

The ultimate cynic in me says, going to the moon and playing in space make for less votes than swimming pools named after Congressmen and schools named after Presidents.

Spending (2, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999556)

Being a cynic, this unabashed spending has got to stop

The spending is going crazy because entitlements are out of control. The feds promise that everyone who is this or that is entitled to a federal zennie, and now there's more of them as baby boomers get old. What was supposed to happen was that entitlements would be pretty cheap and there would be lots of kids to share the costs of the old people. Now, neither has happened.

Bottom line is, if you want the spending to stop, you have to withhold care for the elderly and handicapped on some level and let them die. If you don't want to do that, then you to pay more in taxes to stem the budget bleeding. In all reality, the only political thing that could happen is that some old people will get cut out and some people will pay more in taxes. But all of the discretionary spending doesn't matter one whit, compared to the mandatory entitlement spending.

Re:Spending (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31000090)

The biggest spending areas are Medicare, Social Security, and Defense. Fiddling with any of these is a sure way to lose the next election, not only for yourself but for your party. So, no one will touch them except to add more to them and make the problem worse. Meanwhile, trying to even get taxes back up to where they were 10 years ago is political suicide. So, we're stuck with politicians doing the will of the people to stay in office, and the will of the people is more benefits, more defense, less taxes. This is obviously unsustainable, but no one seems to care. Oh sure, people go on TV screaming about it, and people grumble about it amongst themselves, but then what? Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, we had a budget surplus. At that time, the few people suggesting we use it to pay down the debt were drowned out by those demanding it be "given back" in the form of a tax cut. Bush came into office and gave the people what they want, and we ended up back in the red again.

We need to raise taxes, cut benefits, and slash defense spending. We now spend more than every other country in the world combined on defense, at some point we have to say we're spending too much on it. Of course, if anyone even suggests cutting defense spending they're labeled as an unpatriotic terrorist sympathizer, and their political career goes down the toilet. Similarly, if anyone suggests cutting social security or Medicare, they're accused of wanting to kill old people, and old people vote more than anyone else. Talk about raising taxes, and you're a big government socialist. The whole system has gone off the rails, and everyone is too busy trying to tear everyone else down and look good for the voters to actually fix any of it. All we can accomplish is bickering about discretionary spending, which is such a small part of the budget that even taking it all the way down to zero wouldn't solve the problem.

End of rant.

It's not rocket science (5, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999048)

Getting to LEO isn't rocket science, any more. We've been doing that for over 50 years, now.

By now it's rocket engineering, and appropriate for the private sector.

Keep NASA in the rocket science business - deep space, new technologies, etc. The goal here is for the private sector to do it faster and cheaper, enabling other things to piggyback on top - like even further out rocket science. Too much of NASA's attention is spent on that first 100-200 miles.

Re:It's not rocket science (0)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999244)

Considering it involves rockets and some scientific method, it most certainly IS rocket science.

They still have launch issues every once in a while. Far more often than Toyota has 'floor mats causing the gas pedal to stick'.

Guess when the most problems occur ... first 100 miles.

Contrary to what you might think, NASA has more experience and knowledge about the subject than you do.

Re:It's not rocket science (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999412)

Considering it involves rockets and some scientific method, it most certainly IS rocket science.

Nope. At this point, it's rocket engineering. It's less experimentation than issues of design, operation, and maintenance.

Small difference, perhaps, but it's there.

Re:It's not rocket science (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999554)

Rocket science experts have greater expertise on rocket science than a random person from the internet? Preposterous, I say!

Re:It's not rocket science (1)

evdubs (708273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999596)

They do still have launch issues; the GP and I would argue that the issues are engineering related; orbital mechanics and fluid dynamics, for instance, are not being revised after these issues occur. In other words, the science is solid and the engineering is evolving to avoid future issues.

IMO, it is not entirely inappropriate to let private industry discover new sciences and engineering philosophies, even as it would pertain to space travel. It's great to see competitions like X-Prize, but it's easy to feel that private sector approaches have been hamstrung with respect to NASA development.

The GP would likely agree with your assessment of NASA's experience and knowledge, and [s]he even explicitly suggests that they should use that knowledge for the "rocket science business - deep space, new technologies, etc."

Re:It's not rocket science (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31000102)

You're right, but I'm sensing a contradiction in the article:

keeping the ISS going

NASA is out of the business of putting people into low-earth orbit

So what, an automated ISS?

Just wanted to say (1, Insightful)

postmortem (906676) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999056)

Doomed is country that is paying a lot for unemployment benefits and welfare and little for space research.

Re:Just wanted to say (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999592)

You really have no sense of where government money goes, do you? TANF (federally-funded welfare) is $16.5B. By contrast, the latest Pentagon budget request is $768.2B.

Welfare is a really tiny portion of our total expenses.

Re:Just wanted to say (2, Insightful)

mitchell_pgh (536538) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999878)

The current budget is a far cry from a "little for space research." The United States of America leads the world in raw spending for space exploration. I would argue that we are spending about as much as the rest of the world combined. I am in NO way saying we are the best, or we haven't had our fair share of failures, but to say that NASA's budget is a "little" amount is simply wrong.

$17.2 billion - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States of America GDP: $14.25 trillion (2009 est.)
$5.4 billion - European Space Agency (European Union GDP: $14.52 trillion [2009 est.])
$2.4 billion - Russian Federal Space Agency (Russian GDP: $2.103 trillion [2009 est.])
$2.15 billion - Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Japan's GDP: $4.141 trillion [2009 est.])
$2.0 billion - China (Chinese GDP: $8.767 trillion [2009 est.])
$1.01 billion - Indian Space Research Organization (Indian GDP: $3.548 trillion [2009 est.])

We can care about space AND make sure people aren't being kicked out of their homes because of a recession. I would hate to lose our edge on space, but at the same time... I would rather live with less poverty.

Re:Just wanted to say (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999994)

Space budgets world wide: [wikipedia.org]
  United States NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) $17,600 million[42]
  EU ESA (European Space Agency) $5,350 million [43]
  France CNES (French Space Agency) $2,590 million [44]
  Russia RKA (Russian Federal Space Agency) $2,400 million
  Japan JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) $2,100 million
  Germany DLR (German Aerospace Center) $1,821 million
  Italy ASI (Italian Space Agency) $1,550 million
  China CNSA (China National Space Administration) $1,300 million[45]
  India ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) $1,010 million[46]

So I think we've got a bit of room.

NASA-National Aeronautic and Space Administration. (1)

mmell (832646) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999080)

Shouldn't their whole mission be getting people and stuff into the air and/or into space? For bonus points, getting those people/things back would be kinda cool (where applicable - frankly, they can leave satellites in orbit if that's what's required).

Science? That sounds like a job for some other organization. NASA should strictly be in the business of managing air/spacecraft (although with the FAA existing to handle atmospheric flight, I suppose we could change the acronym to NSA - National Space Administration :^).

We're gonna need a whole body of laws to deal with space travel - how much junk you're allowed to leave in orbital space, precisely what orbit you're allowed to leave that junk at, what orbits you can have, how long, who pays when stuff goes wrong, et cetera. We're also gonna need a whole body of technology to get there. Let someone else (National Weather Service, Universities, etc.) do the science. The new NSA will be there to make sure that they can put stuff in space to do the science, and it would divorce pure and commercial research from direct government control. NSA should see to it that space travel is available, affordable (as possible) and safe (as possible). Leave science to scientists (lets face it, the current NASA is a quasi-military organization). Leave profit to corporations. Let the new NSA give us a path to the stars, and let that be their only mandate. The government doesn't need to decide what to do in space, only how best to get us there.

Re:NASA-National Aeronautic and Space Administrati (2, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999282)

Shouldn't their whole mission be getting people and stuff into the air and/or into space?

No, that's the job of NAPSA, the National Aeronautic and People in Space Administration. I can see how you would get confused, though.

NASA's job is to look out for the USA's space-based interests. It's not clear what having people in space does for us at this point. Putting people in space was useful once, because it was the alternative to cold war: a space race is much better for development of technology than throwing the nation's money at arms manufacturers. Right now we would be better off developing better launch technologies, whether that's vehicles or stationary machines.

We're gonna need a whole body of laws to deal with space travel

...the development of which is a job for some group of nations, e.g. the U.N., not for NASA; NASA's job there is to advise the policy-makers, the people who actually sign treaties.

Leave science to scientists (lets face it, the current NASA is a quasi-military organization). Leave profit to corporations.

Wait, who's going to put stuff in space, again? Universities don't have that kind of money after paying all the administrative salaries.

Let the new NSA give us a path to the stars,

Oh, the space elevator? Why didn't you say so? Regulations are the opposite of a path, they're obstacles, however justified.

Re:NASA-National Aeronautic and Space Administrati (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999322)

You realize that NASA works with lots of people to do what it does. It works with lots of universities and contractors at private companies ...

They basically do what you say they should do already. They manage things for the most part, and do some stuff in house because they are the center point to it all and farming it out wouldn't be nearly as cost effective.

The current NASA is a government organization, not military. They work closely with the military, sure, but they do more civilian work than military.

Putting it all in one big pot allows for all the knowledge and experience to be shared rather than counting on a bunch of competing companies or individual universities fighting with each other to be the first. They help organize the effort and keep things from being tucked away at only one organization so everyone benefits from everyone elses work as much as possible.

We have rules governing the things you talk about ... and NASA is the division with the knowledge to understand, implement and guide those rules.

Socialist! (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999188)

Turning over a government-run system to private business? How socialist can you get!

Interesting split... (4, Insightful)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999200)

...of having NASA do unmanned stuff and private industry do manned. Manned is far more challenging, and less likely to be profitable, so I would have expected it to make sense for NASA to do manned and private industry to do unmanned.

That's just an observation. It's not intended to be criticism of the plan. I have plenty of criticism of the old plan, but I don't yet know enough about the new one.

Big Risk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999210)

It's a big risk relying on commercial transport for transporting crew into orbit, since no private company has done this so far. A number of commercial ventures say that they will do this in the near future, but it's all just marketing until it is accomplished the first time. And, to boot, there is no guarantee that they will be in it for the long haul...what happens if they discover that it isn't sufficiently profitable?

Re:Big Risk (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999662)

Then they charge more. Any more questions?

Heavy lift capabilities? (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999214)

How is NASA supporting that now that Ares V has been cancelled.

No private firm is going to build a rocket of that capability anytime in the near future.

Re:Heavy lift capabilities? (1)

cohensh (1358679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999510)

I believe that NASA will develop a heavy lift vehicle that is meant just for LEO, not for the moon. This [orlandosentinel.com] says so, so it must be true. Obviously this will not be in the near future, but it looks like NASA will try to do it themselves instead of just giving up and saying "Someone else will do it".

Re:Heavy lift capabilities? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999736)

The reports I've seen say it'll probably be similar to the Jupiter Direct proposal that a number of NASA engineers had been proposing as an alternative to the problem-plagued Ares rocket development. So still based on shuttle hardware, but probably a better design.

Sounds like Aries V may still happen. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999518)

I know! But from reading the article, it is not entirely clear that the Aries V has been canceled. What they are saying is that the Aries V wasn't scheduled to receive any funding until 2016, so this is not necessarily a shift away from developing that vehicle, but other heavy lift options will be considered as well and once they get to that point they will decide what to do. In the mean time the Aries I has definitely been canceled.

Re:Heavy lift capabilities? (4, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999902)

There's $3 billion in the budget starting immediately to develope a heavy lift capability, considering that Ares V developement wasn't suposed to start for several years yet. Whatever solution they come up with should be delivered earlier than the Ares V would have been.

Why not the logical? (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999360)

I believe there should be different agency, one devoted to exploitation of space resources,including transportation and habitability, which is more suited to private industry as compared to NASA who does exploration and science. The two would be interdependent, but it would focus NASA at what it supposed to do.

Not a retreat, attacking in different direction (2, Insightful)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999438)

Much needed overhaul of a partially moribund manned program.
Putting science first will create a much more meaningful space
program in the long run, one in which a manned presence is
essential.

So... (3)

zerospeaks (1467571) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999732)

Somebody explain to me how this helps them go to mars in my lifetime. I may have 50 years left on the planet. I would like to see us go to mars.

This won't end well. (1)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999752)

I can't wait for the first space war, when the other countries have armoured battleshuttles and we have to hitch a ride on a tourist boat.

anon1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999790)

If this was an actual cut to the budget i would be all for it.

Obama is actually increasing NASA's budget and re-purposing NASA to study global warming.

http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2010/02/poll-president-obamas-cancellation-of-nasas-constellation-program.html

The obvious fraud... (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30999846)

Is that this whole space privatization thing is anything more than a kill NASA move. Like, come on, we're supposed to believe that a political party that seems to think people should not be allowed to own rifles should be allowed to develop ICBMs? Would Democrats really ever let me own my own rocketship, when, the mere possession of the energy required to get into myself orbit makes for a hugely powerful weapon?

Come on, Democrats banned mercury and lead, and they are going to let us have our own rockets?

What a joke.

Honestly guys (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999978)

Look, I don't normally post to Slashdot, so you're welcome to ignore this, but replacing a bunch of years-old over budget project with a bunch of new un-started ones is just a great way to clear the balance sheet for future years-old over budget projects. Going to space, especially with the safety we expect (I don't think explorers to America were as stringent on survival rates), is both unexpectedly difficult and unexpectedly expensive. Much like Joel Spolsky rails against throwing everything out and starting "fresh," because it's a waste of time, this too is just a further waste of time. Imagine if in the middle of the Apollo program we were over budget and behind. If we decided to throw all that initial work out then and start anew, we'd never have gone to the moon. It is time to finish this.

On an unrelated note, please stop worrying about the debt you've left your future generations. It doesn't work like that. If we don't spend the money now to fix what ails us and to escape the recession, your children will be born into a place the same debt and no job prospects. Instead we should be spending everything we can to get the economy humming and inflate away our debts.

New Technology needed, money needs to be in R& (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30999996)

I really think it's time to focus on developing a technology to put the conventional rocket in the history books where it belongs. The most promising new technologies in propulsion have required large amounts of electricity. Ion and Plasma rockets can produce a faster more efficient thrust (such as Nasa's Vlasmir) but need to be scaled up in power to launch from Earth. One big limit has been electricity for these systems we need a fusion reactor or some other break through technology to change the rules of the game. Fusion seems to be really close there was a very promising breakthrough reported a few days ago.

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