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Senators Blast NASA For Lacking Vision

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the we-need-more-tang dept.

NASA 319

An anonymous reader writes "A Senate science subcommittee clashed with NASA's chief on Wednesday, saying the agency and the White House lacked a clear vision and goal for the program. Skeptical senators told the space agency that it should not just talk about plans, but set out to do something specific. Lawmakers expressed a bipartisan opposition to the agency's plans and the initiatives of the Obama White House." Updated 23:13 GMT by timothy: Reader Trent Waddington contributes this video link to the hearing, if you want to come to your own conclusions.

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NASA had plans... (1, Insightful)

N3tRunner (164483) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272706)

Maybe that senator didn't realize that NASA had lots of plans that it was working towards, up until Obama killed them all with his new budget. The death of the Constellation program nixed everything that NASA had been working on for the last few years.

Realistically though, the senator probably *did* realize this and was just being a jackass and trying to score some political points by "demanding results" and making NASA look bad in the process. Hooray for politics.

Re:NASA had plans... (5, Informative)

downix (84795) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272772)

You do realize that the plans were unworkable, the designs flawed, and the very engineers for them introduced alternative designs which could be produced sooner/faster/cheaper. Look up "Ares V Base Heating Issue" sometime.
The management at NASA and the special interests behind key areas kept pushing for Constellation due to it's huge R&D budget, despite the laws of physics which stated that it would never work with the designs as/is. And Obama pulled the plug on the dead-man-walking. It was obvious 5 years ago that this would happen, which is why NASA's engineers "moonlighted" and introduced the DIRECT launch design.
Here [directlauncher.com] is what they proposed. It could be ready from approval to launch within 36 months, as it is based on existing technologies *and* it has already passed PDR. If it looks familiar to you space nuts, you might remember it as the Regan-era National Launch System. Now it is called Jupiter.

Re:NASA had plans... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31272976)

Actually, it looks more like vintage-1960s Soviet space launch technology.

Re:NASA had plans... (4, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273214)

Which *works* and is orders of magnitude cheaper to run that the shuttle program.

Re:NASA had plans... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273684)

Yes, we know. We just find it hilarious that Republicans bitch and moan so much about "communism", and hold such a deep-seated hatred of everything Soviet, yet thanks to their stupid funding decisions the US will now have to basically rely on technology developed by the Republicans' enemy.

Re:NASA had plans... (0, Troll)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272994)

You do realize that the plans were unworkable, the designs flawed ...

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that from a client I'd be able to make a sizable enough donation to NASA that they could get their Constellation program back on the books.

Re:NASA had plans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273110)

Look up "Ares V Base Heating Issue" sometime.

Geesh, Google comes up with ONE hit on that.
At least you could've just put in the link http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=19247.0 [nasaspaceflight.com]

Re:NASA had plans... (0)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273132)

Bullshit. These issues are no different than they have been on any other project. Base heating was a huge issue with the Polaris missile, it got solved. And most of the rest of the problem (Orion CSM, etc) is well in hand. The only really hard part of the problem was/is the lunar lander, and that was going to be an issue no matter what approach was taken.

          I agree that there are special interests involved, and we could certainly use EELV and associated technology, but the current approach is workable.

            Brett

Re:NASA had plans... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273418)

Ok so you feel that you need to throw away a working system and start from scratch then? DIRECT leverages existing infrastructure and existing designs.

your idea is the same as Ford deciding to release a new F150 pickup truck but abandoning using Steel and internal combustion engines as well as wheels.

It's really dumb to redesign it all with fancy new pie in the sky technology. Use what works and get it in place fast. Why set your self up for a 2 year delay because of a problem that needs to be corrected? The SRB's and current tech works and works well no problems to have to design out. ALL DONE.

Re:NASA had plans... (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273526)

No, you completely miss my point. My point was the current Ares1/Ares5 systems are workable and the rest of the problem is essentially solved. Maybe Ares is sub-optimal but to assert that there are insoluble problems is just nonsense. It's the same problems we have solved time and time again.

Re:NASA had plans... (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273536)

So does Ares, what's your point?

fancy new pie in the sky technology

Isn't that NASA's goal? To get that pie in the sky?

Re:NASA had plans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273446)

Oh look.
Another rocket.
Yay

Playing to the votors (5, Insightful)

mikefocke (64233) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272854)

NASA has spread around the work to the maximum number of congressional districts to maximize their political support. But ask those same congressmen what they are willing to give up...ask them how important it is to balance the budget and even ...gasp..to begin paying off some debts..and they go quiet about what they want to give up...except to demand that the budget be balanced (but let someone else's district pay for it).

Obama puts a freeze on some agencies spending and already the constituencies are whining.

Where are politicians with guts who care more about the future of the country than getting elected with phony promises and posturing?

Re:Playing to the votors - OT (3, Funny)

d3jake (1335521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273018)

Where are politicians with guts who care more about the future of the country than getting elected with phony promises and posturing?

If you find any in D.C., let me know.

People want to be ignorant. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273154)

Where are politicians with guts who care more about the future of the country than getting elected with phony promises and posturing?

That'll happen when the electorate becomes informed on the issues.

...Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah....

*wipes tears from his eyes and changes underwear*

You see, the bulk of the electorate is spoon fed information - over simplified information, I might add - about the issues from the electronic media because that's what sells. And the electorate ONLY wants information that fits in their World view. Fox News has this down to a science. Most people like it this way. Most people are ignorant and WANT to be so.

Now I know why Freud said what he said when asked why he always had a scowl on his face - something to the effect of being disgusted with the human race.

Re:Playing to the votors (5, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273192)

Cuts to NASA are completely and utterly pointless as far as balancing the budget. NASA's represents less than half a percent of the federal budget. You could run NASA at current levels for 4 years on what the F-22 project alone has cost.

Re:Playing to the votors (1)

baKanale (830108) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273212)

Where are politicians with guts who care more about the future of the country than getting elected with phony promises and posturing?

That's an oxymoron.

Re:Playing to the votors (5, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273238)

Where are politicians with guts who care more about the future of the country than getting elected with phony promises and posturing?

Where are the purple flying unicorns?

A politician cannot get elected to the highest offices unless they prioritize getting (re-)elected over achieving meaningful progress. This is why there are no politicians with the fortitude to do what must be done. And if one somehow manages to claw his way to the top and get elected to Congress, he is quickly marginalized by the deadbeat politicians who dominate the system. He'll slowly be brought into the system, as he willingly trades away his ideals in order to get something done, one small step at a time.

Our culture disembowels those who wish to maintain principles while in office. But we put them there... we vote on 15-second sound-bites. We vote on who has better hair, who we'd rather our daughter date, who we'd like to imagine our fathers and grandfathers would look like if they weren't drunken whoring bastards (never mind the fact that many of those we elect ARE drunken whoring bastards -- they just don't look like it because they have an army of PR staff).

And the worst part of it -- for me -- those who do appear to have principles, who have a spine, too often are mired in a religious conservatism that I believe has no place in national politics. But I digress...

Plans but no strategy (4, Interesting)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272862)

Its probably a more well thought out overall plan he had in mind. While the many successes achieved by groups like NASA are well worth celebrating, I share the dismay no doubt many people hold at recent and ongoing setbacks in the development of the future goals of space exploration. The central issuing facing Space groups, as I see it, is a lack of a single unified plan, a step by step global strategy to move mankind into space which takes account of commercial, economic, resource based and political realities, which is achievable within a reasonable timeframe. The piecemeal method of pushing progress forward is effective only insofar as there is public and governmental momentum in the area - something which has been falling off of late. In the face of such an environment, piecemeal efforts might not be as effective as otherwise.

What I would propose for the future, therefore, is the formulation of such a strategy, clearly laid out and with recognisable milestones, goals, estimated returns on investment, and timelines. I think that the provision of such a structure will remove the dependence space exploration has on fragmented projects and provide a key benefit that has so far been absent - direction, in cooperation with other national space agencies.

In addition to the points mentioned above, an official strategy group could talk to politicians and businesspeople in a language they can understand. One of the first goals after the strategy would be agreed upon would be to confirm its legitimacy at the international level, in the USA, EU, UN and other international forums. The next step would be to get an international fund set up in order to secure a set percentage of GDP of each nation (possibly only developed nations) to be put towards space exploration. Even if one thosandth of national GDP was set aside by each nation, that would come to some $60 billion annually, or several times the budget of the combined existing space agencies.

This would be similar to foreign aid funds, although probably of a lesser amount, and would instantly multiply the budget available to space exploration groups by a fairly serious amount. Legislation would also be needed in order to provide international tax incentives for corporations and governments to focus their efforts on areas that would be conducive to space exploration and resource realisation, even tangentially. Legislation for the open sharing of relevant information within existing intellectual property laws would also be needed to further coopeation between private and public organisations, plus and this a vital part of the effort, the standardisation of equipment and systems to make them interchangeable.

A few further points:
Why would my nation wish to contribute to this effort?
In addition to the well known issues of potentially life threatening hazards on earth, whether environmental, asteroid strikes, or contagion, and it is not a question of if but when they will recur - they have already happened many times previously - there is the question of the vast resources available in space. By contributing on an annual basis according to its means, each nation and its citizens has a legitimate claim on the unfathomable amount of raw material which can be accessed by a properly run space programme.

What would this Global Space Initiative involve?
This group and strategy would have several purposes.
1. To create a master strategy for the human colonisation of space, taking into account the many different social and economic factors that would be involved.

2. To identify key early technologies that would be needed to realise the strategy, provide funding to create these technologies, and pressure governments to provide legislative and taxation benefits to groups developing them. There are a wide array of scientific and engineering feats that must be overcome before the reality of space exploration is commonly available. These would include things like semi autonomous robotics in order to take advantage of asteroid resources, and the many appropriate technologies to this effort, as well as manufacturing in a zero g environment, hull types, materials, its a long list. The advantages are that many or most of these technologies could easily be multi purpose, providing an immediate return on investment for commercial groups. A third goal would be to move away from the national and political football that space exploration has become, and create a recognition that the resources and advantages are too great for any one nation to exploit or utilise.

3. To raise awareness of both the vital need for a coherent space endeavour at the level of the population and the politicians in each nation, and to raise awareness of the essentially unlimited resources available, the utilisation of which at the orbital scale would swiftly lead to an exponential growth in standards of living for all participating nations with no extra environmental pressure on our own planet. A further advantage is that once orbital infrastructure is in place, little further investment need be made in order for it to grow, it would quickly become economically self sufficient, if not physically so.

Sample GSI Master Strategy: 1. Identify and create those key technologies that will be valuable in such goals as asteroid mining, zero g refinery and manufacture, low cost travel to LEO, and other areas of value such as self contained biosphere operation.
2. Focus industry and science on those areas by legislation and funding.
3. Construct initial experimental assay vessels, probably fully or semi automated at first, to map and quantify the easily attainable resources in the system.
4. Supervise and layout a permanent refinery in earth orbit to refine materials sent back from these easily reached resources by mining vessels, while simultaneously constructing one or two of these vessels. These might reach asteroids and proceed with mining, before boosting materials back to earth.
5. These raw materials could be sent to earth directly once refined, or a secondary manufactory facility could be built in orbit, with its first purpose to create more mining materials and refinery/manufactories.
6. By growing the project on that basis, very significant infrastructure could be built in earth orbit preparatory to a major human presence and permanent colonies.
7. With this strong backing in place, planetary colonisation and exploration could proceed, which will require human supervision as it will be considerably more complex than asteroid resource realisation.

making NASA agile? (3, Insightful)

ArcadiaAlex (1498971) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272982)

The problem here is clearly about the leadership changing priorities and budgets before anything gets finished.

The projects that NASA work on have long timelines, this is not compatible with budgets which change annually and where the govenment who holds the purse strings also often changes (as in this case) before the project is completed.

This is not too different in concept (but is admitedly different in scale) to software development where if priorities are allowed to change before projects are completed, nothing ever will be finished.

Maybe NASA can try and work to smaller achievable goals within a smaller timeline that have a clearly defined benefit?

Sound familiar?

Re:NASA had plans... (1)

rwv (1636355) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273108)

NASA will work within the guidelines of the Congress approved budget appropriations it receives. Right now the President recommends increasing the NASA budget significantly during the next five years, while terminating immediate plans to return to the Moon. The current Presidential recommendations would strengthen our ability to move mass into LEO by commercializing it. Congress is under no obligation to go along with the President's recommendation, and if a majority will sign a bill that keeps Constellation around through FY2001, then the president will get the ball back in his court to decide if he wants to approve that.

TL;DR - The proposal to cancel Constellation is currently a mere recommendation.

Year to Year budget VS. Planning (3, Insightful)

kmahan (80459) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273610)

It is difficult to make long term plans given that your budget changes (usually in a downward spiral) each year.

NASA has a number of mandates that they have to use their funding for. And then they have the proposals that they are told to work on ("Go to mars", "privatize everything", "minimize risk because it is bad publicity"..) These cost lots of $$. Given no budget they mainly turn into paper exercises.

This should be a dilbert cartoon.

Mars (1, Informative)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272734)

Make a declaration that the US will land on Mars before this decade is out, provide the funding, and it can be done.

Re:Mars (1)

JohnMurtari (829882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272790)

Yes, set a goal of getting to Mars and get the equipment in place to get it done. Our goal is to colonize another planet.

Re:Mars (3, Insightful)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272926)

If you want to live in a barren desert, there's thousands of square miles here on earth that no one particularly wants.

Re:Mars (1, Insightful)

symes (835608) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272810)

I don't get what this facination with Mars is - how about we explore the bottom of our planets oceans? That would be seriously interesting.

Re:Mars (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272932)

I'm fine with sending some people (e.g. politicians) to Mars (or the Moon if Mars is too expensive).

Options are one-way or return.

FWIW:

VotedOffThePlanet.com
and:
VoteThemOffThePlanet.com

are available.

So go ahead someone start up the TV reality show.

You don't even need to actually send them - you could explicitly say it's a joke. People might still vote anyway...

Re:Mars (3, Funny)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273468)

I'm fine with sending some people (e.g. politicians) to Mars (or the Moon if Mars is too expensive).

Maybe, but the grandparent's point about the bottom of the ocean is still worth considering ;).

Re:Mars (1)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272950)

Screw interesting, we need to find a way off this rock and a new place to go to; and we need to develop the means to find and get there.

Re:Mars (4, Interesting)

yourlord (473099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273040)

For me it's as simple as survival. As long as humanity is confined to a single planet, we're vulnerable to being wiped out by a planetary scale disaster. Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist.

Exploring the bottom of our oceans doesn't accomplish that goal. I do agree it's a worthy goal, but if we are to decide where to expend limited resources, they should go towards the goal of ensuring the survival of the species.

Once we inhabit other planets in the solar system, the very next goal needs to be interstellar colonization to guard against a solar system level catastrophe. Even if that means pursuing the use of generational ships to do it.

Re:Mars (2, Insightful)

RKThoadan (89437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273232)

"Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist."

The hard part of that idea isn't getting to Mars, but making it self-sufficient.

Re:Mars (2, Insightful)

icebrain (944107) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273324)

Ok, it's hard. So was building an airplane little more than a century ago. What's your point?

Re:Mars (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273374)

For me it's as simple as survival. As long as humanity is confined to a single planet, we're vulnerable to being wiped out by a planetary scale disaster. Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist.

Out of curiosity, why is the survival of the human race so important?

I mean, I really want to know... what is the foundation of the idea that the human race must survive at all costs? Why should we not accept that if the earth gets hit by a quasar pulse, our time is up and that's all she wrote? Are we that important to the galaxy or the universe that the survival of the human race is of such paramount importance? Seems like a bit of hubris to me.

I'm not trolling, I'm genuinely curious about the philosophical underpinnings of your common mentality. I'm not saying I disagree with it, I haven't completely thought it out... so I'd like to read why it's a given that we need to ensure the survival of human life.

Re:Mars (1)

mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273594)

Evolutionary psychology? Living organisms are driven to perpetuate the species. It makes sense that there would be a powerful inbuilt need in humans to achieve goals rationalized as ensuring the survival of the species. I know that I for one sometimes stop and look around at the truly extraordinary things humanity has accomplished over our brief span on earth. We can bend the environment around us almost to our will, we can travel around the world in a day or so and many more impressive feats. Is there some reason that the civilization that has achieved that shouldn't be preserved?

Re:Mars (4, Interesting)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273626)

Out of curiosity, why is the survival of the human race so important?

Why is the survival of life so important? Because as far as we know, humanity is the one and only chance for some of the earths biodiversity to ultimately survive. It took maybe more than half of the earths history for sentient life to arise, if it gets wiped out what are the odds it will happen again? Stewards indeed. On the other hand if you are content to see all life as we know it wiped out, theres not much more that can be said.

Are we that important to the galaxy or the universe that the survival of the human race is of such paramount importance? Seems like a bit of hubris to me.

The galaxy and earth in general are pretty hostile places. Why should we care what they think?

Re:Mars (4, Interesting)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273574)

Forget planets. Space based colonization is where it's at. Let's capture a high metal asteroid and park it at L4 or L5 and start building large habitats and solar concentrators.

Re:Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273200)

I'd rather explore space in case we need to leave Earth. The bottom of the ocean is "exciting", but it's nothing compared to space IHMO. I find both equally attractive goals, but I see more potential benefits in space.

Re:Mars (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31272956)

10 months and counting to end of the decade. Better get cracking!

Re:Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273494)

Wow, I have *no* idea what happened to my brain there. "10 months? What? April? what's that got to do with anything?"

Then when I realized months != weeks, I got it, and I'm glad someone else remembers that decades start on a 1.

Re:Mars (1)

newdsfornerds (899401) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273036)

The money won't be a problem. We can make the Mars colonists our slaves.

Re:Mars (2, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273064)

How about a declaration that within a decade we'll have a space infrastructure that can actually support multiple goals at once, including LEO tourism, NEO mining, a Mars and Moon landing, and deep space exploration. Not saying NASA shouldn't be doing pure science, but I feel we're to the point now where the infrastructure is more important, at least if we ever want space exploration and exploitation to become commonplace.

Of course, that is essentially what the White House's new innitiative is saying, they just haven't thrown enough money at it to make it happen.

Re:Mars (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273210)

Yes, but *why*? What's the point of putting people on Mars? Spirit did more than any manned mission could, and we don't need to measure penis length against Russia any more.

Re:Mars (2, Insightful)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273388)

Why live your life, why do anything? In the grand scheme of things, there's no point to anything. We create that meaning for ourselves.

Re:Mars (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273390)

Make a declaration that the US will land on Mars before this decade is out, provide the funding, and it can be done.

of course. history is full of amazing progress that was achieved when everything depended on success and therefore societies were willing to throw unlimited amounts of money and resources at the problem.

the problem is that nothing depends on putting a man on mars. everything that we can achieve through that can be done faster and cheaper with robotic missions. it servers no scientific purpose. it also doesn't really serve a national pride purpose. it'd be nice, but no other country is close to accomplishing a man on mars either.

couple that with skyrocketing debt, and a man on mars is just out of the question. the only reason we are even talking about a man on mars is because bush jr. in all his wisdom proclaimed it as a goal in order to focus people's attention away from his failures on earth.

Re:Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273570)

Screw Mars, there is nothing there for us. Who cares if there is aliens, most of the human race won't, besides maybe the crazy religious people who will probably go nuts. People will just get on with their lives, maybe every so often bringing it back up.
Just keep sending robots, they are cheaper than humans will be. And since we can't even get a decent self-sufficient colony going, Mars is pretty much impossible for humans.
We stepped on the Moon, the Moon is another rock in space, Mars is no different. Silly IAU classifications don't mean a damn thing, both of them are planetary bodies in space, period.

Get a decent, stable, space station built first.
Don't hurl the ISS in to the atmosphere, keep it there, re-use the materials with new materials to build a bigger, better space station.
There is absolutely no reason NOT to have a factory in space, in fact, i am quite simply shocked if there isn't one now.

Earth launches are expensive, stop wasting time on it and build a spaceport, gather materials from the moon to build, THEN you focus on exploration.
Next, go to Mars, bring back more materials from there to improve the spaceport
Build more ships with those materials to gather more materials from Mars.
It might be further away, but with a constant stream of ships going back and fourth between Mars and the spaceport, using Helium3 from the Moon, it would still cheaper than launching from Earth in the long run since gravity on the Moon and Mars is significantly weaker than Earth.

Of course, this won't happen at all. And these agencies are supposed to be filled with the smart people? Yeah, well i can walk on water and summon plagues out of my ass.

We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (4, Funny)

thomasdz (178114) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272748)

All we need to do is say that Al Quaida has set up a training camp on Mars and see the money flow after that!
We'll be on mars in no time!

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272856)

Plus, I hear that's where Saddam hid the Weapons of Mars Destruction.

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (1, Funny)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272988)

Oil. You forgot to mention the oil.

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273662)

right - there is lots there!
Let's go get it!

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273352)

But do we have an exit strategy?

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273360)

And pedophiles. Don't forget there are pedophiles on Mars.

As a matter of fact there are pot-smoking terrorist pedophiles on Mars. That ought to hit every automatic fear-mongering budget getting buzzword.

Re:We can battle Al Quaida on Mars! (0, Flamebait)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273482)

But, does that mean that Obama has to go to Mars to apologize to them directly, or can he do it through a video feed? It would be expensive to send Obama there, along with his two teleprompters (plus backups), plus several reports to laud his historic apolojetic tour across the Solar System. Or would he need more teleprompters because of the lower gravity?

Commercialisation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31272768)

Encouraging commercial space exploration is one way of getting the job done. The other is to simply get rid of NASA all together. It's just a shell of it's former self - a great big lumbering cash eating monster that has no vision. All the best work came from an era when NASA had next to nothing. Now NASA has too much and just sits there, bloated, simpering. If someone had had the balls to put it out of it's misery a couple of decades ago then space propulsion and near Earth exploration would be a long way further ahead compared to now. FFS - the shuttle was obsolete before it took it's first flight! I seriously resent this NASA money sponge.

Re:Commercialisation (1)

downix (84795) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272860)

You do realize, of course, that we spend more on toilet seats in the federal government than on NASA, yes?

Re:Commercialisation (2, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273046)

You do realize, of course, that we spend more on toilet seats in the federal government than on NASA, yes?

Well, to be fair, there are enough significant asses in Washington DC to warrant that kind of infrastructure investment there.

Re:Commercialisation (1)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273100)

You do realize that the over-inflated costs the government charges against toilet seats and hammers are how the NSA and CIA black ops get funded?

Re:Commercialisation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273644)

Ummmm. no. That's not true. Having previously worked for defense contractors, I can tell you EXACTLY why the govt pays what it does for toilet seats and hammers. Every item purchased under DOD procurement rules has to be individually tested for compliance to specifications. Those test results have to be maintained for a ridiculous number of years. Additionally, each item must be serialized and traceable to its point of origin. Those records must also be maintained. Furthermore, each component part must also be serialized, traceable to its point of origin, and must be individually tested for compliance to specifications. Then you have to keep a staff of auditors on the payroll who go around and audit the contractors to ensure compliance withh the procurement regulations. Back in the day they were called DCAS. Then they were DPRO. Don't know what they are called these days, as I haven't worked in the defense industry since 1990. All this costs money. Big money. You want to stop paying $700 for a toilet seat, then change the procurement rules to allow purchasing of off-the-shelf items. Then they can go down to Lowe's or Home Depot and buy one like the rest of us would. Who cares if a toilet seat functions properly from -55C to +125C? The guy using it isn't going to function across that temperature range anyways. It has absolultely nothing to do with NSA and CIA black ops.

Re:Commercialisation (5, Informative)

yog (19073) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272990)

The Apollo program cost about $145 billion in 2008 dollars (Wikipedia), and quite a lot more if you factor in the orbital programs (Mercury, Gemini) which led up to Apollo. That's not exactly peanuts. They only get about $18 billion a year right now.

Re:Commercialisation (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273076)

"Only 18 billion a year"

The private Tier One spaceship cost between 20 and 30 million dollars... from scratch.

Re:Commercialisation (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273158)

What? You mean Space Ship One that never made it into orbit?

Re:Commercialisation (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273304)

Is that the same one that had the benefit of 50 years of NASA trial and error to help guide them in what does and does not work, not to mention the countless other organizations and researchers who made rocket propulsion of large vehicles practical?

Re:Commercialisation (2, Insightful)

purfledspruce (821548) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273384)

To call Tier One a "spaceship" is a gross misrepresentation. The Space Shuttle is a spaceship.

Tier One/Space Ship One traveled suborbitally. The Space Shuttle (STS) is an orbiter. The difference? SSO travels at Mach 3. STS hits Mach 25.

SSO flights take 3 people suborbitally. STS takes 7. Which is more important when you consider:

SSO flights take dozens of minutes. The STS can be up for 16+ days. It has to carry food, water, and process wastes for that length of time.

Space Ship One carries essentially no cargo. The Space Shuttle takes 25 metric tons to orbit.

Space Ship One is a suborbital craft. It is not a true space ship, despite its name. It would likely require multiple orders of magnitude more than $30M before it could orbit the planet.

No bucks no Buck Rogers (4, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272784)

Nuff said

NASA Blasts Senators For Lacking Funding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31272828)

Fixed. Dumbshits.

The President has to lead (2, Interesting)

yog (19073) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272876)

If the President of the United States doesn't care about space exploration, as is apparently the case today, then NASA will be unable to fulfill its mission. Obama has had little interest in space from day one; his campaign plan even had a proposal to gut NASA's budget to pay for a nationalized day care system. Later this proposal was deleted, but Obama has really done nothing with the U.S. space program but cut its budget.

Shutting down the only manned space project on the horizon, Obama proposed to offload low orbital manned flights to the private sector. While the libertarian and free marketer in me loves the idea of a competitive market for space travel, I'm not convinced it's time yet for NASA to leave that arena.

Every manned launch is a huge, critical path project requiring hundreds of technicians and engineers to monitor every aspect of the situation. Is it really appropriate to dump all of these people and hope that several privately held companies (one hopes American ones) can step up to the plate and recreate all of that expertise and best practices almost from scratch? Even if they hired all of these soon-to-be-unemployed aerospace experts, they would still need to put in a few years to build up the kind of institutional memory and procedures, not to mention physical infrastructure, that are required for a complex project like this.

NASA was building the next generation Orion manned spacecraft and Obama announced that he may not fund it. Congress, ESPECIALLY one that gets a few more Republican members in the 2012 election cycle, can override him and restore funding, but realistically the President has the power and means to kill a program if he doesn't like it. He can appoint a schmuck to replace the executive director, for example, and he can argue that the money for NASA would be better spent on school lunch for poor kids, or building shelters for the homeless, or any number of similar but meaningless populist mouthings that make great TV sound bites.

We probably will have to wait for a change of government before we can get back to having a NASA with vision AND the backing to make it a reality. Sitting around, waiting for the "right technology" to be developed, and then saying we can finally think about realistically exploring Mars--that's not a bold vision, that's a cop-out.

Re:The President has to lead (2, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273136)

[R]ealistically the President has the power and means to kill a program if he doesn't like it. He can appoint a schmuck to replace the executive director, for example, and he can argue that the money for NASA would be better spent on school lunch for poor kids, or building shelters for the homeless, or any number of similar but meaningless populist mouthings that make great TV sound bites.

Which seems like a fine argument for NASA to move to the private sector. Privately funded by corporations with a profit motive.

If you look back to the exploration of the last frontier, I think you'll find that greed was the single greatest force contributing to its success. For example, would the West have seen nearly the same amount of interest without any gold rush of any kind?

Unfortunately for us, a profit motive for going into space might not exist. Honestly, though, if that's the case, then maybe it shouldn't be the highest of priorities. Ideally, we want humanity to strive selflessly, but realistically we know that this doesn't exist. Not even in scientific pursuits. If the past is to be relied upon at all, it seems safe to assume that humans need to get something valuable out of the exchange or failure will follow.

Re:The President has to lead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273160)

Which seems like a fine argument for NASA to move to the private sector. Privately funded by corporations with a profit motive.

Remind me: why would Republicans be opposed to smaller government involvement and more private sector development?

Re:The President has to lead (2, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273286)

In a word, 'Pork'.

Texas, Florida, and probably many other States' interests are served by these sort of dollars going through Congress.

Cutting pork *is* leading (3, Insightful)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273168)

Sure, it's leading to a place you happen to disagree with going to -- but going up against all the congresscritters getting jobs (and thus votes) off the Constellation program is unquestionably a gutsy move.

Moreover, I think it's the right one. Getting private investment into the business of shuttling things in and out of orbit and freeing up NASA's resources for "leaner, meaner" scientific work is exactly the right place to be going. Look at what kind of ROI we've gotten on the rovers; if NASA is going to be doing science, let them do science rather than being forever in the overpriced transport business.

Re:The President has to lead (3, Insightful)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273634)

don't blame obama. the incredible, astounding debt that this country has racked up under the leadership of the people *we* elected is to blame. obama might end up being a terrible president, but you can't blame him for things that happened before he was in office.

at least he's realistic, unlike bush jr. that made wild claims about sending a man to mars in a completely unrealistic time frame unless of course you were willing to throw money at it like the future of the human race depended upon its success. manned spaceflight is really a silly idea. it serves no scientific purpose at this point in our development and costs hundreds of times more than robotic spaceflight.

Typical US government (5, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272912)

I can't believe the grandstanding coming out of the US government nowadays. From berating car company executives for flying in their jets (no, they should buy multi-million dollar jets and just let them rot), to coming down on Toyoda as if he were the embodiment of all evil (yeah, US manufacturers NEVER had recalls. I have yet to see the Toyota equivalent of the Ford Pinto), and now NASA.

Oh we took away all your funding and tied you up in red tape, but now we will complain that you lack vision and have not made any progress! It's NASA's fault for literally not delivering the moon, on a budget that would be barely noticed by an average defense contractor. Because it's ok to pour $65 billion into F-22's, the 140+ million dollar planes that always seem to be in the shop (68% readiness you know if I paid $140 million I want the damned thing to work), but no additional funding is required to move forwards in space exploration (the NASA budget has been fairly constant at all time lows since 1993).

It's the politicians in the US that need fixing. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to more war. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to the bailouts. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to the stimulus. There's a pattern here. "Voting" isn't going to change anything... real democracy died a long time ago, victim to the two party system set up by special interests.

Re:Typical US government (4, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273182)

Politics: The fine art of pretending you are important, while you do little more than criticize others for not doing anything.

America started to cede its position as the world power in space exploration as soon as it had buy-in to the system. Every time something goes wrong in a NASA mission and people die, or expensive equipment explodes, it can no longer be a learning process for the organization. Instead, it becomes a negative PR statement and, since American's know their tax dollars pay for it, they bitch like they were just robbed. As a result, budgets are cut. Politicians pretend to be engineers and enforce design decisions through budgets and political grandstanding. NASA becomes scared because, well, little by little it gets killed off. And, as a result, the space program stagnates.

As long as the American public perceives itself to have buy-in or ownership or stock in NASA's going-ons, the organization will remain to risk adverse to do anything truly stupendous anymore. The reason we were able to put a man on the moon in 1969 was because, at the time, the space program was new and mysterious. The American public didn't feel it had much buy-in over the system. All in all, it was a pissing match with the Russians so any ownership the tax payer did feel it had over the program was justifiable as it meant we have bigger space penes than the USSR. Nowadays, though, the organization neither has the freedom or elbow room to do real engineering and take real risks. Without risk, there is no progress.

Re:Typical US government (1)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273188)

a-f'ing-men brother. Now the most far reaching plans can only be 4 years as you now the next administration will screw with what has already been decided. At least Kennedy proposed something that we stuck to for a while. Even then the program was cut short.

No clear plans (1)

rudojob (1754140) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272948)

Oh the irony... the senate browbeating NASA for not having a clear plan. Perhaps NASA can handle the healthcare overhaul

Oh, They have a vision. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31272978)

The vision, though, is likely massive budget cuts and the end of the program. So, it's understandable that they haven't announced it.

Cheaper way to get to orbit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273010)

"Let's construct a space elevator."

MOAR WITH LESS! (3, Insightful)

newdsfornerds (899401) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273020)

Put the senators in the airlock until we decide what to do with them.

NASA si long term, senate is six years (5, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273022)

The problem is that a NASA project is long term, while a Senator only sees mid term. The space shuttle development ran from the late 60's to the first launch in 1981. Even Apollo was a seven year program, one year longer than the term of a senator. This means that most are looking for the pork they can send home this year and in the next few years, while NASA needs to be funded long term. The problem with Constellation is that it was funded in 2005, and years after Columbia disintegrated. If it would have funded fully in 2004, with a deadline of 2013, maybe we could have done it. Or else had some vision that STS was ending, and funded it in 2000 with the installation of the conservative government that apparently is so dedicated to space exploration.

Then, of course, there is the pork. Representative Olsen, not of the senate, has voting against the economic stimulus package, which consensus seems to indicate that it has stopped the hemorrhaging of jobs, and now he is complaining that a few thousand government employees are going to lose their jobs. What is it Pete? Do we want to balance the budget or keep support a federal jobs program where the average salary is over 70K a year? Sure the NASA jobs are great, but the budget is the budget. These jobs and ancillary costs could save over a billion a year. I know that Clear Lake is the probably the most federally subsidized place in America, but we really need real jobs based on capitalism, not socialism.

Re:NASA si long term, senate is six years (1)

fl!ptop (902193) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273616)

The space shuttle development ran from the late 60's to the first launch in 1981. Even Apollo was a seven year program, one year longer than the term of a senator.

Except that the average length of service in the Senate is almost 13 years. Byrd has been in there since 1959!

Source: CRS Report for 110th Congress [senate.gov]

In other news... (3, Insightful)

GhettoFabulous (644312) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273026)

Citizens blast the Senate for lacking vision.

Re:In other news... (1)

kungfugleek (1314949) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273458)

... or for lacking integrity.

Its Less Jobs, Not Vision (2, Insightful)

MrTripps (1306469) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273060)

Many of these politicos could care less about "vision." What they are really upset about is losing high paying jobs and projects in their districts.

NASA is great PR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273078)

This will probably get ignored or moded down coming from an AC, but NASA hasn't really had a mission since the 60s and the "space race". They have shut down many of their wind tunnels and other aerospace experiments (nobody thinks of NASA besides space stuff). Going back to the moon is pointless. Going to Mars while interesting, hence the PR piece; it doesn't do too much for the human race in the short or long term.

I guess its dull, but I would like to see a more dedicated focus on things like getting off of coal, high speed rails, etc. Yes, I realize these things are under way, but they don't have a brand name like NASA behind them, and they are not as awe inspiring as robots on Mars or other space missions.

This is Congress' way of saying: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273080)

Here's 10 cents, kid, don't spend it all in one place!

What about the budget? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273082)

How do you make long term plans when you have no guarantee on the budget? NASA just had their budget cut without warning and there hasn't been any interest in fully funding anything really big for decades. If NASA can reasonably expect projects to die half way in, because Congress has done that to them before, it's just common sense to not plan for anything too big.

Re:What about the budget? (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273194)

Or how do you make long term plans when your mission objectives change from administration to administration?

Technology first (4, Insightful)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273086)

NASA and White House officials were criticized for drafting plans that called for new propulsion systems without linking them to timelines for manned space missions.

This is a completely backwards way of thinking. New propulsion systems are vastly more valuable than any specific space mission. Advanced propulsion systems could take the most difficult mission we might attempt today and turn it into a routine trip.

We need a willingness to develop new technologies that might take more than a few years to pay off, and even try things that might not work at all. We should tie this work to a specific goal in order to provide focus and to justify the price, but the real prize is the technology itself. Reducing fuel mass or cost to orbit by a factor of ten would open up the solar system to us.

Senator Nelson is mistaken (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273090)

"We should develop the technology in pursuit of a goal, not the other way around," said senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

We adapted rocketry from military applications originally so the senator does not have his technology development path quite right. Working on solar system-scale propulsion does have an implicit goal of extending exploration beyond LEO but it is not necessary to name the first asteroid target to further the work since the problem is sufficiently generic. It is my experience that senators like to turn federal agencies into conduits of money for their states. With NASA simply becoming a purchaser of launch capability, the states will have to become more competitive with worldwide space commerce. Good for taxpayers but bad for pork.

They should really be working on the Death Star... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273134)

"You have paid the price for your lack of vision."

People are idiots (4, Insightful)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273166)

Why do so many people think that if there isn't a NASA plan to put a couple NASA astronauts on a NASA rocket and launch them to a specific NASA-picked destination by a specific time that we've somehow abandoned human spaceflight? How short-sighted can people be? We already did that 40 years ago, and where did it get us? The huge expense caused the cancellation of any real followup missions and damaged human spaceflight aspirations to this day. We're still seeing the effects, since apparently no one in congress (or much of the public, apparently) can imagine anyone except NASA putting people into space.

It just pisses me off to no end. We need a space program that opens access to space for EVERYONE. Not just the few lucky NASA picked government employees. Do you want to go into space at some point? I certainly do, and constellation had zero chance of ever letting me do that. Maybe you think constellation would have opened access to space and expanded the possibilities for the rest of us, but I think you are wrong. So, so wrong. The current plan for NASA has the best chance of anything NASA has done since its creation of truly opening access to space. New technologies, reducing cost, encouraging multiple options for access to orbit. That's what NASA's goal should be and needs to be. Not a repeat of Apollo. Not another huge expense for flags, footprints, and some neat video that ends up getting 5 minutes on the evening news. So there's my rant. Take it or leave it.

Lack of goals? (1)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273218)

saying the firm and the White House lacked a clear vision and goal for the program

I thought NASA's mission was to explore space? The goal would then be furthering our knowledge about the universe. Sure, they may be lacking in short term goals, but they most definitely have a long term one...

Follow-up (1)

DinDaddy (1168147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273226)

NASA notes senators lack any redeeming attributes

NASA has vision. It's just a stupid vision. (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273248)

This isn't a teenage drag race to the finish. It doesn't matter who gets on the moon again, or to Mars first. That stuff is trivial showboating.
.
How about "Put people in sustainable near earth artificial environments?" or "Build space based solar power generators?" or "Mine asteroids for rare earth metals" or "Build satellite based universally available internet" or *anything* else that doesn't involve us dropping to the bottom of yet *another* barren gravity well, grabbing our genitalia and shouting "First! Uh, Uh, Uh!"

Kennedy is dead. The sixties are gone. Get over it. Do something in space that makes sense for a change.

Why do we need a single marquis program? (3, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273250)

NASA does lots of cool stuff - research and science on both earth and the rest of the universe. I happen to think manned space flight is very cool, but I'm getting more and more frustrated that NASA is seen as only manned space flight*, or that space research has to include manned space flight to be worthwhile.

If a congressman doesn't think NASA has any goals or program direction, it means he or she hasn't looked beyond putting people on a ship to [insert non-earth destination].

* this problem has plagued NASA for decades - manned spaceflight sucks up the bulk of funds, despite having a relatively low science per dollar quotient. It's good for marketing, though.

Well, yeah! (1)

Smooth and Shiny (1097089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273300)

Yell at NASA for not doing anything worthwhile and badger them to get things into motion, while simultaneously cutting their budget. Ridiculous government much?

Pot and Kettle (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273508)

Senators Blast NASA For Lacking Vision ... Skeptical senators told the space agency that it should not just talk about plans, but set out to do something specific.

Pot. Stop trash-talking Kettle. Seriously. If any group should simply STFU and actually *do* something productive, it's the Senate - both Democrats and Republicans (withholding my personal political commentary on each party). This would be funnier excepting reality.

Best vision in years (5, Insightful)

CompressedAir (682597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31273572)

Disclaimer: I work for the space program, but I'm not high enough to make these decisions.

Some people will never be happy. All the dreams of the last 50 years are about to come true, and all people can do is bitch!

Look, chemical powered rockets have not changed much since the development of the SSME. So why are we only now getting private space launch? Because there was nowhere reasonable to go! ISS cargo is an easy enough mission for non-cutting edge rocketry, and since it is manned there is a long term need for supply flights that won't go away.

The future looks like this:
1. NASA guarantees it be buy x flights at y price from now until 2020.
2. Multiple vendors (currently SpaceX, Orbital, Lockheed, Boeing, and others) use this promise to secure capital to develop launchers.
3. Several years of regular supply flights gives ample qualification of the new boosters.
4. Once confidence is gained, NASA transitions from buying human flights from Russians to buying flights from Americans. Lots of politicians get reelected.
5. All the tech for better than chemical rocket launch now has a concrete mission to design for. Someone perfects laser ablative launch of cargo to ISS and does it much cheaper. Someone else gets an even cheaper launch option going.
6. NASA works on designs for solar system manned exploration craft. Design is steady and largely free from political pressure.
7. Private cargo launch matures, and one day both it and the NASA designs are ready.
8. ISS, which is now a largely private operation, is sold off or deorbited at its end of life.
9. NASA (and hell, maybe even private spacecraft) launch on commercial boosters and usher in a new era.

Look, promises smomishes. Unfunded mandates scmuded fandates. This is the ONLY way to get beyond LEO in a sustained manner by the 2050s ( when I will retire). You all should be overjoyed.

This is tragic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31273614)

Senators won't give any more money they don't have to Nasa, because they don't like Nasa's vision, but they will give trillions they don't have to bankers, whose only vision is 'Me First, Screw the Public'

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