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NASA Unveils Sweeping New Programs For Next 5 Years

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the now-another-sweeping-announcement dept.

Government 278

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that after terminating the Constellation program, which was to develop rockets to return humans to the moon, NASA has announced that instead it will focus on developing commercial flights of crew and cargo to the ISS and long-range technology to allow sustained exploration beyond Earth's orbit, including exploration by humans. 'We're talking about technologies that the field has long wished we had but for which we did not have the resources,' says NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. 'These are things that don't exist today but we'll make real in the coming years. This budget enables us to plan for a real future in exploration with capabilities that will make amazing things not only possible, but affordable and sustainable.'""Among the new programs is an effort known as Flagship Technology Demonstrations, intended to test things like orbital fuel depots and using planetary atmospheres instead of braking rockets to land safely, a program that will cost $6 billion over the next five years and will be run by the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kennedy Space Center in Florida is to get $5.8 billion over five years to develop a commercial program for carrying cargo and astronauts to the space station. These new programs will be 'extending the frontiers of exploration beyond the wildest dreams of the early space pioneers,' added Bolden."

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What's the point? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788032)

What does the space program hope to achieve, really?

Inspiration (4, Interesting)

MasaMuneCyrus (779918) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788060)

How many of us grew up wanting to be scientists an engineers because we thought NASA was the coolest thing since the Super Nintendo?

We have a terrible shortage of scientists in the US and a culture that ill-supports our nerdy kids. NASA serves an an inspiration not only to them, but to children all over the planet to get into the sciences and excel. The trickle-down technologies that come from NASA research are just a bonus.

Re:Inspiration (5, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788176)

There is no shortage, only a culture that is unwilling to pay scientists and engineers the same wages that are available in medicine, law, and finance.

If you want scientists, give kids an incentive to become scientists. You can only trick them with dog and pony shows like manned space "exploration" for so long.

Re:Inspiration (1)

PhrstBrn (751463) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788254)

The reality is that the closer you are to the money, the more you'll make. It doesn't make sense, but that's just how it works out. The sales guy couldn't be an engineer, but the engineer could do the sales guy's job. Yet the sales guy is closer to the money so he makes more. I don't get it either, but that's how it works. Once you realize that most of the people in this world are morons the fact of the matter stops bothering you.

Re:Inspiration (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788422)

The reality is that the closer you are to the money, the more you'll make. It doesn't make sense

Sure, it does. You have more visibility, more negotiating power, and being "closer to the money" means it takes less effort to redirect some of that money in your direction.

Money and Sales (4, Insightful)

danaris (525051) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788500)

The reality is that the closer you are to the money, the more you'll make. It doesn't make sense

Sure, it does. You have more visibility, more negotiating power, and being "closer to the money" means it takes less effort to redirect some of that money in your direction.

No, it doesn't even work that way. The sales guys don't even have to expend effort to redirect money in their direction: they get obscene commissions on the sales they make, sometimes on top of high salaries.

The engineers (or whatever job it is) who make it all possible are seen by management—which is usually made up of former salesmen, or people in the same social circles as the salesmen—as interchangeable cogs, who can simply be swapped out if they start to get too uppity about pay. Because it's not them who will have to work three times as hard to both pick up the slack of the work not getting done because they let go someone who had been there for 10 years, and train that person's replacement, while still getting all your own work done...

Dan Aris

Re:Money and Sales (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31789030)

You are a brave man, sir, for attaching your real name to such a piece of truth. The pointy-haireds will not be pleased with you. I actually had an engineer-turned salesman admit to me that as a young engineer he watched a salesman pull up in his shiny new Caddy and thought to himself, "Damn, I'm in the wrong profession!"

Re:Inspiration (1)

ThreeE (786934) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788734)

I very much doubt the engineer could do the sales guy's job.

Re:Inspiration (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788746)

". The sales guy couldn't be an engineer, but the engineer could do the sales guy's job." spoken by an engineer, I'll bet. Sales is hard. Sure, the sales guy couldn't do my engineering job. But I can't do his job either. And lets have no cant about "well, you could learn to do the sales job"... maybe.. and the sales guy could learn to do my job. But for good sales people, it comes naturally. Just like engineering stuff comes naturally for me.

Re:Inspiration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788282)

Amen! when Bill Gates testified about shortages I wish some congressperson had asked him, why not pay more to encourage people to move to the field. Companies don't value scientists and engineers, to get ahead you have to move to management. (Project or People). Its about not believing these areas are worth as much as the cited ones. Law is of course only a ticket for a few most lawyers unless they come from a top (ivy) law school don't do that well.

Because Congress is in bed with industry. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788412)

The whole "shortage" thing is just a ruse to justify going overseas - that's all.

Any business person who says that there's a shortage is BS'ing.

I can't tell how many times I've worked with folks with graduate science degrees who were there because they couldn't get a job in their field or because being a programmer paid a hell of a lot more than being a scientist.

Re:Inspiration (3, Funny)

drewhk (1744562) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788372)

Money is important. I live in a country where there is so much shortage of engineers that we can just laugh and choose from whatever job we want. We are paid quite well. On the other hand, the country is full of lawyers, economists, and humanities students that just cannot get a job.

Now, suddenly, the whole society started to respect engineers, and now the girls all know that we have good salaries, and presto! -- we can have girlfriends, finally! :)

Re:Inspiration (1)

Ana10g (966013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788576)

Which country do you live in?

Re:Inspiration (1)

Krahar (1655029) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788690)

The land of the pink pony.

Re:Inspiration (1)

drewhk (1744562) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788894)

Pink Ponies do not have lawyers and economists ;)

Re:Inspiration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788408)

Amen to that. As an engineer that works for the government, the addition of performance-based raises instead of equally-distributed 3% raises would be nice, too. The realization that my salary is basically linear with a very low slope has led me to consider whether I ought to change careers altogether.

Re:Inspiration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788662)

How's this for inspiration: shortly after a string of all-nighters with several coworkers to get a product to ship on-time, the director sent out a company-wide memo regarding raises. The tone of the letter can basically be summarized as, "Hell no, fuck you all. And by the way, stop parking in the visitor parking lot (only I can do that)." Welcome to life as an engineer employed by the government. It was at that point that I just stopped giving a shit. It doesn't matter if you do A+ work or C- work; the result is the same. Why bust your ass to do A+ work if it doesn't show up in your pay check, and your coworker doing C- work seems to be getting by just fine? Now who wants to be a government doctor? :-)

Re:Inspiration (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788474)

dog and pony shows like manned space "exploration"

My mixed metaphor sensor just took the head-staggers.

Re:Inspiration (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788582)

No offense, but I really don't think medicine and law are the culprits... (plus doesn't medicine come from science?). Fiance as an issue I can sort of agree with, however I think it is more the whole "business/corporate" management fast track that the youth are drawn to as a way to make money with the sub par education that they received throughout their scholastic lives.

The problem seems to be that our culture values celebrities and sports figures exponentially more then it values those who actually make a difference in our overall quality of life. Yes it can be argued that entertainment (sports/movies/TV etc...) adds an amount of "quality" to day to day living... but no where near the quality that engineers and scientists have provided for our overall modern living experience.

Honestly, I think it was Howard Stern (yes, I know, but I worked construction for a few years while recovering from IT "burnout") who once joked saying some thing like that if society gave scientists the same rewards/incentives that it gives sports stars and celebrities (i.e. money, super models, and fame) then we would have cured cancer and colonized Mars by now.

(Disclaimer: I am not saying that scientists would know what to do with super models... but all of that money and fame would probably result in bunch of a funny "MTV Cribs" episodes: "and in my basement I have set up a server farm solely for running seti@home".)

Re:Inspiration (5, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788842)

Also, don't forget that part of it is our own damn fault.

I find it incredibly hard to blame a 20-30 year old for deciding not to go into the sciences, simply because of the horrible conditions that graduate students are forced to endure. Graduate students are paid poverty-level wages, and do the vast majority of the work for which their mentors take credit. The actual "studying" is usually done within the first two or three years, while PhD students usually work for 7-8 years on their degree.

After the PhD's done? A modest wage increase, and the even further humiliation of being a PostDoc.

Re:Inspiration (1)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788328)

It used to be cool.. The 60s had a generation who saw the boundaries of human excelling being pushed.

I'm a 80s kid, yet the imagery of the grainy black/white video still has an impact on me. I do love the old scifi series and movies, all in that generation seemed to be geared to push those boundaries, the SciFi was gorgious. In this day and age scifi looks like "oh, that's sortof.. yeah not mindboggling" while we twitter that instantly on a smartphone which sends a signal TO SPACE and back and then AROUND the world within a few milliseconds...

But now the programs of NASA, it's low profile. They would generate ALOT of public interest if they'd just shoot up a disk from a shuttle and take high-res pictures of it leaving it all to speculations.

But no.. right now
"we are going tot he moon!"
NASA: "no, we cannot do it."
"But my watch has more processing power the appolo ever did!"
"We cannot do it."
"why not?"
"just can't..."

Former Rocket Scientist View (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788424)

I used to work as a contractor at NASA writing real-time GN&C software for space vehicles. I was very young, but I do recall watching TV when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. It didn't really mean that much to me, but it was one of my earliest childhood memories. July 20th is an important date for me, personally.

Years later, I did very well in math and science classes, so my engineer/pilot father pushed me towards engineering as a profession. I planned to be an EE, but fate and transferring between Universities forced me into Aerospace Engineering. When I was eligible to transfer into the EE program, I chose to stay put and concentrate on aircraft design, fluids and viscous boundary layer CFD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_fluid_dynamics [wikipedia.org] . At graduation, none of the aircraft producing companies were interested in me due to lower grades (I worked 25+ hrs/wk and paid my way through school with ZERO loans). I was offered a job at a NASA contractor writing GN&C software. Non-CS graduates were better in that role - we weren't interested in doing every trick the compiler or hardware allowed. We wrote highly maintainable, solid, boring code that worked. Our error rate was/is the lowest in the world, at a price in productivity. In 5 yrs of that job, I introduced 1 error. I probably wrote a total of 8,000 LOCs. That counts 4,000 initial values for a big new failure mode module. I was highly specialized and knew my marketability was very limited in coding. I was an expert at software development processes with very low error rates, however.

Took a few C/C++, OO, and other classes during that time and found a position writing cross platform code in the mission control center rebuild for the space station and shuttle updates. That taught me *NIX operating systems and cross platform GUI programming. Highly marketable skills at the time. I was the Windows and OS/2 porting expert on the team and responsible for bringing the software into the new MCC's world-wide, Canada, Russia, France, etc. As the new development for the project was completing, the NASA sponsor added me to a list of critical skills required to continue the project. Basically, it was a job for the life of the project. I worked for the "development" contractor, not the "run/maintenance" contractor company, so by doing that, he was taking huge political risk for him and me. He was very politically powerful and anywhere I worked within NASA (we had team members at JPL, AMES, Huntsville, and Goddard in addition to ESA folks), I'd be pulled back at least part time to work on the project. He never asked if I were interested in the position either. I left and have been working in the private sector since mid-1996. I pay more in taxes now than I earned at NASA.

NASA is a highly political entity, both externally with congress/funding and internally with the different teams getting the best resources.

NASA provides welfare for engineers and a way to get political favors for congress. Nothing really new has come from the manned space program in years. All the new propulsion crap being rehashed now was ground tested in the 1950s. Until they take 5+ experiments into space and let them be proven in around moon flybys, I won't be convinced we aren't wasting money. NASA is too afraid of failure to risk anything now. Failure appears to congress like throwing money away, regardless of how much knowledge is gained as part of the failure. OTOH, going into space is hard. People will die. Expect it. Commercial space science can take the risks that NASA can't. The people who go into space and don't survive should be certain to have iron clad life insurance policies. The only people getting rich off space technologies today are the spies selling secrets to foreign governments.

Re:What's the point? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788084)

Eventually getting us off this slowly dying rock? Doy? Extinction WILL eventually happen if we stay here...the sooner we get out into the stars, the greater the chance our species has for surviving.

Of course, the counter to that argument is that we've fucked up Earth so badly, is it really a good idea to inflict ourselves on the rest of the planets out there...

Re:What's the point? (3, Insightful)

Gruturo (141223) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788148)

Getting off this slowly dying rock, global warming and other man-made disasters aside, is not going to be a matter of survival for many thousands of years to come. During which we will hopefully acquire the technology to _actually_ pull it off, compared to the current situation in which, simply, we have nowhere near the skills to do such a thing.

so, in short:
1) We can't establish a permanent self sufficient extraterrestrial colony anywhere at the moment, and even an Apollo or Manhattan size project won't make this possible for quite a while. We really can't go anywhere at the moment, not even within the solar system, not even on the Moon.
2) We *will* eventually have the technology to do that in a not-so-near future. This Flagship Technology Demonstrations thing is a step in that direction.

Re:What's the point? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788174)

Agreed that this isn't anything that will need to happen soon...but we have to start developing the technology and methods that will eventually lead to it at some point, so why not now?

If we took half the money we spend killing people and instead used it to research space flight, we would be MUCH further along at this point.

Re:What's the point? (2, Insightful)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788752)

If we took half the money we spend killing people and instead used it to research space flight, we would be MUCH further along at this point.

If we took half the money we put into entitlement programs and put it into getting better education, we would be much better off. Instead, we shunt money to people who WON'T do anything with their lives but suck on the gov't teat and spit out kids to get MORE money. Then THEIR kids do the same thing. Welfare reform is a joke. People just move to places when the money dries up. And yes, I KNOW people like this.

Re:What's the point? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788896)

If we took half the money we put into illegal wars and put it into getting better education, we would be much better off.

There.. fixed that for you.

Re:What's the point? (1)

Issarlk (1429361) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788172)

We fucked up earth because we have little experience. We'll get it right eventually.

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788190)

Why would it be mankind's goal to not get extinct? It is a desire for many by unconscious processes in the brain as developed through evolution (Citation needed), but is it necessary to make it a conscious goal?

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788200)

Why is it that I always see this argument ("get us off this dying planet") coming from the people who seem to have the least knowledge of the planet's history and life's history on this planet? And most importantly of all, they have ZERO understanding of the timescales involved (hint: in 7 BILLION years there will be nothing even remotely related to humankind existing anywhere near our solar system).

Re:What's the point? (0)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788366)

Why is it that I always see this argument ("get us off this dying planet") coming from the people who seem to have the least knowledge of the planet's history and life's history on this planet?

I said "slowly dying"...which, given the way we are affecting things (I don't mean global warming, I mean pollution), it is not out of the realm of possibility that Earth won't be able to sustain human life in a few thousand years. Regardless of pollution, we will also eventually use up all of the available resources on this planet, which means unless we have the technology to live on (or at the very least collect resources from) other planets, we will be screwed. The kind of technology necessary to move or collect resources isn't going to be developed overnight, which is why we need to start now.

Why is it that when people make assumptions about others around here, they almost always post those assumptions as an AC? Sack up and log in.

Re:What's the point? (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788828)

Of course, the counter to that argument is that we've fucked up Earth so badly

Oh, we haven't harmed the earth, it will do just fine without an ecology, or even without any life at all. It is we, ourselves, that we are fucking.

We wouldn't be the first to "ruin" the earth, either. The very first life here poisoned its atmosphere, filling it with the poisonous oxygen. Guess what? They're dead, Jim. The oxygen that they themselves created killed them.

Sweeping (2, Insightful)

kiehlster (844523) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788048)

Sounds like NASA's gone low-tech using brooms to sweep away the old and introduce the new stuff rather than simply unveiling new programs.

R & D (4, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788050)

"It will enable us to accomplish inspiring exploration, science and R and D, the kinds of things the agency has been known for throughout its history."

NASA does a hell of a lot more than just launch people into space. This new budget will give NASA a leg up on real cutting edge R & D in new technologies. All the billions of dollars going towards getting men to the Moon will be spent on next generation rocket tech and many other exciting fields.

Re:R & D (1)

Kvasio (127200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788108)

NASA does a hell of a lot more than just launch people into space.

yes it does. It purchases launching people into space service from Russians.

Re:R & D (1)

Kvasio (127200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788124)

and usually it is not wise to outsource your core competence ....

Re:R & D (4, Insightful)

Monkey-Man2000 (603495) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788296)

Except NASA's core competence isn't launching people into space while for Russians it is. With Soyuz, Russians are using the Unix philosophy: do 1 thing, but do it well. NASA's better at the R&D and robotic exploratory missions and more money for that is a good thing. Let them help commercial companies develop the technology for enhanced manned missions (like they have done with satellite-launching companies). In the meantime, it's more cost-effective to let the Russians send our astronauts to LEO.

Re:R & D (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788606)

That was more true in the 60s, but now putting people in space is hardly NASA's core competence now. They do much more unmanned stuff. They run over 100 scientific satellites and a bunch of interplanetary probes, along with the rovers on Mars.

http://www.nasa.gov/missions/current/index.html [nasa.gov] .

Re:R & D (4, Insightful)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788132)

And it won't do any good if we're not inspiring future scientists and engineers. Research isn't all about money, you need people too. The manned spaceflight program provided the inspirations for thousands if not millions of scientists and engineers. I'm not looking forward to a world where all the amazing stuff is done by our robots. I'm not saying Constellation was a great program (it wasn't), but nixing manned spaceflight entirely is worse.

Human Spaceflight is no longer NASAs job (4, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788248)

according to the current budget, its the private sector's job.

There's BILLIONS of dollars in potential earnings from manned space flight in the private sector. First it will be ventures like Space Ship Two that send people up for a couple hundred grand a pop. In a few years there will be the first private orbital manned private spaceflight. There's ideas for hotels, private moon missions and much, much more.

The manned spaceflight program provided the inspirations for thousands if not millions of scientists and engineers.

NASA has successfully pulled this load for 50 years (of course Apollo more than Shuttle). NASAs turn at the forefront is over. Its time for the private sector to start doing the manned flight inspiring.

Re:Human Spaceflight is no longer NASAs job (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789076)

"There's ideas for hotels, private moon missions and much, much more."
this will never happen until their is a radical change in how people get to space.

It simply costs too much money. And yes, even the very wealthy will bald at spending million a night in a hotel with no pool and a risk of death a foot away.

Human Spaceflight is still one of NASA specialties. There just not going to act a s a bus anymore.

Re:R & D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788748)

The manned spaceflight program provided the inspirations for thousands if not millions of scientists and engineers. I'm not looking forward to a world where all the amazing stuff is done by our robots. I'm not saying Constellation was a great program (it wasn't), but nixing manned spaceflight entirely is worse.

You watched the Colbert Report last night too, eh?

Re:R & D (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789084)

I'm guessing this came up in the interview? I watched the Report, but skipped the interview. I've held this opinion for a long time. I think the practical, direct benefits of space flight are worthwhile, but the intangibles make it priceless.

Re:R & D (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788904)

How much has NASA spent on R&D since the moon trip? NASA has come up with a lot of good spin-off technologies (though not so many in recent years...); but do you really think that those things would remain undiscovered forever? Would velcro never have happened if NASA didn't need it? I find that unlikely.

Never thought I'd say this, but it's time to move on. The last truly monumental thing done by NASA was almost half a century ago now. The money dumped in to NASA over the decades since then could be put to better uses. Chief among those is not being taken from the people who earned it in the first place.

Re:R & D (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788942)

THIRD WORLD PEOPLE = THIRD WORLD COUNTRY.

Have you had enough yet?
Are you even able to DISCUSS what is happening to your (previously all white) country?

Where do you think your children will run to when there are no white countries left on Earth?

This is a Good Sign (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788066)

NASA is at its best when it's researching and developing new technologies to achieve the previously unachievable. Obama's nixing of the Constellation program was a good move as it was a program based entirely off of existing technology. NASA's budget overall has increased, and their renewed focus on future tech will inspire budding students to take up engineering, computer programmers, physicists, mathematicians, and other difficult fields. This will certainly reap rewards long into the future.

Meh (1, Funny)

vwjeff (709903) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788070)

I feel inspired

Oh, look.... (4, Insightful)

Eggplant62 (120514) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788136)

Someone thought of a way to drive our economy, create new jobs, set up new business opportunities, and create a whole sector of global wealth, all without raiding some shithole country in Farthest Outer Asia. I'm floored.

Smell that? That's sarcasm.

Re:Oh, look.... (1)

Xserv (909355) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788218)

I'm just glad someone noticed that creating jobs was good for the economy. Now, if the people that make decisions up the ladder could figure that out we would all be better off.

- xserv

Re:Oh, look.... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789114)

They know that, and have been trying to get more jobs. When comparing are current financial crisis to others, we are actually coming out of it pretty quick. no quick doesn't mean 1 year, it means faster then 10 years. The normal time it takes.

The real issue is people will buy cheap over buying something the supports American jobs.

beyond the wildest dreams? (5, Insightful)

findoutmoretoday (1475299) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788154)

'extending the frontiers of exploration beyond the wildest dreams of the early space pioneers,'

NASA underestimates dreams

Re:beyond the wildest dreams? (1)

bregmata (1749266) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788306)

NASA will make us suddenly realize we're floating in space but we're naked?

FAIL (2, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788166)

I'm seeing a lot of talk about figuring out how to do things that we might want to do, maybe, at some point.

You know why Apollo worked? We set goals and a date, and the figuring out took care of itself.

Re:FAIL (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788478)

Here I was thinking that it worked because there was national prestige at stake and the hearts and minds of the world. The Soviets were basically saying "haha! we're better than you" and the US needed to prove that they weren't. The same is not true now. No matter how much time and effort you put into making the airfield look legit and pretend to talk into radios, the planes will not come flying out of the sky with food and supplies. Give up on the Apollo cargo cult, people have been trying to rekindle that fire for 40 years.

Re:FAIL (2, Interesting)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788924)

Actually, it's a little of both. There was a national prestige thing going on- AND they set goals, a series of planned dates, and then just did it.

Cargo Cult? Only to those that don't have any of the history at their disposal- and access to some of the people that were there while they were growing up (My Father and Grandfather...and I've got verifiable proof of some of the stuff I've been told over the years in their shop notes, etc...). And there is something to the complaints from that "cargo cult".

NASA's not the same org it was when the Apollo program was in full swing. The NASA that was in the Apollo era wouldn't have allowed a design like they deployed for the shuttle's solid fuel boosters to have been fielded in the first place. The NASA of that era wouldn't have allowed the launch in the case that it'd been deployed based off of concerns at the time instead of making the Challenger disaster. NASA's a decent enough org these days- but as one other poster pointed out, it's highly political- and things are much more about the politics than the engineering and science. This is at least partly due to dwindling budgets- in comparison to the current budget dollars allocated, NASA actually has nearly HALF the money it used to have available to it when the Apollo program was in full swing (32.106 billion versus the 17.912 billion adjusted to 2007 value dollars). You can't do as much with half the money. The fire is gone because of the lack of funds and politics.

In the end, it should be that we have what that "cargo cult" keeps asking for- whether it comes from the private sector or NASA. We just largely don't have it right now. That fire helped provide a lot of what you've got now and we're slowly sliding downhill as a result of not putting efforts into things like it- however they're done.

It should be observed to those around that there's actually a very similar situation going on right now with another country and the US- this time, instead of the Soviets, it's the PRC doing it.

Re:FAIL (4, Insightful)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788508)

You know why Apollo worked? We set goals and a date, and the figuring out took care of itself.

I suspect it worked because the government considered it important enough to pay for.

Re:FAIL (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788970)

I just wish they'd consider it worth spending on... We've gotten quite a bit of return on the Apollo investments- and we'll see NOTHING from the bank bailouts.

Glad (1)

Xserv (909355) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788180)

I'm glad to hear that something is happening. After hearing about the budget cuts from the government for the space program, I was worried about where we were headed in Science and Technology. Kudos to NASA for putting something progressive together.

- xserv

One of the best apologies I have ever read (4, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788192)

damn if they aren't doing a good job apologizing for putting NASA on the back burner. Effectively ending US leadership in space is about the sum of it, with all the required "forward looking" related buzzwords. Yet for every politico speak buzzword fest there is the followup of "no long range plan"

In other words, there ain't money for rocket science. Really, until some other nation lays claim to the moon or really starts being pushy in space our space program is going to be full of double talk and expectations. So, uh, yeah, they have the resources now to develop x,y, and z. Well duh, your not doing any expensive launches your bound to have money for other things. The problem is, research is not exciting to the public. It does not capture the imagination. So NASA will fall further from the public's eye which will make it easier to keep marginalizing it.

It does not generate sufficient votes in an entitlement first generation. Why spend money to go to the moon when we can use the money to provide entitlements which generate votes which keeps us safely in office.

Hell, NASA's budget ain't larger than a rounding error in the overall scheme of things. To tell the American public with a straight face there ain't money to do that is astounding. Whats worse are all the people running to defend it. We just spent more money shoring up some major banks than we spent in the last ten years on the space program! The stimulus package had more pork than NASA has budget.

What those articles do is nothing more than spew a well rehearsed apology for going nowhere.

Re:One of the best apologies I have ever read (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788380)

What leadership? You mean continuing to launch one $700 million shuttle after another and constantly making promises that they never delivered on? The U.S. hasn't led anything in human exploration since Apollo. All they've been doing for the last 40 years on that front is delivering animations of ships and missions that never pan out and holding press conferences about how *one day* we're going to the moon and/or Mars (promises which get pushed back every few years). The cancellation of Constellation was just a tacit admission of what anyone with eyes, ears, and any memory at all has known for a long time.

Re:One of the best apologies I have ever read (5, Interesting)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788628)

We just spent more money shoring up some major banks than we spent in the last ten years on the space program!

OK, enough of this bullshit that I keep hearing mindlessly repeated. The TARP funds that went to banks were structured as investments, which haven't done too bad considering the circumstances.

A big chunk of that has been paid back (at an annual rate of return around 8.5% [snl.com] ). Yes there will be some write-offs that will ultimately lower that rate and in the end, it may end up being a wash. That means little or no net loss. Pretty good for a government program.

Stop spewing this ridiculous meme that the bank bailouts were some huge money sink. It is not true.

Now, if you want to complain about how things went with our money and AIG (an insurance company) and the automakers, fine. But on the balance, the bank bailout wasn't too bad...

Re:One of the best apologies I have ever read (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788724)

A big chunk of that has been paid back (at an annual rate of return around 8.5%).

And "reinvested" in shit business. The TARP program is some sort of twisted version of the Gambler's Ruin problem [wikipedia.org] . Any positive return is put back in.

Re:One of the best apologies I have ever read (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788872)

Also, it bears mentioning that the TARP money and an even larger amount put at the disposal of the Federal Reserve, are probably the largest, unsupervised slush funds ever created. I see no evidence of accountability or purpose in these funds. You can talk about the return on investment, but it ignores both that this money has been sunk into some really bad investments (like the car companies) and that these bad investments won't show up right away.

Re:One of the best apologies I have ever read (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788932)

Don't forget the opportunity costs of not bailing out GM or AIG. Although I found the behavior of the two companies reprehensible, the failure of a mammoth company like AIG would have been devastating to the economy.

We may never know the true extent of what the damage could have been -- it's certainly possible that a GM liquidation could have spurred the creation of several new companies out of the former parent's assets, although for the time being, it looks like it was the right thing to do, even though the expense certainly was painful.

(PS. Don't forget that the first bailout came from the GOP under Bush. If you're going to play partisan politics with the AIG/GM bailout, try to keep that fact in mind.)

Better space stations going a bit farther (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788212)

IMHO, at this technological point all efforts should go towards establishing a fully inhabitable and equipped space station.

Not a web of tiny corridors, but a large building, sith actual rooms, artificial gravity, etc.

First step? Reduce a hundredfold the price of pushing stuff into orbit.

Re:Better space stations going a bit farther (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788308)

Sith rooms? What, the anti-google? I don't know that I want a sith room in orbit above me. Who knows what shit the sith might drop on us.

Re:Better space stations going a bit farther (1)

DMoylan (65079) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788512)

sith?

isn't a freudian slip when you say one thing and mean your mother? :-)

possible new civilization thanks to creators? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788220)

almost everyone knows this one is close (by generational standards) to toast, there's just no valid discussion re: survival/re-creation.

the notion of discovering a 'new' habitable planet is all the rage amongst the greed/fear/ego based population. not very likely any time soon enough.

never a better time to consult with/trust in your creators, who can change everything in the wink of an eye, whilst providing more than enough of everything for everyone/everywhere without any infactdead personal gain motive since/until forever.

these days are well documented in all of the spirit based manuals. see you on the other side of it (the big flash)?

Wrong tense in summary (4, Informative)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788232)

The Slashdot summary quotes the New York Times as "after terminating the Constellation program...", but the real quote uses the subjunctive: "President Obama’s plan for space, announced this year, would terminate the Constellation program." Obama doesn't write the budget bill, Congress does. And according to a March 24 Orlando Sentinel [orlandosentinel.com] blog, "House panel vows to save Constellation":

Members of the U.S. House panel with direct oversight of NASA vowed Wednesday to oppose White House plans to cancel the Constellation moon rocket program, calling the proposal a “deficient” idea that could jeopardize U.S. leadership in space exploration.

The criticism, from both Republicans and Democrats, underscores the difficulty that President Barack Obama faces in convincing Congress of his plan, which would terminate Constellation and instead rely on commercial rockets to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

I predict that the usual political sausage factory will preserve some part of Constellation. Look how long the F-22 lived on life support.

Nuke in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788234)

I'd like to see serious devotion/development into nuclear propulsion tech.

Re:Nuke in space (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789014)

Only really usable for interplanetary distances. You need some lift tech that'll work well for atmospheric operation that won't irradiate the countryside or have issues with lifting the reactor powerful enough to move the reaction mass for that operation.

Sweeping? (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788272)

Are they hiring janitors? For Mars??

stop sending bags of meat into space (5, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788294)

for every astronaut we send up into LEO, we can probably send 40 cutrate probes all over the solar system. hell, as the predator drones in afghanistan show, not even the military needs pilots anymore

the point is: the days of needing pilots and astronauts is over. everything can be done remotely for orders of magnitude of less cash outlay, for much greater amounts of quality science

instead, send probes, hundreds of them. send 20 to saturn. send 40 to jupiter. lose a few. who cares? get them up there fast and keep cranking them out. fire and forget. FOR FAR LESS MONEY, ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE, THAN A MANNED SPACE PROGRAM TO THE MOON. do quality science remotely. do it on a giant scale

to hell with sending men to the moon, to hell with sending women to mars, enough of that pointless cold war chest thumping. let india and china play that idiotic nationalist game of who has the bigger penis now. sending human beings into space, for the foreseeable future, is a vanity, a conceit, a waste of money and time, like a rich guy buying a ridiculously expensive car just because he can

lets give up the puerile boyhood scifi fantasies, and start doing real interplanetary on a massive scale... for far less money!

Lets Send Bags of Meat To The Moon... (3, Interesting)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788386)

In privately operated spacecraft!

NASA paved the way with huge, expensive spacecraft. It's time now for the USA to put private sector ingenuity and efficiency to the Space sector. The US government should put some nice Tax incentives in place for space companies to keep them in the USA, thus keeping incentives for engineers and scientists to stay here.

It isn't a waste of money if it pays for itself in Private hands!

agreed (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788444)

i welcome all the budding dr. nos out there. if you have a lot of cash to blow, go ahead and do it on a space fantasy. what the hell do i care?

however, my comment has to do with what nasa does with our public money, and a national program of unmanned space probes certainly makes the most sense, for many reasons, not least of which is that it can be really cheap: lots of science bang for very little buck

there's no reason to give that up because some rich dude has a space fetish

Re:stop sending bags of meat into space (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788498)

for every astronaut we send up into LEO, we can probably send 40 cutrate probes all over the solar system.

It's more the other way around. Current seat price on the Shuttle (which is already pretty darn expensive) is something like $100 million, perhaps a bit more. The Discovery class probes are around half a billion dollars. This is as close to "cut rate" as NASA gets. That's five astronauts in space. You're off by a factor of 200.

Now, if we really did cut rate probes, then we could as well do cut rate manned missions as well. I still don't see the price advantage that probes are supposed to have over people. It remains, for example, that a few geologists on Mars for a few years, would do a lot more scientific work than a few dozen space probes, perhaps even a few hundred space probes over a few decades of exploration (there's some hideous inefficiencies here, since in the unmanned exploration scenario an unanswered question requires a new unmanned mission, which typically takes a decade or more to develop and deploy currently). They wouldn't have the geographical coverage, of course, but most of the problems with space probes is that they simply are too limited to do much science at a time.

we can get far more cutrate (2, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788776)

when you don't have to deal with something that eats, drinks, breathes, shits, and pisses, you can get a hell of lot more bang for your buck. surely you can see this

i want to see RPI managing 5 probes on venus, i want to see lehigh managing 10 probes on the moon, i want to see northwestern managing 15 probes on titan. i want to see carnegie mellon and case western arguing over which of their probes gets to prospect the interesting block of ice on ganymede, because they both spotted it at the same time. i want to see caltech sending out an email saying they don't have enough researchers to manage their 50 probes. i want MIT sending out an email worrying about running out of places to explore. i want to see bickering about coveted slots on launch windows when mars is closest to the earth. i want traffic jams of probes in space and on other planets

hell, i want to see AP Space Exploration 101 at Stuyvesant High School, managing their mars rover with a twitter-like interface, high school students deciding where to go and how to get there. i want to see Brooklyn Tech hack Stuyvesant's mars rover and drive it off a cliff. a few red faces, and no one worries that much about the loss, because we are cranking out dozens of probes a month

AND WE CAN DO ALL OF THIS FOR FAR LESS MONEY THAN ONE OR TWO MISSIONS OF MEATBAGS TO MARS

the day of the astronaut, for the foreseeable future, is over folks

bring on the era of cheap, quick, mass produced remote probes as the dominant face of spacefaring in our lifetimes

we are in the embryonic stages of space exploration. your firefly and star trek fantasies, i'm sorry, are many centuries away. please lose the false, extremely expensive assumption that people in space is necessary for a space program. sending bags of meat into space, in your lifetime, is nothing more than a display of vanity by the rich. its not real science, and it can simply be ignored by our public entities as a valid pursuit

but if you are really, really attached to the idea of meatbags in space, then go glom yourself onto the rich assholes with space fetishes wasting their disposable income on the conceit. but for the rest of us, enough with the boyhood fixations. let's roll up our sleeves and do easily achievable mass quantities of interplanetary science the best and cheapest way possible: probes. lots 'em. right. now.

Re:stop sending bags of meat into space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788504)

Then comes the day when we are finally ready to head out into space as a race. to spread our wings. And instead af being able to simply jump a ride on the weekly probe to mars and colonize our ready built habitats, we find that we have no idea how to survive more than a few days travel into the depths of space and have to begin our entire technological journey from scratch. Yes, lets just stick with unmanned probes, that's an awesome idea.

it IS an awesome idea (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788588)

because when the day comes to send actual people into space, we will know WHERE TO FUCKING GO and everything WILL BE REMOTELY SET UP ALREADY

what do we lose? a little science about how our bones degrade? ok, i can deal with that loss of science... because we did 10,000x that amount of science in other fields for 100x less money instead!

fuck the idea of astronauts for the foreseeable future. 100% serious

Re:stop sending bags of meat into space (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788660)

instead, send probes, hundreds of them. send 20 to saturn. send 40 to jupiter. lose a few. who cares? get them up there fast and keep cranking them out. fire and forget. FOR FAR LESS MONEY, ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE, THAN A MANNED SPACE PROGRAM TO THE MOON. do quality science remotely. do it on a giant scale

OTOH, this here is a very sexy unmanned approach. I wouldn't mind scrapping a hobby-level manned program for a couple decades, if it meant some sort of serious, methodical unmanned approach like this. It's worth noting that the Apollo program had 21 unmanned probes as part of the deal for a cost (in 1994 dollars [asi.org] ) of less than $5 billion dollars. The Russians had some success in their series of probes to Mars and Venus in the 70s when they did a similar approach. As far as I'm concerned, the approach has been validated the few times it has been tried.

A high volume approach like this also allows for the development of infrastructure. For example, it might be more feasible economically to launch an unfueled probe, tank up at an automated propellant depot in orbit around Earth, and go from there. Communication networks in the more popular locations (like Mars and Jupiter) could reduce the complexity of the communication gear that each probe needs to bring. The probe could just have enough communication power to communicate with a router in orbit around Jupiter rather than beam its data directly back to Earth.

Another obvious economy of scale is reusability of components. With dozens of space probes using the same design, you get a lot more value out of any development you do. There's also "learning curve" effects where average price and reliability of a component improves significantly each time you double the volume produced.

thank you (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788840)

for coming around to the superior approach

spread the word, evangelize with me

we need to wake the fan boys out of their star trek fantasies and the false need for putting bodies into space and get to work instead on inexpensive, rapidly deployed, unmanned probes. lots of them, quick, cheap, easy. fire and forget, lose a few who cares, crank them out by the dozens

there's lots of science to be done, a lot more cheaply and a lot more easily and faster than one pissing and breathing meatbag on mars which only achieves a vanity, not real science

The single simplest reason why human space... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788988)

Warren Ellis [wired.co.uk] : "The single simplest reason why human space flight is necessary is this, stated as plainly as possible: keeping all your breeding pairs in one place is a retarded way to run a species."

i agree 100% (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789058)

and i look forward to the day when we can sustain ourselves offworld

until such a day when we have the infrastructure and cash outlay to afford that, unmanned probes will establish the science and probably build the actual facilities that will help us realize that goal

then we can worry about the next adage we need to fulfill: "keeping all your breeding pairs in one star system is a retarded way to run a species"

obligatory quote (2, Insightful)

sloepoke51 (657405) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788382)

As per the lack of NASA manned space funding...
from "The Right Stuff"
No Bucks, No Buck Rogers" or in this case "No Buck Rogers, No Bucks"

Space, the final frontier (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788400)

Brought to you through a no-bid contract to Lockheed Martin.

Phone home? (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788434)

was to develop rockets to return humans to the moon

I'm confused. How did they get here in the first place?
Just because they don't like it here, does not mean that we have to send 'em back on NASA's dime, dammit.
I mean, what have the Lunar humans ever done for us?

How many of us... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788436)

Watched the first Moon landing live [sic] on TV?

When I was a kid, there were only two* things I played with: Hot Wheels, and Major Matt Mason, Mattel's Man In Space. I was either going to be an astronaut, or a race car driver.

*Up to a certain age.

Re:How many of us... (1)

Xserv (909355) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788664)

/facepalm....

Did you just put a disclaimer with a footnote on your anonymous message?

That post is full of FAIL.

- xserv

A funding proposal (5, Interesting)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788462)

NASA cannot do anything long term because they have no long term funding - every year their funding is up for the chop in the name of political expediency. Since almost ANYTHING NASA can do is long term, this means they really cannot do anything.

So, here's my proposal as to how to fix this. This would require Congress passing a law, but once the law is passed, Congress is out of the loop.

1) Create a class of bonds - NASA bonds.
2) The money from selling these bond SHALL BY LAW only go to funding NASA.
3) Any technological spin-offs from NASA developments funded by these bonds SHALL be owned by NASA, SHALL be licensed to industry under reasonable and non-discriminatory rates, and those license fees SHALL be used to repay the bonds.
4) Interest rates on the bonds SHALL be based upon the license fees above - no fees, no payments. In this sense the "bonds" aren't "bonds" in that they can fail.
5) IF NASA can convince the market the bonds will be profitable, THEN the bonds will sell well and NASA will have a steady source of funds. If NASA cannot convince the market, then the bonds won't sell to the market.
6) However, if you are truly a star-struck geek, you can still buy the bonds, even if you don't think they will pay off, if you feel that the work is worth the risk of losing your money.
7) Since the funding is now voluntary, nobody can reasonably complain about "their money being wasted" (not that will stop them).
8) If NASA starts doing things that people don't want to fund, the bonds will dry up, and NASA will (hopefully) get the message.
9) For those who will claim this is just "NASA, Inc." - not quite. A company MUST make a profit, and failing to do so can be actionable by the shareholders. This setup purposefully allows NASA to NOT make a profit.

Re:A funding proposal (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788534)

Alternately: accept the reality that large scale missions can't be achieved over presidential transitions and plan missions that are short enough in duration for the current President to take the credit when they are successfully completed.

where are the boosters? (1)

bobcardone (922176) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788524)

Ya gotta have the throw weight to do anything in space. Orbital braking and fuel depots are cool but mass into orbit rules. We need to develop a really big booster so all the boys can orbit their toys. I did not see this addressed in any of the cited articles. I want a big booster first. Then we can play with the finesse stuff.

Re:where are the boosters? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788586)

Ask the Russians, they're the only ones who have been doing any heavy lift rocket engine research in the last 40 years. The biggest rocket in the US arsenal, the Atlas V, uses Russian engines.

Ya know how everyone is moaning that the shuttle is going to be retired and NASA will lose the expertise of that workforce? Well that's what happened after Apollo. The expertise of the F1 was lost and now the only way to get back that capability is to do the research all over again (hopefully better with modern amenities and materials) or license it from Russia..

Re:where are the boosters? (1)

bobcardone (922176) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788826)

F1 is exactly what we need to be launching now. SRBs also can lift some weight, relative cheap also. The basics still apply. You have to get it up there before you can do anything else.

another direction (3, Insightful)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788536)

I mean NASA is seriously fucked up at this point in time. Every time they try and do something the rug is pulled out from under them. I know it's cynical but when I was growing up watching all this I really thought space would be accessible to a greater portion of the population than you can count in less than a minute.

It's seriously fucking disappointing and I just can't even read this stuff from NASA anymore cause it's more of the same 'were gonna do this we're gonna do that' blah blah blah.

NASA has gone from being a 'can do' organisation to a 'gonna do' organisation.

Re:another direction (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788974)

I mean NASA is seriously fucked up at this point in time. Every time they try and do something the rug is pulled out from under them.

To be fair, the constellation project wasn't going well when it got pulled. Private industry aren't immune to budget cuts themselves, and it was probably a good idea to scrap it instead of having it turn into another Shuttle-like debacle, in which the final product was an order of magnitude over budget, and failed to achieve any of its original design goals.

Is it just me (3, Insightful)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788810)

or "To send a robot where no robot has gone before" doesn't exactly sound quite as exciting as the original phrase.

Re:Is it just me (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789112)

I think you mean:

"To boldly send a robot where no robot has gone before."

Well, there goes that dream. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31788900)

I don't think NASA or the powers that be understand this simple statement:

I WANT TO GO TO SPACE.

Lots of us do. I would put a large bet on saying that more than one of us would be an astronaut for free because it's exciting and inspiring. With the manned space program gone, the sky really IS the limit.

So much for all that final frontier stuff...

Less thinking, more doing. (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31788990)

Research is great, and I think NASA should do it, and I hope they continue to do it.

But not at the expense of actually doing things.

The way I'm reading the spin is we basically canceled our space program so that we can think about having another one some day.

That's fucking depressing.

Build a big ass booster first. (1)

bobcardone (922176) | more than 4 years ago | (#31789086)

Go disposable as others have said men in space are political not science. Man rated hardware just costs too much. Not that I don't love the right stuff. Large dangerous machines that go fast are needed.
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