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Commercial Space: Spirit of Apollo Or Spirit of Solyndra?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the little-of-column-a-little-of-column-b dept.

Businesses 157

MarkWhittington writes "Andrew Chaikin, the author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, believes that the spirit of Apollo no longer resides at NASA, but rather in the nascent commercial space companies such as SpaceX. This assessment is disputed by many, who see in the Obama administration program of government subsidies for commercial space the spirit of Solyndra."

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157 comments

How about the Spirit of Jack? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037208)

Don;t knows about teh spirits mentioned, but I've got a few of my own rite now! Theys is doing ok by me! ;_)

Re:How about the Spirit of Jack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037380)

We could sure use some Jack K. spirit right about now.

Re:How about the Spirit of Jack? (1)

Taty'sEyes (2373326) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037468)

Don't know who Jack K. is, but I sure wish for the spirit of Deke Slayton right about now.

Re:How about the Spirit of Jack? (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037522)

Considering that Deke Slayton was heavily involved with the construction of the Conestoga rocket system [wikipedia.org] in the 1980's, I'd say he certainly has a foot in both the early days of Apollo (even being one of the original Mercury seven), and in some ways one of the very early pioneers of commercial rocketry. He embodies perhaps the whole of what was once upon a time NASA of a long ago era and what could have become of commercial spaceflight.... if America will only let it happen.

Yeah, the spirit of Deke Slayton would be of particular interest at the moment, and it would be good to invoke him in any such discussion of the intersections of NASA's past glories and what is happening now for spaceflight in America today.

SpaceX rocks! (1, Insightful)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037218)

They deliver stuff that works. They also don't have Chinese competition (at least for US customers). Solyndra had a bit of an Iridium-style problem, where the market got undercut by other sources.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037234)

The problem is they deliver stuff that works the same way stuff worked 50 years ago. There just isn't any room in physics and engineering to allow the massive amounts of energy the overoptimistic delusions of the Space Aged promised.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (5, Interesting)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037440)

The space shuttle cost between a billion, and half a billion dollars per launch.

Of that, well under a percent was the fuel.

A Falcon 9 launch retails at $50m, and of that perhaps .4% is fuel. (300 tons of propellant at $1/Kg, which is a high estimate)

There are plans to make portions of the falcon reusable.
There is _CONSIDERABLE_ room for launch cost reduction, if they suceed.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38038288)

Too bad there's still no destination for people, eh? It's still a vacuum, it's still a radiation-blasted hell, and it's still empty. Low Earth Orbit is not "space"... Too bad we still need massive amounts of material to build rockets, too bad there's no new physics of propulsion... Why are the dead dreams of bygone eras so important to a small segment of rich, white middle-aged geeks?

What happened to the 1997 Japanese space hotel? Oh yeah, nothing. What's going on with the PG&E space based solar power? Oh yeah, nothing. Space is dead. None of the delusions about orbital ball bearing factories, commuting to the office on the Moon or retiring on Mars make a shred of sense. The two most powerful nations on Earth entered a no-holds-barred contest to get people on the Moon, and even THEY, at the PEAK of their power, weren't able to sustain it.

But somehow, CEO and his magical sidekick, the Free Market, will do it? It's time for a reality check. Metal tubes filled with chemicals don't compensate for the basic fact that people arent' meant for space, there's nothing IN space, and space is so enormously bigger than anything we can conceive... Think we'll colonize the universe with balding middle-aged apes with bad eyesight? Where is the free market life extension effort to go with the size of the universe?

It's very simple. Even here on Earth, where EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is, we couldn't even sustain Concorde. Where are these magical rich people just waiting in line to shower money at the private space buff(oon)s? After the novelty of going nowhere wears off, then what? It wore off already in 1972. It won't change.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038380)

Too bad there's still no destination for people, eh?

Bigelow is supposed to be launching his first hotel soon. So the fat-cats will be able to take their mistresses on a vacation where they can be pretty sure their wife won't find them.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (2)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038840)

So the fat-cats will be able to take their mistresses on a vacation where they can be pretty sure their wife won't find them.

That market will last about 6 months, until the novelty wears off, and word gets around that zero-g is bloody uncomfortable. Even once the vomiting/motion-sickness phase wears off, you spend the rest of your 'vacation' with a bloated head, feeling like you have a minor head cold. And I suspect the much-anticipated space sex will turn out to be more comical than erotic.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (4, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037544)

The Space Shuttle could have been considerably more efficient, had the budget for it not been slashed many times over. Nuclear propulsion was entirely possible 50 years ago, but this thing called an Arms Race made it politically a no-go. Had there been a more enlightened attitude on both sides of the curtain, we'd have colonies on Saturn's moons by now, never mind Mars. Ion drives make extended-mission space probes a real possibility, but the lack of isotopes to make nuclear energy cells (due to a total lack of decent nuclear facilities in the US) means that the probes will still have propellant long after the batteries are dead.

Ok, launch systems. ARLA is a real possibility for low-mass satellites. TAR is a real possibility for larger systems. NASA is experimenting with ski-jump assisted launchers but I doubt that will go anywhere - Congress keeps slashing the budget. Blended-Wing Body aircraft could have been released by NASA by 2010, but Congress - guess what! - slashed the budget and the program was killed off.

NASA could do a hell of a lot better, but it can't do it for free. The current rocket program is a mistake - NASA is an R&D facility, a discovery facility, not a mass production facility. Multiply NASA's budget by 10 or 20, build it a dedicated reactor for producing the necessary isotopes for batteries, devolve it as a quango so it has less political interference, and you'll see what it is capable of. All without breaking a single law of physics.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (4, Insightful)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037602)

Nuclear propulsion was entirely possible 50 years ago, but this thing called an Arms Race made it politically a no-go.

More the lack of an arms race, really. NERVA was pretty much ready to go, but had no use for ICBMs: it was aimed squarely at a mission to Mars. A very expensive, not particularly-useful-in-competing-with-the-USSR mission to Mars.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (2)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037648)

i would mod you up if i could. the killing of the shuttles was needed but killing orion/aries program was stupid as hell. it is that kind of shortsightedness that is killing American science .

Re:SpaceX rocks! (5, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038012)

Killing Orion/Ares is something that should have happened for a whole bunch of reasons, and I'm glad that it was canned. It was a program grossly over budget and behind schedule and was something that should never have been proposed in the first place. It didn't even accomplish the primary goals of the endeavor, which was to keep as much of the Space Shuttle infrastructure (aka the assembly plants and spare parts delivery queues) going after the retirement of the Shuttle program.

For myself, I think the DIRECT [wikipedia.org] approach is something that should have been done, and it might have even been able to use the Orion spacecraft. Indeed the Orion design was deliberately changed to make sure it couldn't fly on DIRECT or on existing EELVs like the Atlas V or Delta IV.

Really, the Ares program completely missed the objective of keeping Americans in space and only accomplished one real goal: keeping members of congress happy because money from that project flowed into their districts. Their main gripe is that the flow of money stopped, and unemployed constituents who were sucking off of the government teat are not happy voters when that flow of money ends. That doesn't justify why any other member of congress needs to support that program to continue other than to support their own crazy form of pork.

Certainly killing the Ares rockets has done nothing to American science, and indeed it might have even helped out.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038858)

we'd have colonies on Saturn's moons by now

Doing what and for what purpose and at what cost?

(Don't say "mining" unless you're an actual mining engineer who knows how much heavy industry is required by mining.)

Re:SpaceX rocks! (4, Informative)

geckipede (1261408) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037250)

SpaceX have had only a single successful commercial flight, and even then that was somebody being willing to take a risk on putting their payload onboard a testing flight. I'm happy to be hopeful, and I see no reason why they can't in time develop into a company with a record for reliability, but it's premature to say that they deliver stuff that works.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037574)

I agree with you to a point. SpaceX has been able to prove they can get stuff "up there" in one piece, and that they can nail orbital parameters that they set out to achieve.

This next year (2012) is going to be the big year for SpaceX to put up or shut up. Either they are going to have several successful launches or they are going to have several spectacular failures including their collapse as a company. Assuming they get the NASA COTS demos completed, they will certainly have a proven track record including to paying customers.

There are several commercial customers that are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward SpaceX, and presuming these flights are successful there are more flights that will go onto their backlog of flights [spacex.com]. It is also worth telling that SpaceX has already sold more flights this past year to new customers than all other spaceflight companies in the world, including the Chinese, Russians, Indians, and ESA combined. That should say something which should be worthy of notice, and also tell a sad tale of the incredibly small market that there currently is for commercial spaceflight. It isn't a completely dead market, but it is still incredibly small... and I'm talking about people willing to pay for telecom satellites and other proven commercial markets for spaceflight.

False. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037758)

The rocket they delivered worked. End of story.

Only if you ignore ALL THE FAILURES (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037864)

SpaceX only had ONE (partially) successful flight. Nothing more. All others were fatal failures with loss of the cargo. And the one where the cargo made it to orbit, it put the spacecraft (satellite) in an orbit lower than the target orbit and the secondary (test) cargo failed miserably.

On the last "test" flight, the nose cone (where the cargo was supposed to be) fell off in mid-flight and the vehicle auto-destroy itself. But SpaceX put out a claim that the flight was a complete success. The ONLY test of the "Dragon" capsule was a success according to the company .... but they failed to tell people that the vehicle crash landed and was destroyed on impact because the "re-entry" system failed to activate.

SpaceX talks the talk, but so far has shown that they CAN'T deliver anything safely.

Re:Only if you ignore ALL THE FAILURES (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037940)

WTF?

Seriously, who ever posted this preceding post is simply clueless about what SpaceX has accomplished. Yes, they had a couple of spectacular failures with the Falcon 1, including one "loss of vehicle". Three flights that were clearly "test flights" that had some problems followed by two flights of the Falcon 1 that were clear successes including a delivered commercial payload. That isn't even a "partial" success but a complete success and the satellite is still in use.

As for the Falcon 9, it has had two successful launches, and the Dragon returned successfully. Please, if you are going to claim that the Dragon crashed upon re-entry, please prove it by a reasonable citation because I'm calling this utter bullshit. I've known people who ate some of the cheese wheel that flew into space and returned in the Dragon that is being claimed as "destroyed".

Yes, there is room for caution and the SpaceX fanbois do push the potential a bit more, but don't make up sheer lies out of whole cloth either when the facts completely contradict what you say. Then again, a poster like this likely believes that none of the Saturn Vs that launched out of KSC ever had astronauts on board either.

Man somebody told you some real BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38038038)

The Dragon test flight were successful only in SpaceX press release. IT CRASH LANDED.

Whom ever told you that there was some cheese wheel that flew into space in the Dragon is probably laughing at your dumb face right now. The Dragon space capsule has NEVER flown into space. The only test done was a high altitude test drop that FAILED. The videos an pictures you see of the orange striped parachutes are images of the system test done over a year ago using a "mockup" (as in fake) capsule simulating the weight.

Re:Man somebody told you some real BS (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038300)

Right........ what is your source of information here? Really, I'm interested.

I am guessing it is the same people who have informed you about the Burbank studio where the Apollo 11 landing took place at. Please try to convince me otherwise, but I have to take the word of an AC as just a crank who is clueless about life and thinks grand conspiracy theories rule the universe.

Yes, I do realize that the stuff you see in the publicity reels about the landing is from the test drop that was done from a helicopter and not the actual Dragon capsule that was launched on the 2nd flight of the Falcon 9. Still, I don't see why SpaceX has a reason to lie about this. Again, I ask for a credible source of information. It doesn't have to be from SpaceX, but it had better be somebody "in the industry" or knowledgeable about spaceflight in general and not some random blog just making shit up.

SpaceX has been very up front about their failures. BTW, the person who said there was a cheese wheel that flew into space was Elon Musk, at a press conference and repeated elsewhere. I won't even go into who else has talked about it as that should be sufficient for anybody but an utter crank.

Re:Only if you ignore ALL THE FAILURES (3, Informative)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038034)

I'm not sure if you're serious or not, but here are the facts.

First of all, the Falcon 9 has flown twice. The first time there was a problem when the second stage separated, and the dummy cargoe ended up in a lower than intended orbit. But it made it to orbit. And of course it crash landed because it had no landing systems. It was a mock up of a dragon module. It was only there to give the rocket something to lift.

On the second flight, it lifted a first generation dragon module into the correct orbit. The dragon then re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down. The flight went nominally, it and it's cargoe were recovered. This was the flight NASA paid for, and Space X delivered it.

They had a secondary objective of recovering the first stage of their rocket, but the first stage burned up as it re-entered the atmosphere. That was not something NASA had paid for, it is an experimental program SpaceX is undertaking to try to further reduce the cost of their launch system.

Re:SpaceX rocks! (1)

DCFusor (1763438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038912)

I know I'd go work for Elon in a heartbeat - free if I could afford to. There's a man with brass ones, and my idea of a visionary. This is a strong statement from a guy like me, a serial-offender CEO of engineering firms. I just never made as much money to go big as he did, myself....

I'll believe it when I see it (2, Interesting)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037246)

If SpaceX gets humans back on the moon, then more power to them. Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

I'm starting to think we haven't gone to the moon since 1972 because we forgot how.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037564)

I'd agree. Space is experimental and there's bugger all anything outside of geostationary with any commercial value at this time. It's an area where governments have the cash to do things that no-one else can, though if you want outside involvement then I'd suggest throwing that cash at eccentrics, inventors (though not innovators) and geeks - the people who are capable of coming up with new ideas.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (4, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038758)

Iridium is able to make a small profit after admittedly a financial disaster over the previous decade. The next generation satellites look like they will finally have some real bandwidth as well.... being flown up into space on Falcon 9 rockets no less, so it looks like Elon Musk has that market cornered as well.

Really, commercial spaceflight currently falls into the following categories:

  • Telecommunications - including GEO orbits and stuff like Iridium. If anything this is a growth industry, and the stuff going into space has even become larger over time where it is definitely a growth market for heavy lift. It is also a pretty saturated market, however, with most of the players in this market segment very well known to each other. Another Ted Turner type could emerge here, but not likely. It is a multi-billion dollar industry though and something not to ignore.
  • Orbital reconnaissance - while government customers are painfully obvious, there are numerous commercial customers as well. Some of them are famous and can be found with Google Earth, but there are other commercial groups that have specialized remote sensing applications including agriculture and mining industries which aggressively use satellite data and will pay billions (collectively) for the data that these satellites produce. If mining leases come up, you had better believe that satellite views with different sequences of color filters (including multiple UV and IR filters) have been applied on potential plots to help identify potential mineral deposits. Included with this is weather observation data that has a similar kind of value... and isn't strictly GEO either.
  • Remote sensing sort of a combination of the two previous areas but with the need to have something on the ground. Basically this is sending data from very remote areas to be collected in a systematic fashion and sent to a central data warehouse. Some of this is now being done over fiber optic lines, but satellite transmission of data still serves the needs in many areas. Some surprising "customers" including Wal-Mart and other retailers, but it is a mainstay for mining and petroleum extraction. It certainly wouldn't be out of the question for a dedicated satellite being used to handle very sensitive information from remote sensing equipment, and having companies being willing to pay for the launch of a multi-million dollar satellite for the value of that information.
  • Navigation - obviously the governments of the world are heavily invested into this area of space economic activity, but the fact that there are huge economic benefits to nations that have space-based navigation systems is certainly a market that can arguably be called "commercial" as well. There is no possible way I could ever imagine the U.S. Congress ever cutting funding to the GPS constellation, although if that ever were to happen I would expect a commercial replacement to happen in a very short period of time. It certainly fits on a list of commercial enterprises directly related to space and utterly depend upon space-based assets. It is also a market for launchers as well.

To add to these areas, two other very likely and emergent areas of commercial spaceflight can be summed up in the two following areas:

  • Hypersonic Courier Services - if you have a package that absolutely positively has to get somewhere by yesterday (literally a possibility across the international date line), a very high speed courier service can be very beneficial. There are most definitely companies who would be willing to pay for a courier service that has the current rough price point per kilogram that spaceflight has at the moment (about $10k per kg).... if only it was dependable and regular between destinations. The trick here is to get a regular flight service going where you can be certain as to when something launches to within an hour or so rather than the current rough prediction of the neighborhood of several months of reliability as to when something will launch. Vehicles like Spaceship Two might give that kind of predictability and there are other designs both sub-orbital and orbital that might make that kind of delivery possible. This could easily be a multi-billion dollar industry all to itself, even if teamed up with existing courier services or something done as a completely separate network.
  • Space Tourism - Already a proven market so far as Space Adventures is concerned, but it is an area that could show substantial growth. There are many detractors to the idea, but the main issue is that this is perhaps the most price sensitive market for spaceflight. It is the only market that I can imagine will show huge growth if substantially cheaper prices are offered. I'm not convinced that space tourism alone can replace the other market segments in terms of providing revenue. Certainly if compared to other transportation industries like aviation and railroads, passenger traffic by itself is not sufficient to keep the industry as a whole afloat and is often even a loss leader or a side business to the main business of moving bulk cargo. Still, it is a market worth adding to this list of potential space markets
  • Bulk Space-based Resources - This is looking WAAAY out into the future, but on the rough presumption that the cost of spaceflight drops considerably to the point that space tourism is very routine, it is possible that this could even overtake space tourism as a source of revenue. Essentially I'm suggesting that materials obtained in space are shipped back to the Earth in bulk quantities to be used in various industrial processes. Because of the costs involved, I would even expect finished goods to be the primary kinds of goods transported in this way (think of a chip fab on the Moon or at one of the Lagrangian points using raw silicon harvested on the Moon or from asteroids). It would be a very capital intensive business, but is also one of the few areas that if successful could make the world's first trillionaires (using constant dollars and not something hyperinflated).

There may be some other markets including space-based manufacturing of various kinds that might possibly emerge, especially because of the unique environments that can be found in space (microgravity, hard vacuum, interesting radiation environments, etc.) It doesn't have to be a government which provides the source of capital or revenue to make these areas work, but governments do play a part in nearly all of these markets.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037582)

Or it could be that there's nothing at all on the Moon, it's far away, deadly and hostile? Is there a big market for radiation blasted vacuums?

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (1)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038560)

Who the fuck marked this as insightful? You really aren't serious are you?

There's plenty to be found on the moon. We should be investing in the tech to get there cheaply, so we can start exploiting the assets around us and stop gouging holes in our own home rock when there is a universe of materials floating around us. We have to evolve out of our reptile brained thinking at least long enough to understand "the big picture" and get moving on it.

How many billion of us are there now? 7? We either have to expand or start thinning the herd. The last option is the one that complete idiots take, just a clue. You're welcome.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (1)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038752)

One thing you don't understand is that exploiting space will make little difference to earth's population. The human race will simply become 7 billion and growing plus whatever is in space in addition, in fact, earths population may possibly grow faster while earth is a direct beneficiary of those resources.

Note that I don't necessarily share your pessimism about population issues either.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (2, Insightful)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038828)

The more the merrier. But unless we find more resources, such as in space, this planet isn't going to sustain this many damn people. Especially as they wish to start raising their lifestyle up the carbon footprint scale. We are dragging our feet at planetary atmosphere scrubbing technology. It's right in front of us in our bongs, but we haven't been smart enough to realize it. Hemp will scrub the shit out of carbon in our atmosphere, give us petroleum, feed us, give us construction materials, paper, clothes, etc, but we are hampered by "church lady mentality", corrupt politicians, stupid politicians, drug money interests, the prison industry's need to keep people in their jails for stupid shit, etc, etc.

I don't know if we as a species are going to make it. Trying to get us to go in the right direction is like herding cats.

We should be out populating the solar system, then galaxy, then universe. Of course human population should rise, but Earth's population should slack off at some point. We need new worlds, even if we have to build them until we can find them.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (3, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038970)

the tech to get there cheaply

Physics (gravity, heat dissipation, fluid dynamics, structural integrity, physical properties of aluminum and rubber) and chemistry (unless there are some easily transportable fuels and oxidizers in some lab somewhere that have more energy and less toxicity and cost than kerosene and LOX ) aren't going to change any time soon. Fiction writers hand wave over a STUPENDOUS amount of complexity.

there is a universe of materials floating around us

Except that
1) it's REALLY FSCKING FAR AWAY,
2) bathed in high-energy radiation,
3) we're at the bottom of a deep gravity well,
4) surrounded by a friction-inducing atmosphere, and
5) require on a consistent basis food and a pretty narrow range of temperature and oxygen and nitrogen partial pressures.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037664)

It all depends on what you want to accomplish. I would dare say that the "problem" of getting to low-Earth orbit (LEO, aka what the Space Shuttle did and what most other spacefaring countries are currently doing) is a "solved problem" and really something that needs to be handed over to private companies completely. Back in the 1950's, there still was doubt it could be done at all or at least reliably done. That isn't even a remote issue any more. LEO is hardly even a frontier any more and there are some serious traffic issues in terms of dealing with what is up there because so much stuff [wikipedia.org] is up there at the moment.

Turning over actual launches to private companies seems like a very wise use of tax dollars, and try to set up the means for private individuals (or companies) to be able to launch their own payloads on the same vehicles.... just like is done currently with commercial aviation. The U.S. government often does buy flights on commercial carriers or even individual seats on regular commercial routes. Why can't that same business model be applied to spaceflight if you can get similar economies of scale?

As for going to the Moon, the notion that you have a disintegrating pyramid that absolutely must start on the ground here on the Earth is the first idea that needs to be killed. Once you give up that notion, it becomes much, much easier to design a vehicle and system which can go from LEO to the Moon and back. We certainly don't need a multi-billion (with a giant "B") dollar boondoggle [wikipedia.org] that is only really designed to keep rocket engineers busy in key congressional districts that does more of the same and even duplicating services being done by private companies.

It isn't really so much we forgot how to go to the Moon, but that the cost of doing so with this massive disintegrating pyramid is so huge that designing a unique vehicle to accomplish that one task is cost prohibitive. The circumstances which created the original Apollo program won't be duplicated and currently don't exist either. We (as a country or even as a species) aren't in a particular hurry to get to the Moon either.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038980)

keep rocket engineers busy in key congressional districts

I've often wondered why Space-X doesn't open an office in Huntsville. There's got to be more than a few different-thinking unemployed "rocket scientists" there.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (5, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037804)

It's not really about commercial vs private, they've framed it that way to simplify the debate for the public. This is about fixed firm contacts versus cost plus contracts. And if the early results are any indication, fixed firm is much better.

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038024)

Currently, though, the notion that "private sector will solve all!" seems like more of an ideological excuse than an honest assessment of what the U.S. is capable of in space.

Not a lot of people realize this, but -all- DOD launches and all non-Shuttle NASA launches, plus of course all commercial satellite launches, have been on privately-built rockets for quite a few years now. This includes multi-billion dollar satellites critical to national security. It's somewhat nonsensical to have a separate government-designed/operated launcher just for manned US launches, especially when NASA hasn't successfully developed a launch vehicle in the past 30 years (plenty of failures, though).

Re:I'll believe it when I see it (1, Offtopic)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038428)

The private sector is at least trying to pick up the slack, give them a break. Our "government" has turned out to be a bunch of whores in this "slash and burn" capitalist environment. We need industry in America or we will not be able to produce pop bottle rockets if we keep going. Wall Street has turned into the new Vegas, and "fuck 'em all" financial practices have rendered us a nation of fast food industries. Face it, we are seriously screwed.

Is there any end in sight? Yes, a bad one. The fact that we are hitching rides with Russians and Chinese to space should be embarrassing enough that our politicians should just shoot themselves in the head if they had an iota of American pride or character left. They don't, nor do they care, because they are just political whores looking to fill their pockets.

Maybe after the Second American Revolution, and the status quo are all dead, burned and ashes pissed on, and we drag honest people kicking and screaming, fearful for their lives into office to represent us and our interests again, can we again start rebuilding our space program. If we get busy, we might actually get off this rock in time to stop some deadly asteroid bombardments from turning the whole planet into churning molten slag.

I'm not too optimistic. We have the finest police state the world has ever seen to keep us all in line as the wage slaves that we are. There isn't enough fighting spirit left in any of the minds capable of leading these uneducated heathens we have reared, to up end this system. Hence we are doomed to ride it to the bitter end as it takes a full throttle plunge towards the bottom. Set back and enjoy the fiddle playing as Rome burns around us.

American Space Program, that is about to be a joke on par with the Ethiopian Space Program. Who's to blame? We all are. We should have burned every Wal-Mart to the ground when they started dumping Chinese junk on our markets. We should have executed Clinton for all the secrets he let the Chinese steal and for giving them MFN trade status. We should have knocked the teeth out of anyone who said the term "free trade markets" for it not only being a complete oxymoron, but a complete traitorous sell out of every American worker. We should have been off our fat asses and watching politics just as much as we watch sports. Most of us don't even vote, and if we do vote, we vote down party lines which is fucking retarded. We couldn't find "grass roots" unless we stood on our heads in our lawns and dug.

We are handed mental pablum in sound and video bites customized for our wee brains that have the attention span of fruit flies with ADD. Considering our technology, and our dwindling advantages, we are collectively retarded in contrast to the rest of the world's population. It's no wonder multinational corporations and their puppet politicians are able to gang rape us.

Forget how to get to the moon? WTF is this "moon" you speak of?

X-Prize Me!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037280)

Take a great idea, throw your own money at it, make it work and get an immediate hunk of cash to do the next milestone/level/whatever. What is not to love about this?!?

Why have Americans become nancies? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037292)

Do you want to know why the American economy is swirling down the shitter? It's became Americans have become nancies. They have become sissies, if you will. They don't have the guts to take real risks. They don't have the guts to try something new.

Maybe this shouldn't be surprising. America often has been a backward "conservative" nation for much of its history. Aside from a few generations at the very beginning of America's modern history, the tolerance for risk has been decreasing rapidly. Without real risk you can't have real gain.

This story is a perfect example. This is clearly a very minor issue with a simple solution: send some willing astronauts in spacecraft into space, knowing that some missions may not succeed or even return! But America as a culture will overlook this, and will overlook the immense economic and environmental benefits that this technology would bring, because they are TOO FUCKING SCARED to take what's a very minor risk.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037370)

This. Even our military promotes those who haven't failed at anything, which is to say, pussies.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037456)

Actually, it's conservatives in America who are all for taking risks with the lives of astronauts. Who are the ones who shut down playgrounds because the equipment might cause a few broken arms per year? Who are the ones that make 180 degree coffee an unacceptable risk? Who are the ones who require self-censorship [finlandization [wikipedia.org]] instead of permitting someone to say something that might be interpreted as offensive? Who are the ones who have taken to characterizing [wrongly] America as a "backward" nation, and what are their motivations for doing so?

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037504)

Who are the ones who ...

The lawyers.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (0)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038714)

I smell "hate radio" emulating from your brain.

What is your malfunction with Wikipedia? As far as calling America backward, [rightly..lol] the motivation is one of calling it as it is. Now I am sorry if that offends your precious perception, but frankly fuck off. Keeping your head deeply rooted in the sand or up the asses of the political machines in this country is exactly how we end up the "backward" bunch of idiots that are thumbing a ride to space with our economic enemies. Would you step closer so I can kick you square in the balls for your blind nationalism that is so easily exploited by anyone waving the colors red, white and blue at you? Here, let me wave a flag at you, just a little closer....

BOOM, NUT SHOT! And the crowd goes crazy.

Your points: Playground equipment removed. High insurance cost, due to health care being insanely high and douche bag lawyers who sue, and punkassed greedy parents who play law suits like the lottery. End result: pussy kids who never get to learn important life lessons learned from possibly getting fucked up by doing something stupid, all the while missing out on the fun of great play.

180 degree scalding hot coffee, served by idiots at the drive through who can't get a simple order right. Handed to some dumb bitch who doesn't have enough sense to handle hot coffee like HOT COFFEE. Enter greedy lawyers and 12 people not smart enough to get out of jury duty. So much for tongue scalding hot coffee in the morning to burn your ass awake.

My motivation for busting America's balls. I hope it get's it head out of its ass. The American dream needs to become the American reality. We need to think as a nation, and not a collection of individuals trying to "get theirs". It would be nice to think that way if we were still a frontier nation and we were out fucking the Indians over still. But it's 2011, and the planet is full. The others are working as a team and beating our asses. What part of the current situation do you and your ilk not understand? It's not the 50s, we aren't the rulers of the universe anymore. We are vastly outnumbered.

China will soon be the largest English speaking country in the world. Seriously, you need to understand some things. The fact that in a world of 7 billion people, we are barely over 300 million. I am going to let that one simmer in your brain for a while.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038888)

My motivation for busting America's balls. I hope it get's it head out of its ass.

The result: America learns very quickly to ignore your obnoxious ranting. You are not America's dad, and America does not have to straighten up and be the country you want it to be. Your approval, or lack thereof, isn't relevant.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039006)

So driving full throttle into becoming a 3rd world country is your idea of where we should go? You can't rebuke fools into wisdom, but it's fun trying.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1, Insightful)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037482)

You clearly don't understand how dangerous it is to put someone in space, even with every precaution we can think of. Maybe you've forgotten the 17 deaths that have occurred so far?

Going to space isn't like assaulting Omaha beach. Throwing more cannon fodder out in unsafe vehicles that are likely to fail will not overcome or wear down space and allow later people to make it through.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1, Troll)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037550)

Why are the lives of astronauts any more precious than those of fishermen?
Over a 30 year career, according to dept of labour statistics, 5% will die.
If you asked the average trawlerman if they would prefer to make 3 or 4 flights in shirt-sleeve conditions, taking perhaps a week at a time, and make what they would make over 10-15 years, a huge fraction will leap at it, even knowing the risks.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037892)

The only reason that 5% of those fishermen die is that they're willing to put their lives in that sort of jeopardy in exchange for the money that they might make. For people with no real skills beyond the ability to perform manual labor, a job on a fishing trawler can be very lucrative because it usually pays a hell of a lot more than minimum wage. If nobody was willing to take the risks, there would be more effort put towards safety ...or the boat fishing industry would collapse and we'd only have farmed fish and all the fishermen could concentrate on becoming astronauts.

That aside, they can be astronauts if they want. All they have to do is apply and be accepted, but why would we spend millions of dollars to send fishermen somewhere where they have no useful skills beyond a tolerance for seasickness?

Astronauts are more valuable in space because of the skills they've spent a lifetime developing.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038040)

Why is an astronaut - as a special little snowflake - more valuable than the fisherman.

Why is it socially permissable for low waged unskilled workers to undertake risky careers, knowing the risks, when it's not permissable for astronauts?

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038184)

Nearly anyone can learn how to work on a fishing boat in less than a week. Learning to pilot a spacecraft is a lot more complicated and few people would take the time and put forth the effort required to develop the necessary skills. We, as a society, value people with rare skills because it's hard to find replacements for those people when needed.

Aside from that, there's the financial aspect of it: If a single trip on a fishing trawler cost half a billion dollars and you had to hire crew and train them for years for the mission, you can bet your mom's ass that there would be a lot more safety precautions taken to ensure that the trip was a success.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038302)

There is a function of cost to perform a given task vs risk.

At one end, it goes up because your launch platform is not reliable enough, and you need to make too many satellites or whatever before one succeeds in being launched.
At the other end, it goes up as you've spent too much money on the launcher.

Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot of minimum cost.
If however, you insist that no precaution must be omitted to keep astronauts safe, then the cost rises - perhaps prohibitively.

As a proportion of the costs of the entire program, the costs of training astronauts who go on to die in accidents, and their life insurance is a small one.

Certainly, astronaut safety should be pushed as far as is reasonably possible - but you have to at some point accept there is a risk, present it to the astronauts, and ask if they're OK with it, rather than pretending accidents are impossible, and coming up with numbers like the reliabilities quoted of the shuttle prior to the first accident.

To bring this back to the earlier example I was putting.

Why is it desired socially to absolutely minimise risk beyond the minimisation of operating cost including life insurance and training for astronauts, but not fishermen?

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038626)

> If however, you insist that no precaution must be omitted to keep astronauts safe, then the cost rises - perhaps prohibitively.

I never insisted anything of the sort. You're creating straw man arguments.

We've had enough deaths that only an idiot would think that the safety measures in place are overprotective. Fewer safety measures would almost certainly result in more deaths, failed missions and billions of dollars wasted which the theoretical cost-savings of reduced safety measures would almost certainly not make up for.

> Why is it desired socially to absolutely minimise risk beyond the minimisation of operating cost including life insurance and training for astronauts, but not fishermen?

Can you prove that we're minimizing risk beyond minimization of operating cost? Of course not. You're making more straw man arguments.

The cost of a single mission failure can easily be over half a billion dollars. You'd have to lose several hundred fishing trawlers (a used one goes for 1-2 million from what I can tell) and dozens of fishermen (assuming each one has a million dollar life insurance policy) to even begin to match the cost of just one of the shuttle failures.

So... why shouldn't we value an astronaut more than a fisherman? Astronauts are more expensive and more difficult for a society to produce than fishermen and the loss of a space craft and crew represents a far greater loss than the loss of a fishing boat and crew.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038438)

Nearly anyone can learn how to work on a fishing boat in less than a week. Learning to pilot a spacecraft is a lot more complicated and few people would take the time and put forth the effort required to develop the necessary skills.

Nearly anyone can learn how to work on a space shuttle in less than a week. Here's how the toilet works, here's how you get out after a pad abort, don't get in the way of the flight crew.

And as for the flight crew, most of the time they're pressing a few buttons and watching cockpit displays; NASA gets thousands and thousands of perfectly qualified applicants for those jobs every time they look for new astronauts.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038640)

Ahahaha... you have clearly never tried to play one of the realistic shuttle flight sims.

I have. It's fucking frustrating and difficult as hell even with a pause button and manual to refer to. There's a hell of a lot more to it than pushing a button once in a while.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037768)

Going to space is, however, more like some of the early flights that were done in aviation. Many of those early aircraft were incredibly flimsy and there were thousands of (non-military combat) related deaths each year in the early years. If anything it is the risk aversion that is to me something that is repugnant, other than the fact that nobody wants to be responsible for the death of somebody else.

In terms of some of those deaths on spaceflight, all 14 of the Shuttle-related deaths could have been prevented had NASA simply followed their own safety guidelines. Apollo 1 was also an unfortunate accident, and something which should have been preventable.... also something which didn't even happen during the course of the actual flight but during a ground test that could have even been inside of a factory. On top of that, the number 17, while technically accurate by figures that NASA claims, is only Americans and not deaths by other people who have attempted spaceflight or deaths by Russian Cosmonauts. It also doesn't include other astronauts who died "on the job" through other means, nor does it include deaths of ground personnel in many countries that can also be related to spaceflight.

Yes, it is dangerous, but so is simply living as a person. You take risks, but you also take measures to try and avoid the most serious injuries and hopefully take safety measures seriously. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others so you don't repeat them... particularly the most dangerous mistakes.

BTW, in terms of spaceflight, most vehicles have built into them the knowledge and experience of the previous generations of astronauts where those mistakes... especially fatal mistakes... are not likely to be repeated. That is true for anybody trying to push the boundaries of human experience. I certainly would assert that anybody going into space today on board any modern spacecraft is going to be far safer than their predecessors by an order of magnitude or better, and I expect that to improve over time. It certainly isn't a reason to fear going into space.

By far the largest problem in terms of going into space is simply the cost. That is, of course, what the whole point of commercializing spaceflight is all about. There is certainly room to make the trip to space much cheaper.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037792)

Do you realize how many deaths occurred during a typical sea voyage bringing immigrants to America? During some of the early expeditions, entire boats were lost, killing tens to hundreds of people in the process. Even during later voyages, it was not at all unusual to have 8% to 12% of the passengers die before reaching their destination, and some of these voyages involved 200 or 300 passengers. Yes, more people would die during single sea voyages than have died over the entire 50+ years of the American space program.

The sea is much like the ocean. You can't "wear it down", as you put it. But by taking some risks we can gain knowledge, and then we can put this knowledge to good use by using it to make such travel safer. That knowledge never will be gained if the risk isn't taken in the first place, though. We can see the end result with sea travel. Today it's extremely safe, and some people will pay large sums of money purely for the experience, knowing that because of past failures sea travel can be done much safer today.

Your argument is exactly what the GP is talking about. It's a "wussification" when it comes to taking sensible risk. This has many negative spinoff effects, from the domestic economy failing to other nations taking the lead and thus acquiring the knowledge and abilities first.

Amen, brother! (1)

jensend (71114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037878)

We should be willing to take risks. But spending hundreds of billions on a manned space program with poorly defined goals only to watch the astronauts burn up in reentry is not the kind of risk we should be taking. You found a very good way of pointing out how little truth there is in claims that dead astronauts' sacrifices pave the way for others.

Until we're willing to make large and meaningful goals and commitments (like a lunar base/observatory) we have little reason to spend money and lives taking unnecessary risks.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037884)

18.

* Soyuz 1 (1)
* Soyuz 11 (3)
* Challenger (7)
* Columbia (7)

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

davetv (897037) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037956)

Why isn't the Apollo 1 fire counted? Whether or not they made it into space, they died during the process of getting there.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037992)

I was counting NASA's deaths... 7 in each shuttle, 3 in Apollo -= 17.

I didn't include Russia's space program deaths because, having read some of the history of their space program, I feel confident in saying that risk aversion wasn't holding them back.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038144)

Yet oddly enough they have produced some of the most amazingly capable launch vehicles in the world (seeing as how the US currently has to buy Soyuz launches to get astronauts to the ISS).

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038208)

The Soviets never produced anything as capable as the space shuttle. They tried with the Buran, but it never amounted to much.

The only reason we buy Soyuz launches is that we decided to end the shuttle program, which was done for reasons which are far too complicated and not relevant to this discussion.

Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038210)

well... not in the strict sense, the fire occurred during a pad test. Challenger was at 48,000 feet, actually lower than the cruise altitude of a certain commercial supersonic airliner. Columbia was doomed before it even reached orbit and the astronauts probably knew it. Could the Americans say they have never lost a man in space and keep a straight face? I would say so.

Glut of launchers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037318)

There simply is not much demand to put stuff into orbit. Annually, about 20-30 satellites are put into orbit. A significant number of those are military/spy satellites. Because of the military/spy importance of space, the major powers (US, Russia, and China) finance their own launch vehicles, manufacturing and launch infrastructure. From an economic standpoint, a single rocket design and launch infrastructure would be sufficient for a few hundred launches / year.

In other words, the space launch market exists, only because the insanely rich military makes it exist.

Re:Glut of launchers (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037384)

I am unimpressed by your static analysis. Even taking all your points as true (which I don't), what happens when the price of getting material into space is reduced by an order of magnitude? It's certainly likely that we'll see an order of magnitude reduction in the next decade, given the advances made by SpaceX and others.

Re:Glut of launchers (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037880)

I don't know about your conclusion either. There is an economic presumption that there is a price/demand curve for spaceflight services where dropping the price for a launch is necessarily going to bring increased demand.

Yes, at a certain point there will be some markets that will grow exponentially with a drop in price, but here is the main question: If you drop the price of the launch in half, will you double (or more) the demand for launch services?

At the moment, I'd have to say the answer is a resounding "No". There is a slightly increased demand, but not really much more of one. That is one of the reasons why commercial space (I'm talking Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, ATK, etc.) has been stuck in a doldrums of gradually reducing numbers of launches from one year to the next and not much reduction in the price of their vehicles as well. There is no economic incentive to drop the price of their vehicles unless it is a huge drop in the price of their vehicles with a corresponding dramatic drop in their profits. From a pure profit standpoint, the traditional commercial launcher companies certainly have had no profit motive for dropping their prices.

I'm not convinced SpaceX has the incentive to substantially drop the price of their launches either, for much of the same reason. They had to have an angle to get into the market, which price is a good way to get customers interested. They are also able to sustain the company at those new lower prices, so in effect they are taking market share away from the traditional launcher companies and launching a few additional payloads because of the new lower price. Still, if SpaceX drops the price of their vehicles in half yet again, will they be selling enough in terms of volume to make up for the loss of profits?

For me, the "jury is still out" on that last question. Elon Musk has a political agenda he is trying to push through as well, but in the end he is a practical businessman and is acting more and more like the traditional launcher companies. Yes, he has pushed the price point for almost all commercial launches into orbit to a new lower rate, and I don't see that going up substantially, but I'm not convinced it is going to go down much either.

The real trick is to see what other commercial enterprises might start to require launch services, and if this new lower price is going to attract new kinds of business opportunities to open up that hasn't been tried earlier. Some other aspects of the SpaceX business model is a much more reliable launch schedule where they might be able to promise a launch within a few days instead of the current launch dates that can slip by several months or even years at the moment. The ability to recycle a launch abort and try again within an hour or so after a scrub is certainly something that puts SpaceX ahead of their competition. The Space Shuttle, by comparison, required a 24 hour recycle time before another attempt to launch under the same circumstances. If they can nail launch dates and make the process of launching rockets much more predictable, they may get even more customers.

Still, I'm not completely convinced the business model is in place for continued downward price pressure on access to space, even assuming that the technical capability of doing so might exist. Only if another billionaire is willing to risk their fortune to try and start up another rocket company might that happen, and even then it is a huge risky gamble. Even Elon Musk admitted that commercial rocketry is a good way to make millionaires out of billionaires.

Government Religion (-1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037332)

It's amazing what the government has been able to accomplish .... to turn a large number of population into blind followers of the government programs, one cannot argue [slashdot.org] with the crowd, which is hell bent on protecting the role of government status-quo in the society even if it is obviously usurping the power that it has no authority to take away from the people. Government today is not by the people and for the people, it hasn't been that way for 100 years.

Any spending, any at all that is authorized by the Congress or the White house or the Fed directly hurts the people by hurting the economy, because none of the spending can be legitimately paid for anymore. The US government is broke, it cannot pay for stuff. It has to stop spending for some time at least to balance the budgets and return to sound money.

But try and bring this point across and people will react as if their favorite god has been attacked. Government itself is a State religion at this point.

Re:Government Religion (1, Informative)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037410)

A segment of people want to enforce their way of life on everyone else, and knowing that their beliefs are unpopular with voters, seek government power to forcefully do it. It's a story as old as time.

Re:Government Religion (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039034)

Many different, diametrically-opposed segments of people want to enforce their way of life on everyone else, and knowing that their beliefs are unpopular with voters, seek government power to forcefully do it.

There, fixed that for you...

Considering the source... (4, Insightful)

medcalf (68293) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037362)

I generally see Mark Whittington as being the chief cheerleader for the "let's do Apollo again" school of space flight. There's nothing wrong with that, except that NASA has pretty definitively proven over a period of decades that it's too bureaucratic, too sclerotic, and too much organized as a patronage/jobs organization to do anything big in manned space flight. Even were that not the case, it's a shame that Whittington continually elides the fact that the commercial space contracts — both cargo and crew — only pay out when specific milestones are achieved, and they pay fixed amounts for those milestones. In other words, this isn't Solyndra, where money is just thrown down the drain with no expectation of success; that actually better describes NASA's normal manned space flight program than it does the commercial space companies.

I think Chaikin's right, and that the entrepreneurial spirit that characterized NASA in the 1960s now resides in the private space companies. And as a bitter critic of the Obama administration on pretty much every other point, I nonetheless have to say that this is the one area where they've definitely improved on the Republicans.

Re:Considering the source... (3, Insightful)

kogut (1133781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037414)

>except that NASA has pretty definitively proven over a period of decades that it's too bureaucratic, too sclerotic, and too much organized as a patronage/jobs >organization to do anything big in manned space flight. Your criticisms may be valid, but you're conclusion is absurd. The state-sponsored behemoths of the USA, Russia, and China are the *only* organizations that have definitely proven it can do big things in manned space flight. I don't count flying a rocket-powered plane really high as being "big things." Name the only organization to have sent a man on an extra-orbital space flight.

Re:Considering the source... (3, Insightful)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037558)

"Name the only organization to have sent a man on an extra-orbital space flight"

That organization hasn't done that for nearly 40 years. Most of the people at that organization who did do that have retired or passed away. You simply can't keep milking your long past accomplishments forever. You pretty much have to stop when none of the people who did the great things is in that organization now.

If you saw the feeble attempt that was the first test launch of Ares, or watched every other one of NASA's failed attempts at a new launcher design since the Space Shuttle you seriously have to question if NASA can ever build a successful new launcher. The Space Shuttle, though it had some positives, was a pretty flawed one too and its over 30 years old.

SpaceX may ultimately fail but a lot of people are really pegging their hopes on it being the best shot the U.S. has of actually leading and innovating in space again.

If you've actually watched NASA, Boeing or Lockheed over the last 40 years you can be pretty confident they've just been milking Congress to perpetuate a high tech jobs program, while feeding the states and districts of a few poweful Congressmen who are adept at doling out port. They seem to have very little fire in their belly to do ANYTHING interesting, innovative or risky. When youÂclosely couple that with a political system that completely changes direction every 4-8 years you have a system designed to go nowhere. SpaceX is at least somewhat decoupled from all that BS.

Re:Considering the source... (1)

kogut (1133781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037712)

Fair enough. But there is no market for deep space travel (I don't think celebrity passengers is a viable long-term business plan), therefore there is no way that the market will pay for it. There is just really no point in sending people into extra-orbital space other than research without much tangible return-on-investment. If the only goal is to make "monumental, iconic achievements" then I don't see much happening without heavy, heavy government subsidy. And you're just arguing for new, different subsidy in place of tired, old subsidy.

Re:Considering the source... (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038102)

The main restriction to deep space travel is cost. When the estimate for a round-trip mission to Mars ended up being somewhere close to $100 billion (IMHO a gross underestimation for a government program of that scope), there is a reason why Congress had a huge sticker shock and decided to dump the whole program, especially for just a "flags and footprints" kind of mission to the Red Planet. Going back to the Moon seems even more pointless.

Still, the whole thing really rests upon somebody even getting to low-Earth orbit cheaply in the first place. At a price of somewhere close to $200 million (give or take another $150 million each way depending on how you calculate costs) per astronaut the Space Shuttle proved to be a horribly expensive way to get into space. At least the Soyuz spacecraft could take people into space for about $40 million each, but that is still hugely expensive and doesn't even deal with the costs of anything to take you elsewhere in space once you get up there. The Apollo flights were also similarly about a billion dollars each, and there is no reason to suspect that the cost is going to be much cheaper, at least if you depend on a government program to get you there.

If you can get that cost down, there will be a market for "deep space travel". If that cost stays high and at the current prices, I highly doubt that even a completely government-sponsored endeavor will do more than simply having a Chinese flag flying next to the Apollo 11 lander at the Sea of Tranquility.

Re:Considering the source... (3, Interesting)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038742)

SpaceX seems pretty pragmatic about their funding. They are going after as much of the existing satellite launch business as they can get, take what they can from NASA for ISS support or other government launches and use the money to build both cheaper small launchers for LEO and cheaper big launchers that would enable deep space missions.

Not sure if SpaceX cares about Moon missions or asteroids, Elon seems pretty focused on Mars as his real deep space goal. I imagine he is hoping that if he has off the shelf launchers that make Mars viable the missions will come (i.e. some government(s) will see the possibilities and fund actual missions). This is as opposed to now where no one has anything that will makes Mars feasible so it never gets off the drawing board. If you are waiting for NASA to build a heavy launcher you will be waiting forever it would appear. All that buearacracy cares about is keeping the jobs program going in the home states of Senators Shelby, Nelson, Hutchinson and Hatch.

Its kind of out there but opening a whole new planet to habitation would seem to offer future economic incentives. Also as we exhaust our mineral reserves moving mineral rich asteroids in to earth orbit and mining them also would have huge economic payoffs. Someone in China wrote a paper on this recently. One asteroid could yield trillions of dollars in returns... though it could also crash the price of the commodities involved if, for example, someone found an asteroid laden with gold.

Re:Considering the source... (4, Interesting)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037474)

Consider this.
SpaceX designed and built Falcon 9 for under 20% of what it would have cost NASA.

The proposed new launcher from NASA would cost 30 billion over the next decade, and provide 2 launches, totalling around a hundred tons.
If the money was spent purchasing Falcon 9 launches, you would get 7500 tons in LEO.

With the development of Falcon heavy, that rises to 20000 tons.
If you can't bootstrap a decent space industry with what in an earlier age would be a respectable mass for an aircraft carrier - you're doing it wrong.
And this assumes SpaceX fails in their goal of making the rockets partially reusable, which will significantly lower costs.
The fuel is under a percent of the costs.

Re:Considering the source... (2)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037594)

Consider this. SpaceX pretty much raided JPL for lots of engineering talent. Experienced engineering talent.

Considering the most engineers at SpaceX are EEs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037938)

SpaceX does not have anybody experienced in MANNED SPACE FLIGHT. At best, all they got is a few Electrical Engineers that managed some satellite project while at JPL.

JPL is known for claiming that they built this and that, when in reality all they have done is manage or coordinate the work done by others. For example, out of all the Mars proves and rovers they claim to have built, not a single one was designed or built by JPL personnel or anywhere near a JPL facility. Every single one of them were designed and built by sub-contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, TRW, General Dynamics, Space Science Corp, etc.

Re:Considering the source... (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038174)

It wasn't hard to recruit junior engineers with the following proposal: Do you want to spend the rest of your career building power point presentations and attending conferences, or do you want to work on a clean sheet engine design and actually fly stuff into space?

It doesn't take much brain power to figure out which career path will help you out both professionally and intellectually.

BTW, SpaceX didn't raid just JPL, but also Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and several other major aerospace companies. They also did a pretty good job of raiding the NASA astronaut corps (as have some other private commercial spaceflight companies) and have been picking up other people along the way that are also extremely talented, including some recent college graduates who also like working for companies that have an active production floor. The manufacturing plant at El Segundo is as busy as any factory was during the glory years of the Cold War when Atlas missiles (and others) were being built for ICBMs. SpaceX right now has more engines in its production queue than all other countries of the Earth combined, with an estimated completion of about one engine each week if the production line goes to full production as is anticipated.

Which place would you rather work for... a company where things are happening or a place where they are reliving the glory days and lamenting why it will never come back?

Re:Considering the source... (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038252)

Raided or offered them an opportunity to work on the exciting, high risk project that get the real space geeks adrenalin pumping; the kind of projects that NASA rarely does anymore.

Re:Considering the source... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38038460)

Actually, JPL's been laying people off pretty steadily, so if you're talented and you want to do what SpaceX does, then it's a great opportunity. OTOH, SpaceX and JPL are about as far apart philosophically as you can get. SpaceX is very focused on a fairly specific goal, and if you want to work toward that goal, it's the place to be. You'll put long hours in, you'll do great stuff, and you'll have a real feeling of accomplishment.

However, if you're a generalist, and SpaceX's specific goal is only one among many that you want to work towards, and perhaps you're interested in other things, or in pure research or science, then JPL is the place for you. You want to go to a conference to learn about potential new ways to do things? Is it directly going to help you get people in orbit? if not, SpaceX isn't going to pay for you to do it, and I doubt you'd have the free time to do it yourself.

SpaceX -> excellent focus, classic commercial model
JPL -> does a zillion things, classic government funded R&D lab

At SpaceX, they talk about the "JPL disappeared" people... folks they hired away from JPL who didn't really understand the culture, toiled there for a while, and one day, their cubicle is empty, and nobody knows anything about it.

you mean the spirit of the cold war? (2)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037412)

what these fucking morons forget is that the only ONLY ONLY reason we went into space was because the Soviet Union did.
the ONLY reason we went to the moon was to beat the Soviet Union.

there hasn't been a Soviet Union in 20 years. there is not going to be another space program.

Re:you mean the spirit of the cold war? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037488)

Hello, circular argument? Why did the Soviet Union go into space? Because America was doing the same! Durrrr....

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard" --JFK, a liberal.

well technically, (0)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037944)

the book i read described it as follows.

1. the soviets knew they could never compete with US on conventional force levels
2. the soviets decided that ICBMs would be the only way to counter a US threat
3. Korolev managed to pack a lot of sciency hippie carl-sagan type shit in under their noses
4. Eisenhower had almost no interest in the exploration of space.

so in essence, the soviets 'started it' to compete with our conventional forces.
why did the soviets do that? well there was this gigantic asshole called Karl Marx...

Re:well technically, (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038258)

Eisenhower was clearly interested in space reconnaissance, and almost everything that the NSA does in space is something that Eisenhower not only would approve of, but was actively involved with pushing for in terms of rationale to encourage the development of rocketry and satellites.

That said, I don't think he even remotely considered the public relations impact of manned spaceflight nor even the "missile gap" issue that really was more smoke and mirrors than anything else at the time. There certainly was no reason to think that an ICBM was any better at delivering a nuclear warhead to a target than a veteran bomber crew, and indeed the bomber was much more likely to be accurate in its delivery than a missile of that era ever could be. That hasn't even really changed all that much either over the years, even though the technology to do either kind of delivery has certainly improved considerably over the past several decades.

The other issue is how Walt Disney (yes, the guy who gave us Snow White and Mickey Mouse) teamed up with Werner Von Braun and Willy Ley (a publisher of Science Fiction novels and magazines) to popularize the notion of manned spaceflight. Regardless of anything else that happened in the Cold War, I'd call that effort perhaps one of the best public relations moves ever made in American history, and it worked. That P.R. couldn't sustain itself past the 1960's and the Vietnam War.

Re:you mean the spirit of the cold war? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037536)

You overstate your argument a bit, but have an important point. However, salvation is at hand.

The Chinese.

No Red Blooded American politician will allow a significant space gap once they actually get past the 1970's in terms of accomplishments.

Re:you mean the spirit of the cold war? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038182)

There's also the issue that for China, national pride and showing up America is pretty much exactly what their ruling class and population want from a space program.

I do imagine that when they go to the moon they're probably going to be pretty ambitious with for how long and what they want to do there.

What is the mission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38037496)

Mars? Perhaps, but it makes much more sense to send probes there.

SpaceX hasn't launched jack (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037732)

2011 is passing and SpaceX hasn't launched jack. I thought these jokers were supposed to be fast. Definitely the 'spirit of Solyndra'.

Re:SpaceX hasn't launched jack (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038376)

2011 is passing and SpaceX hasn't launched jack. I thought these jokers were supposed to be fast. Definitely the 'spirit of Solyndra'.

Uh, dude: http://www.spacex.com/launch_manifest.php [spacex.com]

I believe SpaceX have been waiting for NASA to give them the go-ahead to fly the first Dragon flight to ISS, so complaining that SpaceX are slow is amusing.

The spirit of Solyndra is in Congress (4, Insightful)

alispguru (72689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38037830)

The Obama administration has a lot of problematic policies related to tech (Solyndra, Yucca Mountain, green energy, etc.) but as far as NASA and space is concerned, they for once have the right idea of buying services from the private sector.

Congress is the group that wants the return to the old NASA, primarily because that keeps the money flowing to the old NASA centers.

Re:The spirit of Solyndra is in Congress (1)

caseih (160668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038808)

And by old NASA centers you mean pork barrel spending in republican districts like, say, Thiokol. At this stage of the game, pork-barrel spending is completely hobbling NASA with ridiculous restrictions like "you have to develop a rocket using technology from from my district" etc. I say spend the money on SpaceX and friends.

Resources (1)

ardor (673957) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038620)

Of course advancing space travel sounds good, we all grew up with science fiction. Also, the notion of "leaving the cradle" has a nice ring to it.
But the main problem is the incentive. Why should we really go into space? The cradle argument is valid, but not a very big short-term motivator.
Instead, I think harvesting resources is the real motivation. Getting materials from the asteroid belt alone would end resource problems pretty quickly. Running out of iridium, indium, platinum ... ? These rocks are filled with it. Then there is also helium-3 on the moon, endless supply of hydrogen in the gas giants, solar radiation which can be harnessed much better from orbit (the old microwave beam idea), ...
The initial costs are enormous, but if there is a realistic reason why space travel should march on, it is this. Not the romantic picture of astronauts zipping through space.

dedicated to the socialists of all parties (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38038834)

Spacex is making it happen! I can't believe that my generation is finally witnessing Apollo-like endeavors from a private enterprise.

Ayn Rand would be proud of these SpaceX folks; but what do we have now instead? The socialists of both parties upset that their 30-year old world view is crumbling by the forces of engineers applying themselves systematically!

Anecdotes (2)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38038886)

Anecdotes from a supplier of NASA and Space-X:

NASA: They called for support, but could not follow suggestions because the person on the phone was a software person, not a hardware person. They were not authorized to use a screwdriver and reseat a PCI card.

Space-X: Support calls from knowledgable people around the clock and on weekends. Apple employees had their "90 hours a week and loving it" t-shirts. From what I can tell, Space-X is living that sentiment.

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