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Where Should Space Exploration Go From Here?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the moving-on dept.

Science 1159

Lovejoy asks: "I have done extensive reading since the Columbia tragedy about what's next for human space exploration. Most of the punditry agrees that extending the shuttle program for many more years is a bad idea. So what are the practical alternatives? I've seen ideas for new spacecraft, a carbon nanotube space elevator, among other things. What are the best ideas you've seen? Will the best idea win, or the one with the most pork barrel contracts? Does space travel/exploration have to be THIS expensive? What are the best short term/long term solutions?"

Since Congress has been steadily cutting back on support for NASA, Nick suggests this idea: "I'm sure there are many taxpayers out there like me that would love to see NASA's budget doubled. The problem is there isn't enough support to get congress to increase the budget by that amount, and I really don't want people to pay that don't care to. I propose an opt-in, one-time contribution box added to tax returns. I would require that my money be used only to advance the space program with either a shuttle replacement, an extra crew compartment for the space station, or a launch vehicle for a manned trip to Mars. Would you support a bill that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily contribute money to NASA? Are you ready to put your coin where your Dreams are?"

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Easy Question (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228748)

It should go up.

Re:Easy Question (2, Funny)

efatapo (567889) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228822)

It should go up.

I think the more important part is that it come back down....in one piece

Re:Easy Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228867)

in order for it to come back down in one piece, it needs to go up in one piece.

This is funny. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228750)

The space shuttle columbia goes to up to the bar and the bartender asks him why it looks so sad. The space shuttle replys "I just broke up with my crew..." ;-)

Re:This is funny. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228764)

Where are my mod points for "bad taste"?

Re:This is funny. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228804)

Reports suggested they had found Columbia's penis in the Nevada desert, though it turned out to just be a shuttlecock.


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228850)

WAY DOWN. Bad taste is an understatment!


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228751)


Use Anti-Matter drive (1)

johnty (558523) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228759)

I think we should look at space ships powered by anti-matter drive

Hard to make you say? Just ask our Iraqi friends - it is well known that they have weapons of mass distruction /end lame punchline

oops (1)

johnty (558523) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228777)

spelt destruction wrong... killed it...

oh well... it's /.

Re:oops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228922)

umm, yeah, and it only made sense in the vaguest sort of way, much less being funny. stupid shite.

MONEY gets in the way (5, Insightful)

Clock Nova (549733) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228760)

We will never get much farther unless we find a more efficient, less expensive way of building vessels and machinery. And you can blame congress and their love of pork for most of it.

Re:MONEY gets in the way (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228838)

One more post in this regard from TIME [time.com]

Also, it's interesting to look back at Feynman's analysis [virtualschool.edu] of the Challenger case.

Concluding quote from the doc: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled"...

Let NASA make the decision (5, Insightful)

MvdB (260047) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228768)

Science is not democracy. You can't get to the best decision if you let voters decide. The people at NASA are being paid to be experts, so my vote goes to letting them chart the course. Some mistakes will be made, but I'd rather that they make the decision rather than me and my neighbour, who both have been watching to much Star Trek and Star Wars.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (3, Insightful)

elmegil (12001) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228783)

the Point is that NASA needs funding.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (5, Informative)

frankthechicken (607647) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228869)

China is planning [peopledaily.com.cn] on becoming a lot more active in space shortly. I sort of feel this will give the US a huge incentive to give more funding to NASA, there's nothing like competition to get the money pumping in.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228811)

but I'd rather that they make the decision rather than me and my neighbour, who both have been watching to much Star Trek and Star Wars.

I heard that the Bush Administration was building a Deathstar to destroy the Islamastists before Columbia crashed.

Death Star (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228895)

If you look at current military spending trends, you will notice that the Pentagon's spending has shown linear growth, while the price of a fighter plane has shown exponential growth. If these trends continue, in the year 2200, the DoD will only be able to purchase one fighter.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (5, Insightful)

GeoNerd (166345) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228841)

That'd be great, if NASA actually listened to its experts.

Unfortunately, the decisions of what it's going to do in the future are not made by its experts, it is made by the politicians, which (at least indirectly) are influenced by our democracy.

Why? It all comes down to funding, which comes from the government.

For example, why do you think the shuttle is the way it is (part reusable, part disposable)? Politics. The fully reusable one was too expensive. This article [washingtonmonthly.com] outlines the compromises that were made, and is an overall interesting read.

A quote from the article, "But you're in luck--the launch goes fine. Once you get into space, you check to see if any tiles are damaged. If enough are, you have a choice between Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is hope they can get a rescue shuttle up in time. Plan B is burn up coming back. "

Note that this article was written in 1980.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (2, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228928)

That'd be great, if NASA actually listened to its experts.
More specifically, Congress should instruct NASA to expose all its science programs to the normal process of peer review used to make funding decisions in the sciences. Congress should then abide by those decisions. This would have the effect of eliminating the manned space program, which has a ridiculously low ratio of scientific results to funding. Unmanned probes are the real workhorses of space science and planetary exploration.

That's just science, of course. NASA shouldn't even be involved in commercial stuff, which can be handled more efficiently by private enterprise than by a government agency.

Re:Let NASA make the decision (1)

eigenhead (245821) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228842)

Here, here, I second this motion (even though I'm on the outside looking in, as a Canadian). I always think of Freeman Dyson's book Eros to Gaia [queensu.ca] when it comes to politics and science; you can't try to fund just the "good" or "popular" science. Try and keep big politics out of science. Science has enough internal politics, it doesn't need any outside help!

The asteroid belt. (3, Interesting)

index72 (591909) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228770)

1. Look for a wealth of minerals. 2. Do basic science. 3. Get results cheaply because you don't have to get involved with going up and down a gravity well like landing on a planet would involve. 4. Being out in the asteroid belt would put explorers in a position to see things like passing comets, asteroids and meteors.

well duh (2, Funny)

RiscIt (95258) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228773)

"Where Should Space Exploration Go From Here?"

Well.. Being as we are already "here", I would assume "there", or more specifically, "up".

Re:well duh (2, Funny)

trmj (579410) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228799)

Well.. Being as we are already "here", I would assume "there", or more specifically, "up".

Technically, space is not "up". It's "out". Hence *outer* space.

Re:well duh (1)

RiscIt (95258) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228845)

Technically, space is not "up". It's "out". Hence *outer* space.

Please.. tell me of a way to get to "outer" space that does NOT involve traveling "up".

Re:well duh (1)

trmj (579410) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228886)

Please.. tell me of a way to get to "outer" space that does NOT involve traveling "up".

Easy. Travel in any direction you want. Now trace that out in a straight line (including the y axis), and you will get to outer space.

There's no "up" invloved because "up" is a perspective term, whereas "out" can be said from anywhere on earth and still mean getting to the same place: space.

nasa publicity. (2, Interesting)

hatrisc (555862) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228774)

i'm not sure about any of you guys, but i had no clue why the columbia was in orbit this time anyway. people just don't seem as interested in the experiments done in space anymore. i'm guessing that the funding doesn't get put there simply because most peoples interest seems to have died off. publicity might be the key for money. make more hollywood blockbusters about space programs needing money to do experiments on curing aids and diseases. since most people think the movies are real, and just about everyone supports aids cures, and cancer cures... it might fool people into actually caring again!

Re:nasa publicity. (1)

dachshund (300733) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228859)

ut i had no clue why the columbia was in orbit this time anyway. people just don't seem as interested in the experiments done in space anymore.

That's because the experiments are mostly redundant, silly, or could be done by automated systems rather than human beings. The problem is that there's very little interesting science that can come out of a few days in zero-G.

where should it go? (1)

trmj (579410) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228776)

Quaoar [slashdot.org].

Because, you know, it's a real planet. And somebody didn't just see it in a /. article and copy / paste the name into a new account.

Rotavators anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228778)

Problem with the elevator concept is materials (don't have 'em yet, I think), safety (what if the 22,000 mile long cable breaks? where does it come down? what's to keep someone from flying into it accidentially, much less on purpose), and security (you put something nasty in the box on the way up).

Re:Rotavators anyone? (1)

Bodhidharma (22913) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228875)

Another problem with the elevator concept is it could end up being a conductor for negative ions. We'd send it up and it would almost immediately melt from conducting perhaps billions of electron volts to the ground.

I strongly believe (0, Redundant)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228781)

I strongly believe that space exploration should go UP from here.

Where? Forward. (3, Interesting)

Kethinov (636034) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228782)

Exploring space and developing new ways of traveling through space is the only way we can ensure that the human race survives the coming centuries or millennia. Some day Earth is going to be devastated by a meteor. Some day our sun will run out of helium to burn and expand into a red giant, boiling away our oceans. If we have colonies in other solar systems, humanity will survive.

The only reason space isn't the top priority of all of the governments of the world today is because we humans as a majority don't really seem to care what happens to our great great great great (and so on) grandchildren. We only care about the here and now. The folks and NASA and the folks in other space programs across the world may be the only ones who care about the future of humanity.

We (the United States) need to stop wasting our money on our already most-powerful military for the purpose of revenge against the middle east and start backing NASA more. Start researching new ways to travel in space, and make a colony in Alpha Century a priority. If we really are the evolved species we claim to be, we'll start caring less about squabbles on this blue marble and more about exploring the universe in which we live.

But again, that's just my 2 cents (and a paper clip)

Re:Where? Forward. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228917)

If we really are the evolved species we claim to be, we'll start caring less about squabbles on this blue marble and more about exploring the universe in which we live.
Speak for yourself, buddy. I'm a creationist.


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228789)

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g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g_ _
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x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x_ _
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a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a_ _
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t_ _
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e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e_ _
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x_ _

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Next gen vehicles (4, Insightful)

crumbz (41803) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228797)

If the Pentagon can spend $200B on the next generation jet fighter, surely the U.S. can spend and additional $20B over the next ten years doing the R&D and prototyping our next spaceplane. Oh wait, we have to build a missle shield first....

Re:Next gen vehicles (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228832)

the X-30 space plane is the proof of concept for all the tech needed for a maned space plane....we will have a working machine in about 5 years.

Re:Next gen vehicles (1)

loraksus (171574) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228927)

optimistic, aren't you?

I really don't want to sound like an asshole, and I have nothing but support for the space program - but I think realistically budgets are going to get slashed in the next little while and nasa isn't going to fare too well. I think the most important question is whether the aerospace companies will take the incentive to continue projects that have little chance of getting funding in the forseeable future.

Someone show George Bush "Moonraker" (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228873)

All those laser equipped shuttles and space commandos are bound to get his cheque writing hand nice and warmed up :)

Jet fighters and Missle Defense (4, Insightful)

Brian_Ellenberger (308720) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228912)

Actually, I'm willing to bet we will learn much more from those Jet fighters and that Missle Defense system than we will ever get out of the mostly political Internation Space Station. The F22 will be able to hit supersonic without afterburners. The Missle Defense system is pushing the limits in a bunch of different technologies, including advanced laser research.

Before you poo-poo Defense Spending remember that you have an Internet because of a certain DARPA project started in the late 60's. The Moon Walk was cool and all but how did it change your daily life? I would argue that the Internet has had a much greater impact on mankind than the moon walk.

Brian Ellenberger

Mars/Moon/Europa (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228802)

My personal interest in space lies beyond orbit. It has been many years since the last humans set foot on any other plaetoid. I would like to see exploration of mars and Europa, with the moon being so close to earth it would be the ideal test bed for remote self sustaining bases and for bio tech/excercise equipment that allows astronauts to stay fit. While there are many, myself included, who would gladly foresake the ability to return to earth to spend the rest of their lives in space this is probably not going to be the most supported choice. Perhaps with the new paraffin rocket engine nasa is developing we can build cheaper rockets. If we can build a one shot/one way or reurn trip rockect to the moon we will be in buisness.

private sector (4, Insightful)

KGBear (71109) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228803)

I think the government should find ways to turn this industry to the private sector, as it did in the past with other industries. The Artemis Project [asi.org] comes to mind, but both NASA and congress seem to agree on one thing: that space exploration should only be done by the government.

Uranus. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228805)

Space exploration should go to Uranus [goatse.cx].

easy.... (4, Interesting)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228806)

we will build the single stage space plane that can take off and enter orbit under its own poer like an airliner, and use the ISS as a staging area for interplanetary missions...we will use the new plazma propultion system to get us to Mars in 39 days rather than 6 months and perhaps even make a 9 month trip to jupitor. we will then begin assembaling the international laws and regulation nessisary for companies to begin exploitin ght e wealth of space and will have numerous stations in the asteroid belt used as refineries for Ore mined on asteroids...we will also have a few stations around jupitor for scientific missions....later on in the century we will make the first trans-solarsystem flight and it will take us less than 10 years to do so.

getting to mars with the new propultion technology is the lynchpin that will put emence presure on governments to allow for the exploitation of space and the flurry of missions to discover new things in the solar system.

for one thing- (1)

Unknown Poltroon (31628) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228808)

I would simply stop letting anyone but nasa have a say in how their budget is spent. Too many good things have been destroyed over the years because someone has changed the requirements becasue of political reasons.
You give them a goal, then the money to get there, then stop changing the fucking requirements on them ever damned year.
They are engineers. They can solve the engineering problems. Stop throwing money problems that they have to work around too.

Using words of John McCrae (1)

Black Copter Control (464012) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228809)

In my tribute to Columbia, I took the works of John McCrae

IN Texas Fields the roses blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place -- and in the sky.
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw starlight's glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Texas fields.

Taken from the sun's bright glow
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though roses grow
In Texas fields.

Robots, drones, remote control vehicles, etc. (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228810)

...best bang for your buck/yen etc., and, in the event of structural failure due to damaged tiles, you don't have to listen to Katie ask "...will you miss your loved one now that they are part of the Texas tundra?"

New Ideas...Interesting, but too soon. (1)

Chris_Stankowitz (612232) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228812)

I agree that maybe some new ides need to be explored. That may be a very dificult thing to get backing for at the moment. Reason being that our current methods and technologies obviously still have the potential for failure (albiet IMHO very slim), getting people behind something new and untested could loose the little funding that our program now receives. I think there are still many strides to be made using our current means and until they have fully ran their course they should not be changedso hasitly.

Re:New Ideas...Interesting, but too soon. (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228856)

our current tech in use is almost 40 years old....we have new tech about to be deploid for the new single stage space plane and new propultion systems to get us to mare in a month and jupitor in less than a year.not to mention the new material science since the shuttle was made that can be applied to the new space plane.

Congress and NASA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228814)

...need to pull together to fund alternatives to the shuttle.
A heavy lift unmanned vehicle suitable for large cargo assemblies launches (Perhaps the once proposed shuttle "C" configuration in a teleoperated version) and a restart of the abandonded Delta Clipper project for personel transport. DCX uses a compleatly different method of heat abatement and would be far cheaper to launch and land to boot.

Simplify.... (5, Interesting)

digitalamish (449285) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228815)

The Russians were able to keep a space station in orbit for years, while only using 'capsule' technology. Until we get a new generation of reusable spaceship going, let's go back to that. It was good enough to get us to the moon and back 30+ years ago. Imagine what they could do now. Safer, cheaper, etc.
Bless the crews of the Columbia and Challenger. From your sacrifices will come greatness.

well (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228819)

lets do a little math here

cost of space program : countless billions
deaths : a bunch
benefit to mankind : nothing

maybe we should fucking STOP with it already

the hubble is plenty good enough .. we've been
to the moon .. we know what mars is made of ..
whats the freaking point?

lets take care of our own planet first before
we go fucking up a different one

human beings are a freaking plague .. i hope
we all die way before we go out and stank up
the rest of the cosmos

On Southpark... (2, Funny)

donnz (135658) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228820)

they just built a stairway to heaven. Can the same technology not be re-used? I think the Japanese were working on something similar.

maybe, just maybe (1)

Squarewav (241189) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228821)

nasa will get the funding now to build that space shuttle that they have been talking about for the past 10 years that has the booster rockets built in that takes off more like a air craft then a rocket

Money to NASA (2, Interesting)

DragonMagic (170846) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228824)

In my state, you can buy special license plates for a bit more than normal, with a logo of the school, organization or recreation you want. The extra money is given to that organization, and you show your support.

Why not do this with NASA, as well? Especially since my state has a NASA research center. I'd be happy to spend an extra $10 for my license plate to show that I support our NASA research.

More info at http://www.oplates.com/

A modest proposal or two (4, Funny)

Tsar (536185) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228826)

Proposal A:
  1. Build a cheaper single-stage-to-orbit vehicle.
  2. ...
  3. Profit!
Proposal B:
  1. Develop a self-replicating nanoscale device [slashdot.org] that eats air.
  2. Let its progeny digest the entire atmosphere and excrete it as solids.
  3. Ta-daaaaa, we're in space!
Of course, further study may be advisable.

We need to go to space so that we may.... (1)

MrByte420 (554317) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228827)

So we can study the effects of weightlessness on tiny screws. Ant1: Save the Queen Ant2: Who's the Queen? Ant1: I'm the Queen Ant2: No your not! Horrible Horrible Freedom..

Article in Time Magazine (5, Informative)

njchick (611256) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228833)

Time Magazine published an article [time.com] "The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped" by Gregg Easterbrook.

Although some of his arguments are not convincing or even insulting ("Did Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon really have to be there to push a couple of buttons..."), the article makes several important points. Here's one of them:

The emphasis now must be on designing an all-new system that is lower priced and reliable. And if human space flight stops for a decade while that happens, so be it. Once there is a cheaper and safer way to get people and cargo into orbit, talk of grand goals might become reality.

Why aren't his arguments convincing? (1)

dachshund (300733) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228890)

Although some of his arguments are not convincing or even insulting ("Did Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon really have to be there to push a couple of buttons...")

Perhaps this is a little bit insulting, but he makes some good points about Space Shuttle Science. Particularly with regards to the types of experiment that can be performed in the short time-frame available to Shuttle astronauts, and also regarding the need for human involvement in many of these experiments.

Can anyone provide a convincing rebuttal to Mr. Easterbrook's contentions?

carmack (1)

cheese_wallet (88279) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228840)

Personally I think carmack and crew are doing pretty well at armadillo [armadilloaerospace.com]. I think his gang are going to be able to put someone in orbit, and it won't cost a billion dollars either.

Mars! (2, Interesting)

ansible (9585) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228843)

I would like to find out more about Mars.

We don't need manned missions either, just some good robots.

I'd like to see a couple sample return missions. One of the most intriguing ideas recently is the suggestion that there may have been life on Mars at one point.

Finding out if there was (or wasn't) life on Mars could tell us a lot about how likely there is life on other planets. Let's get some probes on there, and roam around a bit, dig up some stuff, and bring it back!

Until launch costs get much cheaper (and that's a whole 'nother rant), let's just do some good, meaningful science. We have the technology. NASA's existing budget (if we weren't building the ISS) is good for a dozen missions per year to the rest of the solar system, plus another spiffy space telescope.

Now's the chance to take the money from something that isn't nearly as useful (the shuttle and ISS) and put it into answering some questions about life, the universe, and everything.

Let's do it!

Taxpayer Contributions to NASA (1)

GuidoDEV (57554) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228844)

"Would you support a bill that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily contribute money to NASA?"

Is this a joke? What would that accomplish? Does anyone really expect, come tax time, Americans to open their checkbooks and start shelling out the money for NASA, let alone at a rate which would add up to billions of dollars? You must be kidding me...

Simple way to move 10x faster (3, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228846)

First, take half of NASA's budget, and make it totally devoted to unmanned missions exclusively. NASA suddenly gets 10x more research done for half the money.

Second, take the other half (billions of dollars, BTW) and make a series of prizes to be won by any group willing to take the risks. Prizes could include:

$200M prize for first profitable 100 megawatt power plant space.

$200M prize for first profitable factory that produces at least $1M in sales. $100M bonus if its a product that currently produces a lot of toxic waste.

$500M prize for agriculture pod that produces 1000 tons of food per year. $250M bonus if it's a forest pod that produces wood.

The key is that SPACE HAS TO PAY FOR ITSELF. Right now the risks are too high and expensive to get started.

Note by the way that this is the ideal way to sell space to people. "Think about all the bad, bad stuff that we can put in orbit instead of polluting the earth. Cheap power. Cheap products. Great for the economy.

Too bad this entirely logical, rational, practical and most importantly, extremely likely to succeed scenerio will never happen. NASA will never give up the control.

Moon and mars, but not too fast (2, Insightful)

Vireo (190514) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228847)

The moon has really been neglected in the past decades. I'm an engineer now, and like my fellow not-yet-30-years-old collegues, I wasn't even born the last time man has touched our natural satellite's ground. There is enormous potential for hi-tech research, science and even industrial exploitation on the moon, and it's not too far. The Earth-Moon system's Lagrange points have been largely unexploited also...

As for Mars, our (I speak as a human being) succes rate at going there isn't very good yet. Almost one spaceship out of two that tries to enter Mars orbit is lost. We need a "welcome" infrastructure: communication and meteo satellites around Mars so that the following probes (and crews!) can safely reach destination.

We also need something strong to cruise rapidly (I don't believe yet in 3-years-plus missions). Prometheus (nuclear propulsion) would facilitate the trip a lot...

Choose with your taxes (3, Insightful)

MarcOiL (265430) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228848)

Here in Barcelona, not long ago, a pacifist organization proposed adding a box in the tax forms that would disallow the government from spending your taxes on defense research or contracts.

A lot of people signed in the campaign, but the government, of course, did not change anything.

Now imagine if something like this could be done in the USofA, which spends on weapons as much as the 10 next most-spending countries put together!

(All this data is taken out of UN reports, which I'm now too lazy to find...)

With just one year of the DoD budget, famine could be erradicated forever in this planet, and you'd have enough spare change to build another shuttle and send a mission to Mars!

Of course now the important thing is bombing Iraq because the stupid dictator there tried to kill someone's daddy *and* has huge amounts if oil...

Robotics (1)

Katz_is_a_moron (197780) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228849)

While I think the space program will on, I don't think that the shuttle program will go on for long. This is a program that has claimed 14 lives so far and the technology is a bit outmoded.

With the advances in robotics I wonder just how many of the experiments performed in space need a human presence. If half of the experiments could be done with robots, that would greatly reduce the number of manned flights. This would also result in a significant cost savings, since most of the cost of a manned spacecraft comes from the systems required to support human life.

In Soviet Russia (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228851)

Space Explores you!!!

thank god for post anon

First we need space mining (2, Interesting)

rossz (67331) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228857)

Step 1. Build the basics for a permanent presence in space. The ISS might do the job. That's merely a place to hang on to for ...

Step 2. Build an ore processing space station so we can mine the asteriods. This will provide most of the raw materials needed for everything else, such as ...

Step 3. Large scale self-sufficient space station. This might not be a single station. There might be one station devoted to living quarters, recreation, etc. and another for manufacturing and science.

It would probably be decades before this system reaches the break even point, and a few more decades before it pays for itself (financially). But that gives you...

Step 4. Profit! (sorry, I couldn't help myself).

That's my amateur class analysis. Feel free to blow huge holes into it.

We all enjoy and desire space travel (3, Informative)

sstory (538486) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228861)

But the space shuttle has not lived up to promises, and there are no current technologies which will get space travel to a reasonable cost. Plus, there's really a lack of a mission. I'd say the hubble and other satellites are the only worthwhile things it's done. Given finite resources, what else could we do with those billions? A fusion manhattan project? Thousands more grants to scientists? The end of oil dependence? These are all more valuable things than going to space right now. I hate to say it, but rationally I believe we're better off shuttering nasa and diverting the money to other science endeavors. And if you consider all the possible uses for the money, it becomes more attractive to shutter nasa. Think of the millions in jeapordy from AIDS, and the horrors of Africa and parts of Asia.

Only a space elevator makes sense. (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228862)

I don't know how feasible it would be to build a carbon-nanotube space elevator today. I'm not sure we have the technology if we do build one; You'd have to have a massive no-fly zone around it, and the security would be intense. It has to be planted someplace equatorial; Methods for doing this have been discussed at length in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series. (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars, Purple Horseshoes...)

While it's nice to think that we'll be pulling some cowboy bebop style shit and just pulling back the throttle on our Swordfish II and going orbital, we need at least an order of magnitude more efficient power generation, power storage, or drive technology, or some combination thereof. The bottom line is that it takes a huge load of energy to build an orbital craft, and it takes quite a bit to launch it. Piggyback designs have thus far not proved to be a solution though there is hope there, I will admit; Still, I don't think it's worth making craft capable of launching from a planet until materials technology improves considerably.

A space elevator would make it downright inexpensive to put things in orbit. If you reserve space, when it becomes cost-effective you can run a superconducting strip down its length (That's a long-ass strip of superconductor! But eventually it will become worth it) and plant nuclear power generation at the other end of the tether where you can simply eject the core if it fissions out of control. (Mount it on a rocket; If the pile goes bad, fire it at the sun.) You could also just put a gigantic solar array there; It should be affordable if it is cheap to put into orbit and has obvious advantages in terms of required maintenance.

In any case, the first step towards building a space elevator is building the massive structure which will have to sit at the other end. If we are going to accomplish this, we need to be working on ways to mine asteroids, smelt ore, form steel, and build structures in space. In other words, we need to be thinking about supporting mining engineers, steel workers, steel fabricators, and so on. It just doesn't make sense for us to be mucking around in space too much (more on this in a second) when it costs us so much, and it costs so much because of the fuel required to lift a given mass. Reduce the amount of mass you lift, this reduces the amount of fuel you have to spend, and the whole thing gets cheaper. Build a space elevator, and you don't even have to use fuel any more; The direct cost and the long-term environmental cost (Putting that much energy into a system always has some effect, and some of the stuff we're putting into the atmosphere is nasty) of a space elevator is essentially nothing when you consider how much traffic you will have if you make it cheaper, and how much less energy must be expended.

Here comes the later: It still makes sense for us to be sending out probes, and testing new technologies for space. But it doesn't make sense to spend a lot of money on that. We should be spending our money on technologies which will bring us the space elevator.

Give me an oxygen mask and a parachute (1)

1nv4d3r (642775) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228863)

I can lift 175 pounds, but I only weigh 150 pounds. If NASA will just build me a ten pound 'space chair,' and I pull up on it as hard as I can, I should still be able to maintain a steady speed of 15 lbs.


I have ideas about how to steer also (thank god no one can smell space).

game on! (4, Interesting)

pi_rules (123171) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228868)

Are you ready to put your coin where your Dreams are?

Giddy up - I'm all for it. Maybe we can get a tax exempt charity status for NASA donations. Maybe one already exists, I dunno. If it was on my 1040 though I'd like that -- more people would see it at least. It'd put it on the forefront of my mind come Tax time.

Personally, I have two uses for the federal government. My military and my space exploration. Beyond that, they're pushing into things that I think my state should handle. I'll spare y'all that ramble though.

I like the idea of space exploration. I sure wasn't around in 1969 when man landed on the moon, but I still get a little lump in my throat when I see things about that era. It makes me proud, not only to be an American but just to be a human being. Hell, I'm filled with awe when I read little tidbits about the early Russian space program, and I was raised in the '80's when the Russians were "bad bad peopole."

I think it's about time we set a real goal for space exploration again, although I'm certainly no expert on this subject. It just seems like it's time to me. We need somebody to step up like JFK did and say "We're going to point X by date Y, and there's no stopping us."

What will we do when we get to Mars, or a station on the moon? I don't know. We'll get something out of the deal though as a society as a whole though I think. Necessity is the mother of all inventions, right?

As it sits, over 50% of my money goes away in taxes right now -- I'd much rather it go to things that I really had an interest in is all.

NASA needs more money. (1)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228871)

That's what this boils down to...they have a TON of possible plans they could be running right now, but hardly any of them get off the ground because their budget is only about 13 billion. Considering that the U.S. was ponying up 60% of the ISS, this leaves little room for much else. Citizens need to speak up and show that America still wants a robust space program, and that we'll be willing to foot a larger bill to accomplish that goal.

is this a shetorical question? (2, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228874)

Would you support a bill that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily contribute money to NASA? Are you ready to put your coin where your Dreams are?"

Guess what... it doesn't require an act of congress for you to donate money. Instead of supporting a bill, just send your damn money to NASA.

Aha! (1)

ajuda (124386) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228876)

You know why the advanced alien races never landed on Earth? They decided to save billions of dollars, scrap the space program, and put the money into programs to eliminate poverty and hunger. Seriously, what do people expect to find up there? If you're just going to use the "exploration and adventure" argument, you might as well look to the oceans - they're closer and full of unknown life.

Space Elevator? (1)

quantaman (517394) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228883)

a carbon nanotube space elevator
Yeah just wait until terrorists detach the astroid it's anchored too and it flattens the equator and they start breaking all the tent cities and burning all the rebels to death and knock the moon out of the sky!!!

Sigh I'm getting into the Mars trilogy way too much...

Up is easy; down is harder (4, Interesting)

Twirlip of the Mists (615030) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228888)

Getting people into orbit is a fairly easy proposition, if you can keep the lifting hardware from exploding. Getting people back down again safely is the much harder engineering problem. I'm personally kind of amazed that the shuttle was able to make as many successful and safe re-entries and landings as it did. When you think about the forces involved in re-entry... well, it just boggles the mind.

It was at this point that I started thinking. Ever read Starship Troopers? In that book, Heinlein advanced the idea of mobile infantry troopers being dropped from orbit to ground in their own individual little re-entry pods. I started thinking about this.

Picture an astronaut in his spacesuit. He's enclosed in an egg-shaped structure made of aluminum and ablative materials, just barely big enough to hold him. Maybe the structure has a small solid-fuel booster attached that's sufficient to execute a de-orbit burn. With nothing more than the mass of the astronaut and the shell to push around, you wouldn't need much energy to execute such a manuver in low Earth orbit. After the burn, the spent booster falls away (to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere) and the shell, with astronaut inside, descends through the upper atmosphere, shedding heat through ablation. (In other words, the heat shield boils away on the way down.) At a reasonable altitude, say 100,000 feet or so, the shell opens via explosive bolts and the astronaut free-falls, Kittinger-style. At a suitable altitude, the parachute opens automatically and the astronaut touches down safely.

The advantages of such an orbit-to-Earth system seem kinda obvious to me. We know all about ablative heat shields, having used them for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs as well as every ICBM ever built. A small, symmetrical re-entry structure would be relatively immune to the kind of atmospheric forces that may have destroyed Columbia. Finally, not to seem morbid, in the event of a failure, only one life would be lost instead of the lives of an entire crew.

I don't know. It's just an idea.

Plans layed out bu von Braun (2, Interesting)

olafo (155551) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228893)

Werner von Braun had a series of articles and drawings that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post indicating the steps mankind should take in space. We have been following the steps which eventually lead to Mars. The only question is WHEN (during which generation) and who (U.S., China,...).

Cutbacks?! FALSE! (2, Informative)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228896)

Since Congress has been steadily cutting back on support for NASA

Ahem, I point you to the most recent story on my website [franceisoc...ermany.org] you will find this link with a pretty graph [nationalreview.com]
The data show a clear downward trend under Clinton and an upward trend under Bush. They also shed light on today's spin cycle, and allegations that President Bush's announced $470 million increase for NASA in next year's budget is somehow unprecedented and therefore "political." As shown above, George W. Bush increased funding for NASA by roughly $900 million over a two-year period. By this standard a $470 million boost is right on target, and actually smaller than the increase of 2001 into 2002.
So, enough with the "cuts" talk, the budget has risen $900 million in the past 2 years and is slotted for another $470 million. If you want to debate whether this is "enough" then fine, but it had been in decline for a while before Bush RAISED it two years i a row and proposed raising it again BEFORE the Columbia re-entry.

Time for a change (1)

Performer Guy (69820) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228900)

NASA has struck out more than once trying to design space vehicles. They go over budget and don't deliver then congress pulls funding. They need less beaurocracy and more risk taking, less obtuse human factors (etc) experiments and more direct application of ideas to manned missons. It's unfortunate but Space is dangerous and the price of safety is becomming inability to explore, not increased expenditure.

Their overheads and procedures cripple most efforts to do anything innovative.

Goals (1)

Yiddishkite (525633) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228902)

I'd like to hear what NASA's goals are for the future first. Are we looking to colonize other planets ? Communicate with other beings ? Better understand the effects of zero gravity ? Most every shuttle mission so far has run a battery of scientific experiments, totalling hundreds over the years. What have we learned from these experiements ? Who have they benefitted ? What more do we have to learn ? We went to the moon a few times. We stopped going. Why ? Did we stop learning ? Will the same be true about orbitting the Earth ?

It should go on. Period. (4, Insightful)

dWhisper (318846) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228904)

True, NASA has a long history of being a money hog, but it wasn't an issue until they were proposed a budget that was outlandish for anything (The $400 Billion Mars budget proposed by Former President Bush). But the benefits that they have given our economy in the years that they have been around have been huge, not to mention the lift that they have given the research and scientific communities. Without them, there would be nothing like cell phones, satallite communications, large-scale stellar observation (think of the pictures of the hydrogen clouds that have been in every Sci-Fi movie since the Hubble ST took the picture).

Beyond that, the overall economic contribution that the space program contributes is not just in scientific advancement. People often overlook the fact that while NASA takes billions of dollars in tax revenue, they also provide thousands of jobs. Not just to astronaughts like the heroes (yes, heroes) we lost with the columbia, but people from console operators, to sysadmins, to ground keepers.

Nothing in the history of the US has been a symbol to peaceful cooperation like the space program has. At the height of the cold war, we were able to work with our biggest enemy on a joint Apollo-Soyuez (sp?) mission. It represents triumph and advancement against odds, from the story of Apollo 11 and 13, to the tragedies of Apollo 1 and Challenger. It's given kids something to dream about, and actually tells us more about the universe we live in.

The answer is not where it should go, but rather how it should go on. Personally, I would like to see some privatization in the Space Industry, because that would greatly lower the costs of development and space travel. We also need more exploration missions like the Galleleo and Pathfinder projects, which brought a great deal of positive public spotlight to NASA.

The Pathfinder mission showed that NASA could get something done using economic constraints. However, there is a legitimate need for money just to get some of the basic maintinence done (such as the housing facilities for our remaining shuttles). We need to press farther out than the distance that our shuttles and the space station hit.

As a personal recommendation, I'd like to suggest a little reading that I found years ago. The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin is an excellent book that shows both the feasibility, need, and purpose on manned exploration beyond our local little planet. It shows, realistically, how we could get the project done without an outlandish budget. While the project talked about at the end is no longer around, the MarsDirect project still exists. http://www.nw.net/mars/ Give it a look.

Remember, NASA is not just about Space Shuttles, but also about exploration and education. Things like those great space picture backgrounds would not be possible without them.

heres what i think (1)

LuckyJ (56389) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228905)

Usually things that are mechanically simple are the ones to be the most reliable. Since space travel needs to become more reliable, I think the shuttle or other spaceplanes are not the answer since we currently have no engine technology to alow us to do it without creating some crazy mess of a solution. I mean, how crazy is strapping yourself to millions of pounds of liquid hydrogen and oxygen and two solid rocket boosters full of volatile chemicals? Just seems like a bit of a hack, albeit the best hack going for now.

So, step in space tethers. I first read about something like this in Arthur C. Clarke's novels. Quite a simple concept (although by no means simple to contruct). A super strong cable stretches from the Earth's surface out into space. Simple mechanical devices climb the cable to bring a payload into orbit. Hopefully they will make space travel reliable and affordable so that we can get a bigger space presence going. I think we need to sink money into this concept instead of how to more efficiently burn chemicals to rocket ourselfs into orbit.

3 prongs are needed (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228906)

1) Umanned missions should continue with a slight change. When sending satallites to a planet, do not send 1. Send several first that are used for support. These should provide computer speed, general planet view, GPS, and most importantly, communication.
2) W. needs to bring back the X-33 under the civilian umbrella. the X-33 was better than 90 % done. The engines were a great design with minimal moving parts. Likewise, they passed the stennis testing with flying color (yea, I know, they had more to go, but the preliminaries showed great results). The shell was reay for static drop tests. The only real issues were the tanks. The solutions was to use aluminum until the new composite tanks were better. The X-33 would have greatly lowered the cost of flying. Sadly, this was one of W's first action to kill the X-33.A total lack of foresight
3) We really need to do another "low-cost" shot at the moon or mars. While, I like going to mars, it may make political sense to start colinizeing the southern pole of the moon: water, 24x7 darkness and 24x7 sun. This makes possible life support, on-going energy, and on-going astronomy. Finally, if we do not start a realistic program now, then we will do a crash program when China shows that the current space craft is actually made for the moon (check the size, it was designed for the moon shot, not just orbiting).

Space Elevator (2, Funny)

eyeball (17206) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228907)

I wonder how large a no-fly zone would be required to protect a space elevator from terrorists.

Why not Antarctica or Sahara first? (1)

targo (409974) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228908)

First, let me say that I'm a big fan of space exploration, and there's nothing in my life that I'd want to see more than mankind spreading out to other planets.
I see some issues though.
Throughout the ages, the main power behind any exploration has been greed. Columbus or Magellan would never have got any funding if their superiors wouldn't have been hoping to get enormous profits from these enterprises. In spite of huge losses (Magellan lost ~90% of his men), the profits were even bigger, and the cost to benefit ratio was very low.
So it is important to observe that nothing significant will really happen unless there is profit involved, be it from mining or something else.
Now, to put this into a perspective - what can we find on other planets that we couldn't find in Antarctica or Sahara with a fraction of the cost? These two are incredibly more hospitable than Mars or Venus and the cost/benefit ratio of acquiring either materials, energy or any other resources would be thousands of times better.
But still nobody wants to create any permanent settlements or industry there.
So why would anybody be interested in going to other planets if we don't even want to get to every corner of the Earth?
Taking all this into account, I think that the only sensible thing we could do about space exploration is to research ways of terraforming other planets, bringing life to them, creating a more hospitable atmosphere etc. Without this the costs would always remain prohibitive.
And of course, this would be something that the mankind could actually be proud of - turning a dead rock into a live garden would be much more noble and noteworthy than anything humans have done during their existence so far.

Enough already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228913)

Enough about the Columbia disaster... WTLW

Evolutionary Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5228916)

The problem, IMHO, is wanting a fancy new revolutionary next-generation hi-tech design for the shuttle replacement - NASA's guilty of that several times in the past, including the original design of the Shuttle itself, the failed Venturestar project, etc...

The next step should be an evolutionary design - like the evolution from Mercury through to Apollo, or the whole Russian space program. The next Shuttle should be pretty much the same concept as the current Shuttle, but with every element redesigned to take advantage of current technology (not still-not-invented next-generation pushing-the-envelope technology) and lessons learned from the first shuttle, as well as Russian's Buran/Energiya system [k26.com] - for instance, by making the heavy-lift system separate from the person-carrying shuttle, so that large components (like space station components) can be lofted without lugging up the whole shuttle and crew as well.

It's not as glamorous to work on a new, improved design that'll end up looking largely the same as the current design, but it will be far more effective than trying to reinvent the wheel in a single go and ending up with a system as flawed as the current shuttle. Apollo was ambitious and it aimed for the moon before even sending up a man - but it still worked in an evolutionary fashion. They built Mercury and Gemini and several iterations of the Saturn rockets before they built the vessels that got us to the moon.

Not so fast (1)

jaymzter (452402) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228921)

Haven't we already discussed [slashdot.org] here some of the shortfalls of NASA? It seems that the trouble isn't so much a case of money, or the Shuttle program, but a lack of institutional innovation. The Space Shuttle was hot back in the late 70's/early 80's, but what has transpired since then? Not one other lick of innovation as far as getting people into space. It reminds me of when America was working on a version of the SST (think Concorde here), which was pretty hot, then it fizzled. The Space Shuttle is like the American SST, only it got built and then fizzled. NASA earned its street cred, but I'm thinking they've been sitting on it too long. Too many cute inexpensive robots that make the cover of USA Today, with no thought to real plans for replacing the Shuttle. Hell, they made TANG, can't they think of something new in the 30 years since they designed the Shuttle?

first, a plan, Stan (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228924)

Before anything, the entire administration section of NASA should probably be gutted. Or, at the very least, the bozos at the top who have really screwed up things the last several years. The whole "cheaper, faster, better" thing has been a colossal failure. You know you've got serious problems when a simple measurement conversion problem loses an entire mission!

So, first step, fix the personnel problem at NASA.

Next, define the goals. Are we going to concentrate on a manned mission to Mars? More probes? More LEO (low Earth orbit) stuff like ISS, etc.? These all have vastly different requirements and budgets, and the manned stuff is much, much more expensive. Unless you can get funding for all of it (not gonna happen, especially with a Republican government and in this economy), then something's gonna hafta give. Until the priorities are set, it's silly to assign budgets, because you don't know what you need.

For my personal preferences, I'd say cut down on the probes for now and concentrate on a shuttle replacement (DC-X anyone? A craft that can have a fuel tank explode and still make a controlled landing is okay in my book!), and a manned Mars mission. An addition to the ISS to house astronauts until a rescue could be attempted would be nice. (I've been wondering lately - if they HAD been able to verify that there was tile damage done to the Columbia, could they have stayed on the ISS until a rescue craft could be sent?)

"reliability concerns" ? (1)

19Buck (517176) | more than 11 years ago | (#5228930)

From the nationalreview.com article:
"Rather than a solution to the fulfillment of these needs, the shuttle has become an awkward legacy. It will never deliver the cheap access its proponents had promised, and after Columbia's loss, lingering doubts will remain regarding the system's reliability no matter what the result of the investigation may be."

"lingering doubts about reliability"?

Isn't NASA's lifetime record proof enough?

a scant 3 major space accidents over a 30-some odd year span.....how many people went up and back down safely in proportion to those lost?

How many vessels have gone up and back down safely in contrast to those lost?

"Reliability concerns" my ass.. this is just an excuse for the conservatives to tuck their tails in between their legs, run back into the caves and hide.

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