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NASA To Push Human Spaceflight

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the boldly-going dept.

84

b00le wrote to mention a New Scientist article in which NASA chief Mike Griffin says that human spaceflight should be NASA's top priority. From the article: "Griffin countered that the same loss of expertise threatened NASA's human spaceflight programme, which had served to define the US as a world 'superpower'. He said NASA lost a substantial fraction of skilled engineers during a six-year gap between the end of the Apollo programme in 1975 and the first space shuttle flight in 1981. Letting the human spaceflight programme 'atrophy' after Apollo damaged the agency for three decades, he said."

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84 comments

Support? (5, Funny)

Agent00Wang (146185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742250)

Why I personally am pleased with the idea of a continued push for manned space flight, I feel like the public support just isn't there. There just isn't the widespread public support that there was in the 60s. What we need is an evil competitor.

Re:Support? (1, Redundant)

bondsbw (888959) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742299)

What we need is an evil competitor.

Is China evil enough for you?

Re:Support? (1)

Agent00Wang (146185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742339)

Exactly my point. I guess I wasn't clear enough with the sarcasm.

Re:Support? (2, Insightful)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742883)

China, despite the rhetoric it sometimes uses, is now becoming a capitalist country. There is no great ideological divide spliting the world into two. China might be the next big boy on the block, and there is bound to be a natural competition between superpowers, but it is not the polorized world of the cold war. It is not the great battle of civilizations and ideologies.

Lenin said that the irresistable forces of history would garantee that Socialism would be more scientificly advanced then Capitalism - This is one of the fundamental reasons for supporting a Socialist economy. By winning the space race, it was a way to discredit Socialism and the historical determinism of Marxism-Leninism. The U.S. sending men to the moon first destroyed people's faith in the Soviet system. But, since we share the same ideology as China, there is nothing to be gained in some grand struggle by going into space.

In a capitalist society, if they build a superior rocket system, we can just BUY it from China (the same way they buy Boeing jets from us). It isn't a crushing blow to our economic system.

Re:Support? (4, Informative)

Rhoon (785258) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742331)

The Article cites a senator saying that China will be on the moon in 2017... Do you have any bigger "Evil" competitors in mind?

I wasn't a big supporter of the new Administrator at NASA when he was appointed, but after this, I may have to review what I originally thought about him. I'm a big supporter of manned space flight, it should be NASA's #1 priority to get humans permanently into space and living on the moon, then Mars.

I'll even volunteer to be one of the first inhabitants of this brave "New World"

Re:Support? (4, Insightful)

discontinuity (792010) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742489)

The Article cites a senator saying that China will be on the moon in 2017... Do you have any bigger "Evil" competitors in mind?

I don't think we ever can spin China as our "evil" rival. We're just too tied to them economically. If Washington starts presenting China too strongly in this way, then China just threatens to make it harder for US companies to get to its goods/consumers. As more time passes, they will wield even more such power. The USSR was essentially isolated from us and that made it easy for the US gov't to propagansize against them. Apparently, China's cultural isolationism isn't enough.

I suppose a grassroots type of "evil-China" movement could emerge. But I don't see that happening any more than it already has when our economy is so tied to theirs. Too many people will want to avoid pissing them off.

Any space race we have with China will be "friendly".

Re:Support? (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743308)

Sure we can! :) Bush just has to get up and make a rousing speech about how we will not let China corner the world market on Evil, and how, having beaten the last Evil Empire, that title rightfully belongs to US!

(They're not necessarily more or less evil than we are... they're just... "differently evil.")

Re:Support? (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14747408)

China probably thinks the U.S. is "the evil" first the U.S. keeps trying to spin stuff in a negative light.

The U.S. is involved in dozens of wars every year.

And don't forget the "We own Space" and "We own the Internet" mentality which if let into space will provide for the great "American Melting pot" of space chock full of "Conservative democracy" (big c little d) protestant values and American notions on the value of life and culture.

I'd rather see China make it actually.

Re:Support? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14743654)

If the US put a flag on the moon and declares that it therefore owns the moon:

A) Could we then attack China for trespassing
B) Why aren't cheese prices lower?

Re:Support? (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14746555)

I'll even volunteer to be one of the first inhabitants of this brave "New World"

Get in line, behind me preferably. I know a number of people who, if you asked them h"ow would you like to live on the moon", would say "Who do I have to kill."

curious... (1)

cutedinochick (954310) | more than 8 years ago | (#14746618)

Have they done anything about bone loss of people in lower gravities than our own? I thought this was a big problem with astronauts. Or would that only be a problem for people who come back to Earth's gravity? Maybe staying permamently in space would be OK, though I still think broken bones would be a lot more common even in lower gravity environments.

/wondering about something I know nothing about

Re:Support? (1)

salec (791463) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759854)

Do you have any bigger "Evil" competitors in mind?
ANY viable competitor is, by definition, evil. Come on, if you don't see your competitors as evil, then you are not competitive at all! Additional "evilness" reasons are essentialy "your mama" arguments.

Re:Support? (1)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743882)

Oh, MANNED space fight. I read that as HUMAN-POWERED space flight. It'll be much easier now. I need more coffee. Never mind.

Re:Support? (1)

dynamo (6127) | more than 8 years ago | (#14746769)

Well obviously we have to master spaceflight before 'the terrorists' do. There's your evil competitor. It's just a soft link to whatever the enemy of the day is for the guy with write permissions on that link.

Re:Support? (1)

tangledweb (134818) | more than 8 years ago | (#14748537)

Space.com [space.com] has a writeup on an antigravity propulsion system that claims transporting humans an other fragile cargos at more than half the speed of light can be done without crushing them. It would be awesome if space exploration extended past our nearest neighbours.

knowledge retaining (3, Insightful)

cwtrex (912286) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742301)

There is another word for it, but it is great to see more and more companies start to focus on lost knowledge. I'd like to believe that the tech industry in both programming, help desk, and other fields focus on retaining this with benefits and such but with the eweeks, etc that I read and working where I currently do, I sometimes wonder. But as an American, it makes me proud that NASA finally has an intelligent leader (one whom I hope provides a space boost not only in America but an extra boost for other existing agencies across the world).

Re:knowledge retaining (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14742743)

"Institutional memory" perhaps?

Griffin was the right choice. (3, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742352)

The more I hear Griffin speak, the more I think he was the perfect choice to head up NASA. The guy knows exactly what needs to get done, isn't afraid to push what needs to be done, is able to eloquently express why it needs to be done, and yet is respectful of the role he plays in the government without becoming a political shill.

About this particular story, he's right about needing human spaceflight. Every time we decide to push back on human space flight, we further reduce the ability of science programs to do their work. New technologies that could have been developed to get science packages off the ground and into space faster and cheaper get lost because there's no push for more advanced vehicles and technology. I don't know about anyone else, but I pray for the day when science packages based on reconfigurable standard designs can be simply and inexpensively launched from a space station. (A la Star Trek probes.) The mass production would allow us to launch more probes for less, and the orbital launch would save tens of millions on each probe. Thus instead of spending 20 years preparing for a single mission, we'll be able to reduce each mission to as little as 5 years (or less!) preparation time.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rhoon (785258) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742407)

The problem being that the materials need to come from somewhere... We just can't "beam" it into space I'm sorry to say. The moon however has so much less gravitational pull, if we can set production facilities there somewhere down the road, we will have a perfect base from which to launch probes. But first, we need to get there and set up a permanent colony for the world (not just the United States and our allies). Personally, I know Mars is called the "Red Planet," but I don't want that to stem from a Political distinction either, that's why we need to get there first -- to ensure it stays free for everyone.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742536)

The problem being that the materials need to come from somewhere... We just can't "beam" it into space I'm sorry to say.

There are two things that can be done to get the materials:

1. Launch a large booster packed full of parts and materials to build a significant number of probes. If you factor the number of probes that could be built from the raw materials and parts (as opposed to using a rocket to lift a fully constructed craft, then boosting it into an orbital transfer trajectory) the price to launch each probe would be significantly marginalized. The probes could then be constructed in space with space-only engines (such as Ion) that will inexpensively boost the vehicle on an orbital transfer trajectory.

2. Mine the materials from the moon or nearby asteroid. At the very least, this could provide some of the heaviest parts of the structure (e.g. the frame) while the individual instruments (which are usually pretty lightweight) can be shipped to orbit en masse.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742805)

The problem is that probes are mostly *not* bulk material. They're mostly intricate components. Perhaps if you were talking about exporting girders or sheet metal to help build a base on Mars you might have a point, but even then it's doubtful.

Lets eliminate aluminum from the picture right now. First off, it eats up gobs of energy - so much that a typical aluminum production facility on Earth often has a large nuclear or hydroelectric plant nearby whose energy it gobbles up as fast as it can get it. Energy on the moon will be *expensive* as heck, because the price of getting infrastructure to the moon has to be amortized, and maintenance prices will be obscene due to labor and parts costs. But just to make it more obvious that this won't happen, aluminum refining involves cryolite. There's almost no fluorine on the moon, and the cryolite *does* get consumed (not as fast as the bauxite, but still at a reasonable clip). Yes, you could recover it, but that makes it even more expensive. Not going to happen.

Iron refining? Get rid of any notions of recovering oxides; it's only cheap on Earth because we can reduce it with coal, and have a nice convenient atmosphere on hand. There's no coal on hand, no atmosphere, nor most of the fluxing agents. Not going to happen. Now, on the moon, there are very small amounts of elemental iron which could be recovered with magnets. This could be melted and wouldn't need to be reduced. However, this is iron, not steel. There's almost no carbon to work into it. So, it manages to be both heavy *and* weak. You might as well send aluminum from Earth rather than export that, although it might be useful for lunar base construction if you have excess power (see the points for aluminum).

Other metals on the moon are just as bad (for example, I can't even imagine titanium refining on the surface). The only thing that I can think of that would potentially make metal production on the moon realistic is direct metal oxide electrolysis (for which there has been some recent progress on), but even still, you need the oodles of power (and the price problems with that have already been mentioned). Unfortunately, the surface of the moon is extremely non-diverse. If you want a limited selection of ceramics, it can't be beat, but apart from that, it's not exactly a good production facility.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745320)

Energy on the moon will be *expensive* as heck

Er? What makes the idea of a ridiculously large solar array on the moon so far fetched?

Yah, okay, producing the silicon solar panels we have on Earth might be a bit farfetched, but there's a proposal in at NASA to develop in-situ thin-film solar cells [nasa.gov] . Even without that, though, it's fairly simple to make mirror surfaces out of lunar soil.

I especially don't agree with the blanket statement that energy won't be available. Electricity might require some work, but heat shouldn't be too hard with the Sun out for half a month at a time.

Lets eliminate aluminum from the picture right now...But just to make it more obvious that this won't happen, aluminum refining involves cryolite.

In... the Hall process. There are other processes (subchloride, Toth process, and high temperature electrolysis) which are possible. In the reference below, they recommended the electrolysis, as you did, but it's not the only one.

(for example, I can't even imagine titanium refining on the surface)

NASA can [nasa.gov] .

Is there a reason you're deriding ideas like these? The idea of a self-replicating lunar base has been around since 1980, when it was proposed [islandone.org] (and turned down).

I agree the most important factor is developing a large power infrastructure - but I fail to see how direct solar (for heating) and photovoltaics (for electricity) wouldn't suffice.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745615)

Er? What makes the idea of a ridiculously large solar array on the moon so far fetched?

As I stated previously: amortization of costs. Solar cells are expensive even here on Earth.

develop in-situ

Yes, an essentially nonexistant [google.com] company says that they can do it. Have you seen the kind of infrastructure solar cells take to produce even here on Earth?

mirror surfaces out of lunar soil

Reflective, yes -- but poorly reflective; Lunar albedo is low, and the scattering would be awful, plus as mentioned, your labor costs, equipment costs, infrastructure costs, and maintenance costs are out of the roof, and you have to amortize that. And unless it's fused, you can't make heliostats (and fused regolith is hardly a mirror). And even if you could make heliostats, the electronics would need to be imported. The further you go along this path, the less realistic it becomes.

Subchloride

In addition to dealing with chlorine loss from the system (trace on the moon), subchloride barely works on Earth. Just ask people involved in the Arvida plant, where it corroded the heck out of their equipment. You'll note that there is no longer an Arvida plant.

Toth

So you want to have to produce manganese instead, in addition to carbothermal chlorination? Where do you get your carbon source for reducing? No coal or natural gas deposits on the moon ;)

High temperature electrolysis

So you want to use even *more* energy?

The key thing to remember is that just because it's possible doesn't mean that it's remotely economical. The key thing in determining whether it's economical on the moon is going to be capital costs, which you must amortize. All lunar capital costs are going to be off the charts. Refineries of any type aren't cheap, and they're heavy. Make them lighter, your costs go way up. The more complex your process, the worse it gets. Factor in launch costs. Then factor in labor and energy prices on the moon, and you can outright forget it.

NASA can

I should have added "economic". Do you realize how large of capital costs would be required to build a facility like is being discussed there? You could never justify it with the local output.

any reason you're deriding ideas like these?

Because they're not economical. They're "look, we did it!" concepts at this point in time, but they don't make economic sense, and thus should not be done. And do we even need to get started on the *additional* costs associated with the concept of lunar export? Cue the discussion of rail guns better than we've even been able to make on Earth that weigh thousands of tonnes and consume crazy amounts of electricity, the concept of in-situ propellant production from ice that's not even been found on the moon when reusable rocketry on Earth is a hard enough task, and all sorts of other concepts that alone would cost more than shipping the raw materials from Earth instead of the moon.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14746665)

There is a phrase, "when complaining about that which can't be done, be sure not to get in the way of those who are doing it."

You're long list of things that can't be done simply reflects your narrow perspective of the available options. The moon is an environment completely different from that with which we are familiar. Once we get up there and start doing some of the things you say can't be done or are too expensive to do, it won't be long before the experience brings about new discoveries to improve the situation.

If everyone took the attitude you are presenting, half of the cheap fancy things you take for granted in life wouldn't have been invented because they weren't economical before they were invented. And the other half wouldn't have been invented because they depended in one way or another on the first half (if only because simple tools provide people with time to do other things).

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14763537)

Since when did I discourage *process* *research*? I am talking about the feasibility of producing spacecraft or components on the moon with modern technology. I actually expressed optomism for future research (for example, direct metal oxide electrolysis), although I mentioned that the power issue is still going to make production there economically unrealistic until we can lower launch costs from Earth.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14760856)

In addition to dealing with chlorine loss from the system (trace on the moon), subchloride barely works on Earth. Just ask people involved in the Arvida plant, where it corroded the heck out of their equipment. You'll note that there is no longer an Arvida plant.

Which, curiously, was mentioned in the study I linked. Which is why they recommended high temperature electrolysis.

Where do you get your carbon source for reducing?

Carbon's a catalyst in the process. You just need to split it from the carbon dioxide, which does take power, but is feasible. I did link to that article for a reason...

So you want to use even *more* energy?

Apparently, all of our disagreement comes in the fact that I think the first priority is to create a large infrastructure for power on the moon. Once that's there, then the rest becomes a lot more feasible.

Of course we don't know how difficult it will be to create solar power plants on the Moon. We've never done it. And there's no economic pressure on solar cell plants to reduce their size or complexity (because, as you pointed out, capital costs need to be amortized - even on Earth). Once there is economic pressure, the complexity will be greatly reduced. Necessity, and all that.

Yes, an essentially nonexistant company says that they can do it.

That's a little insulting. Apple Computer was an essentially nonexistent company once, as well.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14763628)

Which is why they recommended high temperature electrolysis

If you accept that it's unrealistic, why did you mention it?

Carbon's a catalyst

No, it's not. It's a reducing agent. You can recover the carbon, but it is not a catalyst (a component which remains unaltered and unconsumed in its entirity by the reaction)

large infrastructure for power

You're not seeming to understand the concept of amortization, so let me explain. If there was no such thing as "investment", one could ignore amortization; any money that you held onto would be the same as putting it under your pillow. This is not the case. Any money that you spend could likewise be invested, so the potential payoff has to outpace the payoff of investing the money, here on Earth.

A lunar outpost has tremendous costs to amortize, plus a continously extreme operating cost due to its continual need for imports from Earth (which makes lunar labor costs obscene - and if you think that aluminum production plants or nuclear power plants don't need maintenance, you are horribly mistaken). Its output has absolutely no potential to outpace the cost of simply making the parts on Earth and launching them and investing the money that you 'saved' on the Lunar base. Interestingly enough, as launch prices go down, the more realistic lunar production becomes. Yes, they're competing against cheaper launch prices, but as their capital and operating costs drop, it provides exponential financial benefits forward from day one.

Then there's the issue of lunar launches. Want to get into that? Do you want to amortize a several thousand tonne rail gun? Or do you want to pay to ship propellants up from Earth just so that you can ship supplies off the moon? Are you wanting to produce local propellant supplies? Pull it off without carbon or hydrogen, both of which are trace on the moon. ;) Even if you had such sources, you would *then* have to amortize the (energy gobbling) production facilities and the research in making them and your lunar launch craft.

Not Going To Happen Economically. All of the money would be much better spent just launching what you want to launch from Earth and investing the savings.

Apple Computer was essentially a nonexistant company once

The vast majority of "essentially nonexistant companies" related to technology go back into the nothing from whence they came. This company doesn't even show up on a google search, for YHVH's sake. You're expecting me to take them seriously?

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14767202)

If you accept that it's unrealistic, why did you mention it?

Because it's currently unrealistic. But your original post made it sound as if you absolutely needed to use the Hall process, which isn't true. If someone's smart enough to find a way to avoid serious corrosion from chlorine, then the subchloride process becomes feasible.

No, it's not. It's a reducing agent. You can recover the carbon, but it is not a catalyst (a component which remains unaltered and unconsumed in its entirity by the reaction)

Carbon's a catalyst (*) in the full process that was quoted. It's a reducing agent in the carbochloride portion of the process, but it's unconsumed in the full process since it's split from the carbon dioxide and recovered.

(*: well, close to one. It at least mediates the reaction and is unconsumed by the process. But it is specifically recovered so I'm not sure it qualifies as a catalyst.)

You're not seeming to understand the concept of amortization, so let me explain.

Geez, you're snippy.

A lunar outpost has tremendous costs to amortize, plus a continously extreme operating cost due to its continual need for imports from Earth

But that's my point. The entire goal of a lunar outpost has to be to minimize imports. That's what all of the Earthside research has got to go into - making a maintenance-free (well, an external maintenance-free) solution.

We can't do it right now because on Earth, labor and space is cheap. There's no economic incentive to do it - heck, we still use humans for construction, which is retarded. But on the Moon, there is. And so most of the initial cost is going to be spent on Earth, trying to figure out how to use the lunar materials as efficiently as possible with as little material from Earth as possible, and how to make them run essentially forever.

Which is what NASA's doing now. [fsri.org] Unless you believe that fundamentally, autonomous resource extraction isn't possible, I can't see how you think that in 15 years we won't have significantly advanced our capabilities for lunar resource extraction, especially when we're actively committed to investing in it.

Then there's the issue of lunar launches. Want to get into that

Space elevator to one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. You can do it with commercial fiber that exists now. It'd be a large cost to amortize, but there are few recurring costs and the complexity is lower than a railgun.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14770177)

A chemical that has to be recovered is *not* [reference.com] a [wikipedia.org] catalyst [anl.gov] . This is basic chemistry terminology that we're talking about here. A catalyst can be briefly consumed in a reaction if it is immediately recreated, but a side recovery process makes it a reactant, not a catalyst. Otherwise, hydrogen would be a catalyst in hydrogen fuel cells (it's consumed when you combine it with oxygen, but it is recovered in a separate process through electrolysis or thermolysis). So, unless you want to argue that hydrogen is a fuel cell catalyst...

has to be to minimize imports

If you spend 20B$ to produce a 30,000kg/yr lunar aluminum production plant, with maintenance costs of 1B$/yr, you will never, ever repay it even ignoring the costs of getting your materials off the moon. That aluminum would only cost you 600m$ to ship from Earth. The capital costs savings of 20B$ invested would pay for the cost of shipping the raw materials with their interest alone, let alone with their value (and the fact that your interest would be compounding while you wait for the plant to come online), just ignoring the fact that your maintenance costs far outpace the value of your production even when it coms online.

Don't think these numbers are realistic? 30k kg of aluminum is 80kg/day. Aluminum refining consumes 15.4kWh/kg presently on Earth; a lunar refinery is going to be anything but efficient (since it needs to be light and operate in an unfriendly environment, and will be quite small scale), but lets be nice and say that it's only reduced to 20kWh/kg. That means 1600kWh/day = 66kW power needed. That's about the power that all of Mir produced on average. Factor in power for mining equipment, the operation of the casting house, the construction equipment, and the life support of the added workers, and I'd expect it to be somewhere around 100kW to run the smelting operation. That's put the total lunar base energy consumption still within the range of the next-gen space based nuclear reactors that NASA wants to build (100-300kW usually - for example, JIMO). So, that's a realistic production output level to produce the bulk parts.

Think the price is wrong? An aluminum mining, smelting, and casting operation on the moon is at *least* as complicated as ISS, which is estimated to cost 100B$ by the time all is said and done. It would be at least a competitor in terms of complexity to the rest of the lunar base project, which is also an estimated 100B$ project. Even if you assume that it's half the complexity of those, you still get far more than my overly kind 20B$ figure.

Notice how I mentioned earlier that I was ignoring the fact that the 20B$ (ha!) could be invested in the meantime while we wait for the plant to come online. What sort of ROI are we expecting? Well, the money wouldn't be an upfront lump sum; instead, there would be some of it spent each year during design and construction over perhaps a 20 year run. So, lets say 1B$/yr at 5% interest (low for a long term market investment). Continuously compounded, it's almost 35B$ before the base starts - a 75% increase in value. The annual interest is now worth 1.75B$, compared to your $600m of product (-400m$ when you count lunar maintenance costs)

Do you see why I am insistant that such a notion is completely uneconomical, just ignoring the cost of transporting the produced parts off the moon?

Space elevator

Ok, now we're into dreamland. L1 is 56k km from the moon; L2 is 67k km from the moon. This compares to the already monstrous 36k km to reach GEO. Then you have to go past that to counterbalance; with a tonne counterbalance, ~80k and ~120k km respectively. You only gain low tensile strength (and thus mass) requirements. If you go by Edwards' Earth-cable numbers (which assume a cheap cable already, shorter in length, low maintenance costs, ample cheap available power on the surface, etc, none of which exist at the moon), you're looking at 20B$. Ship all that material up to the moon and you're looking at hundreds of billions of dollars. For a breakdown of costs (if you want to see a more specific breakdown of where money will go), I can go into the categories that Edwards allocates money for and show how they would change in a Lunar environment. I ref Edwards because his study is the most in depth I've run into thusfar.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14771084)

This is basic chemistry terminology

Which is why I put a star by it. I couldn't remember offhand what would be the proper name for it. If you treat the entire process as a chemical black box, it's very like a catalyst - something that's needed, but you never really see it. Is there a name for a recoverable reactant?

If you spend 20B$ to produce a 30,000kg/yr lunar aluminum production plant, with maintenance costs of 1B$/yr, you will never, ever repay it even ignoring the costs of getting your materials off the moon.

It depends on where the $20B is spent. If it's spent on the moon, sure, then it needs to be purely amortized, and the cost will look horrendous. But if $19B in research is spent to develop a self-maintaining plant which can be built and shipped to the moon for $1B, which do you quote as the cost? $20B or $1B? What if the technologies developed with that $19B find their way elsewhere into industry (as they inevitably will) that wouldn't've originally been developed?

Also, what if the plant itself uses its own resources to replicate itself? Then the initial seed of $20B, plus $1B a year, can easily repay itself by replicating itself if the replication time is fast enough. It'll need other resources as well, and it may need more from Earth, but if the marginal cost is low enough, it's just a barrier-to-entry.

And, curiously, it's not really surprising that most of your objections come from saying "it's too expensive." Of course it is. We don't have any infrastructure there yet. The first thing that needs to be done is figure out ways to extract resources efficiently. Which is being done.

It's also just ridiculous to say that it will never pay for itself, because you don't know the secondary benefits that are going to come from it. A lunar environment has constraints that don't exist on Earth. We do tons of things here which are stupid, but there are no pressures to do otherwise, and humans are lazy.

We don't do research on closed systems. We just don't care, for the most part, because it's cheaper to do something else immediately. But closed systems (autonomous, self-replicating, and self-maintaining) will almost always win out in the long run. Heck, it's cheaper to lift ISS supplies back and forth rather than try to close food, water, or oxygen. The only thing they even bothered recycling right from the beginning was urine, because it was done on Earth for other reasons.

But, of course, as time goes to infinity, it's always cheaper to have a closed system rather than one that needs to be resupplied. That being said, if the marginal cost of developing the improved efficiency is high enough that it exceeds the resupply cost for, say, the lifetime of the Earth, obviously you're wasting resources.

You only gain low tensile strength (and thus mass) requirements.

Over an Earth-based space elevator, sure! But compared to other lunar launch systems, you gain simplicity and upkeep cost. You obviously don't have the fuel for a rocket launch, but you will have power in spades (assuming you can manufacture solar cells on the moon), and building a many-km long mass railgun is not what I'd consider "easy to build or assemble."

you're looking at 20B$

What, $20B is expensive? Eh. We pissed roughly half a trillion to a trillion dollars back during Apollo, and it's not like we're not pissing away large amounts of money now, too. It's not really "wasted" money, especially considering most of the money will go to US universities and companies. And thus back to the US government itself.

If we spent a ridiculous amount of money on a space power/hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure to replace the foreign oil that we use, it could actually save the government money in the long run by reducing the trade deficit. It's difficult to know what's a "good" idea in the long run unless you know what real pressures you're going to face in the long run.

Personally, I just look at the amount of manpower wasted in construction, manufacturing, etc. and say "yah, research into automation and self-maintenance is a good thing." The fact that it ostensibly is to support a lunar mission is merely a nice side benefit. The replicating lunar base from 1980 is a good example. The amount of research that would've had to go into that would've been ridiculous, but it would've easily spawned large numbers of commercial advancements as well.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14772016)

It depends on where the $20B is spent. If it's spent on the moon, sure, then it needs to be purely amortized, and the cost will look horrendous. But if $19B in research is spent to develop a self-maintaining plant which can be built and shipped to the moon for $1B, which do you quote as the cost? $20B or $1B?

$20B

What if the technologies developed with that $19B find their way elsewhere into industry (as they inevitably will) that wouldn't've originally been developed?

That's called a spinoff. All tech development causes spinoffs. Of course, directly investing in industry (i.e., investing) does the same much more directly.

Also, what if the plant itself uses its own resources to replicate itself?

Then it's buying overpriced materials, as I previously mentioned. The aluminum produced by the plant costs much more than shipping it from Earth. So you might as well ship it from Earth.

The one factor that can fix the equation is lowering launch costs from Earth. Yes, it makes the competition with Earth harder, but it dramatically reduces capital and maintenance costs and for larger scale production.

We do tons of things here which are stupid, but there are no pressures to do otherwise, and humans are lazy.

Exactly. There are a few nice things about the lunar environment, don't get me wrong. Pollution is essentially a non-problem since there is no air, groundwater, or plantlife. Insulation works much easier. Low gravity helps in some tasks. At the same time, however, fine electrostatically charged dust permiates everything. It can damage pumps, contaminate exposed pure stockpiles, and in general be a big nuisance. The essentially nonexist atmosphere requires pressurization. The moon's insulating properties make dissipating heat much more difficult, increasing the importance of (heavy) heat exchangers and
requiring radiators at many stages. The difficulty in getting many things that are readily available on Earth for industry - for example, cool water, coal/coke, petroleum, oxygen, nitrogen, etc - make most processes far more difficult and expensive. And, of course, the lack of existing infrastructure is a much worse penalty than most people picture, and most infrastructure simply cannot be replicated on the moon due to the poor surface diversity (unlike Mars, although Mars suffers from most of the other problems).

Heck, it's cheaper to lift ISS supplies back and forth rather than try to close food, water, or oxygen.

Exactly my point! Please understand that I'm not discouraging research. I'm discouraging things that make no economic sense, such as building things on the moon when it's far cheaper to build them here and ship them up. Work on the tech here, and only build things there when it makes economic sense to do so (which will not be any time soon).

But, of course, as time goes to infinity, it's always cheaper to have a closed system rather than one that needs to be resupplied.

The moon can never be closed; it is too mineral poor. No carbon, no nitrogen, no phosphorous, no hydrogen (although it's possible at the poles - we'll find out in the next decade). That's CHNP out of CHONP (the minerals needed for life). And forget about a typical industrial base. On the other hand, Mars could be closed, given enough time. It should have at least the surface mineral diversity of Earth.

Over an Earth-based space elevator, sure! But compared to other lunar launch systems, you gain simplicity and upkeep cost.

Upkeep costs are mostly energy based, and energy on the moon costs a fortune. Also, unlike Edwards' money saving assumption of one-way climbers, that's not an option. Also, repair of the tether (with that long of a tether, that's a *lot* of repair) will involve materials likely not producable on the moon (most high strength modern cables involve carbon in some way or another). Lastly, you can't ignore amortization of capital costs.

assuming you can manufacture solar cells on the moon

A crazy assumption at this point in time if you know anything about photovoltaic cell construction. Perhaps in the future, but probably not. Now, solar thermal is more realistic (and efficient), but with the economies of aluminum production on the moon, you might as well just ship up the mirrors. You'd have to ship up the motors and control systems anyways.

If we spent a ridiculous amount of money on a space power

Cheap space power is a myth for the exact same reason that lunar aluminum is prohibitively expensive until we get cheap access to space: launch costs are just too darn high. Thus, the research should go to reducing launch costs. 20B$ (the "kind" figure - really more like 50-100B$) could do incredible things for launch cost reduction. An entire new launch stack is usually around 10B$.

7-15k$/kg is just way too much. You can buy land in the US desert southwest for 50$/acre. Yes, you have atmospheric losses and day/night losses, but not only do you have immensely lower capital costs (esp. with solar thermal), but you don't have to deal with the god-awful losses of power beaming (read Edwards' research on the subject that he did for his space elevator study - it's a small fraction of 1% efficiency).

hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure to replace the foreign oil that we use

There are many great potential techs; you shouldn't focus on just one. :) In fact, hydrogen has been paying off much slower than most other techs, and to be at all efficient, it depends on either organic photolysis or nuclear thermolysis, so those are the techs to be concerned with (in addition to the current bottlenecks of god-awful storage density, hydrogen embrittlement, etc)
 

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14773111)

Exactly my point! Please understand that I'm not discouraging research. I'm discouraging things that make no economic sense, such as building things on the moon when it's far cheaper to build them here and ship them up.

Well, I strongly disagree with the ISS having supplies shipped up and down - I think they should be trying to close several of the open loops on the ISS, because in the long run, it's just a waste. That's part of the problem - people are taking much too short of a view on it.

Now, that being said, they are trying to close several loops (water, oxygen, etc.) but money keeps getting cut from those programs because no one expects the ISS to stay up there for very long. Because it's a cash cow. Because it requires resupply. Because it's nowhere near a closed system. Because no one expects it to be there very long....

Then it's buying overpriced materials, as I previously mentioned.

Only unless the upkeep cost makes the cost prohibitive, and if it does, that implies you need to do more research to maintain it with less money.

That's CHNP out of CHONP (the minerals needed for life).

Who said anything about life?

A crazy assumption at this point in time if you know anything about photovoltaic cell construction.

It's not that crazy. [newscientist.com] There's some research being done into things like this - it's just that there's no real economic incentive other than trivial grants from NASA. Granted, that research is in its infancy - right now they just produce the substrate - but to rule it out as crazy is a little much. Don't you think someone's going to win the Centennial Challenge for oxygen production in the next few years? I'd imagine that shortly after that would be solar cells.

(read Edwards' research on the subject that he did for his space elevator study - it's a small fraction of 1% efficiency).

That's because of size constraints of the climber (you miss portions of the beam). Microwave power beaming back in the 70s (ground-to-ground, granted) was about 56% efficient. The receiver needs to be much larger than the transmitter, for obvious reasons. The efficiency quotes that he had were 50% conversion losses, 30% absorption losses. That's 15% efficient. The remaining loss is due to the inefficiency in beam size.

Cheap space power is a myth for the exact same reason that lunar aluminum is prohibitively expensive until we get cheap access to space: launch costs are just too darn high.

Depends on the lifetime of the satellites, and also upon the expected cost increases of fossil fuels. Most people, when considering expenditures, don't usually take into account the fact that you might also be reducing the trade deficit (and possibly benefitting the local economy in other ways).

Which means that it can be economical for the government to sponsor the program, even if it seems like the program costs more money than it's worth.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14778284)

Who said anything about life?

Just an example :) Rather talk about industry in general? Lets look at industry's biggest consumed chemicals:

Hydrocarbons: The most important - reactants, solutes, lubricants, hydraulic fluids, etc. CH, sometimes with other chemicals involved.
Acids: All involving H and O, and the most consumed ones involving SNFP.
Metals: Only Fe, Al, Ca, Mg, Si, Ti, Ni, Na, and Cr available in bulk, with the possibility of K, Mn, and S in small quantities. Industry requires many metals not found on the moon. Probably the most critical missing one is copper, although without the others you can't make most anything except bulk products with what is found on the moon, and many bulk products simply cannot be made there.
Water: Not known on the moon, although possible (we'll know in a few years). Critical to most industry.
Organics: Ethanol, methanol, rubber, etc, obviously not on the moon.
Other: All sorts of random earth-only things are used in industry, from diatomaceous earth to bone ash.

Also, just because an element is present on the moon doesn't mean that it's realistic to recover it.

It's not that crazy

They made a substrate. That's the backing. Whee. Now make chip-quality silicon wafers on the moon and etch them in place. They cost a fortune here on Earth because they're so hard to make in perfect *Earth* conditions without electrostatic dust flying around everywhere (they must be made in cleanrooms, and that's only the beginning). I could give a flying flip about the backing ;)

for oxygen production

A much, much easier task. I'd wager 50/50 that someone wins it.

you miss portions of the beam

Not with adaptive optics on laser power beaming. On microwave power beaming it was more size limited (you have to use a smaller dish), but that's only part of the equation. You can get high levels of efficiency (85% by one design), but only if your satellite has an antenna over a kilometer in diameter and your receiving station 14km by 10km. The costs are way out of whack. NASA's last estimate determined launch costs would need to be less than 500$/kg to make it realistic. Not going to happen.

depends on the lifetime of the satellites

Which depends on stationkeeping. All satellites require it. The bigger the satellite, the more you need. All long-term satelites require maintenance as well.

expected cost increase of fossil fuels

That hardly effects the cost of earth based solar thermal, which I was discussing as a comparison. 50$ an acre land, and cheap surface mirrors without 7,000$/kg launch costs, preposterous maintenance costs, and huge power beaming losses.

trade defecit

In exchange for creating debt, which is even worse.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 7 years ago | (#14779586)

I could give a flying flip about the backing ;)

Which is curious, because the substrate is - by weight - the largest component of the solar cells. If nothing else, the ability to create the substrate reduces the launch weight dramatically. And yes, they did demonstrate actually making the solar cell, not just the substrate. It's just that the cell was deposited on, not made in situ.

And isn't "launch weight" all that really matters? Who cares if you need to resupply a rover with 10 kg of solar cell material if it can make 100 MW worth of solar power with it?

Not with adaptive optics on laser power beaming.

You said it was small fractions of one percent. That was microwave power beaming. The reason that laser power beaming is chosen in the Edwards design is because with microwave power beaming you lose the beam.

It's not small fractions of one percent for microwave power beaming. It's 50% or higher with the right choice of receiver and transmitter sizes.

A much, much easier task. I'd wager 50/50 that someone wins it.

Curiously enough, you usually don't start with the most difficult task first, because by doing easier tasks, you're smarter when you take on the harder task.

And you're much more pessimistic than I am. I'd say there's a 10% chance at best that someone doesn't win that.

NASA's last estimate determined launch costs would need to be less than 500$/kg to make it realistic.

Eh. You can afford to spend more money on power that won't go up in price in the future. Besides, those estimates were more appropriate for a business than for a government.

And as for stationkeeping, it's not like you can't design a satellite to last nearly forever. It's just that no one does, because no one needs to. There've been plenty of ideas about stationkeeping a satellite using electromagnetic tethers and other mechanisms. They're just not economical. Why? Because typical satellites have a short lifespan. Now, if you had a satellite that had to have a long lifespan, that's different.

Yah, they're not practical now. So what? Spend $1B on research on them for 5 years and they will be. There's no economic pressure to develop one right now, and so - curiously - any current implementation we have of it is completely unfeasible.

But anyway, space power is expensive so long as we (the US) have ridiculous quantities of cheap coal available. We do, now. And lots of people think that it'll stay that way forever. I'm not so optimistic. Not because we'll run out, but for plenty of other reasons. Now, if we were a country that got most of our power from oil... that's a much, much different question.

In exchange for creating debt, which is even worse.

Depends on the amount, and the amount that the trade deficit was reduced. I have no doubt that most economists would agree that creating moderate debt to reduce the trade deficit (and the projected future trade deficit) greatly is an obvious tradeoff. Short term debt is worth it if it fundamentally changes the viability of your economy.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14781195)

Which is curious, because the substrate is - by weight - the largest component of the solar cells. If nothing else, the ability to create the substrate reduces the launch weight dramatically

No, it doesn't. Here, lets look at their description. Given what they describe, they're using thin-film amorphous silicon cells. This means doing CVD with carefully balanced plasmas (both silicon and the doping element) in a cleanroom along micron-scale printing a grid into the result both beneath the p layer and above the n layer. It's not like you ship up a piece of silicon and slap it on a backing. Shipping in silicon for thin film cells gets you out of the Czochralski process, but that's it.

with the right choice

With *monstrously large* transmitters.

too pessimistic

Remember your claim :)

won't go up in price in the future

Neither will solar thermal. Your point?

more appropriate for a business than a government

NASA has a long history of *underestimating* costs of their projects.

design a satellite to last nearly forever

No, you can't. First off, electromagnetic tether reboosting doesn't yet exist. I support research in it, most definitely, but pretending that it's an option yet is adding yet another critical path to an already unrealistic project. Space tether experiments thusfar have been less than glamourous, with half of them severing (an awful success rate for experiments). Even with tethers, you need gyros, which are notorious failure points. Also, parts simply go bad in satellites, generally much faster than they do here on earth, from radiation exposure, impacts (micro and macro), and overuse.

oil ... coal

Why do you keep bringing up fossil fuels? I'm comparing this to solar thermal here on the surface, which is already cost-competitive in parts of the country with current grid rates.

moderate debt

You're talking creating debt to reduce a trade deficit at essentially 1:1, which is purely foolish.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14785920)

Here, lets look at their description.

How doesn't it lower the launch costs? They've already done what they describe. They could build a rover right now which would build those cells on the Moon. It would be limited by the supply of the solar cell material, which could be replenished.

I'm missing something. Is there some reason the thin-film material couldn't be replenished?

First off, electromagnetic tether reboosting doesn't yet exist. I support research in it

Which... is what "designing" is. If you said "we want to design a maintenance free satellite" the first thing you'd do is go out and dump money into research for stuff like electrodynamic propulsion.

Why do you keep bringing up fossil fuels?

Because they're proven to scale. While I mostly agree that solar thermal is a good thing, for some reason the rest of the industry doesn't seem to agree. The original test plant in the US is now being used for cosmic ray detection. Unless there are plans in the US that I'm unaware of. There are some plants being built in Europe, I know, but not in the US.

You're talking creating debt to reduce a trade deficit at essentially 1:1, which is purely foolish.

No, it's not (*). Governments can control the debt they have. They cannot control a deficit in trade. One case gives you economic problems which you, yourself, can manage. The other case gives you economic problems which another country forces upon you. Governments having debt is not a bad thing - it gives them some control over their economy. Countries having a trade deficit is a bad thing.

(*: It depends what you mean by 1:1. Really, you'd want to incur debt to reduce the trade deficit such that the increase in taxes from the reduction at least pays the premiums for the debt borrowed.)

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14748205)

very strong points!
now something phlosophical:

what is a grasshopper
worth ... on the moon!

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (4, Informative)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742472)

I pray for the day when science packages based on reconfigurable standard designs can be simply and inexpensively launched from a space station. (A la Star Trek probes.) The mass production would allow us to launch more probes for less, and the orbital launch would save tens of millions on each probe.

You're right about mass production, but how do you get 'em to the space station in the first place? Still need the rocket from Earth - unless you have an asteroidal or lunar industrial facility capable of building the things from raw materials.

Mass production of standard probes might well be a good idea, though. The Mariner probes of the 70s were big successes, and ESA has been doing something similar lately - Venus Express (enroute) is the same basic design as the current Mars Express. Just swap out the experiment modules on the same basic spacecraft. Probably not as helpful with landers, which have to handle different gravities, atmospheres etc. dependent on target, but it would be well worth establishing a network of cheap Orbital Observer probes around the solar system.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Wyrd01 (761346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743965)

I believe that a space elevator is going to be the best method to get lots of mass into orbit, or out to a space station, quickly and cheaply.

A few groups are already testing and/or holding competitions to expedite innovations:

Lift Port:
http://www.liftport.com/index.php?site=news&news_i d=3 [liftport.com]

Elevator2010.org:
http://www.elevator2010.org/site/index.html [elevator2010.org]

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742669)


I don't know about anyone else, but I pray for the day when science packages based on reconfigurable standard designs can be simply and inexpensively launched from a space station.


From what we've done in the past, it doesn't sound like that would be particularly helpful. The things we want to learn are very specialized, and that takes specialized equipment. Just look at the Mars probes we've sent. Two rovers, ground penetrating radar, communications. That doesn't sound very standard to me.

Not to mention the environments are quite different. A Mars probe can use solar cells to power itself. Pluto though is so far away that you need a nuclear power source as the sun is so dim at that distance.

Furthermore, I doubt launching probes from a space station is really going to save much of anything. You need to get the thing to the space station to begin with, so that requires a launch. That's the major expense of deploying the thing, so I don't see how shooting it off from a space station is going to lower any costs. If anything I think it'd raise costs since you have to bring it into the station, then launch it again.


Thus instead of spending 20 years preparing for a single mission, we'll be able to reduce each mission to as little as 5 years (or less!) preparation time.

The 20 year prep years are long gone. I don't know how long it took to plan and launch the current Mars rovers, but I think it was somewhere around 5 years.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742955)

Gravity Probe B was proposed in 1961, started getting funded in 1964, and has been in development on and off ever since until it's launch; the project finally ended in 2005. So, that can't really be said about all prep times.

But yes, in general, probes and vehicles are starting to become more standardized, which speeds up development. It's just not universal. And there are limits to how standardized a probe can become with techs advancing as quickly as they are ;)

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743006)

The things we want to learn are very specialized, and that takes specialized equipment. Just look at the Mars probes we've sent. Two rovers, ground penetrating radar, communications. That doesn't sound very standard to me.

Rovers are a trickier issue, but there's nothing all that odd about ground penetrating radar and communications relays. At some point NASA would like to build a packet network throughout the solar system (to improve communications), so I think you'll only see more communications instruments, not less.

Not to mention the environments are quite different. A Mars probe can use solar cells to power itself. Pluto though is so far away that you need a nuclear power source as the sun is so dim at that distance.

The large majority of probes we send are space-based, so environmental concerns are a rare concern. Nuclear and solar power are both fairly standard on space probes. I see no reason why a standardized framework can't be developed. At the very least you can have a standardized chassis designed for nuclear, and a standardized chassis designed for solar. The most desirable solution would be a single chassis that could support both power types.

Many of the instruments are pretty standard, but such a chassis would still need the ability to mount non-standard instruments. That's not a big deal though, because you'd have to pay for that instrument whether you used a standardized probe or not. The key is to ensure that the instrument can be mounted on the probe. Standardizing means that the restrictions are known at the time of the instrument's design rather than having to redesign the probe and the instrument several times to account for changes incurred during development. Standardizing also means that the instrument doesn't have to be designed again should another mission ever need it. The design could be pulled off the shelf and sent to manufacturing immediately. That's a tremendous savings in R&D!

FWIW, the ESA is reusing their Mars Express probe for the Venus Express mission. So there is a bit of precident here.

You need to get the thing to the space station to begin with, so that requires a launch.

Look further up the thread for a discussion on this.

The 20 year prep years are long gone. I don't know how long it took to plan and launch the current Mars rovers, but I think it was somewhere around 5 years.

The MER mission was the exception, not the rule. The project was explicitly accelerated to take advantage of the close proximity of Mars to Earth. Part of the reason for sending two rovers instead of one was to provide redundancy just in case the shortness of the project negatively impacted the performance of the mission. (Lord knows we've lost enough probes to Mars.)

A more common type of mission was the Pluto Kuiper Express. The project was in development for well over a decade, eventually morphing into the less ambitious New Horizons project. New Horizons finally launched in January.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (2, Insightful)

plunge (27239) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743355)

I disagree. Manned spaceflight is a political vision, not a scientific one. Bush and Griffin are gutting real science to focus on fairly pointless goals, from the perspective of science.

Who are we trying to impress by putting a creature that's not well adapted to space, in space? The universe? I'd rather learn more about the universe, thanks.

If you want to learn more about the universe... (1, Insightful)

tlambert (566799) | more than 8 years ago | (#14744474)

If you want to learn more about the universe, go out there and personallly and look.

One geologist on site with comparatively primitive tools would learn more in 1 month than all of the missions all the nations on Earth have sent to Mars so far.

What we've done so far is tantamount to trying to study Antarctica with remote probes with a huge time delay to prevent them from being used interactively. I'd like to see what kind of information you scrape out of Antarctica with nothing but Viking, Sojorner, and similar types of automated remote probes.

People who believe we can do everything with science packages are the same people who believe that they can understand humans by watching "Reality TV"; they don't see that intermediation by a poor technology results in poorer results.

-- Terry

Re:If you want to learn more about the universe... (2, Insightful)

plunge (27239) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745383)

"If you want to learn more about the universe, go out there and personallly and look."

This has got to be about the silliest thing I've ever heard on slashdot. By building giant telescopes and machines to capture radiation from space, we ARE looking. Your insinuation that sending a person into orbit, the moon, or even mars is somehow superior to that is nuts.

"One geologist on site with comparatively primitive tools would learn more in 1 month than all of the missions all the nations on Earth have sent to Mars so far."

And getting that geologist there and back will cost so much and require so much time that for the same amount of money in less time, we could design countless landers and robots to do all his work before he even got there.

"People who believe we can do everything with science packages are the same people who believe that they can understand humans by watching "Reality TV"; they don't see that intermediation by a poor technology results in poorer results."

But not that much poorer. Certainly not enough to justify all the extra pointless expense. And "the universe" is, well, a bit bigger than our solar system IMHO.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

G-funk (22712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14748035)

Bah. Manned spaceflight is the only kind that makes any sense whatsoever. Why else are we here?

Solutions looking for a problem. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743426)

New technologies that could have been developed to get science packages off the ground and into space faster and cheaper get lost because there's no push for more advanced vehicles and technology.
Care to name some of those technologies? (I bet you can't - because there aren't any. Reducing the cost of spaceflight isn't about technology - it's about design and manufacturing and operations.)
I don't know about anyone else, but I pray for the day when science packages based on reconfigurable standard designs can be simply and inexpensively launched from a space station. (A la Star Trek probes.)
It's been tried in real life - and it doesn't work. There are simply too many different enviroments in the Solar System, and too many different instruments that need to be flown. (It's also been tried for satellites that stay in Earth orobit - didn't work there either.)
The mass production would allow us to launch more probes for less, and the orbital launch would save tens of millions on each probe.
Mass production means hundreds or thousands - a number of probes we'll never need. The investment to get to that rate will never be paid back. The main cost of planetary probes isn't the probe itself at any rate - it's the ground operations and science.

Re:Griffin was the right choice. (1)

LordMyren (15499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743473)

We need space manufacturing more than anything else, and my guess is that this wont entail people, it'll entail automated machines doing their shit.

Sending a box of crap into space isnt so hard. Add a person and suddenly there's all sorts of unnceessary crap you have to worry about; rad exposure, oxygen, waste management, living space and lets not forget loose heatshielding.

I'm all for people in space, but I really think it'd be more useful if we had a space infrastructure already set up. And I dont think people in space are required to build that infrastructure in the first place. Plus, we're on the cusp of doing some amazing things with aerospace propulsion. Sending people up now with thirty year old technology is rediculously costsly, it'd be far better invested in advancement not sending up high school science projects and lab technicians.

Some day. That day is not today.

Missing the Point (3, Insightful)

shma (863063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742439)



Griffin defended the agency's 2007 budget proposal, announced on 6 February, at a hearing before the US House of Representatives' science committee. The $16.8 billion budget includes $5.3 billion for science in 2007 but calls for $3.1 billion in cuts to science programmes by 2010 compared to projections made in the 2006 budget request.

Despite all the sybolism associated with sending people out into space, it's just not worth cancelling so many science programs. This related story [newscientistspace.com] details exactly what they're planning on cutting and states that from 2008 to 2011 science spending will increase by just 1% each year (is that even enough to keep up with inflation?). Is it really that important to send people back to the moon or to Mars?

Re:Missing the Point (1)

radarjd (931774) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742496)

It's very difficult to sell the public on unmanned probes or other harder science. The ISS similarly has failed to catch the public's imagination. What we need is to push the boundaries of where humans can go to get the general public back on board -- when they're there, then money for the other programs is much easier to get. For example, the Voyager probes were approved when the public was about as high on spaceflight as it ever got, and they were not cheap. A NASA that the public (and by extension Congress) is happier with has more freedom in budget and choice of project.

Re:Missing the Point (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742852)

That's exactly the problem, though. What is a moon base apart from an even more expensive ISS? Yes, they have lunar soil below them. No, they can't build things from it effectively until launch prices come down to justify that kind of power and refining infrastructure on the moon, and even then, their options are extremely limited.

What we really *need* is reduced launch prices. I don't care where they come from - nuclear thermal, scramjets, metastable fuels, cheap reusables, optimized disposables, whatever. That's what one who cares about manned spaceflight should be pushing the money towards, not programs to leap onto the next overpriced boondoggle. 7-15k$/kg is simply not acceptable for long-term human spaceflight.

Re:Missing the Point (1)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742752)

No, manned spaceflight could be considered "infrastructure", like roads and power plants... which is arguably a legit function of government. However, NASA having a monopoly on space science isn't a legit function of government, and has set space science back years.

Does the U.S. government have a monopoly on research on the rainforests? Or medical research? Or any type of other research? No! We have companies, universities, non-profit groups, and plain old hobbiest doing all kinds of research. That is because the proper infrastructure exists for the private sector to do most of the research.

If NASA helped develope cheap space travel, it would become reasonable for universites and private companies to do space science. In the same way a team from a University can board a plane, fly to a city in South America, and then hire a boat or truck to go to the rainforest, they could do the same thing with space exploration. Imagine if all the research on the rainforests required the U.S. government to build a custom craft or probe to do the exploring: it would be a joke compared to how research happens now.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have serious doubts about NASA being able to develop space infrastructure any more than it can effectivly do science. I think that private spacetravel like we have seen with the X Prize and SpaceShipOne is the real begining of space travel. Going to the Moon was pretty amazing, but it was basicly the equivalent to building the pyramids or the great wall of china - The U.S. and NASA didn't have any paticular genius, they simply had such insane resources to pump into the project. It is not a sustainable model for science or exploration.

Re:Missing the Point (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743037)

Does the U.S. government have a monopoly on research on the rainforests? Or medical research? Or any type of other research?

I can't comment about all types of research, but massive amounts of research are funded by NIH. NIH decides what programs they would like conducted and funds the actual research out to various universities and other organizations. Which is actually the model that NASA does as well.

NASA does "basic research". No private company is going to fund MERs. No private company is going to fund Gravity Probe B. No private company is going to fund Cassini. Etc. Even with the multibillion dollar satellite business, even LEO launches are not very profittable. There's only a handful of private companies giving private contracts (Orbital Sciences, SeaLaunch, and SpaceX come to mind offhand). It's just so darn expensive.

As prices fall with advancing tech, this will change. That's why NASA's research money should be going to A) basic research that companies aren't going to fund (for example, exploration - best done by probes), and B) applied research to lower launch costs - materials, new launch tech, etc.

Re:Missing the Point (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14747789)

No private company is going to fund MERs. No private company is going to fund Gravity Probe B. No private company is going to fund Cassini.

Sort of like how no private organization would fund a solar sail [planetary.org] or experimental Martian greenhouse [wikipedia.org] ? Granted, the solar sail's rocket failed and the Mars Oasis project was suspended (for the time being), but hopefully we'll see such private space research projects become more common as launch costs decrease. I'd love to see a space-based equivalent of the Howards Hughes Medical Institute, funded by geeks raised on sci-fi.

Re:Missing the Point (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14763716)

Get some realistic comparisons or don't post.

Cosmos 1: 4m$.
Mars Greenhouse: Cancelled almost as soon as it was started because it would cost way too much. He kept increasing the amount he would spend until it reached over 20m$ (much over), wherein he decided to cancel it.

Vs:

Gravity Probe B: >$700m
MERs: $820m thusfar
Cassini: $3.26b

Get real, please. No private company or organization is going to fund that.

Room for the Private Sector (2, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742474)

During the hearing, science committee member Bart Gordon expressed concern over human spaceflight "cannibalising" other NASA missions in this way. But Griffin pointed out that science had grown from 24% to 32% of NASA's overall budget over the last 15 years, carving its extra funding from the human spaceflight programme: "When that was happening, no one complained, though human spaceflight was suffering." That prompted Gordon to interrupt, emphasising: "No one complained."

"Touché," Griffin responded. "I'm complaining now."

And this would be invaluable in a) reviving NASA's flagging image and b) allowing the private sector to take a more active role in spaceflight. The private groups are right now trying to make their living off of space tourism and the like, but I think that's the wrong tack. Science and exploration are what drives public opinion - remember when the first pictures of Jupiter came back from the Voyager probes? Small space companies would be well to consider trying to develop non-military launch vehicles to enable scientific expeditions to be launched cheaply and efficiently, with an eye toward adopting that technology toward getting people into space. After all, space toursist will have to have someplace to go, which means space stations, which won't be built by cargo hauled in space planes, but by good old-fashioned expendable boosters.

Heavy editing (4, Interesting)

b00le (714402) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742560)

Actually what I submitted was something entirely different: I highlighted Griiffin's comment that "NASA's human spaceflight programme ... had served to define the US as a world 'superpower."' (As if that were what NASA is for!) I wished to emphasise that this focus on human spaceflight was at the expense of real science [newscientistspace.com] , and quoted Louis Friedman, director of the Planetary Society [planetary.org] , who said: "I would almost describe it as 'anti-science NASA' now". My point was that NASA is sacrificing substance for style - or politics for science.

Maybe Zonk works for NASA, or the US Government - certainly he spun the story in a way that would make Scott McLellan proud. It's one thing for /. editors to edit submissions, but if they're going to wholly distort my meaning I'd rather they took my name off the story, thanks all the same.

Re:Heavy editing (2, Insightful)

jguthrie (57467) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743004)

Actually, helping to make the US a world 'superpower' is what NASA is for. That is why it was created from the NACA, which also wasn't particularly science-oriented (but which was technology-oriented, although I expect most people couldn't tell the difference.) NASA is, after all, an arm of the US government and, therefore, is a political entity. It always has been.

I also bristle at Dr. Friedman's quote. At NASA, spaceflight, especially manned spaceflight, has never really been about science, but has always had a strong political component. That's why I kept telling people to write their congresscritters to get funding for the initiatives proposed a few years back. NASA does, or doesn't do, what it does, or doesn't do, primarily for political reasons, not technical or scientific reasons. The "now" implies that there was some time in the past where science drove spaceflight at NASA and I don't think that time ever existed.

I do have some sympathy with the fact that the meaning of your submission was changed. That's a bummer, dude. At least you got a chance to correct it.

Re:Heavy editing (3, Insightful)

b00le (714402) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743289)

Actually, helping to make the US a world 'superpower' is what NASA is for.

I take your point. The sad thing is that NASA also does, or did, a lot of important science [newscientistspace.com] , (by mistake? for no good reason?) and that is being pushed aside:

Delayed indefinitely - the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), a mission to detect and study Earth-like planets

Delayed by about three years - the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), designed to map stars with unprecedented accuracy and search for planets slightly larger than Earth will now launch no earlier than 2015

Cancelled - four to six 1.8-metre "outrigger" telescopes designed to bolster the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes in Hawaii. The outriggers would have searched for planets and imaged newborn stars

Delayed indefinitely - the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-metre infrared telescope built into a Boeing 747 plane, will be put under "review" because it is behind schedule. It has been given no funding for the foreseeable future

Delayed indefinitely - NASA's cosmology programme, "Beyond Einstein", is under review. Two of its missions - LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), to search for ripples in space-time called gravitational waves, and Constellation-X, to study black holes - will be delayed indefinitely

Cancelled/Delayed indefinitely - Mars research has been cut by $243.3 million to $700.2 million. This reflects the cancellation or indefinite postponement of missions such as the Mars Sample Return Mission and the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter

Cut - solar system research, largely in astrobiology, has been cut by $96.5 million to $273.6 million

All this to pay for a shuttle system already slated for retirement, a Space Station with no clear mission, a return to the moon, which will be fun but little more than a stunt, and a manned mission to Mars which is not going to happen, not in the foreseeable future. How does this help to make the US a world 'superpower'? (Never mind whether that in itself is a good idea.)

Did the Mars Rovers do nothing for America's standing? Did anyone notice the enormous amount of attention that was paid (at least in Europe) to the return of the Stardust mission? Right now, nobody can be in much doubt about how powerful the US is - the doubt is all about how wise.

Re:Heavy editing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14743668)

This thread is the most sensible exchange I have seen on /. in ages... Well said, both of you.

Re:Heavy editing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14743871)

Are you seriously trying to say that there's no scientific challenges in returning to the moon and establishing a manned prescense there? If so you're extremely ignorant, the challenges are enormous and the goals set larger than the Apollo program in its entirety! And a lot of it will be needed for further science be it manned or unmanned.

Here's what you don't get: all the science you listed is only a question of enough funding and enough tries and I'm all for it but sending humans into "real" space increases the risks and difficulty in completely different ways and that is actually the biggest argument for sending humans as opposed to robots: the aims themselves necessitates a massive effort incomparable to what you're lamenting the delayment of.

Don't we all know that the only way to strive for higher goals is to set higher goals? Don't we all know that doing so creates more support than what might be mistakenly perceived as mundane?

You and I will get our pet projects fulfilled in due time, don't worry about that (but they might not be launched from Earth). You can't accellerate without going faster...

Superstupid (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742731)

Quote from the Slashdot story: "Griffin countered that the same loss of expertise threatened NASA's human spaceflight programme, which had served to define the US as a world 'superpower'..."

Thinking of a country as a "superpower" financially benefits people who have friends and family invested in the weapons and war industries, such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Similarly, someone who sells electronic security alarms could tell everyone in the houses around him that he is a "superneighbor".

For some people, arranging social destabilization and fragmentation is a way to make money.

--
If they enjoy it or it makes them money, rich people and leaders can kill small animals and Iraqis?

The fantasy of human space flight. (2, Insightful)

qualico (731143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14742925)

What I find so fascinating about humans in space is that there really is *no* space for us humans.

The living conditions are horrific.

Star Trek has really lobotomized the public about what it will be like to live in space; at least for the near future.

The MIR station had over 200 organisms growing on the crystal port window.
The smell inside was like a dirty locker room full of moldy socks.
The moon is like living in an ashtray.
No showers, no proper waste disposal.
Humans slough off 3 grams of skin per day, never mind shaving your face.
Where does all that go without gravity to conveniently collect it?
Breathing that conglomerate into your lungs is very unhealthy.
Sweating is a big problem with water loss adding to the Petri dish of the living space.
The list goes on with all the health concerns and morphing changes ones body goes through.

Space is *not* as glamorous as we are lead to believe.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

snooo53 (663796) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743380)

Some good points...though more we travel into space the quicker we'll develop the technology to deal with them. It also seems like most of the ones you mentioned could be easily solved with more airflow and better filtration/humidity reduction.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (3, Insightful)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14744404)

What I find so fascinating about settling the Oregon territory is that there really is *no* space for us humans.

The living conditions are horrific.

The game The Oregon Trail has really lobotomized the public about what it will be like to live near the Pacific Ocean; at least for the near future.

Covered wagons often had zillions of organisms growing on their covers.
The smell inside was like a dirty locker room full of moldy socks.
The weather is like living under a waterfall.
No showers, no proper waste disposal.
Never mind shaving your face.
Breathing that prairie dust into your lungs crossing the midwest is very unhealthy. (You don't suppose the ISS has filters though, do you?)
Sweating is a big problem with water loss leading to dehydration and diarhea.
Crossing the Rocky Mountains is nearly impossible
Some of the Indians are unfriendly
There's a big volcano right along side the Columbia River
The list goes on with all the health concerns and morphing changes ones body goes through.

The Pacific Northwest is *not* as glamorous as we are lead to believe.
Personally, I don't ever want to leave the pacific northwest. The pioneers were willing to face a little adversity to settle this region and make it possible to live comfortably here. I see no reason why we wouldn't eventually be able to accomplish the same in space (although the current challenges are far from trivial).

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

qualico (731143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14744980)

lol

Agree that eventually we will overcome these obstacles.
But don't sugar coat it too much.
Space is far more hostile than the Pacific Northwest.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745373)

Space is far more hostile than the Pacific Northwest.

And we're a lot more advanced now.

Mir and the ISS are extremely uncomfortable primarily because they're A) cramped, and B) lack gravity, and C) aren't really engineered to be self-sufficient - all the ISS recovers is water from urine.

A permanent lunar base will very likely have a much more advanced recycling setup, almost definitely including atmospheric processing. Which handles all the "smell" complaints.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (2)

slavemowgli (585321) | more than 8 years ago | (#14747216)

That's a pretty ridiculous comment really, and it shows that you don't actually understand what the grandparent was getting at. The pacific northwest (to stay with your example) always was a place that was not intrinsically hostile to human life (or life in general) - the only problem was getting there (especially with all those pesky natives thinking that the pioneers didn't have the dog-given right to steal their land and kill them).

Space, be it the moon, Mars, or any other part of it, is completely and utterly different from that.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14751014)

Actually, I'm not quite sure you understand what he was getting at. He was saying space is going to be difficult to pioneer, even to the point that it's not worth trying right now. My point was that we have done difficult things before, and because people were willing to take risks when it was difficult, we were able to overcome the difficulty and actually make things better. People died traveling west and they died living here. Many saw opportunities but didn't want to go because of the risks. Others faced the risks and succeeded. I won't go into the displacement of the natives, because while that may be relevant to Pacific NW history, it's not to space travel.

Ultimately, I contend that the entire universe is intrinsically hostile to human life, but to significantly varying degrees. Even in the most comfortable places on earth, we still require food, water, and some form of shelter. In my part of the world, that shelter has to supply a little bit of warmth and a lot of protection from the rain. In space, it has to maintain warmth, air pressure, and protection from much higher levels of radiation, and it has to achieve those ends very self-sufficiently. At the basic level, it is the same issue of humans adapting to their environment on a larger scale.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14744580)

You forgot:

- Continuous atrophy of bone and muscle in anything less than a substantial fraction of earth gravity, which is only slowed somewhat by regular exercise. Stay in orbit or on the moon for too long and you're not going home.

- You and your every breath contained inside what is essentally a scaled-up beer can (in the case of the ISS, a six-pack). You're always one large meteoroid impact away from the vaccuum of space.

- Air scrubbers handle CO2 and little else. Better hope your crewmate didn't forget to pack some beano.

- To add to the hostility of the moon: moon dust is basically ultra-fine pulverized glass. The stuff has a nasty tendency to erode anything plastic or rubber, so your spacesuit isn't going to be airtight after a few excursions outside your lander (o-ring seals on parts will be bad). Plus, you get the benefit of exposing your lungs to it after you come back in the airlock (smells like spent gunpowder)!

- ISS has safety procedures that have crew huddle up in the thickest part of the craft during solar flare activity. Beyond the safety of Earth's magenetosphere, exposure to solar flares and cosmic radiation pose a serious health risk (good luck with that tumor while in mars orbit).

Star Trek has really lobotomized the public about what it will be like to live in space; at least for the near future.

Too true. But the sad part is, we'll never be offically beyond the "horse and buggy" phase of offworld habitation/exploration until we have attained some of the more rudimentary "Trek technology" (basically all the stuff we take for granted here on the ground).

When you add up all the things that humans *need* for long term offworld habitation, you wind up with something more akin to a "portable planet" than a "space craft". From that vantage point, you can see just how far away we are.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

ralphclark (11346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14752090)

The problems with dust and micro-organisms go away if you live on a gravitational body or a rotating space platform. If you don't then you'll have far bigger problems to worry about as the long term effects on health of living in microgravity are quite serious and currently intractable.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

corngrower (738661) | more than 8 years ago | (#14752770)

Living in a good spaceship should be similar to living on a submarine. Think about it. Today's nuclear subs go for three months at a time without surfacing.

Re:The fantasy of human space flight. (1)

qualico (731143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756452)

You forgot about gravity; plenty of that on a sub to pull particles from the air.

Think about all the excrements that come from the human body.
Eyes, Ears, Nose, Skin, Hair, Nails, Lungs, Mouth, Anus, Urethra.
Don't forget about new materials shedding as well.
Fibers from clothing, molecules of plastics. on and on.
Now mix in water, food and heat along with bacteria and molds.

Breathe all that into your lungs for too long and your going to get very sick.

Radiation, atrophy, and psychology are yet another matter.

Wrong idea (3, Insightful)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743036)

I hate to disagree with this sort of idea -- going back to the Moon and everything sounds like so much fun -- but this is obviously all going to go nowhere. When push comes to shove, economic realities (not to mention Congress) simply won't allow Bush's grandiose Moon-Mars plan to get off the ground, or maybe LEO at best. It's all far too expensive and Dubya knows it, but he'll be long gone by the time NASA comes asking for the really big bucks. Then it'll be the next guy's fault for shooting it down.

Oh, the government could pay for it easily if they decided to shrink military spending by something like only 10 or 15%, but you know that isn't going to happen. There are way too many terrorists out there who are just be waiting to pounce at the first sign of weakness, so we'd better not give them the impression that our new fleet of F-22 Raptor's won't be ready on time! (haw).

I say NASA should concentrate on doing more with less and stick to stuff like Mars rovers and Titan landers. Hell, really great science projects like the JIMO mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder have been scrapped, and for what? In the end, it'll turn out to be for nothing. We'll just be left with a bunch of expensive plans that are never going to fly outside of a computer.

Re:Wrong idea (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745570)

NASA has outlined the anticipated costs of a future moon mission up through the first landing. While some funding comes out of aeronautics research and science growth will be limited, most of it replaces the shuttle budget. I believe it really is feasible with the budget proposed, but there's a serious threat that funding will get cut to the point that development of the EELV has to be cancelled because pushing items into the next budget cycle will no longer make up for congressional cuts. I don't expect the CEV to get cancelled, because we will need a crew vehicle after the shuttle is retired, but without the EELV, there's nothing to get us to the moon. Griffin knows the threat is real, and rather than see the work conducted up til this point go to waste, probably wants to push it through as hard as possible.

By the way, I wasn't aware the Terrestrial Planet Finder had been cancelled. Perhaps I'm thinking of the Kepler space telescope. Regarding JIMO, though, Griffin has stated that he doesn't believe the concept put forth for the mission was reasonable. It banked too heavily on technology still in its infancy (ion propulsion) and was too big (lots of $$). Cassini was pretty simple in comparison. He'd love to send another mission to Jupiter, Europa in particular, but the $2 billion for a Cassini-like mission or something like $5 billion for JIMO isn't available.

Re:Wrong idea (1)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 8 years ago | (#14746427)

... By the way, I wasn't aware the Terrestrial Planet Finder had been cancelled. ...

Perhaps not, but "indefinitely deferred" is almost as bad (as stated in NASA's 2007 budget).

Re:Wrong idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14745659)

Frankly we aught to use both budgets, NASA's and the Military budget, and put an air force base on the moon.

Hubble gets saved?? (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 8 years ago | (#14743763)

Well, that's an interesting little tidbit buried in the other article [newscientistspace.com] from a week or so ago, about what specifically was getting cut - reallocation of funding to manned missions means (if the Shuttle can be safe and get the job done) Hubble gets another servicing mission.

I know that'll make a lot of people's desktop backgrounds happy.

Unfortunately, the relatively small amount of money they were planning on spending on the Keck Outriggers got cut. Now, I'm biased since I work at Keck occasionally, but one big difference between Keck (which NASA JPL runs along with UCal and CalTech) and, say, a space station or solar-system probe is that most people never will never get to actually see the solar-system probe - or, for that matter, any of the other things that got cut - up close.

Anybody* is free to fly over to Hawaii, catch a flight to Hilo or Kona, rent a Jeep, drive to the top of Mauna Kea, and walk right into Keck's visitor gallery, and even into part of one of the telescope domes, from 10-4 any weekday. Kinda helps remind people that NASA isn't all just stuff that's millions of miles away.

* Offer limited to people who are not on the no-fly list, who can afford airfare and car rental, and who have a valid driver's license. Void where prohibited by law. We assume no responsibility for any damages caused by your inability to breathe or function properly at 13700 feet MSL. Give me a yell if you're coming, okay?

Re:Hubble gets saved?? (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745387)

Yah, but it's no fun that you can't stay overnight. What's the fun of going to the best observing spot in the world if you can't use it?

It's like telling people

"Hey, come see Ford Field, site of the Super Bowl (*)"
(*) visitation hours do not include the Super Bowl

Re:Hubble gets saved?? (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 8 years ago | (#14749306)

Weeeeelllll....

Is it that you want to use Keck specifically, or is it that you want to spend a night on Mauna Kea? Keck's observers are pretty consistently down in Waimea, after all, but a lot of the other facilities up there allow (or require, mwahaha!) their observers to be "on the premises." And typically, the research funding you'll need if your proposal is accepted at one of them is less than the buck-a-second Keck time costs.

If the actual use of the big shiny toys isn't your priority, and you're more in it because you want to see your shadow by the light of the milky way, or whatever, you could just drive up to 13000 in the middle of the night at new moon and get your fix. (No one would be awake lower down to stop you, and at 13000 you wouldn't be bothering anyone, either; all the summit facilities are around 13500 or higher.)

If you wanted to actually see lots of stars, most folks on the mountain would recommend just spending the night (which you most certainly are allowed to do, if you don't mind sleeping outdoors or in your car - bring a sleeping bag) in the parking lot of the visitor station at 9000 feet. They're quick to point out that vision is significantly affected by availability of oxygen, so you'll actually see more at 9000 than at 13500+ anyway, presuming clear skies both places.

when will NASA launch humans again? (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14745589)

They've only launched once in the three years since the last shuttle accidents and had problems with that. I believe they've been five Russian manned launches (all space station) and two Chinese in the meantime. I have not seen a date for the next shuttle launch.

I would rather see... (1)

bujoojoo (161227) | more than 8 years ago | (#14746965)

...the super collider in Texas that was shut down start back up again rather than shoot humans into space.

I am really tired of seeing 'astronauts' throw M&Ms across at each other in free fall. And I've also seen enough somersaults, thank you very much. I'd like some real science now, please. How about, I don't know, investigate alternative, clean energy sources? Oh, that's right, National _Aeronautics_ and _Space_ Administration... Hmm, let's change it to National Advanced Sciences Administration (at least you don't have to change the stationary...) and do something useful with the money other than fund the world's most expensive crematorium.

Cost Effectiveness (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14747384)

If we start with robots it will never stop, they'll get cheaper faster than we do.

This cheapness is great for serving people here on earth but it doesn't really start making people up in space or really dividing power any further and offering us new social systems. The rich will control space just as they do all the other resources we have.

This seems like something that wouldn't last very long but if space never becomes a better place for humans to live the people who do end up going into space will be treated like servants of the rich producing resources to sell to the poor.

Not a problem for a while but remember the cascading nature of robotic exploration and colonization, robots aren't going to get worse and frankly people aren't getting better... If putting humans in space isn't the goal it will likely never be acheived the way it was originally envisioned.
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