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NASA Priorities Out of Whack?

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the still-no-word-on-search-for-spaghetti-monster dept.

258

amerinese writes "Just last week, we saw a story on NASA reconsidering the fate of the DAWN mission, another reminder of the space agency's budget woes. Gregg Easterbrook over at Slate.com argues not only is the budget a little short, but NASA's priorities are all wrong. From the article: 'For at least a decade, it's been clear that the space shuttle program is a clunker. Nonetheless, NASA's funding remains heavy on the shuttle and the space station, while usually slighting science. This year's proposed budget for fiscal 2007 takes the cosmic cake.' Is NASA just not thinking creatively enough?"

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258 comments

All too familiar... (1)

HyoImowano (761382) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027143)

It.....*is* Google...?

I mostly agree (5, Interesting)

liliafan (454080) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027146)

Whilst I agree with the vast majority of this article, the planet finder project should be given a much higher budget, study of the earth should have a much higher priority, I think the author leaves the Near Earth Object study a little low on the list, I would think this should be at least number 2 on the list of priorities, first save the Earth from itself the study of moisture is important so this is fine, second save the Earth from a huge chunk of rock eliminating mankind, from there on down yes cool study other object in our solar system, study possible locations for other life out there.

Additionally I am not sure about the moonbase, until we get a definitive answer on the question of if water exists on the moon I don't see the point in building a base there, really we should be putting a lot more focus on studying the moon, what rare minerals can we find, is there any water anywhere that can be used to fuel spacecraft travelling further than the moon. These questions can all be answered with probes and possibly robotic landers we should be putting more effort into studying in this way before we even consider sending people back let alone building a base there.

I am interested in the study of the universe, I am curious about development of galaxies and black holes but I am more interested in protecting our species from an extinction level event either from us damaging the planet or from an asteroid wiping us out. It seems like NASA is really just trying to get popular support here. For the unknowing masses building a moonbase would seen really impressive, having mankind walk on the moon again would be a great advertisment for NASA, "hey look guys we still got it". Given the set backs they have experienced in recent years I can kinda understand their reasoning to feel like they need the public behind them again, but I think a report saying we have found a way to save the Earth would be a lot better for their publicity than a report saying we have some guys bringing more rocks back from the moon.

Re:I mostly agree (5, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027211)

There is one good reason to build a Moonbase: Telescopes on the far side of the Moon are as insulated as you can get from interference from human sources. A good set of telescopes, in all spectrums, on the far side of the Moon should be an eventual goal of NASA. (Not that we need people there to run them...)

The only other reason for a base on the Moon is turism: It's a place where a person can walk on the surface of another major body and be back within a few months.

Neither of these should make a Moonbase top priority.

What NASA Stands For (2, Funny)

mkoenecke (249261) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027242)

Thank goodness the folks at Slate have a better understanding of NASA's purpose than I do: I have a hard time figuring out where "environmental and climate research" is derived fomr "the National Aeuronautics and Space Administration." But then again, I've always been bad at figuring out acronyms.

Say what?!? (2, Insightful)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027286)

Why spend all that time and treasure putting telescopes so far from humans and then spend even more time and treasure putting humans RIGHT NEXT to the damned things?

If you think having telescopes on the far side is good because it is out of the way of human pollution, then why for heaven's sake do you want to throw human pollution back into the mix as close as that?

The vibrations from human equipment, outgassing, dust raised ... sure, vibrations and dust are natural events there, but humans add more.

Good god almighty.

Robots would have to do 99.999% of the work anyway. What would humans add to either the construction or maintenance?

Re:Say what?!? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027638)

I think perhaps the moon is larger than you are imagining. Maybe.

As far as what humans add over robots, humans are still quite a bit more flexible than robots, especially in novel situations.

Re:Say what?!? (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027748)

How many objects you've ever seen are manufactured by autonomous robots?

How many complicated engineering projects have been built by tele-operated systems at the end of a long time lag?

Re:I mostly agree (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027301)

No, there are plenty of other reasons for a base on the moon. Space based solar power for one, or helium-3 mining for another. It's also a good mine for anything else that you want to send somewhere. Why build something at the bottom of a hole and waste all that energy to get it out if you can build it--from nuts to soup--in space?

FYI the moon is not tidally locked and your telescope would only be usable about 1/3 -1/2 of the time, this is the same reason why you'd need 3 beaming stations for lunar based solar power.

Re:I mostly agree (1, Insightful)

Mayhem178 (920970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027402)

Let's not forget that the escape velocity from the moon is minimalistic compared to that of the old mud ball. It wouldn't surprise me if, in a few decades, most manned spaceflight (American, at the very least, if not others) originates from the moon. Of course, this is all still just speculation. They still need an efficient means of getting the fuel for the spacecraft from Earth to the moon, otherwise the only thing they're really gaining is distance. Still, I'll bet that one Earth-to-moon flight carrying fuel would power more than one launch from the moon, though. Any positive gain is good positive gain, I guess.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

ahodgson (74077) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027439)

Use of nuclear engines should be a lot more palatable on the Moon, too.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

Mayhem178 (920970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027745)

"Sir, are you suggesting that we nuke the moon?"

"Would ya miss it? Would ya?"

Re:I mostly agree (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027770)

"Still, I'll bet that one Earth-to-moon flight carrying fuel would power more than one launch from the moon, though."

I'll take that bet. How much you want to put up? Shall we use your orbital mechanics text, or mine?

Re:I mostly agree (3, Informative)

terrymr (316118) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027425)


FYI the moon is not tidally locked and your telescope would only be usable about 1/3 -1/2 of the time, this is the same reason why you'd need 3 beaming stations for lunar based solar power.


huh ? If you mean the same side of the moon isn't always turned toward the earth then i think you're wrong on that point.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027542)

Sorry, yes your right of course. Brain fart. What I was thinking of was lunar face exposure to the sun as it orbits, so you'd still have the same issues (and in any event you'd need some sort of relay to get your data back to Earth).

Re:I mostly agree (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027580)

s/your/you're/; s/it/the moon/;

Re:I mostly agree (1)

Bob3141592 (225638) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027507)

There is one good reason to build a Moonbase: Telescopes on the far side of the Moon are as insulated as you can get from interference from human sources. A good set of telescopes, in all spectrums, on the far side of the Moon should be an eventual goal of NASA. (Not that we need people there to run them...)

I mostly disagree with the above statement. Optical telescopes can work just as well on satellites than on the moon -- even better in a zero-g environment so there's no mirror flexure. But an array of large radio telescopes would be well suited for lunar deploymant, since the far side is shielded from pervasive terrestrial interference.

Re:I mostly agree (0)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027243)

Ask scientists how long life on earth has been around... and they will probably answer, "Millions of years!".

Anyways... my point being. The chance of a meteor hitting the earth in the relatively small window of time that it takes for us to figure out how to play Asteroids in Space are slim. I doubt that Deep impact will be coming true any time soon... or at least, like I said - before we can combat it.

Converting minerals on the moon into oxygen is the big idea for me. Just leave a machine running up there (maybe a converted Sharper Image Ionic Breeze) for a couple decades and the moon should have an atmosphere, right? LMAO

Re:I mostly agree (2, Funny)

Kitsune818 (927302) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027378)

I saw a demonstration of this in the biography "Total Recall".

Re:I mostly agree (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027485)

Except that we have found one that might do just that within about 40 years. Pretty slim timescale to 'fix' the problem isn't it?

Search Google for 'asteroid collision 2029' and you'll see many links about it. They've pretty much ruled out a collision on 2029 itself, but the thinking is that it will pass so close that it will alter the asteroids orbit. And then it's an every 5-6 year close pass to worry about.


Re:I mostly agree (1)

Dashing Leech (688077) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027398)

I would tend to agree somewhat. However there is one huge hole in the complaints and arguments. NASA has a lot less control over its priorities that most people think. It gets its priorities largely from Congress. And despite the implications of the article, it is not driven largely by Congress members with shuttle contractors in their districts. Yes, the shuttles are old technology and the ISS has little resemblance to its original intention. But there are international agreements here and huge cancellation fees in many cases. For financial and political purposes, there's very little choice here but to finish the ISS, and this relies heavily on the shuttles. To top it off, they are bound to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations for shuttle flight safety, hence the large costs in getting the shuttles and flights to meet these standards and extension of schedules to meet ISS commitments.

There is a plan to retire the shuttles and still support ISS, but it's not like they can do that tomorrow. It takes years of development which IS going on right now.

As far as the Moon and Mars, manned missions versus probes and robotics, science, and deflecting asteroids and comets, there are quite polar opposite opinions out there. The article argues one case, but the author doesn't indicate why the priorities he suggests are more important than other priorities. When he "boils down" the net worth of NASA Life Science research to "billions of dollars spent for astronauts to take each other's blood pressure", it's clear this guy is not the least bit objective or knowledgeable about what NASA actually does. This is the opinion of a "couch" space expert, which is about what his interest in manned exploration amounts to -- sitting on the couch. NASA was created essentially for manned space flight. Some people are content to stay here and let robots do all the space work. Would North American society exist today if that was the extend of the exploration will in Europe 500 years ago? (Exploration which was, by the way, largely driven with interests in financial spin-offs.)

Does NASA, or Congress, have its priorities straight? Perhaps, perhaps not. Much of it is a matter of opinion. Much of it is a matter of existing commitments. Much of it is drvien by economic considerations. But in any case, this article is one of the worst analyses of the subject I've seen.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

dyslexicbunny (940925) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027668)

Additionally I am not sure about the moonbase, until we get a definitive answer on the question of if water exists on the moon I don't see the point in building a base there

One of the biggest reasons NASA wants to build a moonbase is to test the technologies that would enable the building and sustainment of a Mars facility. Even though Mars isn't a high priority for the CEV, the plan is to carry over much of the components from the ISS component to the Mars mission.

NASA has thought out the CEV system. They know they fucked Uncle Sam hard in the 70s with the shuttle and are trying to make up for it. They are failing back on 60s tech because it is proven and manufacturing it will be significantly less.

However, if I had a say as to where more of NASA's money should go, I would put it in Aeronautics. If you subscribe to global warming (I'm not interested in starting a debate), you would consider that the way too many flights a day in the world contribute far more greatly to CO2 and NOx emissions than the automobile industry. Reducing various problems that still plague us there, combined with funding life science and Earth-related projects, should be of greater importance to NASA.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

purfledspruce (821548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027765)

Hydrogen mined from the Moon is useless and economically stupid. It costs $133,000 to put a kilogram of hydrogen on the Moon. It would cost in excess of $5 BILLION to build a hydrogen processing plant (remember, it would have to go into a shadowed crater, autonomously, in a 40 kelvin environment, and process the regolith that contains hydrogen, expelling the waste, without ever being serviced or given maintenance) and about $5 BILLION to build the power system (nuclear fission plant) that would enable it to go into that environment and operate a processing plant...and we don't even know if the hydrogen on the Moon is in large amounts, or close enough to the surface to be useful...and sending a robot into that environment to find out if it exists in sufficient amounts would probably cost about $2 BILLION dollars.

So, what we have to ask ourselves is, how much hydrogen can we put on the Moon for $12B? At $133,000 per kg, that's over 90,000 kg...and all we can use hydrogen for is to make rocket fuel.

What makes a lot more sense, though is to mine oxygen from the regolith. Regolith is everywhere, it's approximately 40% oxyen by weight, and it can be used for either rocket fuel or for environmental control/life support systems. Oxygen also accounts for about 5/6ths of the weight of hydrogen/oxygen fuel, so it's a real bang-for-the-buck sort of material to mine.

Re:I mostly agree (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027789)

I think the moon base and Mars belong on the long term plan. Part of that plan will be maintaining and upgrading our manned space flight capability, extending our unmanned capabilities, and developing new technolgies that increase the cost effectiveness of pursing our space exploration goals. I am satisfied to make steady progress towards these goals, even if, being middle aged, I might not live to see an astronaut planting an American flag on Mars. In terms of the the role that space exploration plays in the destiny of Humanity, it doesn't make much difference if this is done in my generation or my grandchildren's.

The environmental missions are different. They need to be on both the short term agenda, because they bear on immediate and permanently ongoing policy concerns. To put it on a bumper sticker, Mars will still be there for our grandchildren. The Earth as we know it may not.

It is possible that these concerns should be split into two agencies; a space exploration/technology agency (like the NASA of the early 60s), and an enviornmental research agency which uses mature space technologies developd by the other agency.

There's another good use for a moon base... (1)

sirrobert (937726) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027824)

There's another particularly good use for a moon base that I can think of: experience.

As of yet, we have no actual experience building on any environment other than our terran terrains. Prognosticators tell us that building on other planets with less human-friendly environments may become desirable some day (such as Mars). The moon is a (relatively) close place to build in a (relatively) hostile environment -- moreso than Mars in many respects. Building a moon base and keeping it inhabited for a time -- especially by inhabitants doing run-of-the-mill human functions, many of which (if history has anything to say about man) seem to go something like this:

  1. ...
  2. ...
  3. do something stupid
  4. ...
  5. die.
would help us to run into the sorts of problems we might also be likely to have on other planets ... without the (currently) several-year travel commitment in case of emergency. Time to develop solutions to unforseen problems is not the least valuable thing NASA could spend its money on. It's just plain "raw experience."

And while they're at it, building telescopes, doing low-G experiments, and all those other fun things could be accomplished as well.

Biased much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027150)

Crikey.

Tutorial on Bias (2, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027665)

Biased much?

Only if having a point of view is biased. Being human we all have our biases of course, and these naturally (mis)inform our viewpoints. But this doesn't license you to throw around the accusation of "bias" every time you see an opinion you don't like, because to be fair you'd have to tell the entire world including yourself to STFU.

No, the only behavior that merits this charge is the practice of bias.

Consider the following statement:


NASA wants to keep pouring billions of dollars into the shuttle, the space station, and the White House's moon-base project--which benefit no one other than NASA bureaucrats and aerospace contractors--while eliminating many projects to study climate conditions on Earth.


A hypothetical example of bias would be if the Earth monitoring missions had moved to a different agency, say, EPA, Mr. Easterbrook knew it, and chose not to mention it. Or if the programs had been phased out and replaced by more cost effective ones. In that case you can justify calling the article "biased".

This kind of bias is the sophisticated liar's lie; when you mislead by leaving out context, you can lie without actually saying anything untrue.

TMQ has a real job??? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027155)

He needs to quite writing these useless articles and get back to the important stuff [nfl.com] .

Why are you punting???

Out come the trolls... (1)

Joey Patterson (547891) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027162)

Cue the Get some priorities! trolls. :)

That's what happens with tax-funded entities (2, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027176)

I'm not surprised, although I think they still manage to be more fiscally responsible and sensible than the rest of the US government as a whole. Barring the money sink that is the space shuttle and international space station (why do we still need this? Oh yeah, politics), they've had really successful projects. Just take the recent Mars rovers for a high-profile example.

Eisenhower was right (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027363)

NASA's a WPA [wikipedia.org] for the aerospace industry.

Meh. I guess it's better than squandering it on bombs and blowing peoples up.

Re:That's what happens with tax-funded entities (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027613)

A tax funded entity is what kept my power on for over three whole years without a single outage. My old Seth Thomas clock verified it. A tax funded entity kept the water for much longer without fail. A tax funded entity made it possible for me to go to work without the need for an automobile for 15 years, also without fail. A tax funded entity delivers an enormous volume of mail at a much lower price than any private one ever could. Tax funded entities are the only kind that actually has to respond to the people who vote and pay for it. So I can say from experience that not all tax funded entities are bad. A teeny bit of socialism goes a long way towards making life a lot more pleasent. I would trust a tax funded entity to maintain the national infrastructure of transportation, communication, power, and water far more than any private company. And I sure don't want to see a private military or police that answers only to shareholders, despite all the faults of the gov't one. It's tax funded regulation that keeps the privates honest. If tax funded entities are failing us, then it's up to us to use the power of the vote of fix it. And, as you noted, NASA is not a complete failure.

Re:That's what happens with tax-funded entities (1)

EndlessNameless (673105) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027849)

A small nitpick...

The USPS is not a tax-funded entity in the traditional sense. They do not receive a standard opertaing budget from the GAO. The postal service is entirely self-funded. While I believe the federal government would (and maybe already has) step in to bail the USPS out if a nasty surprise caught them blindside, the USPS was set up with the precept that it would be financially independent. (Blame Ben Franklin for that rather sound idea.)

It's not NASA, it's Bush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027181)

Big things like rockets, airplanes, and space stations are popular with Bush's friends. Bush doesn't care about science, it's just for show to drum up political support.

Re:It's not NASA, it's Bush (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027554)

I am no fan of Bush. If you do not belive that, examine my posts or majority of my freaks (all but 3 are because of my anti bush postings). In spite of that, I really disagree with this story.

  1. We have international commitments to supporting the ISS through a certain time. In fact, if we do not continue doing the heavy lifting the ISS will be worthless.
  2. We need to move on. Since Nixon seriously cutback NASA, no single president has really pushed it forward. ALL of them have been a joke on it. Bush is at least focusing NASA, which is seriously needed.
  3. The shuttle program is a joke. It was poorly designed to handle anything. It really does not lift that much. The crew support sux. And there is a real reason why the shuttle's blew up when it did; managerial incompetence. Both of the NASA heads were total jokes (yes, I know the report did not point a finger at either).
  4. The ISS is interesting for doing life science research, but time to move on. We have learned a lot about living there as well as long-term constructions. It is time to apply these elsewhere.
  5. The new rockets will correctly seperate cargo from human. To get ppl to the ISS does not need the shuttle. In addition, when sending up cargo, we do not need to take ppl or for that matter, a return vehicle. Yet we do. With the new rockets, it will give us the ability to launch very large cargos bound for one-way missions out of orbit. IOW, we can send big loads to the Moon or to Mars, or to Jupitor, or to Pluto. As it is, we now have to send loads that quite small. Imagine if we could send not only MSE, but the mars telecommunicaiton network as well as perhaps a global flyer. That would enable us to do some major work. Likewise, going to the moon, and staying for awhile, while require large cargo shots.

The only real issue that I see with Bush's focus, WRT to NASA, is the lack of funding. There are many things that I think bush is screwing up (outlandous defict (lack of revenue), his invasion of iraq, his spying on Americans, gitmo, etc), but NASA is not one of them

Re:It's not NASA, it's Bush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027747)

From the article:
NASA wants to keep pouring billions of dollars into the shuttle, the space station, and the White House's moon-base project--which benefit no one other than NASA bureaucrats and aerospace contractors...

Now, how many of those bureaucrats [sic] are/will be Bush appointees being rewarded for more campaign contributions? And how many aerospace contractors will be former Cheney business associates? These are the only reasons for Bush's emphasis on NASA.

Budget woes? (0, Troll)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027192)

Budget woes? Budget woes?? NASA has what, 13 BILLION dollars? Roll that number around in your head -- THIRTEEN BILLION DOLLARS. Per year. EVERY YEAR.

How many probes could we launch with all that money? We could have probes flying all over the solar system. We could have fundamental research into remote robotics.

I've always thought that NASA should have a program that produces three types of probes, small, medium and large. And they should be modular, such that you can plug in all sorts of different sensors that use a standardized design.

There is no reason that through mass production, NASA couldn't be launching thousands of probes a year. If you're launching that many, they don't have to perfect. Launch 10 of them at every target, hoping five will end up working.

NASA needs to completely change their culture and use some intelligence for a change.

Re:Budget woes? (1)

Forrest Kyle (955623) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027257)

You seem to be [i]really[/i] fascinated with probes. Freud would have a field day. Then again, sometimes a probe is just a probe.

Re:Budget woes? (4, Insightful)

stlhawkeye (868951) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027266)

Budget woes? Budget woes?? NASA has what, 13 BILLION dollars? Roll that number around in your head -- THIRTEEN BILLION DOLLARS. Per year. EVERY YEAR.

And a huge chunk of it is spent on bureaucractic bullshit. Paying admistrators, and their secretaries, and their benefits, and their health insurance, and remimbursing transportation costs, and federal audits, and enviromental impact surveys, and nasa.gov, and PR, and ...

Another chunk of it goes into funding existing missions. We STILL have to keep paying for Voyager if we want anybody listening to it. For every probe that's out there, we have to pay for the earthbound hardware that listens to and talks to it, the talent that knows how it works and can troubleshoot problems, and the scientists on the publi dole who analyze what we get back.

That leaves some money leftover for NEW missions. Some that money goes into paying private contractors to build parts, some goes into research into new technology, some goes into upgrading and maintaining he shuttle fleet, some goes into the ISS. Some goes to foreign governments. Russia doesn't launch our astronauts for free.

How many probes could we launch with all that money? We could have probes flying all over the solar system. We could have fundamental research into remote robotics.

I imagine that with $13 billion we could launch thousands. There'd be no money leftover for building the ones we launch next year, though. Or paying for the crews to maintain the ones we launched last year.

There is no reason that through mass production, NASA couldn't be launching thousands of probes a year. If you're launching that many, they don't have to perfect. Launch 10 of them at every target, hoping five will end up working.

Sure there is. A probe costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Even at a mere $100 million, $13 billion is enough to build only 130 probes, to say nothing of paying for launch, maintainance, and scientific analysis.

NASA needs to completely change their culture and use some intelligence for a change.

I suggest that it is your intelligence, in this case, that needs some looking into.

Cost comparisons (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027345)

A shuttle launch costs $1B in new costs. That's not including any share of past, paid-for, R&D. That's staff, expendable tank, refurbishing the solid boosters and shuttle engines, fuel, etc.

The Deep Impact mission (which smacked into a comet so we could analyze the dust) and the Stardust mission (which return fabulous samples of comet dust) together cost $600M or $700M complete. You could no doubt find a similar mission to bring it to an even $1B.

This is not counting any share of the cost of failed probes or failed shuttles.

Which do you think returned more bang for the buck?

Re:Cost comparisons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027448)

Ohh... I'd say Challenger and Columbia returned a fair amount of bang.

Re:Budget woes? (0, Redundant)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027361)

I suggest that it is your intelligence, in this case, that needs some looking into.

Those that live in glass houses...

I imagine that with $13 billion we could launch thousands. There'd be no money leftover for building the ones we launch next year, though. Or paying for the crews to maintain the ones we launched last year.

First of all, 13B is ONE YEAR. Next year is paid for by ANOTHER 13B. Second of all, do the math. Let's say we need 10,000 people to manage the probe program (managers, engineers, secretaries, etc). Let's say it costs 100K per employee, just to be generous. That's only a billion dollars. That leaves another 12 billion.

Sure there is. A probe costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Even at a mere $100 million, $13 billion is enough to build only 130 probes, to say nothing of paying for launch, maintainance, and scientific analysis.

Of course they cost $100 million -- NOW. That's because they're designed and custom-built every friggin' time. It's an incredibly wasteful and stupid method of construction. If you made three standardized types that were EXACTLY the same, except that you could plug standardized modules into it, you would save immense amounts of money. It's called "mass production", perhaps you've heard of it.

If NASA built cars, they'd also cost $100M a piece.

Re:Budget woes? (1)

terrymr (316118) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027399)

Don't forget how much of this 13 billion lands on Boeing/Lockheeds bottom line. Nasa doesn't really launch anything itself.

6 billion a month, every month (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027276)


is the current cost of Iraq, thats every month for the past 3+ years and still no foreseeable end, it would be cheaper to hand the Iraqis a million dollars each but that doesnt keep Dick &George with his cronies in mansions and gold bathrooms

NASA didnt shift priorities the US Gov did, they decided killing people or research into killing people more efficiently was much more profitable and rewarding so thats where their focus is, if NASA starting creating death rays you can be sure the Bush regime would be masturbating furiously in support

Actually about $20K per person (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027408)

it would be cheaper to hand the Iraqis a million dollars each

Interesting idea ...

Population 26M. Call it 25 ...

The US has spent roughly $500B over 3 years.

That's $20K each, or, say, $50K - $100K per family.

It would have to be spread over three years, but that still seems like a pretty good sum.

Re:Budget woes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027368)

No, NASA had two major failures sending Mars probes this way. They planned two inter-dependant missions, over a short time. When the first one crashed, the other couldn't be deployed as planned.

One of those probes failed because the private aero-space company used U.S. units and NASA programmed the tracker to use Metric. It crashed trying to land!

There are many articles one those Mars missions.

Re:Budget woes? (2, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027420)

OT: your sig

From the evolutionary position this is easy to explain. Meat is very, very dense calorie wise compared to veggies. When you're a human being struggling to get enough food for survival for, say, the last 10 million years, and your lifespan averaged less than 30 years, meat was extremely good for you. The heart clogging problems with the fat and cholesterol don't kick in until your average lifespan hits 40+ (how many people die of heart attack due to over-eating meat before 25?), and even then, the odds that it will impact your likelihood of reproduction are small. The bottom line: meat is bad for your longevity, not your reproduction, and for your ancestors it was very good for their reproduction.

Given the number of women advocating vegetarian lifestyles, it could be argued that given another 10,000 or 100,000 generations, the preference for meat taste will go away.

Re:Budget woes? (4, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027543)

Wow. You clearly have no idea of the realities of the situation, yet you feel free to make wild claims about what you think can be done with NASA's money.

Let's see... $13 billion... of which most goes to the manned-missions right off. So that's ISS and the shuttles getting the bulk of the money. Research for aerospace stuff gets another reasonably heafty share. In fact, when you get down to it, the solar system exploration budget is around $2 billion, total. That goes to fund research, build new missions, and support existing missions.

In reality, missions are very expensive and mass-producing parts doesn't fix that. Every single mission has to be launched, which is a huge fraction of the total expense right there. Fuel isn't going to get a lot cheaper through the wonders of mass-production. Neither is the man-power needed to plan the details of each mission and to work out and check things like the trajectories. (I'm periphrially involved with selecting an extended tour on a mission right now. It's complicated to say the least.) And modular components only work if the modules are sufficiently useful to a broad number of missions. This is generally not the case, as it turns out. Every mission has specific goals and requirements that almost always demand a new suite of designs. (Check out the latest Mars missions; the new objectives have caused their instruments to be VERY carefully and specifically designed.)

And to put $13 billion into perspective: that's a few percent of what the war in Iraq has costed so far and around 1% of what it will ultimately cost us. In fact, that's the price of about 7 stealth bombers. Which were easier to mass-produce than interplanetary missions, incidentally.

Your intuition for the money here is dead wrong. I'm not saying NASA is above reproach; it very much so is not. (I can spend days ranting about how much they waste time and money.) But if you want to help solve the problem, you'll have to understand the situation first.

Re:Budget woes? (0, Offtopic)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027710)

13 billion...BAH! that's nothing. Let's talk about real [csmonitor.com] money. Money that is truly wasted. Better yet, let's not. It'll just piss me off...besides it would be off topic.

Re:Budget woes? (1)

mmell (832646) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027820)

A mere drop in the bucket compared with, say, our MILITARY budget.

And . . . the priorities are being forced upon NASA by our government. "Drop all the science for science sake research, such as the Voyager probes passing the heliopause. Forget the Hubble - it can only show us pictures of places we can't go. We need to go to to Mars. It's the new space race!"

Assign the blame where it belongs and the reasons become clear. Unfortunately, the culture at NASA is essentially that of our fifth defense force (Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force, NASA).

So . . . what do you expect from a quasi-military operation?

Re:Budget woes? (3, Insightful)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027869)

NASA doesn't have that much control over their money. There have been plenty of articles in recent news showing that NASA administrators want nothing more than to ditch the shuttle, it's an albatross around their necks. But they can't, because they've made promises to the international community to keep the International Space Station going, whether it's a waste of resources or not. They can't develop a new program quickly enough to meet our immediate needs for future launches. Beyond that, the shuttle program's been rife with problems, and they can't launch more shuttles without fixing them up, which is expensive. They're forced to dump huge amounts of additional funding into something they're trying to get rid of entirely.

Additionally, they've got this mandate from Bush to try to get to Mars ASAP, building a moon base first, which could use up their entire budget right there.

Beyond all of that, they feel they have to be careful to keep the public interested, or that their funding will be cut. Surveys have shown that most people are primarily impressed with human space flight, and I'm sure there's pressure on NASA to maintain manned missions even if they're just bread a circuses, and they could get a lot more science done for the money without them.

So I agree that $13 billion should be enough for NASA to accomplish an incredible amount more than they do, but not "should be enough" and isn't because they're all incompetent, but "should be enough" and isn't because they can't spend it on the important things for one reason or another.

It's not what makes sense... (0)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027197)


It's what's sexy.

Climate research is not sexy. A manned moon base, a la Space 1999 is sexy.

Deep space exploration via robotic probe is not sexy. A mission to Mars, a la...well..Mission to Mars, is sexy.

If NASA wants any funding at all, it has to portray what it does as sexy. Little wonder that manned moon bases and missions to Mars are what they're trying to sell, regardless of the actual feasability of either goal.

I don't think it's about sexy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027241)

The shuttle and space station don't help us get to the moon. The planned CEV is more of a step back to the Apollo designs. I think it is a simple matter that realigning the budget away from the shuttle and space station is admitting that the last couple of decades at NASA has been a waste, and they just can't bring themselves to admit that.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (2, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027248)

So, is finding aliens, a la Alien, sexy?

Re:It's not what makes sense... (4, Funny)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027291)

So, is finding aliens, a la Alien, sexy?

No, but finding aliens, a la Species is.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

CrazedWalrus (901897) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027640)

Sure -- if they all look like Natasia Henstridge (sp?). The Nast, Big, Pointy Teeth are a real turnoff, though.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027480)

Yes, for the Alien [futuremovies.co.uk] .

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

Random Utinni (208410) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027676)

No, but finding aliens, a la Species [imdb.com] , is.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027383)

I once sat beside an astronaut while flying from Houston to DC. He spent the flight doing fuel calculations for a constant burn from Earth to Mars and back. I didn't have the heart to tell him it would never fly. Not because there was anything wrong with this calculations, but because the launch from Earth orbit would have been anti-climatic.

There's a lot more that goes into a NASA Mars mission than science and engineering. They need marketting and politics as well. They will also need a spectacular launch with lots of fire works. I would suggest just strapping on some solid fuel boosters from the space shuttle, but they may want more control than that.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027404)

Deep space exploration via robotic probe is not sexy. A mission to Mars, a la...well..Mission to Mars, is sexy.

Clearly you didn't see Mission to Mars, or as we put it when we saw it, "Mission To Take My Eight Bucks".

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

GreggBz (777373) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027414)

Well, I certainly agree. Real science can be very provocative however. Many recent missions have made headline news because the prospect of life on another world is surely sexy. So are giant glossy pictures from the surface of another world. I don't know many people that don't find that amazing. The Internet has created a new fan base for NASA and the availability of media, images and press-releases keeps them under scrutiny, which is good. (kudos to JPL by the way, I frequent their site almost daily) It could be worse.. or it couldn't. In the 60's we may have been enticed, for better or worse, into the Apollo missions under the guise of science, when really is was about testing our limits and beating the Russians. BTW -- Stephen Baxter's book, Voyage, [amazon.com] is an excellent read and deals with such topics in a compelling science fiction story. It conveys what NASA looks like, smells like and runs like in a very believable way.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

Bob3141592 (225638) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027604)

If NASA wants any funding at all, it has to portray what it does as sexy. Little wonder that manned moon bases and missions to Mars are what they're trying to sell, regardless of the actual feasability of either goal.

Unfortunately, this is correct. It's not NASA's priorities that need internal adjustment, because NASA doesn't control their priorities. They are set by the President and by Congress. Much of NASA's budget is earmarked for specific projects, and they have only limited discretion over the remainder.

NASA needs to do a better job of explaining to the public the benefits of different types of programs, and the cost/benefits of different goals. Robotics and Mission to Earth programs have vastly better ROI than a manned mission to Mars or the ISS or Space Shuttle do (which have essentially no R for a big OI). And even that PR function is controlled by Presidential appointments, hence the recent fundamentalist antiscience scandal.

Re:It's not what makes sense... (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027799)

Space is not sexy. Learning about the universe is not sexy. Learning about anything is not sexy. Fighting terrorism, now THAT'S sexy. Trillions of dollars worth of sexy. Proving once again...sex rules.

Money (4, Insightful)

stlhawkeye (868951) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027215)

People see shuttle launches on TV. And most will, at least, not protest the money being spent. But they might get pissy about billions vanishing into a black hole of government science whose results they cannot watch on TV. NASA's prioritization is, at least to some small degree, a slave to public opinion. Yet another reason why privitization of the emerging space industries will be helpful. Then, at least, informed people with money can set priorities as opposed to politicians who just want to get elected.

Re:Money (1)

hyfe (641811) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027525)

Then, at least, informed people with money can set priorities as opposed to politicians who just want to get elected.

If you have to resort to corporations, who almost by definition are out to make money short-term, instead of politicians, who are there to build a better society long-term (that's why you voted for'em right? right?) there is something seriously, seriously wrong with your society.

Re:Money (1)

saifatlast (659446) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027839)

If you have to resort to corporations, who almost by definition are out to make money short-term, instead of politicians, who are there to build a better society long-term

Wait, aren't politicians there to get re-elected?

(that's why you voted for'em right? right?) there is something seriously, seriously wrong with your society.

For one thing, I didn't vote for them (at least not the ones who represent me) but more importantly, if I don't agree with any of the candidates, it's either not vote or vote for the best one. Neither of those choices will change anything. What's so great about your society?

Re:Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027556)

But they might get pissy about billions vanishing into a black hole of government science whose results they cannot watch on TV.

There's far too many research results to be shown on TV. So they made a website [nasa.gov] . And that's just the stuff they could make public. NASA does a lot more than throw up rockets.

Re:Money (1)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027787)

Informed people with enough money to back something of this magnitude are as hard to find as any other type of mythical creature.

They're thinking creatively enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027223)

to know, as Mr. Easterbrook appears not to, that you do what the military tells you to do. Then tell the media whatever the hell you want.

MOD PARENT INSIGHTFUL (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027541)

You can't launch and repair secret spy satellites with a space probe. That's why the Shuttle will continue until there's a replacement.

Re:They're thinking creatively enough (1)

gwait (179005) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027784)

Exactly. Why a space shuttle/station/moonbase? Bush wants the military in space before the Chinese get there. A president who thinks pre-emptive nuclear strikes are ok, would have no problem filling the heavens with space weaponry and a shuttle full of cowboys to maintain military supremacy.
The manned Mars mission is not likely to ever happen, but it's a great cover story for an overblown moon base.
Lets hope the Democrats get a real candidate for the next US president!

Is NASA really necessary? (0, Troll)

landrol (867339) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027228)

I think NASA has out lived its usefullness. Back in the day (1960's) they had a firm mission, even the shuttle was born out of that era. Now what do they do? Send a few robots to some planets that we will never go to, becuase they don't have the funding to even think about designing a craft to go there. They have these big dreams, but still live in the 60's. I guess I watch too much Star Trek..

New NASA to-do list (-1, Troll)

deathbyzen (897333) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027258)

1. Steal Martian underpants
2.
3. Profit!!!

Re:New NASA to-do list (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027622)

This may not have been modded offtopic had you put in step 2 as "2. ???". It may have been modded funny instead.

Congress controls their budget (5, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027274)

The US congress controls NASAs budget. No, they don't just tell them how much money they're going to get. They have control down to the line items. Shuttle boosters and whatnot are made in certain peoples home states and you'll have a really hard time reallocating that money, even if the folks at NASA want to do so from top to bottom.

Here's an experiment: Find out what state NASAs big dollar items come from. Then look at who is on the committe that controls the NASA budget and what state they are from. Look for correlations. After that, we can talk about priorities at NASA.

Re:Congress controls their budget (-1, Troll)

john82 (68332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027332)

MOD PARENT UP.

Then, rescind parent's Slashdot account for thinking through the issue and making sense.

Re:Congress controls their budget (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027706)

gr8

  Here is the first part of the experiment you suggested. It turns out that the appropriations committee that handles Nasa's budget has experience some serious changes this year and as such we may see so new "spending" habits with future budgets, who knows. However, the individuals that currently sit on the appropriations committee responsible for NASA as of March 2006 is as follows:

Link to committee membership source
http://www.planetary.org/news/2005/0323_US_Congres s_Reorganizes_Committees_to.html [planetary.org]

Link to Nasa Budget
http://www.nasa.gov/about/budget/AN_Budget_04_deta il.html [nasa.gov]

Nasa Appropriation Committees

Senate Committee on Appropriations
Full Committee:
Thad Cochran (R-MS) Chair,
Robert Byrd (D-WV) Ranking

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science:
  Richard Shelby (R-AL) Chair,
  Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Ranking

House Appropriations Committee
Full Committee:
Jerry Lewis (R-CA) Chair,
David Obey (D-WI) Ranking

Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies:
Frank Wolf (R-VA),
Alan Mollohan (D-WV) Ranking

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Full Committee:
Ted Stevens (R-AK) Chair,
  Inouye (D-HI) Ranking
Subcommittee on Science and Space:
Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-TX), Chair
Bill Nelson (D-FL) Ranking

House Committee on Science
Full Committee,
Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) Chair,
Bart Gordon (D-TN) Ranking

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics:
Ken Calvert (R-CA), Chair -
Mark Udall (D-CO) Ranking

Nasa Budget:

See Link (PDF Warning)
http://www.nasa.gov/about/budget/AN_Budget_04_deta il.html [nasa.gov]

It's Marketing (3, Insightful)

nightsweat (604367) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027278)

If a bunch of engineers and hard scientists got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget most effectively, we'd see only automated missions. The data gathered would be wonderful, it would be efficient, and their budget would be cut in half the next year by Congress.

Manned exploration is the sizzle that sells the steak. You have to keep a manned program going to keep the short-attention-spanned taxpaying pinheads interested in space. If space is just drones and bots flying off to take soil samples and collect space dust, the money will get diverted to a subsidy to study how pet monkeys could be used to deliver nuclear warheads to a target or some other stupid Pentagon project.

Re:It's Marketing (1)

darkwing_bmf (178021) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027381)

Manned exploration is the sizzle that sells the steak.

The sizzle is too expensive to justify the cost, even if the steak is really good. For budget sanity reasons, I'd prefer a totally unmanned space program. But even if losing the manned space program destroys NASA as a government agency, Universities and other research institutions can still launch space probes on comercial rockets, so it wouldn't be a total loss.

Re:It's Marketing (2, Interesting)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027598)

If a bunch of engineers and hard scientists got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget most effectively, we'd see only automated missions.

Speak for the hard scientists. If a bunch of engineers got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget next year, we'd see nothing but launch vehicle R&D. Trying to seriously explore the solar system with current vehicles is like trying to explore another continent via catapult.

What's more, we'd see a dozen different companies competing to create those new components, testbeds and launch vehicles, not just because that's how much money NASA's current budget takes up but because that's how you get a working product instead of an X-33. Engineers find it easier to choose between working prototypes than to choose between stacks of paper viewgraphs. It's more expensive in the short run, but the results usually turn out much better.

Re:It's Marketing (1)

bjk002 (757977) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027845)

"to take soil samples and collect space dust"

Ok, I agree, to an extent. But how many times do you need a damned rock to make some significant scientific statement.

I'm kinda tired of hearing:

Well, with this latest sample we discovered that there is definately dust on Mars.

Give me a break. You want probes? Fine. Give me some REAL answers with them.

NASA was never about science (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027315)

Nasa was never about science. It was about putting people on the moon. The science talk is just a nicer lofty goal that hides the real goal: making sure nobody gets control of the moon other than the US.

If you control the moon, you have a major military strategic advantage, the ultimate high ground. You can catapult anything down, anywhere on Earth and nobody can stop you. So NASA's highest priority is making sure nobody gets ahead of the US on this technology.

Science has always been secondary. That was true during Apollo, that's still true now.

Re:NASA was never about science (1)

Bob3141592 (225638) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027657)

Nasa was never about science. It was about putting people on the moon. The science talk is just a nicer lofty goal that hides the real goal: making sure nobody gets control of the moon other than the US.

If you control the moon, you have a major military strategic advantage, the ultimate high ground. You can catapult anything down, anywhere on Earth and nobody can stop you. So NASA's highest priority is making sure nobody gets ahead of the US on this technology.


The moon is not of high military value. Controlling near earth orbit is of much greater strategic value, since travel time to target is very short. Being able to deny your enemy access to geosynchronous orbit is worth something to the military. Until there are massive economic interests on the moon itself, the moon is irrelevant to the military.

Re:NASA was never about science (1)

BodhiCat (925309) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027687)

If you control the moon, you have a major military strategic advantage, the ultimate high ground. You can catapult anything down, anywhere on Earth and nobody can stop you.

Except that they have three days and a clear radar view of the object while it heads towards earth to send up interceptors or evacuate a target population.

Intercontinental ballistic missles that reach their destination in 15 mins. to 1/2 and hour are much more effective and don't requre a big program to get them to their launch point.

how much did other nations pay into the ISS? (3, Interesting)

epaulson (7983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027329)

One of the arguments given for completing the ISS is that other nations have contributed to it, and it would not be in good faith for the US to stop working on it.

How much for us to just buy them out? I suspect much less than the cost of completeing it.
 

Nothing to see here (3, Insightful)

CXI (46706) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027331)

While there are points to be made about how the shuttle is a bad choice for space flight and science isn't getting the funding that's needed, this author clearly doesn't understand all the benefits of manned space flight. I mean seriously, saying that the moon is only interesting to geology postdocs? That all people do in space is to take each other's blood pressure? He clearly lacks ANY knowledge of the science and innovations we gain by reaching new frontiers. One of his references is to a radical writer's article that thinks Apollo missions stopped off it orbit before going on to the moon and fails to understand the concepts of where to get fuel, where to stage equipment and where to practice somewhere relatively close by. Now, not only are blogs spewing crap but "news" sites are too.

Re:Nothing to see here (1)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027660)

While I'm a space junkie (specifically Apollo) as much as the next /.'er, Apollo was primarily a political win with scientific and technological benefits.

That said, yes, the benefits of *getting there* were worth it, but I don't know of any value to the rocks brought back other than for, as the article puts it, geology postdocs.

I'm sure there would be more advances in science and technology in a moonbase and later a launchpad to Mars. The space fanboi in me says "sign me up!", but the realist (who I try to drown out as much as possible) looks at the haze in the sky, the 60 degree temps in January, and any recent picture of New Orleans and thinks that maybe we really should be trying to get our local house in order before opening branch offices.

I'm all for pushing the boundries, and I really want to think my kids or their kids might be able to kick back on a Mars beach, but I think I can speak for most of /. when I say that no one wants to use all that jim-dandy technology to get us to Mars because that's the planet of "last resort", to use the hurricane-related term.

Priorities (4, Insightful)

ChuckDivine (221595) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027335)

One can easily argue our national priorities are considerably out of whack. Easterbrook argues there are better places to spend the money than the projects which have been proposed. He might be right. But it's easy to argue that the proposed projects do have value.

A moon base might not help Mars exploration. But a moon base can begin the process of using lunar resources to support both exploration and human needs on earth. There's more to space than scientific exploration.

The James Webb Space Telescope might focus on the distant universe and questions of esoteric value. Planet finding, on the other hand, will have little real impact on humanity as well, at least in the near future. Both projects do have worth, however.

Of greater interest to me is comparing NASA funding to other things our society does. Back in October the Washington Post proposed canceling Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, and cited the need for health care for poor children as a worthier alternative. What few people recognize is that health care spending in the U.S. is 100 times the NASA budget. Health care spending is also increasing annually at multiples of the NASA budget. If poor children aren't getting decent health care, that's the fault of the health care industry, not NASA.

NASA, while far from perfect, does appear to be struggling to improve and is making some progress towards that end. It would be nice if other American activities -- for example education -- showed the same kind of work at improvement.

Shuttle has popular backing, Science doesn't (1)

Glasswire (302197) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027339)

Unfortunately what I mean by popular backing is influencial Senators and Congress men protecting jobs and investment in several sites all over the country. Lean mean, robotic science projects don't generate this kind of big permenent infrastructure which drives it's own lobby in Washington.

Gregg Easterbrook (2, Interesting)

wiredog (43288) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027351)

Also writes a weekly column [nfl.com] on NFL football during the season.

Re: NASA Priorities Out of Whack? (2)

Righ (677125) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027495)

That's a recent, but not the most egregious case of near-sighted budget failures within NASA. All the science programs are being gutted, despite them having been the most successful and cost effective programs in the current space sector. Dawn stood out because it would have returned a mere $30 million to the coffers, the bulk of the $370 million budgeted for the mission having already been spent. Obviously you have to get your $30 millions here and there if you want to save a few billion to increase spending for the manned spaceflight program, however, it looked farcical to throw away $340 million already spent and a mission within months of launch in order to get that particular $30 million.

Dawn may have stood out in that regard as an obvious budgetary foul-up, but its indicative of a culture within NASA of administration that appears to be pandering to the short-term will of elected politicians rather than medium to long term human goals. There's necessity there of course, in that the survival of much of the public science in NASA is in the hands of the politicans, but we currently appear to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. When you cancel a science program, you not only lose the science that you fought to get funding for, but you send a message back to the bean counters that they spent however many billions of dollars on projects that never came to fruition. If you want to build central governmant distrust of science funding, this is a good way to do it.

I agree (1)

Edward Ka-Spel (779129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027594)

In fact, we never should have left the Caves. And I will never forgive those ancients that originally left the water to live on the land.

You're going to love the Moon Base then (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027632)

as we use it to send rockets to Mars.

After all, people forget that NASA's height of popularity was when we were bogged down in an endless pointless war that we were losing, as the nation went bankrupt. A generation of kids grew up plastered to the TV set at each Moon launch.

Deja Vu.

More stadium exhibitions of gladiatoral combat for the masses.

Now, if we could just capture one of those eight-armed Martian Beasts, we could really have a show!

Easterbrook's priorities wrong (3, Insightful)

drwho (4190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027634)

Easterbook just doesn't get it. Earth observation is nice, but it can be done with existing technology - commercial space satellites, high atmosphere observation balloons and planes. It doesn't require the scientific and organizational might that NASA embodies. The moon base does have uses. Firstly, there is the study of human phisiology in space. Second, there is the construction of telescopes and sensors of various types to give us a much better understanding of space. Third, is the mining of HE3 (heavy helium) for propulsion purposes. Fourth, is a platform for other space operations. It is going to be expensive. No doubt.

I agree that the space shuttle is a problem. But I don't understand why he brings up the two disasters seen on TV. It is as though he thinks that the real disaster was the PR problems which resulted. If that is the case, he is only making it worse. What we need is a redesigned shuttle. The Shuttle is out of date. There are new technologies that could be harnessed to make it better. In addition, there is the very real problem that the shuttles wear out. They may be reusable, but that doesn't mean they are going to last forever.

I want to see more funding on long term programs, the far-out stuff like NERVA, anti-gravity, and the like. These are the kind of programs that NASA was chartered for.

Long range plans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15027645)

Why were the wooden boats that sailed across the oceans funded?

We're living in the "bland" era of quarterly plans and short-term profits. And that era is rapidly coming to and end. If we don't start figuring out the technology, psychological and physiological implications for non-earth colonies then we won't be able to accomplish them when we need them. Which, at our current rate of resource consumption, won't be more than 20 years.

What do we want to be able to do in 50 years? A hundred? Not a "far out" question for younger generations who will, after advances in genetics (as in knowing how we damage ourselves) and bio-technology will likely be "middle-aged" then. We could choose to leave a good legacy...

Re:Long range plans... (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027716)

Why were the wooden boats that sailed across the oceans funded?

To cut the cost of shipping spices back to the Spanish? That's my guess. It's a direct benifit that people can understand. Now, tell me why Joe Sixpack should care about the origins of the universe and tell him how he can benifit from this knowledge.

Maybe NASA needs better salesmen (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027688)

The budget cuts wouldn't be so easy if Joe Sixpack understood what NASA was doing. If NASA could come out and show more end products that produced a better "wow" factor Joe would back them more.

Most people don't see the value in collecting comet dust. But if you show them something that NASA R&D is doing for them today they might buy into it more.

Government budgeting is a popularity contest. Give the people something they can get behind and support, not technobabble they don't care to understand.

If NASA could show the direct effect the have on earthbound technology people would want more. Maybe we can get Al Gore to claim that NASA invented the Internet.

Gregg Easterbrook on nfl.com (0, Offtopic)

RainbowSix (105550) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027721)

If you like this article and you also like the NFL (American Football) then you may like his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column on nfl.com that he contributes during the regular season. His articles are NFL related but have a touch of science and math to them. They are also generally fun to read.

Nasa should take the Wright Brothers approach and (1)

spindleguy (931475) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027724)

jump on the Space Elevator [squidoo.com] bandwagon. C'mon Nasa get back into being pioneers and not just an employment agency for PHd's!

Official NASA Mission Statement (2, Informative)

rabun_bike (905430) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027743)

NASA Mission Statement

  • To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.
  • To advance human exploration, use, and development of space.
  • To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.


http://naccenter.arc.nasa.gov/NASAMission.html [nasa.gov]

I think I'm with NASA on this one (1)

Expert Determination (950523) | more than 8 years ago | (#15027746)

Preventing comet strikes would give taxpayers a return on their money...
Eh? It's the precise opposite. Creating a public fear of impacting comets or asteroids sounds like a classic example of a cash cow that would allow NASA to leech money from taxpayers.
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