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You tell me. (0, Troll)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15499958)

It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?

I don't know. Do you? Is it more functional yet?

You tell me, as soon as you know, and not a moment sooner.

Great, so we're back to the early 80s (-1, Troll)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 8 years ago | (#15499975)

This is progress?

Re:You tell me. (1, Interesting)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500069)

Ah well, you've been modded troll right off the bat, but my very first reaction to the blurb was:

Yeah, now it's "more functional," but if it blows up that will turn into "pressured into reducing safeguards to appear more functional."

Only time will tell.

KFG

Silly moderators :-) (0, Offtopic)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500450)

Slashdot sure is funny. I never expected to be modded troll for this. It's as if the moderators actually believe NASA, as if I had dissed a bunch of girl scouts or spelling bee contestants. Sure surprised me. Flamebait maybe, or even funny, but troll? Sheesh. I guess it just shows to go ya that slashdot is more fun than digg.

Re:Silly moderators :-) (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500465)

Well, I have been relegated to join you in the "Shut the fuck up" corner. Looks like a decent enough place to bang your head against the wall; and if the damn thing does blow up or something I'll buy you a beer, or something.

KFG

Re:You tell me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500131)

What the fuck is with these CSS changes, now the fucken comments link from the main articles is on the right hand side! CUNTS!

Re:You tell me. (2, Funny)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500232)

It's more functional when the Shuttle tank clears the launch tower.

Private industry seems slow (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 8 years ago | (#15499970)

After all the buzz about X-Prize contestants and brave space entrepreneurs, it seems like we're back to just complaining about NASA's ineffectiveness. Why hasn't the private industry boomed?

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

HotBlackDessiato (842220) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500002)

It's not private industry's fault....there's just a slight shortage of Burt Rutans in the world currently.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500009)

Because the winner of the X-Prize just took the money and then went on speaking tours. If Rutan had actually started offering black sky flights after he won the X-Prize we'd see some motivation by others to offer similar flights. Instead, everything is trying to come up with their own stunt to best Spaceship-One.

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500122)

Because the winner of the X-Prize just took the money and then went on speaking tours.

Because his program needs the money?

I've been trying to put together a RAAM team. This will require what for me is a lot of money. To form the team and compete successfully I need to be home training, forming and training my crew, putting together the gear, planning strategy and tactics, etc.

To get the money I need to be away from home, giving talks, courting sponsors, making public appearances for the benefit of my sponsors, etc.

If you know how I can get 14 day weeks while everyone else remains on the common 7 day system, I'm all ears.

Or you could just send me a really big check.

Let's say I pull all of this off, actually win the race (not really possible as a rookie) and collect the prize money. That will mean I've made. . .about negative $20k.

Collecting prize money typically offsets some of the losses. It doesn't actually return a profit. "Profit" comes from. . .

Going out on the speaking tours, courting sponsors, etc., to stump up more money for the next race.

Or you could just send me a really big check.

Post one to Burt while you're at it. He needs one.

KFG

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500176)

Here's a really novel idea about how Rutan could make money: offer black sky flights on Spaceship One. According to the Virgin Galactic web page [virgingalactic.com] they go for about US$200,000 each. At that price you'd expect Rutan would have started flights two weeks after he won the X-Prize. What'd he do instead? He put Spaceship One in the Smithsonian. WTF? The old Spaceship One FAQ (prior to the X-Prize win) has this to say:


How much will it cost to get a ride into space?
Rides will not be offered in SpaceShipOne. The price of a ride will have to take in consideration the cost of certification and establishing an airliner-like operation. One goal of this research program is to see how low it might be without the burden of regulatory costs. At program completion we will have good data for operational costs and may publish them.


Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot. Then get them to sign a waiver as long as you're arm and you'll still have enough rich jerks with $200k each lining up to keep you flying two flights a day, every day, for the next five years.

Speaking of five years, when will Virgin Galatic be offering flights? Who the hell knows. Their web site says:

By the end of the decade, Virgin Galactic - the most exciting development in the story of modern space history - is planning to make it possible for almost anyone to visit the final frontier at an affordable price.


Surely they don't mean US$200k, so how long will it take to go from that to an "affordable" price? 5 years? Can't be, that would mean they have already started flights. 3 years? Sweet, so they'll start flying next year? Don't count on it.

Re:Private industry seems slow (5, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500249)

Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot.

With that strategy they should have people all ready to fly next week, eh?

Perhaps the people running the private space programs know something about the legalities and economics of running a private space program that you don't?

Here's something for you to try that might teach you about some of the problems involved:

Start an America's Cup racing team. Try financing it, after the race, by giving people rides on the boat. That will require you to have a commercial captain's license, but maybe you can get around that by requiring that all of your paying passengers have commericial mates licenses and, officially at least, sign them on as crew. When someone offers you five grand to give a talk and introduce you to some potential sponsors tell 'em to go to hell. You don't have time for that, you have a business to run.

Good luck.

KFG

Re:Private industry seems slow (3, Insightful)

Mad Marlin (96929) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500347)

If I had $200,000+ to blow I might actually consider blowing it on a spaceflight, and sign a crazy wild waiver (the ones that say in 24pt font at the top, "IF YOU ACTUALLY SIGN THIS THEN YOU ARE CRAZY"), and get a pilot's license, etc. I wouldn't blow that on a boat, much less a boatride, even if it did win some stupid race. It is going into space that people would pay for, not SpaceShipOne(TM) in specific. Even if each flight cost $5,000,000, there are people who would pay $7,500,000 for it, which means profit.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500409)

I wouldn't blow that on a boat

Well, that's cool then, 'cause that won't even get you in line for a used one.

Tell ya what, since you're interested in space, not boats, why don't you take the direct approach and get in touch with Burt and arrange to run his passenger flights for him, at your expense, your profit. A lease agreement, just like with . . .an airline.

Piece of cake and lots of money to be made. You're just one signed passenger away from being a millionaire.

But you might well find that the very first step you have to take after inking the deal is to hold a press conference and then go on a speaking tour to stump up your startup money and find your first passenger. If you don't simply have a godzillion dollars from somewhere, that's . . .how . . .it's . . .done.

It doesn't matter whether it's boats, or bikes, or cars, or space ships. That's a McGuffin. It's a business; and one reliant on continuing cutting edge R&D at that. Go read a history of Henry Ford. It's exactly the same deal.

And Henry had to quit designing cars to run his car company.

Do you really want Burt Frickin' Rutan to have to quit designing just to play footsie with some rich twits?

I thought that was the initial complaint.

KFG

Re:Private industry seems slow (3, Insightful)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500255)

Yeah, well, the same people who can afford to blow $200,000 dollars on a 30 minute vacation can, by extension, afford REALLY good lawyers. Or, rather, whoever inherits their money after they die in a fiery ball can afford really good lawyers. Faced with someone with enough money, even winning the lawsuit would be almost as expensive as winning it, 10 meter long waiver or not. Frankly, I am amazed than anyone is willing to even make a go at this as a business. Virgin has a chance simply because they have the cash to survive a few court appearances, but any smaller company? not a hope.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

Bitsy Boffin (110334) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500331)

At that price you'd expect Rutan would have started flights two weeks after he won the X-Prize. What'd he do instead? He put Spaceship One in the Smithsonian. WTF?
A test pilot made 2 sub orbital space flights in it, that doesn't in any way mean that it's a good idea to make a 3rd. SS1 would not have been suitable for offering paid flights, simply, it wasn't safe to do so.

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500414)

Then it's my opinion, and the opinion of many others, that Rutan had no right to claim a win for the X-Prize in that case. The purpose of the prize was to encourage the development of a vehicle that could be used for space tourism. Obviously that's not Rutan's fault, the X-Prize rules should have been more specific, but if Virgin Galactic starts making flights some time soon, everything will be forgiven.

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500836)

Actually didnt *two* pilots make *three* suborbital flights between them? Nitpicking maybe, but still....

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

Radak (126696) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500896)

Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot.

Think about this. SpaceShipOne seats two. SpaceShipTwo (the passenger version) seats 11. If we assume the profit flying 11 is, say, $50,000 per person, then the cost to fly the thing is $1,500,000. You can't fly one person for a reasonable price. All the safety comments people have made aside, it's just not economical to fly a single passenger.

...you'll still have enough rich jerks with $200k each lining up to keep you flying...

What makes you think people who are interested in investing in the fledgeling space travel industry are automatically jerks?

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500948)

It may be *more* profitable to fly 11, but it certainly isn't unprofitable to fly 1. Unless you think it cost Rutan $200k per launch, which is just crazy.

As for the jerk comment, don't take my comment out of context. What I said was that even if you put a dozen barriers up and charged an obscene amount of money you'd still make a profit. For a passenger to make it through that kind of filter they would have to be unusually determined, and when people like that are put into regular, not challenging, situations, they typically behave like jerks.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Informative)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500136)

Isnt that what Branson is doing with Virgin Galactic, offering that kind of flight?
And using technology he got from Scaled Composites too (IIRC)

Private space industry booming, profitable... (4, Insightful)

patio11 (857072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500023)

... in the one field that using space makes sense in: launching satellites. What private industry is not doing is throwing billions down the money hole to examine, e.g., the effect of weightlessness on spiders. Thats because private industry doesn't get new billions every year even if it had a string of failures and no successes for the last N years.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500075)

Because private industry is motivated by short term profit, and the benefits of a space program are all long term (or non-profitable - "pure" science like astronomy is of no commercial value).

Let's say you want to build a solar power plant in space, or a mining operation on the moon or in the belt, or an orbital facility for producing materials that require vacuum and/or free fall. The startup costs are immense, and it'll be decades before you see a profit. Why invest the money in it now when you could put it somewhere else that'll turn a profit sooner and more reliably? That's how the free market works after all, money takes the path of least resistance, and that's why private industry fairs poorly at anything long term. Government agencies can be short sighted too, but they aren't required to make a profit, and so while they are often ineffecient, they can do things no industry has the patience for.

Half the benefit to space travel is to the whole of mankind; a chance to spread beyond our home world, and a pathway to greater understanding about the universe. These things aren't appealing to the private sector. The other reasons for going to space - valuable resources such as those in the belt, abundant solar energy, technological offshoots that come from developing better craft, etc - those aren't easy enough to turn a quick buck on.

When space technology progresses to the point where low earth orbit is easily accessable, then and only then will the private sector step up and start seriously considering offworld activities such as the ones mentioned above. Remember that it was government agencies, not the private sector, that made satelites possible, and yet now that putting satelites in orbit is easy you have plenty of commercial applications springing up. The public sector paved the way for satelites, and the communications companies took advantage of that when it became cheap enough. And even the X-prize craft were following what had already been done by NASA, they were just finding new ways of doing it.

Re:Private industry seems slow (1, Troll)

colenski (552404) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500156)

What you say is very true, however, you have to contrast this with the vagracies of political will and pandering to voters in districts that make components for the US space program. This is why the Shuttle, the ISS, and NASA in general is such a frigging mess. Say what you will about the "independence" of NASA's program in getting buckets of money and given license to pursue pure science, there's something to be said about free market economics in terms of getting shit done.

'Cause they do.

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Interesting)

RsG (809189) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500189)

Oh, I'm not denying NASA's political woes and faults. Nor am I denying that in some cases private industry gets things done effeciently. But the conditions that the private sector needs in order to operate are fairly limiting.

In the future, assuming we don't die out or go back to the dark ages, I have no doubt that there will be private exploitation of offworld resources. There will come a time in the next few decades where building factories in orbit to take advantage of abundant energy, vacuum and free-fall will be profitable, and where space based power plants are a reality. In the long run the belt and the moon will be open for commercial mining.

But in the meantime the costs are too high, so the only private enterprise in space is the satelite business. To expand beyond that requires cheap reusable lauch vehicles, or a space elevator, plus a thousand other minor technical problems that must be solved to make space accessible. And to really get the most out of a private space program we'd probably need other related advancements in fields like robotics. These advances won't come from the private sector, because the time it would take for an investment to pay off is measured in decades, and investors aren't that patient.

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Interesting)

monoqlith (610041) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500243)

You have a lot of very good points, but the fact remains that the market is exceptionally good at producing advances simply because it is dynamic in a way that federal agencies are not and will never be. Technological advances become exponential - one innovation by one competitor will spawn a slew of innovations elsewhere. So while private companies are motivated by profit in the short term, just by their nature they produce incremental advancers towards long term goals. Moreover, there are other industries where private companies compete where the cost of entry and overhead are *huge* - the airline industry for instance, where purchasing and maintaining a fleet of aircraft costs *billions*, yet the government still makes it (sometimes) attractive to compete in the industry, and there are plenty of airlines. If the government provided the same incentives to compete in space industry, I think we'd have seen a lot more progress by now. NASA is a dangling relic of the Cold War - it needs to be down-sized to just the components where there is no conceivable private interest to accomplish the same goals, as you say pure science research, etc. If the shuttle program were canceled and the technology spun off to private corporations, I think we could see a lot more advances in the immediate goal of making space travel affordable and just as commonplace as airline travel. NOt to mention, it would really help our deficit.

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500294)

Airlines are a bad point of comparison. They're generally seen as profitable (and by and large they have been, though many have hit trouble more recently), they use existing, well understood technology, and they replaced much older methods of long range travel that predated them.

Space travel isn't profitable yet. People aren't going from point A to point B and crossing outer space in the process - to profit from space, you must go from the ground to orbit, and bring something back that's worth the trip. Space is mostly empty, and gravity is a strong barrier to entry.

Space travel technology isn't both cheap an reliable yet. Cheap rockets make the satelite business possible, but reliable, reusable craft capable of attaining orbit with a signifigant payload are incredibly expensive (the X-prize craft didn't meet those qualifications, though they were cheap and reusable). Airplanes existed for years before the formation of airlines, and jet propulsion existed for a long time before jetliners were brought into widespread service. It was largely factors like military R&D that made modern airlines possible - jets were weapons before they were anything else.

Lastly, we were traveling from Europe to North America (to give two examples) for centuries before planes were invented. The pathway was already there, and already profitable and useful. Airlines slowly but surely superceded ships as the means to travel long distances. Centuries from now we might have an equivalent in space - if we start with ion drives and later develop fusion propulsion, that would be similar - but right now we're at the stage where intercontinental travel was in the medieval period.

The private sector needs an incentive to go to space. All they have now is the satelite business. Why should they feel the need to go any further than that? There isn't anything to be had up there yet, at least not at the prices they're willing to pay. A billion dollar airliner fleet isn't that expensive if it makes 100 billion in airfare after all. What incentive is there to drop a few billion dollars on space craft when it will take another decade of R&D before they can turn a profit?

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Insightful)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500349)

So...

I think that means the goverments need to create ways of processing high-value or otherwise impossible to produce goods (or information) in space, from materials available in space. If industry can see a proven way to make money from it, you couldn't stop them finding a way to get there.

I guess some "killer app" or process that needs weightlessness or vacuum (or both) to work... maybe some high temperature manufacturing process... oh, like producing titanium or osmium or tungsten or something... from an asteroid or moon mine... possibly using a process significantly cheaper than traditional methods ("free" energy fromthe sun, easy access to a vacuum source, etc).

1) Produce a small scale test processing plant for the ISS (another pod)
2) Produce a larger manufactuing plant in orbit
3) Locate a suitable source of ore
4) Figure out a way to mine it*
5) Send processed loads back to Earth
6) Profit!

*TBD

Or something like that. Govt could JV a demonstration pod for ISS.

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500401)

Yeah, that sort of thing been proposed. There are actually dozens, if not hundreds, of useful commecial applications of space travel that would work if even low orbit were easily accessible.

Off the top of my head, there are materials that can be made easily in space like Aerogel, which is incredibly valuable here in earth. Google it or look it up in Wiki to see what I mean - this stuff has amazingly useful properties, and weighs next to nothing. Mass producing it would mostly be a matter of getting a facility into orbit at a reasonable cost.

There are abundant and accessable metal resources in the belt, due in no small part to the lack of differentiation in asteroids - heavy metals on earth mostly sunk into the core during the planet's formation, whereas in a floating rock the different materials are more evenly distributed. Getting at those materials would require either extensive automation or much better life support technology - the belt is slightly further away than Mars, and we haven't even gotten that far yet. We'd also need to be able to get heavy equiptment into orbit, and we'd need long range in-system propulsion, such as an ion drive. Putting a waystation in orbit around Mars, or on one of the Martian moons, would make this easier - call it a steeping stone.

If we don't want to go that far, the moon also makes a good choice, and it has oxygen already present as well. That solves the range problem, but adds another trip out of a gravity well going the other way. Another stepping stone possibility is the Lagrange points in between the earth and the moon. Additionally, if we are ever able to use He3-D fusion power, the moon is our nearest fuel source.

Apart from that, there's the prospect of putting solar plants and more conventional factories in orbit. Solar power in space suffers none of the drawbacks of solar power on the ground, and we can build the power plant as large as we like. If the lauch costs were low enough, we could easily move our polluting industries away from any and all ecosystems, perhaps using the belt for raw materials and shipping only finished products back to earth. The aforementioned Lagrange points in the earth-moon system would be a good place to put them. Given that those industries would never have to worry about the cost of complying with the EPA again, they might well volunteer for a chance to move away. A whole new type of outsourcing would begin :-P

All of these have the common problem of being too expensive yet, which means in practice that we need to go about the R&D in the meantime using tax dollars. In the long run, I suspect there will always be a NASA equivalent, if only for the pure science side of things, but it'll take a strong incentive and a cheaper launch vehicle to put private industry up there in numbers. Had we never done all the space research of the 60's and 70's, we wouldn't have the satelite industry of today.

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500867)

to profit from space, you must go from the ground to orbit, and bring something back that's worth the trip.

That "something" is your passengers and their memory of their experience. Instead of air liner, think cruise liner.

Re:Private industry seems slow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500709)

A company rep told me they set up atmosphere processors, even though it takes decades to establish a "shake-and-bake colony." Weyland Yutani isn't private industry?

Re:Private industry seems slow (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500081)

Why hasn't the private industry boomed?

Because it loses money?

KFG

Re:Private industry seems slow (4, Insightful)

unixluv (696623) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500418)

it seems like we're back to just complaining about NASA's ineffectiveness.

Most people don't understand NASA. NASA does what most other people think is impossible. I'm sorry if it takes a little longer.

And it takes longer because Congress decides how much money NASA gets, in large part, from year to year. Would you buy a new car or new house if you don't know if you can make the payments next year?

And lastly, many of NASA's projects go on for decades. NASA had a big involvement with the development of the F-22 Raptor, [nasa.gov] designed the variable-sweep wing on the F-14, [nasa.gov] the hypersonic X-43, which made the world speed record, [nasa.gov] and has a sucessful Mars program. [nasa.gov] Now how many private companies would be willing to take these projects on, when most people think it couldn't be done?

Re:Private industry seems slow (1)

HotBlackDessiato (842220) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500633)

NASA had a big involvement with the development of the F-22 Raptor, designed the variable-sweep wing on the F-14...Now how many private companies would be willing to take these projects on, when most people think it couldn't be done?

I have no idea of course, maybe the private companies which designed and built them. The nice nasa logo you see on their tails indicates they've been delivered for test. You're confusing a 'consultative, seting of specifications' role with the actually doing. Yes, the mars rover is the exception.

Nasa does create some good your tax dollars at work type public relations linkage though. It's had an effect.

ps. the variable-sweep homework was a real bitch with nothing to go on but looking over a f-111's shoulder.

What pace were you expecting? (2, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500552)

Private industry is making significant steps. After winning the X-prize in fall of 2004, Rutan estimated that it would take about 4-5 years until SpaceshipTwo was ready for regular flights. That schedule still looks reasonable, with the first flight around 2008, and passenger flights around 2009. Furthermore, several other groups [economist.com] are continuing to work on suborbital vehicles to compete with Virgin Galactic, including XCOR and Blue Orgin. Bigalow is progressing far better than people expected and will be launching a proof-of-concept space station shortly (russian launcher). SpaceX had their first launch recently, and while it failed, this is normal for new rockets. They are making good progress, and still have enthusiastic customers. Not to mention all the established private industry like Orbital Sciences, who are great guys and consistently do good work.

This stuff takes time - it took Nasa time, and while these entrepreneurs have Nasa's mistakes to learn from, they also have a much smaller budget. What they are achieving with that budget is impressive. I am really looking forward to seeing these people start making money off the suborbital rides, so they have a solid revenue stream for more development. Of all the plans Bigalow's is the most risking, and most interesting. If he can create a profitable space hotel - if he can do for LEO space stations what Orbital Sciences did for satellite lauches, then the government can just rent whatever space they need from him, and get it's manned space program back to what it should be doing - pushing the boundries on human colonization, not draining money on the ISS.

Re:Private industry seems slow (3, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500675)

Because there's a limit to what you can do at 100km at suborbital speeds.

Faith in NASA (4, Interesting)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 8 years ago | (#15499996)

My faith in NASA has deminished over the years. I'm only 25, but I can't recall any mission in the last 10 years (well a really public one any way) that didn't have some kind of hiccup. Even the Mars Rovers. But don't get me wrong. I hope this really works well and NASA is getting back on their feet and restoring their image. But when it launches and gets into orbit and there isn't any "Houston we have a problem....'s", then and only then I'll break out the bubbly.

Re:Faith in NASA (4, Informative)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500017)

Even the Mars Rovers

You're kidding me. Yes, there were a few issues, but those things are STILL going. They were designed for, what...a couple months of usage?

I'd call that a big win. You will notice this big win does not owe it's success in any way to the shuttles however.

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500032)

But it wasn't hitchless. I know that things will eventually happen with huge projects, especially in space. But the one rover stopped sending data. That's a big hitch.

Re:Faith in NASA (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500381)

There's no doubt that the Mars rovers are doing a fabulous job. I suspect the engineers intentionally understated the design life to satisfy the bean counters. If the bean counters had known all along that the rovers would last this long (and incur that much more in operations costs), the program might have been canceled or scaled back.

Re:Faith in NASA (2, Interesting)

RsG (809189) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500417)

Nah, it's just a question of probability.

You build something that will almost certainly last 6 months. After 6 months, it will probably last another 8 months. After those 8 have passed, it might last another year if you're lucky. After that year is up, it's anybody's guess.

It's not like they built it to self destruct after it's projected mission time expired. They built it to not FAIL in it's mission time, and anthing beyond that is just fine and dandy.

I've seen electronics that were 50 years old (like old fashioned radios) that still worked. Is that because they were built to last 50 years? Nope. They were built to last maybe ten, and the ones I saw were the lucky few that still worked and hadn't been tossed. Nowdays the equivalents are built to last a year, and might last five if treated well - but the fact they still work after they're projected lifespan still holds.

No, they THOUGHT it would last that long (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500421)

Sure, they left in a margin of error, but... Remember Pathfinder? The only reason Pathfinder died was because the solar cells got tons of dust in them, and there wasn't enough left to power it. They based their estimates on that, and nothing at all else. The mysterious cleaning events they've been having is responsible for the rovers lasting this long (and of course the good engineering that let the rest of the rovers continue to function).

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500530)

All the science that the Mars rovers have done could have been done by a human team in the first day of their expedition.

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

guet (525509) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500606)

All the science that the Mars rovers have done could have been done by a human team in the first day of their expedition.

A human team which would have cost enough to send 30 missions like the rover ones to Mars?

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500624)

and would do 100 times as much science as 30 missions will ever do.

Re:Faith in NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500037)

Theres always a bug with a mission because theres half a billion things that need to work perfectly at the same time in a launch for it to be successful. Every problem is a minor one, usually something that hasnt been considered before. Its a very hard science, and in most cases problems occur in extreme cases that haven't or can't be tested. Every minor detail to be checked also requires alot of money that NASA doesn't have

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

mattkime (8466) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500326)

Lord knows the Apollo missions never had any problems....at least as long as Tom Hanks stays out of it.

Re:Faith in NASA (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500710)

My faith in NASA has deminished over the years. I'm only 25, but I can't recall any mission in the last 10 years (well a really public one any way) that didn't have some kind of hiccup.
Welcome to the real world. I'm 45, I've spent 35 of those years following the space program closely - and I can't think of any missions, manned or no, without some form of hiccup. NASA isn't perfect, never has been, never will be - they are merely closer to that state than virtually anyone else.

Test-Induced or Testless Failure? (5, Insightful)

retrosurf (570180) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500003)

From comp.risks [ncl.ac.uk] :

NASA managers decided on Thursday to skip a launch pad test of the shuttle
    Discovery's redesigned fuel tank because of the risk the test itself could
    damage the tank. The test would have entailed filling the shuttle's fuel
    tank with cryogenic propellants and testing its systems. The fuel tank has
    been the focus of NASA's shuttle safety upgrades since the 2003 Columbia
    accident. [Source: Irene Klotz, NASA to skip shuttle tank test ahead of
    July launch Reuters, 5 May 2006; PGN-ed]

Re:Test-Induced or Testless Failure? (1)

BkBen7 (926853) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500013)

Of course, if we don't test it, then it can't fail them right? *wink* *wink* * *nudge* *nudge*

Amazing that nasa hasn't been held more responsible for astronaut deaths.

Re:Test-Induced or Testless Failure? (1)

nude-fox (981081) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500146)

so thats how we do we dont test things anymore? nasa guy # 1: hey this might go horribly wrong nasa guy # 2: yah but if the test fails it could go explode does nobody here fail to see the irony /flamesuit

Re:Test-Induced or Testless Failure? (1)

hplasm (576983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500935)

Unfortunately true. Looking back over the Apollo program, everything was tested at each possible step, and the problems- which inevitably came up- were then addressed. This new way seems to be driven by beancounters and PR men, afraid of affecting the 'image'- as if it wasn't dented enough.

The pioneers have been replaced by the haberdashers, just like the Ol' West :(

Improvements (1)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500008)

Is this just a safety thing or are there other improvements? Surely there must be, since it was so long ago that the original shuttle was designed? Ligher? Stronger? Better colors?

Re:Improvements (3, Funny)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500125)

"Better colors?"

Now that you mention it...

NASA's PR department has done extensive research over the last 3 quarters and discovered that their audience is strangely disproportionately skewed towards males. In an effort to interest young girls in NASA, the external tank will be repainted in "OMG! Ponies!" pink. There are also plans to take a pony up to ISS. :^)

Re:Improvements (1)

JebusIsLord (566856) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500247)

A giant, pink phalic symbol will certainly make the little girls blush, that's for sure.

Re:Improvements (1)

flooey (695860) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500224)

Is this just a safety thing or are there other improvements? Surely there must be, since it was so long ago that the original shuttle was designed? Ligher? Stronger? Better colors?

Nope. Completely redesigning something like a shuttle fuel tank takes an incredibly long time, not to mention building new ones.

Re:Improvements (1)

Stephen Samuel (106962) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500424)

As Floey said:
Nope. Completely redesigning something like a shuttle fuel tank takes an incredibly long time, not to mention building new ones.

Or, to give you a better idea of just how much work would go into a full redesign, it took them almost a year to OK taking some foam off of the current design. Now, granted, if you were to do a full redesign, a lot of that work could be done in parallel for each modified/new section, but you're still talking lots and lots of engineer months here.

I didn't notice it being gone (2, Insightful)

patio11 (857072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500012)

It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?

I never noticed it wasn't active. I could probably think of a government program that is less relevant to my life than the Shuttle program but it would take me a while. Wake me when manned spaceflight accomplishes *anything* that can't be done better and cheaper either with robots or just on the ground (Tang is a wonderful drink*, but there's no reason to blast someone out of the atmosphere to drink it).

* Yes, I was probably the only person in the entire world who actually had a taste for Tang.

Re:I didn't notice it being gone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500040)

I have a taste for it too. Try making it with boiling water sometime.

Wow, I was wrong about Tang... (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500047)

So after my a blast of nostalgia I just decided to Google for a local seller of Tang (got to be SOMEONE still with a stock, right?) Apparently Kraft sells hundreds of millions of dollars of it every year, 90% of it outside the US (concentrated in Latin America and Asia). I feel so much less alone now.

Re:Wow, I was wrong about Tang... (1)

LostInBrittany (980824) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500527)

Another blast of nostalgia here. Tang was very popular in Spain some years ago. I remember the wonderful taste of red tropical Tang. I don't know what there was inside it, in hot Spanish summers but nothing beats a cold red Tang when you're thirsty... Now it seems gone, you cannot find it neither in Spain nor in France... Now back to your scheduled NASA discussion...

Re:I didn't notice it being gone (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500092)

You're certainly right about the shuttle program, it's a black hole, but let's not bag the whole concept of humans in space ok? If we were to send just one geologist to Mars he could do more science than any of the robots that have been sent their in the first hour of his arrival. That said, manned space flight shouldn't be about science. It should be about conquering and colonizing a new frontier.

Hopefully soon, commercial space flight will focus more on the exploitation of space resources than pure science and we'll really start to see the worth of manned space flight. Then maybe governments can get out of the business of creating launch vehicles and just fund the pure research to use commercially available launch vehicles.

Re:I didn't notice it being gone (1)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500102)

Don't get functional and active confused. Virgins are functional, not active. Viruses are active, not funtional. See part's 2 and 3 of this defintion (more 2 than 3).

Re:I didn't notice it being gone (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500142)

* Yes, I was probably the only person in the entire world who actually had a taste for Tang.

I did. In about 1960.

KFG

Re:I didn't notice it being gone (1)

MidnightBrewer (97195) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500631)

Cheaper, yes, but better? The Mars rovers have taken three years to do something that the average person could do in a couple of days. Keeping people on staff to process that data and issue new instructions for that long isn't going to be exactly cheap, either.

A whole year? (3, Funny)

NPN_Transistor (844657) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500016)

So it took an entire year to decide whether or not to attach a little piece of foam to the space shuttle? Even the development of Windows Vista is going faster than this!

Re:A whole year? (2, Funny)

Slithe (894946) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500099)

Hell, even the development of Duke Nukem: Forever is going faster than this!

Re:A whole year? (1)

Basehart (633304) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500108)

A friend of mine who works out on Sea Launch [boeing.com] from time to time was telling me that insulation has been falling from shuttle booster rockets since day one, and most of it a lot bigger than the piece that damaged Columbia.

It's a shame the insulation issue wasn't nailed a long time ago, but just like building crosswalks on our city streets it often takes a couple of fatalities to make something happen.

Re:A whole year? (1)

Basehart (633304) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500126)

Ahem, shuttle booster rockets should read external fuel tank - my bad (I'm still getting used to this new interface, honest!)

Re:A whole year? (1)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500289)

I've often wondered: Why don't they just leave the foam on the tanks, and also coat the whole shuttle in foam to protect it from the bits that fall off?

I have sketched some concept drawings for my design. With my modifications, the shuttle would look a little like this [herts.ac.uk] .

Its nice, but. (2, Interesting)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500028)

Its nice to see a fully functional space agency again. Sure. But its also worrysome that funding for robotic exploration is being cut to pay for it (Moon to Mars, or next week just the moon). Programs at JPL are scrambling to ensure funding. Yet.. despite all the neat bells and whistles of manned spaceflight, robotics have done more to further knowledge of our universe than any manned mission ever thought about. The astronauts didn't put a telescope on the moon, but they jumped around a lot.

Id post AC, but screw it. Im telling the truth. :)

O

Funding? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500061)

Granted, robotic exploration is great. But why the funding is being cut is the greater question. Can it be that our government, or NASA (not sure which), doesn't care about space exploration as much as it used to? I wonder why.

Machines cannot do everything (2, Interesting)

Slithe (894946) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500130)

It would take plenty of time for a machine to, say, analyze a rock and decide whether or not one should further examine it. A human could do this in a few seconds. Don't just take my word for it, though. Here is a passage from Robert A. Braeunig's Rocket and Space Technology [braeunig.us] page that debunks the Fake Moonlanding Myth:

The moon rocks allegedly collected by Apollo astronauts were actually collected and returned to Earth by robotic spacecraft.

Any mission capable of returning over 800 pounds of rock and soil samples would be a massive, complex and difficult undertaking. If NASA could pull this off, then surely they had the technical know-how to land a manned vehicle. In fact, with an astronaut at the controls, a manned mission would likely have greater odds of success than a robotic mission. Perhaps the greatest case for the Apollo landings exists in the variety of rock samples collected. A robotic mission would be limited to a random collection of samples in the lander's immediate vicinity. However, the Apollo astronauts visited vastly different geological sites and were able to roam about the surface looking for particularly interesting and valuable specimens. For example, it is very unlikely that a robot would have been lucky enough to scoop up the "genesis rock" found by Apollo 15 astronauts. Only trained human explorers could collect the diversity of samples credited to the Apollo astronauts.

NOTE: During the 1970s the USSR successfully completed three lunar sample return missions - Luna 16 (1970), Luna 20 (1972) and Luna 24 (1976) - however these missions returned a grand total of only 301 grams (10.6 ounces) of soil.

Re:Its nice, but. (1)

wjsroot (732775) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500519)

I think one of the biggest reason of why manned space flight is kept around is all of the people who want to be manning those space flights. Think about how many kids want to grow up to be an astronaut... and think about those who are. Its a lot more fun to actually go into space then watch a robot do your job.

Obligatory Armageddon Quotes (1)

gbobeck (926553) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500045)

"You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?" - Rockhound

"Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!" - Lev Andropov

The Biggest Kludge in Engineering History (5, Insightful)

w33t (978574) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500059)

What would have been nice is if the space shuttle had been built as it was supposed to be built. The space shuttle was originally a two part system - not entirely dissimilar to the spaceship one paradigm.

The original specs for the space shuttle entailed the orbiter (pretty much the same as it is today) and a "reusable booster [wikipedia.org] " vehicle. The "booster" was going to be a hybrid jet/rocket [www.abo.fi] about the size of a 747 (which explains why the shuttle fits so nicely on one) and was going to fly right to the edge of space and deploy the orbiter for the rest of the journey.

The idea was scrapped primarily because of budget contraints. It seems likely these cutbacks were brought on by the vietnam war and the civil unrest occuring around the southern states.

It is a fact that both shuttle disasters have in no way been the fault of the orbiter in any way whatsoever. The Challenger was lost due to the booster rocket and the Columbia from the external fuel tank.

IMO - Rotating the shuttle 90 degrees and strapping it onto a big fat rocket is the biggest kludge in engineering history. Now NASA has no choice but to continue to shoe shine that billion dollar...you know what.

I hate it so much because I love the idea of the Shuttle so much. I love how that thing flipping LOOKS! It's the greatest spacecraft in history! But now it's got such a reputation when it was never the orbiter's fault. And now we take a leap backwards and go with a capsule again (yes, it's tried and tested - but so is walking, but it's not the best means of travel).

Citing "technical difficulties" with the booster vehicle idea is a cop-out. If we had built the shuttle with the booster vehicle then I think it likely we would have learned much more than we have about reusability and runway-to-runway space flight. Heck, I venture to speculate we may have solved the single-stage-to-orbit problem already.

Let's just hope we don't get stuck some other war which will sap the budgets out of our technological development...

Re:The Biggest Kludge in Engineering History (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500276)

Why oh why do they turn the shuttle upside down on liftoff ? If it rode high debris would fall away from it.

some other war (4, Interesting)

nido (102070) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500339)

Let's just hope we don't get stuck some other war which will sap the budgets out of our technological development...

You obviously haven't been paying attention. :)

"United States Federal Government on the fast-track to bankruptcy, News at 11"

The only reason "we've" lasted so long with the twin deficits (trade and federal budget) as large as they are is because of the "petro dollar".

Sometime in the 70's, a U.S. president struck a deal with an Arab royal family that was, essentially, "we'll use our military to keep you in power, if you accept our 'dollar' and only our 'dollar' in exchange for your oil."

Even though manufacturing started fleeing the U.S. in the 80's (in response to inflationary pressures at home) and the trade deficit started ballooning, the dollar has held it's ground relative to other countries' currencies. Why? Because the trade partners who were now building "our" stuff for "us" needed the dollar to buy oil for themselves. So, instead of having a "trade" - a U.S.-produced widget for a Tawaineese-produced widget - foreign manufacturers were happy to take a "dollar", because they could go buy a barrel of oil with it.

The petro-dollar has been breaking down for at least 6 years. Saddam said he wanted Euros for Iraqi oil circa-2000. Iran and Venezuela are now moving in the same direction. Who's to blame them? What good is a dollar, if you've already got all the oil you need?

Is it just me... (1)

Wisgary (799898) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500077)

Or are the article summaries getting shorter and stupider all the time?

LOOK OUT MARS, HERE WE COME!!!!! (2, Interesting)

gasmonso (929871) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500079)

Next stop Mars!!! Or the boring old space station AGAIN :(

http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]

Re:LOOK OUT MARS, HERE WE COME!!!!! (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500715)

Next stop Mars!!! Or the boring old space station AGAIN :(
it's only boring to those who mistake sizzle for steak.

In other news... (1)

MeatNoodle (776059) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500085)

...NASA states that the foam used on the tank has not yet been approved for a return to space.

P

NASA and money (1)

Rickler (894262) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500089)

Looks like nasa can't uses that "foam problem" as a way to ground anymore shuttles to save money.

BOOM! (0)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500164)

Why is it that with each passing Shuttle disaster, I look forward more to the resumption Shuttle launches?

What do you expect? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500175)

The tank is a single-use item. Wouldn't it be more risky to use it twice?

It's NO more functional than before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500265)



It's NO more functional than before. It may be safer, but it's still a risky business. From the beginning it was a 1 "bang" per 100 missions.

Better than flying whirly birds in Iraq (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500928)



Better than flying whirly birds in Iraq. Or sitting in a Humvee going down the road. Or heck, reporting the NEWS from there. Guhd Gawd it must suck to be there! 1 in a 100 sounds like pretty good odds.

Only half the story! (2, Funny)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500272)

The summary only mentioned half the story. The tank has been upgraded too. Besides the sensor changes, NASA estimates this tank to be just under a megaton, a substantial improvement in power from the previous airbursts.

Ads in the RSS? (1)

Apraxhren (964852) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500282)

Is this going to be the new thing? Are you that desperate for money to inculde advertising for a summary that consists of 2 sentences?

Specific fuel modifications (1, Funny)

TheDarkener (198348) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500410)

From the NASA website:

"Well basically what we've done is created a hybrid shuttle. Given a Toyota Prius electric motor, we started playing with it. We ended up attaching solar panels to the side of the shuttle, which provide energy to the motor once the shuttle leaves the atmosphere. This provides us with enough remaining government funding to actually launch the ship, with gas prices at THREE DOLLARS AND FIFTY F**KING CENTS, PEOPLE!!"

Shell and Exxon were not available for comment, as apparently the entire executive staff already had a Scrooge McDuck style 'vault swim' scheduled.

Someone has made a typographical error here (1)

Sentri (910293) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500425)

Here, where it says: ""There were no surprises. Everything went smoothly," NASA spokeswoman June Malone said" (fta: http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/space/06/08/space.shu ttle.reut/index.html [cnn.com] )

They obviously meant to say, "Everything went smoothly, We were pleasantly suprised"

Bugs? No - just some Surprises. (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500536)

After redefining bugs as features or issues since time immemorial, programmers now have a new word.

We can all follow NASA's lead and call them surprises in future.

Headline (2, Funny)

ms1234 (211056) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500537)

Am I the only one seeing the headline and thinking: Why did they empty it before launch?

NASA should wait until July 4th to launch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15500551)

That way if the shuttle explodes, they can break the record for the largest firework! Make sure to have Tom Petty's "Free Falling" ready to rip...

Copyright Infringement. (-1, Troll)

Jaruzel (804522) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500579)

At the bottom of the article it clearly says:

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

However the Slashdot summary was a direct cut and paste of the opening paragraph of the article.

I get it now, the secret to getting submissions published on Slashdot is to just rape the text of the originating article for your summary.

-Jar.

Re:Copyright Infringement. (3, Informative)

Alioth (221270) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500879)

You can still quote part of an article without violating copyright. It was properly attributed to CNN, and the summary is a good example of fair use.

...and in other news (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500590)

Bill Gates buys a new computer mouse.

Chicken != Hatched (2, Funny)

Duds (100634) | more than 8 years ago | (#15500592)

It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?

Might want to wait to make that assertion :)
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