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NASA Think Tank to be Shut Down

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the ice-cream-dept-still-intact dept.

NASA 132

Matthew Sparkes writes "NASA will likely shut down its Institute for Advanced Concepts, which funds research into futuristic ideas in spaceflight and aeronautics. The move highlights the budget problems the agency is facing as it struggles to retire the space shuttles and develop a replacement. The institute receives $4 million per year from NASA, whose annual budget is $17 billion. Most of that is used to fund research into innovative technologies; recent grants include the conceptual development of spacecraft that could surf the solar system on magnetic fields, motion-sensitive spacesuits that could generate power and tiny, spherical robots that could explore Mars."

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OH, "Think Tank" (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18429381)

Wow the first time I read it, I thought NASA couldn't decide whether or not to turn off a tank. *Backs away from slownewsday*

Re:OH, "Think Tank" (2, Funny)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429467)

I think that it'd be safe to say that the think tank lost it's foam.

% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (4, Insightful)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429421)

If there is only 1% waste in the NASA budget, they are wasting 170 million per year, and that would be considered a low level waste-fraud-mistake amount.

If it is 0.1% loss that is $17m/yr. So what is with shutting down a program that may yield opportunities for far greater savings and benefits over time?

I suspect more efficiency program work would do better for NASA.

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (2, Insightful)

MattSparkes (950531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429449)

That's true - even 1% wastage is a huge amount, but I suppose that cuts have to come from somewhere. Of course, if you looked at the US budget as whole there may be some other things that could be cut, so that NASA's budget could actually be raised this year.

Can anyone think of anything that the US government is spending money on that it shouldn't?

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (2, Insightful)

EvanED (569694) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429475)

Can anyone think of anything that the US government is spending money on that it shouldn't?

I can think of about $100bn/yr expense that has been going on far a couple years

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1)

OK PC (857190) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429671)

Erm, let me think... IRAQ!

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (2, Interesting)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429849)

"Erm, let me think... IRAQ!" Well IRAQ is not funded out of NASA but that has lots more than $170m/yr wasted you are right.

The irony of war, waste and lost lives, is that the technologies which have been developed in Iraq & Afganistan by the U.S. & its allies from surveillance, guidance, sensors, weapons, language analysis, tactics and human psychology of urban conflict have resulted in abilities and knowledge which will help the industrialized world immensely in being able to find, monitor, stop and minimize potential conflicts through this century.

Learning and applying the lessons and equipment early will save countless dollars and lives ultimately, against a medieval set of ideas based on forced conversion not of just people to their religion, but indeed also the conversion of the entire worlds law and governmental systems to Sharia law.

Defending your and my independence from forced thoughts, religions and governments is necessary, though necessarily "messy" & costly at times.

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430463)

If you think that conflicts are going to stop or be minimized, you are dead wrong, it's only going to get worse, and the only thing we do is find better ways to kill each other.

If we would actually apply the lessons we learn, we wouldn't have wars anymore by now, we can develop all those techniques in a peaceful setting by scientist that would actually create it with a good cause in mind, not by an oppressive government that is just going to use it to survey, guide, sense, analyze their people and weaponize the policing forces, and allow the more sophisticated ways of torture (what you call 'human' psychology of urban conflict) to be used.

The medieval set of ideas you talk about can also be applied to 'mock democracy' and 'Christianity' as well as 'greed' and 'power' in our culture. Your and my independence wasn't threatened by 9/11 (unless you believe whatever the media feeds you) and if it was, we have a constitution for that. If 'we' as Americans are 'so good', trying to free Iraq from oppressive governments, why didn't we free Cuba yet (it's our back door), there is no Soviets interested in Cuba, I don't think anyone except for some drug- and warlords are interested in Cuba anymore, but then again there is nothing to get there *cough*oil*cough* so why should we bother. If some crazy Cuban terrorist (sounds like a character from Command&Conquer: Red Alert) really wants, he can make a rocket out of a Pringles can and reach hundreds of beach whales, I mean American tourists.

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430767)

If you think that conflicts are going to stop or be minimized, you are dead wrong, it's only going to get worse, and the only thing we do is find better ways to kill each other.
Huh? Compared to the first half of the 20th century, the last 60 years have been a cake walk.

I think I agree with the rest of your comment. The only dire threat to our national security right now is he proliferation of nuclear weapons. Obviously we should strive to minimize terrorism as well, but Muslim extremists haven't a prayer of wiping us off the map (except for the aforementioned nukes). An arms race certainly won't reduce the nuclear problem. Proving to Iran that it has every reason to be paranoid by invading its neighbor on false pretenses and hanging its president, on the other hand, is definitely a giant leap in the wrong direction.

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18431021)

That's funny... I thought it was the new Iraqi government that hung Saddam...

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1)

Lord Lemur (993283) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430811)

Cuban Pringles Can Crisis kinda has an appealing ring to it.

On the bright side, we could annex, er... liberate, them then.

Three words:

New Housing Boom!

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (2, Informative)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432425)

[...] against a medieval set of ideas based on forced conversion not of just people to their religion, but indeed also the conversion of the entire worlds law and governmental systems to Sharia law.

Yeah, Iraq was really on the brink of taking over the world...

Sure, they were just about the most liberal and secular Muslim country in the world, but you know, as soon as they'd taken over, BAM! Islamic law everywhere!

You can't lump Afghanistan and Iraq together. The two couldn't possibly have been more different.

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (4, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430137)

Can anyone think of anything that the US government is spending money on that it shouldn't?
Wow. Dude, this is Slashdot, home of foaming-at-the-mouth anarchists and libertarians (among many other categories of people this post doesn't apply to, like tree-hugging granola-crunching Birkenstock-wearing non-showering reefer-smoking hippies).

Are you trolling for replies or seriously asking that question?

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (1, Insightful)

non-Euclidean (1025664) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430161)

Salaries for Congress critters Benefits for Congress critters Retirement pay for Congress critters

Most Fraud Is Located: +1, Helpful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18429879)


at military-industrial-Congressional complex [whitehouse.org] .

Furthermore, N.A.S.A.'s primary agenda is to militarize space for the above group of criminals.

Sadly, the illiterate, innumerate U.S. population is brain dead.

Democratically as always,
Kilgore Trout, C.E.O.

It's brinksmanship (4, Insightful)

yog (19073) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430461)

I suspect NASA is actually playing brinksmanship games here. Cut external programs that cause maximum pain to the loudest voices in the scientific community and somehow this convinces Congress to restore funding allowances. Loudly threaten that we won't have any manned space flight capability for 5 years while the Chinese, Indians, and Europeans ramp up their programs.

No member of Congress is going to begrudge $4 million. It's a drop in the bucket. The average Senator and congressman earmarks more than that for their many pet local projects.

This is a pale shadow of what NASA used to represent: the scientific might of the world's most advanced country, boldly striding into space while the world watched in awe.

Today NASA just exists to keep its patchy old 1970s era shuttles flying, pouring billions into dead end maintenance efforts while the truly innovative efforts are moving to the private sector if not completely to other countries.

Frankly I think the U.S. has lost its will to explore space. Now everything needs to be justified by short term gain. The can-do, beat-the-Soviets mentality that drove us into orbit in the '50s and 60s seems to have been replaced by crass (and ignorant) focus on the bottom line. Of course, those early efforts resulted in massive technological advances, but today everything has to be directly and obviously profitable to even the stupidest politician before it gets any funding.

Let's vote out the war and vote in a $1 trillion increase in science budgets. That's my pet solution to the whole NASA problem.

Re:It's brinksmanship (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18432145)

The U.S. never had a will to explore space. As you said yourself, we had a will to beat the Soviets. Which, I would argue, was a very short-term-gain mindset. We didn't go to space with thoughts of what it might do for the human race someday. We went to space so that we could beat our chests, brag about how we were the greatest nation on earth, and get everyone else to fall in line. And fear of losing that is one of the biggest reasons why we are all afraid to shut down NASA.

Someone else on the thread pointed out issues of waste, and I think that's a huge point. We can dump billions of dollars into science research, but if it's not well spent, that just hurts us more in the end. If we can't cure that disease, I'm sorry, but it's time to chop the limb. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced anyone is trying to cure the disease either. We are just letting it fester.

Re:It's brinksmanship (1)

mahmud (254877) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433575)

If scientist is not doing an obviously bogus stuff, it's very hard to assess whether the research he/she does is actually useless. Science is one of those endeavors where you can't really know where you are going until you actually get there. That's why it's important to fund weird and esoteric research, while keeping the funding levels sane, of course.

Re:It's brinksmanship (1)

gaber1187 (681071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433931)

Good insight, I completely agree, because seriously, 4 million per year or whatever? come on! That's less than one medical research lab will live on in a year... jeez... That funds maybe 10 people at most plus some equipment purchases? Totally just "ok you wanna cut our funding, then we'll cut the cool stuff first".

Re:% of $17B/yr That is Wasted? (2, Informative)

Irvu (248207) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434301)

The problem with NASA isn't a lack of efficiency it is a surfeit of "guidance". Unlike many large budgetary bodies (i.e. the DOD) Congress has taken an express delight in "fine-tuning" parts of NASA's budget over the years through specific mandates. Each mandate sets aside some subset of NASA's overall budget for a selected enterprise out of the control of NASA's administrators. In recent years these mandates have grown increasingly diverse and porcine up to and including a NASA run aquarium.

This has also caused problems in terms of long-term projects (i.e. Shuttle replacements) as, despite pleas from NASA, money that is needed over a period of many electoral cycles to fund such research is constantly redirected. The irony of Congress taking the NASA budget for a shuttle replacement away multiple times and at the same time hauling NASA administrators in to grill them over the costly delays has not been lost on anyone.

What this looks like to me is NASA officials being forced to strip monies from one of the few programs they can still control to fully fund another basic long-term mission. A mission which they are expected to meet despite constant budget cuts.

NASA could make their own budget bigger and have m (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434601)

Like mining NEA's for precious resources; Eventually could pay for itself as well as giving benefits like generating scientific observations about our solar system or accelerating development of sensor, robotic, modular, inter-exchangeable, re-entry technology maybe even having selfpaying offworld refueling sites.
Or renting out real-estate on the ISS; for example a factory module doing some fabrication step for industry/military grade half fabricates. (electronics, crystals, optics, etc)

Re:NASA could make their own budget bigger and hav (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434971)

subject should read [NASA could make their own budget bigger and have more available for pure science.]

Can somebody give us a list... (4, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429429)

...of recent technologies they've come up with that have made it into practical use?

I see the value of research for research's sake, but you've got to come up with things that have a practical use once in a while, even if by accident, otherwise that value goes away...

I'm not saying this lab hasn't come up with such things, but if they have, what are they and why aren't some of them listed in the story summary?

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (5, Funny)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429479)

Tang

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (3, Funny)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430039)

"Memory-foam" mattresses

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433663)

OK, I feel bad about my mattress joke being modded "informative". So here's informative for you. They've apparently researched lots of cool things, from the design of space elevators, to space hotels for astronauts visiting mars. It seems like much of their work is looking at the feasibility of bringing things that seem like science fiction into reality. All their papers are available as .pdf files. I wish I had the time to read them all, but I do plan on reading a few.

http://www.niac.usra.edu/studies/studies.jsp [usra.edu]

Seems to me like it's worth 1/4000th of NASA's budget.

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (2, Funny)

travdaddy (527149) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431923)

Tang

That's a damn good list!

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18430259)

I guess I'll never get my flying car now...

*sigh*

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (3, Insightful)

jim_deane (63059) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430581)


Why would that be important?

If we're looking for ways to do things better 50, 100, 200, 1000 years from now, why would we care about short term "...technologies...that have made it into practical use"?

Jim

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430977)

Because short term technologies are relevant to us while we can contribute little scientifically to what goes on hundreds of years from now.

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (2, Insightful)

vmerc (931519) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431243)

Basic science does not develop "practical" stuff. It discovers and explores the framework under which those practical things CAN occur. The people who do basic science are best at what they do, and there are plenty of other people out there that will take that knowledge and create practical things from it which would not have been possible otherwise. Do not impune the value of a basic science program because it didn't pop out your next technology convenience. Instead, take a look at your cell-phone or your car or your local airport or hospital, and ask "What laboratory developed the theories that made this possible?" Sure your phone might say Motorola on the face, but Motorola didn't figure out how to transmit signals over radio waves.

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431775)

/me hands you a hat that says "Captain Obvious" on the front.

What I'm asking is whether they have done any basic research that has led to practical technology, not whether they themselves have produced anything practical. It stands to reason that if they're doing valuable work than this would happen now and then, and if not then they're not really providing the benefit you describe.

Just because basic science is useful doesn't mean we shouldn't expect some results eventually. I want to know what technology they've enabled. If the answer is 'none', perhaps we should pay somebody else to do our basic science. It is possible, you may realize, to be bad at the basic science. What other metric can we use to judge that?

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

berwiki (989827) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431979)

Velco and Tang were invented FOR NASA's use:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tang_(drink) [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velcro [wikipedia.org]

I cant find the Wikipedia page that lists things NASA actually invented...
(besides some obviously specialized robots and moon-landing movie studios ;)

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18433747)

Not Velcro - here's the first sentence of the History section of the wikipedia article you quoted: "The hook and loop fastener was invented in 1941 by Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer."

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432805)

NIAC has been involved in looking at much larger space and lunar based telescopes. With much of the on the books missions now already off the books, one could see why planning for the future would be getting a lower priority. If you're not really planning on flying the missions you've already spent money on, why dream up new ones. NIAC has also been involved in evaluating some pretty novel propulsion systems as well. Here are a couple http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2004AIPC..699..553M [harvard.edu] and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/exploration/mmb/ antimatter_spaceship.html [nasa.gov] .
--
Aim for the Sun: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (2, Informative)

delepster (599372) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433021)

That's the sole problem with fundamental research. When you do not come up quickly with answers having practical use for ordinary people, your budget gets cut.

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433349)

Quickly?

How long has this lab been around?

List of tech back to 1976 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18433357)

Here's a NASA doc(Spinoff) published each year with some of the things which have come from NASA research.
They have been producing this document yearly since 1976.

http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/ [nasa.gov]

Re:Can somebody give us a list... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434331)

Part of the problem in NASA does a lot of basic pure research that doesn't have the goal of producing anything aside from more knowledge. Basic research isn't sexy it usually incredibly obtuse and very difficult to see how it benefits anything directly because there is not end goal besides lets learn more. Of course without basic research there is no new concepts for latter scientists to come along and create new practical applications. A few things off the top of my head not necesarily related to NASA but still to illustrate the importance of basic research. I imagine there was no idea of any practical use when the speed of light was discovered though now I personally find my GPS rather useful. I doubt any one could foresee the incredible use X-Rays provide daily when they were first discovered.

Thats the problem long term science has always had when it's first being done no one including the people working on it have any idea what it could be good for.

Thnk tanks and this administration (0, Flamebait)

EntropyXP (956792) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429431)

I believe George Bush and his cronies are trying to shut down anything with the word. "think" in it. They fear thinkers.

Re:Thnk tanks and this administration (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429523)

That would explain where this brain dead idea came from.

Re:Thnk tanks and this administration (2, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429707)

Unless of course it's a "Conservative Think Tank." One could argue whether or not today that term is an oxymoron.

I always felt I was a moderate. As I get older and learn more, I'm beginning to believe I'm a Goldwater Conservative. Today that makes me a Liberal.

Really!! May I be the first.... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18429469)

...to welcome our "tiny, spherical robot overlords who could explore Mars."

Also known as 'meteorites'. Exploring doesn't mean you have to phone back home!

NASA is dropping the ball... (2, Insightful)

FredDC (1048502) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429471)

NASA used to be a organisation which looked to the future and developed new and astonishing technologies and dared to dream large. There is little left of all this nowadays...

Re:NASA is dropping the ball... (3, Insightful)

Mizled (1000175) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430349)

NASA used to be a organisation which looked to the future and developed new and astonishing technologies and dared to dream large. There is little left of all this nowadays...

No, NASA is not dropping the ball. They are planning to go back to the moon, live there and then on to Mars. NASA *is* doing big things. For one the ISS is a big thing although, it seems small to you it will be very helpful in the long run to know how to build and assemble a space station that is livable for many months at a time. FFS we're *living* in space. How is that not a big deal?

NASA does what they can with the funding they receive. George W. Bush is doing cut backs on the NASA program so they have to cut expenses on things that they decide are "unnecessary". They have to cut back expenses some where. Maybe if Bush didn't use the money to fund his war (notice I said *his* war) then NASA wouldn't have to cut back on programs that innovate and design new space craft and ideas. If NASA felt that this program was of upmost importance I'm sure they would not have stopped the funding.

Re:NASA is dropping the ball... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18432181)

Well, I don't know, they can't very well get rid of the other tank! [fatherdan.com]

I live outside the USA - please help me understand (3, Interesting)

tezza (539307) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429517)

Can some helpful person explain how the NASA budget [wikipedia.org] is drawn up? The wikipedia article covers the facts and outcomes, and not the political angles.


I guess I'm asking:

* where the money is going instead? To different NASA projects or to other state projects outside [stable economy]

* is there less money overall? [shrinking economy]

* is the budget determined by the President or the Senate?

* how frequently are these budgets determined? - how soon could all this budget shrinking really be turned around?

* is there consensus on the role of NASA, or is there variation between Democrats and Republicans?

* if there had been less spent on Defense [say Iraq war], would that have been allocatable to NASA? Sometimes budgets are drawn from several pools... e.g. Road Tax in Australia is only spent on roads.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (5, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429637)

NASA budgeting has little to do with politics or even practical realities. NASA continues to try and thrive on the glory days of its leap to the Moon, even though the first landing was almost 41 years ago now. Whenever things are going bad, the President (choose any one you like) will announce plans for NASA to do something to make America proud and continue our long tradition of space exploration. However, not even Presidential boosterism can keep Congress from continually whittling away NASA's budget, to the point where it becomes a competition for money between the manned program (see as costly, inefficient, and dangerous) and the unmanned programs (see as cheap, flexible, and low-risk). Inevitably, the bulk of the budget goes to the manned program and some promising probes and instruments are shelved for lack of funds.

Now, I am a firm believer in the need for both the manned and unmanned programs. The fact is NASA is underfunded, and those funds could certainly come from somewhere else (DoD for example), but the bottom line with the American people always is, what's in it for me? Now, there a legion of examples of technology spun off from NASA applications, but those are not the kind of things that the everyday citizen is impressed with. And unless you are a Star Trek fan, the idea of exploration for exploration's sake is a dim memory, best left with Lewis & Clark. The sad fact is, unless NASA can come up with something stunning, that captures the imagination of Americans again, as the Moon landings did, this is just another stage in the deterioration of a proud agency that once carried this nation's pride to a new frontier.

First landing - Note (1)

ebvwfbw (864834) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431641)

7/20/1969, 38 years ago - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_landing [wikipedia.org] . I remember watching the sucky video as it was happening.

Re:First landing - Note (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431809)

Whoops... faulty math... good thing I don't work at JPL...

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431961)

And unless you are a Star Trek fan, the idea of exploration for exploration's sake is a dim memory, best left with Lewis & Clark. The sad fact is, unless NASA can come up with something stunning

If NASA could come up with something like warp [wikipedia.org] or hyperspace fold [wikipedia.org] drive or some other type of effective interstellar travel then that would certainly be stunning, but we will not get there but cutting the funding for all pure research and development entirely. The program should continue to receive some funding, even if it is only a handful of people, so that the possibility of a breakthrough, however remote, is kept alive for future generations.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1)

lucabrasi999 (585141) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429731)

I hope this helps [wikipedia.org] . It won't answer all of your questions, but it is a start.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (2, Interesting)

aengblom (123492) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429935)

In short, NASA is faced with a slightly declining budget (not in actual dollars, but in dollars when accounting for inflation) at least partially because of tightening budgets in the U.S. due to rising costs across government and Bush's tax cuts. Recently, the Republicans were both big on tax cuts and big on spending (which IMO was a key to their political success), but the public is finally starting to catch on and demand some sort of responsibility. (I'm not gonna say Democrats would have been particularly better for NASA... only that they were not in power and fairly irrelevant in recent years.) More importantly for NASA, however, is that the agency has been tasked with very expensive priorities to go to the Moon/Mars within its current budget, which means other programs are experiencing cuts.

Iraq spending is obviously a major constraint as well, since it's a bit pricey, although that hasn't really been handled within the normal budget process.

The budget process is long, ugly and usually late, but begins with a proposal by the President, which is then mixed and mashed up by the Congress to meet its fancy. Both the House and Senate then consider the budget and negotiate a final budget, which is sent to the President, who can either sign it or veto it. Inevitably, they miss the deadline and pass a resolution to continue operating the government at previous years' budget levels for a few months before actually passing a bill. Essentially this means all the agencies spend most of the year fretting about how much money they have and not figuring out how best to spend it.

The agencies will also, of course, lobby the government for larger budgets and even threaten to do something crazy like cut an important but very small ... say $4 million ... program that nobody in their right mind would cut... showing to Congress just how tight their budget is. (Not that this is necessarily a bluff or that this program is actually important... they could be spending $4 million on monkeys and typewriters for all I know.)

The above concept appears in local government budgets as the "cut the fire department budget."

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1)

terrymr (316118) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433995)

One cause of NASA's current problems was the complete failure of the last congress to pass a budget for the current fiscal year.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18429949)

* where the money is going instead? To different NASA projects or to other state projects outside [stable economy]
From your link it seems like NASA's budget has remained steady. Most of the problems lie within NASA itself, which is bleeding massive amounts of money on ISS & Shuttle programs.

* is there less money overall? [shrinking economy]
The US economy is still growing, however, the rising cost of debt, the war in Iraq, and Social Security are putting massive pressure on the government budget

* is the budget determined by the President or the Senate?
Both

* how frequently are these budgets determined? - how soon could all this budget shrinking really be turned around?
Typically a yearly budget, but they can be adjusted constantly throughout the year.

* is there consensus on the role of NASA, or is there variation between Democrats and Republicans?
I don't think there is even consensus within NASA on what their role is.

if there had been less spent on Defense [say Iraq war], would that have been allocatable to NASA? Sometimes budgets are drawn from several pools... e.g. Road Tax in Australia is only spent on roads.
Probably not. The Iraq war is being funded by additional requests beyond the normal budget (funded by debt). I think the better question to ask is why NASA needs more money.

based on what gets votes mostly... (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430379)

NASA's budget is unaffected by the Iraq war, the money would never have been considered for NASA. Unless NASA can find some pressing reason to exist beyond the small means it has now Congress is never going to pour money into it.

A Moonshot was a us versus them, it gained votes because supporting it was politically smart.

The shuttle at first was also a grand idea, the program being spread over so many states to make it even more politically viable.

The space station was exciting how Reagan imagined it, it never really became that vision but he had such a grip on the American public that it was politically smart to support it.

Thats why I always liked Bush's groups proposal for the Moon base and going to Mars. We need to get the public dreaming again, thinking about space, whats out there, and getting kids back into science. If this could catch on it will again become politically smart to give NASA money.

BTW - being politically smart means spending money there because it gets you votes which keeps you in power. Politicians in DC don't really give a flip about NASA beyond one or two of them. Its like Iraq or any other hot button issue, they take sides because of how the votes will line up for them. The only real concern they have is being reelected. Science is only used for Congress to determine how best to do mailings.

Re:based on what gets votes mostly... (1)

tsalaroth (798327) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431147)

And this is why Senators and Representatives need term limits. Two for Senators, five or six for Reps. I think 12 years should be PLENTY of time to get programs you think are needed into place and moving.

Instead we have 80-90 year old Senators and Representatives who lost touch with society and how it works in the 1970s. This isn't representation, it's a farce.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1)

toddhisattva (127032) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432231)

* where the money is going instead? To different NASA projects or to other state projects outside [stable economy]
NASA will spend it on other things. If NASA does not spend it, Congress will decide they didn't need it in the first place, and NASA's budget will shrink. Es verdad, that's how it works: spending is the only way to keep a budget!

* is there less money overall? [shrinking economy]
The United States economy has been growing well since the end of the dotcom bust/Clinton Recession.

* is the budget determined by the President or the Senate?
The Congress determines the budget, per Constitution Article I Section 8. The President submits a budget request to Congress, and can thus influence its contents to a limited extent.

* how frequently are these budgets determined? - how soon could all this budget shrinking really be turned around?
Every year.

* is there consensus on the role of NASA, or is there variation between Democrats and Republicans?
There has been no concensus among the American people on the role of NASA since Armstrong set foot on the Moon. Both major political parties reflect this. Some Libertarians would get rid of NASA through privatization and/or folding its functions into the Department of Defense. I have no idea what the Green view of NASA is - do they like it because it teaches us about Earth, or do they hate it because they hate technology?

* if there had been less spent on Defense [say Iraq war], would that have been allocatable to NASA? Sometimes budgets are drawn from several pools... e.g. Road Tax in Australia is only spent on roads.
Nothing in the federal budget ever takes money away from anything else. While this may seem to violate physical laws, it is nevertheless true. The budget always grows. New programs get new funding. If something's funding is reduced, that money is simply gone from the (next) budget and taxes and debt are not allocated to it.

Re:I live outside the USA - please help me underst (1)

ozeki (466460) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432963)

Ok lets do the math, Medicare part d [wikipedia.org] is the reason, just think 40,0000 viagra tablets would fund this program. But then again I guess congress being nothing but old men, what are the odds they would risk it. they need to get lucky to:)

Shooting a good horse (4, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429543)

This makes about as much sense as shooting a perfectly good horse while you're riding through the middle of the desert.

NASA has been charged with getting back to the Moon and on to Mars and frankly needs all the innovative ideas and thinking they can find. So what do they do? Shut down the people who dream up advanced concepts! It's sad enough that they are going to try and go back to the Moon using souped-up Apollo-era technology, which I predict is a prescription for disaster, but they are not even giving themselves a fair chance of coming up with a better alternative.

My pride in and belief in NASA wanes more with each passing year.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429675)

Great analogy, whether it's appropriate or not!

It's not NASA that's the problem, but the current "brain" sitting behind the oval office. You know, the same one that got a minority of the popular vote in the last 2 elections?

Re:Shooting a good horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18432205)

You know, the same one that got a minority of the popular vote in the last 2 elections?

It will probably come as a shock to you that Clinton also got a minority of the popular vote.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432249)

I'm pretty sure Bush got the majority popular vote in the last presidential election. Officially at least.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433499)

We'll never know. Ohio's election officials apparently tailored the "random" samples for verification. No one AFAIK has accurately reported on the number of disenfranchised voters that were hounded or otherwise discouraged from voting by Republican croonies.

The funny thing? Until the shrub ran for office, I was a staunch Republican that would have said you're insane for even implying that I'd ever support a Democrat. Democrats be da deevil, ya no. (weak Waterboy reference)

Not Exactly (4, Insightful)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429697)

So what do they do? Shut down the people who dream up advanced concepts!

Not exactly. They feed $500M to SpaceX and Kistler to develop real-working rockets that can deliver to ISS. And yes, the money is contingent on success. Invoking private industry to develop the next generation of vehicles is the way to go.

It's sad enough that they are going to try and go back to the Moon using souped-up Apollo-era technology, which I predict is a prescription for disaster

As an aerospace engineer, I'm glad they are reverting to the apollo 'stack' concept. It is safer than the shuttle, in theory, and let's face it - the shuttle never reached its full potential as a 'space truck': dropping off and retrieving satellites. It only really efficiently used the payload bay during the construction (and continued construction) of ISS. All those missions where they just brought along a few pallets of experiments - think of all the wasted mass that was accelerated to orbit. The new system will compartmentalize equiptment from people, allowing for better scaling and efficiency. And better failure modes, using existing hardware with a proven track record (and failure modes that have been documented and corrected).

Re:Not Exactly (5, Insightful)

jim_deane (63059) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430519)

>> So what do they do? Shut down the people who dream up advanced concepts!

> Not exactly. They feed $500M to SpaceX and Kistler to develop real-working rockets that can deliver
> to ISS. And yes, the money is contingent on success. Invoking private industry to develop the next
> generation of vehicles is the way to go.

Building a rocket to go to the space station is not an advanced concept.

Building a space elevator using carbon nanotubes...that's advanced. Magnetic field drives...that's advanced. Solar sails, antimatter engines, gravitational drives...all advanced.

The whole point of research like this is to look for major leaps in science, technology, and engineering. The third-party space industry is concerned with profit, mainly by repeating what NASA and the military have been doing for about a half century. Maybe in thirty years they'll be in a position to concentrate on research like this...but I don't think SpaceX is concerning itself with warp drive just yet.

The NIAC, and the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics group before it, are about pushing for the future, not just resting on our chemically propelled century-old technological laurels.

Re:Not Exactly (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431223)

As an aerospace engineer, I'm glad they are reverting to the apollo 'stack' concept. It is safer than the shuttle, in theory,

An aerospace engineer should be aware that while the stack concept removes some failure modes that the Shuttle has - it adds several of it's very own. Starting right at launch, the LES can fail when needed. When you start the re-entry phase, you face the problem of dropping off the parts no longer needed. (You can either drop too early, or fail to drop on time. The Soyuz has had both happen.) Parachutes can fail to deploy and have no backups, and your landing braking system (rockets or airbags, NASA hasn't decided between them) can fail to operate. (Soyuz has had its braking rockets fail at least twice.) There are also the risks of landing off-target. (Again, something that has happened to Soyuz on multiple occasions.)
 
 

let's face it - the shuttle never reached its full potential as a 'space truck': dropping off and retrieving satellites. It only really efficiently used the payload bay during the construction (and continued construction) of ISS.

An aerospace engineer should be more cognizant of aerospace history. The Shuttle was intended from day one as the service vehicle for a space station. As the original Shuttle tended station was cancelled in 1972 - all the satellite/SpaceHab/etc... missions moved from being secondary missions to being primary placeholders while NASA waited for Congress to authorize a station.
 
 

The new system will compartmentalize equiptment from people, allowing for better scaling and efficiency. And better failure modes, using existing hardware with a proven track record (and failure modes that have been documented and corrected).

An aerospace engineer should be cognizant of well.. aerospace engineering.
 
There is no reason other than emotion to compartmentalize people and cargo. None. A rocket that cannot be trusted with people shouldn't be trusted with billion dollar cargoes. (And vice versa.) Furthermore - using two different boosters decreases efficiency as it requires duplicated ground support resources and many more warm bodies. Furthermore it increases costs and reduces safety by decreasing the flights rates for each booster. It would be considerably cheaper and safer to use just the Porklauncher V, ballasting it when used for crew launches, than the current plan. However, the current plan - by it's mandate to preserve jobs, is forbidden by law to be cheaper, safer, and more efficient.
 
Equally - the Porklauncher I and V have never used proven hardware, from day one the hardware required significant modifications. They not only don't have a track record - they introduce new failure modes. (For example, the Porklauncher I requires a roll control package. The Porklauncher V requires large amounts of new structure, and redesigning the amount of structure it 'reuses'.) This problem has only grown worse as the program is progessing, the amount of commonality decreases with each iteration of the design. (Current NASA thinking indicates that an entirely new SRM may be required - using 5 segments vice the current 4, for example.)

What a crock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18431561)

of shit. Private industry does not, in general, innovate. Especially in a field such as space exploration where the risk of failure is extremely high and the path to new, innovative technology is completely unclear. You need people funded to think about new stuff creatively, and this is yet another sign of the decay in the US that is killing off all new thought. Way to go USA.

Re:Not Exactly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18431995)

As an aerospace engineer, I'm glad they are reverting to the apollo 'stack' concept.

Translation: I am totally relieved that expensive, throw away solutions lacking innovation are being brought back so I can stay employed in my field.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429775)

This makes about as much sense as shooting a perfectly good horse while you're riding through the middle of the desert.
The shutdown doesn't mean that the research possibilities are lost. From the articles, it seems the NIAC was just a clearing house for funding research. The same research could be funded through other NASA teams.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430335)

souped-up Apollo-era technology, which I predict is a prescription for disaster,

that is a ridiculous statement on a number of levels. There are only two or three spaceship configurations that work. One is aerodyne, like the space shuttle. Another is capsule-based, which just happened to have been used by Apollo, but was also used by every other US manned space program, by every Russian manned program, and by the Chinese. To call it "Apollo era" is like poo-pooing the wheel because it's "cave man era."

It's not Apollo's fault that the thing works and is cost effective. If you have a better idea than a capsule, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, I'm going to assume you are just an ignorant troll.

God, I swear. If we stay with capsules people will complain "if only NASA had invested in the shuttle back in the '80s then we would have a cheap reusable space plane." But if we abandon capsules and give the shuttle a try, then people will complain, "if only NASA had stayed with the proved technology instead of wasting it all on the shuttle." NASA can't win.

Re:Shooting a good horse (1)

Saint V Flux (915378) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430387)

My belief in NASA ended once I started learning about their constant screw ups and their recurring "oops, we just wasted $10 billion because Bob on the third floor had the calculus wrong and now the space probe is useless". Honestly, scrap NASA and let the private industry do it cheaper and better.

NASA spends that much on receptions (4, Insightful)

swschrad (312009) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429565)

for government airheads when they visit. they are truly eating the seed corn now.

this idiotic decision is beyond pathetic.

if NASA is going to shut down research for political suckup stunts like mars, they might as well shut down, and let the chinese colonize space.

Penny wise, pound foolish (4, Insightful)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429571)

I am by no means knowledgeable about such matters, but of course I'm going to speculate anyway.

4 million sounds like a very small amount in the grander scheme of things. Choices have to be made. I understand this. But isn't the entire point of NASA to do research? The very core reason it exists?

Maybe I only hear about the success stories that come out of think tanks. Maybe most of them squander away money in futile pursuits. As a previous poster mentioned, I would like to hear what they have accomplished in the past.

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (4, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429679)

A co-worker, referring to some of our employer's policies, used the phrase, "Stepping over dollars to pick up nickels."

Seems applicable here, too.

NSF (1)

gears6556 (1038624) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430155)

Looking at it objectively, shouldn't most of the basic research that NASA has taken on over the years belong under the NSF budget and program office?

It seems to me that Science and Innovation belong to the National Science Foundation.

National Aeronautics and Space Agency should focus exclusively on applying science developed elsewhere to advance Aeronautics or Space applications.

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (1)

AutumnLeaf (50333) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430921)

So who will be Spaceburton? If NASA can't pioneer research and technologies and guide that process, where does NASA go for space-flight services? SpaceX is already being looked to as a partner in developing space exploration for NASA. I'm wondering if NASA will be contracting out no-bid launch contracts with "Space Services" companies soon.

It hasn't produced... (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429595)

So it's gone.

It's not the end of research or innovation, eventually a new group will be formed to replace it. And if it doesn't produce, it'll be gone too.

Who is going to...... (1)

jusDfaqs (997794) | more than 7 years ago | (#18429943)

Now who is going to come up with the ideas to stop the comets from hitting the Earth?

Re:Who is going to...... (2, Funny)

physicsboy500 (645835) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430029)

Don't you watch South Park?! it'll be MASA... The Mexican Aeronautics and Space Administration and the good part is they'll do it for pennies on the dollar. 17 Billion pesos there is about 5 bucks!

Re:Who is going to...... (1)

Aqua_boy17 (962670) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431589)

Now who is going to come up with the ideas to stop the comets from hitting the Earth?
Bruce Willis?

4 mill? (1)

calumniate (777615) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430201)

I don't think 4 mill a year will design you anything special. might get you some sweet legos

Eating our seed corn (1)

rnturn (11092) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430553)

This is another example of the Government deciding to defund something because either: a) it doesn't result in immediate tangible product (though the comment that mentioned "Tang" cracked me up), b) it doesn't benefit some Congresscritter's re-election drive, c) it doesn't provide a way for someone in Government to give a handout to a constituent who's looking for a Federal contract, or d) the think tank is located in a Democrat's district.

This administration wants to privatize everything that Government does anyway. But to do this is short-sighted. No private entity would be spending time coming up with new ideas for space exploration, propulsion, etc. All the people at the NASA think tank will wind up going to a plethora of separate companies and there will be no critical mass of brain power to come up with the new ideas. Individually the folks at the think tank will be at some corporation working on "special projects".

Prediction: The Chinese will put a permanent base on the Moon and this move to close down the think tank will look Real Dumb (tm). Fiery Congressional hearings will be held shortly afterward wondering how in the hell this could have happened.

Re:Eating our seed corn (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430973)

The Chinese will do no such thing because it would be a moronic and purposeless waste of huge amounts of money. As to private enterprise not being able to come up with innovative space technologies, a recent news item [sci-tech-today.com] indicates otherwise.

Ob. bash.org quote... (2, Funny)

beset (745752) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430569)

<Patrician|Away> what does your robot do, sam
<bovril> it collects data about the surrounding environment, then discards it and drives into walls

I wonder: (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430573)

Did the Think Tank come up with this idea?

Stop Manned Space Flight (1, Flamebait)

overtly_demure (1024363) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430687)

The problem is right in front of you: manned space flight is a colossal waste of money. It serves no useful purpose for there to be a human being physically present on a space flight to turn things on and off. This isn't the 17th century, it is the age of computers and robots. Vastly more space science and exploration can be achieved if humans are removed from the equation, and at a fantastically lower cost.

Of course, people will have to abandon their religious beliefs and superstitions regarding the imminent colonization of space by humans, or escaping from earth in significant numbers to escape an asteroid impact or whatnot.

Manned space exploration is government pork for military aerospace companies. Nothing more.

Re:Stop Manned Space Flight (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 7 years ago | (#18430747)

Good luck expecting the SciFi fanboys to even read that.

Re:Stop Manned Space Flight (1)

AdmiralLawman (1073516) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433301)

People like you make me fear greatly for our future.

Re:Stop Manned Space Flight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18433495)

It is not economical or practical to automate/robotize everything. Look at the way of the construction of the ISS; astronauts have to go out to manually plug in connectors and turn bolts, install equipment etc. Think of what it would take to automate all this; all mechanical fixture bolts having their own actuator motor, control circuit, power supply chain. Automated conduit couplings for electric power signal, fluids, gases, etc, redundant pathways, routing hubs etc. What about fallback procedures or emergency procedures, all adding weight, complexity and cost.

Time to toss manned missions (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18431179)

I think think the science of non-manned missions is too compelling to give up for manned missions if push comes to shove. We almost have the technology to detect Earth-like planets around other stars with fancy space-scopes, perhaps even life-signs in such atmospheres. To me that is far more important than Neil dancing on Mars. Humans on Mars is about self-agrandizing ourselves. Finding other Earth's makes us ponder our future and think deeper.

Just offshore R&D, that's the ticket now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18432259)

if it's good for the private sector, it's good for government. For example, think of how much money the Pentagon could save by sending space weapons R&D work to China.

logical isn't it? (1)

jb.cancer (905806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432377)

since they've found 0sama in those caves in mars, there's no need to waste money on finding him anymore. (unless of course saddam started WMD in heaven .. they'd really need Advanced stuff!)

NASA is about buracracy, not science. (2)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432485)

I hate to say it, but NASA has been reduced to a large burecratic organization, they are not run for science any more. I spoke with a guy that had been part of the shuttle program, many years ago. It was EXTREMELY interesting listening to him. His thoughts on the shuttle program, the last shuttle disaster (his opinion is that it was easily avoidable, but wasn't because of cost-cutting measures). He also made it sound more like a government agency that was out for money, and not out for research anymore.

NASAs Future? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432573)

I fear that NASA is rapidly becoming a conduit for passing funds to contractors with no in house capabilities. No doubt due to lobbying by the contractors. They will tell NASA/Congress what should be built and for how much and then stand there with their wallet hand outstretched. Meanwhile, NASA will have nobody left with the domain knowledge necessary to call 'Bullshit!' at high priced boondoggles.

It appears to be all over for this group anyway. With a budget of $4 million, they have barely enough staff left to box up the filing cabinets and crate up the furniture.

Civilization reference (1)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432591)

Am I the only one who immediately thinks of Civilization games as good simulations of this type of situation?


What happens when you stop trickling funds into your scientific research? You wind up moving your gunpowder wielding infantry across the continent on a railroad while your opponent drops a nuke on your capital city, flies a helicopter out to drop paratroopers on your cannon and launches a colonization ship to Alpha Centauri.

Don't these scientists, politicians and business people play games to learn these simple lessons?

Lisp in the headline? (1)

A_Non_Moose (413034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18432949)

(or maybe just my tired brain being silly. Too funny not to share)

NAthA Think Thank to be thut Down.

Oth, nothes! The think thank is thunk!

Thomebody thave them, pleathe think of the thuttles, or elthe Thoviet Ruthia will thut you down!

Thalp savthe them!

How much will it cost us? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18433105)

People don't consider what effect on the economy closing down a think tank has. Not only do Engineers and Scientists lose their jobs, but the other people involved in the day to day running, like the guy that has to clean the filter.

zerg (1)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434505)

510 billion fucking dollars [fas.org] to bomb people around the world, and we can't get $4 million for research. When the DOD cut funding for basic research ~2 years ago, another slashdotter said it best:

I'll put it in StarCraft terms: you're spending your minerals on upgrading your Zealots, and failing to invest in the pylons and tech structures that would allow you to build a whole frickin' fleet of Protoss Carriers.
-flyingsquid

End the fucking war already!
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