Built on Facts

NASA, R.I.P.

Let’s say you wanted to kill NASA. You couldn’t just blink it out of existence I Dream Of Jeannie style, but you might be able to strangle it to death in bureaucracy. How might you do it?

For starters, you might completely scrap any attempt to return humans to the moon. You might completely scrap any attempt to put men on Mars. Having gotten rid of most of the inspiration that keeps the agency in the public eye, you could make sure there was no chance of reversing course on any reasonable timetable by scrapping the agency’s previous research and cancelling development on the rockets and systems needed to accomplish those goals.

Then you might redirect those and other agency funds into navel-gazing Earth science projects that are supposed to be the domain of agencies like NSF and NOAA, adding bureaucratic conflict in to a recipe already heavily seasoned with dullness. Because if there’s one thing the public is inspired by and not at all sick of, it’s climate science. After all, nobody likes to see the titular Aeronautics and Space that gave us up close and personal exploration of Mars, or Hubble’s images of the cosmos, or far-flung missions to the beautiful outer planets.

As a final frying pan upside the head, you might require that NASA maintain the most expensive and least useful boondoggle of manned spaceflight – the International Space Station. You might do so even knowing that shortly the Space Shuttle program is being phased out and can only launch a few more times – three, currently. You’d make sure the only way to reach the ISS was through the good graces and launch capabilities of our close geopolitical allies the Russians, with a vague possibility of contracting private launches at some point in the future, presumably when such private launch capability exists. It currently doesn’t.

Well, I hope you enjoyed NASA while it lasted because this ain’t hypothetical. It’s Obama’s forthcoming NASA budget.

When the White House releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its bigger brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.

There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.

In their place, according to White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources familiar with Obama’s long-awaited plans for the space agency, NASA will look at developing a new “heavy-lift” rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low Earth orbit. But that day will be years — possibly even a decade or more — away.

They also said that the White House plans to extend the life of the International Space Station to at least 2020. One insider said there would be an “attractive sum” of money — to be spent over several years — for private companies to make rockets to carry astronauts there.

Regardless of my opinions of his other policy, me and many other scientists were quite hopeful about Obama’s campaign promises on science and technology. But with bank bailouts and thus-far futile stimulus having already cost about 500 times more than what NASA needs to stay on its manned flight schedule, I’m starting to think that hope was futile.

Comments

  1. #1 Eric Lund
    January 27, 2010

    you might be able to strangle it to death in bureaucracy

    Already been done. The NASA that got us to the moon with the Apollo program has been dead for years. Even unmanned missions have to jump through umpteen gazillion bureaucratic hoops–many of them coming after the decision to start building the mission–before they launch. With human spaceflight, the issues become that much more difficult, with the further problem that the money to do the job just isn’t there. I’m with you on ISS (and on the subject of wasted expenditures elsewhere in government), but it came down to this: NASA could have a viable science program, or a viable manned program, but not both. The science program won.

    And who says you can’t get excitement from unmanned probes? Three words: (1) Hubble, (2) Spirit, (3) Cassini.

  2. #2 Left_Wing_Fox
    January 27, 2010

    I actually think that manned space flight has vital implications for environmental science. After all, it’s more efficient to pack self-sustaining renewable resources than 6 years of food for a Mars mission. Even if we don’t get complete self-sustainability, every bit that helps astronauts live with the resources they have is going to have applications for reducing our resource footprint on earth.

    That’s not to lessen the work of the unmanned probes discovering our universe, of course.

  3. #3 6EQUJ5
    January 27, 2010

    Once Yuri Gagarin proved we humans could put a man into space, we already knew there was no point doing it again.

    Humans outside the protection afforded by the magnetosphere need heavy shielding to protect them, and that comes at the cost of mass. Putting a human into outer space is hugely expensive and dangerous compared to the same human sitting at his console in shirtsleeves remotely operating a machine from the ground, working six or eight hour shifts, then going home after work.

    The Apollo Project, for its science return on money spent, made a poor showing, as has every manned spaceflight project since. Robotic spacecraft are exploring our whole solar system, and two of them are now at the edge of the heliopause.

    Deep-sea exploration no longer uses manned probes: remotely operated vehicles do it all. There is no excuse to risk human life in such exploration.

    Nor is there an excuse to risk human life in space.

    Robotic exploration beats manned spaceflight hands down, in return on investment and safety.

    Note: I worked in the DSN, supporting the Pioneers, Voyagers, AMPTE, Venus Balloons, Vega, the Soviet Mars probes, ICE, Galileo, Magellan, Giotto, Cassini, Ulysses, MGS, MER, and Mars Odyssey, as well as VLBI and Goldstone planetary radar, and I have tracked the science return. What we got from the Moon landings was mostly rocks given away as souvenirs.

  4. #4 NoAstronomer
    January 27, 2010

    As Eric says the science program won. If this article is correct the era of manned US spaceflight will effectively end after the final shuttle flights.

    NASA may ‘look’ at producing a new heavy lift vehicle but has no-one considered that the reason that the Ares program is taking so long is that sending people safely into space is an inherently difficult task?

    So NASA will continue to research ways of launching humans to Mars (or Phobos) but the reality is that the money and commitment will never really be there. And after a while the whole thing will quietly be dropped.

    Eventually, once we tire of paying the Russians to launch our astronauts, we’ll abandon the ISS too.

  5. #5 Jason Adams
    January 27, 2010

    Not to disagree with your many very correct points, but I’ve found the ISS to be very inspirational. I’ve taken family outside to view it passing over and have gotten people who were never interested in anything space-y before to actually become interested and see the point in doing all this.

  6. #6 Miguel
    January 27, 2010

    Even Krugman admitted that Obama sold out. And I had great hopes for his science program too (even though I’m not an american :) ).

    Now we’ll have to wait for the inevitable comeback of the republicans, and another decade of sucker policies…

  7. #7 Peter Lanado
    January 27, 2010

    If it happens, sad and very disappointing. Maybe NASA should say they found traces of a bank on the moon – roll in the printing presses.

    But it’s time the rest of the world’s space faring community and hopefuls came to the fore and continue the path space-wards that NASA has forged – for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

  8. #8 Uncle Al
    January 27, 2010

    1) As with Karl Marx, Barack Obama knows nothing of science and technology. His lawyerly solutions are real world trash. Our President is being played for an ass by professional Wall Street criminals Ben Shalom “BS” Bernanke, Henry Merritt “Hanky-Panky” Paulson, and Tomothy “Timmy!” Geitner.

    2) Why would a government agency require anything but bureaucrats? Dr. Schund is doing quite nicely, thank you, with his Institute for Institutional Analysis “the answer lies within.”

    3) NASA could never be self-financing. Grab a tonne of lunar regolith, sell it on eBAy 100 mg/$100 = $1 billion. Not nearly breakeven for the flight. NASA should run a micro-gee honeymoon/brothel in the manner of Japanese modular hotels – but bloody first engineer a working toilet. Proposed business plan: “Restore sex to Haiti.”

  9. #9 Matt Springer
    January 27, 2010

    In response to a few of the comments above, let me reiterate that I love unmanned solar system science. Eric Lund names a few, which I also had in mind at the end of the 3rd paragraph in the post. If we sacrifice some manned science for that, you can argue it’s a fair trade. But it looks like we’re sacrificing space science – manned and unmanned – for the sake of mundane earth science that can and is being done better by others.

    Normally I loathe the concept of pork spending, but the silver lining here is the fact that the Ares/Constellation money is spread around so many congressional districts. Maybe election-year wrangling will repair this mess.

  10. #10 Anonymous Coward
    January 27, 2010

    I just want to echo what 6EQUJ5 said at #4.

    Putting a man on the moon was the greatest piece of performance art there ever was (and probably ever will be). I am sincerely glad we went (especially viewed in the light of the cold war) but I can’t imagine what the point of a repeat performance would be.

    Unless/until we develop better propulsion technology than chemical fuel, manned spaceflight should be on hiatus. We can use a small fraction of the funding to accomplish much more via unmanned spaceflight.

  11. #11 Jesse P.
    January 27, 2010

    As long as Kay BH is still TX senator, I doubt that the senate won’t restore funding to NASA in the final budget.

  12. #12 NoAstronomer
    January 27, 2010

    @A.Coward #10

    I do wonder what would be the reaction of the American public if (when?) China puts a man on the moon.

  13. #13 DrZed
    January 27, 2010

    Breaking news: Oil on the moon! NASA scientists have discovered the precious fuel just below lunar surface, so close you could suck it out with a straw. Initial estimates are that the deposits contain as much as a 10 trillion gallons, probably more.

  14. #14 Anonymous Coward
    January 27, 2010

    @NoAstronomer at #12

    I can’t speak for the rest of the American public, but I’m no jingoist. The nationality of the moonwalkers isn’t important to me. And I think the American public gets as much amusement from Hubble’s photos, cosmological discoveries, and the Mars rovers as it did from the later “golfing” moon missions. (Please note I’m not comparing anything to the FIRST moon landing.)

    Personally, I’d be very excited about manned spaceflight if I got to be one of the people going. But if it’s not me, frankly I’d rather it be done via some other country’s tax dollars and have the U.S. budget concentrate on science rather than repeating past stunts. I apologize for the excessively denigrating word “stunts”, which overstates my feelings, but I can’t think of a better way to phrase it at the moment.

  15. #15 Max Fagin
    January 27, 2010

    Note that the Orlando Sentinel article is getting it’s information from an “unnamed white house source.” This might not be Obama’s space flight policy at all. This could be completely untrue for all we know.

  16. #16 Ginny Keller
    January 27, 2010

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2010/01/going-in-circle.html

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-nasa-budget27-2010jan27,0,1252176.story

    I sure am glad, that in this time of cynicism and negativity, there’s something like the manned space program to look to for some hope for the future. Oh wait….

  17. #17 jim1950a
    January 27, 2010

    Politician + Lie => Elected. (QED)

  18. #18 doug l
    January 27, 2010

    NASA as an administration tasked with guiding/coordinating efforts to develope space was a good idea, but after we got to the moon it became something else and has a singular focus that’s kept it very expensive and constrained. It need not be that way.
    For approximately 1/26th of the amount of money we spent on the recent ‘cash for new clunkers’ program, we could build a realistic heavy lift launching system that would make space developement affordble, accessible and from a stategic standpoint, desirable once we can economically place realistic amounts of fuel into low earth orbit and seperate that from bringing mission specialists into appropriately designed and scaled craft which we should do using other means, such as Rutan’s concepts for a space taxi. Check out this youtube vid of a lecture given last December at the Googleplex.

  19. #19 Matt Springer
    January 27, 2010

    I’m also not opposed to scrapping manned flight entirely and redirecting its budget into new launch and propulsion systems for manned flight once better technologies are developed. In fact, I suggested this back in 2008. But in any event, the total NASA budget is about $0.005 on the federal dollar, with manned flight only a fraction of that. The cost or savings to the taxpayer is pretty slight either way.

    But as for the tongue-in-cheek comments about oil in the moon, as it happens there really is a lot of helium-3 up there, which would be useful if we ever get fusion off the ground. Unfortunately thus far fusion power has proven every bit as difficult as human exploration of Mars.

  20. #20 bsci
    January 27, 2010

    Using percents of the federal budget is a cheap trick. You could also say that NASA’s budget is almost 3 times the entire budget for NSF ($17.2 vs $6.4 billion in 2009). If you’re putting forward that the NASA budget is a good investment of science dollars, I’d have a hard time buying that were’re getting a better science return from NASA vs NSF.

    NASA does some really good stuff and this R.I.P. theatrics is silly. The gazing at earth is telling us more about our planet and benefiting everything from agriculture to understanding climate change. The robotic missions and telescopes taught us more than all the manned missions combined. I’d also venture to say that until we revolutionize propulsion and speed, the space station is the best use of manned missions since it tells us about the effects on physiology of low gravity at a fraction of the cost of establishing a moon colony.

    People were dreaming of reaching the stars before the Apollo program and they’ll still dream whether or not we’re sending a few people to the Moon in the next decade.

  21. #21 Anonymous
    January 28, 2010

    It is too bad that going to the Moon or Mars is going to be delayed by bone headed politics. MOVE ON! Give people something lofty to dream about!

  22. #22 Dunc
    January 28, 2010

    Oh noes! NASA is not delivering the science fiction I read as a kid! Where’s my fucking jetpack?

    Earth science is “navel-gazing”? For fuck’s sake… Why is studying the Earth (you know, the most complex, dynamic and unique planet in the solar system) “mundane”, while studying Mars isn’t? No disrespect to Mars, but Earth looks a hell of a lot more interesting to me…

  23. #23 bob sykes
    January 28, 2010

    So, NASA is to be reduced to the guys involved in Climategate.

  24. #24 doug l
    January 28, 2010

    Well, Matt, how are we going to develope alternate launch systems that can economically put the kinds of massive payloads that will make space dev possible if the current system is draining the $8billion budget the way it does? We spend so much money to make satellites and craft that are as intricate as swiss watches, which of course are very expensive too. Check out the youtube vid by Dr Hunter (which I linked to in comment #18) on his proposed “quicklaunch” high-g cannon for establishing a propellant depot relatively cheaply. It’s an eye-opener. For 1/2 the price of a single shuttle launch we could be sending up fuel, water(shielding) and the robust structures we need to really do the kinds of exploration and developement we know is possible but which is currently prohibitively expensive due to the cost of getting mass out of the gravity well.
    If you thing we need to develope launch systems before we continue, and think it’s too expensive, how expensive do you think it would be develope a helium fusion system. We don’t have any fusion energy systems currently and don’t know just how to even begin, though nobody disagrees that it’s possible and is even a good idea, but getting to the moon to get it (somehow, though we don’t have systems for that yet either but it will probably be kinda heavy and complex when or if we finally do) will be a cake-walk in comparison.
    Really, go check out some of the proposed alternatives to the current rocket systems that so many think are the only options right now. I can’t wait for NASA to get out from under the military’s single minded focus on these archaic balistic missiles and scale up a super-cannon or ‘sea dragon’ heavy lifting system. These rockets were usefull to get the first toe-hold in space but are just too expensive and just plain inappropriate for an industry intent on developing space in a really meaningfull way. Cheers.

  25. #25 Matt Springer
    January 29, 2010

    Because, my dear Dunc, it is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. That is its job. NASA doing Earth science is like repurposing the Patent Office to handle driver’s licenses.

  26. #26 Lyle
    January 29, 2010

    As noted humans are to fragile for long term space travel outside the protection of the earths magnetosphere. Its not clear that a trip to mars might not be a death sentance if a solar flare hits the craft during the trip. Rather than spending all the money Nasa has spent trying to design rovers and the like (see Nasa Channel for details), they should just have build more copies of the 2 rovers now on mars and put then liberally around the planet. You would get more ground truth and useful information. If some other country wants to go fine, but the US can no longer afford manned flight alone.

  27. #27 Andrew Foland
    January 29, 2010

    As a wise man once said, “We should send our eyes into space, and our ears into space, but why would we want to send our stomachs into space?”

  28. #28 Interrobang
    January 29, 2010

    The question remains — why do people want to go back to the moon? I admit the view’s kind of pretty, but it costs a lot less and is much safer to go to Waikiki Beach, you know?

    Maybe it’s because I came to political awareness right around 1980 and I was about the least surprised person on Earth when the Berlin Wall fell, rationale for the space race was basically jingoistic dicksizing, and the odour of desperate testosterone wafting off of everything to do with the space program fails to impress… Also, there is that 5% casualty rate.

  29. #29 doug l
    January 29, 2010

    Lyle; true enough if going means travelling for 18 months in a thin can, sipping minimal fuel, with minimal shielding, with no gravity, which is how we would have to do it unless we had a much cheaper way to get heavy stuff like fuel, shielding (water) and structures up there so we can go fast to Mars, have shielding to protect the people, and use more mass to build an axially rotating space station in which to travel. That would require cheaper ways to get that kind of stuff into orbit. Fortunately it looks like we (or some other nation/industry) might be able to. See what space travel is like when we get out of the box we’ve put ourselves into by thinking that archaic cold war era technology using balistic missiles as the only way, which it needn’t be, and do check out this googletech lecture that a Dr Hunter gave to those brainy brainy scallywags at the Googleplex last December in Palo Alto.

  30. #30 Nathan Myers
    January 29, 2010

    Good riddance. Ares has to be the most idiotic rocket design ever lofted. The Moon’s a dump. Mars is worse.

    Phobos is certain to be interesting, though.

  31. #31 Anonymous Coward
    January 29, 2010

    Re: Matt Springer at #25

    Surely you are joking. Aeronautical instruments and space-based instruments can provide some of the most important data on what is the most important planet in the universe (to us). And I can’t think of any better government organization for space-based missions than NASA.

    For example, the idea that NASA’s DSCOVR program (which cost a very small fraction of the NASA budget and would provide data on the Earth that is not possible to accurately obtain by other means) would get canned while such science-poor projects as the manned space program continue unabated is an obvious case of PR trumping science.

    That NASA might be reversing this trend a bit is, I think, a good sign. Whether or not the American people will go for it is a difficult question. But I would hope that science bloggers would encourage the general public to get excited about science, rather than denigrate it.

  32. #32 Carl Brannen
    January 29, 2010

    I remember a little over a year ago some of my lefty physics friends were talking about how Obama was going to increase the amount of money spent on science. I told them they were idiots; it didn’t matter who got elected, the money isn’t there to support unimportant things like particle physics and NASA. The science money is going into fuel efficiency and green power, etc.

  33. #33 Fashion watch
    January 30, 2010

    As long as Kay BH is still TX senator, I doubt that the senate won’t restore funding to NASA in the final budget.

  34. #34 Pspsup
    January 30, 2010

    for all you Obama bashers out there , please remember he inherited your past presidents incompetence who over an 8 year period destroyed everything the union has built, murdered his own people who he promised to protect. lied to our faces and you voted him in TWICE. now you complain because we have no money to go space and blame Obama.. truth is those that dreams of space exploration are from a small minority while the main US population is eager to fight in wars. most don’t care 71 million did not vote for the criminal. so this is truly a lost cause not because of the leadership but the spending on a lie. A lies that 71 million allowed to happen and 51 million collaborated in that lie.

  35. #35 yogi-one
    January 30, 2010

    That NASA is stalled out by politics and buceaucratic issues is not surprising, even though it is depressing.If you want to see bureaucratic ineffectiveness, the top two choices are the government and the military, and NASA is a combination of both.

    I agree that spending less money on projects that yield higher science benefits is better. Using robots in space is the way to go for now.

    I also agree that in order to realistically think about sending humans to other planets and moons, the technology has to be re-thought. Ultimately, you would want a fuel/propulsion technology that is always renewable either because it uses principles of physics that don’t require any tradional rocket fuel at all, or taps into a resource that is freely available in open space (this could be sunlight for exploration inside the solar system, but beyond the solar system something else would be needed).

    I am all for using the old category of civilizations scheme (you know Type I – IV) as a guideline for helping decide NASA’s mission. Given that we are Type 0 (dependent on home-planet energy sources such as fossil fuels), ask what might be needed to move us to Type I (a civilization that could harness the energy of its local star)? I think organizing NASA’s mission towards that line of accomplishment could be very beneficial.

    Using satellites to help us get a more realistic picture of climate change happening on Earth is not just a good idea, it’s going to to be crucial in the coming decades if we are going to get real about handling climate change issues. But I agree with those who say it doesn’t have to be NASA to do this – there are many private and public entities that can launch near-earth-orbit satellites capable of transmitting climate and environmental data back to us.

    I think that NASA is better used for “shoot for the Moon” type projects, although we have already done shooting for the moon. The point being that big concepts designed to move the human race forward as a whole are the most exciting and therefore could revive the kind of buzz NASA had during the 1960s.

    So I think the next big challenge we should present to NASA is: what can NASA do to help Earth move to a Type I civilization?

    I also think projects such as spaced-based deep space exploration should be continued. Hubble was fantastic. What’s the next cool thing that we can post up in space that gives us huge amounts of previously unattainable information about the cosmos?

    I think these are the kinds of questions that should shape NASA’s agenda.

    Along with that is that NASA must face the same question you and I face with our daily lives: how can we do things cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainably? Giving up rocket fuel for renewable propulsion sources is an obvious area they should be researching. Miniaturization is another area they need to be concerned with; sending smaller, more accurate instruments in to space is inherently cheaper, can be done more sustainably, and small instruments are more immune to gravity and have less chance of being wiped out by space debris or asteriods as they travel through space.

    I don’t see it as an either/or thing. I think you can tackle the big exciting goals and at the same time develop renewable, sustainable technologies and add to our knowledge of the Earth even while we peer deeper into deep space.

    I see politics and bureacracy as being the main barriers to overcome. In other words, the same barriers that we have that keep us from moving forward in other aspects as a nation are the ones blocking progress at NASA too. That’s not a science problem; that’s a human nature problem. As long as squabbling over My Pork and grabbing for all My Money are the highest priorities, we will not have an efficient, unified, inpiring space program.

  36. #36 Thomas
    January 30, 2010

    Why go the moon unless someone can come up with a good reason to? Only one I can think of is that it would be a great site for astronomy. No atmosphere, seismically stable which is useful for interferometry, and the back is shielded from interference from human radio transmissions. However, trying to build a decent observatory on the moon with Ares rockets would be ludicrously expensive.

    Unless we come up with radically cheaper launch capacity it’s better to stick to unmanned missions that give a lot more science, and publicity, for the money.

  37. #37 llewelly
    January 30, 2010

    No planet humans might ever visit will have giant sexy blue aliens. To the scientifically illiterate majority, Mars, Mercury, Venus (ha!), and worst of all, the Moon, are all dreadfully boring and disappointing places. For every non-geek, a humanned mission to any of these places would be a big letdown. The public thinks robots are boring too, but they’re not disappointing; nobody expected them to do anything terribly interesting any. And they’re cheap. The cost gap between humanned missions and robots will only grow, and public interest in humanned missions will only shrink. I grew up reading science fiction, and I wish it was different somehow, but human space flight has no future. If these rumors become policy, it is only a sign that Waiting For Godot is almost over.

    That being said, if these rumors come to pass, said budgetary constraints will come from the House and then through the Senate. Obama made only the most meager efforts to influence the House or the Senate on health care. Why would he expend effort to influence the house over NASA?

  38. #38 sg
    January 30, 2010

    “Surely you are joking. Aeronautical instruments and space-based instruments can provide some of the most important data on what is the most important planet in the universe (to us). And I can’t think of any better government organization for space-based missions than NASA.”

    Fine, but we would never have developed that technology if not for a space program. The requirements of space are so extreme that they inspire and require fantastic new ways of doing things. Modern life has been completely transformed and improved by this technology. Hog tying NASA with bureaucracy limits many tech improvements at their source.

  39. #39 sinz54
    January 30, 2010

    One application of manned space (at least in Earth orbit) would be to oversee construction of orbiting solar power satellites (powersats), that could harvest solar power in space (where there aren’t any clouds) and then beam it to earth via microwave.


    (Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with that company)

    If we put the same effort into that that we put into Apollo, we could have a network of solar power stations in orbit by 2050. And that would solve much of America’s energy needs. And that’s a virtually inexhaustible and clean source of power.

    That would be the best application of space travel since communications satellites.

  40. #40 Oran Kelley
    January 31, 2010

    Personally, I see human space flight as an extremely expensive hobby with a bunch of rather loud advocates who seem to think they’re entitled to public funding for their adventures.

    If the benefits of human space flight are so great, get some private investors together and do it on a for-profit basis.

    Lets see which technology companies think that a great way to develop technology is to set yourself a hugely difficult & expensive but mostly pointless task to perform and then see what comes out of it.

    I’m sure you’ll have a long line of companies waiting to invest.

    I support funding science, not starry-eyed engineering boondoggles. Fund your own damned adventure.

  41. #41 Phil
    January 31, 2010

    Tricky. Fact is, while we’re using squirty tubes of propellants to get relatively small payloads into space, we’re never going to be the dashing heroes of sci fi. It’s just too expensive and those tubes still have a propensity to go bang on the way up.

    Likewise, the politicians aren’t really interested in spacetravel. Kennedy gave wonderful speeches but in private he stated he wasn’t much interested in space but that the US had to get to the moon before the russians. When the US public grew bored with Apollo, Nixon scrapped the program cause he needed the cash for the Vietnam War. Very distressing to all those pundits who’d gushed about how it was the start of a new age in space exploration and there’d be a manned base on the moon before the end of the 20th century.

    The american economy is in deep stup due to having jettisoned any sensible financial regulation and it’s not clear that it can ever again afford the hugely expensive business of manned space travel. There’s one or two private enterprise outfits developing, but they’re talking about short range, sub-orbital flights.

    Seems like it might be China’s turn. They almost seem in the same state of mind that the USA/Russians were back in the 60′s. They’re monolithic, have the resources and have something to prove. Even if it is fundamentally stupid.

    On the other hand, it seems likely that astronomers will finally get a clear look at nearby exo planets. Perhaps there may be a surprise there that sparks the next space race.

    Then again, perhaps this is as good as it gets. Perhaps we face an intractable energy crunch this century that for all our technological manouevering still bites us in the arse and along with climate change, forces countries to abandon these expensive endeavours and look to their own borders and no further…

  42. #42 BrianR
    January 31, 2010

    Holy knee-jerk reaction! Yes, bank bailouts not popular, but looks like that money will (hopefully) be returned to tax payers. Stimulus is futile? Economists across the spectrum disagree with you, but whatever.

    All these claims of manned spaceflight, or, in this case, the entire NASA organization being dead are quite hyperbolic. Sure, it’s unfortunate that certain programs are being cut and that the budget might not be as robust as it could be … but, dead?

  43. #43 True Religion jeans
    January 31, 2010

    The robotic missions and telescopes taught us more than all the manned missions combined. I’d also venture to say that until we revolutionize propulsion and speed, the space station is the best use of manned missions since it tells us about the effects on physiology of low gravity at a fraction of the cost of establishing a moon colony.

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  45. #45 CCPhysicist
    January 31, 2010

    I am surprised by this decision, because the tradition at NASA would have been to abandon the ISS as soon as it was complete and chase off on another PR mission (like Bush going to Mars without any budget for it). Remember how about 1/3 of the moon missions were canceled so we could do something else? Remember how the next project, our first space station, fell back to earth because we abandoned space flight for ages due to poor planning and insufficient funds that delayed the Shuttle? The plan I have seen will support the ISS rather than abandon it to fund a new spectacle, although it won’t surprise me if ISS loses in the end due to budget cuts.

    After all, I am old enough to remember what the US economy was like back when we could afford to spend massive amounts of borrowed money on space as part of the Cold War. When corporate VPs and production workers lived in the same neighborhood.

    The rational and economic (sic) design of Ares followed mostly from a starved budget, not long term planning. Long term planning would entail shifting manned space flight to the commercial sector, which is what they are proposing. When projects are funded and sourced as a political payoff to Presidents and Senators, inefficiency follows. Seriously, why is launch control in one state and mission control in another? Because LBJ was from Texas.

    I don’t understand your objections to using low earth orbit to study the earth. Do you really think that weather satellites were a waste of money? That imagery of agricultural areas has no commercial value? Do you choose ignorance over knowledge like those who misrepresent the scientific disputes associated with climate change? I firmly believe that interplanetary missions will require a global effort built on cheap launches to orbit.

    Finally, I am surprised that this President has responded to demands from the TeaBaggers and their Congressional enablers and cut funds from the discretionary part of the federal budget — in states like Alabama and Texas where he has zero support. Didn’t think he had it in him. How can they object? He is doing just what they asked for, cutting wasteful spending in their districts. That will be the real spectacle.

  46. #46 CCPhysicist
    January 31, 2010

    By the way, you do know that Ares I is not a new rocket, right? Their plan recycled a lengthened SRB so they would not have to try to develop and “man qualify” a completely new rocket system from scratch. That problem was put off into the future: development of an orbit-to-wherever rocket akin to the old Saturn top stage.

  47. #47 John Silver
    February 1, 2010

    Wow–forty comments, and none of them mention the Augustine Commission! If you want to understand what’s going on here, refer to the its report. It says (among other things):
    1. Without LOTS more funding, NASA can’t go beyond earth orbit. Obama actually increases NASA’s budget, but that only provides enough funding to continue support of the ISS
    2. Re ISS: All the disparaging comments ignore the fact that it isn’t done yet. We have spent 200 billion on it, and without continuing funding it would be deactivated five years after it was completed. Most of the science programs on the ISS are just getting started.
    3. The aerospace industry can develop safe, less expensive manned orbital vehicles than NASA can. No quick explanation for this–refer to the report. Given the pressure to reduce the deficit, this is approach is the best avenue Obama can take. We’ll have to see if companies like Spacex, Orbital Sciences and Lockheed can deliver on this.

  48. #48 clear
    February 1, 2010

    Manned space flight is dangerous, expensive, and scientifically worthless. In your next installment, please list all of the papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that have come from the shuttle program and/or the International Space Station. (Don’t worry, your blog entry will be a short one.)

    The ongoing success of the Mars robots should be enough to convince anyone how space exploration should be done in the future.

  49. #49 kiramatalishah
    February 3, 2010

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  50. #50 karlo pinar
    February 11, 2010

    I was just a bit curios.. is it possible that in football, the time relative to the moving ball is slower than the time felt by the people..?? could anyone give me examples of time dilation and explain this to me?? Actually, i am a writer but right now, I really need facts about the theory of relativity. If possible, please visit my site at
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  51. #51 Kev C
    March 8, 2010

    “NASA doing Earth science is like repurposing the Patent Office to handle driver’s licenses.” – Matt Springer

    Make it So.

  52. #52 R7
    May 15, 2010

    It is pretty pathetic that people who consider themselves “hip college students” are totally ignorant of private rocket companies like spacex.

    http://www.spacex.com/updates.php