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Moon NASA Politics

Reported Obama Plan Would Privatize Manned Launches 450

Posted by timothy
from the worth-it-at-any-price dept.
couchslug writes with this excerpt from the not-yet-paywalled New York Times: "President Obama will end NASA's return mission to the moon and turn to private companies to launch astronauts into space when he unveils his budget request to Congress next week, an administration official said Thursday. The shift would 'put NASA on a more sustainable and ambitious path to the future' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the changes have angered some members of Congress, particularly from Texas, the location of the Johnson Space Center, and Florida, the location of the Kennedy Space Center. 'My biggest fear is that this amounts to a slow death of our nation's human space flight program,' Representative Bill Posey, Republican of Florida, said in a statement." If true, this won't please the federal panel that recommended against just such privatization.
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Reported Obama Plan Would Privatize Manned Launches

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  • by MROD (101561) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:01AM (#30947630) Homepage

    Before anyone jumps up and shouts make sure that you're not being taken in by lobbyists who are trying to either support specific companies or jobs in specific states. They are apt to shout out about the sky falling before the real information is known.

    Sit back, relax and wait until the report is actually published, read it and make up your own mind. Don't believe what has been filtered through potentially biased news media companies.

    • by fm6 (162816) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:18AM (#30947688) Homepage Journal

      read it and make up your own mind.

      What are you, some kind of commie? This is America! We think what our favorite cable news pundit tells us to think! That's how democracy works!

      • by rhsanborn (773855) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:59AM (#30948218)
        [Rush Limbaugh | Keith Olberman | Shaun Hannity | Chris Matthews | Glen Beck] hasn't told me how I feel about this. Can we hold off on this conversation until later?
        • by Pojut (1027544)

          People that take paid political "opinion givers" seriously scare the hell out of me.

          By the way, OP, you left out O'Reilly and Maddow :-) (is O'Reilly even relevant anymore? Or has Glenn Beck taken his place?)

        • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:23AM (#30948954)

          I think this crowd generally gets its opinions from Daily Show, Huffington Post, Media Matters and the like.

    • by redkcir (1431605) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:21AM (#30947962) Homepage
      Lets see now. Who filled their cabinet posts with lobbyist after vowing not to? Who campaigned with the transparency pledge then developed a health care plan behind closed doors and limited examination of the bill to 72 hours before the vote?? How did that stimulus bill work out for the middle class and poor of the country? What has this guy done to help this country? You don't need to believe what any news the media "filters". Listen to the mans own words and match what he says and what he does for yourself. They don't add up. What gives you reason to believe this or anything else he says? If he has a plan, why not present it now? Learn from the past. The spin you need to watch out for is coming from him.
      • by Pojut (1027544) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:01AM (#30948746) Homepage

        I honestly believe that Obama intended to do exactly what he said he would...until he actually got elected and realized that he couldn't.

        I'll tell you the same thing I told my hyper-liberal sister: the guy's intentions are noble, but he has no idea what he is getting himself into. I see it as a salesman promising to deliver a solution to a client without having ANY idea about the technology or time required to do so.

        Who knows, I could be wrong...but I didn't see malice in Obama, just ignorance.

        • by the_humeister (922869) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:59AM (#30949404)

          How's that different from any other president?

          "Read my lips; no new taxes." O RLY Mr. Bush?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Who knows, I could be wrong...but I didn't see malice in Obama, just ignorance.

          And those of us that, all along, tried pointing out his ignorance and lack of experience were called racists and every other name in the book. It is perfectly possible to disagree with someone because of their politics, lack of experience, etc and not care one lick about their race (or gender, age, etc). I've been called a racist more times than I can count, because it's easier to attack someone for disagreeing with you than it is to defend your own opinions. It's especially funny when the accusations of ra

    • by yog (19073) * on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:22AM (#30948348) Homepage Journal
      Obama has never liked the space program, at least not since running for president. His campaign website actually had a proposal to create a nationalized pre-school/daycare program and fund it by cutting NASA's budget. Someone must have informed him that the space program is important for the United States, because this proposal was removed before the election. Some educators also called into question the need for such a pre-school program.

      NASA has always had its ups and downs, perhaps more downs than ups lately. It helps to have a sympathetic President in office. Kennedy wanted a moon landing, and his successors honored his memory by following through. Nixon was lukewarm to the space program, and he used NASA as a diplomacy tool--during his time they had Skylab (somewhat useful) and the Apollo-Soyuz space linkup (pure entertainment).

      Reagan was a space nut and an enlarged NASA fit into his SDI/Star Wars vision. Bush I spoke of a Mars mission, but left before he could really push it through. Clinton was lukewarm to space but lucked out with a temporary stock boom that filled the tax coffers, so NASA could keep rolling while he partied. Bush II liked space and authorized new missions. That brings us down to Obama who is the first president in my memory to shut down a manned space project.

      NASA is a victim of politics and of poor leadership in the 1970s and 80s, leading up to the avoidable Challenger tragedy. To spread the wealth (and pain of cuts), NASA in the 1970s embarked on a decentralization project to spread out its facilities all over the country, thus maximizing Congressional support for its various missions. The unfortunate side effect as pointed out by many observers over the years was to dissipate engineering teams. Perhaps today in the new century, with our modern communications abilities, virtual teams can work almost identically to localized teams, but this was not so in the 1970s. Thus, the rugged and long lasting space ships of the 1960s such as the Pioneer which survived decades beyond anyone's expectations gave way to buggy, incomplete efforts such as the Shuttle and some of the planetary probes.

      NASA's never been a perfect space agency but it has contributed hugely to improving the human condition through science and technology. It keeps hundreds of thousands of aerospace engineers and scientists employed, who would otherwise have gone to law school or some other less productive field. It keeps the U.S. at the forefront in aerospace technology which it needs in order to maintain its military edge. It promises great riches should we ever get self-sustaining stations online in near-Earth orbit or beyond--moon mining, asteroid mining, solar power, zero grav manufacturing, and all the scientific and engineering developments which will be a part of these efforts.

      We simply can't afford to not go into space. The Constellation program has been harshly criticized by some dissident engineers--fine, that's what engineering is all about. You design something, find the flaws, fix them, and move on. It's an iterative process.

      Simply walking away from billions of dollars of effort is not only a waste of time and money, it displays a distressing lack of vision by the current leadership. Obama obviously feels we can't afford a national space program, so he's sloughing it off on the private sector. Privatize it, he says. Indeed? Then the U.S. will no longer have a manned space exploration program at all, but only a very cautious and profit-oriented space tourism program. Others will pick up the slack and take over space exploration--the Chinese, the Japanese perhaps, the Russians, and the Europeans. Some day, we will sit in our yards and watch them through our Chinese-made telescopes. Look, Dad, there's the China Station! There's the European Station! There goes another Russian moon shot! And we can look back on this pivotal time in our history when we turned our back on the future and technological leadership.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rwa2 (4391) *

        I have mixed feelings about this. But basically the manned space program is:
        a) more political than scientific. People can plant flags on moons. Doesn't mean so much when bots do it.
        b) manned space travel is virtually privatized already, in that it's essentially run like a big corporate welfare program for the big defense contractors who make shuttle parts. As I see it, pretty much the main reason that the Constellation parts are being fashioned from modified Shuttle parts, even though the original purpo

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DesScorp (410532)

        "Someone must have informed him that the space program is important for the United States, because this proposal was removed before the election. "

        Probably Elon Musk [wikipedia.org], a major contributor of cash and support to the Obama campaign. In what I'm sure is just a coincidence, Mr. Musk also has a company called SpaceX [wikipedia.org] that, surprise!, is set to begin supplying NASA with commercial launch services.

        Not that I disagree with the commercialization of some of NASA's duties. I think that it is in fact long overdue. But It

      • by coofercat (719737) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:59AM (#30949400) Homepage Journal

        I clearly don't understand this well enough, as I'm sure will be self-evident in a moment...

        How would the private sector end up being 'space tourism' if Nasa contracts private companies to get it's people to the ISS, and to put satellites into LEO?

        I'm not saying privatisation is the Best Thing to do, but won't it foster a handful of LEO-capable mini-Nasas? The real Nasa could then concentrate on wider orbit deployment work, moon/mars missions and science (maybe not right now, but in the next 5-10 years). Apart from wider-orbit stuff, all the non-LEO stuff isn't all that interesting to private companies right now, and only the very rich/established can do it, so why not specialise?

        The other angle here is obviously money. Knowing the deficit is a bit big, slimming Nasa down a bit makes a bit of sense (I know other things dwarf what it costs, but maybe they're not as easy to cut). If what comes out of Nasa is truly unique and beyond the reach of any other space-going organisation in the world, wouldn't that be better than a sort of "do it all" Nasa that does what others could (in theory at least) do?

        What am I missing?

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Friday January 29, 2010 @01:16PM (#30951604)

        No.

        #1: Obama had bad things to say about the *manned* space program -- he always liked the robotic parts.

        #2: Presidents have cut manned programs before. We've been trying to build a replacement for the shuttle since it was built, but they keep being overdesigned, underfunded boondoggles that have to be cut. Its only making a bigger splash now because we can't keep using the shuttle.

        #3: The politicization of NASA, a necessary evil for any government program, is a good argument FOR putting basic LEO launch infrastructure in the hands of a more robust commercial ecosystem. If bad leadership ruins one of multiple companies that are contracted to for launch, then the results are much less drastic.

        #4: A space program that exists to employ people is great example of the broken window fallacy. We do it because its important, and if we can do more with less, as this plan hopes, that seems like a good thing. It may cause temporary pain as business model changes, but its good for the industry and the country in the long term.

        #5: Regarding contributions to society, how is this going to change. NASA is great at doing *NEW* things -- getting people to LEO isn't new. If the basic foundation of LEO-access is made more sustainable and reliable by fixed-price competitive contracts, then they'll be able to do those truly new and valuable things -- exploration of NEOs, solar-power, self-sustaining systems -- better since thats all they have to worry about.

        #6: We're not not going into space, we're just changing how we pay for it - cutting the corporate welfare of cost-plus contracts and proceeding to the more efficient fixed-price contracts of a mature market.

        #7: Keeping going on a flawed design is another economic fallacy. If its cheaper to start over than it is to keep going, or if there are fundamentally better ways to go about things, you don't consider sunk costs, you only consider costs to proceed. Ares wasn't just flawed because of technical challenges, it was flawed because in many ways it was designed by congress, keeping the various contractors happy.

        #8: Ares is not the space program! I've yet to see anything about Orion being cut (Augustine talked about putting it on top of an EELV), and I've yet to see anything that says that the amount we're spending will go down. NASA will continue to explore, this will just make it easier for them to do that instead of fretting about the space-taxi part. This is *good* for our space industry and could put us leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else, as multiple contractors going in multiple directions refine and improve our capabilities far better than a monolithic program could.

        The sky is not falling, we're not giving up our leadership. It could be painful for some workers at NASA centers (and I sincerely apologize and thank you for your work if you're one of them), but this is probably the best, most sustainable path forward for manned spaceflight.

  • by Josh04 (1596071) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:07AM (#30947652)
    That Obama is practically a COMMUNIST, I tell you!
    • It's not about logic, it's all about the size of the voting bloc whom you can make beholden to you.

    • by tipping it towards having the private sector to do the launches he can blame them for not jumping on the opportunity and therefor excuse the lack of progress in NASA's mission. It is killing two birds with one stone.

      Almost as good as "reaching across the aisle" when you know the other side doesn't have the votes to do anything

  • A sound plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:17AM (#30947684)

    Plan : increase the budget to NASA, and ask for them to purchase rides to space from newly formed private companies.

    The article says that NASA has "50 years of institutional experience" in doing spaceflight, and that this would be a bad idea.

    The "institutional" part of that statement is the problem. NASA stinks for spaceflight. The problem isn't in their engineering, it's in the fact that they have many, many masters all trying to stir the pot. Their budget depends upon the whim of Congressmen, not performing to a contract.

    Privatization has many failures. There's a lot of goods and services that it doesn't make sense to privatize. But I think the high tech industry of space travel is one that will benefit enormously from privatization.

    The only downside? Private firms can probably get a LOT more manned launches done per year for the same cost, but they'll be a little riskier. More astronauts will be killed. I don't see this as a problem : there's 6 billion people on the planet, and I for one if faced between possibly dying during a trip to space or dying from old age would choose the former.

    • Re:A sound plan (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AllyGreen (1727388) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:35AM (#30947762)
      Totally agree, my only niggling worry about using private companies is the greed factor. But maybe a little greed and more competition is really what the space industry needs?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Private firms can probably get a LOT more manned launches done per year for the same cost, but they'll be a little riskier. More astronauts will be killed. I don't see this as a problem : there's 6 billion people on the planet, and I for one if faced between possibly dying during a trip to space or dying from old age would choose the former.

      Kind of agree. The dying thing is a turnoff, but like the people who decide to be soldiers or drive stunt cars, they know or at least should be vaguely aware that death is a possibility.

      What I really do agree about is the sheer potential increase in quantity. Fuel consumption will suck, but the ridiculous increase in quantity of launches will cause far more innovations and research for future craft than the current trend of not so many launches. According to Wikipedia and a little bit from NASA, there've be

      • Re:A sound plan (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bitrex (859228) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:40AM (#30948104)

        NASA had originally planned to do dozens of flights per year - the logistics of turnaround on the Shuttle turned out to just consume too much time, particularly due to the fact that even with a "reusable" spacecraft it was essentially being rebuilt every time it was turned around. For example, even though the landing gear were rated for say 10 flights they would be stripped down and refurbished after every launch. Same goes for the thermal protection system, the main engines, and hundreds of other functional units. NASA's fastest turnaround performance was in 1985, with 9 flights that year. Next year was Challenger. When something goes wrong and people are killed, who wants to be the person in management who ends up having to say "Yeah, we could have refurbished that part, but we needed to shave a day off our turnaround time"?

        How are for-profit corporations going to be any faster at turning around a space vehicle than NASA? Even though manned spaceflight went on hiatus after Challenger and Columbia, it did continue after a time, and all the costs involved in the recovery, analysis, and remediation of the accidents were eventually footed by the US taxpayer. With a for-profit corporation, one fatal accident and you are finished, if not from the legal costs of the inevitable lawsuits, then from the loss of market share in what will most likely be a rather limited market. If you're going to drop $200,000, why do it with the company that killed people? Of course, perhaps companies like Virgin Galactic have figured something out that NASA was unable to figure out during the 30+ years of the Shuttle program. Then again, it's not like the current private spaceflight corporations have exactly been racking up the numbers of completed flights. It's a money pit, if there is no longer the political and/or economic will in the US to continue manned space flight for reasons of national pride, technological research, or scientific discovery, I don't think one should expect for-profit reasons to continue doing it to suddenly materialize. I'm of the opinion that you'd probably have more luck opening a transatlantic steamship line.

        • Re:A sound plan (Score:4, Interesting)

          by zippthorne (748122) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:59AM (#30948214) Journal

          I think that one thing for-profit corporations would do (presuming someone is buying manned space launches. If there's no market they won't do anything.), is look at the costs and turnaround time and realize that they would need to have more vehicles if they want more frequent launches.

          Then they'll realize that it's stupid to spend money on sending stuff to space only to bring it back, so you only bring back the stuff you absolutely need to instead of a whole freakin' rocket. Which would lead them to the conclusion that single-use rockets are both less expensive per launch and inherently parallelizable.

          They should be safer, too, although the numbers at the moment still suggest otherwise, and also that "safer" is a relative proposition: in the history of manned space flight, a 1:50 failure rate with loss of crew seems to be the economically acceptable risk factor.

        • Re:A sound plan (Score:4, Insightful)

          by DarkBlackFox (643814) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:21PM (#30950632)
          Of course, perhaps companies like Virgin Galactic have figured something out that NASA was unable to figure out during the 30+ years of the Shuttle program.

          They more than likely have figured something out- listen to the fscking engineers that designed and built the vehicle. The only two shuttle failures to date were caused by management's unwillingness to listen to engineer feedback. With Challenger, the manufacturer of the O-ring in the solid rocket booster warned NASA the O-ring was NOT rated to launch under the cold conditions of that day. Managers effectively said "don't worry about it" and launched anyway. With Columbia, engineers saw the foam strike on launch video, and asked management for military/hubble satellite photography to check for damage to the leading edge of the wing. Managers effectively said "it was foam, what damage could it possibly have done, don't worry about it" without understanding that a block of foam traveling 400 miles per hour has some serious kinetic energy, especially when it hits the relatively delicate carbon-carbon tiles.

          Bottom line is, both of those tragedies could have been avoided, if the managers actually considered the dangers engineers presented to them. If Richard Branson and Virgin figure out how to listen to the people working with the designs and hardware when there are potential problems, with a solid enough vehicle they likely could have a perfect launch record.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Macrat (638047)

          With a for-profit corporation, one fatal accident and you are finished, if not from the legal costs of the inevitable lawsuits, then from the loss of market share in what will most likely be a rather limited market.

          I guess that's why we don't have any airlines. After the first plane crash, they all went under.

    • Re:A sound plan (Score:5, Insightful)

      by diewlasing (1126425) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:34AM (#30948028)

      Allow me to strongly disagree with you for a second. While I think private space flight will be a good thing in the future, it's not now. The technology is there, but funding, logistics and safety guidelines probably are not up to par with NASA's

      I abhor your suggestion that we could sacrifice people to get private space flight off the ground. Reminds me of the Star Trek Enterprise episode where the Klingons kidnap Dr. Phlox in order for him to help cure or restore the genetically altered Klingons who were dying. He didn't have time and the Klingon general wanted to sacrifice some of his people as test subjects. Phlox refused because it was unethical, but relented when given the option of millions of lives verses a few, and pressure from the Klingons.

      The point is it was unethical, but did it, for what was at the time, the only winning option

      Sacrificing even a few lives for private space flight at this point in time would be irresponsible (and might turn off many people to privitization) and it stinks of the old Robber Baron's lives for profit attitude (sounds Ferengi, no?).

      So instead, if you want to go the private route, let me suggest a better short-medium term plan, which could be our winning option: Streamline NASA. Keep it's budget big, but dedicate it to ONLY spaceflight (and maybe atmospheric research) so as to try and have it waste less by setting goals for only that. And have private companies haul cargo, like satellites and rovers into space. That is something they are already capable of doing, and are doing it safely. Now, it won't save as much money as privatizing manned-missions so soon, but it will save money and definitely save lives.

      • Re:A sound plan (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShooterNeo (555040) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:48AM (#30948600)

        I disagree vehemently with your approach.

        1. We're not "sacrificing" people, we're allowing people who are willing to tolerate a small risk (under 5%) of death in order for the glory of going to space. *I* would take that risk, even if 1/20 launches ended up blowing up or otherwise failing. You can go sit at home watching TV if you want, until old age puts you in a nursing home where you have to wear a diaper and someday something fails and you're dead. LIFE is ultimately going to result in death...you might as well get what you can out of it. If someone volunteers for a risky anything, we should generally allow them to take that risk.

        2. Your reasoning is why medical science advances as such a glacial pace. In the old days, scientists could take experimental drugs right out of the lab and test them. Yes, there were some mishaps, but most of the drugs we use today were discovered this way. Institutionalized CYA and mountains of paperwork often cost more lives than it saves.

        3. If a corporation has a big disaster, they'll go under...leaving the surviving private firms in the industry, who will scarf up the facilities and people left behind by the failed company. That's the very purpose of a corporation : to insulate the people owning it from the risk.

    • by thewiz (24994) *

      The only downside? Private firms can probably get a LOT more manned launches done per year for the same cost, but they'll be a little riskier. More astronauts will be killed.

      After a few launches where astronauts get killed, we'll hear the screaming to let NASA go back to manned space flight. The problem with using private firms/corporations is that they only care about how much money they make in a year. Yes, the astronauts know the risks of climbing into a rocket and being launched into space; we should

    • by camcorder (759720)
      It's not monkeys that you send to the space and risk their lifes. It's humans and moreover highly trained *scientists*. Unfortunately number of 6 billions doesn't count for this. Risking life of an astronaut is much more costly than some elderly dying. You can build shuttles in a factory but it's not possible to build scientists in a known automated way, otherwise we would have thousands of Einsteins, frankly we only had one till now.
    • Private firms can probably get a LOT more manned launches done per year for the same cost, but they'll be a little riskier. More astronauts will be killed. I don't see this as a problem : there's 6 billion people on the planet, and I for one if faced between possibly dying during a trip to space or dying from old age would choose the former.

      And it's a great way to cull excess population without the social stigma of war...

  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:23AM (#30947706)

    Does anyone else see the irony in two Republican congressmen complaining about the privatization of space flight?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:32AM (#30947750) Journal
      I'm used to it by now. The Obama administration has, thus far, (when one counts actual policy actions, rather than words) been pretty much a long sequence of Obama doing something that is centrist-democrat at best, "Bush III, but literate" at worst then being howled at by republicans(many of whom supported virtually identical policies in the recent past) because anything a communist-fascist-muslim-sleeper-terrorist from kenya does simply must be evil.
      • by fm6 (162816) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:18AM (#30947952) Homepage Journal

        Nowadays everything is about branding, even politics. In order to differentiate their brand from brand of the Democrat Party (as they like to call it), the Republic Party (as I like to call them) has to avoid showing any support for anything Obama does. Their marketing division (or, to use an old-fashioned term, their political strategists) understand that any show of bipartisanship confuse the consumers (I guess most people still call them "voters") and dilute the brand. So the party has to maintain a uniform anti-Democrat (not to be confused with anti-Democratic) message, even when the Democrats propose a product (officially a "policy") that the Republics invented in the first place.

        Obama's attempts to achieve a consensus show his utter contempt for the way business (isn't government a business? if not it should be) is done in the 21st century. If that doesn't convince you he's a communist, nothing will!

    • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:37AM (#30948056)

      Does anyone else see the irony in two Republican congressmen complaining about the privatization of space flight?

      They're just following the first rule of politics - no government spending is wasteful if it occurs in your district.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:34AM (#30947760) Journal

    Who gives a flying fuck about privatized LEO launches of some tycoon (apart of the tycoons themselves)? Private companies will not undertake the large-scale, visionary projects like sending people to Mars, building permanent bases on Mars and Moon, reaching Europa and exploring her oceans. Private companies only produce as little science as they possibly can get away with, putting much more emphasis on patenting the crap out of the little they do produce, and then keep it for themselves.

    In other words: FAIL!

    When Obama said he'll cancel Constellation, he crushed the dreams and hopes of MY generation. Those who grew up in the 50s and 60s in the US and Europe had the ride of their lives, if they had even the slightest affinity for science. That was science that inspired millions, and from the sci-fi movies of the 70's, I'd say people were probably less dumb on average than they are today ("Andromeda Strain", for one example. Compare that to the blockbuster space-operas some call "Sci-fi"). Nowadays scientists are only prodded to make cheaper electronic components and larger plasma screens.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Amiralul (1164423)
      Sir, I couldn't agree more! I wasn't born in 1969 and I was hoping to live the day when man will step on Mars. Sadly, this will not happen during my lifetime. Thank you, Obama.
      • It's not like there only live man in the US.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by aderuwe (539595)

        You honestly think that's thanks to Obama?

        And it has nothing to do with spending billions of dollars on war, increasing your country's national deficit beyond even something imaginable?

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:03AM (#30947878) Homepage Journal

      I'm not sure I understand your objection. NASA would still be free to do big projects (horribly), they'd just have to buy the first ride from commercial providers.. which is really the way it should be. NASA shouldn't do anything that can be bought off-the-shelf and, if it currently cant buy something off-the-shelf, it should be doing the work to ensure that it soon will be able to do so. No commercial company has ever launched a person to orbit. Suborbital was only done 5 years ago. How freakin' disgraceful is that?

    • by Jeeeb (1141117) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:43AM (#30948126)
      Private companies will not undertake the large-scale, visionary projects like sending people to Mars, building permanent bases on Mars and Moon, reaching Europa and exploring her oceans.

      You don't need manned space flight to do any of those things. In-fact manned space flight is a terrible way to do those things. We're already doing awesome things and producing great science using robots. Why on earth would you want to do it with humans?
      - We need food and oxygen. We can't run on solar power. Food and oxygen is added weight which given the cost of launching is the last thing you need.
      - The risk of failure is much higher. If a human life is lost then it's a huge tragedy and setback. If a robot is lost it's a financial setback and you sit down and work out what went wrong and then have another go. No huge political or moral setback.
      - We can push our knowledge of robotics to the limit and make new discoveries related to robotics.

      When Obama said he'll cancel Constellation, he crushed the dreams and hopes of MY generation.
      I'm in my 20's and I didn't feel very crushed. Let's say we do go back to the moon. What're people going to say? I'm imagining it would go something like: "Oh great we did that half a century ago. What's new?" Certainly going to Mars would be an enormous victory but you need to balance between spending huge amounts of money on something which has enormous propaganda but huge risks associated with failure vs. spending relatively little continuing to send robots up and generating tonnes of new scientific knowledge.
      • You don't need manned space flight to do any of those things. In-fact manned space flight is a terrible way to do those things. We're already doing awesome things and producing great science using robots. Why on earth would you want to do it with humans?

        Because what the Rovers have accomplished in [roughly] 4000 rover days could have been done in [roughly] 20 man days and probably done better to boot.

        The risk of failure is much higher. If a human life is lost then it's a huge tragedy and setback. If

    • NASA would pay private companies to develop huge launchers necessary to conduct research and concentrate on building the payload itself. Ares was a wobbly piece of shit that couldn't even launch a test payload without destroying the launchpad, and slamming into the payload itself. That's because there are political reasons behind the design of spacecraft that end up fucking up NASA's ability to do shit. For instance, the Space Shuttle was designed to land cross country with bigger wings to accommodate the m

    • by IrquiM (471313)

      If NASA says: "We'll buy the service, and we are willing to spend X on it" a lot of private companies would jump at it

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jeroen94704 (542819)
      On the contrary.

      Especially BECAUSE NASA should focus its resources on those visionary missions does it make sense to shift to commercial partners for the initial launch part. Why? Because launching by itself is not all that interesting. There will never be a vehicle that will launch from Earth and fly to Mars in one go. The only sensible solution for manned deep-space missions is to develop pure space-vehicles, that never touch own on a solid surface. If NASA can simply purchase seats to LEO on a commerci
    • by c6gunner (950153) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:36AM (#30948470)

      Private companies only produce as little science as they possibly can get away with, putting much more emphasis on patenting the crap out of the little they do produce, and then keep it for themselves.

      Spoken like a true ignoramus. Who do you think developed the automobile? The airplane? The microchip? Who develops the pharmaceuticals which keep us living twice as long as our great-grandparents? Who's creating newer, more efficient forms of power, whether it be solar, wind, or nuclear? Who created the high-yield crops which are the only thing staving off mass starvation?

      Private industry does more R&D than all the government organizations put together. Most of the great advances in our history were created by private individuals and small companies, and most of the incremental changes around us are driven by private industry. Governments are great for putting together huge research projects like the LHC and the ITER which cost billions and have no immediate practical application, but for everyday innovation and discovery nothing beats private business in search of larger profits.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by IICV (652597)

        Uhm... fyi, a scientist working for the British Ministry of Defense came up with the idea of the microchip, though he didn't create one himself.

        Also, pharmaceutical companies generally just take drugs that have been found promising in publicly funded academic research, and do the lifting necessary to get them approved by the FDA and into humans; they usually don't do much of the basic research that finds these drugs (or that points to where these drugs could be).

        Basically, discounting publicly funded academ

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        Private companies only produce as little science as they possibly can get away with, putting much more emphasis on patenting the crap out of the little they do produce, and then keep it for themselves.

        Spoken like a true ignoramus. Who do you think developed the automobile? The airplane? The microchip? Who develops the pharmaceuticals which keep us living twice as long as our great-grandparents? Who's creating newer, more efficient forms of power, whether it be solar, wind, or nuclear? Who created the high-y

  • This is Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Diagoras (859063) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:54AM (#30947850)

    Every damn article posted on Slashdot about privatization of space has been packed with complaints that this is the end of the world. It's really not. God willing, it may be the start of a new one.

    NASA was pursuing a completely impossible architecture. Ares was underfunded and unable to be effectively used until 2017 at the latest. By forcing NASA to buy services from private corporations we can develop our domestic launch infrastructure as opposed to keeping it under government control.

    And yes, I said BUY! This is not cost-plus contracting, which defense contractors famously use to rip us off every chance they get. This is a straight purchase of services, cash for deliveries and milestones met. In other words, actual free-market capitalism.

    As for those claiming that we should have blown our cash on another Apollo-like shot: what cash? Obama is not a dictator, he's a President. His budget requests have to be approved by Congress which would have balked at any substantial increase in spending on space exploration. Not to mention that we tried Apollo and it was nowhere near substainable. Development of regular deliveries to orbital space by private companies - that's sustainable. That's what will provide us with the groundwork to move beyond earth orbit and lower the cost to orbit to the point where we can actually do something.

    • Its better than good (Score:4, Informative)

      by voss (52565) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:28AM (#30947994)

      If necessity is the mother of invention, its time we get to inventing. Nasa has subsidized extremely expensive shuttle launches that cost us $500 million a pop. Ares I wont put a man into space until 2017 at the EARLIEST if at all. Ares V is a bad joke thats already on the verge of being scrapped. The current plan would not get men back to the moon before 2028 at the earliest, project constellation was an epic fail. Lets give private companies like spacex (which will test launch a man ready falcon 9 THIS YEAR) a chance

    • Re:This is Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bencoder (1197139) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:35AM (#30948032)

      In other words, actual free-market capitalism.

      It's not free market capitalism when the government's doing the buying.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:09AM (#30947902)

    No check-in. You have to schlep all your moonwalk gear yourself to the launch vehicle: "All you can carry." This cuts down on excess weight, saving fuel costs. Do you really need that extra oxygen tank?

    A glass of Tang? "That will be 10€, sir."

    Online Gambling! Your now have no incentive to return safely to the Earth . . . you are now bankrupt.

    . . . and when you do get back, they lost your luggage filled with priceless moon rocks . . .

    "I'm sorry, sir, your baggage was inadvertently placed on one of our flights to Mars. We should have it back for you in a couple of years time.

    • by itsdapead (734413) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:42AM (#30948120)

      Great - return flight to the Moon $50 (excluding optional $5,000,000,000 life-support surcharge).

      Of course, they say Moon, but actually its to the new state-of-the-art spaceport at L1, only a short bus ride away from the Moon. Well, they say new state-of-the-art spaceport... its actually an abandoned Apollo third stage with a Starbucks and a chemical toilet...

  • by starbugs (1670420) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:18AM (#30947956)

    On one side I know that (in this economy) there are many more ways to spend money than space.
    But few things united the US as much as the space program.

    When the political climate was different, the reasons for going to space were different.
    Now that the Cold War is over, space has become a primarily scientific endeavor. I'm happy that science (instead of politics) is the motivator, but now it seems that politics is choking one of the greatest achievements of our species.

    The idea behind this "private taxi service" to space could go either way. We all know how recent new aircraft have suffered delay after delay. But what if a more competitive environment brings innovation that otherwise would have been unattainable? After-all it was a competitive environment that pushed us to be the first on the moon.

    What I am really sad about though is the lack of interest in the moon. I believe that a permanent, self sufficient (however difficult that might be) settlement on the moon should be a priority. And if we don't start soon, India [telegraph.co.uk] or China [xinhuanet.com] might beat us to it.

    While I believe that any mission to the moon is an international event, other countries/cultures might not share that view. I would prefer for us to set the bar in both - returning to the moon, and sharing that experience with the rest of the world.

  • Privatisation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bencoder (1197139) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:26AM (#30947982)
    Privatisation isn't privatisation when your primary customers and sources of funding come from the government. There is in fact no difference, just an illusion of competition. What is needed is for them to remove the regulations that exist against private space travel. Remove the monopolistic government funded NASA entirely, leaving the playing field completely open for private firms to build a true spot in the marketplace. That is the only way space exploration, tourism and travel will be able to survive.
  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:35AM (#30948034)
    Privatization may seem like a good idea, and I hope it will turn out to be. But I doubt it. Right now, the US has one - count them - one man-rated orbital vehicle. That's the shuttle, and it will be ending soon. Without a replacement, the US will be forced to hitch rides in the short term with Russia, maybe even China. In fact, since we've outsourced much of our manufacturing base to China anyway, why not our space program? Well here's why: other countries, maybe even private companies in the future will fly in space. Maybe they'll let the US hitch rides. Maybe not. Either way they won't be building their launchers and space vehicles with US program goals in mind. They'll be building whatever makes sense for them. It may or may not be what makes sense for US goals. So in the end, we'll have an ISS that we continue to pay for - funding for that is in the budget, and no way to get there from the US. Excellent. The Mercury astronauts had it right... No Bucks, No Buck Rogers. We'll continue to send neat probes to other planets. And we'll continue to get amazing pictures. But in the end, people will tire of that too. That'll leave us with No Bucks. When you look back 200 years from now, this will be the moment that people say the US "jumped the shark"...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Its the death of America.

      It has now become American to sell out America... even Obama is doing it.

      We're slowly dismantling everything that we once were. One day we'll look back and say "no wonder they couldnt pass universal health care...... you have to actually care to do it."

      As long as the rich have their big homes and green grass, it doesnt matter if America dies around them.

    • by khallow (566160) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:36PM (#30950900)

      Right now, the US has one - count them - one man-rated orbital vehicle.

      Bzzzt! Wrong! The US has zero - count them - zero man-rated orbital vehicles. If you disagree, then do this simple exercise. Find any man-rating standards you can. Then look at the requirements for abort at and after launch. See that the Shuttle can't possibly abort within 5 minutes or so of launch. Conclude that the Shuttle is not a man-rated vehicle.

      For bonus points, take that same man-rating standard and look at the engineering margin for structural members. Note that the Soyuz doesn't meet that margin. Conclude that the Soyuz isn't man-rated either! Nor anything else (aside from the Shuttle) that has ever flown people into orbit.

      Conclude that the human race never had man-rated vehicles! Wonder what the purpose of man-rating actually is. (Hint: it was to rationalize the selection of the paper rocket, Ares I over the real commercial rockets, Delta IV and Atlas V).

  • most nations recognize the value of capitalism, but they yoke it with socially-conscious goals, to effective and ineffective results

    but the usa is a cult of capitalism. they think it answers every question (it doesn't). they invoke market principles where market principles make no sense, such as in healthcare. they remove financial regulations and then act surprised when the markets bubble and burst (and then some of them, in their denial, even blame the government, magically somehow, for the market's failure, confusing cause and effect)

    that space exploration should be privatized is yet another absurdity of the monomaniacal american obsession with elevating market principles as the driving force behind everything in the world. americans: of course capitalism is important. of course capitalism works. but capitalism is a beast of burden, it needs to be tamed and controlled. it needs to be fenced and given limits, or it will run roughshod and destroy your society with its extremes and stampedes of panic or greed. you need social safety nets, and you need to tame the excesses. understand this or understand nothing and be just a market fundamentalist, as foolish and blind to reality as any religious fundamentalist

  • It's about time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Torino10 (1369453)

    Finally the Administration is doing something to end corporate welfare and make the US aerospace industry competitive once again. If it forces Republican congressmen to stand up and trumpet there support for pork barrel projects while crying for fiscal conservatism I'm sure the Irony will not be lost on the general population.

    Give such corporations as Space Exploration Technologies a chance, there founder, Elon Musk, his comparison of other aerospace companies to "Dilbert in real life" is spot on.

    I say

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:06AM (#30948250)

    For those of you who are wondering about this and not just using it to blast Obama/dems with ever breath,
    then read the last 10 pages of the Direct forum [nasaspaceflight.com].
    In a nut shell, Boeing, et. al. will be building Direct and offering it for commercial space. Yes, SpaceX, Orbital, and even the EELVs will have their role in space. HOWEVER, direct will now be allowed to be developed by Boeing and offered for commercial launches. Once that happens AND they have 2 launches per year via commercial, it will drop the price per launch. And what commercial space will be interested in this? Well Bigelow figures VERY prominently in this. That is why we are seeing them suddenly get active. That is also why they shifted their schedule to have station in 2015. Basically, we are about to see a MASSIVE expansion into space, but via the commercial world. Think of the railroads for USA in the mid 1800's.

    This is not the end of America's human flights. It is the FINALLY the beginning of it. Most importantly, it will remove Space from politicians hands like W's who said that we were going to the moon and the provided next to ZERO funding for it. Heck, only in 2007 and 2008 did NASA budget increase. Prior to that it was being cut.
    NASA will instead do what it does best; high tech RD as well as getting all parties to connect well (ignoring a mars probe).
    Windbourne.

  • Take my temperature (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaissezFaire (582924) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:21AM (#30948332) Journal
    I think I agree with something the President said. Now, if we can guarantee property rights for those companies in space, too, this'd be amazing! Maybe Mr. Obama read Robert Heinlein when he was a kid and hasn't told anyone yet.
  • by ibsteve2u (1184603) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:29AM (#30948404)
    Coach passengers may opt to purchase oxygen.
  • by trims (10010) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:32AM (#30948432) Homepage

    As someone who has personal (and close) contacts and friendships with people in the various X-Prize contests (including the latest winner [masten-space.com]), I'm a bit biased here.

    However, what Obama is talking about is really changing the ways that NASA procures it's systems. Right now, they get practically everything from one of about 3 or 4 big contractors, and essentially run like a massive Defense Contractor, complete with problems around innovation and cost-inflation.

    The proposals are to quit funneling every significant contract just to these Big Space corps. Rather, the "hobbyist" rocket industry is now sufficiently mature to begin competing for real space equipment. What it needs to continue to grow and innovate are a steady, reliable supply of work. NASA is the only place this can happen right now (though, likely once the market is more mature, private space use/trips will fund more and more of industry). Breaking the grip of Big Space means that NASA can continue to use it's hard-won knowledge of manned missions as a information resource for these "space entrepreneurs", and at the same time, open up the infrastructure for better efficiencies.

    Of course, Big Space sees the end of the NASA-funded (and guarantied) gravy train, so they squeal about safety and other issues that Little Space couldn't possibly (no, never!) do, forgetting (conveniently) that they themselves were once Little, and only became Big by sucking on NASA's teat. What we're talking about here is NASA enabling a new, vibrant market for space systems from a wide variety of suppliers.

    To use the tired car analogy: NASA current designs the car, but farms out the manufacturing and design of the parts to SuperMegaCorp1 and GiganticConglomerate2, all of which use the notorious "cost-plus" method of development. Instead, Obama wants NASA to be deciding the PURPOSE of the car, and the desired CAPABILITIES of it, but then put out for bid all the different parts to anyone capable of making that part to the desired specs. So, perhaps we get a Volt, an Accord, and a Caravan all offered from various suppliers, rather than a Greyhound bus with all but 5 seats removed, as we would under the old system.

    I hate to break it to everyone, but LEO Rocket Science is no longer, well, Rocket Science. Masten won the latest X-prize with a staff of 10, working out of a small machine shop, using only about $2 million. Putting people into orbit is not that difficult anymore (though, it's still dangerous), and it's entirely reasonable to start moving away from the single-entity agency and into a more competitive, cost-effective marketplace.

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:42AM (#30948540) Homepage

    While I think the future of space travel will be in the hands of the private sector, NASA are currently the only ones really equipped to do this stuff.

    fair warning: this may get a little "everybody just get along"-like, so I apologize in advance for any hippy attitude you take from this

    It's hard nowadays to sell a space program to the public, but it can be a unifying thing. Countries are still working seperately (except for the ISS, which is quite an achievement). What really needs to happen is the space programs of the world need to come together and work together. If all the nations with major or developing space programs pooled their knowledge and resources, we could have a moonbase going in the next 10 years and be on Mars shortly thereafter. The problem is that each country has a few super brilliant people. Space travel requires a LOT of brilliant people.

  • Obamas legacy ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Snaller (147050) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:33AM (#30949050) Journal

    He gave up space.

  • by VoxMagis (1036530) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:18AM (#30949660)

    The politics of NASA killed the plans of NASA.

    At one time, they had a plan that would have put a base on the Moon by the end of the 70's and missions to Mars in the 80's. Some of the Apollo astronauts saw themselves as part of that.

    After we went to the Moon, Nixon killed the hope. Under his 'leadership' we scrapped the last three planned Moon missions, stopped building anything new outside of an under-funded (and possibly ill-advised) Space Shuttle, and those that led us to space, from Astronauts to Engineers to Machinists and Janitors, left NASA with the cuts. We never regained the drive, or the ability we had since then. NASA had become a tool of politics, which it hadn't really been before.

    Sure, we went to the Moon to beat the Russians. Along the way, we learned things, and we even maybe pulled the nation and the world a BIT more together. Is that so bad?

    Whether you like Obama or not, whether the realities of our current crises are the end, are we not losing sight of the grand picture given us by those who came before?

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