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NASA Space The Almighty Buck Politics

Obama's Space Plan — a Conservative Argument 433

Posted by timothy
from the who-is-this-conservative-paleface? dept.
MarkWhittington writes "The Obama space proposal, which seeks to enable a commercial space industry for transportation to and from low Earth orbit while it cancels space exploration beyond LEO, has sparked a kind of civil war among conservatives. Some conservatives hate the proposal because of the retreat from the high frontier and even go so far as to cast doubt on the commercial space aspects. Other conservatives like the commercial space part of the Obama policy and tend to gloss over the cancellation of space exploration or even denigrate the Constellation program as 'unworkable' or 'unsustainable.'"
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Obama's Space Plan — a Conservative Argument

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  • libertarian (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:25PM (#31129070) Homepage

    Coming from a different point than conservative or liberal - NASA has always been a huge waste of money and ought to be deprecated. Getting private industry into the act is a good thing, in my opinion, although I'm not so sanguine about government subsidies. Also, while low Earth orbit may not be as grand a vision as going to the Moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt, it's a good starting place of all of the above; let's get some infrastructure up there and we'll be able to go wherever we want.

    • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

      by simcop2387 (703011) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:55PM (#31129310) Homepage Journal

      well that's one thing where, even though I'd say I'm mostly libertarian, I'd disagree. getting infrastructure in place is one of the things that government can do easier and (if you can eliminate most of the pork and other bureaucratic shit) should be doing since it is one thing that most definitely does benefit all citizens equally, just imagine if the roads were done by private companies, there might be more that are very well maintained but something like the interstate highway system would be near impossible to create because you'd be so hard pressed to get the companies to actually cooperate in any reasonable manner. Funding NASA helps fund the research and development that allows for the possibility of creating that infrastructure we so desperately need up in space in order to do any of it. There are so few people that seem to realize that we are so incredibly far away from being able to mine the asteroid belts and things like that. And even so many years after the space program has started, there is not one company that can go into LEO to do the things NASA can do, simply because the returns aren't there in LEO to be profitable in the short or even medium term. Government does not have any business in morality but infrastructure is one place that it can really do a huge amount of good for the citizens and possibly the world (and our own economy if we get the infrastructure up there and charge others to use it)

      • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TwoUtes (1075403) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:25PM (#31129560)
        Mod this parent up. U.S. industry is loathe to spend money on any R&D that does not have an immediate return on investment (read:shareholder gains). That is why there are not now and never will be manned private launchers entirely from the so-called 'private sector'. Too expensive for too little return. This new plan from the Obama administration doesn't change that one bit. The U.S. Treasury will still be spending the money to design and build a man-rated launcher. Instead of ATK, Lockheed, Boeing, etc. being the recipients of this largesse, it will now be SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and others. Basically, the money has been diverted from large government contractors that have already been in the space business for a long time, to a bunch of newcomers. Same game, different players.
        • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @05:25PM (#31130030)

          You realize Boeing and ULA (a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed) are two of the primary contractors under CCDev, the precursor to a larger 'commercial' manned operation. Furthermore, SpaceX, Blue Origin, et. al. employ a large number of people who used to work at more traditional companies -- Boeing and Lockheed do not have experience, the people working for them do.

          The difference in the game isn't that the money is going to different people, its how its being managed. Before, we were operating in the same way we did in Apollo, by telling companies what we wanted built, and paying significantly more when things didn't work out as cheaply as we hoped. This made sense in the 60s, since we didn't really know what it took to complete the task. However, after we have been launching people into orbit for 50 years, we should no longer be able to claim to not be able to predict the costs. So the difference here is that instead of funding development of vehicles, NASA is instead saying they'll be a guaranteed customer, and purchase rides at a fixed price from these companies. While this may seem like a fine distinction, it changes the incentive structure significantly so that programs are more likely to stay on time and on budget, proposals are more likely to be accurate, and congress is less able to meddle.

          Costs for missions beyond LEO are harder to predict, so government directed cost-plus contracts may make sense in this regime -- however, they will be far more successful if there is a robust, reliable, multi-vendor infrastructure for getting people to and from LEO.

          • Re:libertarian (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Saturday February 13, 2010 @09:24PM (#31131512) Homepage Journal

            I'd have to agree. The environment of sending people to and from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) should be considered a solved engineering problem. It was a tough nut to crack and certainly is a challenge for any group of engineers who want to tackle the problem. A graduate aerospace engineering student who successfully launches something, anything, into orbit on their design likely deserves the graduate degree (especially if they can do it cheaply), but it isn't something their professors ought to be congratulated for as ground breaking or Nobel Prize winners by accomplishing.

            There might be room to try and drive down the cost of getting into space. That is something that isn't even on the agenda for NASA and hasn't been for some time. The DC-X program was promising, and hopefully the guys at Blue Origin might take some of the ideas from the project and make them worthwhile and practical. There have been some other ideas on how to lower costs, including the efforts by SpaceX to make a vehicle that worked even if it wasn't at the top peak of performance.

            The engineering mantra can be best described as the following:

            What ever you want, it can be made:

            • Cheaper
            • Sooner
            • Reliable

            Please pick only two of the above options!

            I've had bosses insist on all three at the same time, and what they get is none of them happening or the "reliable" aspect gets thrown out the window. Apollo selected the Sooner and Reliable options, and paid dearly for it (4% of the U.S. Federal budget I should note). Not many companies have bosses that are patient to wait for results that may be cheaper in the long run but take some time to happen.

            Some of the newer companies getting into commercial spaceflight are now trying to see if it can be made for cheaper instead of sooner. Unfortunately, there are always critics who complain because they are expecting the program to be operated with the mentality that the Apollo program was built. This includes the Constellation program and its supporters.

      • I've always envisioned NASA being the space version of the FAA. Except that's not what's happening here. NASA not only oversees the USA getting into space, but they're also in charge of making the vehicles, piloting, and booking flights/cargo into space. In its current form, how can NASA not be bureaucratic? The role of NASA needs to be changed to a more basic level to that of the FAA.

      • by dpilot (134227)

        I agree with wanting infrastructure up there. I also agree that business doesn't do well putting its own money into infrastructure, and this IS something that government can do well.

        But launching stuff to LEO ought to be Business As Usual by now. NASA and the government shouldn't need to be in the business of developing LEO launch vehicles. OTOH, they should be one of several customers of private enterprise LEO launch capacity. Putting infrastructure into LEO is certainly a good thing for government to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dausha (546002)

        "[J]ust imagine if the roads were done by private companies, there might be more that are very well maintained but something like the interstate highway system would be near impossible to create because you'd be so hard pressed to get the companies to actually cooperate in any reasonable manner."

        We don't have to imagine. The U.S. railroads were an amalgam of private companies when the industry first emerged in the 19th Century. Early paved roads were also done by private companies as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tomhath (637240)

      Private industry will continue to be in, not get into, space related projects when there's money to be made. Communication satellites are a good example, billions of dollars in private investment [cnet.com] are being spent on building and launching them. Of course that industry wouldn't have ever been possible if the USA and other governments hadn't developed the technology first.

      But exploration and development of new technology are risky with too little chance of ever recovering the investment for private industry.

    • I get the feeling that if instead of throwing 15-20 billion at NASA on a yearly basis, we set up a few X-prize style incentives, we'd have done a lot more than NASA has. Set concrete goals for various prizes and only hand them out when the goal is reached. Leave the competition open to *anyone* American, Chinese whatever with the condition that the technology used to acheive the goal is to be put in the public domain.

    • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Informative)

      by astar (203020) <max.stalnaker@gmail.com> on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:19PM (#31129500) Homepage

      yah, the private banks do so well at giving us a future.

      to go where ever we want, we need high-energy "rockets". Otherwise serious colonization does not work. In the 70s we were ready to go with nuclear drives. Now the russians are going to finally do it. I do not see a lot of private investment in anything really different. Pooh, we now all hear about the virtues of innovation, and as far as I can tell, this is something marketing is especially good at.

      if you are a conservative type, something to consider is that India will be in LEO with men in 2012 and on rhe moon, with people, in 2020. oh, India is involved deeply with the russians on the nuclear drive.

      on a more earthly thing, China currently has 64 high speed rail projects. 1000's of miles. The usa has 64 miles of medium high speed rail. Some people talk about high speed rail in the usa as capable of causing a 15% overall productivity increase.

      and last I looked, 54 nuclear power plants were being built, almost all in asia. the usa has one, an old mothballed tva plant being brought up.

      so who has the potential for a future?

      anyway, here is a video entitled "the destruction of nasa" which is supposed to be very good

      http://larouchepac.com/lpactv?nid=13392 [larouchepac.com]

      • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FooAtWFU (699187) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @05:49PM (#31130198) Homepage
        I'd like to hear about this purported 15% productivity boost which high-speed passenger rail would supposedly bring us. Last I heard about those studies, it was something like this regarding California's high speed rail...

        The rail authority assumes that between 88 million and 117 million people will ride the trains each year. To put that in perspective, consider that the entire annual ridership of the Amtrak system, which includes 21,000 miles of routes and more than 500 destinations in 46 states, is less than 29 million. Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express service, which runs from Washington, D.C., to New York City to Boston, serves a larger and denser market than the planned California system and only commands a ridership of a little more than 3 million passengers a year.

        http://reason.org/news/show/california-voters-were-railroa [reason.org]

        Okay, okay, that's the Reason Foundation talking, and we know they're a bunch of libertarian loonies. But what about someone more sympathetic?

        Even the pro-high-speed-rail California Rail Foundation found the project lacking, with its representative telling senators, "We can't believe any of the numbers presented in the business plan."

        http://www.sacbee.com/politics/story/2484870.html [sacbee.com]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CodeBuster (516420)

          we know they're a bunch of libertarian loonies

          By that definition, anyone who opposes the government holding them upside down and shaking until every cent falls out of their pockets is a loony. California needs another 50+ billion of debt for high speed rail (which btw most people will not be able to afford to ride without subsidies and more debt) like it needs a hole in the head.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DavidTC (10147)

          The reason that Amtrak has such low ridership is a few things, all things where it should have the advantages over air, but we've managed to break it:

          Amtrak has to inexplicably wait for freight to get out of the way, resulting in random delays. Freight often has priority thanks to idiotic railway agreements. With planes, passenger planes have priority, and there actually isn't that much air freight.

          They've managed to turn it into airport style security and hassle, resulting in you having to get there earl

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        and last I looked, 54 nuclear power plants were being built, almost all in asia. the usa has one, an old mothballed tva plant being brought up.

        Heh, even if the USA had the political/public will to build more nuclear plants, we couldn't.

        Why? Because all the companies that manufacture the heavy steel reactor components are in Asia (plus one in Russia) and have their output already spoken for. To highlight the point, the largest manufacturer is planning to triple production by 2012... and all that output is spoken for too. The USA doesn't even begin to have the manufacturing or infrastructure necessary to produce/handle the enormous ingots and then f

      • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kklein (900361) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @08:59PM (#31131376)

        I've been saying for 10 years or more: America is over. The image of America is really just the image of being the only large country that didn't suffer massive infrastructural damage in WWII. We were the only man standing afterward, and as a result, got to call a lot of the shots and also attract the best talent from around the world, and had a lot more money than others.

        However, that "USA! USA!" image has ultimately undone us. Americans feel they are great because they are the USA, not that they should strive to be great because they are the USA. It's a bit like the student in the honors program at an American university I taught at, who was getting a solid B in my Japanese language class. He came to my office and with a straight face told me that because he was an honors student he needed me to change his grade to an A, because if he didn't get an A, he'd be out of the honors program. I suggested to him that the honors program was for people who got As, not that getting As was for people in the honors program. He didn't like that and stormed off. Then his advisor called me and chewed me out, saying "this kid is an A student!" "Um, not in my class he's not. He's doing pretty well, but not great. That's a B." This, I think, is the same confused thinking that holds the USA back. For a few decades it was able to skid along on the momentum of that head start in 1945, but without ever getting serious about any innovation or development, we're fading into irrelevance.

        I'm pretty lefty (well, for the US--I live in Japan and here the same views make me right-of-center, as they do in most of the world--I consider myself a moderate conservative, but the US is so red-tinted that I look totally blue by comparison), so I have to point out that all of the projects you have pointed to are large-scale, publicly-funded projects. Most of the heavy R&D lifting anywhere has to be done with government funds, because you never know when the thing will be able to turn a profit. But if you do it right, it ends up creating lots of opportunities for the private sector to innovate around what the people have paid for, and that benefits everyone. Americans, with their (sorry) idiotic Ayn Rand Reaganite Libertarian mindset continually pat themselves on the back for their rugged individualism and individual responsibility for things that were gifts to them by the intelligent use of collective funds. That isn't to say that the private-sector doesn't innovate and doesn't sometimes do things that the govt. heavyweights can't, but, as an academic, I can tell you that virtually all fundamental research is paid for by governments. If you dig into virtually any invention or product, you'll be hard pressed not to find some concept, technique, or technology that wasn't at least partly paid for by government funds.

        What am I saying? With the education system we have, all innovation is thanks to public funding.

        I read a great quote, but I don't know who first said it, about Libertarians: "A libertarian is someone who looks out from the Empire State Building and thinks he's 1600 feet tall." --He totally ignores the blood, sweat, and tears shed by a multitude of forbears that put him up there and thinks it's all about him being so great and tall.

        Unless we can get over our libertarian, anarchist fetishes, we can expect the future to be something that happens somewhere else, while we go back to just growing a bunch of corn for everyone, like we used to do.

        I don't actually, however, think we can get over that, though. Americans are just too ignorant to even know that there's a problem. They are told they are great, so they're great. Even in the face of ever-mounting evidence that the US is mediocre at best in just about anything you care to measure, it will forever be the greatest country in the world in the minds of its citizens.

        And that's why I live in Japan.

    • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:20PM (#31129508) Journal

      Getting private industry into the act is a good thing, in my opinion, although I'm not so sanguine about government subsidies.

      Like the nuclear industry, who do you think is going to end up insuring private space flight?
      Getting rid of government subsidies isn't nearly as easy as we'd like to think.

    • Re:libertarian (Score:5, Insightful)

      by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:22PM (#31129526)

      What private company do you expect to fund the GPL and send probes to the outer solar system? Or Hubble, for that matter?

      Yes, reasonable people can argue that LEO launches are so routine these days that they should be turned over to private industry. Fine. But there are tons of other NASA programs that have no profit potential whatsoever, yet tremendously enrich humanity culturally and scientifically. Because private industry [nytimes.com] would never fund these programs, NASA must. And we're better off for it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by laddiebuck (868690)
      Libertarian -- and therefore idiot. You mayn't be an idiot, of course, but you're just parroting idiot arguments. You're not sanguine about government subsidies, but you think getting private industry into the act is a good thing. Right: how the hell do you think private industry is going to get into it, without the last 100 years of government research into how it's done and how you build the tools to do it, and the currently proposed subsidies for getting there? Private industry on its own wouldn't touch
    • by BuR4N (512430)
      I think its a good plan, I just a bit worried if private sector can handle the risks [with manned space flight], or if everything will grind to a halt when the first fatal accident comes. Seeing how "the market" works in other sectors when something bad happens.
    • Re:libertarian (Score:4, Interesting)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:35PM (#31129650) Journal
      And this is an example of why the libertarian party never goes anywhere. It is like the Republican "I hate government spending" on steroids. Most Americans realize that there is a place in the world for government spending, and that it includes things like social security and public education and science.
    • Sen. Shelby (R-AL) (Score:3, Informative)

      by Weezul (52464)

      Don't forget how Sen. Shelby (R-AL) behaved like a spoiled brat by placing holds on all Obama's appointees trying to extort $40B in pork. Any redirection of resources away from Alabama right now will help reduce pork long term.

    • by copponex (13876) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @05:03PM (#31129876) Homepage

      Libertarians are often ignorant of the fact that they effectively lobby against civilization. In terms of GDP per capita, life expectancy, innovation, and quality of life, the middle of the road socialist countries dominate worldwide. That's because if you shackle your society with continuous relearning of generational lessons, you can never move beyond basic progress.

      If you'd like to refute the massive progress introduced by the Apollo program in the sixties, go ahead and make your case for a private corporation in the same time frame spending a good portion of the US GDP for pure research. Bell Labs is the only thing that even comes close.

      A world of self regulation is just as absurd as a world with complete government control of production. Use the market for easily duplicated services that are not necessary. For everything else, try and use your brain. Mindless idealism nets nothing of value.

      Summarized in economic terms by Adam Smith:

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

      Who also believed

      The legal rate... ought not be much above the lowest market rate. If the legal rate of interest in Great Britain, for example, was fixed so high as eight or ten per cent, the greater part of the money which was to be lent would be lent to prodigals and projectors [promoters of fraudulent schemes], who alone would be willing to give this high interest.A great part of the capital of the country would thus be kept out of the hands which were most likely to make a profitable and advantageous use of it, and thrown into those which were most likely to waste and destroy it.

      When the legal rate of interest, on the contrary is fixed but a very little above the lowest market rate, sober people are universally preferred, as borrowers, to prodigals and projectors. The person who lends money gets nearly as much interest from the former as he dares to take from the latter, and his money is much safer in the hands of the one set of people than in those of the other. A great part of the capital of the country is thus thrown in the hands in which it is most likely to be employed with advantage.

      (from naked capitalism [nakedcapitalism.com])

      GDP Per Capita [wikipedia.org]

      Life Expectancy [wikipedia.org]

      Quality of Life [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)

      OK ... here's my problem. It's OK, to say that morally the government should not do this. It's OK to say that private industry would do a better job. What bothers me is saying these two things right next to each other as if they were logically equivalent.

      I'm not saying you're doing this here, it's just that these two kinds of positions are so often marshaled with each other without comment that I think it's important to note that one does not necessarily follow from the other. It might be morally wrong for

    • I would disagree. A lot of technology has come from the space programme and it's very smart to have a "plan B" and be able to go off to another planet if we fuck this one up good and proper or we end up with an asteroid that will wipe us off the planet.

      Rather than run NASA like a public company and expecting returns all the time instantly we should look at the bigger picture. We rely a lot on space as it is with satellites and it was NASA we can thank for that. Yes, Russia did it first and it would have
  • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:31PM (#31129108)

    I guess the US will be exporting space exploration to China now as well.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Don't confuse "putting humans in space to the deprecation or exclusion of other methods" with "exploring" it.

      We need to perfect robots for terrestrial and off-world use far more than we need to send meat tourists (who still need physical barrier protection and robotic assistance to function) into space.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      China benefitted from US and European tech in its rise to power.

      Should the US not do the same thing? It did during the Industrial Revolution.

      We don't need to be ahead of China in everything, because we don't need to fight China now that EUSian colonialism in Asia is dead.

  • All I gotta say is the if I ever had my own private sector asteroid, and the liberals wanted to tax it after killing manned space flight and wrecking the future of America so some morons can gobble down their welfare government cheese, than I'm dropping the dino-killer right on their fricking heads.

    • . . . I'm dropping the dino-killer right on their fricking heads.

      Dr Evil . . . ? Is that you . . . ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by astar (203020)

      an interesting moral position

      I guess when you look at whatever you are using for currency, you see an intrinsic value in it. So much so, it justifies genocide.

      On the other hand, our current economic problems, including apparently expensive entitlement programs, stems ultimately from the silly view that currency has intrinsic value. as far as I can tell, this, when argued competently, is some sort of psychological value thing, and I suspect is based on a rejection of the idea that the universe is lawful an

  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:36PM (#31129148) Homepage

    Conservative: n. 1) A person who holds to conservative principles or beliefs. 2) A person who agrees with other people who call themselves Conservatives, without regard to their actions, statements, beliefs, or principles. 3) A person who opposes anything that a non-Conservative (as defined by the first two definitions) says, does, or believes in.

    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:52PM (#31129286) Homepage

      1) A person who holds to conservative principles or beliefs.

      Correct.

      2) A person who agrees with other people who call themselves Conservatives, without regard to their actions, statements, beliefs, or principles.

      Wrong! Conservatives of all types constantly debate and fight among inner circles. You see it happening every day in politics, you just fail to be aware of it. Case in point, remember to Republican party "crack up" that's been going on lately? The party has no direction or leadership anymore.

      3) A person who opposes anything that a non-Conservative (as defined by the first two definitions) says, does, or believes in.

      Some things, not everything. It depends on who Conservatives compare their ideals too. This is to be expected with any ideology and not just conservatism.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fm6 (162816)

        Wrong! Conservatives of all types constantly debate and fight among inner circles.

        There are conservatives that do that. They'd be among those that have retained my respect. Sometimes they even manage to change my lefty-liberal mind about things.

        Then there are those conservatives who only know how to attack anybody who disagrees with them. They do not concede that anybody can honestly and intelligently hold contrary views: people with opinions they don't like are liars, stupid, or both. And they will never allow such a person the label "conservative", no matter how many conservative opini

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 0123456 (636235)

          Then there are those conservatives who only know how to attack anybody who disagrees with them. They do not concede that anybody can honestly and intelligently hold contrary views: people with opinions they don't like are liars, stupid, or both.

          You appear to be confusing conservatives with liberals.

  • Huge mistake. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fatalexe (845503) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:38PM (#31129158)
    Without an active maned launch program I fear the United States will quickly loose our position of technical and scientific leadership. Already we have slipped to 9th in the world for science and technology education. If they money were to be invested in higher education I would be less worried but seeing as my tuition went up after North Carolina instituded a "education" lottery, well things just don't look good.
  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:39PM (#31129166)

    Over at the WSJ, Peter Diamandis makes a case for private space [wsj.com], while naysayer Taylor Dinerman says he's seen this movie before, and argues the private sector simply is not up for the job [wsj.com].

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:43PM (#31129194)

    Some conservatives hate the proposal because of the retreat from the high frontier and even go so far as to cast doubt on the commercial space aspects.

    Uh, no- all congresscritters hate it because NASA is giant cash-cow for the defense industry- companies like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Hell hath no fury like a congresscritter who wants to stand on a platform in front of a defense factory in his or her district, come election time, and talk about how important the makers of the A43 Latrine Servicing Truck are to the defense and security of our great nation.

    All those probes, satellites, etc? Built by defense contractors, carried up on rockets built by defense contractors, and very often launched from launch facilities owned by defense contractors.

    The shuttle costs half a billion dollars per launch [nasa.gov], for example...and almost everything NASA does is outsourced to government contractors.

    • Hell hath no fury like a congresscritter who wants to stand on a platform in front of a defense factory in his or her district, come election time, and talk about how important the makers of the A43 Latrine Servicing Truck are to the defense and security of our great nation.

      Election ad: "Our current Representative, John Wilkes Booth, allowed our Military Slide Whistle factory to be closed, and jobs in our district to be lost. Our military is now dependent on slide whistles made in China.

      This election, vote for Jack D. Ripper. He will make sure that cuts are made elsewhere, not here!"

  • by robot256 (1635039) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:49PM (#31129254)

    If conservatives want to have a civil war over the space program, then fine. The simple fact is that the new space program is the most rational allocation of the woefully inadequate NASA funds that politicians are willing to throw at them. Nothing more, nothing less.

    As a NASA engineer, I agree that it is a shame we are shutting down all our manned launch programs for the time being, but completing the Ares project would have meant shuttering just about every other research & development effort. NASA's most valuable resource is their innovative scientists and engineers--it really is a waste to have most of NASA's budget going to routine space flight tasks.

    The new budget cuts manned launches but redirects those funds to long-term research that will make future manned launches both more productive and less expensive. Extensive research into propulsion, navigation, life support, and self-sustainability will be carried out using inexpensive robotic missions and the International Space Station.

    If the Republicans want someone to blame, then they should blame nearly every politician since the end of the Cold War for not pushing for more NASA funding and relevant priorities. And no, pork barrel projects don't count, only money that can be distributed based on scientific merit and technological feasibility really makes a difference.

    The bottom line is the political climate makes it impossible to properly fund anything, including space travel. If you want to change that, tell your congresspeople to increase funding and support the scientific priorities--not pork projects--we need to make real and tangible progress in the quest to explore the universe

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:38PM (#31129674)

      The other priority should be a campaign to combat superstition and promote naturalistic views of the world. Turn on TV you get talk shows promoting psychics and alternative medicines. Open up a phone book and it's full of Chiropractors and Acupuncturists.

      How can you expect to make an investment in sciences and develop a sound technological basis for the future of mankind when only 40% of the population believes in a naturalistic explanation of it's own existence?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by amilo100 (1345883)
        The other priority should be a campaign to combat superstition and promote naturalistic views of the world.

        Uhm... no. The US government should not be in the business of propaganda (for whatever the reason). The idea is good - but many ideas with good intentions (like this) ends up really bad.

        PS, there are a lot of other silliness that people should stop. One example of this is 30+ guys dressed up like nancies in kevlar suits chasing an eggy-ball while 50,000 people have nothing better to do than to w
  • Space is critical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by salesgeek (263995) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:52PM (#31129278) Homepage

    I always love debates on the space program. Lots of big ideas, but what is missing is leadership. What made NASA so successful in the 1960s and 1970s was that there was a clear objective: put a man on the moon. Build a reusable launch system. Put up a space station. The problem is that there are no real national goals with space, so it is exceedingly difficult to sell, say a heavy launch vehicle. Put some goals in, and suddenly money becomes easy because people buy into the grand plan. Say the goal is to put a permanent colony on the moon - or to put a man on Mars. Suddenly there is context and justification for spending, inventions to invent, and what is science suddenly turns into applied science.

    Our politicians need to lead, not look for the people to lead them when it comes to space. An ambitious space program is just what is needed.

    • Re:Space is critical (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:16PM (#31129474) Journal
      Do you think that clear objectives just happen? What made NASA so successful in the 60's and 70's is that we were in a pissing match with the soviets, which implied a number of well defined propaganda goals to be achieved(manned orbit, man on moon, manned anything, pretty much) and substantial investment in launch systems. Politicians exhibited "leadership" only in that they stood up and said what the situation required. If you want to see political leadership(bipartisan no less) today, just look at the downright heroic efforts being put into the destruction of civil liberties, which seems to be the project that goes along with the "war on terror".

      Space exploration has been largely aimless since then because it is largely pointless, except as a matter of pure scientific curiosity, and a more-palatable way of keeping aerospace corporations and engineers on welfare. The one slice of space work that isn't largely pointless, near-earth satellites of various sorts, has been humming right along. Everything else has sort of meandered; because it is competing for funds and focus with less pointless projects. There is a virtually infinite supply of projects that satisfy pure scientific curiosity(not that the public has much of that), and a very long list of projects with more plausible payoffs in the short and medium(and arguably even long) term. It's frankly surprising that NASA gets as much as they do.
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      What made NASA so successful in the 1960s and 1970s was that there was a clear objective: put a man on the moon.

      I disagree. That 'clear objective' led to a system totally designed to meet that objective which was cancelled even before the last man walked on the Moon... the objective was achieved, but nothing lasting was left behind.

      NASA's work in the aeronautical realm doesn't seem to have many 'clear objectives', but it's almost certainly been far more beneficial in the long term than anything they've done in manned spaceflight. If government has any role in manned spaceflight it should be in researching new technol

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by twiddlingbits (707452)
      Space Station was cancelled, restarted, delayed, changed, funding cut, etc. in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and so on. There NEVER was a "clear vision" for WHY we neede ISS other than a place for the Shuttle to go. I worked on at least two iterations of "ISS". The moon mission was a side effect of the Cold War and somewhat a legacy of JFK. There was some really cool inventions that came out of the program and were commercialized and lots of technology invented that went on to be used for many years. Right now,
  • I'll say it again (Score:2, Insightful)

    by axonis (640949)
    Remember where your Trillions in recovery came from, the US people are now long term paying for the Chinese Space Program.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 13, 2010 @03:58PM (#31129332)

    No two ways about it. The shuttle is on its last legs, Orion/Ares is mis-begotten, and anyone who thinks that private enterprise can deliver a man-rated system in the near future is delusional.

    Give it up...we're in this position because of lack of intelligent investment over the Clinton and Bush administrations.

    • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:37PM (#31129660)

      anyone who thinks that private enterprise can deliver a man-rated system in the near future is delusional.

      So you're seriously claiming that a private company can't build a system which kills its crew less often than every fifty flights? Because based on the shuttle's record, 'only' killing the crew 2% of the time is what 'man rating' means to NASA.

      And before you respond, you might like to consider that Delta already has about a 98% success rate over the last twenty years and so far capsules with escape rockets have a 100% success rate in saving the crew. Stick a capsule on a Delta with an escape rocket and you're already more 'man-rated' than the shuttle (and yes, I do know you would need some minor mods to ensure that the capsule could escape safely at all points during the flight).

  • whatever (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by kaoshin (110328)
    "one that touts limited government and the empowerment of the private sector, the other that touts national security and national greatness as virtues as well."

    I think it is naive to suggest that Obama's space plan started this "civil war". In case you have been living under a rock, there has been an ongoing disagreement between conservatives and the virtuous neoconservatives and their ambitions for national greatness.
  • by peacefinder (469349) <alan.dewitt@gm a i l . c om> on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:14PM (#31129442) Journal

    They're the ones cheering at the cancellation of Pork In Space.

    I'd certainly like to see a viable human spaceflight program, building our way out to Luna, Mars, and beyond. Problem is, Constellation wasn't it. Constellation was treated as an excuse to pay aerospace giants megatons of money to develop a new launcher which would - at best - just barely achieve its aims. NASA appears to no longer be capable of serious launcher development, because the industry lobbyists own the politicians, and the politicians own the engineers specifying how the industry's products must perform. I am dead certain NASA engineers can do fine, fine work, but they haven't been free to do what they do best.

    With the new approach, this counterproductive cycle is at least interrupted and hopefully broken.

  • The only real positive reconfiguration of the space program would be as a stair-step program, each step dependent on those before. As some criticisms of Obama's plans state, this would take quite a while to accomplish. But as time goes on, the program design becomes more necessary to maintain and it's continued future more assured. Twenty to thirty years is a long time? Only to those unfamiliar with planning for the future of the species in the context of the universe. Even for them, a comparison of 40 year

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:18PM (#31129490)

    Why are we even talking about what conservatives think? The GOP has amply demonstrated that it has no interest in governing the country in good faith. Their entire program is:

    1. When in power: transfer as much wealth as possible to the very rich
    2. When out of power: throw a wrench in the works to make the government look bad enough to vote the GOP back into power

    Any conservative argument needs to be critically examined in light of the question, "how does this allow the GOP to continue its looting?" Just look at Chicago economics, Reagan tax cuts, Bush's imperialism, and flagrant anti-union rhetoric. It's not made in good faith.

    Conservatives have no interest in the real welfare of the country. This little spat about NASA is merely a disagreement among the foxes about whether to go through the front or the back of the hen-house. It should be an awfully strong hint that the rest of the world is governed by parties to the left of even the left here, and is going better for it.

    Can we please stop wasting our time and giving attention to these right-wing lunatics and their pernicious ideas?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dachannien (617929)

      This is exactly why the country has become so polarized as of late: rather than simply disagreeing with the viewpoints of others and then discussing ways to find common ground, people who hold to strict left- or right-wing tenets simply dismiss members of the opposition as being "lunatics" and having "pernicious" ideas.

      This has the short-term benefit of not having to address real problems with one's favored agenda (e.g., trying to provide health care for everyone or trying to overthrow unfavorable foreign

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        This is exactly why the country has become so polarized as of late: rather than simply disagreeing with the viewpoints of others and then discussing ways to find common ground

        As far as I can see, the reason why America has become so polarized is that conservatives have finally realised that if you compromise with liberals they just come back with the same demands for greater state control a few years later and continue until you've compromised yourself into giving them everything they originally wanted.

        When your opponent sees compromise as a sign of weakness, no compromise is the only rational solution.

      • I agree with what you said 100%. What QuoteMstr says doesn't bother me. What *does* bother me is that there are many people who share his misguided viewpoint. IE, his positive moderation. He is but a tiny representation of a much larger social issue at hand.

    • by Idiomatick (976696) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @06:36PM (#31130546)
      Amusing thought, It'd be interesting if it were planned to reduce trust in government generally by repeatedly failing OR making the dems look horrible/dragging them to failure. That way people with their short memories and only two parties to choose from will vote for the party arguing for 'less government'. They don't need to follow through with it, they know that they were voted in by people that pay little attention to specific actions in politics due to decades of plummeting trust and hope. And merely listen to emotional grandstanding. Hell, if they screw up badly enough it will only increase their chances in future after the dems get a chance to fix things.

      http://www.thefreespeechzone.net/images/charts/bush_deficit_graphic.gif now makes sense ... but the world seems too much like a sequel to Idiocracy, when is Brawndo going to become the GOP's official party drink.

      Disclaimer: I don't believe that the GOP's incompetence is intentional.
  • Take enough time, and without going to space humanity is unsustainable.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:23PM (#31129532) Homepage

    Some conservatives hate the proposal because of the retreat from the high frontier and even go so far as to cast doubt on the commercial space aspects.

    They complain one day about out of control government spending, so when Obama cuts an expensive program that isn't working, they complain about that. Those fiscal conservatives in the Alabama congressional delegation are having a collective heart attack trying to hang on to their pork projects.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @04:29PM (#31129596) Homepage

    Going back to the moon on chemical rockets was a stupid idea. If we had a better technology that allowed, say, a permanent base with a hundred people, it might be worth doing. But just repeating Apollo is pointless.

    Worse, it would probably fail. Apollo had top people, including many experienced aircraft engineers who'd designed many successful aircraft, and, of course, the best German rocket engineers. That pool of people is gone. As Ben Rich, once head of Lockheed's "Skunk Works" (SR-71, stealth aircraft, etc.), wrote, "I worked on 22 airplanes in my career. Today's engineer is lucky to work on one."

  • From what I understand, the choice is that we can either keep flying the Space Shuttle, past its design lifetime and with its two fatal crashes in its history, or we can use someone else's rocket and work on developing a superior replacement. Is this even a choice? Who in their right mind would choose the former?

  • As discussed when Bush wanted us to go to the moon, the whole space program is a mess and it is unclear what we ought to do. What is clear is that the money that needed to spent 10 years ago on a new human spec launch vehicles was not spent. Certainly when Columbia was lost in 2003 it was time to fully fund what is now called the Constellation program. The year or two delay and lack of funding and focus was irresponsible and has really left the United States with no good option for human space flight.

    I

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday February 13, 2010 @05:28PM (#31130050) Journal
    The article submitter, Mark Whittington, is pretty well known on various space blogs for distorting the facts (to put it lightly) when it comes to space policy. Unfortunately, this submission is no exception. Here's a line-by-line of his summary:

    "The Obama space proposal, which seeks to enable a commercial space industry for transportation to and from low Earth orbit

    So far true, although there are other parts of the proposal.

    while it cancels space exploration beyond LEO,

    This is just plain incorrect. It cancels one particular program, which was widely regarded as badly mismanaged and possessing many inherent problems. The Constellation/Ares program also suppressed any research into technologies which weren't seen as immediately relevant to the specific lunar return scheme the former NASA administrator had in mind, with several perfectly good programs getting canceled to pay for the increasingly overbudget and behind schedule Constellation program. It replaces it with a plan initially focused on developing the technologies critical for sustainable exploration of Mars and the rest of the inner solar system.

    has sparked a kind of civil war among conservatives.

    Well, it's sparked a civil war between those conservative who either have a financial interest in the status quo or are stuck in a cold war-style lust for repeating Apollo. Other conservatives though, such as former House speaker (and National Space Society board member) Newt Gringrich, and former House Science & Technology committee chair Robert S. Walker, have enthusiastically endorsed NASA's new plan [washingtontimes.com], and consider it one of the few positive things to come out of the Obama administration.

    Some conservatives hate the proposal because of the retreat from the high frontier and even go so far as to cast doubt on the commercial space aspects.

    Uh, strawman much? This isn't a "retreat from the high frontier" -- NASA's getting a significant budget increase, and the new plan is much better suited for engaging in meaningful space exploration than the old one could ever have, even if it hadn't been going drastically overbudget.

    Other conservatives like the commercial space part of the Obama policy and tend to gloss over the cancellation of space exploration or even denigrate the Constellation program as 'unworkable' or 'unsustainable.'"

    They denigrate it as 'unworkable' and 'unsustainable' because it quite simply was. It had already spent $9 billion just to try to produce yet another medium-lift rocket (the US has had at least two medium-lift rockets already in regular operation for many years now), which only passed its preliminary design review several years late through some fairly blatant bending of the readiness/safety criteria. Independent analysis by the Augustine Committee found that the current program wouldn't even produce its medium-lift booster until 2017-2019, and wouldn't produce a lunar landing until sometime in the late 2030s. At that point all you'd have is an Apollo repeat without any new technological capabilities, since the plan was specifically devised to avoid any new tech development. That seems pretty much by definition 'unworkable' and 'unsustainable.' NASA's new plan is far superior by pretty much any possible metric, with the possible exception of not delivering as much money in the short-term to Alabama.

  • I love the idea of doing research that needs to be done for deep space exploration, but having NO plan except "do more research until we think we can get there cheaper and faster" with no specific timeline, no specific goals and no inspiration will NOT get us into deep space. What it WILL do is make NASA a big bloated funding agency with no direct expertise in putting people into space.

    Also, let's not forget that you can make plans and test all you want but if you really want to go someplace in space you ne

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