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Senators Blast NASA For Lacking Vision 319

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the we-need-more-tang dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A Senate science subcommittee clashed with NASA's chief on Wednesday, saying the agency and the White House lacked a clear vision and goal for the program. Skeptical senators told the space agency that it should not just talk about plans, but set out to do something specific. Lawmakers expressed a bipartisan opposition to the agency's plans and the initiatives of the Obama White House." Updated 23:13 GMT by timothy: Reader Trent Waddington contributes this video link to the hearing, if you want to come to your own conclusions.
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Senators Blast NASA For Lacking Vision

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  • Mars (Score:2, Informative)

    Make a declaration that the US will land on Mars before this decade is out, provide the funding, and it can be done.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by symes (835608)
      I don't get what this facination with Mars is - how about we explore the bottom of our planets oceans? That would be seriously interesting.
      • by TheLink (130905)
        I'm fine with sending some people (e.g. politicians) to Mars (or the Moon if Mars is too expensive).

        Options are one-way or return.

        FWIW:

        VotedOffThePlanet.com
        and:
        VoteThemOffThePlanet.com

        are available.

        So go ahead someone start up the TV reality show.

        You don't even need to actually send them - you could explicitly say it's a joke. People might still vote anyway...
      • by prgrmr (568806)
        Screw interesting, we need to find a way off this rock and a new place to go to; and we need to develop the means to find and get there.
      • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

        by yourlord (473099) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:20PM (#31273040) Homepage

        For me it's as simple as survival. As long as humanity is confined to a single planet, we're vulnerable to being wiped out by a planetary scale disaster. Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist.

        Exploring the bottom of our oceans doesn't accomplish that goal. I do agree it's a worthy goal, but if we are to decide where to expend limited resources, they should go towards the goal of ensuring the survival of the species.

        Once we inhabit other planets in the solar system, the very next goal needs to be interstellar colonization to guard against a solar system level catastrophe. Even if that means pursuing the use of generational ships to do it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by RKThoadan (89437)

          "Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist."

          The hard part of that idea isn't getting to Mars, but making it self-sufficient.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by icebrain (944107)

            Ok, it's hard. So was building an airplane little more than a century ago. What's your point?

        • For me it's as simple as survival. As long as humanity is confined to a single planet, we're vulnerable to being wiped out by a planetary scale disaster. Move some of us to a self-sufficient base on Mars, and even if Earth turns back into molten slag, humanity will continue to exist.

          Out of curiosity, why is the survival of the human race so important?

          I mean, I really want to know... what is the foundation of the idea that the human race must survive at all costs? Why should we not accept that if the eart

          • Evolutionary psychology? Living organisms are driven to perpetuate the species. It makes sense that there would be a powerful inbuilt need in humans to achieve goals rationalized as ensuring the survival of the species. I know that I for one sometimes stop and look around at the truly extraordinary things humanity has accomplished over our brief span on earth. We can bend the environment around us almost to our will, we can travel around the world in a day or so and many more impressive feats. Is there som
          • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:59PM (#31273626) Homepage

            Out of curiosity, why is the survival of the human race so important?

            Why is the survival of life so important? Because as far as we know, humanity is the one and only chance for some of the earths biodiversity to ultimately survive. It took maybe more than half of the earths history for sentient life to arise, if it gets wiped out what are the odds it will happen again? Stewards indeed. On the other hand if you are content to see all life as we know it wiped out, theres not much more that can be said.

            Are we that important to the galaxy or the universe that the survival of the human race is of such paramount importance? Seems like a bit of hubris to me.

            The galaxy and earth in general are pretty hostile places. Why should we care what they think?

        • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gilmoure (18428) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:56PM (#31273574) Journal

          Forget planets. Space based colonization is where it's at. Let's capture a high metal asteroid and park it at L4 or L5 and start building large habitats and solar concentrators.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          For me it's as simple as survival. As long as humanity is confined to a single planet, we're vulnerable to being wiped out by a planetary scale disaster.

          Okay, but we're a long, looong way from having 100% completely self-sufficient off-world colonies that it doesn't even make sense to start. The chain of technologies necessary to allow a human to survive in space is ridiculously long and at the moment completely infeasible to implement outside of the hospitable environment of our home planet. And that eve

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      How about a declaration that within a decade we'll have a space infrastructure that can actually support multiple goals at once, including LEO tourism, NEO mining, a Mars and Moon landing, and deep space exploration. Not saying NASA shouldn't be doing pure science, but I feel we're to the point now where the infrastructure is more important, at least if we ever want space exploration and exploitation to become commonplace.

      Of course, that is essentially what the White House's new innitiative is saying, they

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Yes, but *why*? What's the point of putting people on Mars? Spirit did more than any manned mission could, and we don't need to measure penis length against Russia any more.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Why live your life, why do anything? In the grand scheme of things, there's no point to anything. We create that meaning for ourselves.

      • Re:Mars (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Sperbels (1008585) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:17PM (#31273960)

        What's the point of putting people on Mars? Spirit did more than any manned mission could

        Totally false. I single person with a rover could have done in a day what spirit has done during it's whole mission. A human can make quicker and easier judgment calls about the terrain so they can travel further and faster without input from earth. A human could have driven Spirits entire path in a day on something no fast than a golf cart. A human can make fast judgment calls about what's interesting and want needs further investigation. A human can clean the dust off the solar cells and not have to rely on dust devils. A human can walk places the rover can't physically go. A human can conduct research at the site and doesn't have to rely on a few very specialized instruments that were put on board. Humans can fix broken or flaky equipment. But ultimately, I think the real point of putting people on Mars is that it's our nature to expand into new territories and discover new things. There is no more unclaimed space on our planet. At some point we need to figure out how to live beyond the earth. These are just first baby steps. We have the desire to walk on two feet (at least some of us do), it's instinctual, but we can't quite do it yet. We keep falling down, but we keep trying because something deep inside us is driving us. You're like the baby who looks at the one trying to walk and tells him he's wasting his time because it's easier to crawl.

        • Re:Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

          by PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <(petermardahl) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:13PM (#31275018) Journal

          Yes, if we could get a person to Mars fast enough (need undeveloped technology), cheap enough (need technology about 1000x cheaper than now), and keep him alive on the trip and on mars and on the trip back (need undeveloped technology), a human with a rover could outperform the robot we did send.

          Also, you perhaps overestimate what a human can accomplish under those conditions. The human will need to tote around life support equipment. He will be in a pressure suit, which really drops mobility and productivity. Also, repairing equipment under those conditions mostly means clearing jams and swapping in spare parts.

          And last, the human can't hang around for months and months while scientists back home digest data and decide the best place to send him next. Accumulated radiation dose will do him in first.

          Question is, with all that technological development needed to send a human, couldn't we just send a better robot instead with the same resources? And wouldn't that better robot technology help us in 1000's of other ways?

          --PM

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942)
        A manned mission could have done what the MER missions have accomplished to date in a week or two... at a fantastically greater price and larger risk of loss of life. But definitely a lot quicker.
    • Make a declaration that the US will land on Mars before this decade is out, provide the funding, and it can be done.

      of course. history is full of amazing progress that was achieved when everything depended on success and therefore societies were willing to throw unlimited amounts of money and resources at the problem.

      the problem is that nothing depends on putting a man on mars. everything that we can achieve through that can be done faster and cheaper with robotic missions. it servers no scientific purpose. it also doesn't really serve a national pride purpose. it'd be nice, but no other country is close to accomplishing

  • by thomasdz (178114) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @11:58AM (#31272748)

    All we need to do is say that Al Quaida has set up a training camp on Mars and see the money flow after that!
    We'll be on mars in no time!

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Plus, I hear that's where Saddam hid the Weapons of Mars Destruction.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by prgrmr (568806)
      Oil. You forgot to mention the oil.
    • by hoggoth (414195)

      And pedophiles. Don't forget there are pedophiles on Mars.

      As a matter of fact there are pot-smoking terrorist pedophiles on Mars. That ought to hit every automatic fear-mongering budget getting buzzword.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:02PM (#31272784) Journal

    Nuff said

  • Terrible article (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:03PM (#31272794) Homepage Journal

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esCGYkVhhnY&feature=channel [youtube.com]

    Watch the Senate Hearing yourself, a lot more interesting stuff happened.

    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:34PM (#31276304) Journal

      For those of you who've watched the Senate hearing video [youtube.com] that QuantumG linked to, there's this rather bizarre part where Sen. Vitter (R-La) made some insinuations that Bolden wasn't actually involved in the planning, but it was all supposedly done by his deputy Lori Garver. The Orlando Sentinel has some follow-up on this, with sources reporting that ATK (one of the primary contractors on the Ares I rocket) had put up the Senator to make those attacks:

      http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2010/02/senators-attack-on-nasa-deputy-chief-lori-garver-backfires.html [orlandosentinel.com]

      The attacks on NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver spearheaded by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter during a hearing on Wednesday on the 2011 NASA budget have badly backfired, according to a range of sources.

      Vitter accused Garver -- who was not present at the hearing -- of orchestrating the cancellation of Constellation. He also seemed to suggest that Garver was running the agency, and not Administrator Charlie Bolden. Bolden later called Vitter's comment "unfair."

      Not only were administration outraged by Vitter's remarks but several female civil servants and women executives in aerospace companies who have known Garver for years felt compelled to send their complaints to senate staff Wednesday afternoon.

      Several sources on the Hill, in industry and inside the Obama administration blame rocket maker ATK, the developer of the Ares I rocket first stage, for putting Vitter up to the attack. Sources say that complaints have been sent to ATK and so far there has been no response.

      In the meantime, members of the Senate and the House said they were going to refrain from any further personal attacks as they move against the White House's proposed 2011 budget for the space agency.

  • by yog (19073) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:08PM (#31272876) Homepage Journal
    If the President of the United States doesn't care about space exploration, as is apparently the case today, then NASA will be unable to fulfill its mission. Obama has had little interest in space from day one; his campaign plan even had a proposal to gut NASA's budget to pay for a nationalized day care system. Later this proposal was deleted, but Obama has really done nothing with the U.S. space program but cut its budget.

    Shutting down the only manned space project on the horizon, Obama proposed to offload low orbital manned flights to the private sector. While the libertarian and free marketer in me loves the idea of a competitive market for space travel, I'm not convinced it's time yet for NASA to leave that arena.

    Every manned launch is a huge, critical path project requiring hundreds of technicians and engineers to monitor every aspect of the situation. Is it really appropriate to dump all of these people and hope that several privately held companies (one hopes American ones) can step up to the plate and recreate all of that expertise and best practices almost from scratch? Even if they hired all of these soon-to-be-unemployed aerospace experts, they would still need to put in a few years to build up the kind of institutional memory and procedures, not to mention physical infrastructure, that are required for a complex project like this.

    NASA was building the next generation Orion manned spacecraft and Obama announced that he may not fund it. Congress, ESPECIALLY one that gets a few more Republican members in the 2012 election cycle, can override him and restore funding, but realistically the President has the power and means to kill a program if he doesn't like it. He can appoint a schmuck to replace the executive director, for example, and he can argue that the money for NASA would be better spent on school lunch for poor kids, or building shelters for the homeless, or any number of similar but meaningless populist mouthings that make great TV sound bites.

    We probably will have to wait for a change of government before we can get back to having a NASA with vision AND the backing to make it a reality. Sitting around, waiting for the "right technology" to be developed, and then saying we can finally think about realistically exploring Mars--that's not a bold vision, that's a cop-out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BobMcD (601576)

      [R]ealistically the President has the power and means to kill a program if he doesn't like it. He can appoint a schmuck to replace the executive director, for example, and he can argue that the money for NASA would be better spent on school lunch for poor kids, or building shelters for the homeless, or any number of similar but meaningless populist mouthings that make great TV sound bites.

      Which seems like a fine argument for NASA to move to the private sector. Privately funded by corporations with a profit motive.

      If you look back to the exploration of the last frontier, I think you'll find that greed was the single greatest force contributing to its success. For example, would the West have seen nearly the same amount of interest without any gold rush of any kind?

      Unfortunately for us, a profit motive for going into space might not exist. Honestly, though, if that's the case, then maybe it

    • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:31PM (#31273168)

      Sure, it's leading to a place you happen to disagree with going to -- but going up against all the congresscritters getting jobs (and thus votes) off the Constellation program is unquestionably a gutsy move.

      Moreover, I think it's the right one. Getting private investment into the business of shuttling things in and out of orbit and freeing up NASA's resources for "leaner, meaner" scientific work is exactly the right place to be going. Look at what kind of ROI we've gotten on the rovers; if NASA is going to be doing science, let them do science rather than being forever in the overpriced transport business.

    • by farble1670 (803356) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:59PM (#31273634)

      don't blame obama. the incredible, astounding debt that this country has racked up under the leadership of the people *we* elected is to blame. obama might end up being a terrible president, but you can't blame him for things that happened before he was in office.

      at least he's realistic, unlike bush jr. that made wild claims about sending a man to mars in a completely unrealistic time frame unless of course you were willing to throw money at it like the future of the human race depended upon its success. manned spaceflight is really a silly idea. it serves no scientific purpose at this point in our development and costs hundreds of times more than robotic spaceflight.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:11PM (#31272912)

    I can't believe the grandstanding coming out of the US government nowadays. From berating car company executives for flying in their jets (no, they should buy multi-million dollar jets and just let them rot), to coming down on Toyoda as if he were the embodiment of all evil (yeah, US manufacturers NEVER had recalls. I have yet to see the Toyota equivalent of the Ford Pinto), and now NASA.

    Oh we took away all your funding and tied you up in red tape, but now we will complain that you lack vision and have not made any progress! It's NASA's fault for literally not delivering the moon, on a budget that would be barely noticed by an average defense contractor. Because it's ok to pour $65 billion into F-22's, the 140+ million dollar planes that always seem to be in the shop (68% readiness you know if I paid $140 million I want the damned thing to work), but no additional funding is required to move forwards in space exploration (the NASA budget has been fairly constant at all time lows since 1993).

    It's the politicians in the US that need fixing. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to more war. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to the bailouts. They didn't listen when the public said "no" to the stimulus. There's a pattern here. "Voting" isn't going to change anything... real democracy died a long time ago, victim to the two party system set up by special interests.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:32PM (#31273182) Homepage Journal
      Politics: The fine art of pretending you are important, while you do little more than criticize others for not doing anything.

      America started to cede its position as the world power in space exploration as soon as it had buy-in to the system. Every time something goes wrong in a NASA mission and people die, or expensive equipment explodes, it can no longer be a learning process for the organization. Instead, it becomes a negative PR statement and, since American's know their tax dollars pay for it, they bitch like they were just robbed. As a result, budgets are cut. Politicians pretend to be engineers and enforce design decisions through budgets and political grandstanding. NASA becomes scared because, well, little by little it gets killed off. And, as a result, the space program stagnates.

      As long as the American public perceives itself to have buy-in or ownership or stock in NASA's going-ons, the organization will remain to risk adverse to do anything truly stupendous anymore. The reason we were able to put a man on the moon in 1969 was because, at the time, the space program was new and mysterious. The American public didn't feel it had much buy-in over the system. All in all, it was a pissing match with the Russians so any ownership the tax payer did feel it had over the program was justifiable as it meant we have bigger space penes than the USSR. Nowadays, though, the organization neither has the freedom or elbow room to do real engineering and take real risks. Without risk, there is no progress.
    • by m0s3m8n (1335861)
      a-f'ing-men brother. Now the most far reaching plans can only be 4 years as you now the next administration will screw with what has already been decided. At least Kennedy proposed something that we stuck to for a while. Even then the program was cut short.
  • by BobMcD (601576) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:11PM (#31272918)

    I guess those congresscritters missed this recent, extremely detailed NASA announcement:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/video/nasa_scientists_plan_to_approach [theonion.com]

    If this isn't clear vision, I don't know what is!

  • The vision, though, is likely massive budget cuts and the end of the program. So, it's understandable that they haven't announced it.
  • MOAR WITH LESS! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by newdsfornerds (899401) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:19PM (#31273020) Journal
    Put the senators in the airlock until we decide what to do with them.
  • by fermion (181285) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:19PM (#31273022) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that a NASA project is long term, while a Senator only sees mid term. The space shuttle development ran from the late 60's to the first launch in 1981. Even Apollo was a seven year program, one year longer than the term of a senator. This means that most are looking for the pork they can send home this year and in the next few years, while NASA needs to be funded long term. The problem with Constellation is that it was funded in 2005, and years after Columbia disintegrated. If it would have funded fully in 2004, with a deadline of 2013, maybe we could have done it. Or else had some vision that STS was ending, and funded it in 2000 with the installation of the conservative government that apparently is so dedicated to space exploration.

    Then, of course, there is the pork. Representative Olsen, not of the senate, has voting against the economic stimulus package, which consensus seems to indicate that it has stopped the hemorrhaging of jobs, and now he is complaining that a few thousand government employees are going to lose their jobs. What is it Pete? Do we want to balance the budget or keep support a federal jobs program where the average salary is over 70K a year? Sure the NASA jobs are great, but the budget is the budget. These jobs and ancillary costs could save over a billion a year. I know that Clear Lake is the probably the most federally subsidized place in America, but we really need real jobs based on capitalism, not socialism.

  • In other news... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GhettoFabulous (644312) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:19PM (#31273026)
    Citizens blast the Senate for lacking vision.
  • Many of these politicos could care less about "vision." What they are really upset about is losing high paying jobs and projects in their districts.
  • Technology first (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:23PM (#31273086)

    NASA and White House officials were criticized for drafting plans that called for new propulsion systems without linking them to timelines for manned space missions.

    This is a completely backwards way of thinking. New propulsion systems are vastly more valuable than any specific space mission. Advanced propulsion systems could take the most difficult mission we might attempt today and turn it into a routine trip.

    We need a willingness to develop new technologies that might take more than a few years to pay off, and even try things that might not work at all. We should tie this work to a specific goal in order to provide focus and to justify the price, but the real prize is the technology itself. Reducing fuel mass or cost to orbit by a factor of ten would open up the solar system to us.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Completely agreed.

      The biggest problem with having a specific mission in mind, like say "land an astronaut on Mars in 20 years", is that to actually implement such an ambitious mission you have to start making decisions today that tie you into a particular technology development path. You would have to take existing technology, and figure out what could be improved or created to accomplish the specific task set out in the time frame set out. Not only would this limit the development of NASA to that specifi

  • "We should develop the technology in pursuit of a goal, not the other way around," said senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

    We adapted rocketry from military applications originally so the senator does not have his technology development path quite right. Working on solar system-scale propulsion does have an implicit goal of extending exploration beyond LEO but it is not necessary to name the first asteroid target to further the work since the problem is sufficiently generic. It is my experience that senator
  • People are idiots (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Larson2042 (1640785) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:31PM (#31273166)
    Why do so many people think that if there isn't a NASA plan to put a couple NASA astronauts on a NASA rocket and launch them to a specific NASA-picked destination by a specific time that we've somehow abandoned human spaceflight? How short-sighted can people be? We already did that 40 years ago, and where did it get us? The huge expense caused the cancellation of any real followup missions and damaged human spaceflight aspirations to this day. We're still seeing the effects, since apparently no one in congress (or much of the public, apparently) can imagine anyone except NASA putting people into space.

    It just pisses me off to no end. We need a space program that opens access to space for EVERYONE. Not just the few lucky NASA picked government employees. Do you want to go into space at some point? I certainly do, and constellation had zero chance of ever letting me do that. Maybe you think constellation would have opened access to space and expanded the possibilities for the rest of us, but I think you are wrong. So, so wrong. The current plan for NASA has the best chance of anything NASA has done since its creation of truly opening access to space. New technologies, reducing cost, encouraging multiple options for access to orbit. That's what NASA's goal should be and needs to be. Not a repeat of Apollo. Not another huge expense for flags, footprints, and some neat video that ends up getting 5 minutes on the evening news. So there's my rant. Take it or leave it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Interesting. Nice, noble goal. Unfortunately not exactly compatible with today's world.

      Today if you had a launch vehicle, you couldn't do anything with it. Why is there (almost) no private launch capability in the US? Simple, really. First you need a license from the FAA - if it goes up in the air, they have to license it. It would be really a shame if you hit a Airbus with your nice shiny rocket. The actual chances of that happening are probably about 1 in a million. Still, they want you to have a

  • saying the firm and the White House lacked a clear vision and goal for the program

    I thought NASA's mission was to explore space? The goal would then be furthering our knowledge about the universe. Sure, they may be lacking in short term goals, but they most definitely have a long term one...

  • NASA notes senators lack any redeeming attributes

  • This isn't a teenage drag race to the finish. It doesn't matter who gets on the moon again, or to Mars first. That stuff is trivial showboating.
    .
    How about "Put people in sustainable near earth artificial environments?" or "Build space based solar power generators?" or "Mine asteroids for rare earth metals" or "Build satellite based universally available internet" or *anything* else that doesn't involve us dropping to the bottom of yet *another* barren gravity well, grabbing our genitalia and shouting "Firs

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:38PM (#31273250) Journal

    NASA does lots of cool stuff - research and science on both earth and the rest of the universe. I happen to think manned space flight is very cool, but I'm getting more and more frustrated that NASA is seen as only manned space flight*, or that space research has to include manned space flight to be worthwhile.

    If a congressman doesn't think NASA has any goals or program direction, it means he or she hasn't looked beyond putting people on a ship to [insert non-earth destination].

    * this problem has plagued NASA for decades - manned spaceflight sucks up the bulk of funds, despite having a relatively low science per dollar quotient. It's good for marketing, though.

  • Senators Blast NASA For Lacking Vision ... Skeptical senators told the space agency that it should not just talk about plans, but set out to do something specific.

    Pot. Stop trash-talking Kettle. Seriously. If any group should simply STFU and actually *do* something productive, it's the Senate - both Democrats and Republicans (withholding my personal political commentary on each party). This would be funnier excepting reality.

  • by CompressedAir (682597) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:55PM (#31273572)

    Disclaimer: I work for the space program, but I'm not high enough to make these decisions.

    Some people will never be happy. All the dreams of the last 50 years are about to come true, and all people can do is bitch!

    Look, chemical powered rockets have not changed much since the development of the SSME. So why are we only now getting private space launch? Because there was nowhere reasonable to go! ISS cargo is an easy enough mission for non-cutting edge rocketry, and since it is manned there is a long term need for supply flights that won't go away.

    The future looks like this:
    1. NASA guarantees it be buy x flights at y price from now until 2020.
    2. Multiple vendors (currently SpaceX, Orbital, Lockheed, Boeing, and others) use this promise to secure capital to develop launchers.
    3. Several years of regular supply flights gives ample qualification of the new boosters.
    4. Once confidence is gained, NASA transitions from buying human flights from Russians to buying flights from Americans. Lots of politicians get reelected.
    5. All the tech for better than chemical rocket launch now has a concrete mission to design for. Someone perfects laser ablative launch of cargo to ISS and does it much cheaper. Someone else gets an even cheaper launch option going.
    6. NASA works on designs for solar system manned exploration craft. Design is steady and largely free from political pressure.
    7. Private cargo launch matures, and one day both it and the NASA designs are ready.
    8. ISS, which is now a largely private operation, is sold off or deorbited at its end of life.
    9. NASA (and hell, maybe even private spacecraft) launch on commercial boosters and usher in a new era.

    Look, promises smomishes. Unfunded mandates scmuded fandates. This is the ONLY way to get beyond LEO in a sustained manner by the 2050s ( when I will retire). You all should be overjoyed.

  • This is America (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:14PM (#31273914)
    We're full of anti-intellectual skeptics now. You really think the endeavors of a scientific arm of the government is going to get the funding it needs for whiz bang cutting edge programs? American Idol is on.
  • One word: Jobs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by divisionbyzero (300681) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:14PM (#31273920)

    That's what all of this grandstanding is about. Vision? Bullshit! It's about jobs and votes back home. I'm sick of this fucking hypocrisy. Building an industry based on government handouts is stupid to begin with. They should consider themselves lucky to have made any money at all. The new plan for NASA is realistic and reasonable and these senators should go fuck themselves.

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:27PM (#31274160) Homepage

    "Advanced Automation for Space Missions"
    http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/ [islandone.org]
    """
    What follows is a portion of the final report of a NASA summer study, conducted in 1980 by request of newly-elected President Jimmy Carter at a cost of 11.7 million dollars. The result of the study was a realistic proposal for a self-replicating automated lunar factory system, capable of exponentially increasing productive capacity and, in the long run, exploration of the entire galaxy within a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately, the proposal was quietly declined with barely a ripple in the press. What was once concievable with 1980's technology is now even more practical today. Even if you're just skimming through this document, the potential of this proposed system is undeniable. Please enjoy.
    """

    Some individuals are still working towards that vision; one example:
        http://www.openvirgle.net/ [openvirgle.net]

    Ultimately, we will ideally end up with self-replicating space habitats that can duplicate themselves from sunlight and materials from the moons or asteroids of the solar system. There is enough relatively easily accessible materials to make habitats for trillions of people, probably quadrillions of people, and their associate biospheres. After we do that, then we can get back to talking about "Peak Oil" and limits to growth. :-)

    The ultimate resource is the human imagination:
        http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/ [juliansimon.com]

    Why not shift 90% of the US defense budget to NASA? We're just making more enemies with most of it, anyway. :-(

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:54PM (#31274700) Homepage

    NASA: "Hey, look what we can do!"

    Senate: "F*@$! Look how much money that costs! Stop that!"

    NASA: "Um, well, we can do this too..."

    Congress: "That's too &%$*!#@ dangerous! Shut it down! Shut it down!"

    NASA: "Well, maybe we could try this... it doesn't cost quite so much, and it's safer. Is that okay?"

    Senate: "I guess so. And take your sister with you."

    NASA: "All right. Here goes..."

    Congress: "That's TOO LOUD! Knock it off, and go to your room!"

    NASA: *SULK*

    Senate: "Why doesn't NASA DO anything? They have no ambition, and lack vision. Where did they go wrong?"

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