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Obama Outlines Bold Space Policy ... But No Moon 455

Posted by timothy
from the all-things-to-all-people dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "In front of a mostly enthusiastic audience at NASA's Kennedy Space Center today, President Obama outlined a bold, new space policy. It's a change from his previous policy; the Constellation rockets are still dead, but a new heavy-lift rocket system is funded. He specifically talked of manned asteroid and Mars missions, but also stated there would be no return to the Moon. This is a major step in the right direction, but still needs some tweaking."
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Obama Outlines Bold Space Policy ... But No Moon

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  • by symbolset (646467) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:33PM (#31867578) Journal

    $6B for five years? $1.2B a year. Less money than Microsoft is losing on Bing. Less than 5% of the annual revenues of Mars candy [wikipedia.org]. For humans to stretch the limits of the frontier, to go to Mars and the Asteroids this is all? This is bold? What deep commitment.

    I honestly liked it better when he didn't care enough to pretend to try. Do it or don't do it. Don't go halfway into it and set everybody up for disappointment. This is important stuff.

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:34PM (#31867590) Homepage Journal

      In a time when every other discretionary budget is being cut, any increase is a show of support.

      • by Entropius (188861) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:43PM (#31867640)

        The military budget is not being cut (significantly). US military spending, regardless of how it is classified, is discretionary in reality.

        You could fund a manned Mars mission (pessimistic estimated total cost: $100 billion) with a 3% cut in the US military budget for ten years.

        • by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:48PM (#31867666) Journal

          You could fund a manned Mars mission (pessimistic estimated total cost: $100 billion) with a 3% cut in the US military budget for ten years.

          You could pay for massive upgrades to child protective services, social security, medicare, etc. with $100 billion. You could put a million pedophile priests in jail for $100 billion. You could reinvigorate Detroit and create tens of thousands of jobs for $100 billion.

          The point is that you could do a LOT of things with "just a small cut in the military budget", but it wouldn't sit well with the electorate. Obama already takes enough shit for being "soft on terrorists" and "elitist". I doubt he'd want to completely botch his re-election with a snooty re-allocation of military funds ("purtecctt amurreriicaa") to the space program ("scieencee and la dee daa").

          • by Gerzel (240421) <brollyferret&gmail,com> on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:19PM (#31867892) Journal

            He'd be "soft and the terrorists" and "elitist" no matter WHAT he did. Those are talking points that are applied without regard to any facts.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              That's why you don't give your opponents actual facts, because his opponent's blatant lies are the only thing keeping the fifty-someodd percent of the electorate with him.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by cheekyboy (598084)

            hehe americans are dumb.

            Didnt you learn from history, rome died because of military spending.

            Besides, if you spend $100b on nasa, immediately the fed gets 40% back in taxes, the rest of the 60% is spent on subcontractors and they get taxes 40% of that, those workers then buy stuff of pay rent / bills. In the end 90% of that 100b is spent locally. ie self feed back revenue.

            And its either $80b going to boeing & corps buying stealth fighters, or $80b going to buy rockets / space ships.

            And most of the mili

        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          Yes, and I'm sure you could cut veteran's benefits to fund a Mars mission too... or neighborhood watch programs. (Both of which have been in direct competition with NASA funds in the past). But over here in the *real* world, that's not gunna happen.

           

      • Quite apart from the national security issues, there's a lot of science to learn out there or on the way. As Kennedy put it: "we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

        But no, what we need now

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The US Federal Budget has grown by over $600 billion in the last year; if discretionary budgets are being cut it's not because Congress and the White House are showing any fiscal responsibility. I highly doubt your claim that every discretionary budget is being cut, not when spending jumps by 20% (from $2.9 trillion in 2008 to $3.5 trillion in 2009).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skarecrow77 (1714214)

      I still don't understand why we're building a new heavy lifter when we have a heavy lifter we've spent several billion already over the past 6 years. How close was Ares V to being done? was it really THAT mismanaged that it's cheaper and more efficient to start from scratch?

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:44PM (#31867650) Homepage Journal

        Ares V development hasn't even started.. and ask Jeff Greason said "even if Santa Claus brought us the new program for xmas, we'd have to shut it down because we don't have the budget to operate it". The research is for *affordable* heavy lift. If you can't make heavy lift affordable (or as the codeword goes "sustainable") you have to do without it.. which is where the propellant depots and in-situ resource utilization comes in.

      • by Graymalkin (13732)

        The only Ares V that will fly in the next decade will be miniature hobby rockets. The Ares V exists only on paper at this point. Worse it doesn't even have a real design specced out at this point so if you said "build an Ares V starting tomorrow" it couldn't be done.

      • by masdog (794316)
        We have a couple of heavy-lift launchers according to Wikipedia. The Ares V is classed as a Super-Heavy lift vehicle and can lift 6-8 times as much as an Atlas V or Delta IV. Is the Ares V a good design? I don't know. I think we can do better than merging Shuttle-era technology with Apollo-era concepts.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by camperdave (969942)
        What I don't understand is why they were building a new heavy lifter when we've had a working heavy lifter for the past 30 years: The STS system. Remove the shuttle, put the engines on the bottom of the tank, and the cargo/Orion on the top, and you've got a launch vehicle that can put 75+ tons into orbit. Production lines already in place, no major development needed. Cheap and affordable, and with a minor shuttle extension no loss of jobs.
      • by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:10AM (#31868390) Homepage

        Ares was not going to create new technology. It would use rehashed technologies from Saturn and the Space Shuttle. This was expected to create a better program because the technology would be flight-tested and well-known. However, it would also obviously stop innovation into new motors and technologies. Ares fell behind schedule and went over-budget almost immediately. The escape mechanism was shown not to be effective. Ares I-X severely damaged the launch pad, didn't separate cleanly, and had a problem with the parachutes. You can argue that these problems would get fixed in due time, but if you weren't getting the benefit of a faster program, then there is less reason to abandon the development of new technologies.

        Furthermore, the problems associated with the use of solid fuel propellants with manned flights has been pretty clear. They do not give as much performance as liquid-fueled rockets. This has lead to ARES V being so big that the launch infrastructure would have to be upgraded to deal with its girth. Solid fuels cannot be shut off in case of emergency. And when they explode, they explode. Liquid-fueled rockets may come apart, but cryogenic fuels such as LOx and LH2 do not explode when combined; it needs to be heated or otherwise ignited. For proof, look at the Challenger disaster. When the SRBs ran away and the fuel tank came apart, there was no explosion; the huge cloud was cryogenic fuel being mixed together. In fact, the crew cabin survived the separation even when detached from the rest of the Shuttle; a few astronauts survived until they hit the water.

        Also, Ares was going to develop the Ares I for manned vehicles and Ares V heavy lift for cargo. Ares V never really got developed because Ares I fell behind schedule and ate up all the money. A better way would be to develop two medium-lift vehicles to simplify the development. Cargo heavy lift can be provided by industry or by scaling up a medium-lift design with SRBs like other designs.

        The new program will focus on the development of lift technologies and boosters without a specific goal. The problem with specific goals and insufficient budgets is that you get rush jobs. If NASA had to put a man on the moon by 2020 but didn't have the money to do it, then we'd have an unwieldy mess that never gets anywhere. Moving the focus to getting the work done would be more productive. Then we can work on getting orbiters and interplanetary spacecraft together once all the heavy-lift has been done.

        Is it controversial? Hell yes. Is it a good idea? I dunna; it's risky. But is an end to the US manned space program? No. It's a daring move that throws in all the marbles in the hopes that we trade a bad program to a better future.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Solid fuels cannot be shut off in case of emergency.

          [sigh] This urban myth again.

          The US Navy would be surprised to learn that solids can't be shut off - after all, they only operated rockets using thrust termination (SUBROC, Polaris A-1, Polaris A-2, and Poseidon) for over thirty years. Solids *can* be shut off, and the technology is well known. NASA chose to omit thrust termination systems from the Shuttle because of weight and because the piggyback configuration meant that shutdown transients w

    • by magsol (1406749)
      Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't that $6B the increase NASA's budget is getting on top of their current budget?
    • Sure would be nice if Microsoft and Google teamed up to help fund NASA. Think of it as their down-payment for improved PR and marketing.

      I can dream, can't I?

    • by Gerzel (240421)

      It is better than getting cut. Unfortunately many people just don't see the purpose and reason for NASA and why it is vital that we keep our LEO ability. Until the private sector INSIDE the US can do LEO it has to remain in NASA's portfolio.

      The longer we remain solely on this planet the higher probability that we will no longer remain.

    • To boldy not go where man has gone before.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      well Obama has no control over how much MS loses on bing or what the revenue of mars candy is. he can only piss with the dick he's got.

      he's got plenty of other priorities he's trying to juggle, i'd say NASA did pretty well out of this.

  • "No Moon" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:41PM (#31867626) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, I sighed. It's a shame that this concept is so hard to explain.

    To go to the Moon you need a booster, a capsule and a lander. Without an Apollo sized budget its too expensive to build all three at once. So the question becomes: what can we do with just the booster and the capsule while the lander is being built?

    There's lots of things of value. Developing cis-lunar space. Going to asteroids, to learn how to divert one that may threaten the Earth. To the Moons of Mars to learn how to do long duration deep space flights.

    Eventually, the lander will be ready and NASA will try it out on the Moon, and then onto a Mars landing.

    But that's not the kind of argument you can put on a bumpersticker or insert into a presidential speech.

    • Re:"No Moon" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by smchris (464899) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:49PM (#31867674)

      I have to disagree. The best way to "learn" how to do long duration deep-space flights is a moonbase, don't you think, not a first-try, no-exit-strategy, let's hope everything works shoot-'em-to-Demos one shot.

      Bush was going to Mars too, so my concern is not alleviated that we're still talking fantasy appeasements while starving the program.

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Umm, no. To learn how to fly deep space missions (which, by definition are beyond the orbit of the Moon), you have to go further than the Moon. Sorry, that's just the way the real world works.. you can't learn how to ride a bike by buying a skateboard.

        • by yotto (590067)

          But riding the skateboard teaches you a bit about balance and how wheels work, and teaches you that your bike can't have those little wheels if you want to ride on gravel.

          Plus, free skateboard.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CarbonShell (1313583)

          Bad analogy.

          When riding a bike you take it step by step. You don't sit your daughter on a bike and after the first few attempts go to the next biggest mountain and push her down the steepest slope.

          Or you could say that after you have swam across the Hudson, you just skip crossing one of the Great Lakes and go for an Atlantic crossing.

          You just don't throw a crap load of money and time out the window on a mission you know has a high chance of failing.
          Especially not when people's lives are on the line!

          So we ca

    • There is a quote on the java ranch site [javaranch.com] that is very applicable here: "[Thompson's Rule for first-time telescope makers] It is faster to make a four-inch mirror then a six-inch mirror than to make a six-inch mirror." If they shoot for Mars first, it will never happen.
      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Did you completely miss what I said or what? No-one is "shooting for Mars first". Every suggestion of the milestones required to get to Mars, of a plan that has even has milestones (I'm looking at you Zubrin) has included a return to the Moon. The speech writer for Obama was simply trying to make the point that the surface of the Moon isn't the *next* place to go.. there's plenty of other places to go first.

    • Re:"No Moon" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:19PM (#31867896) Homepage Journal

      But that's not the kind of argument you can put on a bumpersticker or insert into a presidential speech.

      Bumper sticker, no. Speech, well, you need the right president.

      Where Bush had a space program that made him look good but would never accomplish anything, Obama has one that has folks scratching their heads but which might just take space travel out of its 40-year coma.

      And no, I'm not blaming W for the mess that is NASA. Every President since JFK has put politics over real accomplishments in this area, though Bush was just a little more cold-blooded about it.

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Overall, NASA's PR has been more horrid this year than I ever remember :) This budget rollout was broken. The President's speech was "ho hum", at least to me and other space cadets, I don't know how people who were completely unprepared received what he said. But he at least managed to give some people what they wanted: destinations and dates. Most likely not the ones they wanted, but at least the Apollo cargo cult can't moan about that tickbox being unchecked anymore. So now we wait to see how much C

      • Re:"No Moon" (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:21AM (#31868114) Homepage

        Where Bush had a space program that made him look good but would never accomplish anything, Obama has one that has folks scratching their heads but which might just take space travel out of its 40-year coma.

        Had space travel been in a coma, you'd have a point. But it hasn't. Instead we've actually had what all the space fans claim to have wanted for years - a routine workaday program. Turns out they were lying, what they want is stunts and spectaculars and big penile substitutes.
         
        And really, Obama's program is something of a bust - a modest amount of money, a booster with no mission (I smell pork), and a capsule that might be adapted to have a mission at some date in the misty future. No clear goals, no timetables, no roadmaps nothing but warm fuzzy rhetoric.
         

        And no, I'm not blaming W for the mess that is NASA. Every President since JFK has put politics over real accomplishments in this area, though Bush was just a little more cold-blooded about it.

        I hope you're not referring to the Apollo program, because that was pure politics through and through.

        • Re:"No Moon" (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SECProto (790283) on Friday April 16, 2010 @06:13AM (#31869750)

          Had space travel been in a coma, you'd have a point. But it hasn't. Instead we've actually had what all the space fans claim to have wanted for years - a routine workaday program.

          You are calling 4 manned trips a year to LEO a "workaday" program? Where it takes 12 years to get a space station completed? The shuttle directly limited spaceflight development by being dangerous, expensive and overly complex - leading to the 4 trip per year limit. Keeping up our presence in LEO going is important, absolutely, but spending 1 billion per launch to do so is not.

          Obama's program is something of a bust - a modest amount of money, a booster with no mission (I smell pork), and a capsule that might be adapted to have a mission at some date in the misty future. No clear goals, no timetables, no roadmaps nothing but warm fuzzy rhetoric.

          Commercial companies are developing the tech for manned LEO, so we really shouldn't be designing our own. To do better missions further out, we need a heavy lifter - exactly what Obama is proposing. By requiring the design to be finalized by 2015, it gives a deadline so that it is not just "pork barrel funding" - but still enough time to include some new tech like on orbit refueling (could greatly expand our working distance from earth). It has timeframes, goals, and roadmaps - it just isn't based on old, already-used tech, so he can't say exactly what the booster will be like. I think it is significantly better than the Constellation program - less expensive, same goals, better tech, more likely to actually happen.

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:42PM (#31867632) Homepage

    Phil Plait offers his comments on Obama's new space policy: Obama lays out bold and visionary revised space policy [discovermagazine.com].

  • by Dice (109560) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:43PM (#31867638)

    I think he's probably right in terms of what a government research program should have as its goals. IMO, the purpose of government research on this scale is to drive forward technological development and give the private sector a kick in the pants.

    We've already been to the Moon, that technology was developed during the 1960s. We could probably do it better now, but the advancements wouldn't be nearly as significant as what is required for a manned mission to Mars. Leave the moon to the private sector, we should expect to see a private company touching down there within a decade or maybe two. Mars is still a pie-in-the-sky target, let's point NASA at that.

    • by Entropius (188861) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:46PM (#31867660)

      Do you really want private companies going to the Moon and commercializing it?

      • by Kittenman (971447) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:50PM (#31867686)
        Right now it would be good to get anyone to go the moon and commercialize it. That's where the money will come from, though. Holidays, mining, health, retirement villages...
      • by Dice (109560) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:53PM (#31867722)

        Yes. Why not?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by camperdave (969942)
          Yes. Why not?

          Because when I take a girl for a walk on the beach at night I want to see the moon, not a Pepsi logo.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Tumbleweed (3706)

            Because when I take a girl for a walk on the beach at night I want to see the moon, not a Pepsi logo.

            Ahh, there's your problem. You should concentrate on looking at the girl, not the Moon.

      • by DougF (1117261)
        Yes
      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:49PM (#31867958) Journal

        Do you really want private companies going to the Moon and commercializing it?

        Yes please, as rapidly as possible. Coincidentally, a couple days ago space.com had an interview with construction billionaire Robert Bigelow (who currently has two prototype space stations in orbit, which he launched on his own dime). In the interview he discussed his plans for a private lunar base, which would be assembled from three of his space station modules in lunar orbit or a Lagrangian point, then land assembled on the lunar surface:

        http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/private-moon-bases-bigelow-aerospace-100414.html [space.com]

        After launching two prototype space stations into orbit, space entrepreneur and pioneer Robert Bigelow is now setting his sights a bit higher. His latest vision: A quick-deploy moon base capable of housing up to 18 astronauts in inflatable modules on the lunar surface.

        The base itself would be fabricated in space, with consideration being given to crewmembers piloting the entire base directly onto the moon's surface. ...

        "We need to make low-Earth orbit work first before we go beyond . . . but I believe we will," Gold told SPACE.com. "Once we've established a robust infrastructure in Earth orbit, created the economies of scale necessary to produce facilities in low Earth orbit . . . at that point, we've really enabled ourselves to look at a variety of options."

        Bigelow's main limiting factor has been the lack of a commercial crew vehicle to transfer customers to his space stations, and NASA's newly-announced commercial crew initiative will solve that problem. Once Bigelow's LEO bases have proven themselves, a private lunar base will be able to take advantage of the propellant depots in LEO and Lagrangian points foreseen under the new NASA plans.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        As if the commercialization won't happen once we actually establish any sort of presence there? Come on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      Leave the moon to the private sector, we should expect to see a private company touching down there within a decade or maybe two.

      If by "the private sector" you actually mean "India or China" then yea, they'll be there within a decade or two.

      Why would the private sector even want to go to the moon?
      We can't even convince our domestic aerospace giants that building heavy lift rockets is a viable commercial interest.

    • The moon missions were a long time ago - but its not clear that we have progressed much with technology needed for aerospace. The basic technology hasn't changed, launch costs aren't that different. It was hard then, and its still hard now. Mars is a lot harder. We could do it if we wanted to, but we aren't willing to put in the require effort, or take the required risks. Its not that I think Obama's plan is fundamentally flawed, but when he talks about a mars mission in the 2030s, it sounds like another o

  • by codepunk (167897) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:48PM (#31867670)

    In 2 and a half years when Obama is replaced by the next guy we can recycle this whole thing over again. Each administration takes over and points NASA in yet another direction killing off whatever the current direction is. Next administration will probably kill the heavy lifter project and replace that with a direct shot to mars.

  • No Moon? (Score:5, Funny)

    by z0idberg (888892) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:49PM (#31867680)

    So if it's not a moon, then I guess it's a.....Space Station?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:52PM (#31867718)

    what is the point of going to Mars if we have no capability of setting up a base there? No capability of any rescue? The moon is our kindergarten - a place to learn about how to live for long periods of time in extremely harsh environments. It is close enough that rescue or other aid may be possible. It is close enough that there is greater flexibility in the mission. The sad thing is that what we did in a handful of years in the 1960s is going to take us a decade or more 50 years later.

  • Chinese (Score:4, Insightful)

    by acehole (174372) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:53PM (#31867730) Homepage

    You can bet that when the Chinese land on the moon and start talking about setting up bases there'll be a renewed call for the US to end up on the moon again post haste. I can tell its going to be like toddlers and toys. One wont play with a toy until he sees someone else enjoying it and wants in on the action.

  • by thoughtsatthemoment (1687848) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:54PM (#31867742) Journal
    I think a giant telescope on the moon would greatly increase our knowledge of the universe. Maybe our current technology is not sufficient for longer distance space travel and gaining more knowledge about the universe might be better for now.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:59PM (#31867774) Journal
    The reaon is that NASA is going to get private space off the ground. As long as we adhere to this and get BIGELOW AEROSPACE off the ground, then we will hit the moon around 2020. Bigelow and Musk have BOTH said that they want on the moon around that timeframe.
  • No moon? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:16AM (#31868090) Homepage

    No moon? That's a space station?

    (Millions of geeks suddenly sighed at the pun and were silenced.)

  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Friday April 16, 2010 @09:26AM (#31871620) Homepage

    I know it's sexy to send people into space, but it seems questionable to me.

    Human beings are soft, easily damaged, extremely high maintenance systems.
    We have extremely poor temperature tolerance, we constantly require food, water, and very specific atmosphere to breathe. We produce waste, our muscles quickly atrophy..

    The mean temperature on Mars is -46 C.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars [wikipedia.org]

    So: What's the point?
    What can human beings do in space that robots can't?

    Or more precisely, what can human beings do in space 10 years from now that future robots still won't be able to do 10 years from now?

    I say the best plan for improved space exploration is to increase funding for robotics research, while continuing/expanding current robotic missions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CompMD (522020)

      "What can human beings do in space that robots can't?"

      Not get stuck in two inches of sand on Mars.

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