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NASA Ends Plan To Put Man Back On Moon 460

Posted by timothy
from the tax-dollars-for-earthlings dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from The Times Online: "NASA has begun to wind down construction of the rockets and spacecraft that were to have taken astronauts back to the Moon — effectively dismantling the US human spaceflight programme despite a congressional ban on its doing so. Legislators have accused President Obama's administration of contriving to slip the termination of the Constellation programme through the back door to avoid a battle on Capitol Hill."
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NASA Ends Plan To Put Man Back On Moon

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  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jacks smirking reven (909048) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:17AM (#32561618)
    At this point in US space travel's history it seems like we're in a transition period. The old technology has finally caught up with itself and now without the Shuttle we must pay the penance for its mistakes and not having proper plans afterwards. Rushing into a new manned programmed for what seems like no good reason other then to just do it will be a waste of money and take awy from developing tech. Spend the next 10 years using robots for science (the area NASA/JPL does very well with) and develop new propulsion, energy, life support etc for a new manned directive in the future. In the meantime let commercial ventures work out some new low cost delivery systems. Any plan for a moon base would involve robot systems paving the away ahead before humans regardless so let's focus those funds long term rather then making a couple of special interests happy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LostCluster (625375) *

      The problem is, with whatever-will-replace-the-Shuttle system scrapped... we've got nothing capable of docking at IIS left. There's a few contractor projects in development so that problem will be solved shortly, but right now there's a void. If we can't maintain IIS without serious help, then just how are we going to build anything on top of that project? Some plans for a moon base would use IIS as a staging area... but if that project goes the way of SkyLab... just what is NASA exploring again?

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday June 14, 2010 @07:53AM (#32563200) Homepage Journal

      The old ________ has finally caught up with itself and now without the ________ we must pay the penance for its mistakes and not having proper plans afterwards.

      There, generalized that for you.

  • by PiAndWhippedCream (1566727) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:18AM (#32561620)
    Unless we can set up a colony there, it just isn't worth it.

    The moon, you see, is a harsh mistress.

    YEAHHHHHHHH!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      Unless we can set up a colony there, it just isn't worth it.

      The moon, you see, is a harsh mistress.

      But what if they start throwing rocks?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Macrat (638047)

      he moon, you see, is a harsh mistress.

      The wife is worse when she finds out you have a mistress.

  • Good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Your Anus (308149) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:21AM (#32561636) Journal
    Constellation, particularly Ares, was a boondoggle that was years behind schedule and was never going to get us there. Now we can work on Mars and do it in a feasible manner. Commercial companies like SpaceX can handle the LEO stuff, and maybe even heavy lift. Also, it gets rid of ATK, who should have never gotten another contract after blowing up Challenger.
    • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sohp (22984) <(snewton) (at) (io.com)> on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:33AM (#32561702) Homepage

      If nothing else, the Constellation program will have served the useful purpose of distracting ATK and other folks who were milking the program away from the shuttle long enough for that obsolete program to be shut down gracefully. Management at ATK has been hinting that the company will virtually shut down without Ares or the shuttle. Memo from Free Enterprise to ATK management: if you depend on a single customer to sustain your company, you deserve to go bankrupt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by morgauxo (974071)
      Can but won't. Saying a heavy lifter will be chosen in 2015 is doublespeak for never. If NASA was really meant to send somebody somewhere it would have most likely only meant Ares-I gets canceled and serious Ares-V development begins. A better but less likely alternative would be Constellation gets canceled (with the exception of Orion) and Direct begins. Either way it would be NOW or maybe in 2011 but certainly not 2015! Nothing gets done that isn't supposed to begin until that far out.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        Can but won't. Saying a heavy lifter will be chosen in 2015 is doublespeak for never. If NASA was really meant to send somebody somewhere it would have most likely only meant Ares-I gets canceled and serious Ares-V development begins.

        (allow me to recycle a comment of mine from a few days ago)

        You don't need a heavy lifter for space exploration. In fact, it just eats up the funds you'd need for actual exploration. There's a reason that each of the times that a country has developed a heavy lift rocket in the past it's been canceled after a handful of launches due to being far too expensive. Heck, the US's and world's current heaviest launcher, the Delta IV Heavy, has only been launched 3 times in the 6 years it's existed, and it's much sm

  • An easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davmoo (63521) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:22AM (#32561638)

    If Congress is really mad that the Obama administration is shutting down the moon program, then there is a simple way they can handle the situation. They can vote to fully fund NASA's programs. So far, all I hear from Congresscritters is lip service. If they really want to send humans back to the moon, then show us the money. Talk is cheap. Space hardware is not.

  • by centuren (106470) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:22AM (#32561640) Homepage Journal

    People act like any measures taken now determine the future of the American space program forever. The budget is what it is. If NASA needs to focus on less expensive methods of exploration, that doesn't mean it will be that way forever. If it's a major setback, that's unfortunate. It doesn't change the financial health of the country, however.

    • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:27AM (#32561676)

      If not us, who? If not now, when?

      There's a "use it or lose it" concept with government money. If your project fails, it's likely to never get funded again. If the project comes in under budget, the amount it didn't need gets subtracted from next year's budget. Basically, if there's no funding for it now... it's pretty easy to assume it may never be funded again.

  • by penguinman1337 (1792086) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:22AM (#32561646)
    I really don't have a problem with this. We've already been to the moon several times and have found that it is, in fact, a giant rock. I really see no reason to go there again without some kind of purpose in mind. For example, constructing some kind of permanent base there.
  • by l2718 (514756) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:23AM (#32561652)
    This is a symptom of the "winner gets the spoils" approach to administration in the US. Every administration is supposed to set new policy in every direction, which comes from the system where every new President appoints his people to jobs all over the executive. This frequent revision of policy makes sense for short-term issues, especially ones central to the election (say DOJ anti-drug projects or FTC business regulations) but is an absurd way to manage scientific and engineering projects which naturally have timescales much greater than 4 years. Having every president retask NASA (or the agency of your choice) leads to enormous waste as projects are cancelled and new projects are started so they can be cancelled by the next administration.
    • by CallMyCards (1432059) on Monday June 14, 2010 @06:01AM (#32562676)
      A very good point. This is symptomatic in much of the "first world" at the moment. The lack of will and responsibility to make decisions impacting things in decades or even generations. The "quartal-economy" used to be a problem for companies and evident in their short term decision making, it has now become a mark of democracy also, where politicians are always considering the next election. This applies to all levels, even local and state politics are affected by this, many services provided by companies are up for a re-bid after the election and with usually a shift in the focus. The work done and experience gained previously get disregarded and projects are started from scratch.
  • by Silm (1135973)
    The article and the information within don't add up. If you want a screaming article about the end of the Constellation program, direct your anger at NASA's budget, fewer then 1% ( about half of that, actually ) of the federal budget. Don't go insulting NASA. All the voices against it in this article are biased. Why do they want to keep it? Not because they support the system. They want the jobs in their district. Really, they dont care about the program at all. At a time like this, you have to ask yourself
    • by sohp (22984) <(snewton) (at) (io.com)> on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:56AM (#32561828) Homepage

      Yep. There's a reason why some folks referred to Ares as Porklauncher I.

      I cringed when I heard Alalbama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, say the launch of Falcon 9 as a display merely replicating what "NASA accomplished in 1964." I guess he forgot that Ares IX didn't even accomplish that -- nor even equalling the accomplishment of the 1960 flight of Mercury-Redstone 1A. Ares IX took an extra shuttle SRB (not the actual 5-segment solid booster planned for Ares I), avionics from an Atlas V, and a leftover roll-control system from a Peacekeeper missile. This Frankenrocket was topped with a fake 2nd stage and capsule and was a suborbital plink.

      Falcon 9 had a fully new 2-stage rocket with all the pieces -- engines, avionics, control -- in place except a payload, and it achieved orbit to within a high degree of accuracy on its first flight. And the whole Falcon 9 development program came for less than the cost of JUST the Ares I Mobile Service Tower [spaceref.com].

      The sooner the Constellation work ends the sooner NASA can start spending that money on something that will get us somewhere.

  • Oh, the irony! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Third Position (1725934) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:25AM (#32561668)

    [blockquote]An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from The Times Online:[/blockquote]

    Isn't it odd that these days, more and more, Americans have to find out what their government is doing from foreign newspapers?

  • It was too easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:27AM (#32561678) Homepage Journal

    Going to the moon now would have been Apollo all over again, with little to gain. The moon has been done and we should leave it to commercial and new scientific activity now.

    If we, as a species, want a project of comparable difficulty (compared to Apollo from the 1960 perspective) then we should send a human crew to Titan.

    But the problem is how to fund it. The cold war and the US taxpayer funded Apollo. The Soviet people helped in their own unique way, by showing how not to do it. A new space program would have to be a global exercise, with contributions from many countries. If we decide to have just one war less then finding the money should not be a problem.

    For a couple of decades we have been avoiding an important question: why do we want human beings to go into space? We should think hard and come up with some answers pronto.

    • Re:It was too easy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KDN (3283) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:50AM (#32561800)

      "The moon has been done?"

      Hardly. The moon is the next logical stepping stone to everywhere else we want to go in the solar system.

      • To go to Mars, we need to know the effects of long term duration of humans in a low (NOT ZERO) gravity environment. We have 1G on earth, and zero G at the ISS. What happens with Mars gravity? We have no idea. Where is the nearest place to test that? The moon.
      • We need to see the effects of long term radiation exposure does to humans in space. The ISS is protected by the earth's magnetic field. Where can we test this, and get back fast if there is a severe problem? The moon.
      • We should test robots that can build a shelter remotely in a hostile environment. The earth will do at first, but to test in a low gravity and low atmosphere environment, you need the moon.

      Maybe the US will wake up when China lands a man on the moon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        ...but then you gave a few examples which have nothing to do with going to the moon. The idea of stepping stones comes from our recent experience on Earth where the places we were going to already had resources we could use (air, water, food). Space isn't like that. The rules are different. If you want an analogy imagine us as the first humans leaving Africa, but going to Antarctica instead.

        The moon was a logical step which we have gone beyond. There is no point going back down a 2km/s gravity well for the

      • Re:It was too easy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by KingMotley (944240) * on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:22AM (#32562234) Journal

        Perhaps, but none of those things are time sensitive. China, Japan, India should all be capable of sending a man to the moon in short order, and as an American, I'm happy to see them be able to do so. I don't think it detracts from what we've accomplished, nor do I feel the need to send someone up there right now just to beat them back there. Why? I see no problem with sharing and/or helping other countries be able to reach the stars. Reaching other planets like Mars, would be best served as a cooperative move from many nations, not just one.

  • by Renderer of Evil (604742) on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:30AM (#32561690) Homepage

    They should just shoot another Moon landing footage on a studio lot in Burbank. That should be enough for another 40 years of national bravado.

    Except this time we'll do it in 3-D and put it on Pay-Per-View with heavy product placement. Doritos Moonwalk? Why Not?

  • Robots (Score:4, Insightful)

    by virtigex (323685) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:07AM (#32562176)
    It seems to me that the human race needs to work on improving its skills in robotics in space exploration and many other areas. We are seeing them used in deep sea disaster recovery and warfare and it is time to see them used in positive projects. With an aging population exoskeletons need to be commercialized. Space exploration by robots is the next step and the technology developed there is going to help us get through the next few years of difficulty we are going to be experiencing.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:32AM (#32562278) Journal

    To attempt to head off common misconceptions about NASA's new plans (like those in the article summary), I'll go ahead and post the contents of an FAQ straight from the source. Also, it's important to note that the new budget -increases- the amount of money for NASA.

    http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/new_space_enterprise/home/faq.html [nasa.gov]

    This section contains answers to frequently asked questions about NASA's exploration mission and its associated programs and projects following the 2011 Budget Rollout.

      Why is the Administration proposing a new direction for Human Space Exploration?

    In May of last year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) tasked an independent committee with reviewing U.S. human space flight plans and activities, with the goal of ensuring that our nation is pursuing the best trajectory in this arena - one that is safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable. While the committee did determine that the Constellation Program was technically sound, they found it to be "be on an unsustainable trajectory" because it NASA was "perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." In other words, the budget did not support the Constellation architecture.

      What is better about the new approach?

    The new approach proposed by the Administration focuses long term investments on the fundamental capabilities required for human space flight beyond Low Earth Orbit, but that we currently lack. The plan calls for technology development in areas like propulsion, in-orbit propellant storage, automated and autonomous rendezvous and docking, advanced closed-loop life support, and tele-robotic operations. It also increases funding in NASA's human research program, allowing us to better understand the potentially harmful effects the space environment might have on people and how we can best mitigate them. Most importantly, this approach is financially sustainable.

      Does this mean that NASA has given up on returning to the moon?

    Absolutely not. In fact, recent discoveries of water on the moon have made it more scientifically interesting that ever before. Our focus in the near term will be discovery through robotic missions, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, followed by robotic precursor missions, to scout the terrain for the eventual return of humans.

      Why is turning over a portion of human spaceflight to commercial industry a good idea?

    NASA has already committed a significant investment to commercially provided space flight services. Almost all of our satellites and many science missions are launched commercially. In addition, we recently contracted with commercial companies to carry cargo to the International Space Station commercially. The next natural step is for NASA to buy commercial flights for our astronauts to the ISS. This will free up NASA to pursue the greater challenges in the way of a trip to Mars.

      Exploration Systems was the directorate that managed the Constellation program. What will its role be under the new plan?

    Under the new plan the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) will be responsible for many research and development programs including exploration technology and demonstrations, heavy lift and propulsion technology, exploration precursor robotic missions, and human research. In addition, ESMD will manage the commercial crew and cargo spaceflight programs.

  • Ariane ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    What about the USA buying rocket technology from ESA ? Ariane is an excellent vehicle with a great record.
    • Re:Ariane ? (Score:4, Informative)

      by nojayuk (567177) on Monday June 14, 2010 @07:20AM (#32563036)

      The US has several off-the-shelf medium/heavy lifters such as the Delta 4 Heavy that can put up to 20 tonnes into orbit similar to the Ariane V. What they don't have (and nobody else has) is a superheavy lifter capable of carrying a 70-tonnes plus payload which is needed to perform the one-shot-to-the-Moon mission envisaged for Constellation (with a separate crew flight). However there are problems man-rating an existing lifter; the flight profile needs to be configured so that the maximum acceleration at any point in the flight is tolerable to the Spam-in-a-can plus a lot of other factors such as safety and abort flight modes and hardware mods.

      ESA is preparing to buy and fly Soyuz spacecraft from their Guiana spaceport, initially to carry unmanned payloads such as the Progress ISS supply capsule. The Soyuz design is already man-rated and well-proven (over 1700 flights) and it wouldn't take much upgrading to add a manned spaceflight capability to the ESA catalogue based on the Soyuz.

      http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Launchers_Home/SEMFFUZO0WF_0.html

  • by jonwil (467024) on Monday June 14, 2010 @05:22AM (#32562482)

    The first is from those who say "ending Constellation will cost jobs in my state" (i.e. those who just want more pork thrown their way and more lobbying money from the contractors) and who wont accept any option other than the status quo.

    The second argument is from those (including various astronauts etc) who say that the alternatives proposed by Obama will leave America without manned space flight capability for too long (forcing the US to buy expensive seats on a Soyuz to get to the ISS). They claim that the "commercial providers" Obama wants will not be able to deliver a manned booster/capsule fast enough (and have zero experience with manned booster/capsule production). This group is open to alternatives to the current program, just not the (currently non existent) alternatives Obama wants.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday June 14, 2010 @06:14AM (#32562744)

    ... until we come up with a space propulsion system better than the rockets and ion drives that we currently have. Despite the talk, putting humans in a tin can for 3 years 30 million miles from earth is not realistic for medical or psychological reasons. Unless a system can be developed that can get people and materials around the solar system in months rather than years or decades then we can forget about colonising or exploiting it in any realistic manner.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Virtucon (127420)

      The moon is three days away. We've been there and we should go back.

      The reasons aren't just financial and the technology gains we've made in space exploration have more than paid the costs. The US economy has ridden on the shirt tails of the space program for decades and cutting off funding for critical research is myopic and will be detrimental to future economic growth. The problem has been the bureaucracy that is NASA and while I applaud the efforts to privatize most of LEO stuff, there still needs to

  • by Shane112358 (1532293) on Monday June 14, 2010 @11:01AM (#32565256)

    It is interesting, to say the least, to see non-NASA people's opinions on this issue, and moreover, to see people's opinions who are technically minded but outside of NASA. As someone working on Constellation at NASA, I am living this issue every day, and have been living it for months now. There is lots of misinformation on this thread, and lots of opinions I disagree with. I won't take the time to really respond to any of them, but in the case of the former, it's entirely understandable considering the poor communication coming out of NASA (both in general and on this specific issue) as well as the poor quality of news reporting as it relates to spaceflight (and by extension, nearly everything technical in nature). In the case of the latter, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Mine is that we need to get society off this rock as soon as possible and establish a permanent self-sustaining settlement on another one as a means of risk mitigation against the various calamities that could destroy human civilization. Second, I feel it should be us (the United States) because someone is going to do it - it will happen eventually. That point should not be up for debate. For us to sit around spending money on things like wars and bailouts instead of continuing the role as the leader in space is, in my humble opinion, short sighted. But I digress.

    The one thing I will say is that Constellation is not dead - yet. It's had its head cut off by reassignment of the program manager. It's been dealt a tough blow most recently with HQ telling the prime contractors (Lockheed, ATK, Oceaneering) that they need to put money into reserve for contract termination liability - the costs associated with winding down a contract. Typically this contract clause is never enforced, and especially not at this time of the year. Our fiscal year ends on Sept 30. These contract termination liability costs now represent about 50% of the money left in the budget for this fiscal year, which essentially means that things need to be cut to the bone to get there. Many people feel that enforcing this clause is a pretty shady way of circumventing Congress and the law, because until Congress signs a new budget or specifically tells NASA to stop working on Constellation, NASA is legally obligated to continue working on it as the program of record. By enforcing this clause, it could be construed as circumventing this legal process. If a budget agreement is not found by the end of the fiscal year (and that is looking more and more likely), then NASA gets a continuing resolution - the same money allocated the same way for next year as it was this year. So hypothetically, NASA could pick back up with this "new money" and continue working on Constellation.

    That being said, for months now, before this contract termination issue came up, most of the different Constellation projects (Orion, suit, etc) have been working to try to scale back design, remove Lunar content, accelerate the schedule, reduce scope, etc to try to "bridge the gap" between what Congress says they should be doing and what HQ and the executive branch says they should be doing.

    Lastly, I think that most people at NASA don't necessarily have a problem with Obama's general plan for NASA - they have a problem with its lack of specificity, lack of a concrete goal, lack of a timeline. I get the feeling that if Obama came back and said he wants to cancel Constellation, come up with a new heavy lifter (both things he has said before) but also that the goal is to establish a human presence on "X" surface "Y" years from now, more people might get on board.

  • by signine (92535) <slashdot@nOspAM.signine.org> on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:06PM (#32568898) Homepage

    The first problem with the libertarian argument is that free markets exploit only that which is profitable. Discovering that which is profitable is often a thing done by or for governments. If you look at the history of innovation over the past hundred years, almost all of it would have been impossible without the direct involvement of government. The computer was developed for the defense industry, as were rockets, jet propulsion, modern nuclear physics, refrigeration, microwaves, radio, the list goes on and on.

    Lately the profit motive behind going to space has been more or less limited to tourism. A visit to the moon by NASA, especially an extended manned one with the intention of exploiting the moon's natural resources and discovering the problems of long-term hostile-environment extraplanetary colonization could provide the very sort of research that would create a profit motive for private industry to exploit the moon.

    The second problem with the libertarian argument is that the companies developing these technologies already are private industry, they are merely funded by the government.

    The third problem is the cost. If you compare government spending in any given year, 3bn is a drop in the bucket, but it's a drop in the bucket that could result in MEN WALKING ON THE FREAKIN' MOON. What part about MEN WALKING ON THE MOON did you miss?

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