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Senate Bill Adds Shuttle Flight, New Shuttle-Derived Vehicle 230

Posted by timothy
from the jobs-for-my-district dept.
simonbp writes "The Senate Commerce Committee this morning marked up a compromise NASA Authorization Act that rolls back some of Obama's plans for NASA, while keeping others. The bill adds at least one more shuttle flight, keeps Obama's technology demonstrators and commercial access to ISS (albeit at reduced funding), restores the Orion crew capsule, and replaces the Ares rockets with a Shuttle-Derived 'Space Launch System' for going to the ISS and Beyond, which could be ready as soon as 2015."
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Senate Bill Adds Shuttle Flight, New Shuttle-Derived Vehicle

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  • KILL IT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CajunArson (465943)

    Preface: I'm firmly in the camp that believes that Bush wasn't as bad as we were all told and that Obama is nowhere as great as we've been all told but, Obama got the idea of privatizing LEO work 100% right. I'm getting tired of the rest of the weasels (in both parties) trying to shove even more pork into NASA instead of letting it do its job..
    Hell I think the whole "foremost mission of NASA is to make Muslims feel like they are smart" is something that proves that the characters in Atlas Shrugged actually

  • Wrong Direction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:51PM (#32920700) Homepage Journal
    A bill that kills NASA entirely would be a better direction for space research and the United States. Unfortunately the department is too big a political pork football between various state representatives for it to ever be effective. Until we can structure a space organization that won't be a political football - and that's going to take a really radical change - we're only shooting ourselves in the foot.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556) *

      Until we can structure a space organization that won't be a political football

      Short of a war that includes activities in space I really don't see how that's going to happen. There's no way to involve the Federal Government in anything remotely related to appropriations that won't become a political football.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      A bill that kills NASA entirely would be a better direction for space research and the United States.

      Why? With what would you replace NASA so that the space research can continue?

      Until we can structure a space organization that won't be a political football...

      Oh, I see... So, replacing NASA is not because of the research it does, but because is done in a "political football" fashion?
      If this is the problem, then why demolish demolish the stadium (i.e. NASA) if you actually blame the game played on the stadium?

    • Insurance: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hartree (191324) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:12PM (#32920944)

      The phrase "baby with the bathwater" comes to mind here. NASA does some things that no other US entity currently does.

      We're about to rely on a foreign country as our sole source supplier for manned access to the ISS for at least several years. We don't have a backup. Just as you say NASA is a political football, international relations can be just as unpredictable. Right now we have a shortage of Pu-238 for RTGs in part because we felt we could buy what we needed from the Russians. That's fine. It's a good source for it. But, we didn't move ahead with funding for getting DOE ready to produce more. There's a contract dispute with the Russians that no one anticipated, and that's left us looking for other alternatives.

      I prefer to keep a couple of shuttles around and launching at a low rate rather than just relying on Soyuz. Expensive, and hopefully unneeded, but most insurance is like that.

      It gives us a backup that won't take years to be ready. Ultimately, a man rated Falcon 9 or some other private launcher would be a good solution. But, we don't have it yet.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        We have no need to put humans in space urgently, nor a need to use the ISS. Those are dispensable projects.

        Hand off the space program to the military, and stick to remote-manned missions. There is plenty of time to send tourists in the future.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        The phrase "baby with the bathwater" comes to mind here. NASA does some things that no other US entity currently does.

        Completely agreed but none of the things I care about are tied to the shuttle or derived vehicles.

        We're about to rely on a foreign country as our sole source supplier for manned access to the ISS for at least several years.

        It gives us a backup that won't take years to be ready. Ultimately, a man rated Falcon 9 or some other private launcher would be a good solution. But, we don't have it yet

        • by Hartree (191324)

          I wasn't particularly arguing in favor of the congressional plan as far as the shuttle derived vehicle. I'm largely agnostic as to what sort of manned access we end up with. I just want to continue to have it. Private launchers would be great. They aren't ready yet. Neither is this proposed HLV based on shuttle tech.

          What I was arguing for was a reduced shuttle program as a backup regardless of what we end up deciding to develop for the next launcher. The shuttles are aging, but they currently work. Use Soy

      • by mbone (558574)

        We're about to rely on a foreign country as our sole source supplier for manned access to the ISS for at least several years

        No, we are about to rely on a private company, Space X [spacex.com], to ferry astronauts to the ISS. That seems reasonable to me, with the Russians as a backup / lifeboat.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hartree (191324)

          Well, I'm sure that Elon Musk et al would like to present that as a done deal. But, they don't have a man rated rocket fully operational yet. I do think that ultimately it's a good solution.

          Their latest test was very impressive. But, it's just one step on a several year track to being able to provide manned access to the ISS.

          Both Soyuz and the shuttle are fully operational now. Not just likely to be in the future. I've watched a lot of projects that looked good not work out for whatever reason. And it's usu

        • Re:Insurance: (Score:4, Informative)

          by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:45PM (#32921830) Journal

          No, we are about to rely on a private company, Space X, to ferry astronauts to the ISS.

          Actually, even SpaceX's Elon Musk has stated that SpaceX will probably be a smaller provider, with the United Launch Alliance's Atlas rockets getting more of the commercial crew funding. For those unfamiliar with them, the ULA has had 40 consecutive successful launches in 40 months, often carrying multi-billion dollar DOD payloads critical to national security, so it's pretty indisputable that they have proven rockets. This produces a competitive market in commercial spaceflight, which is of the utmost importance to avoid all the problems inherent with monopolies.

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:59PM (#32921434) Homepage Journal

        Well, ISS is more part of the problem than it is a program we need to support until some future date. What's it for? Not research, that is done better by other programs. It and the shuttle seem to have been designed to justify each other. And unlike interplanetary research, we actually do have free enterprise building near-earth capability.

        • Well, regardless of the scientific merits, continuing access to ISS is one of the main points that can sell putting money into SpaceX and other private ventures in the near term. Once again, it may not be what we wanted, but it's what we've got.

          Virgin Galactic and some others are gearing up for non-orbital tourist work on their own dime at the moment, but there aren't a whole lot of other manned projects I'd consider advanced contenders at the moment that don't in part rely on providing services to the gove

    • Re:Wrong Direction (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:14PM (#32920964) Homepage

      A bill that kills NASA entirely would be a better direction for space research and the United States.

      Without NASA there would be virtually no space research in the United States, which is only "better" if you aren't in favor of space exploration to begin with. Nobody but NASA is going to launch missions like LISA, Cassini, Deep Impact, Mars Science Laboratory, etc etc. The only people on earth that are doing things like that are other governmental space agencies. Much like NSF, NASA serves a vital function of providing funding for projects that are infeasible for universities and unprofitable for private industry, with basic research that advances the state of knowledge and technology for the future.

      The problem with NASA, the thing that makes it a political football, is the huge in-house rocket projects. The shuttle (and now derivatives) represent $billions/year all going to a single project and a small number of contractors. A giant target like that is tempting to get rid of, and nearly impossible for those profiting from it to let go of. Thus the political stalemate.

      Yet all the interesting projects I mentioned, and all the technology programs that Obama wanted to have happen and which I pray to God won't be crippled by this compromise, are individually much cheaper. No single constituency has such a stake in them that they will fight tooth and nail to keep them, nor are they such tempting targets for cuts. They're more flexible, and also more broadly addressing the needs of future space exploration.

      The shuttle-derived HLV, that does nothing but keep a contractor in business and let NASA have a rocket with its logo on the side, is the problem. Other than that, NASA is fine and does great work and saying it should be killed is the worst idea ever.

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        Don't you understand? The moment you kill NASA, private industry will rise to the space research and exploration challenge and do a better job for less money!

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:08PM (#32921512) Homepage Journal

        Caltech does just fine building MSL, without all that much help from NASA other than signing checks. You don't need NASA to give Caltech a grant.

        • by trout007 (975317)
          I'm not sure you understand how many NASA employees there are. It's less than 20,000 about 1/5 of the IRS or USDA. The purpose of NASA is to be the National Aeronautic and Space ADMINISTRATION. That means NASA is supposed to take the tax dollars from Congress and figure out how to use that to further the goals stated in the NASA Act. NASA doesn't have enough employees to build anything. They are there to figure out the projects needed, how much to fund them, and make sure the contractors are doing what they
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Bruce Perens (3872)

            They do keep some technical employees at NASA just because you don't MBA's writing the technical specs and determining if the contractor met them.

            Yes, but all the reports I hear are that MBAs running the show is indeed happening. And folks with less qualification than MBAs in congress.

            It needs to be run by scientists, and with independence.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by TexVex (669445)

              It needs to be run by scientists, and with independence.

              What, scientists don't have politics and all the bullshit that comes with it? How would scientists decide what projects to fund, towards what ends? You think just because someone is a professional in sciences that he or she is automatically altruistic? Good lord, some of these science peeps are the most condescending, lost-in-their-own-world, self-centered bastards imaginable!

              Yeah, professional politicians suck. But I say, better the devil you k

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Caltech does just fine building MSL, without all that much help from NASA other than signing checks.

          Signing the checks, providing mission direction, providing design support and reviews, keeping the budget in check, keeping the plans from growing too grandiose, providing contract support, coordinating launch and DSN services, etc... etc...

          Caltech/JPL builds some damn fine hardware and runs some damn fine missions - but you're a fool if you believe that all NASA does is 'sign the checks'.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      A bill that kills NASA entirely would be a better direction for space research and the United States.

      That's great. Instead of what we have now, which is some very successful robotic missions (to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, space telescopes, the Sun, etc.), and a space station that's somewhat useful for microgravity research and research on the effects of weightlessness on humans over long periods, we get nothing, and rely on ESA and JAXA to do all our space science for us. Space research isn't going to happen

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Bruce Perens (3872)
        Well, today NASA to a great extent relies on Caltech to do the pure science programs for them. Mars Science Lab, etc. Why not cut out the middleman?
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Maybe I'm missing something, but doesn't NASA design and build all the equipment necessary? Yes, I realize a lot of University professors analyze the data brought back by NASA, but getting that data requires physical probes, which must be designed and constructed by engineers and technicians.

          Even if NASA outsourced a lot of its work (which it always has--the Apollo rocket engines were built by Rocketdyne, not by NASA, for instance), there still has to be a government agency in place there to coordinate pro

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Bruce Perens (3872)

            Maybe I'm missing something, but doesn't NASA design and build all the equipment necessary?

            No. They subcontract that.

        • by FleaPlus (6935)

          Well, today NASA to a great extent relies on Caltech to do the pure science programs for them. Mars Science Lab, etc. Why not cut out the middleman?

          JPL is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center [wikipedia.org] (FFRDC) operated by Caltech, the only one NASA has. Other government agencies use the FFRDC approach to a greater extent, e.g. the DOE's national labs, and they tend to operate much more efficiently than government-operated centers. One of the really great recommendations of the 2004 Aldridge Commission [wikipedia.org] was to evolve the existing NASA Centers into the FFRDCs, although Congress put this idea in the grave pretty quickly as it tends to make pork much mo

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MidnightBrewer (97195)

      Our entire government needs to cut the pork out. Picking on only NASA isn't exactly fair, and they're hardly the worst offenders. Maintaining a space program is important for our political image on the international stage if nothing else; would you prefer that we going begging hat-in-hand to China for our next rockets? What are you going to do when one of our benevolent allies simply tells us no?

      Space exploration is a noble goal, of course, and one that I fully support. Someday it will even be considered a

  • Congress (Score:2, Funny)

    by Machupo (59568)

    They should just mandate that NASA builds a space elevator by 2020 and be done with it...

  • Bad, bad mistake. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:53PM (#32920734) Homepage Journal

    What we've got here is the worst of both worlds, reducing the effectiveness of both robotic and manned spaceflight, with no meaningful budget to pay for either. Adding one more Shuttle flight won't bridge any gap whatsoever, but to get an alternative launch vehicle any time soon is going to require ploughing in ten times the resources that had been allocated to the task. The new capsule plus the extra shuttle launch will, however, bleed cash away from other projects, making them far less likely to yield useful results. Thus, what you get is a lot of money wasted with no possibility of return, all for the sake of helping out some poor rocket provider who is running out of death merchants to sell to.

    This is worse than bailing out the banks. At least the government was honest enough to say that it was the banks they were giving the money to. It was dishonest about everything else, sure, but at least there was at least one bullet point you could claim was sincere. In this case, there is a clearly defined effort to obscure who is getting the money and why. Perhaps because nobody is going to believe that this rocket vendor is too big to fail.

    NASA gets nothing from this compromise. Let us understand that right from the start. NASA will lose. The only way NASA can win is if they get sane objectives AND the backing to make those objectives possible. Almost anything could be made "sane", if it were clearly stated and adequately funded and was likely to remain adequately funded from start to finish and was not going to be tortured into oblivion for political reasons. (The Space Shuttle should have been twice as good as it was, and even the Russians had a better space shuttle, but it was crippled in order to serve the selfish desires of politicians who put their popularity over not only the space program itself but also over the lives of those who would put that program into action.)

    • by BearRanger (945122) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:57PM (#32920772)
      I agree completely, it's a bad mistake. But you have to learn to think like a Congress-person. The money isn't being wasted. It's buying jobs in your constituency just before an election. The good of the organization or the country be damned. It's all about self preservation-- and by self preservation I mean re-election.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jd (1658)

        But you have to learn to think like a Congress-person

        Errr, maybe the word you are looking for is "bribe"?

      • Well, that's the intrinsic downside of democracy. Your political leaders have an incentive to whore for votes in the next election, and virtually no incentive to do what's best for the country in the long term.

        I suppose there's an argument in there for monarchy - a king isn't subject to the fickle whims of the electorate, and since his offspring are going to inherit his throne, he has some incentive to leave them a country that's in fairly decent order.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Just wait till this same sensible decision making acumen of the political class is more powerfully governing our banking system, our health care system and our energy policy.

      • by jd (1658)

        The DoE has managed the energy policy for decades. Since the Federal Reserve is selected by Congress, they've run the banking system for forever. Since the FDA controls the supply of meds and the CDC controls the demand, they've also had control of the parts of the health care system that really matter.

        At the end of the day, though, corrupt politicians can be replaced. Corrupt businessmen cannot. It is not the fault of the system that voters deliberately and knowingly keep picking corrupt politicians to rep

        • Lets see...

          DoE: You're right and they have managed it for decades... and what was their mission? Oh yeah.. oversee the end of U.S. dependence on foreign oil in the wake of OPEC embargo of the 70's. They've done a stunning job, so now we want to given them greater influence in energy policy and to do it with greater power and money than before. I'm only sure you want them to be as successful in their future as they have been in their past.

          The Fed: Yes, to a large degree you're right there, too. They h

          • by jd (1658)

            There's nothing a corrupt businessman can do? Oh, so you get to pick which power stations power the grid in your area? Thought not. You get to pick which PBX exchange your phone line connects to? (There aren't nearly as many as there are phone companies.) You get to pick which reservoir the water in your tap comes from? You get to pick which manufacturer develops the components in your car? (The car manufacturer probably didn't.) Do you choose the Operating System your bank uses? (Indirect business that inv

  • by mbone (558574) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:36PM (#32921186)

    I was told by people who work on the Shuttle that a decision to run another shuttle flight should have been made 1-2 years ago, that there are not enough spare parts to do this, and that this is basically throwing good money after bad.

  • Too late (Score:5, Insightful)

    by S-100 (1295224) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:42PM (#32921250)
    It's too late now to go back to the Shuttle. It should have been retired over a decade ago, and its only utility at this point is as a man-rated LEO transporter and (uneconomic) heavy lift booster The die is cast, so just pay Russia for the manned spaceflight services. It will be much cheaper, and no more dangerous.

    But discontinuing Aries/Constellation is a mistake. Any accommodation for a Mars mission for those craft should be dropped as premature and uneconomic. Orion should be limited in scope to earth/moon shuttle visits and no more - and the timeline appropriately accelerated. With just sliderules and pencils we went from Mercury to Apollo in fewer years than the Constellation program has taken to do next to nothing. We're stuck in a cycle of increasing the capabilities of the program in order to make it "sexy", and by the time it's approved it's much more costly to build and will take much longer to develop.

    So task Aries/Constellation with a moon mission, and leave LEO to private industry or contracting with the Russians. Instead of spending $2 billion on another shuttle flight, give 10 space start-ups $200 million each, and a free hand - I guarantee that in the end we will have much more to show from it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bruce Perens (3872)
      What is really wild is that this discussion goes on while X-37B is over our heads. Why not declassify it and leave it in the hands of DOD?
    • by dbIII (701233)

      With just sliderules and pencils we went from Mercury to Apollo in fewer years than the Constellation program has taken to do next to nothing

      Von Braun's body is a moulderin' in the ground and we aint got the moon no more.
      Apollo was pretty well the payoff of continuing work from a growing group of experts since about 1940, a different group from those that worked on Mercury and they had the some groundwork for Apollo established before Mercury flew.
      Aries/Constellation is surrounded by so much politics that i

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