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Is the OMB Trying To End Planetary Exploration? 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-wouldn't-like-us-when-we're-angry dept.
EccentricAnomaly writes "Lou Friedman (former head of the Planetary Society) has written a provocative article over at Space Policy Review where he accuses the Obama administration of working on plans to gut the robotic Mars program in order to pay for NASA's exciting new rocket. This is after NASA already killed the Europa mission that was to have been the next outer planet mission after Cassini."
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Is the OMB Trying To End Planetary Exploration?

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  • PR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:30AM (#37688028) Homepage

    Like it or not, NASA requires the PR that a rocket provides.
    NASA uses a lot of tax money and, with a population whose general impression of resemasearch is that it just giving money to boring nerds in labcoats (ignoring the economy generated by products of past research), they must do regular "America #1, Yihaaaa!" performances in order to keep the population from objecting too much against NASA funding.
    Sending robots to a planet that doesn't even have a baseball team is a waste. Launching what looks like a giant bullet shooting large flames from it's back is cool.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Even on Slashdot, which you'd think would have a more enlighted audience, you have people going on and on about how it's shameful that we don't have an Apollo-style program, and the ISS isn't getting used as much as it should, and robotic probes don't really compare. It's tragic. I had no idea they'd shit-canned the Europa mission, that was potentially world-changing stuff.

      • by dcollins (135727)

        Agreed.

        Similarly, there's a libertarian blog that I read occasionally, and once when this came up there was an outpouring of "I loathe all government expenditures, but NASA rocketing men into space is the one exception, that's one thing we should definitely be doing". Pretty funny.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Even on Slashdot, which you'd think would have a more enlighted audience, you have people going on and on about how it's shameful that we don't have an Apollo-style program

        Don't get your hopes up too high for Slashdot readers. A few days ago there was one about an eight-year old math prodigy who builds DNA analyzers out of LEGO and what to do with him. The most common suggestions were to make sure he plays plenty of sports and maybe join the boy scouts.

      • I had no idea they'd shit-canned the Europa mission, that was potentially world-changing stuff.

        Me neither. I'm seriously blown away that that's even happened. I mean life on Mars once upon a time maybe whatever - but Europa is potentially liquid oceans and volcanic vents - the likely origins of all life on Earth, found somewhere else in the solar system.

      • I had no idea they'd shit-canned the Europa mission, that was potentially world-changing stuff.

        Same here. Europa and Enceladus probably both have life (and possibly complex life), in terms of finding life in our solar system they're the "low-hanging fruit" so we should be putting all effort into exploring those first, rather than Mars which is mostly a dead dirtball with a few traces of surface ice which might harbor some traces of bacteria if we're really lucky.

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          I had a quick look around, it seems that the European JIME mission is still on, Japan and Russia are interested in joining to provide magnetospheric study and a Europa lander, respectively. So it's not a total loss. I'd still rather see the US research community contributing though, saying that as a European myself. There's some serious expertise there.

    • Re:PR (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RoLi (141856) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:48AM (#37688114)

      NASA uses a lot of tax money and, with a population whose general impression of resemasearch is that it just giving money to boring nerds in labcoats (ignoring the economy generated by products of past research), they must do regular "America #1, Yihaaaa!" performances in order to keep the population from objecting too much against NASA funding.

      Well, what do you expect [in-other-news.com]?

      Also, it's pretty clear that Obama's core voters don't see space exploration as a priority or even a necessity.

      Sure, Obama told the public that he will start a program for Mars and some gullible voters actually believed it. Of course anybody paying attention and having a memory realized back then that Obama's Mars-landing was even more unrealistic than Bush's Moon-landing.

      Think of all the subsidized housing and foodstamps that can be bought with just one rocketlaunch. Americans want subsidized housing and foodstamps and that is exacly what they will get in the future.

      Also, NASA lags behind [dailykos.com] in what really counts, so of course they deserve rigid cuts that hurt. Otherwise they will not learn their lesson.

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        Starting a program for Mars is an easy job for a President. He didn't make any promise that he'd ensure it was completed, either by himself or his successors. That's the beauty of the political system: science and medicine operate on such timescales that you can pretty much do whatever you like, knowing the practical consequences are distant.

    • Stuff the manned space program, no one can afford to do anything useful with it except waste humanity's money - and that includes the Chinese who will shortly 'win' the 'space race'.

      Get on with the science and send robots.

      America is becoming the laughingstock of the world because of its useless politics driving everything the wrong way. Makes you wonder is democracy is actually a complete failure.

    • Re:PR (Score:5, Informative)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @08:04AM (#37689088) Homepage

      NASA uses a lot of tax money

      NASA budget: $19 billion
      US military budget: $685 billion (including $79 billion for R&D alone)

      If you do a pie chart of the federal budget, NASA barely even gets a sliver.

      That's one of the oddities I've seen among those who generally oppose government spending: They tend to have a wildly distorted view of where most of the federal spending actually goes. The big items that account for almost all of it are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the military, and interest on previously accumulated debt, so if you're really trying to reduce the size of government, you have to do something about those.

      • NASA uses a lot of tax money

        NASA budget: $19 billion
        US military budget: $685 billion (including $79 billion for R&D alone)

        If you do a pie chart of the federal budget, NASA barely even gets a sliver.

        That's one of the oddities I've seen among those who generally oppose government spending: They tend to have a wildly distorted view of where most of the federal spending actually goes. The big items that account for almost all of it are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the military, and interest on previously accumulated debt, so if you're really trying to reduce the size of government, you have to do something about those.

        You're absolutely right about NASA not consuming nearly as much as other parts of the budget. But neither is NASA a mandated constitutional duty as defense is. So it's naturally going to get a lower priority as it's considered discretionary spending.

        Now, that said, I completely agree with you on the issue of where the budget problems are (entitlements, entitlements, entitlements), but even being of a more hawkish disposition than not, I'll be the first to tell you that there's plenty to cut in DOD's budget

      • by hawkfish (8978)

        NASA uses a lot of tax money

        NASA budget: $19 billion
        US military budget: $685 billion (including $79 billion for R&D alone)

        If you do a pie chart of the federal budget, NASA barely even gets a sliver.

        That's one of the oddities I've seen among those who generally oppose government spending: They tend to have a wildly distorted view of where most of the federal spending actually goes. The big items that account for almost all of it are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the military, and interest on previously accumulated debt, so if you're really trying to reduce the size of government, you have to do something about those.

        They also don't seem to understand the funding models. For example, Social Security is (currently) fully funded - in fact, revenues exceed expenses. Fixing it longer term just requires removing the income cap (Disclaimer: My personal income is over the cap). Medicare and Medicaid have dedicated funding, but are currently underfunded (by a fair amount if my reading of the current numbers is correct). Military spending and interest come out of the general fund.

        Leaving SS out of the picture, the Wikipedia

  • by PeterBrett (780946) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:30AM (#37688032) Homepage

    It's not the administration's fault, it's Congress. NASA HQ and the administration didn't even want to build SLS -- they wanted to bolster the commercial launch market instead -- and were forced to do it by the Congressional committee.

    If there's someone Lou Friedman should be complaining about, it's Senators Nelson and Shelby and their fixation on providing pork to large aerospace contractors in return for bribes, I mean campaign donations.

    I would have hoped that someone in his position would be better informed, frankly.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      If there's someone Lou Friedman should be complaining about, it's Senators Nelson and Shelby and their fixation on providing pork to large aerospace contractors in return for bribes, I mean campaign donations.

      I would have hoped that someone in his position would be better informed, frankly.

      Actually, while the summary doesn't mention this, this is pretty much exactly what Friedman says in his piece:

      http://thespacereview.com/article/1947/1 [thespacereview.com]

      Having caved in to Congressional special interests on the Space Launch System (SLS), the administration is now prepared to sacrifice science and exploration programs in order to prematurely start its development, with requirements that will neither be met nor needed for more than a decade.

  • Acronym (Score:4, Funny)

    by Wandering Idiot (563842) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:31AM (#37688038)
    It would have been nice if the summary had stated what OMB stands for somewhere (Office of Management and Budget). I was trying to figure out if it was some wacky new term for Obama or his administration.
    • It would have been nice if the summary had stated what OMB stands for somewhere (Office of Management and Budget). I was trying to figure out if it was some wacky new term for Obama or his administration.

      Wait, you mean it isn't Obama's Money Bomb?

    • Well, you would not have been too far wrong. The OMB is a branch of the Administration. As such it is directly answerable to the President. So the headline of this story, "Is the OMB Trying To End Planetary Exploration?" would have almost exactly the same meaning if it read "Is the Obama Administration Trying To End Planetary Exploration?" althought that headline would be significatly longer (which is a negative in good headline writing).
    • "If you leave
      Don't leave now
      Please don't take my heart away
      [etc]
  • Answer: No, it isn't (Score:4, Interesting)

    by F69631 (2421974) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:33AM (#37688044)

    Look, we're in a debt crisis and cuts must be made, everyone agrees about that. What we don't agree about is what to cut: Some people say "Cut a lot of military spending", others "Cut a lot of social security" and still others "Both of those are more important than planetary exploration". If I were to support significant cuts to social security, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask "Is F69631 trying to end welfare?" as that certainly wouldn't be my motivation. It might be appropriate to ask "Does F69631 consider social security to be less important than our continued presence in [sandy country]" but even that would be questionable as the situation obviously isn't "either-or". It would be appropriate to ask "Does F69631 believe that it's better idea to cut that amount of money from social security than to cut only some of that amount there and cut the rest from [another program]?"...

    I'd bet a month's wage that Obama administration has nothing against planetary exploration. It's always easier to create provocative straw-man arguments than it is to actually engage in a civilized discussion in which everyone acknowledges the facts (=the fact that in a democracy we need to make compromises and other people might have different values and opinions than you do). We need some sort of rally to restore sanity or something...

    • by epine (68316)

      In politics, people have memory. Deals are made. Losers sit tight. Times change. Deals forgotten. Sharp headlines ensue.

      The SFS page is completely useless in not provided the least explanation about why we need all this launch tonnage.

      I read this change in budget priority as being driven by technical continuity. With the Shuttle shut down, you have find some way to keep this kind of expertise assembled and moving forward, or you lose a lot. Must be galling for the planetary explorers to be stuck carr

    • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:11AM (#37688190) Homepage Journal

      NASA has a budget of under twenty billion dollars. Since the US budget is a deficit busting 3.8 trillion it takes less than two days to cover NASA. Some will actually say that amount is far too much. Which is odd because we are spending so much we don't have, if we consider that we spend over three billion a day we don't have we deficit spend NASA's budget in a week.

      We lose an estimated hundred billion dollars a year is medicare/medicade fraud. When you combine all levels of government we spend over six trillion dollars.

      We have over TWO THOUSAND SUBSIDY programs. That is methods of getting money into the hands of people based on arbitrary requirements.

      Any attempt to cut one item is usually met with an irrational comparison which puts the person suggesting the cut on the level not much higher than mass murderer. Yet the if we are going to fund science like NASA, and note we need to find all the programs the US funds not just including NASA to get an idea of how much is truly spent, we have to get expenditures under control. NASA isn't the only government player in space, the Air Force does a good amount there as well.

      I agree with the person I am replying too, Obama and many Democrats and Republicans have nothing against NASA but one simple fact remains, it garnishes very little votes for them. So the money is better spent on other programs which keep them in office.

      The three big forces in American politics are are all self supporting, Big Business, Labor Unions, and Politicians. The rest of us are played all the time and only given two choices because they have effectively shut down third party options.

      • We lose an estimated hundred billion dollars a year is medicare/medicade fraud. When you combine all levels of government we spend over six trillion dollars.

        While I agree with your post I really wonder about that number: that would be $300 per citzen and year. That sounds unbelieveable high.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          With a budget of ~$500B covering ~50 million people, thats an average of ~$10K per recipient per year, and only $2K of which needs to be fraudulent on average to get to ~$100B/year in fraud. With medical costs the way they are, $2K could be a fraction of a single unnecessary (perhaps not even performed) test procedure, and a single day in the hospital also costs more.

          Remember that its pretty much impossible to police the incredible number of claims made per year, and claims originate from so many differen
          • You could cut down the fraud by only having one medical company, like a National Health Service as we have in the UK, or as we have in most of Europe ...

            But that would mean that the aim of your medical system would no longer be making money, but keeping people healthy enough to work....

            • by sycodon (149926)

              We've all read about how they keep people Healthy over there.

              Just don't ask for a glass of water.

        • by sycodon (149926)

          Doesn't take much effort [chron.com]

      • Sure, NASA gets them votes. It gets them votes by passing around large amounts of money to contractors in key Congressional districts. Like the company in Utah that manufactured the segmented solid-rocket boosters for the Shuttle. Funny, how those same boosters are *required* for the new rocket - over the screaming objections of anyone who knows anything about rocket design.

        Planetary exploration missions just cannot serve the same vote-buying purpose.

    • The complete Apollo programme, which was horrifically expensive compared to today's NASA budget, was the Defence budget for a week ,,,,

      The NASA budget is a pittance, it's something we should be spending money on, rather than sending troops to random countries ...

    • by Hatta (162192)

      If I were to support significant cuts to social security, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask "Is F69631 trying to end welfare?"

      If you're trying to do X, and X implies Y, then you are trying to do Y. When Y is unpopular you don't get absolved simply because it's an indirect effect X. If Y was forseeable, and you still did X, you intentionally did Y. Take some responsibility for your positions.

    • by sycodon (149926)

      De-fund Congress and we'd all be better off.

  • The space program made sense in the cold war when there was a lot of competition for access to space and each side was afraid of the other. Even now the US has a strategic need to be able to put hardware (both manned and unmanned) into low earth orbit. But I don't think this requirement extends to the moon and beyond. If we want to send humans to Mars and beyond it will not be funded by the US taxpayers. The money will have to come from elsewhere.

    • by Ice Tiger (10883)

      Well once you start mining asteroids [wikipedia.org] your budget worries are over!

      • Sure, ultimately it will be big business, but which established business wants to upset their nice market niche to go after it? The only way it will get started will be for somebody to start from scratch. Buy launches from SpaceX, etc, and ship their product back to the market. Its not the job of the US Government to fund exploration for resources outside the US (okay ignore Iraq). If fossil fuels start to seriously run out I would expect the US to build their own solar power plants in orbit, with materials

        • I don't even think asteroid mining could be big business unless the asteroids happen to pass very close by at a convenient (and perhaps dangerous) low speed or some massive Star Trek-level breakthrough in space transportation is made. Otherwise whatever you get there won't be worth the cost of retrieving it.

        • by Ice Tiger (10883)

          I suspect that China maybe the ones who will be building the stuff in orbit using mined asteroid material as unless the US keeps its living knowledge current then it will loose its lead.

          Expertise in robot probes is good because over time those probes could be the ones who are doing the missions to asteroids and bringing them back using solar sails etc.

    • Currently NASA has no way of getting anything to the ISS ... except via Russian or European rockets ... brilliant

      They spent a fortune on a manned space program, that was fairly pointless, and then they scrapped completely

  • Pork Pork Pork (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Congress determines the budget, not the Obama administration. NASA can't get anything done unless the project can be porked out to 10 different states.

    If China gets their space station started and going, maybe that will trigger Congress to actually back NASA in a meaningful way again. Hoping for Space Race Part 2.

  • by lucm (889690) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:43AM (#37688302)

    Maybe They know something, or someone, is coming. Maybe They know that we will need a reliable space shuttle to do something (like go pick up beacons on each planet). Maybe They know.

    I sleep better at night know that They know.

  • The way things look, is that there will be funding for the rocket, but no mission to go with it. There is no concerted effort to make a manned mission to anywhere. There is neither a moon, nor a mars nor an asteroid lander in the work. There is no plan for a new space station that require regular launches of 100ton+ payloads. There are no plans to build satellites that mass 100ton+ in LEO or 50ton+ in GTO/GSO.

    In other words, we're talking about another white elephant like the Space Shuttle - made for the
    • I'm surprised space solar power doesn't get pushed more heavily, though I'll give you 1 guess as to why: no one in coal, oil or gas would want to hear about it.

      I mean, a 100 ton launch payload sounds very much like the amounts one might want to launch to put collectors into geostationary (or I guess maybe even Earth-Sun Lagrangian) orbits. The technology to beam power around with microwaves was pretty much ready to go in the 80's, and it's completely safe even at ground level - antennas can be built over fa

      • I'm surprised space solar power doesn't get pushed more heavily, though I'll give you 1 guess as to why: no one in coal, oil or gas would want to hear about it.

        Nothing to do with oil/coal/gas industries, your favorite conspiracy theory aside. The economics just don't work. And won't until we can bring in the major structural components for same from asteroids or the moon.

        I mean, a 100 ton launch payload sounds very much like the amounts one might want to launch to put collectors into geostationary (or I

  • In case nobody noticed, there is not much political will in Washington to fund much of anything these days. 19 billion/year is not small change and NASA should be able to work on one or two really cool projects - but not everything at once. Would you rather cancel the cool new rocket and leave sending humans to space entirely to Russians? With Shuttle gone, this should leave you with plenty of robotic missions.

  • Doesn't China have the money to put into a maned space mission? Maybe he should direct his needs towards a country, in the global economy, that is making money instead of one that is trying to thwart an economic implosion. Kicking Obama in the balls while he is trying to keep the country from falling back into the hands of the people that devastated the countries economy is childish at best.

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