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The Orlando Sentinel reported this week on an alleged conflict between current NASA Director Michael Griffin and members of the Obama NASA transition team:

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is "not qualified" to judge his rocket program. ... In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program

It's no secret I have mixed feelings about Griffin. He is not an unqualified crony or industry lobbyist. Griffin was at the very least a passive observer and at worst an active instigator in the shameful censorship of climate change data that was finally brought to light by courageous action of the legendary Dr. James Hansen. Dr Alan Stern, coming from a completely different direction, noted in a pointed NYT editorial last week that another ongoing internecine battle pits the cancerous cost over run NASA culture against an up and coming progressive approach that could save taxpayers billions.

That debate between manned vs unmanned has always existed. But the heavy emphasis on unmanned projects like the Lunar and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiters, along with resistance to novel R & D changes, is stirring it up anew in an unlikely place: within the unmanned community. The LRO and MRO have become sacred cows, because, as some sources claim, they pull critical resources away from other robotic missions, when in fact they should be part of and funded under the planned manned programs to return to the moon and eventually put humans on Mars. In addition, these missions and several others are design and built using traditional methods that depend on a labyrinth of cumbersome and expensive procedures virtually guaranteed to go way over budget and line the pockets of contractors.

The progressive approach for future unmanned missions relies on a three pronged strategy: open source technology led by the NASA CoLab, a greatly improved streamlined procurement procedure, and a newer modular design methodology. The cost advantages of open source are readily apparent to patrons of Daily Kos. Streamlining the design to production procedure is a utilitarian solution familiar to anyone in manufacturing. And the interchangeable, modular approach promises to do for fleets of robotic spacecraft what Eli Whitney is credited for doing for small arms manufacturing in the US. Some of those methods were developed in prototype form in a 1994 mission to search for caches of ice on the lunar surface. Clementine was expedited from concept to finished spacecraft in a fraction of the time and for far less than a similar missions using the traditional methods.

This is the wave of the future and it holds promise to trim billions off costs across the board for unmanned missions. But it won’t come easily. NASA culture is surprisingly conservative, and there is staunch resistance among suppliers. Like the Big Three automakers that have become dependent on production lines that make SUVS, NASA contractors have grown complacent on the highly profitable, old style production processes.

But the traditional battle lines between manned and human spaceflight are, as usual, the crux of conflict. The Griffin era managers are concerned the Constellation program, consisting of the Ares heavy booster rocket[s] and the Orion crew module, will be delayed or scrapped altogether along with their life’s work. That conflict is most unfortunate, because these groups are not mutually exclusive, far from it.

The same Ares super rocket, or something like it, intended to put humans back on the moon and eventually on Mars has the power to loft 50,000 kilos of payload beyond the earth-moon system. A booster of that magnitude could put much of the ISS up in a single launch. It could put the ATLAS telescope, with its enormous 8 meter primary mirror that makes Hubble look like a pair of binoculars, in high earth orbit and have enough capacity left over to still put every major deep space unmanned mission launched in the last ten years beyond low earth orbit in one glorious shot. Regardless if the payload is deep space probes or crew capsules bound for the moon and beyond, we need Ares.

From time to time one reads of the Ares failing a ground test or an engineer reviewing a problem with one of the booster’s subsystems. Well, in defense of Ares proponents like Griffin, those problems are not unprecedented in the history of space exploration by a long shot. The engines on the mighty Saturn V that hurled Apollo 8 around the far side of the moon in 1968, are the same ones that were still blowing to smithereens during routine ground tests a couple of years before. Never forget, the first incarnation of the Apollo Command Module that allowed Neil Armstrong to transfix the world with his One Small Step in 1969, burst into flames on the launch pad a few scant months earlier killing all three astronauts inside.

These design challenge are resolvable, especially since, unlike the heady days of the space race, we have the luxury of time on our side to hone the Ares boosters, and perfect deep space designs using unmanned mission over the next decade or two. And as part of that bargain, our robotic guinea pigs will provide more dazzling discoveries, answer more questions about distant worlds, and shed light on the nature and origin of our comsos  than has been gleaned in the last half century. Meanwhile, crew modules can be tested safely and far more cheaply in our own planetary neighborhood on the ISS to a degree that would exceed the wildest dreams of mission designers a generation ago.

If we so choose, armed with refinements for long duration human habitats built on a foundation developed on the ISS, using heavy lift boosters like the Ares V, augmented by new interplanetary propulsion systems, will be prepared in twenty years or less to decide if we’re ready and willing to embark on manned mission to the moon and beyond. All while our robotic explorers are placed on station around every major planet, moon, and asteroid out to the distant edge of the solar system. There, plying the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud on electric jets, our machine surrogates will stand poised on the very edge of the solar system, peering boldly across a vast ocean of interstellar space to the nearest stars by the end of this century.

Rather than artificially pitting manned and unmanned enthusiasts against one another, scrapping for funding in an ultimately unnatural, irrational, and counterproductive state, give them the tools and structure to do what comes far naturally to them than bickering in the pages of the Orlando Sentinel: standing shoulder to shoulder, united and raring to go tackle the greatest technical challenges our species will ever undertake. And if those factions can be pulled together as part of a single proud team, led by a new Director inspired by a science friendly Congress and White House, one day, the four letters N-A-S-A, will be a global household name, as well known to future children as Christopher Columbus.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:00 AM PST.


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Comment Preferences

    •  No doubt it will be exciting :D (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical, In her own Voice, Vladislaw

      I would like to add, since it was requested in an earlier NASA diary - A Space Glossary - okay, I admit, its not an end all, but it gives a good idea about a number of acronyms that will, no doubt, be used in the discussion.  

      Yes, I know its labeled NewSpace, but it has others in it as well.

    •  Waits for the people (9+ / 0-)

      who know nothing about robotics or space exploration to claim with absolute certainty that robots can do everything humans can.

      If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

      by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:05:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have a client who thinks killer robots (17+ / 0-)

        controlled by satellites are after her.

        She's crazy if she thinks she is that important.

        That's expensive technology.

        Those things are after ME, not her.

      •  Please (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        They can't even sending man to low orbits without blowing up every decade or so, and you want a man mission that is 5-10 yrs long at a stretch?

        Had we gone Bush "mars" program. We still gonna wait for the rocket by now, let alone having complete surface characterization.

        If I were the power that be this is what I am going to do with NASA:

        1. Dissolve NASA. (no more report, no more studies, no more assessment. Just close it now. End of story.)
        1. Robotic, interplanetary study will be merged to NSF.
        1. Human spaceflight will be disbanded and  privatized.
        1. all military related flight research pushed back to air force.
        1. rest of flight research merged to university.
        1. Create BRAND new agency. with sole goal: create vehicles/program for low cost low orbit payload in 5 years.

        Full fraud investigation. Anybody from NASA complain will be shot. Anybody found misuing fund will receive capital punishment with no appeal.

        (Bottom line, separate the real science and engineering from the bullshit artists. And liquidate the con men.)

        •  Question for you wittg1, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Odysseus, sebastianguy99

          do you think the major issue with regards to low cost LEO is technical, or something else?

          •  Pure Politics (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Boeing is trying to protect their very expensive "military" contract payloads.

            Cheap rocket will never be made without first killing NASA(civilian monopoly, supported by Boeing/United Space alliance) and Military contract.

            Everybody else has far lower research budget but keep winning in price and performance (ariane, Russia, and now China and soon India)

            China will dominate commercial launch within a decade now dominated by Europe/Russia.

            •  Agreed (4+ / 0-)

              Cozy contracts have to go. Hopefully, the combination of Obama's two signatures - a strong direction and the elimination of corporate sweetheart deals - will do wonders at NASA and in the space industry.

              If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

              by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:42:01 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  My hope is that Elon Musk and Space X can (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Uthaclena, max stirner, NellaSelim

                break that up. If he is successful it should be a spur to lower launch costs by domestic launch companies.

                •  As much as I love (5+ / 0-)

                  all the NewSpace guys, they aren't quite ready for prime time.

                  I want them to succeed as much as the next guy, but the first step to them being able to compete with Boeing and USA is a little extra help from the government. I'm hoping Richardson at Commerce can make that happen.

                  If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

                  by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:50:14 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Depends on what you are asking them (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    max stirner, NellaSelim, Vladislaw

                    to do.  If you want them to do a Mars shot, I wouldn't hold my breath.  Same applies to a moon base.

                    Now, transportation to and from ISS - thats a different story IMHO.  

                    •  No, I mean to orbit. (4+ / 0-)

                      Falcon, while having successfully made it to orbit, doesn't exactly have the best track record. To put it kindly, it's going to be awhile before a Falcon is man rated.

                      And Rutan's success was sub-orbital, still a long ways away from being able to reach the ISS, with the unfortunate engine test setback even more recent than their success.

                      But these guys are literally and figuratively working in the wilderness. Their job is monumental, but with the right assistance from the government, they could go a lot farther a lot faster, and for a lot cheaper than what Boeing is charging us these days.

                      If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

                      by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:59:41 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        I think we could see Falcon 9 manrated before too long.  And there are others than just Falcon and SS1.

                        Consider Tspace, for example.  Or consider the Dreamchaser, or Arctus.  

                        I suppose I should even make the case for Orbital Sciences, although I really don't want to.  

                        •  What's wrong with Orbital? (0+ / 0-)

                          They're bucking every old-timey space stereotype by going for lower launch costs at MARS (as a Virginian I strongly approve).  Why in God's name would Falcon 9 be manrated?  What's its diameter like a meter?  Same goes for any Orbital rocket.

                          These things are cargo craft.

                          •  No, they aren't (0+ / 0-)

                            Falcon 9 diameter is 3.6 meters, and the Dragon (vehicle to go on Falcon 9) is intended for both manned and unmanned operations.  (Falcon 1 is 1.7)

                            Taurus II, Orbital's COTS rocket, has a diameter of 3.9 meters.  

                            As for my problem with them, I don't agree that they are really pushing towards low cost orbital vehicles.  Now, that may or may not be fair (and I know someone who would tell me it probably is), but I don't get the impression that they are looking at real low cost.  

                            Dragon is a cargo and CREW vehicle, and I would like to see Orbital make Cygnus a Cargo and Crew vehicle as well.

                          •  Alright (0+ / 0-)

                            You know more than I do.  I've never even heard of Cygnus.

                            One point though - Space X loves to brag about launching the first private rocket.  Orbital did that nearly 20 years ago.  The Pegasus was privately-funded.  It did not require a single government contract, nor a single billionaire to pay for it.  Oh, and it didn't fail on its first three launch attempts.  Woops.

                          •  SpaceX does have a history of (0+ / 0-)

                            over promising.  I won't deny that.  I think they would've been well served not to make as many claims as they have, and instead considered looking at the XCOR or Blue Origin model.  Or, if they could go the Armadillo Aerospace route, and literally publish everything (well, until very recently).  However, they do have results on their side as well, which can't be ignored.  And I think they always add first liquid fuel private rocket.

                            As for the vehicles and rockets

                            Falcon 1 - The launcher with which you are aware of  - its launched 4 times, failed the first 3 times.  Has a single Merlin engine.

                            Falcon 9 - It has 9 Merlin engines on it, and can place a lot more in orbit.  

                            Dragon - An orbital vehicle, designed to deliver cargo and crew to orbit.  NASA is providing partial funding the development of this vehicle (and Falcon 9) under the COTS program.  However, NASA has not excersied the Crew option, although Dragon was designed from the beginning to be both.

                            Orbital Sciences

                            Cygnus- Orbital Science's proposal to deliver cargo to and from the space station.  It has been reported that they have done some initial investigations into a crewed version, but not much.  
                            Taurus 2 - The launcher for Cygnus
                            Both Taurus 2 and Cygnus are being partially funded via the COTS program.  

                          •  The Falcon 9 also has (0+ / 0-)

                            the 5.4 meter expanded fairing.

                            I am still wondering about the reuablity of his rockets though. Tossing away 27 rocket engines on a F9 heavy launch seems a bit much.

                            He is also now added the "Dragon Lab" option.


                          •  Vlad, you know that (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            at least in theory, Falcon 9 is entirely reusable.  

                            That said, I seem to remember someone (maybe it was you) saying that they aren't factoring reusability in their cost calculations, and that their current numbers wouldn't make sense, if they weren't.  

                          •  yes.... (0+ / 0-)

                            early on Musk touted the reusablity of the core. It would drop into the ocean via parachute then get picked up and reconditioned.

                            I have not seen on the the website where they are building the recovery infrastructure to do it.

                            It does not say, where I have noticed anyway, if the costs posted are the throwaway costs or the costs with recovery and reconditioning systems inplace.

                          •  The reusability of any stacked system is going to (0+ / 0-)

                            be limited by impact dynamics.  Even with the lightest impacts, engine cores will suffer a certain amount of damage.  A resuable engine core will still require a good deal of maintenance to restore and repair it to usable conditions. I have a feeling that the reusability of the Falcon is one of the "overpromising" that Space X is known for.

                          •  Forgot to include (0+ / 0-)

                            a link to Dragonas well

                •  Musk is useless (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  James Kresnik

                  Wouldn't you call Orbital Science Pegasus a "lower launch cost"?  When it takes a billionaire pouring all his money into a company to make it succeed and it still fails, I get the feeling that those rockets and SpaceX in general is going nowhere, and would never never provide "lower launch costs"

                  •  Not at a price per pound (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    yes, it is cheaper, but it doesn't push us to really low cost, which is substantially lowering price per pound, such that to put a human in orbit it is $1 million or less.  

                    As for SpaceX failing, its rather a bit early to say that, since they are in the black this year, and have launched Falcon 1 succesfully, and have done a complete hold down duration fire of Falcon 9

              •  The Space Clown Show has to end (0+ / 0-)

                NASA has no clear mission, except being the best pork barrel agency history ever create. It's big political soundbite covered with engineering. Nobody knows what NASA is doing anymore.

                It should be dissolved. The entire space program should be redesign. No more crying on TV, BS-ing congress, blowing up expensive hardwares, and generally can't show performance while spending gigantic amount of money.

                NASA should not monopolize entire civilian space program. (In fact it should not exist anymore)

                The space program should be carved into logical pieces that can be monitored carefully.

                interplanetary science
                aerospace research
                launch service

                •  Disagree. (5+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  elfling, tlf, SJLeonidas, NoMoJoe, Vladislaw

                  That's exactly the same idea of "change for change's sake" I hate. It would create a horrid stench throughout the NASA engineer community.

                  The NASA bureaucracy does need to be changed, no doubt about it. However, my proposal is not as sweeping as your Rumsfeld-like proposal. Each piece of the puzzle would be harder to monitor, not easier.

                  The issue with NASA is that it's micromanaged to manage failure - right now, no one is allowed to fail well. The problem with that is that everyone therefore participates in a single program where any failure then becomes a collective one, and dissent is not tolerated, even when it's correctly placed. Splitting it up may just spread the same problem into several agencies instead of just one, because each of these new ones will have a smaller core budget to fight for. Failure could ruin a small agency, as Congress hates a small failed program- the risk isn't socialized enough for them.

                  What the US needs to do is something similar to the Russians with their different bureaus- everything is still top-directed, but with a lot of competition within it, and NASA picks no sides in the fight (as they have been doing too frequently, IMHO, as of late). Companies propose their projects, and then competitive run-offs choose the winners. Some may fail as paper projects (at least initially) as wildly impractical, other fail on the launch pad, but you get the best projects developed and prototyped, and then you support them to the hilt. And the program directors take responsibility for their success or failure. And they don't lose respect for a losing program handled well, although they may lose authority for doing so unsafely or stupidly.

                  •  Not possible to change NASA (0+ / 0-)

                    It's the biggest pork barrel project there is. You know how many senators, lobbyists, contractors, etc are going to do anything in there? It's a lot of money too.

                    NASA cannot be changed. It has to be ended.

                    •  No, sadly, it's not. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      Have you actually worked for the Defense Department? I have, in my own small way. It makes NASA look like a factory floor by comparison. Projects going nowhere, money going who knows where, payoffs and kickbacks going to people based solely on what district they represent.

                      If you doubt me, just Google "F-22" and look how long our next-generation fighter has been in gestation. It went into production only very recently, but was in test for 15 years before that. If a NASA program had been allowed to do that, it would have been cancelled long ago.

                      Fact is, nearly every government agency has some slack in it. NASA has more than some, less than others.

                      Dividing it is not the solution- any more than dividing the Department of State would solve our foreign affairs travails, or dividing the DOD into its component departments would cure its bureaucratic muddles and seemingly unstoppable wastage. You just have the same problems in smaller packets.

                      What is needed is a re-imagined NASA, that asks itself the reasons for its existence, other than to perpetuate itself- what are we here for? What missions should we perform? What can we do to most efficiently do it? More pointedly, how can we most effective harness the resources - public and private - that we have to accomplish the missions set for us?

                      NASA is what happens when there are a lot of bureaucrats and not a lot of money- everybody begins to create their own little satrapy to conserve their programs. Put NASA back into the hands of people with vision- and you'll find that the problems will eventually subside. (They will never go away entirely- there will always be somebody just looking to feather their own nest, and large government agencies are always good for that.)

                      •  Not possible (0+ / 0-)

                        I mean surely you can already imagine this so called "re-imagination"

                        hearings, reports, assessment, budget fight, pork barrel fight... money and time wasted running in circle. $200-300 doing "reimagination". While the chinese already build a functioning rocket inside that time and money.

                        Even very basic thing like: What NASA objective is will take gigantic political battle. (looking for alien life? expanding national horizon?  exploration? blaaa blaa blaaa...)

                        Time to get real.

                        We define what we want.  We want cheap access to space. And let the rest of academics and industry decide what to do once we have cheap access.

                        NASA will be no more than "rocket agency".  It is not in charge of monitoring earth. It is not in charge of space exploration. It is not in charge of moon, mars, or whatever other planet expedition. Astronomy, science, etc. It is not in charge of leading national space vision nor aeronautical research.

                        NASA should be canceled and replace with far simpler agency with only one task: cheap access to space. Make rocket and it better be cheap and reliable or heads gonna roll.

                        Take out the NASA still functioning departments, combine it with other agency, and kill the rest.  Build new rocket agency.

                        Party is over. we want result.

                •  What do you mean by (0+ / 0-)

                  "monopolize entire civilian space program"? Most of the instruments etc on the robotic missions are built by universities or small companies. Instruments and Principal Investigators are chose by competitive proposals.

                  Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                  by elfling on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:38:16 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Then deal with Boeing, and don't hack up NASA (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              VA Gal, alizard

              Your reasoning suggests that your singular focus is on Boeing and the MID. If I read your comments correctly, you believe breaking NASA into pieces and handing those pieces to ,in some cases,inexperienced entities will reduce expenditures?

              In a time where we can't get the CIA to talk to the FBI, do you really think that it's better to breakup NASA's functions and assign them to multiple places when they are use to coordination under one roof? Are we expecting the Air Force to cooperate with NSF?

              "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so."

              by sebastianguy99 on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:58:19 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  NASA is Boeing (0+ / 0-)

                80% of NASA program goes to the industry. The industry then use the money to lobby and protect the cosy relationship.

                I challenge anybody to come up with clear NASA program list, budget, who is responsible for each program, and status... Count every single dime and where it goes and what the dime has done to space program. This is impossible. NASA simply has to end period.

                By 2015, the commercial rocket scene will be so crowded. We'll never catch up.

                •  You're right an audit is needed (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  In her own Voice

                  Count every single dime and where it goes and what the dime has done to space program. This is impossible.

                  We do need a complete audit of the space industry to find where all that money is being wasted, but you're right that it's probably impossible.

                  That doesn't make the fundamental mission any less necessary, however. It's something we need to do, we just need to do it right, unlike the way it's being done now.

                  If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

                  by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:15:10 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  There is no mission (0+ / 0-)

                    Because the organization is inherently incapable to carry the mission. (budget, political stability, length of project.)

                    Take mars program for eg. They were asking for $600B. And probably 20yrs. This after International Space station failure? We'd be lucky not going bankrupt let alone lighting up a single rocket engine. It's too big, too corrupt and too incompetent.

                    It's easier to start from scratch and reassemble the experts and engineers in new agency.

                    (seriously, we've done moon and space stuff. This is not new engineering. Return and colonizing the moon should be done under 10 yrs and less than 20% of apollo cost.)

                    Otherwise, pay the european and the russian to upload the hardware. NASA obviously can't make rocket anymore. So why do we need them?

                    •  This is wrong. (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Marshall Collins, SJLeonidas, Sarbec

                      It's easier to start from scratch and reassemble the experts and engineers in new agency.

                      Reforming NASA isn't going to be easy, but it will be a hell of a lot easier than demolishing a fifty year old agency and starting from scratch.

                      And they can make rockets still, they are right now. They can do it a lot better, but they are doing it.

                      If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

                      by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:41:08 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

                        everybody can make rocket. Even the Iranian. The question is "real" rocket. (the one that match cost, schedule, and goal) NASA can't do it. They will bankrupt the nation first.

                        The way to kill NASA.  Create skunk project, get the smartest people. They know how to keep it a secret.

                        When the rocket is done delete NASA.

                        Of course NASA is going to fight it to the teeth when closed down. (This is Tom DeLay territory or political corruption. So, full political strategy should be employed.)

                        •  What the hell is a "real" rocket? (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          SJLeonidas, Vladislaw

                          One that can actually make it to orbit? One that can take people to orbit?

                          Because we can do both of those and Iran can't.

                          And why would we keep peaceful civilian space exploration a secret?

                          And why would we "delete" the people responsible for doing the work after they're finished? Doesn't seem like great motivation for them to do a very good job.

                          I'm sorry, I just don't follow any of your argument.

                          If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

                          by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:02:10 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  < $100/lb (0+ / 0-)

                            launch cost. Define volume and load capacity. Strict deadline.

                            Let somebody else thinks what to use the rocket for.
                            No more space station, moon mission, mars or whatever else for NASA.

                          •  not possible with rockets (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            for anybody regardless of whether public, private, or what volume these vehicles are launched in. It's like calling for a new $1000 6 passenger midsized automobile.

                            Probably possible using rocket alternatives using railgun or maybe blimp-to-orbit or Space Elevator.

                            Are you calling for spending of $50-$100B (WAG estimate pulled out of my ass) to get one of those alternatives to rocket launching built and working?

                            Or are you simply trying to get space programs defunded so that nobody does them?

                            Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

                            by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:44:12 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Of course it's not possible (0+ / 0-)

                            Not with NASA or military contract around...
                            somebody already did the calculation...

                            It's like making cheap movie. You can't. You gotta pay the system.


                            The reason why that’s the case, he said, is something called the rocket cost equation, which splits the flyaway cost of a launch into five major components. The launch vehicle contractor costs cover the hardware itself, along with required enhancements and analysis. Range safety costs include both the direct range costs of the launch as well as cost of going through the range safety approval process. Launch site facilities costs cover payload and launch vehicle processing. The "launch agency" costs cover equipment provided by the agency (which, in the case of the RSLP, could include ICBM stages), personnel costs, and mission assurance activities. Finally, a miscellaneous category covers other costs not included in the categories above, which might include additional studies or payload adapters.

                            Buckley’s analysis found that, for a typical RSLP launch, the launch vehicle contractor costs take up about 65 percent of the total flyaway cost: $13 million for a $20 million launch. Launch agency costs take up 15 percent, with range costs taking up another 10. The remaining 10 percent is split evenly between the launch site facilities and miscellaneous categories. Many of those costs are fixed, so that if the vehicle hardware cost goes down, the share of the flyaway costs absorbed by those other components increases: Buckley estimated that if the launch vehicle contractor costs were cut roughly in half, to $7 million, the total flyaway cost would still be about $13 million.

                    •  What Mars program? (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      There are robotic Mars missions being planned, but if you're talking about a human Mars program, there isn't one on the books at NASA. There is no $600B ask. There is a general strategic mission that calls for completing ISS (which is not a failure, it's working quite well), going back to the Moon to establish a permanent presence and then going on to Mars. There has been no budget request for a human Mars program because there is no specific program. The work NASA is doing will contribute to a future Mars program, and I know there are plenty of people thinking about it in terms of what will a program look like, what kinds of mission will it need, but there is no official Mars program.

                •  yes, nasa = boeing (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  James Kresnik

                  Over the last two decades, NASA has become little more than a contract manager.  Lockheed Martin, Boeing and an army of smaller contractors do the work.

                  And doing the work with a cost+ contract is terrible.  Many contractors want to simply get the job done- but are not allowed by management unless it is explicitly in the contract.

                  NASA needs to have the technical competence in house with the mission of getting the job done.  Reduce the role of contractors greatly.  

                  Academia's role has shrunk tremendously.  Academia is innovate or die and is defined by young, innovative men and women. The role of universities needs to increase.  

                  •  Actually, if they were just to move away (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    James Kresnik

                    from cost-plus contracts, I think you'd see a much better management structure.  Or have NASA go to a service contract style model.  

                    •  cost+ (0+ / 0-)

                      Terrible, Terrible, Fricking terrible.  it is actually disgusting to watch.

                      I had a graduate student friend 10+ years work for a NASA contractor in LA.  Managers would fly out to Houston weekly- and purposefully get flights at the last minute (same day even) because they were more expensive.

                      The bigger the Cost part of the equation = bigger ++

                    •  Cost plus is a nightmare (0+ / 0-)

                      It's an attempt to be fair and to give the contractor a fair profit while covering costs - but not too much profit. And the end result is huge, horrible paperwork and bureaucracy that rewards those who game the system and injures companies who just want to do the engineering.

                      Better to just agree to a fee, and let the company make money if it does, rather than spending a quarter to save a dime, as they do now.

                      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                      by elfling on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:44:56 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

            •  United Space Alliance is no more (0+ / 0-)

              Boeing was angry that they weren't getting enough Gov't subsidies for something they were already making a profit on so they stopped making the Delta II, NASA opened up the contract - the Taurus II got it.

      •  Wait for the people (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        who know nothing about robotics or space exploration to claim with absolute certainty that robots cannot do everything humans can.

        Your case is far simpler to demonstrate: if there's something of relevant scientific merit that humans can do that robots cannot, go ahead and state it.  Taking into account, of course, that manned missions cost several dozen times that of equivalent robotic missions.  

        Let's go ahead and deflate a couple arguments you might try to make:

        1. "Humans could fix failures that occur."  Most failures in robotic missions couldn't have been fixed even if people were there (people can't stop a CATO, people can't stop a miscalculated entry until it's too late, etc) -- but that's beside the point.  Since robotic missions are vastly cheaper, you'd have to fail twenty times in a row for humans to be a better choice.  And we're ignoring the extra complexity of manned missions which increases the chance of failures.  Think Apollo 13: the craft never would have exploded had they not needed oxygen tanks for life support.
        1. "Humans can do scientific research faster."  So?  Missions are so few and far between (and due to the massive price tag, manned missions even less so) that it's practically irrelevant how long it takes to get your results in.  Would it really be that different if Spirit and Opportunity could have gathered all of their data in a couple weeks rather than a couple years, and then we had to sit around the same length of time waiting for the next Mars exploration mission?  Not really.
        1. "Humans can adapt to their situations, coming up with new ways to study things that weren't thought of before."  And?  Once again, we get back to the mission price and length of time issue.  If we discover something that our robots can't do that's important, then we simply make the next mission do that.  And from a more practical standpoint, precisely what sort of invention do you expect people to be doing up there -- building a TES out of duct tape and bolts?  Humans are nearly as limited in science by the equipment they're provided as robots are.
    •  One thing everyone should keep in mind (6+ / 0-)

      If everyone on the planet lived at the standard of living that Americans enjoy, it would take three of four Earths worth of resources to supply it all.

      Obviously that's their ambition, so where are those resources going to come from?

      If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

      by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:16:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hey Darksyde, where would you put (4+ / 0-)

      something like Direct?  I will admit I am not convinced of it, but I am not convinced there isn't a lot of merit in it.  I will say, it strikes me as kind of an open source approach to rocket development.  

      Also, I'd add in there the fact that you can consider NewSpace as somewhat progressive

      •  I was wondering about Direct 2.o (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        also, I do prefer the 207 tons the Ares V can lift over the 100 tons of Direct, but America needs true heavy lift to build the space vehicles and space fuel depots of the 21st century.

        •  I think it's time to put serious funding (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          James Kresnik

          into alternatives to rocket launches for freight with the next gen heavy lift vehicles being the very last of their kind.

          NASA's estimate for building a 20 TW SPS (space power satellite) network is based on $200/kg launch costs. Do you take seriously the idea of launch costs for either Direct or Ares V going under $200/kg?

          The well-known alternatives are:

          • railgun (I think I came up with a 70 mile track for a 20G launch some years ago) ... that's closest to something that can be done right now... but would the price tag be as low as $100B?
          • space elevator - you know what the materials problems are.
          • blimp-to-orbit - interesting dark horse

          I'd say that NASA should put some serious bucks into R&D for all of the above and build the one that is most cost-effective. Get any of the above working and the door is open to space industrialization... the price of entry will be low enough that private sector organizations will be looking at space manufacturing as a way to make money that's defensible to stockholders.

          Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

          by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:51:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Blimp to orbit is impossible (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Drag is proportional to the drag coefficient times the cross-sectional area times the velocity squared.  You know how much cross-sectional area a blimp has?  And how fast 7800m/s^2 is?  And they want to overcome that with ion engines?  It's simply impossible, even in the upper stratosphere.

            On the other hand, you omitted all actively-suspended structures.  Space elevators require materials with a tensile strength to density ratio that is orders of magnitude higher than anything we have currently, and which may or may not be ultimately physically impossible.  Actively suspended structures do not.  300MW of wave power could run a launch loop with prices roughly calculated at $300/kg with 1 year payback (40,000 tons per year), while a 20GW could run a loop at $3/kg (6 million tons per year).

            Oh, and to the author of this diary?  There is no rocket called "Ares".  There's "Ares I" and "Ares V".  Ares I is an unmitigated disaster and deserves to be cancelled immediately.  There may be some merit to Ares V.

            •  Actively suspended structures make me very (0+ / 0-)

              nervous (although I suppose I'll be taken to task for not being concerned about SSP).  The danger involved in an actively suspended structure seems quite high.

            •  the "whether this can be overcome (0+ / 0-)

              with ion engines" is debatable.

              "It's simply impossible, even in the upper stratosphere."

              How far up do you mean? However, this is not my project, go argue this with them on the appropriate fora if you haven't already.

              I want this to be settled by experiment, not debate.

              Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

              by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 04:07:18 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Countless people already have (0+ / 0-)

                The reaction to the proposal has been almost uniformly negative.  It's not debatable.  It's flat-out impossible.  You couldn't overcome the drag with rocket engines, let alone ion engines.

                •  argue that with them. (0+ / 0-)

                  What non-rocket alternatives do you prefer? (including alternatives I didn't mention?) The only place I know of where that proposal has been reacted to is Usenet , and if you know about that forum,, presumably you know about the other non-rocket alternatives.

                  And ... the consensus in the mainstream scientific community at the turn of the 20th century was that heavier-than-air flight was forever impossible. A couple of bicycle mechanics proved them wrong.

                  Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

                  by alizard on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 02:23:36 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Myth (0+ / 0-)

                    And ... the consensus in the mainstream scientific community at the turn of the 20th century was that heavier-than-air flight was forever impossible

                    That's not true.  Most people take that quote from Kelvin and expand him to include the entire scientific community, which is obviously ridiculous.  If you read his followup statement:

                    "I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning...I would not care to be a member of the Aeronautical Society."

                    You can realize right away that this notion is amiss.  There was an entire scientific society dedicated to heavier than air flight.  They had their own scientific journal.  The society was formed in 1866 by the Duke of Argyll and remains to this date.  In their first year, they had 65 members.  Throughout the 19th century they pioneered modern aviation technology -- even building the first windtunnels to test their designs.  Among the peer-reviewed papers published by the society included an 1867 paper on jet propulsion and an 1881 paper on the increase in air resistance as one approaches the sound barrier.  It wasn't until 1895 that Kelvin made his famous "heavier than air flying machines are impossible" quote, long after most of the scientific community believed it possible.

                    As for what type of launch systems I'd like?  In the short term, I'd like to see more optimization of conventional rocket designs from a cost perspective.  I like many of the approaches taken by SpaceX on this front -- partial balloon tanks, for example, with just enough rigidity to be transported empty but not enough to withstand launch without internal pressure.  I'd like to see these gradually migrate in the direction of reuse where economically viable, with research funding to help innovate new pathways to keep components in service.  At the same time, I'd like to see major funding toward several avenues of research for radical cost reduction at once:

                    Railgun/coilgun/light gas gun/ram accelerators/blast wave accelerator for payloads, continuing the work of Gerald Bull that was cut way too short.

                    Scramjets, with a parallel path of extra money toward durable high-temperature skins.

                    Metastable fuels and oxidizers, including expanded research into cryogenic solid and hybrid rockets.

                    Kinetically suspended launch structures -- launch loop, space fountain, etc.  

                    I'm not down with tether-based systems due to both tensile requirements (esp. in space elevators) and our past experience with much, much shorter tethers in space (they don't behave nicely as one might expect -- charge buildup and oscillations, especially pogo, are killer).

                    •  good work... (0+ / 0-)

                      How about turning the "alternative launch systems which I believe possible" part of your post into a diary? I hope you do, and I'll keep an eye out for it.

                      If "Metastable fuels and oxidizers, including expanded research into cryogenic solid and hybrid rockets." is new to me, it will be new to other Kossacks. Any opinion on pulse-combustion engines? (you can put that in the diary if you like)

                      Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

                      by alizard on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 04:47:24 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Metastable fuels and oxidizers (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        It's an interesting category of research.  Basically, there are some chemicals that have a tremendous amount of energy of decomposition available, but the activation energy barrier to begin the reaction is high enough that they don't just start breaking down on their own.  Xenon difluoride is an example (although not a suitable propellant in its own right).  Metastable fuels range from the already-created-but-not-on-large-enough scale (such as alane -- stabilized aluminum hydride) to the already-created-but-not-yet-suitably-controlled (such as ozone, which has a nasty problem of being explosive), to created-in-the-lab-but-lots-more-research-needed (such as cubane compounds and various nitrogen rings), to the purely theoretical (such as triplet helium).  These propellants have the potential a significant, and in the more extreme cases tremendous, increase in ISP, and even a small increase in ISP can have order-of-magnitude performance rammifications.  Alane, for example, when burned with LOX, has performance similar to H2+LOX, except that it has higher density than kerosene (a "best of both worlds" fuel).  Ozone is nearly a drop-in replacement for LOX, except is significantly higher energy.  And so on.  Cryogenic solids and hybrids are only fairly recently studied; they allow you to use some of the higher performance liquid fuels in a more dense form.  Also, there's the interesting potential for it turning liquids that are unstable into stable solids.  For example, ozone when kept in big tanks likes to explode on you, as previously mentioned.  However, tiny crystal grains of ozone aren't nearly as dangerous.

                        When you say pulse combustion, do you mean pulse detonation (PDE)?  The PDE engine research I've seen done is mainly for aircraft, although it could be used for a flyback first stage.  While I'd like to see the research continue, I don't think the results have been very encouraging so far.  Last I checked, only a couple designs have shown any DDT reliability at all, most had valves (which were big problems on pulsejets), and in any case, you're dealing with detonations -- loud and destructive.  I especially worry about the vibration loads it would induce.  But again, I'm curious as to where the research will take us, so I'd like to see it continue.

    •  Thank you for the fair assessment (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SJLeonidas, James Kresnik, Vladislaw

      I am sick of the people on this site that think the work done at NASA is easy and that everything should just be scrapped because everything doesn't work out perfectly.

  •  I was just asked something about space policy (0+ / 0-)

    in today's Joe's Inn and would appreciate some input from you and others, DarkSyde.

    The Vice President tends to take an active role in the development and implementation of an administration's space policy. How do you, as an actively watchful science and space policy advocate, foresee Vice President Biden's future role?

    "Hew out of the mountain of despair A Stone of Hope." -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by Patch Adam on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:04:19 AM PST

    •  Biden's role to be similar to Gore's (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nathguy, Patch Adam

      If there is an international treaty concerning space, Biden would represent the President.

      •  But would he actively seek an Int. Treaty? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dorkenergy, Vladislaw

        Is this something that for which we already have a precis paper or working policy concept from Mr. Obama?

        Until then I agree that the concept of having Mr. Biden take the reigns on space policy vis-a-vis V.P. Gore; but I'm not convinced as of yet what the policies are leaning toward when it comes to Mr. Obama's incoming administration.

        Point me in the direction of literature, please? Thanks in advance.

        "Hew out of the mountain of despair A Stone of Hope." -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

        by Patch Adam on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:27:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  With just a couple letter it could be (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nathguy, Always Thinkin



    Like the car on the moon! NASA's CAR!

  •  What we need is a comprehensive (6+ / 0-)

    progressive space agenda that lays what we need to accomplish in space as a planet - one that goes beyond and combines the manned/robotic and other turf battles that are ultimately self defeating.

    If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

    by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:05:00 AM PST

    •  Get the components to Luna for robotic mining. (4+ / 0-)

      Establish the moon units for extracting ore and construction of a true moonbase. There's your jump point for off-Earth system exploration.

      "Hew out of the mountain of despair A Stone of Hope." -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by Patch Adam on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:10:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  no property rights on the moon (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blutodog, Patch Adam

        it won't happen until the planet finally debates and decides the issue.

        •  You're right, & sadly that means corporate law. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          alizard, Vladislaw

          Governments won't really want to divide part for partition the Moon; and they certainly won't want to be involved in the regulation of laws to an extra-terrestrial body.

          That means corporations that will be ponying up the cash to fund mining efforts on Luna will have to bring along a cadre of lawyers to make certain their interests and investments are ensured.

          Corporations as non-terrestrial nation-states are a very real potential when it comes to space regulation. I don't relish that idea but see few options to the contrary. Your thoughts?

          "Hew out of the mountain of despair A Stone of Hope." -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

          by Patch Adam on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:23:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  In my opinion (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Patch Adam

            they will not pony up a dime UNTIL they have the mineral mining rights claim to a designated area so they can list that as an asset in the books.

            In order for that mineral rights claim to be worth anything it has to be recognized by that company's taxing agent. The US government. If the government acknowledges the claim they can take it to the bank.

            Actually, I believe that the "land rights" are being settled right now.

            Every country that drops a payload or piece of equipment on the moon that item is protected almost like a heritage site.

            That is why, in my opinion, you are seeing this rush to drop junk on the moon. The country can claim X amount of acres surrounding the probe that crashed into the moon. Giving a dozen countries "property rights" through the backdoor.

            •  profit (0+ / 0-)

              There needs to be $ made from people to be in orbit or the moon.  If mining is it, do it.  

              But there will need to be some government encouragement to make it profitable. the right encouragement.  

              I worked at a commercial space center for several years- good idea, but very slow moving.

      •  yes, but (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Patch Adam, Vladislaw

        My MS project worked on using lunar resources to accelerate development of a base.  Some are relatively easy- regolith for shielding for example.

        But a lot of resources need to be put in place before something as simple as cement can be used.  

        Newton and gravity make it clear it is far cheaper to launch from the moon v. Earth.  But a lot of mass and people need to be up there first- the application is difficult.  

        It will happen, but not until many decades after a base is permanent and something profitable can be done up there- and then profitable to use it as a launching pad.  

        All of that starts with a comprehensive plan.  

    •  Agreed (6+ / 0-)

      Manned exploration and deep-space and planetary discovery are fine in and of themselves, but they don't provide the sort of payback that gives the space program momentum of its own.

      Finding ways to combat climate change and solve our energy problems seems one of the most obvious aims of a space program.  Perhaps mining asteroids for scarce elements could be another.  Terraforming Mars could become a goal in the future, though there's a lot more exploration that has to occur first.

      NASA seems somewhat aimless because its aims are small.  We need to figure out what space is for, in a contemporary and meaningful way.  Once that is apparent the rush into space should take care of itself.

      Our long national nightmare is almost over. Congratulations and blessings to all.

      by Dallasdoc on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:14:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I do not advocate for (4+ / 0-)

    the "machines". I do not care if "robby the robot" makes it into space. I advocate for Robby the American Astronaut and to create and develope the commercial space economy of the 21st centurty.

    •  Robby the American Astronaut (0+ / 0-)

      ... costs twenty times more per amount of scientific research returned.  All you get extra is the gee-whiz feel of it being a person who did it.

      •  It is not about a "gee whiz" feeling, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        James Kresnik

        Either you believe that the ocean is a natural extension in mankind's environment or you don't. If it isn't then we shouldn't try and cross it or work on it.

        Either you believe that airspace is a natural extension in mankind's environment or you don't. If it isn't then we shouldn't try and fly in it or work in it.

        Either you believe that space is a natural extension in mankind's environment or you don't. If it isn't then we shouldn't try and fly in it or work in it.

        In my personal opinion, space is a natural extension of mankind's environment. Just because it is tough and expensive NOW, does not mean mankind will always have that fence to jump over.

        You could use the exact same arguements against building super tankers, for building 747's or other forms that at the beginning of mankind's journey of designing, developing and utilizing a new form of transportation and operating, at the time, in a "foreign" environment.

        In each case Mankind has stepped up to the plate, faced and over came the challenges associated with operating routinely in those environments and moved on to the next one.

        Mankind is now looking at space as a natural extension of our natural environment. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend space doesn't exist or we can accept the challenge and over come it. Telling America to sit on the couch and watch robots do it is not how to inspire a nation.

        "don't worry about EVER trying to get to space Robby, we will build you a robot, you can sit on the couch and eat potato chips and watch the robot in space do all things you have dreamt your whole life of doing. Robots ARE better then you and  all humans Robby just accept that, here, have some soda with those chips"

        •  Or... and imagine this possibility... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dorkenergy, Vladislaw

          one can believe that space is the natural extension of mankind's environment, but that sending people up on glorified environments is detrimental to that goal.  We need to be putting our money into lowering our launch costs if we want our access to space to be sustainable, and gee-whiz, fiscally-unsustainable trips are the absolute worst way to bring that about.

          Check out the inflation-adjusted price per pound of getting colonists to the New World -- I can dig it up for you.  It was about three orders of magnitude lower than our costs of getting things to LEO today.  And they didn't need life support systems and essentially everything shipped from the old world.  It's not even remotely a comparable situation.  We must, must, must get costs down if we want this to happen, and these joyrides will simply not do that.

          •  Erm... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ... "on glorified joyrides is detrimental".

          •  I agree with some of your point. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            James Kresnik, NellaSelim

            "We need to be putting our money into lowering our launch costs if we want our access to space to be sustainable, and gee-whiz, fiscally-unsustainable trips are the absolute worst way to bring that about."

            I agree with you there, I do not think there is a business arguement for that until there is an actual demand for it.

            If you have read my diaries that is the exact arguement I have made. Without private property rights resolution for the moon, lets not bother with that gravity well.

            I will use a "new world" example. We didn't build a railroad system FIRST before utilizing resources in california. Demand from merchants SERVICING the miners was what brought it about.

            I have said we should be developing the ships to sail on the ocean of space first and the fuel stations. Commercial launchers will be competing to launch fuel and cargo to the LEO fuel and supply station. Once a "gas n' go" system for LEO to GEO is established move to GEO, again, commercial firms would "truck" the fuel and cargo to the GEO station with IN SPACE fuel ships. We start building in LEO to GEO and forget about the gravity wells of the Moon and Mars.

            America has billions in space assets in GEO, we don't have anything on the moon but relics. Lets build the transportation system that will take us to GEO first. A LEO2GEO Vehicle.

            If america builds a fuel station, you are providing an international platform any space faring nation could launch to and sell goods.

            If we can not routinely fly 25,000 miles to GEO, service satellites and deorbit junk, and return I do not see how we can make an arguement that we can routinely fly 100 million miles to mars.

            •  The two key factors in developing a low cost... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              James Kresnik

              LEO/GEO space transport are going to be 'resusability' and 'fuel efficiency', meaning reduced onboard fuel.  Ironically, it was NASA who recognized this in the late 1960's at the time of the Apollo program and that is how they conceived the Space Shuttle.  Unfortunately they took the wrong direction in development and they caved to Congress when they shouldn't have.  

  •  Put it on back burner for now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jxg, Patch Adam

    The billions spent on space junk can feed a lot of people or can make some jobs that Americans can enjoy country wide.  

    There is more to a recovery that how much we spend.  What we spend it on is also important.  If not then we could just throw one hell of a party with food, wine and song and all would be well again.  Except for the hangover the next day.

    I think a certain amount of spending of defense mechanisms in space is prudent but even that has its limits.  Terrorists aren't apt to be throwing ICBMs at us so a missile shield is of little value in the war on terror.

    •  It's not "junk" (14+ / 0-)

      Money spent on space is spent right here on Earth and in the United States. That money HELPS feed people and give people jobs all over the country.

      And the amount of money diverted to another cause won't solve any of the great problems of our world like hunger or poverty. You're talking about a few billion dollars, or 0.5% of the national budget.

      And that money is an INVESTMENT which pays out more later on in the form of new technologies and solutions to problems right here on Earth.

      If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

      by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:12:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, the Billions spent on space "junk" (10+ / 0-)

      do help feed a lot of people.  Space development has huge potentials for job creation.  The Space economy is already worth $251 Billion, most of which is from the private sector, while NASA's budget is $16 Billion.  Properly invested, and with a slight increase, you could see the space economy quadruple.  

    •  Been tried already... (10+ / 0-)

      ...when the Apollo program wound down. They really did "great" with all that unspent money, eh? Seriously, the whole idea of scrapping the space program smacks of civilisational seppuku to me.

      _Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight!_ Joe Lieberman=Momzer!

      by JeffW on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:16:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Space Debris or "space junk" could (4+ / 0-)

      help create a cascading effect of satellite destruction.

      Over 18,000 pieces of space junk threaten the Billions in American Space Assets.

      We need manned vehicles out in GEO protecting our assets. America is becoming so Space dependant on wireless communications that if a big rock swung through GEO and started a chain reation of destroying satellites and creating a cascase effect that America could turn into the stone age literally overnight.

      How many Americans do not even have a hard wired land line anymore?

      •  Re: hard wired land line (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Futuristic Dreamer

        How many Americans do not even have a hard wired land line anymore?

        I'm pretty sure domestic calls made on cell phones have nothing at all to do with satellite communications.  

        The rest of you argument is interesting though.  I think "turn into the stone age literally overnight." is a little bit alarmist, but space debris is definitely a big problem.  

        •  cell phones (2+ / 0-)

          "The Consumer Electronics Association said this week, 17 percent of consumers who purchased wireless phones in the last 90 days are using them as their one and only telephone.

          The shift away from land lines to wireless phones is particularly common among younger age groups, renters and singles, CEA said.

          In an emergency, that could create a digital divide between those who can get through to family, friends and assistance and those who can't, some experts say.

          Cell phones failed miserably following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, after the Great Northeast Blackout in the summer of 2003 and again following Hurricane Katrina and other storms."

          I beleve if it was a space emergency they would fail the same way.

          Weather Sats, Emergency Response, GPS, etc are all tied to space assets. The more junk we put in orbit, the bigger the problem becomes in the longterm.

          We spent a couple billion on the Hubble Space Telescope, can you imagine spending blllions on a telescope or other infrastructure on the ground and then have absolutly NO human maintence? No routine service calls? No routine upgrades?

          We have to break this idea the space is different, it not nothing more then the natural extension to our natural environment as are the seas and air.

          We have to develope IN SPACE ships to ROUTINELY service and upgrade the BILLIONS we have invested in American space infrastructure.

          America does not have assets on the moon. We DO have billions of dollars in assest in GEO. Instead of worrying about the moon and mars, lets develope the infrastructure to create a "gas n' go" LEO to GEO commercial space economy.

          •  Cell phones also failed last Thursday in NOLA (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ...just because it snowed, and everyone was calling everyone else to say "Hey it's snowing!!!"  Call me an old fogey but I get my phone and my internet through copper twisted pair, and I don't get cable TV at all.

          •  You're completely wrong about cellular service (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            There is zero domestic cellular service over satellite links. Cellular backhaul is all over terrestial fiber. There is essentially zero international telephone service over satellite, because everybody hates the delay.  3E+8 m/s, it's not just a good idea, it's the law. :-)

            Landline phones suffer from exactly the same overload during natural disasters. Phone companies don't put in enough switch capacity to handle every single customer in the state calling every other single customer in the state to say "hey, how about that hurricane" (or earthquake, or whatever).

            The Hubble is a wonderful machine, but it's design suffered from "if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem you run into looks like a nail" syndrome. It was designed to fit the shuttle, because that was the launch vehicle they had. Lacking the shuttle, we would have launched multiple, smaller, cheaper, special-purpose telescopes, done just as much science (though in some cases, possibly somewhat different science), and when one fails, you de-orbit it and launch a new one (which you can afford to do because they're cheaper).


            •  cell phones and land line phones can use sats. (0+ / 0-)

              "Also it would be impossible to place towers out in the ocean far from land, again making your celullarl phone worthless when not close to a cell tower."

              "Satellite Phones do not use "cells" or cell towers. The most popular hand held satellite telephones use Low Earth Orbiting or LEO satellites. When you turn on your satellite phone the signal goes up to any number of satellites in a compatible constellation where it is then registered with the constellation. Globalstar has 48 satellites and Iridium has 66 that orbit the earth. When making a call the satellite signal goes to the satellites this it is directed down to a ground station or gateway where it is directed by the gateway the to the call destination. The call can be directed to a land-line or PSTN as well as a cellular network. The reverse is also true. Any land-line or cellular network can call satellite phones. The Gateway processes and takes care of the switching of the calls rather than the satellite network. This allows you to use your phone even when you are in the middle or no where far from any cell tower. If you call another compatible satellite phone the call is transmitted up to the satellites and then down to the ground station then transmitted back up to the satellites then down to receiving satellite phone. This is the ultimate secure calling because the encryption is handled at the ground station because the call never goes to a land-line or PSTN."

              Cell phones need towers and there isn't any on the ocean. You can have cell phones routing through sats.

              •  You're not listening, sigh. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Cellular and landline phone could use satellite links, but they don't. You understand why, don't you?

                The round-trip delay over a geosynchronous-orbit satellite link is about 1/4 second. A conversation over a link like that is very unpleasant, if you've ever done it. Nobody in their right mind would pay money for service like that if there is an alternative. Since there is an alternative (terrestrial fiber service), most people will go their entire lives without ever talking over a satellite link.

                Satellite coms are used a lot for television, though, and you've seen the result when a television reporter is interviewing a "civilian" inexperienced in broadcast journalism; lots of talking over each other,
                looking confused while they're "waiting" for an answer they expect to be quick, etc.


    •  We've heard this tired crappy argument for years (13+ / 0-)

      ...that scientific projects should be shelved until all poverty, hunger (or other economic injustice) has been addressed and ended, because the latter has a vastly superior claim on the resources of the country and it's immoral to do otherwise until they have been resolved.  If we had done that, technology and science would never have advanced, and we'd still be living with a far less productively capable economy that's far less able to effectively address problems like poverty in the first place.

      This isn't to say at all that problems like poverty must be entirely stiffed in favor of scienctific projects and expeditions, but the proper balance does NOT require forego investing heavily in science.  In the long run, it's the best anti-poverty medicine that government and private money can buy.

      •  Good point (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, James Kresnik, Vladislaw

        Another point is that scientists and astrophysicists, and aerospace engineers need jobs too.  If NASA goes away, add those people to the unemployment lines.   Sure, they can go to work for the Pentagon, but not everybody wants to work for the military -  designing bombs and weapon systems to kill people.

        •  Pentagon already has people for those jobs anyway (0+ / 0-)

          And Starbucks is closing stores.

          Laying off those NASA engineers would not only stop a lot of research in its tracks, and keep it from being maintained or handed off, but it would also discourage another generation of students from getting degrees in science and engineering. Who wants to get a Ph.D. to make $20k a year or to stand in an unemployment line?

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:52:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  In a demand constrained economy ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... the job losses at NASA mean losses of jobs from the incomes provided by those jobs.

      Indeed, the "defense mechanisms in space" are the ones that I would look hard at closing, but because of the perilous state of the economy, would rather that be re-allocated to basic science rather than just cut.

    •  You could say the same about WWII (0+ / 0-)

      and it would be false. It wasn't a direct assault on poverty or the economy yet it did what nothing earlier had quite accomplished*, it got the economy once and for all out of the doldrums and everyone fared better ever since.

      *Hadn't accomplished yet . I'm not buying the current "New Deal Didn't Work" revisionism, it was getting there and it had helped enormously already.

    •  you are bloviating (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      using a computer whose electronic technology was invented for aerospace programs back in the 1960s.

      While I can argue that in your case, developing a method for getting your inane vaporings to the world is arguably a waste of money, computers are a useful tool in the hands of just about everyone else.

      We know what we know about global warming today largely based on NASA satellite data. Would you rather we didn't know about this until the coasts flooded?

      Space programs including manned space are basically, a way to pay for lots and lots of applied research, much of which will be important for solving our problems here on earth.

      Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

      by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:00:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am always tempted to HR comments like these... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Kresnik, Vladislaw

      even thought they are no trollworthy because I am so sick of hearing it.  'We can't make progress until we save the world' is just a load horseshit.

    •  We've exported virtually all of our manufacturing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and are set to export a huge chunk of what's left. We have to have some relevant heavy industry to be economically significant and there are only a handful of good choices out there: renewable energy, transport, and space exploration.

      It would be most prudent to invest, heavily, in all of them.

      This is what happens when Democrats put winning ahead of accountability. -rolandzebub

      by James Kresnik on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 05:12:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The real question at the moment (5+ / 0-)

    is not how NASA will proceed, but whether the Obama Administration will, in light of current realities, decide that we can't afford to push onward and outward.

    I am hopeful that the President-Elect is visionary enough to see that some grand adventures are worth more than their immediate returns.

    Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

    by dinotrac on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:19:11 AM PST

  •  I want my... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Lunar base already so we can funnel money into space quicker because we all know politicians gave up on the earth a long time ago.

  •  Griffin insulted by due diligence (13+ / 0-)

    At the end of the linked article, I find

    Griffin responded, in a loud voice, “I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me.”

    Alan Ladwig, a transition team member who was at the party with Garver, shouted out: “Well, we’re here now, Mike.”

    Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.

    “Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

    “If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.

    Well the Ponzi schemes that have been the Bush administration remind us that looking under the hood is what competent people do. And the Ponzi schemes of financial institutions have made money for moonshots harder to justify.

    •  The fact that he doesn't want Obama's transition (17+ / 0-)

      team to look under the hood should be throwing up red flags to everyone of potential problems.  Either you have confidence in your program and your abilities or you don't.  But don't throw out a "trust me" and expect people to just move along.

      If Obama's team weren't looking under the hood it would be a gross dereliction of duty on their part.

      Griffin sounds exactly like an insecure tyrant who is just a little overly protective of his "baby".  

      Elections have consequences.  Oversight is one of them. After years of the government refusing to look under the hoods, I'm eager for all hoods to be thrown wide open to the sunlight because that's the only way we are going to get this country up and running again.

      Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right? - Robert Orben

      by mentaldebris on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:44:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is a long list of reasons to be (5+ / 0-)

        concerned about what Griffin has done.  

        Whether its his involvement in global warming coverups, or the fact that there is a growing concern about Ares I, or many other issues, Griffin doesn't deserve trust.

      •  A hundred times this. (6+ / 0-)

        Frankly, that's the single most alarming report that I've heard about this transition. External reviews are a part of life in every organization that I've ever been a part of. Yes, they're irritating sometimes, and sometimes you get a biased reviewer, but you can fight that by either requesting a different reviewer or filing a response to the report. "How dare you insult my integrity," is an outlandish response that I've only heard from the dishonest hiding the disastrous.

        Frankly, if I were Garver I'd be filing a request for additional resources for an audit with Obama NOW. Something is screwed up above and beyond the normal governmental oddities if Griffin's putting out that kind of BS.

      •  Silly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The sad thing is that Griffin and Garver are on the same side on basic issues - they both get it. (Not to mention the incredible Alan Ladwig.)

        Griffin was in arrogant engineer mode being questioned by a policy person.  But I worry about getting a new Administrator who doesn't really understand the nitty gritty of the tech side of things.

        The vision needs to come from the Obama Administration.

        HOWEVER, if Griffin really is a global change denier, who doesn't understand the potential and fundamental importance of space solar power, then we need someone else.

        Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

        by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:50:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  He said it on NPR (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eloise, SJLeonidas

          and you can listen to him say it

          As for the administrator understanding the tech, I've actually heard an interesting take on how to select NASA admin, and his/her deputy

             The Administrator should be OUTWARD focused, and linking NASA to the needs and demands of the White House, Congress and the American public. James Webb was the ideal.

             The Deputy Administrator should be INWARD focused, taking the requirements from NASA’s bosses — the White House and Congress — and managing the agency to deliver on those requirements.

          Add in that they need to be good administrators, and I am sure we'd have good NASA policy

          •  Is it an either or? (0+ / 0-)

            Rocket Science isn't politics and Politics is not rocket science.

            Do you want someone who is politically adroit and can manuver through the halls of congress and manage a huge agency or do you want an engineer who can build great rockets.

            •  Not always an either or, but (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              elfling, alizard
              those people are hard to find.  And I would submit that you don't necessarily want someone who can design the rocket - they need to be able to understand it, but thats not the same as being able to design it.  
            •  I want someone (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Who can give the engineers the political and financial freedom to build a great rocket. And a clearly defined goal for that rocket to built for.

              If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

              by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:10:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Having "an engineer who can build great rockets" (4+ / 0-)

              as a manager is exactly what's wrong with NASA (and, for that matter, many engineering companies. I worked on Apollo for 9 years, and one of the main reasons I left was that virtually the only route to advancement for engineers was to go into management -- and the talents it takes to be a good manager are not the same as the talents it takes to be a good engineer. By failing to recognize engineering talent except by promoting into the ranks of management, an organization loses twice: it loses engineering capability and gets lousy managers.

              •  dilbert (0+ / 0-)

                don't you get pointy haired boss with no technical competence in a manager?

                But, you are correct, engineers generally do not make good managers.

                How do you train one to work well with the other?  

              •  I agree with the gist of this comment, but... (0+ / 0-)

                remember it is also important to have managers with technical competence.  Remember the Challenger disaster was due in part to managers who overruled engineers arguing against launching in freezing whether.  Also, you might consider the case of Wernher von Braun, an excellent engineer and a smart manager.  He led and managed the development of the Saturn V.

  •  Regardless of the merits of the program (19+ / 0-)

    Griffin has to go.  You do not tell your boss he has no right to examine your work.  If Obama let's Griffin get away with this, every administrator in the government will see it as carte blache to ignore anything they don't like coming from higher up the food chain.  When the President or his appointed representative wants to see your work, you provide him with whatever he wants and bitch in the breakroom, not on CNN.

    If a manager in any company in any field in the US told the CEO that said CEO had no business checking out his division and/or auditing it, we'd be taking bets on how far until the manager's ass hit the pavement as they chucked him out the door.

  •  The New Moon program has been described as (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Blutodog, Always Thinkin

    "Apollo on Steroids". I think we've had enough steroid abuse for a while.

    The GOP has resorted to Cannibalism. Please send Condiments to GOP HQ

    by JML9999 on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:26:39 AM PST

    •  Reminds me of a comment I read over at (6+ / 0-)


      Remembering that Mike Griffin explained his Orion/Ares system as ‘Apollo on Steroids’, and with what we know about steroid use, Mr. Griffin running off the rails like this [2 1/2 year old project two years behind? Don't you trust what I'm telling you?] can simply be explained as the reaction of his body to heavy steroid use.

         Verbally combative, liver damage, shrunken testicles. We’ll get back to you about the latter two effects.

      •  while I believe Griffin's books (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        should be examined with a fine-tooth comb by the GAO, I believe that we need not go quite as far as examining Mr. Griffin's testicles for shrinkage.

        Though the last is an area where reasonable people may differ.

        Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

        by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:08:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Let's make him the "former NASA director" (3+ / 0-)

    I mean, quit fucking around. Obama is president. This guy is insubordinate. This guy loses his job. Let him go be a paid industry hack like McCafferty.

  •  Griffin Is A Fool (12+ / 0-)

    First let me admit to being somewhat of a space geek. The biggest dream in my life is not for power or money, but to some day go into space, at leasting orbiting the Earth. I hope to see the day when Star Fleet is more than just an entertainment concept.

    Obama had nothing but good things to say about NASA and the importance of space exploration during the campaign.

    Griffin is a fool because he doesn't understand the "no drama" mantra. What he is doing is creating headlines that don't need to be created. What he is doing is calling attention to his ability to play team ball during a time most wise people who want to retain their positions understand they need to play ball.

    If Griffin were wise, he would see this as an opportunity to not only protect his work, but maybe influence future decisions by the new administration in a positive way.

    No President wants to have his/her legacy include "killed the NASA program". This is especially true for Obama who is Kenndyesque.

    Man's future is in outer space. It does society no good to shrink from the challenges of space. It does society no good to subject NASA to some corporate hack and restructuring job as some have suggested.

    NASA effects jobs in high-electoral vote states and Democratic cities. Cutting it's budgets means cutting jobs, the exact opposite of what Obama is trying to do. This is another reason why Griffin's behavior is foolish.

    The investment in NASA does not always yield an immediate payoff, but it does eventually yield great dividends for the investment. One day there will be commercial space enterprises generating jobs and tax revenue. There will be scientific discoveries made that will benefit our commercial and humanitarian interests.

    For these reasons, NASA should see an increase in budget,along with the changes suggested in DarkSyde's article.

    "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so."

    by sebastianguy99 on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:47:13 AM PST

  •  Boot Griffin. Make a functioning moon base a prio (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    •  Dammit. Hit the wrong button.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sebastianguy99, FerrisValyn

      Make a functioning moon base a priority. Take a few pennies from the money we save by leaving Iraq and pump up the unmanned probe budget. Partner with the private sector whenever possible. The payoffs will take time coming in, but they'll be huge.

  •  Nice to see support of space exploration here. (3+ / 0-)

    It's long been kind of curious to me that conservatives tend to support space exploration more than liberals.  Bounce around the news forums of some of our friends to the right and you'll still see live threads for things like space shuttle launches.  One of good things President Bush did was try to give more focus to our space program, including the eventual establishment of a permanent lunar base and trips to Mars.

    •  There are several reasons (7+ / 0-)

      One is that NASA, although ostensibly a civilian agency, remains closely tied to the most reactionary parts of the military (the USAF and naval air forces) through the astronaut corps.  That's one attraction for conservatives.

      Two, the aerospace engineering community is also deeply reactionary, perhaps arising from its genesis in a toxic combination of southern racism and Nazi efficiency, born when German ballistic missile designers were deposited in Alabama by the War Department.  So there's another big conservative constituency for space.

      Three, the economic base of the space program is a purely sunbelt matter, Texas, Florida, southern California, New Mexico, and various other locations in the Deep South.  Another conservative constituency for space.

      Fourth, conservatives just find it easier to get excited about machines, especially big machines that explode and make loud growling noises, than they do about people with incomes under six figures.  These are the Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, military sf geeks -- another conservative space constituency.

      Fifth, a lot of space people have been pissed at "liberals in Congress" since Walter Mondale had the temerity to ask NASA to reexamine its priorities in the wake of the Apollo 1 disaster (in 1967!).  They are accustomed to regard liberals as soft-headed social engineers who want to take their pie and give it to the hungry.

      Sixth, space people, especially the engineers, are used to cut-and-dried mathematics and disdain ordinary human sloppiness -- hence their penchant for authoritarian chains of command and inability to deal with even respectful dissent.

      Now, there's a damn good liberal case for space, enunciated by John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, not to mention Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan and many others.  But that revolves around the idea of expanding the frontiers of knowledge and being on the cutting edge of a continuing forward movement in human history.  It does not, however, relate very well to the conservative romance of seeing big things going bang.

      •  Thats a little harsh on the aerospace engineering (9+ / 0-)

        community, and I don't think its entirely warranted.

        Also, I know a lot of liberals that get excited about machines that make noises.  But we don't limit our excitement to just that.  

      •  yeah, i don't think huntsville, alabama (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dburbach, elfling, In her own Voice

        is your typical "deep south" conservative town.   it's actually an oasis in alabama.  where you find engineers these days, you will find brains.  as with brains, they have children with brains and the children with brains become liberals....

      •  great comment--comprehensive answer (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to the conservative-liberal question about who supports NASA/space exploration.

        Find your own voice--the personal is political.

        by In her own Voice on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:05:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Exaggerated (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WIds, alizard, Uthaclena

        But not totally off-base.  The professional space community has long assumed liberals all believe we should kill NASA and "spend the money here on Earth" which Republicans love to hype.

        Another misapprehension the Obama administration needs to kill off (along with robots vs. people, and Mars is our goal).

        Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

        by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:07:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Right (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The post is a pretty good representation, if a little over the top. We need to start making the arguments that liberals and conservatives as a whole can get behind so we can change the status quo. Namely, that the space program is an investment in our future, both culturally and economically.

          If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

          by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:12:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Part of why space design engineering (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alizard, NoMoJoe, Vladislaw

        is "reactionary" or "conservative" is that when our stuff goes BOOM.  You don't get to step out and shake a couple of wires or press CTRL-ALT-DELETE and start over.

        Satellites still on the ground are using electronics designed in the 70's and sometimes built in the 80's or 90's because the designers KNEW they worked.  Are they the fastest or have the most memory?  No, but the vehicle designers know that they are practically bulletproof.  The newest, glittery technology has a painful habit of glitching at just the wrong time.

        Remember there are some aerospace centers in Northern California and Seattle, WA that are pretty big.  I wouldn't call those conservative strongholds.

        I also disagree with your 6th point...some of the best teams encourage dissent and constructive discussion, up to the point where the decision has to be made, THEN the big guns get to consider the inputs, and decide whether or not to risk multi-million dollar conglomerations of taxpayer money.

        This business it tough...and it is absolutely brutal on mistakes or poor choices.  You get one shot to get it right.

        Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

        by SJLeonidas on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:30:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  True (0+ / 0-)

          And a spectacular failure can kill you politically.

          Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

          by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:44:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Jack-all to do with political conservatism (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          What does political conservatism today mean other than "when our stuff fails, deny, spin, and give another tax cut to the rich"?

          Political conservatism means turning away from systems that worked back in the day, and risking the country's economy on Laffer Curves and Rosey Scenarios.

          Political conservatism means ignoring facts and intelligence and launching wars against best advice, and then pretending to be surprised when they explode in your face.

          Political conservatism means quashing internal dissent, and never saying you're sorry afterwards, and then going down the same bad road time after time.

          You'd think that engineers would be appalled.  But those I've encountered are the most jingoistic, nose in the defense trough and stick-it-to-the-poor folks I know.  Their sobbing after Obama won was painful to hear.  

          •  I might have misinterpreted your comment (0+ / 0-)

            I was looking at reactionary and conservative in design/hardware terms...and only slightly in political terms.

            I agree with some of what you are saying, but painting all aerospace engineers or even employees with that broad of a brush I don't agree with.  I've certainly met people of the types you are describing, but there are also many across the political spectrum, including liberals that are authoritarian and conservatives which are energetic consensus-builders.  I have worked with and for both.

            Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

            by SJLeonidas on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 03:19:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I ran afoul of point 6 here in the context (0+ / 0-)

        of questioning some aficionados of molten-salt nuclear reactors. Over & over again when I asked whether any of the purported advantages of the units had ever been demonstrated, I was told that the designs were all worked out & didn't need demonstrating. I was hoping to identify first steps they could leverage to build political support for further steps but they reacted as if I'd demeaned their scientific competence, calling me an idiot and/or Luddite...

        I used to technically review yearly progress reports from researchers funded through Federal grants, & I found a distressingly high proportion of the reports were of what I called the "STFU & send me more money" type--how dare their funding source ask them to explain what they had done with the money & how it related to the study objectives and approved SOW, and (even worse!) to do so in a way a non-SME (like a grants administrator) might actually understand! There were a number of times when I had to restrain myself from recommending that the Principal Investigator be required to provide evidence that s/he should not in fact be taken into custody & charged with embezzlement of government funds...

        May I bow to Necessity not/ To her hirelings (W. S. Merwin)

        by Uncle Cosmo on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 09:16:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It is curious (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mike101, Uthaclena

      that conservatives tend to support space exploration - just the kind of big government spending plan that they are not supposed to like.  But, as we all now know, it is not government spending that they hate - it is spending on social investments that they hate.
      Anything quasi-military is quite alright.

      An illusion can never be destroyed directly... SK.

      by Thomas Twinnings on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:19:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You have to look at who the Republicans (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        choose to honor to explain their support for space exploration.

        Have you heard of Dennis Hope?

        "Give the top rated gift that is loved by over 250 very well known celebrities, more than 30 past and present members of NASA, 2 former US Presidents and over 2 million average everyday people from around the world. "

        U.S. Congress finally recognizes Lunar Embassy as being valid, grants awards and more...

        "We want to congratulate Dennis Hope, founder of the Lunar Embassy, for the wonderful acknowledgement he has received from the Congress of the United States. Dennis Hope has been named co-chairman of the Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council. He has also been issued the highest honor the National Republican Congressional Committee has, the prestigious Republican Gold Medal."

        Now why would the Republicans choose to honor a guy that is selling "fake" land deeds to Ex Presidents?

      •  it's the M-I complex--the corporations (0+ / 0-)

        who are supported by the conservatives they have in their pockets...

        Find your own voice--the personal is political.

        by In her own Voice on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:09:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You should be online at about 12 am EST (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Vladislaw always has a diary about space these days, and I am trying to get back to regular blogging about space as well.  

      And if you go into the real space blogging community, there are a number of liberals.  We aren't organized yet, but it'll happen.

  •  I wonder if Alan Stern (0+ / 0-)

    Would take the job of directing NASA.

    I'm guessing not.

  •  Simple solutions to NASA problems: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nathguy, SJLeonidas
    1. Scrap the Ares I launcher. The idea of using an SRB for a first stage is bad. Instead, fly Orion sooner on an Atlas or Delta derivative.
    1. Getting rid of Ares I pushes the Ares V schedule effective down the road quite a bit, so save some development cash over the near term by killing Ares I and delaying Ares V.
    1. Refocus NASA from re-doing Apollo to development and deployment of ever larger Solar Power Satellites, from tests of comsat-size platforms in MEO to quasi-operational platforms.
    1. Fly Shuttle, albeit at a lower flight rate until 2012.
    1. Either have Orion ready to fly in 2012-14 aboard Atlas/Delta or procure rides to ISS commercially.

    Forget all those philosophical problems. Griffin made a bad choice with the Ares I "stick" and more work on that project is throwing good money after bad.

    •  Or just accerate COTS, in particular COTS-D (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Uthaclena, Vladislaw

      or consider the Direct options.  Also worth talking about

    •  Your 3rd Point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VA Gal, alizard

      is one I've been thinking about.  The best way to work out the SPS kinks would be to actually fly and operate a system, no matter how small.  

      Some of the bigger comsats supply around 15-20 kW to their payloads.  

      Based on the 70's and 80's studies, total sunlight to grid efficiency was going to be ~7%.  I'm sure it's higher these days, but I don't have a number handy.

      7% of 20 kW = 1.4 kW, one or two houses worth.

      BUT this would allow you to work through the details of microwave power transfer, safety, rectenna design, etc, instead of arguing through paper studies.

      A comsat is usually $100-200 million, and can be cranked out in ~18 months or so...with mods, say 5 years and you could have a proof-of-concept mission operating for less than one shuttle flight.

      Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

      by SJLeonidas on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:41:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's EXACTLY what we should be (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Uthaclena, SJLeonidas

        doing, a proof-of-concept for SPS.

        There are various ways to launch freight to orbits that's cheaper than rockets, getting the bugs out of SPS would be a great way to guarantee that whatever rockets are replaced with get payloads that'll pay for whatever gets deployed.

        Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

        by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:14:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Can Obama Fire This Asshole? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It is my understanding that he could.  

    I certainly do not understand the thinking behind a vulnerable administration obstructing the efforts of a new President, particularly when he enjoys decisive majorities in both houses, and a >70% approval rating.

    Seems like career suicide, to me.

    "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?" -- A. Lincoln

    by Deighved H Stern MD on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:02:10 PM PST

  •  The false-fight point is a critical one. (4+ / 0-)

    I see it all the time in transport and transit ...

    ... during the California HSR Prop 1A fight, there were supposed "transit" advocates that were advocating defeat, despite the fact that Prop. 1A included $950m in bond funding for complementary transit and regional transport projects outside of the HSR corridor construction ...

    ... even though a well designed regional rail transport system with integrate scheduling and ticketing with local buses is one of the best ways to increase not only total bus ridership, but also average load factors and hence increase farebox faster than costs increase ... we still see bus versus rail fights.

    Indeed, in the final installment today of my three part series on a national rail electrification plan, Dear Joe, I want a Sustainable High Speed Electric Train (Part 3), the system helps conventional national passenger rail routes, semi-HSR regional passenger routes, and at the same time offers a major expansion in sustainable national freight capacity ... but one of the big obstacles to get through is the regulatory system that pits passenger rail against freight rail.

  •  Griffin should be fired within minutes after (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Blutodog, Always Thinkin

    Obama is sworn in.  In the meantime, let the transition proceed without his help.

  •  Before That, Just a Few Mundane Problems (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Before we get to Mars, there are just a few mundane problems we need to solve here on earth. I'd like to get NASA's help on one of them, global warming.

    I want them to block out some of the solar radiation, so that we have time to solve the other problems here. Blocking 1% of that would cool the earth as much as all the human-made warming we are experiencing from fossil fuels.

    They could do that by putting up a thin, reflective band in LEO. It need not be that expensive, because it only needs to be about the thickness of Mylar. So,  the mass is not going to be the big problem.

    People keep talking about reflection at L1. That's too far out and requires too much energy. Put it in LEO, where it's much cheaper and can be serviced easier.

    If there's a sudden cold snap, you can furl it quickly.

    This won't solve the whole problem. For example, as noted just yesterday on the front page, the coral reefs are dissolving. Unless we move off fossil fuels, we won't be able to fix problems like that. But we won't have time to fix them unless we do something to block the solar flux. So, before running off to the Moon or Mars, I suggest they take a few decades and solve one of those problems that the could do something about in our neck of the woods.

    •  SSP would be good too. eom (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VA Gal


    •  Technological Hubris (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, alizard

      LEO is way too close - the surface area would have to be huge, expensive to build, difficult to control.

      And unpredictable.  Sun shading's potential for unintended consequences on global systems that we not only poorly understand, but are currently changing at unknown speeds.  Terrifying.

      Drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, developing renewable power (to lead ultimately to space solar), efficiency throughout our systems - the effects of these are far more predictable and effective.

      You are absolutely right about Mars, but lunar resources are going to be important - the Moon is part of our neighborhood.

      Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

      by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:28:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Don't Be Afraid (0+ / 0-)

        First of all, LEO is not too close. What does that mean? We're talking about 100 miles up, well above the atmosphere's densest parts.

        Yes, the surface area would be huge. But the materials would be thin. For example, Mylar is only about .0005 inch thick. The amount of material involved is relatively modest, and the cost is directly related to how much mass and how far up it has to be lifted. We don't need to get to a full 1% to have a material effect. Getting to .5% would be a huge accomplishment, and give us perhaps many more years.

        Nothing that large is difficult to control. It is simply a matter of applying thrust at the right places.

        As for being unpredictable, once again, this is not unpredictable at all. Anything that size has very specific known properties that depend on very simple physics. At that height, the cooling effect would be distributed very evenly across the globe, so that there is no possibility of a specific change in any one area.

        It can only be built and deployed slowly, so the results would be measurable over a period of time. The advantage of a ring is that it can be furled if the temperature of the earth starts to drop too much. I'm not sure why anyone would be scared or worried about this, unless they didn't understand it.

        Unless we do something fairly quickly that has the potential of offsetting the known and very scary global warming caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we will almost certainly lose the arctic ice within the next ten years. That will lead to a breakdown of the ice in Greenland, which will flood the eastern seaboard. Virtually nothing I can think of is as scary as that.

        While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary, I'm not sure how you can physically do that within the required timeframe. We are putting in green housing at a rate of about 1% of the housing being built. The total number of green commercial buildings in the world could be counted in the hundreds or maybe a few thousand. The percentage of hybrid or other low-mileage vehicles sold each year is probably less than 5%. China is putting a new coal-fired power plant on line each week. The idea that we will suddenly make these conservation changes within the timeframe we need is very questionable, and other methods of addressing the problem are required.

        I'm all for exploring the moon and planets, and I really think that's necessary for a variety of reasons. NASA has other legitimate goals. (One of them is locating the earth-crossing asteroids before one of them wipes us all out.) But, given that we have a very pressing need, I'd like to see them devote some resources to this. As near as I can tell they have literally no program to do any kind of sun shield. That's what scares me.

  •  I'm not nearly enough sophisticated scientifcally (5+ / 0-)

    to make a real call as to NASA's priorities. But as someone who grew up in the late 50's and 60's, I remember the thrill of the challenge to excel that the Space Program created. It helped kids dream. It helped us believe in science, and the possibility of space as a new arena for exploration and progress. Wouldn't it be great to feel that way again? To value science? To idolize really smart people who could offer a vision of the future, instead of uniformed thugs who masquerade as athletes and rap stars?

    It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task; neither are you free to desist from it.

    by beegee kochav on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:24:39 PM PST

  •  NASA Mgmt. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Can NASA return to the science and engineering focus that once was at its core? Strip away the layers of unnecessary mgrs, and banish  aerospace lobbyists and their influence.
    Please give NASA a broad mandate, with funding and review, to reinstate the United States as the leader in space science and technology.

    "Never get out of the boat."

    by tlemon on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:27:00 PM PST

  •  Another seriously excellent article, DarkSyde. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alizard, In her own Voice, Vladislaw

    Are you professionally active in the space science community?

    President Barack Obama!

    by kate mckinnon on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:27:23 PM PST

  •  spending 10 billion+ a month on wars (0+ / 0-)

    is something this nation or world cannot continue doing if we want to look into future generations of mankind....and the hope of exploring more of our universe...

  •  Planet funkadelic is still largely unexplored. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Always Thinkin
  •  I think that Obama just wants to... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dburbach, elfling, alizard, Uthaclena, jessical

    change the "inevitable" meme of the Ares program that Mike "Stewie" Griffin seems to be locked into at any cost.

    Ares is proving to be a big boondoggle; NASA's version of the Sergeant York that dogged the Army so badly with cost overruns in the Eighties. A mishmash of spare parts, poorly integrated, do not make a decent program.

    (I humbly submit my credentials for some technical expertise in this regard: I worked on electrical systems for the AV-8B Harrier II during its test program from 1983-1986. By the time the plane was finished, it was an almost completely different aircraft. Other than a few fuselage components, the new Harrier had almost no commonality with the old one, and that was a good thing. I have no problem with change so long as it's not just for its own sake.)

    A SRB-only first stage for the Ares I (the people-lifter version), adapted from the shuttle but with an additional segment to allow a longer burn  may have almost intractable problems- there's a chance it could bash into the tower on launch, it may have a 25-Hz resonance with high amplitude that could literally shake its crew into unconsciousness. What's worse, is it is overweight, and there is almost no way to make it anymore lighter without cutting into safety margins or crew size, which was supposed to be the two things Orion was to do better than Apollo. It might not even make it into space in its current conception.

    Ares V is even worse, at least from a technical standpoint, because NASA wants to do it quickly. But it was also supposed to be done on the cheap, and you can't do cheap and fast in aerospace, not simultaneously. Much of it is totally different from the shuttle, which is a pity because there is actually much decent hardware on the STS. Ares V would be a beautiful heavy lift beast of a rocket, but NASA is now forced to re-engineer all of the old Shuttle technology to do it - widened main tank (which is more tricky than first thought), updated second-stage rockets, and new SRBs, when we still have 600 segments for the old shuttle. We'd be better off license-building Energiya's big girls.

    I also have a problem with the idea of developing two new and very different rocket systems when there are so many other solutions already available- the Atlas V and Delta launchers are both proven systems, and could be made human-launch rated with some work. (The Atlas was once used to haul Mercury and lots of early space probes to their mission destinations, so it's kind coming back home.)

    Some NASA engineers have come up with a decent interim solution - DIRECT, also known as Jupiter. It is not as heavy-lift as the Ares V (100-140 tons vs. 200 tons for the Ares. It's overkill for the Orion manned capsule- but you could haul a lot more with the capsule if you wanted to, like a Skylab-sized mini-space station, or a good-sized module for the ISS to continually upgrade it. Most of the work on it has already been done, on the side or in semi-official paper projects.

    DIRECT is not re-inventing the wheel - it's the shuttle main tank and existing engines, minimally adapted, to put things on top of it, where a flawed solid rocket booster or falling ice is far less likely to kill people on their way or on the way back. Some of it is actually making it somewhat more heavy by under-engineering it for sturdiness rather than light weight. We can also use up all those SRBs. At 8 segments per launch, we can get 75 of these off the ground. But it will allow the existing engineers and production people to keep their jobs while we get time to develop a "WOW" project, like single-stage-to-orbit or some other nifty next-gen solution.

    Of course, that's what Griffin doesn't want- he want Ares, or nothing at all. The latter option puts all of NASA in jeopardy, and that's what Obama flat out doesn't want.

    I humbly disagree with DarkSyde- I have no respect for Griffin. From the aerospace perspective, "Stewie" is very much a Bush-bot. He's enamored of "transformatory", sweeping changes which become disasters when they don't work, leaving anarchy in their wake. And they simply can't imagine failure, so there's never a Plan B. NASA will be the technological New Orleans, a scientific Afghanistan, if Ares fails. And it is looking more and more likely like it will.

    I don't know why Michael Griffin is doing this- like everyone here, I feel he would be better served if he just let Obama's investigatory teams do their work- he could have increased Ares' chances of survival if he had. Maybe he's got skeletons in his NASA closet like so many of his Bush cronies seem to have once they leave office. Perhaps it's ego- Ares is his baby, and he'll be damned to see criticism of his brainchild. Perhaps it's pure obstructionism out of pique from being on the losing side of the worst president in modern history. Who knows- all I know is he must go.

    Humanity may very well be saved by NASA's actions, both in the short term (global warming) and over the long term (by giving humanity's descendants a way out when our sun begins to evolve off the main sequence in another 750 million years or so). That's a risk I'm unwilling to take. Just for that short-term risk, Obama may want to simply call Griffin in his office on January 21 and tell him, a la Donald Trump, "You're fired." Knowing Obama, he'll already have his replacement vetted.

    •  Question for you Black Brant (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Where do you think NewSpace should fall in the larger NASA policy vision?

      •  I absolutely love it, long term. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

        I think it's like a hothouse program, which should be nurtured and allow to grow in all kinds of new directions. The companies in NewSpace become, in effect, NASA's "Skunk Works", with all kind of wierd and wonderful ideas, some of which may transform how we get into space and explore it and our own planet.

        I posted above that I like the idea, long term, of several entrepreneurial companies competing on equal terms with the big boys. They must be given the resources to compete, or else their proposals are just "that's nice..." papers given short shrift by the High Panjandrums of NASA, who are still locked into the "if it's not Boeing or Lockheed or Martin Marietta, it's not worth our time" mindset. Even if these are only to popularize space travel, they're OK in my book. It's the "take Grandma up in the Curtiss Jenny" way of making space available to the average Jane.

        I would like to see the idea of making NewSpace project manager oriented, with the best minds taking it upon themselves to make a program work- and not to ruin someone's career if it doesn't work, but was still well run anyway. NASA is expensive science, and failure sometimes occurs. Sometimes you learn from the failure. (Sometime I'll quit lurking like I usually do and give a little diary of the things in the Harrier II program where we screwed up, but learned from the failure.)

        Short-term, unfortunately, we're going to have to use interim solutions to keep people going up into space, and use less than optimal solutions to keep our programs afloat. Long-term, however, who knows? Maybe the cheapest way into space for the next 50 years is bumping around in a Virgin Galactic engineer's head- but he's never had a way to put it into effect...

    •  X-33 (0+ / 0-)

      It's another X-33

      •  X-33 (0+ / 0-)

        It really saddens me that the X-33 never made it to space. Nasa choose to go with a revolutionary rather than evolutionary design (such as composite tanks rather than well-tested aluminum ones), and that made costs skyrocket. Pity, it would have been nice to have one of our own ships ready to step in by the time we shut down the shuttle program.

        I demand the government respect my 18th amendment rights!

        by Decih on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:21:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Lockheed perspective (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          A couple of years before X-33 was canceled, I was at a presentation given by a senior Lockheed-Martin lobbyist.  

          He put up a slide of the X-33 and commented, "Man, if they ever get to the point of trying to launch this thing -- which I very much doubt -- I don't want to even be in the same state.  KaBoom!  But hey, if NASA wants to give us $2 billion for it, we'll sure take it!".


    •  The thing about Griffin... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dburbach, elfling, alizard

      is that he wrote a very well-respected, you might even say seminal, book, "Space Vehicle Design" which, while very generalized, provided an excellent overview of the field.

      So when W appointed him NASA Director I was quite taken aback, here was someone with actual technical knowledge being put in charge, what a surprise.  I must admit though, I immediately lost respect for Griffin knowing that he had W's respect, even if I lost a little respect for my own objectivity in the process.

      Griffin has proven to be a poor administrator, as technical types unfortunately often are.  He's also shown himself to have an ugly political bent that gets mixed into the discussion far too much for what should be an organization dedicated to the scientific method.

      I consider myself an Agnostic because the only thing I believe in less than God is certainty.

      by aztronut on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:11:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Couldn't agree with you more there... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I didn't read the book, but I knew he was well-respected.

        As with all Bush appointees, however, I learned very early on that each of them are appointed solely on the basis of loyalty to Bush, with actual competence a secondary concern.

        As a result, NASA under Michael Griffin is solely a Bush ego project, and a big boondoggle for the defense companies by proxy- Griffin is saying "how do I make my boss- and by extension, myself, look good with this? And how do I make my corporate bosses the most money in the process?"

  •  I'm all for manned space exploration... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but the fact is that the cost overruns in ISS, STS and other current manned initiatives are killing space science and interplanetary robotic exploration.

    This is another hidden legacy of the current administration, the fact that Discovery and Frontier class exploration missions have been getting shortchanged and bypassed for years now.  Of course, since these missions take years to get off the ground the missing space science won't be noticed immediately, but it's coming soon and it's gonna hurt our standing as a world leader in this field.

    Something needs to be done to keep NASA from robbing the relatively poor, meaning space science and robotic interplanetary exploration, to pay the rich, relatively well-endowed manned space programs.  While manned programs will surely pay off handsomely one day, robotic missions are infinitely more cost effective at this point in history.

    I consider myself an Agnostic because the only thing I believe in less than God is certainty.

    by aztronut on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:57:22 PM PST

  •  and we still don't have high speed railways (0+ / 0-)

    something tells me that some at NASA refuse to see the problem with hoarding their precious high tech toys when we live in a country that STILL hasn't fixed the levees in NOLA and we still don't have  high speed rail....hello, i mean we're just now getting into cannot keep technology to yourselves without some backlash.

    •  I believe that would be the (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, alizard, R Rhino from CT4

      Department of Transportation's area.

      NASA is for aeronautic and space, not ground based mass transport.

    •  "hoarding their precious high tech toys"? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, Vladislaw

      NASA Tech Briefs are one of the places where NASA shares its high-tech development with the business community. Almost any technology on that site is likely to be useful in solving the problems you claim you want to have solved.

      The general development of new technologies packaged in useful form is a major part of solving engineering problems. Better CAD technology? New materials? New ways of using new materials? Just go there.

      Energy and environment projects go a hell of a lot faster and cheaper when engineers have places to go to look up answers developed by other engineers rather than having to reinvent the wheel.

      Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

      by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:28:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  High Speed Rail is decades old (0+ / 0-)

      off the shelf technology. It's not NASA's fault that our Congress would rather blow bridges up in Iraq than build HSR passenger trains that even developing countries have.

      NASA does good work. And it's part of the reason we knew a big hurricane was heading to NOLA. They aren't equipped nor expected to build levees.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:24:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Without manned space-flight (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VA Gal, FerrisValyn, Inspector Javert

    ...we might as well nuke ourselves now and save the sun the trouble. Everything NASA does needs to be oriented to surviving climate change and escaping the planet for good.

    Yes I'm extreme about this, but I want this species to matter in the scheme of the Universe. As long as you stick with the idea of missions that do science, are more than spectacle but also advance our knowledge of a permanent human presence in space, I can go along with it.

    There's something attractive about invincible ignorance... for the first 5 seconds.

    by MNPundit on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:01:46 PM PST

    •  If all you want is a couple of hundred survivors (0+ / 0-)

      it'll be cheaper to just give them an Antarctic refuge.  They'll survive a lot longer, too.

      •  Not enough. (0+ / 0-)

        I am not sure but I think we need more than 200 to provide enough genetic diversity to completely rebirth the species. I want to say it's something like 500 but I can't be certain.

        There's something attractive about invincible ignorance... for the first 5 seconds.

        by MNPundit on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 05:04:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  open source what? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dburbach, Vladislaw

    How many embedded systems are open source?

    Some.  Not many.  That level of test and reliablity requires throwing a serious budget at requirements definition and test.  Which is not to say looser development methodologies are a bad idea...they are a good one, generally.  Putting it under GPL or LGPL is the right thing to do, and there is no overriding reason a linux kernel can't be validated.  But it isn't "open source" in the way of using MySQL and saving a bundle, which is sort of the sense I got from reading.  

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:03:50 PM PST

    •  Good point (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, alizard, jessical, Vladislaw

      The space shuttle flight control software, for example, is the most locked down, tightly controlled, double checked sort of process you can imagine.  It's expensive, it's slow, and it works.  The flight control software just doesn't fail.  Period.  

      (read the Columbia accident reports -- the computers went down fighting, doing an amazing job of hanging on to vehicle control until the wing structure failed)

      More recent robotic probes have used Unix cores designed for embedded real-time control systems (way back with Mars Pathfinder it was from a firm called Wind River, I think).  Approaches like that do piggyback on commercial developments but for embedded real-time control you probably do have to lock it down.

      Think of it this way -- open source works great for developing a new DivX player because there are millions of geeks who'd like one, and so who can help with developing one or at least testing it out.

      How many people have a radiation-hardened, space-qualified CPU and custom-built data buses and mechanical actuators for which to build software or help test software?  You don't have a big user base.

      •  while the userbase problem is solvable (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        better to limit the use of Open Source unvalidated software to unmanned vehicles whose failure has limited human consequences. At least at this time.

        Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

        by alizard on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:31:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Human? Robot? (0+ / 0-)

    Simple solution. Humanoid Robot with artificial intelligence. Just give us another 15 years to get it ready...

    I demand the government respect my 18th amendment rights!

    by Decih on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:10:32 PM PST

  •  NAZIS IN SPACE 1st (0+ / 0-)

    Did anyone here know that the Nazis beat everyone into space ? The V-2 rocket was the 1st manned made objects too leave the atmosphere on there way to killing civilians. It's rumored that Von Braun even had an idea to put Nazis satellites up in the late 40's and then manned missions. All this stuff was built by slave labor. Helluva way too start our exploration of space wasn't it?

    "It's better to die on your feet then live on your knees" E. Zapata

    by Blutodog on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:17:19 PM PST

  •  What an ethereal chimera you have contrived. (0+ / 0-)

    Pragmatism will rule.

  •  In Defense of Griffin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    My Stupid Opinion

    I will write a whole post about this some time, but I find Dr. Griffin to be highly capable.  The incident concerning censoring Dr. Hansen was entirely political and when Griffin found out who was behind it he fired their ass.

    Perhaps the best thing about Mike Griffin however, is that he WANTS THE JOB.  And to all the people here who post about how he's "got to go" I ask - who will take his place - who is willing to.

    Finally, I know many of you like Lori Garver.  So do I.  Here's some news for you all: she will do a comprehensive study of NASA and its hierarchy and will in the end send the report to President Obama recommending that he keep Griffin on as administrator.  Mark my words.

    •  She has said she doesn't want it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      multiple people have said as much.  

      As for who would want the job, and who should take it, there are many people that could, and I would argue, should be considered.  I've offered up a couple of lists already, and I intend to finish that list, hopefully before a decision is made.

      Wanting the job isn't enough - you have to be good at it, as well.  Girffin's problems are limited just to the "incident" with Dr. Hansen - the current plan is a terrible plan.  And he has publicly said that he doesn't think global warming is a problem.  

      He has got to go.

      •  If (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Griffin doesn't think climate change is a problem, like he truly believes that, I'll jump on board and call for his immediate firing/resignation.

        That would really surprise me however - I know Dr. Griffin and he's a very smart guy.  If he just let the Bush administration strong-arm him into saying something along those lines then shame on him, but I think he'll be better under a Democrat.

        Until then - I really think we should invite Dr. Griffin to live blog here, let him answer all this for himself.  I'll see if I can't get a hold of his email.

        •  Judge for yourself (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

             It has been mentioned that NASA is not spending as much money as it could to study climate change — global warming — from space. Are you concerned about global warming?

             I'm aware that global warming exists. I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we've had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I'm also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can't say.

             Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

             I have no doubt that ... a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

          Emphasis mine - you can hear it directly from him via NPR

          As for bringing him here to live blog - I would welcome it.  I don't expect him to do it, and as I said, the current plan is a mess, whether he'll admit it or not.  There are things he could do to demonstrate that its not a mess, but he hasn't done that.  

    •  Why, when he has expressed contempt... (0+ / 0-)

      ...for the administration and everyone else associated with it?

      Because of his obstructionism, he's less likely to be retained, not more.

      There are a number of people in NASA who are just as good or better in technological expertise, and are better at associating with human beings.

      The last week has been Griffin's swan song, and I think he knows it but just doesn't care.

    •  Reasonable Guess (0+ / 0-)

      I agree that this could well happen, BUT ONLY if the transition team has a firm idea of what changes need to be made AND believe that Griffin will fully support them.

      If they do recommend replacing him, it won't be with a bean-counter who doesn't get the big picture, or an industry hack.

      Like so many things - I'm cautiously optimistic that space solar power ideas like John Mankin's Fresh Start report focused on, will finally get serious attention in Obama's NASA.

      Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

      by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:42:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The way the economy is going (0+ / 0-)

    I suspect the question of what to do with NASA will become largely moot.

  •  Forget manned vs. unmanned (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garden Neighbor
    NASA should throw all of its effort into the space elevator.

    Meanwhile, the SoS should work to combine all national space agencies into one global space agency.

    •  Do you have any idea (0+ / 0-)

      How much a space elevator would cost, much less how it could possibly be built?  And once something is "elevated" into space - how do we get it going into orbit?  I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but I'm quite certain that just about no one knows the answers, so I'll just stick to rockets.

      For now Space Elevators are for Willie Wonka and Civilization IV.

      •  I don't buy that... (0+ / 0-)
        You may be more of a technical expert than me (the average Joe), but from the material I review, it sounds like we are considerably closer to this goal than we were just a few years ago.

        And talk about a game-changer; this would change Everything with a capital "E". The advantages would be just tremendous...

      •  Actually, by design (0+ / 0-)

        a space elevator would by design, actually put something into orbit  

        That said, the material issues are not trivial, and we can bring the price to orbit down substantially with rockets, I am convinced.  

      •  A Game Changer (0+ / 0-)

        I've considered space elevators pure sci-fi since Clarke's original novel.

        But attended some tech conference sessions and found myself amazed at where the concept is today.

        Wouldn't it be a hoot if it ends up being a viable option (for cargo, at least) in the relative near future?

        Well worth keeping an eye on Edwards et al.

        Surprise, we live in a Left-Of-Center Nation! Act accordingly.

        by VA Gal on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 02:53:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Material issue is not inconsequential (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I am all for continued work on developing it, but its not something that is realistic for at least 25 years.  

      •  Would you educate me on that? (0+ / 0-)
        Is that because of the length of the line, the need to withstand atmospheric disturbances, or in case it is load bearing (instead of a guideline)?

        Or all three?

        •  Its the load/length (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Now, I am probably going to fuck this up a little bit, but hopefully I'll get close.

          Because of the way you'd have to design a Space Elevator, the most important issue is tensile strength - the cable/tether/very long string that is connecting the earth to your anchor (whatever it is) isn't supported like a tower is, with most of the force being compression.  Rather, you want to put it in tension.  The biggest issue with regards to strength, is the rotation speed of body you are connecting - this is why its easier to build a space elevator from earth than it is from the moon.  (actually, if we were on Mars, I believe we do have a material that could with stand the forces).

          Anyway, the point is, you keep the line stable by pulling on it, which means incredible forces.  

          Although the other issue is also a valid concern.

      •  More likely at least 50 to 100 years before the.. (0+ / 0-)

        concept is technologically possible.  The technology is in its infancy.

  •  I don't care if Griffin is qualified. He needs to (0+ / 0-)

    be FIRED.

  •  This is why you never putpolitics in govt offices (0+ / 0-)

    This is why you should never put a political operative in charge of any agency in the federal government. They commit acts based on political motives alone. Policy belongs in the Executive Branch and Legislation belongs in the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch holds a legal check on all of them. The problem is that outside of those branches, in the departments and agencies they must be "politics-free". Able to enact the legislation, the policy and all within the legal confines of the judicial. They must not be jumping through political hoops trying to please their masters in the political party of the year.

    "Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job." - Hitchhiker's Guide

    by Wynter on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 06:08:07 PM PST

  •  streamlined procurement? (0+ / 0-)

    Anybody want to fill me in about the new streamlined procurement procedures? News to me.

  •  Darksyde, you meant MSL, not MRO (0+ / 0-)

    MRO:  An unqualified success, has completed its primary mapping mission and had returned over 30 Terabits of data, more than all other Mars missions combined, including fabulous pictures of Opportunity perched on the rim of Victoria Crater, and tons of meaty science data that will be studied for decades.  It cost well under $1B and continues to be operated by a small team.  It was designed and built in Denver by a relatively small team of engineers that has figured out how to do most things right over the course of building about 10 small-ish robotic spacecraft in the last decade.

    MSL:  A multi-billion dollar, minivan-sized Mars rover that turned out to be a little bigger bite than JPL could chew for now.  For the first time in the history of Mars robotic exploration (unless you count the canceled Mars '01 Lander, which turned into Phoenix), a robotic Mars mission will miss its planetary launch window.  A black eye for JPL so far.

    On the other hand, a launch delay is much better than a failure, and MSL will still probably turn out well.  Its "sky-crane" terminal descent system is scalable and well worth continuing to develop, for all kinds of future Mars missions, unlike the Pathfinder/MER airbags which don't trade well for any payload larger than a beach ball.

    LRO:  Don't know much about it except that it's a large program for a robotic mission, and is designed and run out of NASA's largest center, Goddard in Maryland.

    Having worked on the Mars '98 failures as a Lockheed employee, the successful MER as a JPL employee, MRO, and a small company trying to do a commercial lunar mission, and having spent the last 3 years working on Orion, this is all near and dear to my heart. I may comment some more later, but first I wanted to clear up the acronym mix-up.

    •  You company working on (0+ / 0-)

      Google Lunar X Prize?  If so, what team?

      •  Not doing the Google X prize (yet) (0+ / 0-)

        I worked at a little company called Blastoff!, which went under when the internet bubble burst in 2000.  A number of the people I worked with then were part of the organizing committee on the Google X prize, but I'm not working on that now.  I've been working on Orion for the last 3 years.

        Having seen successes and failures from the inside, I can say that if we want a successful space program (and I understand not everyone does) here is some practical, non-political advice:

        Fund a series of small, fast, competitive programs, each with clear requirements and clear progress toward an inspirational goal.  Make the launch dates and funding rock-solid.

        Apollo and most Mars robotic missions can be described this way.   ISS and shuttle can't.

        Getting our human space program out of low Earth orbit is key to evolving our human space capability.  Shuttle and ISS systems are heavy, inefficient, and unreliable, because they can be.  Most engineers in Houston (JSC) have never seen efficient space hardware, because almost nobody is around from Apollo.  The Mars missions are really leading the way in what is possible in hardware and software.  A big part of that is that the people who have been doing that have worked on 2 or 3 or 5 similar missions in their career already, so evolution gets a chance to take place.  95% of all the engineering knowledge that gets transferred from one program to another happens between the ears of engineers who move from program to program.  Almost no direct engineering knowledge has been transferred from Apollo, even though we're still struggling to learn a lot of the lessons they did.  We're still trying to catch up.  So don't expect a multi-decade moon mission to help us get humans to Mars, unless it happens within the same career of key personnel.  Much better would be a series Mars robotics missions with clear applicability to human Mars missions and gradually increasing scope.  A Mars sample return mission should be a well-funded, short-to-medium term goal.  It's been a medium-long term goal for about the last 20 years, and we've hardly gotten any closer.  Demonstrating large-scale in-situ fuel production on the surface of Mars, and doing Mars sample return, would be much more relevant missions for getting humans closer to Mars than the next Lunar human mission.  They may lack pizazz, however.  And pizazz is important.  Sometimes we forget that our real customer isn't scientists, it's the taxpayers.  Taxpayers who will complain about a $200 million dollar Mars mission that didn't quite work, but don't blink an eye at a $200 million dollars spent to develop a Hollywood movie that may or may not be any good.

  •  the Ares is a joke (0+ / 0-)

    amongst professionals, and I know most of them
    they openly laugh at the ARES 1 and 5.

    They are designed solely as welfare programs for inept republicans.

    the best thing to do is cancel them and use Atlas 5 boosters.

    At least you would employ democrats in Colorado

    George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

    by nathguy on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 09:16:33 PM PST

  •  Mothballs (0+ / 0-)

    is where the out of control NASA projects belong. Cost containment and "streamlining" are completely foreign to the NASA culture. When we have Auto companies failing, 7% unemployment and 1/3 of our population underinsured I think that NASA can take a hiatus from the strain on the economy this program presents.

  •  Man vs. Machine: It's the Money (0+ / 0-)

    If it didn't cost so much to lift a pound into low earth orbit, the war between the manned and the unmanned would vanish.  They're competing for limited resources; no participant can take an objective point of view in that environment.  

    •  Which would argue that what we need to do (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is make lower the price to orbit the main goal.  Do that, and then we can do a lot more, for either manned or unmanned.

      •  I am still not convienced of that. (0+ / 0-)

        lets take a bunch of money, and try and figure out cheaper transportation then everyone will use it to do this and that.


        Lets take a bunch of money and build something.. and everyone will be racing to create the new transportation to take advantage of what we built.

        I use the example of the railroads. There were two ways to get to california, by ship traveling around south america. Ride a horse or wagon 2000 miles.

        One was slow and dangerous, one was slow and a bit safer but very expensive.

        people still used the expensive transportation, the higher costs were just the cost of doing business. It was why an egg was literally worth it's weight in gold and people still paid it.

        If there is a market created IN SPACE then the onus falls on the suppliers to that market to invest in R&D that will give them the competitive advantage over their competitors.  If there is EXTRA normal profits associated with launching cargo to space it will AUTOMATICALLY draw capital. That is the key, providing a market where higher then normal profits can be made.

        The dot com boom is a classic example.

        •  I just said make lower prices the main goal (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I didn't say by what mechanism.  While I do think there is a need to continue research into better technology, we also need to focus on the economics of cheaper transportation as well, and as well as a societial angle.  

          Thats where the space development, and building something in space, come into play.  

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