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Yesterday, while I was reading a post on the Bad Astronomy blog, I came across this comment:

Imagine how many Hubbles could be orbiting, if billions had not been poured down the money-gurgler that is the ISS.

I encounter similar comments frequently enough while reading different blogs.  While the construction of the International Space Station was expensive, the ISS is an invaluable structure and not for the reasons many people would think.  The station may have taken 30 space shuttle flights and countless Russian Soyuz and Proton launches over the last 11 years to build to the tune of something over $100 billion.  Of course, had Congress allowed NASA to continue with the Saturn V and Saturn 1B launches, a comparable space station could have been built with only 3 launches of Saturn V within a year at less than a quarter of the ISS costs.  What is more we would have had it up in running in the mid-1970's instead of nearly 40 years later.  

But, today, the ISS is still worth the money, albeit it will take a little more time to pay it off.  Why?  Because the ISS establishes a permanent, crucial human presence in space and is the first stepping stone toward developing space infrastructure.  Some people have argued that we should first develop cheaper access to space before attempting send more humans to LEO and the Moon.  However, such argument ignores the historical development of transportation.  Remember that infamous 'Bridge to Nowhere'?(the irony here is that the bridge was support an airport that serves several hundred thousand passengers a year who currently can only get to town by ferry) In order for a transportation system to develop there has to be a market to support it, and markets are generally established when there is a human presence.  Since the beginning of the ISS contruction in the late 90's, there has been considerable investments by private enterprise into developing cheaper space transport systems. SpaceX, XCor, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origins are just some of the many companies that have sprung in this decade to build both suborbital and LEO launch systems and ISS has helped to spur that.    

Nella's Top Ten Space Stories

  1.  Panel backs NASA bid for bigger shuttle budget Reuters  I am one of those who believes that the space shuttle program needs to end and as soon as possible.  I support extending the flight manifest timeline to allow completion of the 6 remaining shuttle missions if that becomes necessary due to launch delays and if Congress provides additional funding for NASA's FY2011 budget.  But, I do not endorse extending space shuttle missions to 2014 just close the "gap", an illusory political stigma resulting from the xenophobia leftover from the Cold War era.  The space shuttle operations are a financial drain and distraction from NASA's new human space exploration program.  However, I would like to see the ISS extended to beyond 2020.
  1.  FILL 'ER UP ... IN SPACE? MSNBC  The space fuel depot system has widespread support among a majority of those who favor human spaceflight as a means of developing a lunar-based space infrastructure.
  1.  Endeavour Lands In Florida Aviation Week  Whew! Many of you may not know that one of the thrusters that help control the shuttle's angle of entry failed a day prior to reentry.  The thruster has failed several times before, fortunately the shuttle is designed with sufficient margins to operate without the thruster, but it is still one less means of control should other problems occur in flight.
  1.  Stennis performs last shuttle engine test  St. Tammany News  These are the last of the SSMEs which will fly on the space shuttle's last mission as it currently stands now.  There have been reports that one of the options that the Human Spaceflight Review panels will offer is to create new flights.  How this will be possible is somewhat of a mystery since some of the space shuttle component production facilities have already undergone technical refitting for the Constellation program.
  1.  SpaceX Completes Qualification of Falcon 9 First Stage Tank and Interstage Business Wire  With their first successful commercial satellite launch under their belts, SpaceX continues to meet its COTS milestones with further progress on the Falcon 9 which will launch cargo resupply missions to the ISS and perhaps eventually human crews.
  1.  Russia says U.S. shuttle delays create a burden Reuters  Here is one more reason why the shuttle causes headaches.  And in this case, Russia's complaint is reasonable because they are not being compensated when shuttle flights are delayed for months and they have to act as the go between to provide more supplies to the ISS when the shuttle was expected to do so.
  1.  NASA denies new space program is too risky, pricey Yahoo News  Not a week goes by where NASA has to defend its current Constellation program.  The critics are mainly EELV supporters who think that NASA's budget is not sufficient to handle the development of the Ares rockets.  
  1.  Flying the Plane That May Take You to Edge of Space Wired  One of the biggest airshows in the country got underway last week in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where the White Knight 2 flew in to a huge crowd of admiring fans.  Virgin Galactic, which just got an infusion of new cash from a United Arab Emirates corporation, is planning to launch Spaceship 2 sometime next year from the WhiteKnight 2 platform.
  1.  NASA Chills: James Webb Space Telescope Mirrors Are Readied for Test NASA  Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest, coolest telescope of all?
  1. Official NASA spacesuit on Ebay WECT TV Wilmington NC  Well if you want to get a real bonafide spacesuit here is your chance to play astronaut. Hope you have deep pockets.

Astronomy Corner

The Earth – for physicists Physics World  How did the Earth and the Moon form?   That question is becoming increasingly clear with more advanced computer modeling programs.

Perseid Meteors by Moonlight Sky & Telescope  Take time out of your busy summer schedule to watch meteorites fall from the sky in a couple of weeks.

Weird Space

Astronaut's secret is out – he didn't change pants for month The Scotsman  I occasionally worry that I will get to the end of the week and have no weird story to post on here. Silly me.

Space Photo of the Week

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Those green specks in the photograph are known as Green Pea galaxies and are very rare.  Only 250 such galaxies have been found to date.  What is even more interesting is that these galaxies are forming new stars at 10 times the rate as galaxies like the Milky Way.

Originally posted to NellaSelim on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 11:21 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If only (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, FerrisValyn, NellaSelim

    more people saw the potential of space.

  •  Re (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    subtropolis

    Of course, had Congress allowed NASA to continue with the Saturn V and Saturn 1B launches, a comparable space station could have been built with only 3 launches of Saturn V within a year at less than a quarter of the ISS costs.

    Those budget levels were never sustainable.  That is the unfortunate reality.  

    The mistake with the station wasn't that it had to be put up on multiple launches - it was that it had to be put up on multiple SHUTTLE launches.  

    •  indeed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NellaSelim

      The shuttle could have still had a very big part to play, but there should have been given more thought towards another platform to do the really heavy lifting.

      "They're telling us something we don't understand"
      General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

      by subtropolis on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 12:04:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, No, No (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        subtropolis

        we don't need a heavy lift, we don't need Saturn V, or Ares V.  What you need is a robust method that provides reliable access to space, cheaply.  

        The mistake with the shuttle was that it was NOT cheap, reliable access to space.  It was underperformed, was overpriced, and tried to do too many things, while making too many design compromises for political expediencies sake.  

        As for Saturn V - it also was not a robust, cheap, reliable space transportation system.  

        You could actually make an arguement that utilizing Saturn 1b, and building from that, would've made more sense, because that had some interesting potential, but that river is so long crossed that it is only for alternative history readers.  

        The 25 mT vehicles are plenty big to do what we need to do

        There is no need for Heavy Lift

        •  "tried to do too many things" (0+ / 0-)

          That's my point. If everything hadn't been sunk into the shuttle, it wouldn't have suffered from that.

          And, yes, we do need heavy lift. You seem to agree as much by pointing out:

          You could actually make an arguement that utilizing Saturn 1b, and building from that, would've made more sense, because that had some interesting potential, but that river is so long crossed that it is only for alternative history readers.

          Yes, that's what i'm saying. Saturn was killed off specifically to put all the eggs into the shuttle basket in order to ensure it would go ahead.

          "They're telling us something we don't understand"
          General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

          by subtropolis on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 03:58:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  ISS an example of how not to do space (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn

    NASA and Boeing had spent >$20B before they had cut one piece of metal. Twenty billion on paper studies for a human-habitable satellite? Get real.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference.

    by blue aardvark on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 12:13:11 PM PDT

  •  You already disproved your point (0+ / 0-)

    Because the ISS establishes a permanent, crucial human presence in space and is the first stepping stone toward developing space infrastructure.

    All of which as you say could have been done in the 1970s for far less money if it was desired.

    The ISS is a ridiculous waste. Human spaceflight in general seems somewhat dubious since robotics is advancing faster than our ability to haul fragile humans into orbit.

    •  There is a difference between advancement and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NellaSelim

      implementation of said advancement.  We have made advancements in terms of getting cheaper access and technology for cheaper access to space, and to get humans to space.  

      The issue has been that we've never implemented the technology, nor have we invested in it as well as we should've, because of certain short-sighted policies.  But what we have invested in, we've gotten substantial technology to lower the cost.  

      And further, if robotics is advancing so fast, the majority of work I would submit, is still done by humans, and its always preferable to have humans on site, in the loop.  

      You can't do space development, which utilizes regular access to and from space, without humans in the loop, and it is preferable to have them on site.  

      Finally, if we see benefit from extending society into space (and I think that can be demonstrated), you have to actually invest in technology, and develop it, so you can do that.  

      You don't just wake up one day and suddenly you have the technology

      •  Robotics and replying to non sequiturs (0+ / 0-)

        The first two paragraphs seem to be non sequiturs, or at least I don't know how they relate to anything.

        On robotics there are two perspectives, the short term and the long term. In the short term, robots are certainly underrated as a technology when you consider we have spent $100 billion on the ISS corporate welfare handout.

        In the long term my point does hinge on the eventual development of self-aware robots: obviously if robot self-awareness is impossible then colonization will have to depend on carbon based life. But I just think it's totally absurd to think that.

        •  Re: (0+ / 0-)

          The first two paragraphs relate to this sentence

          is advancing faster than our ability to haul fragile humans into orbit.

          That statement is wrong.  We have made advances, and significant advances, in hauling people to orbit.  What we haven't done is put those advances into use (IE we know about and can afford a Prius, but we are insisting on driving the H2 we bought)

          In terms of them being underrated as a technology - when it comes to space development, I submit they are underwhelming for space development, provided you have cheap reliable access to space.  

          And BTW, did you ever check out the links I provided, to Tom Pickens' talk at SIS, about uses of the station?  

          As for self-aware robots - we'll cross that bridge when we get there.  We aren't there yet.  

          •  Comparing rates of advancement (0+ / 0-)

            It is difficult to measure advances that are not put into use. I tend to measure advancement mainly as what is actually used. By that measure my statement is probably right though necessarily somewhat subjective.

            In the long run, the fundamental point is that humans are just not adapted for space. It's like trying to get penguins to colonize Africa: it makes no sense. Robot colonization will be far more practical.

            •  No, you can absolutely measure advancements (0+ / 0-)

              that aren't in use.  That is the basis for measures of merit, like Technology Readiness Levels.  

              As for the long run -
              We aren't adapted for most of the earth and yet we've colonized it, just fine.  Why?  Because we've developed the technology needed to allow for colonization.  We could not survive outside of parts of Africa without technology, but because of technology starting with clothes, moving on to tools for hunting, and so forth, all the way up to advance transportation systems, we've manage to do just fine on this planet.  

              There is no reason we can't deploy technology to allow us to expand off-planet as well.  

    •  Ferris has put it rather well... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FerrisValyn

      The implementation may not have been the best way, but building the ISS was critical for moving to the next step in space development.  This is evidence in the amount of money now being invested by private capital into space technology development.

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