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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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
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.