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Adventures in Engineering
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2007-09-25 11:13
  Subject:   NASA : "Men on Mars" by 2037
Public
  Location:Dixie Chicks - Not Ready To Make Nice (Taking The Long Way)
  Mood:delusions of adequacy...

http://www.technews.cc/space/mars2037/

So, NASA says they'll put a man on Mars in 30 years, eh?

How long will it take them to bring him back?


If NASA was ever relevant, they've sure as hell lost it now. Let's hope Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic kick their dumb, bureaucratic, "30 year old space vehicles that turn into fireballs on re-entry are good enough for us!" asses into the ground.

I'd really like to visit space sometime before I die. If NASA continues to be in charge of space exploration... it'll never happen.
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Not Matt: Enceladus
  User: jameshroberts
  Date: 2007-09-25 18:43 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:Enceladus
Well, NASA's still relevant to me, as that's where my salary comes from. NASA funds the overwhelming majority of space science research and a fair bit of earth science research as well. And the unmanned solar system exploration has been highly worthwhile (e.g. Cassini, Galileo, MER, Voyager) despite some rather astounding mistakes (MPL, MCO). Without NASA or something like it, these kinds of things wouldn't get done. There's no short-term profit to be made. If some private company wants to fund this type of work, that's great, but I'm not going to hold my breath for it.

As for manned spaceflight, I'm more inclined to agree with you. It's a vast sink of money for IMO very little scientific return. The ISS is a prime example; it exists to give us an excuse to send people into space. As originally imagined, it might be useful as training for extended manned interplanetary missions, but it can't do that in its current state. It only has a crew of 3 and takes 2.5 people just to maintain it. A single Hubble servicing mission would be far more valuable than finishing the ISS.

I personally welcome competition from private industry for manned spaceflight, but we let's not forget that they haven't even achieved orbit yet. We still have a bit of a wait before Virgin Galactic or Scaled Composites can really compete with NASA. Once they can, I'm sure they'll be able to do things far more efficiently and cheaply than the government.
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Coinneach Fitzpatrick
  User: scarybaldguy
  Date: 2007-09-25 18:47 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Without NASA or something like it, these kinds of things wouldn't get done.

That's a bold statement.
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Coinneach Fitzpatrick
  User: scarybaldguy
  Date: 2007-09-25 18:51 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
OK, you mentioned Scaled. My bad for jumping the gun. However, the arrogance of your position is astounding: you assume that private industry hasn't made the progress that NASA has simply because there's no profit, when in fact it's NASA (and .gov in general) that has held back progress because .gov tolerates no competition from the little people. I suggest you research the history of civil aeronautics in the US; you'll find that practical innovation - not the sort that kills people and blows shit up - comes from private industry. Couple of fellows named Clyde and Bill ring any bells?
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Not Matt
  User: jameshroberts
  Date: 2007-09-25 19:49 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I certainly didn't mean to belittle the contributions of private industry. I'm sorry if it came across that way. On the contrary, I appreciate and encourage their participation. And I'm very sorry that lives were lost in the pursuit of this goal.

And lack of profit is ONE reason private industry hasn't caught up with NASA ... yet. It takes an incredible amount of resources to start up in this field and I'm pleased to see that some people with those resources have jumped in. But without some way to recoup some of the initial expenses, it's hard to keep going. And that's part of the reason it's taken this long. I've no clear notion to what degree government interference has stifled independent progress in this field so far, but I fear it's going to get worse, as private companies gain more and more capabilites.

That's not why I originally brought up profit though. That was meant to be about basic research (e.g. analysis of data returned by interplanetary missions, modeling, predicitons, and fundamental science). That's the kind of thing I don't think private industry would be inclined to go into, although I would gladly be proved wrong. No scientist enjoys spending a significant fraction of their time writing grant proposals for NASA.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2007-09-25 20:49 (UTC)
  Subject:   That's fair enough.
My problem is not so much with NASA's mission or general direction - I'm all for space exploration and the concomitant research.

My problem is with their culture, and their pace. Anyone with a brain cell can see it's a decade past when we should have scrapped the shuttles. By now we should either be building something better (rocket-launched space plane?) or just go back to (relatively cheap and reliable) Apollo era multi-stage rockets. But NASA is so hidebound and bureaucratic that even after losing two shuttles and (much worse) killing the crews, they STILL don't get it. And, frankly, I don't believe they will get it in my lifetime. Hence the rant.
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  User: nickhalfasleep
  Date: 2007-09-25 19:02 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
The shuttle was built by a committee, and most of the budgetary money was controlled by Air Force (actually NRO) forces. They wanted something to loft the ever-fattening Keyhole satellites and ended up with a vehicle so complex and dangerous that we've lost two good crews of astronauts to them.

Now the entrenched shuttle forces are re-using all the horribly complex shuttle parts in the new "non-resuable" booster system, a horribe waste of money and a way for certain shuttle centers to keep their jobs.

Just wait for the first private capsule lofted on a private rocket or on an Atlas / Delta launcher. They can turn around and offer flights to the United States for a fraction of the shuttle or CEV, and congress won't hesitate a moment to scrap the entire private NASA launch business and stick them to observatories and deeper space craft.


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Triggur
  User: triggur
  Date: 2007-09-25 19:37 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I like what NASA/JPL do with satellites and robot explorers, but I loathe their manned program. It's a complete and absolute waste of cash.
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  User: nickhalfasleep
  Date: 2007-09-25 20:52 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I like what Spain/Queen Isabella does with cannons and expelling jews, but I loathe their manned boat program. It's a complete and absolute waste of dabloons
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  User: numachi
  Date: 2007-09-26 01:59 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
If NASA continues to be in charge of space exploration... it'll never happen.

NASA isn't in charge of space exploration, Congress is. NASA has to get money from somewhere, and those guys writing the checks get to decide what the money is spent on.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2007-09-26 02:43 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
But who proposes the plans for what to spend money on to Congress in the first place?
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Willow: DI Impactor
  User: willow_red
  Date: 2007-09-26 14:26 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:DI Impactor
El Presidente and assorted committees who can prove that the Big New Project will distribute sufficient work across all of the key congressional districts in order to get the votes they need.

NASA is not an independent agency. It is a government agency, run by a Presidential appointee, in this case, a long-time friend of Dubya himself. Come on, Ben. You should know better than to think that NASA has any real control over its own destiny.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2007-09-26 19:23 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Oh, there's plenty of blame to go around, for sure. But let's just say I haven't seen the heads of NASA sitting in front of Congress asking for the shuttles to be scrapped.
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Willow: DI Impactor
  User: willow_red
  Date: 2007-09-26 14:51 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:DI Impactor
NASA was never about putting *you* in space in any way other than by watching your TV screen. Also, as a government agency, it is expressly prohibited from making a profit. NASA sure as hell is still relevant! Whether you like it or not, NASA remains one of three agencies in the history of the world that has managed to place human beings in orbit and bring them back in one piece. The other two are the Russian and Chinese space agencies, also government run.

While I am a big fan of Scaled Composites and a lot of those other guys working to let you pay $200,000 for a few minutes of weightlessness, don't even pretend these guys are in the same league as what NASA pulls off every year. First off, I agree 100% with what jameshroberts said about space science funding. No eccentric billionaire is going to happily fund missions to investigate fundamental physics or planetary science. Wny? Because the return on investment is in the form of intangible science, which may or may not ever result in a product you can sell. No good businessperson would spend that level of cash, so the government (for good or ill) takes on the burden of the care and feeding of a robust American scientific community.

As for the issue of NASA's handling of manned spaceflight, I could go on about this for pages, and I'd be happy to tell you all about it in person. However, I will confine my immediate points to these:

1) NASA has done more and gone farther than any organization interested in human spaceflight, and they did it first. This means one hell of a lot, particularly given that in 1958, nobody knew if humans could survive in a zero-g environment. (Oh yeah, and they're also responsible for most of the research that lets commercial and military aircraft fly all over the world, but then, nobody seems to care what the first "A" stands for anymore.)

2) If you still think the Shuttle was anything like what NASA wanted, or that they didn't try everything they could to replace it long ago, I beg you to read Volume I of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report. It is the clearest, most comprehensive, most candid history of how NASA and the Space Shuttle got into this mess that I have ever read. You may or may not be surprised to learn that some of the lies the public has been led to believe about the Shuttle originated in the mouth of Richard Nixon himself.

The point is, don't compare apples to oranges, or pretend that government agencies don't have to answer to The Man. IMHO, there is no reason for either/or when it comes to private spaceflight and NASA. They don't compete because they don't have the same goals. Oh, and you'd miss all that bureaucracy if you knew what some of these guys (who aren't Burt Rutan) were up to.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2007-09-26 19:37 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
The other two are the Russian and Chinese space agencies, also government run.

Feels like you're making my argument about irrelevance for me... nobody's heard of the CNSA ,and the only two things that anyone knows about the Roscosmos are Sputnik and (maybe, if they've been very observant) Buran.


The Columbia accident report? Yeah, that was great stuff. But did it keep the shuttles out of the air? Did it change NASA's direction? Fix their culture? Hell no!!

The point is, don't compare apples to oranges, or pretend that government agencies don't have to answer to The Man.

Not denying that. I'm saying that's another big reason on the huge pile that makes NASA hidebound and hopeless. Not holding up private industry as angels, either. But at least private industry will be subject to massive lawsuits when they kill people due to negligence.
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Alex Belits: iskra
  User: abelits
  Date: 2007-09-28 14:37 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:iskra
Feels like you're making my argument about irrelevance for me... nobody's heard of the CNSA ,and the only two things that anyone knows about the Roscosmos are Sputnik and (maybe, if they've been very observant) Buran.

There is also a little matter of having constant presence in space for decades of Salyut and Mir stations, so if anything Russian space agency was pretty useful in that respect.

However the current condition of all this sometimes makes me want to go to Russia, get a job in their space agency, hang Bush's portrait on the office wall, and constantly remind their bureaurats about the importance of having decent piloted spaceships when assholes like him will start placing automated military bases on Moon and Mars. I don't even know if it's likely, but sure as hell, it will scare Russian government into supporting R&D to run at more than the current glacial pace.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2007-09-28 17:12 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
There is also a little matter of having constant presence in space for decades of Salyut and Mir stations, so if anything Russian space agency was pretty useful in that respect.

Quite true. I'm just saying that the average American doesn't know anything about those. You ask them who Yuri Gagarin is and they're like... "Yuri WHO?"
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