Griffin/Obama follow up

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2008 7:21 pm

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless sent me an interesting follow-up to the news that Griffin may be giving the Obama transition team for NASA a hard time. A lot of blogs and news orgs wrote about the situation, so Griffin posted a note to a NASA mailing list:

Point of Contact: David Mould, Office of Public Affairs, 202-358-1898

————————————————-

A MESSAGE FROM THE NASA ADMINISTRATOR

A recent report in the Orlando Sentinel suggested that NASA is not cooperating with members of President-elect Obama’s transition team currently working at Headquarters. This report, largely supported by anonymous sources and hearsay, is simply wrong.

I would like to reiterate what I have stated in a previous email to all NASA Officials: we must make every effort to “lean forward,” to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately.

We are fully cooperating with transition team members. Since mid-November, the agency has provided 414 documents and 185 responses to 191 requests.

There are six outstanding responses, and the agency will meet the deadline for those queries.

Also, we strongly urge full and free cooperation by companies performing work for NASA. I am appalled by any accusations of intimidation, and encourage a free and open exchange of information with the contractor community.

The transition team’s work is too important to become mired in unsupported and anonymous allegations. The President-elect’s transition team deserves everyone’s complete cooperation.

Michael D. Griffin

Administrator

Like I said, I’m not thrilled with using "unnamed sources" in articles, but on the other hand Griffin’s statement doesn’t really clear things up; if the accusations are false then nothing has changed, and if they are true than he would be forced to post something like this anyway. It’s an irritating aspect of he-said-she-said.

Also like I said in the earlier post, read the original Sentinel article with skepticism, but it doesn’t take away the point I was making. Griffin will almost certainly be replaced, and that I hope Obama picks up the ball and puts someone in his stead who has experience and vision for NASA. While I disagree with Griffin politically and on some other issues, he in general has the right idea for NASA.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA

Comments (68)

  1. mk

    Phil,

    In one of your posts back in November I commented:

    In an earlier post you said this:

    “…going back to the Moon can benefit all of space exploration and science if done properly.”

    Could you please explain what “done properly” means in this instance?

    I am still genuinely interested.

  2. llewelly

    mk, wrt to going back to the moon, imagine what selenologists could do with a few 10m cores taken from carefully selected locations. That’s an example of something that would teach us a lot about the moon.

    (Now that doesn’t require manned flights necessarily; just that all sample return missions so far have been manned.)

  3. Three words : Lunar farside telescope.

    Two words : Helium three

    One word : Science!

    A return to the moon – & a huamn missiontoMars is exactly what we need. We’ve taken that “one giant leap” – 40 years ago! – only to then fall back flat on our butts. Its tTime to get up and get going again! To settle the Moon – have more scientists there, more varied people living there far longer & exploring far more. We ‘ve yet to have the first woman to land on the Moon too for pity’s sake! (The feminists should be up inarms at that & demanding equality and a dozen women on ‘Ares’ to get things equal! ;-)

    Who’d have thought it’d take us this long.? Do this, spend the necessary amount of money on space and not waste it in futile, needless wars and I think we’ll find ourselves amazed at how much better things’ll get .. ;-)

  4. I’d like to see what could be achived if Robert Zubrin is put incharge of NASa and given theopportuinityand resource sto luanch his Mars exploration program. ;-)

    Or Alan Stern in charge of NASA – that sounds like a good idea to me too.

    Seems t’me NASA needs three major things :

    1) Proper funding ie. the sort of money NASA had in Apollo days (early ‘apollo’ days that is!) or the sort of $ currently wasted in occupying Iraq, Afghanistan and supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine – Switch all the money squandered there to NASA at once is what I’d do if I were President! ;-)

    2) Proper inspirational, effective, driving leadership


    3) Proper goals with firm deadlines
    Itworked for Kennedy’s “within thedecade a man ontheMoon ” statement -it should bedone again -within thedecade (2020 we need -no, * we will insist on having * – people on Mars, a Lunar base or two perhaps on farside that are permanently inhabitated by humans and at least two near-earth asteroids investigated, landed on and scientifically studied.

    Set ambitious goals, go all out to achieve them – and suceed. Acknowledge that doing nothing, stuffing about in low-earth orbit and going no further is failure.

    *That’s * what we need to be doing! – & doing it NOW!

    I sure hope Obama feels the same way. Given he ‘s aStarTrejk fan I think thesigns aregood .. ;-) 8)

    Well In My Humble Opinion Naturally! (IMHON)

  5. CORRECTED VERSION for typos. Sigh. :-(

    When is this oh-so-necessary editing cpability coming again please?
    ————————————————–

    I’d like to see what could be acheived if Robert Zubrin is put in charge of NASA and given the opportunity and resources to launch his Mars exploration program. He’s written a book on this and given a number of well-considered excellent talks detailing how it can be done – give him the chance to put his ideas into practice I say! :-D

    Or try Alan Stern in charge of NASA – that sounds like a good idea to me too. :-)

    Seems t’me NASA needs three major things :

    1) Proper funding,
    ie. the sort of money NASA had in Apollo days (early ‘apollo’ days that is!) or the sort of moolah currently wasted in occupying Iraq, Afghanistan and supporting the illegal & unjust Israeli occupation of Palestine – Switch all the money squandered there to NASA at once is what I’d do if I were President!

    2) Proper inspirational, effective, driving leadership


    3) Proper goals with firm deadlines.
    This sure worked for Kennedy’s “a man on the Moon within the decade” statement – it should be done again – with bolder plans. I’d like to see Obama declare that “Within the decade (by latest 2020) we need – no, * we will insist on having * – people on Mars, a Lunar base or two perhaps on Farside that are permanently inhabited by humans, men women and perhaps even children and have at least three near-earth asteroids* investigated, landed on by people not just robots and thoroughly scientifically studied.

    Set ambitious goals, go all out to achieve them – and suceed.

    Acknowledge that doing nothing, stuffing about in low-earth orbit and going no further than that is failure.

    *That’s * what we need to be doing! – & doing it NOW!

    I sure hope Obama feels the same way. Given he ’s aStarTrejk fan I think the signs are good ..

    Well In My Humble Opinion Naturally! (IMHON)

    ——-

    * Id’ suggets as my three targets :

    1) Apophis 0 because it perhaps just possibly could pose us some sortof threat.

    2) Cruithe one of our quasi-moons because its close and interesting

    & finally

    3) Icarus because with its long eccentric orbit from outside the Martian orbit to inside the Mercurian orbit and close to our Sun, it offers us a real ride through the solar system! It would make a good base to examine conditions throughout the inner solar system as well as a great platform for solar and planetary studies – I’d suggest adopting Arthur C. Clarke’s suggestion of having a crew of scientists use it as shelter for a full Icarian year or so .. if not longer! ;-) 8)

  6. Finishing the editing :

    I sure hope Obama feels the same way.

    Given he’s apparently a Star Trek fan I think the signs are good .. ;-) 8)

    PS. How good is it to have an Sf, even Star Trek fan for President now instead of a President who was a Rambo fan only with even less IQ than the Rambo character!? Eh? ;-)

  7. That’s *meant * to be :

    ***
    I’d suggest as my three asteroid targets :

    1) Apophis – because it perhaps, just possibly, * could * pose us some sort of threat in tefuture and is agoodexample of thesort of asteroid that we might need to do something about..

    2) Cruithne one of our Earth’s quasi-moons because its close and interesting (see Stephen Baxter’s novel ‘Time’ or was it ‘Space’ for a fictional but science-fasct based story there.)

    & finally

    3) Icarus – because with its long eccentric orbit from outside the Martian orbit to inside the Mercurian orbit, it offers us a real ride through the solar system! It would make a good base to examine conditions throughout the inner solar system as well as a great platform for solar and planetary studies – I’d suggest adopting Arthur C. Clarke’s suggestion of having a crew of scientists use it as shelter for a full Icarian year or so .. if not longer!

    —————

    Sorry folks, these typos really give me the #@!%@#@!%@# irrits!
    (Only much stronger than I can say here!)

  8. StevoR: Hell… even This-Side-Lunar-Telescope would be awsum… Imagine having a 10m mirror outside of atmosphere.

    Off topic: Have (all of) you seen today’s Astronomy Picture of The Day (click on my nick). That’s splendid! Be sure to follow the link to time lapse videos!

  9. Quiet Desperation

    Given he ’s aStarTrejk fan I think the signs are good ..

    Or not.

  10. StevoR

    Quiet Desperation : “Or not?” – Huh? Why do you say that?

    You got something against ‘StarTrek’ fans or something QD?

    Mchl – Thanks! :-)

    Agreed too about even a Nearside lunar telescopes being awesome too – although Farside – without Earthlight and worse Earth radio interference – would be ideal for SETI and radio astronomy generally. 8)

  11. SLC

    Re SteveR

    I’d like to see what could be acheived if Robert Zubrin is put in charge of NASA and given the opportunity and resources to launch his Mars exploration program.

    I have a better idea. I would like to see what could be achieved if Bob Park were put in charge of NASA and the utterly wasteful manned space program were greatly curtailed in favor of robotic space missions with far more scientific value.

  12. Can SteveR possibly go at least *one* post without indulging in his anti-semitic hatred of Israel?

  13. StevoR

    Now I’ve posted the bit below – in modified & shortened form here – before elsewhere on this blog & I really hope thats not too bad netiquette-wise or anything. My apologies if so. However, I really reckon it bears repeating for those who may not have seen it or taken it in properly :

    ***

    People here have talked about big companies funding space exploration instead of NASA – often insulting NASA and public-run space agencies in the most ungrateful and unfair way. Well lets compare their results & look at what a remarkable and unparalleled record of success NASA (incl. JPL) can boast having :

    1. Put 12 men (& sadly so far only men) on the lunar surface.
    It & other public space agencies have put hundreds of other people, men and women, (no children yet though!) incl. the occasional space tourist into orbit – & been doing so since the 1960’s.

    OTOH, Private enterprise (a.k.a. the obscenely rich) have so far recently managed a few sub-orbital flights – within just the last decade or so!

    2. NASA-JPL have launched spaceprobes to every planet.
    It has sent four spaceprobes – the two ‘Pioneers’ and ‘Voyagers’ beyond our solar system towards the stars. It has touched the icy slush of Titan and sent probes into oblivion inside the ever denser clouds of Jupiter. It has several probes on or orbiting Mars like the two rovers gamely plugging on and a couple of handy orbiters around that world and Saturn. Plus missions passing Mercury and on their way to Pluto, Ceres and Vesta, a comet or two and more.

    OTOH private enterprise has sent not a single one, that is zero, zip, niente, nada, nil, spaceprobes anywhere and, as far as I know, isn’t even planning to do so!

    3. Built some of the most remarkable pieces of engineering in human history!
    – the ‘Saturn V’ Apollo craft and the re-useable space plane that is the Space Shuttle being exemplars but also all the probes and landers and rovers among other technological marvels. Plus the ISS and ‘Skylab’ Space Stations too although another public space agency – Russia’s – has arguably equalled or beaten them on this score with their ‘Mir’ (‘peace’) and Salyut stations.

    OTOH private enterprise has at its very best built ‘Spaceship Two’ which can barely scrape into sub-orbital space – cool but not quite in the same league or even close.

    4. Launched and run the Hubble Space Telescope, the Fermi Gamma –ray Observatory, the IRAS infra-red, Uhuru X-ray and many other space observatories
    which have done more than almost anything else to improve our understanding and appreciation of the cosmos.

    No astronomer can deny we don’t owe NASA big-time for the HST alone!

    OTOH well … Private space agencies build a scientific observatory where data is y’know shared by scientists globally? .. Hahahhahaa! Gawd No!!Never.

    5. NASA have worked in partnership with other nations and institutions and has helped to construct an atmosphere of international peace through such things as the ISS and the ‘Apollo-Soyuz’ match up.
    It has used the space race to abrade down the Soviet empire and its prestige value and political and ambassadorial impact is one of the best assets the USA has.

    OTOH Private enterprise? Well, this is quite simply always going to be an arena where only public, government space agencies and not corporate players can act.

    So where the records speaks public space enterprise is astronomical units or maybe even light years or parsecs ahead of the private entrepreneurs.

    Beyond the records there’s more than that, private corporate space agencies have an unfixable flaw. Their problem is the way we humans – & particularly big profit-seeking companies think regarding the short-term versus the long term. Big companies put raking in stacks of profit first above absolutely everything else – above human rights, above the environment, above the future esp. the longer term future.

    That’s why the Big Corporations cannot be trusted to develop space exploration or work for the longer term benefit – even if that ‘longer term’ is just decades off rather than fifty or a hundred years.

    Space travel, & space-based scientific research is beyond the bounds of narrow commercial instances and requires government involvement by necessity. It takes time, it involves intangible and serendipitous benefits as well as the more obvious money-making ones and it takes an awfully big amount of moolah. Plus it provides long and medium term benefits to everyone – not just the few consumers or stock-holders of any one large corporation.

    That means, by necessity, governments need to be involved and indeed, whole societies do. That’s why NASA is a public, government organisation not an R & D branch of say, MacDonnell-Douglas or Boeing.

    Private industry, the multinational corporations are by their nature intrinsically unsuited to running broad-based, public-national-&-International good, long-term space programs.

    Tragically, the United States has been ideologically blinded to this truism for a long while now; making our planetary & most personal futures far worse than they need to be.

    Is there a place for private enterprise in space? Of course, probably more so later on when costs go down and technology improves for greater accessibility.

    But do we also – or even more – need NASA and organisations like it; nationally or even internationally run government based space programs looking out for everyone’s interests and everyone’s future rather than immediate piles of money? Absolutely yes!

    Whoever runs NASA it is my biggest hope that this reality is recognised and that NASA is properly funded, supported and led so that it can relive and then better still out do its previous finest hour & greatest ever achievement – the Apollo moon-landings!

    I also hope to see more effort directed towards that goal & less ungrateful NASA-bashing from folks here! :-)

  14. StevoR

    SLC said on Dec 12th, 2008 at 4:34 am :

    “Re SteveR
    (actually its StevoR but anyway.)

    Me: “I’d like to see what could be acheived if Robert Zubrin is put in charge of NASA and given the opportunity and resources to launch his Mars exploration program.”

    SLC : I have a better idea. I would like to see what could be achieved if Bob Park were put in charge of NASA and the utterly wasteful manned space program were greatly curtailed in favor of robotic space missions with far more scientific value.”

    That’s a worse idea not a better one actually.

    Human space missons add a whole .. well human ..dimension to things that robots just cannot have.

    I believe there is a place for both – humans following robots to Mars just like humans followed robots to the Moon.

    The US ‘Surveyor’ and Russian ‘Lunakhod’ missons were able to find some fine science and accomplish some fine achievements – but ‘Apollo’ and the twelve moon-walkers suceeded in doing so much more and so much better.

    Who today thinks of Lunar space programs and instantly thinks of and ranks ‘Surveyor’ or any other robotic mission ahead of the one with people aboard?

    Who thinks seeing robots roll across the Lunar surface equals the impact, the thrill, the cultural and scientific and historical significance of watching Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap” for Humanity?

    Telepresence is one thing, sample return missions like the postponed Mars Science Laboratory is another one thing. Good things too, don’t get me wrong.

    But nothing beats having real, live, breathing, bleeding, thinking, self-conscious, versatile, human individual(s) on the Moon – or Mars or Ceres or Titan or anywhere else for that matter!

    People can do things robots can’t. Key among these things is think and feel and talk.

    Interview Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin,watch ‘Shadow of the Moon’ then imagine interviewing or talking with the ‘Opportunity’ rover or the ‘Surveyor’ lunar lander. Imagine such a robot on a talk show promoting science and understanding among the community or running for congress or the Presidency like John Glenn! It doesn’t quite work does it! ;-)

    Not yet at this technology level anyway. ;-)

    AI’s have potential but so far we’ve nothing even close to HAL – and could HAL, I wonder, have gone through the stargate in Clarke’s (& Kubrick’s) ‘Space Odyssey 2001′ ;-)

    Robots and humans should work together as partners in space exploration. Robots alone won’t work and nor I suspect will humans alone -each has different roles to play. We need to do both – ‘Voyagers’ and ‘Apollo’s’.

  15. Charles Boyer

    . We need to do both – ‘Voyagers’ and ‘Apollos’.

    Exactly.

    The smartest computer known? The human brain.

    Think a human would have had as much of a problem loading a TEGA as Phoenix?

  16. SLC

    Re SteveR

    For the information of Mr. SteveR, as Bob Park and Steven Weinberg have pointed out, there is not a single scientific finding in the entire history of the space program which was uncovered by the manned space flight program that would have not been uncovered by the robotic space flight program. I’ll take Bob Park and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg over Mr. SteveR any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

  17. Jerry

    Arg…not the He3 argument again…

    He3 is a great reason to mine the moon but not until we’ve actually implemented a working, sustainable deuterium-tritium fusion reactor on earth. We haven’t even been able to get a power generating reaction with D-T despite decades of research. He3 fusion will require higher temperatures and more energy confinement while yielding less power than D-T fusion.

    Until fusion reactors are a reality on earth, using He3 as an argument for lunar exploration is a red herring.

  18. Both the robots and human proponents have valid points. They weaken their position by ignoring the positives of the other.

    The Mars Rovers have done amazing things, but all the things they’ve done could have been accomplished by two humans with a lab in a couple days.

    No serious scientific work has been done on a planet or moon yet, but mass and time allowances didn’t allow much more than a sample grab during Apollo.

    Scientific probes can go places that humans can’t, but without the human side of the story, how much funding would have been given to NASA?

    Lack of a cold war adversary has forced NASA to rethink its relevance. That was a major point of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

    Corporate interests haven’t done any space exploration. They haven’t done much on Earth, either (except through foundations) unless there’s some sort of profit motive.

    A blogger I read a lot (his name is Rand Simberg) said “NASA’s role shouldn’t be landing people on the moon, it should be making it possible for National Geographic to land people on the moon.”

    For What it’s Worth…

  19. DGKnipfer

    Actually there are several scientific finds that robotic space flight programs would have failed to find. But not because the robots could not do the science. Because the general public need the thrill of manned space exploration. The funding would have dried up as people lost interest in the pretty pictures. Manned space flight is a human interest story. Robotic space flight is an Oooo Neat thing that most of the public then forgets about later. Most people today barely recall the Mars Rover, let alone Viking. And that’s because Viking can’t do a press tour.

    The problem with the late Apollo missions was that they became common place and a bit goofy. People where a bit ticked off watching Million Dollar golf on the moon. Had we instead put that effort into getting a permanent base set up on the moon I think we’d be there today. The excitement of a permanent base would have been far more captivating than a lunar chip shot.

  20. Amanda

    I think the human element is more beneficial in terms of ramping up the general public, but there are severe limitations and costs incurred with sending humans on long missions through space. Why can’t we do as BA suggested, and better publicize robotic missions? We could use robots but have excited scientists who are good at the PR aspect do the talk shows?

    Part of me does hope that people will go off into space more in the future, but the practical and logical part of me realizes that we can accomplish a lot right now if we focus elsewhere.

    We do have to consider the fact that there are a lot things that could go wrong, especially those things that we don’t anticipate going wrong, and that we will need many manned spaceflights to work out those kinks. I’m not ignoring that NASA needs to do some manned exploration in order to maintain public interest (since lack of public interest means lack of funding), but the goal of NASA is to learn about space. If robotic missions are more successful and cost-effective than manned missions, then that’s where the focus should be.

  21. DGKnipfer

    It doesn’t matter how good a speaker and how charismatic a scientist is when compared to the thrill of manned space flight. A lot of people liked Carl Sagan but the public at large didn’t dream of walking in his shoes like they did Neil Armstrong’s space boots. Only a hand full of people who were all ready science minded would have had that dream. I don’t want to knock or disparage unmanned space programs because they do a lot of great research, but they will never capture the imagination the way listening to the Astronaut that has been there.

  22. gss_000

    Having studied geology/planetary geology and astrophysics, and seeing field work in action, I can tell you that one field geologist worth his salt on the Moon or Mars will blow away the findings of every lander or spacecraft that has ever visited the planet in a matter of weeks if not days. I love robotic missions, but discounting humans is silly. Case in point: Phoenix. It was fantastic, yet it was thwarted by clumpy soil and got a handful of samples. One scientist would in a matter of minutes have a lot more samples than Phoenix took months to collect. Both types of missions have their place and use, though. Maybe their uses and fields don’t overlap completely, but they both do valuable science and you do th wole field disservice by limiting yourself to only one or the other.

  23. Charles Boyer

    @Tom Hill
    A blogger I read a lot (his name is Rand Simberg) said “NASA’s role shouldn’t be landing people on the moon, it should be making it possible for National Geographic to land people on the moon.”

    I like that. A lot.

    The thing is, for that to happen, NASA needs to focus on cost-reduction for spaceflight. We can talk about space elevators, mag-lev launchers and the rest all we like, but the shortest and most economic route to cheaper space flight is to achieve economies of scale for the systems that we already use.

    If anything, a truly reusable crew ferry should be developed for LEO purposes alongside a heavy-lift system that could carry supplies for the ISS, which would be used as a platform for longer missions such as a lunar expidition and beyond.

    On the subject of lunar missions, gs_ooo makes a superb point about the flexibility of humans versus probes.

    Further, and this cannot be understated, if indeed the lunar regolith could provide Helium-3, and Helium-3 is the key to clean fusion power production, there will be a rush for outright ownership of huge swaths of the moon. Current international law does NOT preclude owning pieces of the moon, although the issue is far from settled. By ignoring the moon, the US could (once again) place itself at a grave disadvantage if indeed there is economic benefit to be derived up there.

  24. SLC

    Re Tom Hill

    The Mars Rovers have done amazing things, but all the things they’ve done could have been accomplished by two humans with a lab in a couple days.

    But the cost of sending the two humans to Mars would be several orders of magnitude greater then the cost of sending the rovers there. We could send a hundred or a thousand rovers to Mars for the cost of the two humans.

  25. T.E.L.

    StevoR Said:

    “Human space missons add a whole .. well human ..dimension to things that robots just cannot have.”

    Robotic exploration already has a human dimension. All this exploration is being done by humans. The robots are just instruments; the science is being done by people. An astronaut on-location can operate the instruments; but people are already operating the instruments. They’ve been operating the instruments since long before it was possible to hurl things to other planets. It’s an inescapable fact: most of the Universe will never be set foot upon in-person by astronauts. It’s a big place.

    It’s also a small place: No one will ever be miniaturized to take a stroll upon a vast landscape of carbon atoms; yet the study of the microworld is undertaken just the same, and is every bit as human an endeavor as the exploration of space, robotically or otherwise.

  26. Geoff

    I hope those people who actually thought Dan Goldin was the worst administrator, have changed their tune.

    I really miss Goldin.

  27. T.E.L.

    StevoR Said:

    “Three words : Lunar farside telescope.

    Two words : Helium three

    One word : Science!”

    A telescope in particular and science in general are good ideas, but He-3 is only a good reason if fusion can made useful. Since that’s still another proverbial 30 years down the road, there’s no need to set up any mining camps just yet.

  28. Cheyenne

    T.E.L.-

    “Robotic exploration already has a human dimension. All this exploration is being done by humans. The robots are just instruments; the science is being done by people.”

    Fantastic. I think I agree with all of your comments. Good stuff!

  29. NGC3314

    Dan Lester didn’t make himself many friends in Houston with this, but his analysis of lunar telescopes pretty much echos what most astronomers find – for general use, the state of technology for free-flying instruments makes the economics of the lunar surface unfavorable, unless certain additional conditions matter. One clear example is long-wavelength radio astronomy from the farside, the only pace within millions of km where the emission from the aurora and particles in the Van Allen belts is adequately shielded. Another other condition is the situation in which the infrastructure for low-cost delivery to the surface and human support has been developed out of someone else’s budget than science, which can naturally change the tradeoffs. This would almost certainly happen (again) for reasons other than science. In the contrasting planetary-exploration realm, I can’t put it any better than paraphrasing Henry Spencer – human exploration of surfaces frequently pays off with better science per dollar than robots but the initial ante to do any of it is so high that a generation of robot precursors makes sense even for those places where humans can work. +(and on top of that, we all know around here that Apollo had science as a goal only in a distinctly secondary way and would at least have been a couple of decades later without the Cold War background).

    Thinking back to Goldin, you could argue that he was one of NASA’s most and least effective administrators depending on whether he or his evil twin showed up at HQ on a particular day. As we al speculate on who wold make a wonderful successor, we should keep in mind that one reason for naming the JWST is that James Webb managed not only to keep Apollo funded, but to keep science programs funded during Apollo. Not that he had a scientific or technical background, but he was consummately aware of the political landscape and knew where lots of bodies were buried (figuratively, AFAIK).

  30. Charles Boyer

    Thinking back to Goldin, you could argue that he was one of NASA’s most and least effective administrators depending on whether he or his evil twin showed up at HQ on a particular day.

    Very true.

    The gold standard for NASA leadership is James E. Webb.

    Heck, the former Director of Kennedy Space Center, Doctor Kurt Debus, would have been a better NASA Administrator than any that have followed since Webb. Talk about a man who knew rocket systems and their designs:

    “Dr. Kurt H. Debus was director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center from July 1962 until November 1974.

    “Dr. Debus supervised the development and construction of rocket launch facilities at Cape Canaveral for the Redstone, Jupiter, Jupiter C, Juno and Pershing military configurations beginning in 1952 and continuing through 1960. The organization he directed was transferred from the Army to NASA. Beginning in 1961, he directed the design, development and construction of NASA’s Apollo/Saturn facilities on Cape Canaveral and the adjacent John F. Kennedy Space Center.”

    Problem was he was German and part of the Von Braun’s Peenemunde crew, so it would never have happened. Still, he was a great man, and I am thankful to have known him as a child. He was my grandfather’s boss for eight years.

  31. Todd W.

    @Anti-Manned Mission Folks

    So, the general impression I’m getting as to why we should abandon manned missions, is that it is really expensive and we can do just as much science for less money with robots.

    Is science the only goal of space exploration? Is science the only contribution that NASA and a space program can make to a society? Are there no scenarios in which being able to safely send people to space, other planets, etc. is a good thing?

    Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose that back in the day, before much of the Earth was populated by humans, the humans that there were had robotic technology. Applying the same argument that I’ve heard so far, humans should not have bothered spreading out to other parts of the Earth, because, well, they could accomplish much more science using the robots at a far lower cost, not to mention it being safer.

    So, we’d still have a horrendously crowded population somewhere in the Middle East sitting in their armchairs going through the data that the robots are sending back, but too afraid of the cost and danger of going out over the waves or mountains to see any possible benefit of expanding to colonize other regions.

    That just doesn’t sound like such a great scenario to me. And, really, manned exploration of space and settling is not much different than what has occurred here on Earth. It’s just a difference of scale. At some point down the road, there is going to be a push for such missions. It may be a political thing; it may be precipitated by some crisis (incoming asteroid or comet that cannot be destroyed/deflected). Should we therefore wait until some event occurs that can not be ignored to start working on manned space travel? It’s going to take a long time to overcome a lot of hurdles, cost and safety being only two of those. Why not start now and be that much further along and better prepared for when a real need to get off the planet arises?

  32. T.E.L.

    Todd, people aren’t opposed to crewed space travel per se. They are opposed to *gratuitous* crewed travel. There should be a better reason for it than just that we carry with us a juvenile mythology about what it means to explore the Universe. People should be sent into space when there’s a need for them. A few decades ago it was given that people on-site would be essential, because at that time no one saw the revolution coming in electronics. For most situations today crews just aren’t needed, and in many cases crews wouldn’t even be able to go anyway. Space isn’t the only environment where this is true; no one walks the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. No one swims amongst Earth’s deep magma.

    And it’s not the same thing as a crowded Europe exploring Earth by proxy. The reason why we’re not all stuffed into Europe is because it’s been feasible to travel over the globe all along. It’s been feasible to sail the oceans affordably and abundantly. Even a low-tech people can build ships out of wood. The power for those ships is provided freely by the weather. Air is no problem; it’s also free. And all the places where those ships go are readily hospitable. When Europeans came to the Americas, there was already stuff to eat there for the taking. In contrast, space travel takes no one to Easy Street.

  33. Todd W.

    @T.E.L.

    You make some good points. Your example of the “ease” and low cost of building ships seems off to me, though. Building ships, particularly ones capable of long-distance travel, were significant undertakings with very high costs in both materials and manpower. The logistics of supplying a ship for journeys that could take many months are similar to the logistics of manned space exploration today. Air and fuel issues are about the only supply issues that are different today, that I can think of off the top of my head. The technology to explore and colonize various parts of Earth took a long time to develop, and many areas were not an instant-access endeavor, as you suggest.

    Also, while I agree that there was already stuff to eat for the taking in the Americas, that was not known when the explorers first set out. Robotic exploration would have uncovered whether or not it was hospitable, just as robotic missions today may uncover whether or not another planet is hospitable to human exploration.

    I agree that having a manned mission simply for the sake of having a manned mission, with no other goals, is pretty dumb. Yes, we should pursue science, but just like gratuitous manned missions, science should not be the only goal, either.

  34. I fear Llwelly is mistaken in saying:

    “(Now that doesn’t require manned flights necessarily; just that all sample return missions so far have been manned.)”

    Apollo astronauts returned lunar samples from six landing sites.

    Automated Soviet landers returned samples from three other landing sites. Luna 16 landed in 1970, Luna 20 in 1972, and Luna 24 in 1976. In total, they 300 grams of material. For details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luna_programme and elsewhere. The Soviets also operated two rovers on the Moon.

    The Apollo samples amounted to hundreds of kilograms, judiciously chosen by trained people ranging over a wide area. So they are scientifically much more valuable than the three Soviet samples.

    Nevertheless, the Luna probes were an impressive achievement, and should not be forgotten.

    Whether it would even have been possible, using unmanned spacecraft, to duplicate the Apollo hoard, with 1969 technology– and at what cost– is a matter for speculation.

  35. mk

    -Todd W…

    Let’s take your asteroid example. Let’s say there is one on it’s way. Let’s say it’s believed quite strongly that it will render this planet uninhabitable for some time. We can either go off to another uninhabitable planet and try to find a way to survive there or we can try to survive here! We can try to ride out the “nuclear winter” until the planet heals itself or we can go off to the moon or Mars which will always remain lifeless.

    We can today start preparing for the asteroidal event as best as possible, prepare to survive it, on the only planet that actually sustains life. Why is that not a better plan?

  36. Todd W.

    @mk

    Why not pursue both options? Work on efforts here to ride it out, while also working on efforts to survive on some other planet. The old saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket comes to mind.

    Keep in mind, I’m not saying that we should be working on expanding/inhabiting places beyond Earth to the exclusion of other endeavors. What I’m arguing for is that we should be ever broadening our horizons, opening up new possibilities wherever we can. And, the sooner we start working toward that, the better off we’ll be in the long run.

  37. mk

    So this is really about the infinite survival of the human species?

  38. mk

    And by the way… like it or not, there is only one basket.

  39. Charles Boyer

    There is no infinite survival of any race in the Universe, humans or not. Eventually, the Universe will decay to entropy.

    having a manned mission simply for the sake of having a manned mission, with no other goals, is pretty dumb.

    Even John Glenn did experiments on Liberty 7.

  40. gss_000

    @ SLC

    “We could send a hundred or a thousand rovers to Mars for the cost of the two humans.”

    I think that is no longer true, because all the easy missions have been done. But even let’s say that’s true, your point misses the fact that a person on a planet will gather the same science in orders of magnitude in the same amount of time. If science is your goal, then time is a very valuable commodity. Robotic missions can only do what they are programmed to do, and any change in that programming takes a host of people working for a long period to be able to upload commands at only certain times of the day that take days/weeks to execute.

    If you want to examine a rock, a person can just walk to it and pick it up. The rovers now take days to do what a person could do in minutes. And a person can adapt to a lot more situations. To get a robot to have the same efficiency, you’re going to spend a lot more money that the robotics only crowd seem to never factor in.

  41. @SLC

    Agreed on your point, but humans would also spend approximately 550 days on the surface of Mars using a reasonable mission architecture.

    So, using your logic (tell me if I’m applying it correctly or not), as long as the cost of a human mission is less than 150X the uncrewed mission, the science (I think there are better reasons to go to Mars than science, however) argument weighs in the favor of humans on the surface. That assumes only 1 humans-to-Mars mission with no others simply duplicating the equipment and cutting the per-mission cost.

    Also, how many rovers would have to parachute into the Rocky Mountains to find a dinosaur fossil?

    The more in-depth science you want to do, the more humans make sense. That trade-0ff point will continually change as robotics become more advanced, however.

    The point I’m trying to make is that the argument isn’t cut and dry. Choose your mission: basic science…robotics, advanced science, mining, colonization…humans.

    FWIW

  42. gss_000

    @mk

    No, it’s not just about that. While that is a good reason, there is a lot of value from manned programs. You can apply the tech directly to human lives here on Earth a lot faster and a lot easier, plus there are a wider range of areas, especially in the health fields. Telesurgery is already being applied. Systems to help astronauts readjust to gravity are being used to solve balance issues in the elderly (the iShoe), animal husbandry (Enduro N.E.S.T), sleep studies relating to moonlight (applied to seasonal affective disorder and insomnia), and even food quality. ESA tech to examine astronauts after returning to Earth is being used to judge ham quality in Europe. Not to mention advances in communication, materials, etc.

    I love unmanned probes. I think they are extremely valuable. But saying they are the end all and be all ignores whole branches of science because of an artificial hierarchy of importance that people impose that does no one any good.

  43. gss_000

    @ Charles Boyer

    “There is no infinite survival of any race in the Universe, humans or not. Eventually, the Universe will decay to entropy.”

    Only in the accepted model. There is reason to believe in the Big Bounce theory. The upcoming Plank satellite might be able to actually see a remnant of this in the CMB. So whose to say the race can’t live forever? :)

  44. T.E.L.

    Well, yeah, but a big bounce universe isn’t clearly friendly to our indefinite existence. Those nasty cusps get in the way. :)

  45. mk

    @gss…

    Don’t forget TANG!

    But seriously… all those things are nice, but they did not require space flight. There are infinitely more things that benefit mankind that were invented wholesale, or accidentally discovered right here on Earth. The argument that we should continue manned flight “because… well ya never know!” doesn’t work for me.

  46. Amanda

    The argument above about early explorers and technology is a bit off, really.

    Think about it – say they were able to send a probe to the Americas and it sent back data about other living creatures and plants (which it certainly would) – it would give the people a reason to go.

    We send probes out and get back evidence of rock, metal, and inaccessible water. Why should we send people there? If we get evidence of life or a hospitable environment (or at least good potential for them), then it would make more sense. Lives are lost during close-to-home missions, and while it is inevitable that more will sacrifice their lives to explore new places in the universe, that risk should be taken only when the benefit is worth it. The farther out we go, the greater the risk – looking at rocks that we can see via robotics is not really worth loss of human life, in my opinion. (I know some will disagree.)

    If the early explorers got back nothing but rock, they would have made the right decision in not following them… I don’t think anyone is rationally saying, “no manned missions, ever!” Currently, all the evidence points to environments and situations that we are not adequately prepared for. Should we plan and prepare and work toward lowering those risks? Yes, of course.

    Too often we forget that a major cost of manned spaceflight is, at times, human lives. Why risk it right now, when the benefits are so much lower than the costs?

  47. mk

    Why risk it right now, when the benefits are so much lower than the costs?

    Well, as many in these very pages have essentially said, “Because it’d be so cool!”

    And actually, I’m not at all against a bunch of entrepreneurial(sp?) billionaires doing their damnedest to put the first man on Mars. Knock yourself out.

    They will, of course, do little more than walk around and say, “Far out!” but honestly, I’d watch it and think it cool also. And hey, they can also make themselves feel better believing they are saving the human race. ;^}

    In the end though, I think NASA has bigger, better things to do.

  48. SLC

    Here’s the latest jeremiad against manned space flight from Bob Park, the man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I say right on!

    3. NASA REGRESSION: THE TRANSITION IS NOT GOING SMOOTHLY.
    NASA is a thorny problem for Obama. NASA administrator Mike Griffin is focused on the Constellation program, the much delayed, way-over-budget and thoroughly useless moon rocket, which seems to be the U.S. entry in a space-race with emerging nations. The Orlando Sentinel reports a squabble between Griffin and Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator for policy, who heads the Obama NASA-transition-team. Griffin says she’s unqualified. She has no background in science or technology. It’s past time for a complete restructuring of NASA focusing on the future, not the past. Cede the Moon to China and the ISS to India. Space ships, along with sailing ships and covered wagons, are relics of bygone eras. There’s a universe out there to learn about, let’s get on with it.

  49. Charles Boyer

    “Space ships, along with sailing ships and covered wagons, are relics of bygone eras.”

    That’s in the top ten of stupidest things I have ever read or heard. Frankly, I rank that with Thomas Watson (IBM’s former CEO) saying “I think that there is a market for maybe four or five computers in the world.” How did that work out?

    The truth is that Space Race 2.0 is well underway, that the US and the former USSR are no longer the only serious spacefaring nations, that manned space flight has been one of the catalysts for techonological development that spurred on American economic dominance in the latter 20th century and that failure to continue upon the path will lead to technological retardation in the 21st.

    People often point to space travel, admittedly in its infancy, as “useless” because they fail to see to collateral payoffs that have been harvested as a result from the basic research and development of the past space efforts. Instead, they focus on what they label as meager science payoffs, when even that is a questionable point of view.

    The American car industry is dying because it is run by accountants with very little engineering training. Their competition, on the other hand, is run by engineers that have extended their skills into running businesses. That seemingly unrelated development is actually indicative of America as a whole: we are a country run by bean counters with less imagination and analytical skill than your average mouse. Sure, they can make money, but they are blind to the big picture and its long term ramifications.

    Having a dual space program of manned and unmanned probes makes simple common sense and the two are not mutually exclusive. Unmanned probes led the way to the Moon, they also will also lead the way to the planets and beyond.

    “A generation that is ignorant of history has no past and no future.” – Robert H. Heinlein.

  50. mk

    Unmanned probes led the way to the Moon, they also will also lead the way to the planets and beyond.

    And as always, men will get there and say, “Hmmm, yep, looks just like it looked when Spirit was here!”

  51. Todd W.

    @Amanda

    Think about it – say they were able to send a probe to the Americas and it sent back data about other living creatures and plants (which it certainly would) – it would give the people a reason to go.

    And, if they did not have the technology to get people to that new land with all the living creatures and plants already in development, it would take even longer to get there. If they had started developing the technology while all these probes and such were going out, then they would be ready once that other place was found. The same thing applies to manned space exploration. It is going to take decades, at least, for long-distance manned space travel to be feasible. There are, as I mentioned earlier, a number of hurdles to overcome and questions to be answered. If we discover next week, for example, another Earth-like planet, with living creatures, breathable atmosphere, plants and so on, it probably would not be until around 2040 or later that we would even be ready to send people on extended missions, and even then, we would probably need to develop waypoints en route. We probably would not actually be able to send people to that planet until sometime next century.

    So, my analogy still holds up.

    @SLC

    Space ships, along with sailing ships and covered wagons, are relics of bygone eras.

    I need to echo Charles Boyer, here. This is a pretty silly thing to say as a critique of manned space exploration. Sailing ships were supplanted by steamships (also people-carriers), which were supplanted by even more advanced ships. Covered wagons were supplanted by automobiles (again, people-carriers). Airplanes then came along, further making such modes of distance-travel obsolete. Increasing the scale still are space ships. They are all modes of travel for people. Probes and robots are great and all, but they don’t move people around.

    Fail for Mr. Park.

    Nixing the development of manned space missions and exploration is, in my mind, incredibly short-sighted. Go ahead and send probes and robots out. They can get much farther, much sooner than any person can currently, and they will expand out knowledge a great deal. But also work to surmount the blocks to manned flight. There will come a time when, for one reason or another, here will be a need for people to go into space, at least to the moon, but likely farther.

  52. Gary Ansorge

    mk:

    Livable planets: places where the inhabitants don’t have to do anything to maintain the ecological balance.

    Asteroid colonies: places where the inhabitants are expected to assist in maintaining the ecological balance,,,

    ,,,ah yes, now I understand the planetary chavinism,,,it’s for people too lazy to run the eco-machine,,,or too fearful,,,

    AMANDA: Risk of human life? Hey, it’s MY life and I’ll risk it however I please. Taking risks is what it really means to LIVE. Then you can look in the mirror and say,”Yee Haw! I’m still ALIVE!”

    GAry 7

  53. mk

    …it may be precipitated by some crisis (incoming asteroid or comet that cannot be destroyed/deflected). Should we therefore wait until some event occurs that can not be ignored to start working on manned space travel? It’s going to take a long time to overcome a lot of hurdles, cost and safety being only two of those. Why not start now and be that much further along and better prepared for when a real need to get off the planet arises?

    There will come a time when, for one reason or another, here will be a need for people to go into space, at least to the moon, but likely farther.

    Todd W…

    I’m sorry but when I hear crypto-apocalyptic talk like this I am reminded of those purple Nike wearing dupes looking to go catch a flight to other side of Hale-Bopp.

  54. Gary Ansorge

    mk:
    So, I guess we just hang out and wait to see how kind the universe is to let us live?
    The Hale-Bopp folk were deluded into believing in a “higher power” to “save” them. The only “higher power” I believe in are the laws of physics and they dictate that, eventually, our luck will run out.

    Anyone here ever read “MacroScope”, by Piers Anthony? The main point of the story is that there is a narrow window of opportunity in any techno society, during which that society has both the technical knowledge and the excess resources to enable space resources development. Wait too long and the excess resources end up being consumed rather than invested and the species ends by devastating their environment.

    We are currently in that window of opportunity. We have the knowledge and, for a few more years at least, the excess resources available to invest. We move to the high frontier now,,,,or die,,,

    Gary 7

  55. Todd W.

    @mk

    I’m sorry but when I hear crypto-apocalyptic talk like this I am reminded of those purple Nike wearing dupes looking to go catch a flight to other side of Hale-Bopp.

    I wasn’t aware that I was being crypto-apocalyptic. I thought I was just following a logical train of thought, that, at some point in the distant future, Earth is not going to be a very hospitable place to live. Now, we can certainly sit and twiddle our thumbs while watching some comet or asteroid zip by our probes and robots, on course to park at Joe’s down the street, then go “Oh, woe is me. This place is a sucky place to live right now” when it gets here. Or, we can make some measure of effort to see about moving house. Quite apart from those things that humans can only experience first-hand, the economic opportunities, the entertainment opportunities, etc.

    And, as Gary mentioned, the Heaven’s Gate cult believed in a higher power (aliens) that were hovering in a saucer behind Hale-Bopp, just paying a visit to save them from the impending doom of Earth. I prefer to believe that if we should trust in something to “save” us, we should trust in our own ingenuity and thirst for knowledge.

  56. mk

    I prefer to believe that if we should trust in something to “save” us, we should trust in our own ingenuity and thirst for knowledge.

    Agree, of course.

    However, going from inhospitable planet to inhospitable planet is not the smartest idea. Neither is “surviving” in a tin can in space.

  57. Todd W.

    @mk

    However, going from inhospitable planet to inhospitable planet is not the smartest idea. Neither is “surviving” in a tin can in space.

    So, what do you propose?

  58. mk

    As I’ve suggested before, this is the planet that is usable. Let’s use it. Not bail out because bad things might occur. I don’t get the enthusiasm behind building a massive space station or colony outpost on Mars or the moon so that a small fraction of humanity can supposedly “live on” indefinitely. If survival of the human race is the driving force behind these notions then spending that time, energy, money, etc right here on this planet seems the better move to me. We can be pretty certain at least that this planet will regenerate over time and be livable again. Not so much with those other places.

    Even talking about all this seems a bit goofy to me, but hey, if we’re talking all Mad Max and the like, I’m for surviving right here where we are. The Starship Enterprise version of survival holds no romance for me.

  59. Todd W.

    @mk

    So, your suggestion is to not spend any money at all on manned missions outside of our lovely little planet Earth?

  60. mk

    I’m saying NASA has bigger, better, more important space-stuff to be spending money, time and energy on. If Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson want to get some of their billionaire pals together and fund a Star Trek Enterprise or Mars/moon/Europa colony… more power to them.

  61. Todd W.

    @mk

    OK, so it’s just that NASA should not spend any resources at all investigating such scientific frontiers and it should be the sole responsibility of private investors who will likely have a primarily economic interest in it. Gotcha.

  62. mk

    OK, so you think the Federal Government and the people at NASA are pure of motive. Gotcha.

  63. Todd W.

    Not at all. There are definitely other motives involved, and I did not intend to say that science or profit are the only ones involved.

  64. mk

    I only made that comment as a reply to your snide and empty comment to me. Up to that point I felt there was at least a semi-civil conversation going on.

    Oh well…

    Til next time.

    Cheers.

  65. Todd W.

    @mk

    Apologies for the tone. I did not mean for it to be snide.

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