Obama champions science… but where's NASA?

By Phil Plait | April 27, 2009 11:02 am

I have good news — really, great news — about Obama and science. But I’ll warn you, I get a little ticked at the end here.

But first, this really is fantastic and highly encouraging news: speaking at the National Academy of Sciences today, President Obama confirmed what most of us in the reality-based community have been hoping for: a massive reinvestment in science. In his speech today, he outlines a tremendous increase in science investing by the government. It includes a doubling of the budget for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both of which are fundamental supporters of basic research in the U.S. It includes making permanent a tax credit to companies that do basic research and experimentation. It includes $150 billion over ten years to invest in sources of renewable energy and energy efficiency. And (perhaps most excitingly) it includes the creation of a new initiative: the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E.

The original ARPA (as part of the Department of Defense) helped create the Internet. So we’re talking big-time stuff here, and aimed squarely at scientific research, developing new methods of creating energy, and new ways of using it. I am completely and 100% behind an effort like this.

All in all, I feel an immense sense of relief. In his inauguration speech, Obama said he would restore science to its rightful place, something we desperately needed after eight years of the jack-booted heel that had been at science’s neck. Not only has that heel being removed, a hand is being offered to help us up.

But there is still a sense of unease I have, and it became more clear as I read the President’s speech.

NASA question

He mentions NASA several times, including how the Apollo program was our response to a huge challenge (the Soviet launch of Sputnik and the threat of an enemy’s superiority in space), how it gave us new opportunities in science and research, and how it gave our country a renewed sense of exploration.

In fact, in that speech President Obama uses NASA many times as an analogy. But what about where the rubber hits the road; how does NASA fare in this huge increase in science investment? In that speech, NASA is mentioned only once when it comes to benefits of this new resurgence in science, and only then in NASA’s ability to help investigate climate change.

While this is an important part of NASA’s mission, it’s only one part. I would say that NASA’s main goal is to explore. To push back boundaries, to see how far we can go, to see just what we can do in space. I would bet solid money that most people in this country would agree with that; the most famous and publicly-known missions are Hubble, Cassini, Apollo and the like. That’s what we see from NASA, and that’s what the public needs to see.

But there’s no mention of this in Obama’s speech. No talk of solid reinvestment in NASA’s space science, or of how it will help create the next generation of scientific exploration in astronomy, space, and aeronautics.

For sure, NASA’s budget did pretty well in both the economic stimulus package and in the federal budget. But it bugs me that Obama didn’t see fit to talk about this in his otherwise very lengthy speech. And if that seems petty of me, remember that right now NASA doesn’t have a chief Administrator! Mike Griffin left the post months ago, and Obama has not appointed a new one. Why not? If NASA is a priority in Obama’s mind, then why leave it headless for over three months?

Why pick the new White House puppy before the top dog at NASA?

That’s what concerns me, very much. Obama talks a good game, and in almost all cases he has walked the walk as well. After eight years of lies, deception, and ideologically-driven politics trumping reality pretty much every time, a President who respects and understands the importance of science is like breathing fresh air after almost a decade of living in a windowless slaughterhouse.

But still. NASA has but a handful of Shuttle launches left before the fleet is retired next year. The Ares rockets are nowhere near ready to pick up the slack, and I’m guessing (and I sincerely hope I’m wrong) that we’ll have more than a five year gap before NASA can launch humans into space again after the Shuttles shut down. Many NASA science programs are running late and over budget. Decisions need to be made, and soon, about what NASA will be doing in the coming years.

Heaping money on the space agency won’t close the rocket gap, nor will it accelerate or fix the other problems. But a NASA without a permanent chief is one that cannot make the big decisions, or at least cannot make them and expect them to stick. And while NASA is a small part of the national budget (much less than 1%), it still looms large in the future of this country; when we have to start paying the Russians to launch our payloads into space you can just bet there will be some noise made about that.

So, President Obama: I praise you on your phenomenal support of science, and your understanding that we cannot simply restore it to where it was before Bush’s Pyrrhic onslaught, but must increase its standing in our lives.

But whence NASA? When will you find the time to make sure our most famous and one of the most important agencies gets your attention, the attention it deserves and so desperately needs?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (145)

  1. Erin N.

    Obama is a dad first and foremost. I’m not a parent, but I respect that he puts his parenting up near the top of his priority list.

  2. Peter F

    Here’s a question — when/if US manned spaceflight finally winds down as the 20th Century anachronistic pipe dream that it was, will other nations still feel compelled to throw money into it, or will they give it up, too?

  3. The original ARPA … helped create the Internet.

    Nonsense. The Internet has always existed. It is the Alpha and the Omega. Through it all things are possible.

  4. Thanny

    Phil,

    It’s not that Obama hasn’t selected a new head, it’s that the Republicans are blocking his choices behind the scenes before they can even be named.

    They are causing all kinds of shenanigans by preventing the confirmation of many department heads.

  5. Egaeus

    @ Peter F

    Beg the question much?

  6. Dr. Plait, have you put in your resume for NASA chief? ;)

  7. BJN

    Meh. Obama’s multitasking well by any reasonable measure. NASA’s issues are big and I don’t think that they can all be addressed in a speech about a major shift in overall science funding.

    There are factions within and around NASA with very different viewpoints on the agency’s choices, focus and best direction and I suspect that the Obama administration is trying to assess the merits of competing strategy ideas before picking a new direction and someone to lead the agency.

    Surely you don’t suggest that it’s easier to pick an administrator and establish goals for NASA than it is to choose a family pet?

  8. From the KSC front: we’re actually ticking along fairly well right now as far as I can tell. Funding isn’t the big issue, mostly design things. Which I suppose is why there’s been some rumor of an additional ESAS study (determine which launch system is most appropriate for the future, this was done prior to starting the ARES program, but it appears it may have another look. Maybe. It’s rumor, anyway, and I’ll file it into that until I hear something more.)

    As for the administrator, it’s also been said that Lori Garver was supposed to be named sometime last week, but that she had changed her mind/declined, possibly starting this over again.

    In other words, NASA’s issues are not the the president (which is a glorious change, if you ask me. Not that the primarily republican establishment around me seems to notice.), but consequence of a variety of other forces. These things will get sorted out. Eventually. At which point I think the president will be more likely to take a concentrated approach to the NASA machine.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget ARES 1X is supposed to be this summer.

  9. Cheyenne

    I don’t have a problem with Obama taking the time to make sure the right person gets the job as NASA chief. I hope he listens to National Academy of Sciences when he makes the decision though. I really don’t want to have another Griffin in there with that old NASA mindset.

  10. mus

    Phil, how long did Obama take to get a dog? like 6 months or something crazy like that?

    I’m damn glad we have a president who takes his time and tries to get things right the first time.

    As for the other news…. WOOOOOT! I’m so bleeping happy!

    About time!!!

  11. Terry

    phil, at least you’ve got a government that supports science. up here in canada, our funding agencies have been cut down in this year’s budget (one agency cut completely). the universities are getting money to build new buildings, but no money to use to put people in those buildings.

  12. Explore what, empty space?

    Give us a break, it is the goal of science to solve problems. and trust me, you’ve got problems.

  13. Adam

    This is such great news! I just caught it on CNN and come over here to see if you had posted about it yet. Doubling the budgets is HUGE! Especially given what scientists have been able to do with the incredibly limited budgets they’ve had for nearly a decade. This is going to be a great time for Science. I have high hopes that Science once again becomes cool.

    As for NASA, I can completely understand the frustration about lack of mention, but I can also see how NASA is such a large entity, and famous enough, that it deserves its own speech, not to be mixed in with other things. I’m hoping, anyway, that this is what will happen. I feel certain he’s not neglecting the picking of a chief, just that there are political issues keeping it from happening as several others have stated. Hopefully soon we’ll hear more about NASA specifically.

    But HOORAY FOR SCIENCE!

  14. Mark

    It’s not just his position on science. President Obama has failed to follow thru on the majority of his campaign promises. I suspect more and more people will begin to notice…

    1. Transparency: Said he would post bills online for five days to allow public comment prior to signing — so far 1 for 11.

    2. No pork: Said he would not sign pork-laden bills — he signed Congress’ Omnibus spending bill which contained some 9000 earmarks (yes, only a drop in the federal budget bucket, but telling nonetheless).

    3. Out of Iraq within 16 months of swearing in: Said he would get our troops out of Iraq within 16 months of assuming office — instead, he has extended Bush’s proposed out-of-Iraq date, and doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan.

    4. No lobbyists: Said he would not appoint lobbyists to his administration — he appointed several lobbyists even before being sworn in, and only provided waivers when pressed.

    5. Renegotiate NAFTA: Promised to press North American trading partners to renegotiate NAFTA — now says he has no plans to reopen NAFTA, and is pressing congress to ratify MORE free-trade agreements (again, not a bad thing, but telling).

    6. Cut unnecessary G’ovt spending: Promised to cut taxes and promote fiscal responsibility — his budget proposal will double national debt over the next five years, and triple over the next ten (you can argue whether or not the spending was necessary, but tripling the national debt does not sound like the fiscal hawk that was Obama on the campaign trail).

    This is by no means a comprehensive list.

    DISCLAIMER: I did not vote for Obama, nor did I vote for McCain. McCain did not give the growing size of our government the level of concern I believed appropriate, and I didn’t believe Obama’s promises.

  15. Phil,

    I don’t know how much you (and your regulars) follow events at spacepolitics.com, or NASAwatch.com, but I get the impression that the holdup on NASA is in part due to certain Senators, wanting their choice. There have been many names either floated or proposed – Scott Gration, Charles Bolden, Lester Lyles, and Steve Isokawitz. From the sound of things, at one point Isakowitz was nearly picked, as was Gration. But, as I said, certain senators didn’t like either of them (Nelson in particular), and my understanding is Lester Lyles isn’t particularly interested. It has been reported that Nelson really wants Charles Bolden, but I am skeptical that Obama wants him, since he could’ve nominated him at any point.

    The current rumor is that Lori Garver is to be NASA admin, and Pete Worden will head up a panel to review Constellation – http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/04/refining-constellations-roadmap-2015-hanley-proposes-major-changes/

    Me, personally, would like to see Dr. Lennard Fisk as NASA administrator

    Peter F – Doing so would be a mistake on so many levels

  16. KC

    >it’s that the Republicans are blocking his choices

    I don’t think you can blame the GOP for that…as I’ve heard one of the people who has been blocking Obama’s choices has been Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.

  17. Mark

    mus Says: “I’m damn glad we have a president who takes his time and tries to get things right the first time.”

    You mean like the lengthy time spent debating the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009? So we could take the time to think about the legislation and write into the law rules which regulate how bailout money may be used? Rules like not using bailout funds to pay bonuses? That kind of ‘taking time to get things right the first time?’

  18. Matt

    I see two good explanations for why he doesn’t talk about NASA, and it might be a mix of both:

    1) He gets in trouble every time he brings it up. He has reversed his policy on NASA since the campaign when he said he didn’t want to increase their budget. Then he said he would, and that he was a supporter of the constellation program. He doesn’t want to be labeled as a flip-flopper. Including lengthy sections about NASA’s importance and his support for the agency does only one thing: Decrease his political capital. I honestly believe the President is not much of a NASA fan and while he is accepting that he needs to support NASA, he does so only as a strategic maneuver and somewhat grudgingly.

    This is common of many democrats. They would much rather spend that money on social programs than exploration which they perceive as having no identifiable benefits.

    2) NASA is the vice president’s purview. He may be leaving the NASA head-hunt and flowery language for Joe Biden to deliver on.

    I’m sure you know (or at least know of) Niel DeGrasse Tyson. I was watching a lecture of his on Fora.tv a month or two ago and he had some interesting points about government spending on science and how Bush was actually not too bad for Science. He claimed that funding had increased more under republicans than democrats. I had heard that before, especially around Walter Mondale and the Apollo program in the 60s. I was very surprised to hear that Bush, who is so commonly vilified for his mistreatments of science, had actually been good for science in some ways.

    Do you agree with Dr. Tyson’s assessment? I can’t say that I have followed up on the facts to see what sort of science budgets Bush increased. In what way do you feel George W Bush was bad for science? I’m asking this in a completely non-partisan apolitical way, not as a means of comment trolling

    By way of full disclosure I voted for Obama and I never voted for George W Bush.

  19. Gary

    Where’s NASA? It’s really quite simple. Everything is being co-opted for political purposes. The NASA climate change expenditures will be used to build a false case for additional governmental control and taxation of energy. Rovers and deep-space missions can’t do that so they don’t get a funding boost. Stopping thinking that this administration favors science. Evidence isn’t there.

  20. American Voyager

    Two things: First. Obama is no messiah. Many people think he is. I hope I will see good things out of him but so far it has been a mixed bag. The level of spending is enough to scare any sane person. In the end I suspect people will find he is not much different than any other polition. He made a lot of promises and very few will be kept.

    Seocnd: This has always made me scratch my head. Why does the shuttle have to be retired in 2010. Bush set that date and it has always seemed abribrary. Is there a good safety or fiscal reason why it couldn’t keep flying for several more years? We are going to be back where we were in the days between Apollo and the shuttle when we had no manned vehicle for six years. Let’s get Aries right and let’s make sure the shuttle will not kill anyone else, but at the same time, let’s be reasonable. If there is no good reason to retire early, then I say keep flying until we are close to having Aries off the ground.

  21. Rift

    And out of the woodwork comes the political loons….

    Gee, Thanks Phil. :P

  22. mus

    “You mean like the lengthy time spent debating the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009?”

    Uh… when your boat is starting to sink in the middle of the ocean, do you sit there pondering all possible scenarios and options, or do you jump on the first thing you think will float?

  23. Elmar_M

    I have very strong feelings against AresI. I think so far it has been a money dump without any results to show for it.
    I would much rather see more money go to COTS and comparable programs. NASA should also invest into a new RLV initiative. HOWEVER, they should not be responsible for design and execution. I think that it is fundamentally wrong to have NASA responsible for vehicle designs. They have proven multiple times in the last 20 years (if you count the failure that the shuttle was as a design, then even longer) that they are incapable of this job. While they have been building paper rockets, others have been building real rockets, including Japan, but also SpaceX (yeah they only had one successful launch so far, but they at least HAD ONE and for much, much less money than even the most basic designs cost at NASA).
    One needs to put this into perspective.
    NASA has proven multiple times that they are stiff and inflexible and to politically driven when it comes to designing space vehicles and space vehicle infra structures.
    Constellation once again is only putting money into the same groupe of people. It is basically a very expensive government sponsored job creation program, that does nothing to advance the US front position in space. If you ask me, it is a two steps back even.
    I would strip all the Constellation money from NASA and put it into COTS- like programs. The likelyness of a positive outcome is much higher.
    Constellation is quickly becoming a joke. Now they are considering reducing the crew number because their designs suck. They are pathetic!

  24. EJ

    Er, I think you mean “Whither NASA?”

    “Whence NASA” means “where did NASA come from”

  25. Cheyenne

    As just a second comment – of course it made sense for Obama to not mention NASA in his speech. He was talking about increasing our nation’s investment in science – that was the whole point of the speech. Since the vast majority of NASA’s budget goes to activities that produce very little to no quantifiable science at all (i.e. – the ISS, the Shuttles, etc) it would have diluted Obama’s message if he included NASA.

    He wants to push the US GDP science spend up to 3% (which would be fantastic). He knows he can’t get there if critics of such a policy can point out to blunders of government spending in that area. Make what you will of NASA and how they prioritize their budget – but let’s at least label it “exploration” and not “science” given their current priorities.

  26. American Voyager – the arguement for retiring the shuttle has to do with “certification” – Rand Simberg talks about it at http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=16160 – I don’t usually agree with Rand, but he is fairly reliable when it comes to space issues.

    However, there are other issues – NASA has been closing down supply lines, in preparations for a “shuttle replacement”, and restarting those supply lines is going to be very costly.

    However, I would submit that there actually IS a manned spacecraft, that can be ready in a much shorter time than the 6 years being talked about for Ares and Orion – the SpaceX Dragon and Falcon 9. Its time to fund and exercise COTS D

  27. RL

    @mus

    If it really was a boat, that might be true, but it’s not. No one in Congress or the White House read that bill before it was signed let alone voted on. Kinda strange since most of the spending hits further out than advertised. The big rush was politics, not economics. Then everyone is shocked that Sen Dodd slips in language allowing bonuses to AIG. Surprise. So much for allowing bills to be read online at least five days in advance. So far he’s 1 for 11 in that dept. More money for NASA is good. Without leadership, though, it may be a waste.

  28. Right now, NASA is a little toxic. One of the interesting parts of populism on the rise is it’s sudden backlash at certain scientific endeavors. You’ll have people saying: “You want to use my money for WHAT?!?!?! I can’t pay my mortgage but you’re spending a couple billion bucks to send a robot into space?!?!?!” In a time of financial uncertainty people tend to focus on their immediate needs. They don’t care about space travel or space exploration or any of that. They want to know what’s in it for them and how government spending will help them out.

    And do I even need to mention how John McCain and his fellows would hit the ceiling and exploit this into a potential scandal? They tried to make teaching kids about astronomy tantamount to building another Bridge to Nowhere! To start devoting billions to space risks ire that Obama just isn’t willing to face.

    I should also mention the fact that NASA and Congress have very different cultures and that huge culture clash adds quite a bit to the space agency’s trouble.

  29. RL

    What is Bush’s Pyrrhic onslaught?

  30. Ian

    Jesus fracking imaginary sky-man, can we not make this another damned rant about Obama and his failure to walk on water for the disillusioned lefty nut squad or how he is a psycho socialist according to the wing-nut crazy brigades?

  31. EJ

    Explore what, empty space?

    Give us a break, it is the goal of science to solve problems. and trust me, you’ve got problems.

    I’ve no idea why this made me laugh as hard as it did. I guess I just have an idiotic sense of humor.

  32. I can’t help but just straight up laugh at some people in here. NASA’s budget was increased, and it got a bump from the stimulus package on top of that.

    As far as the “NASA != science” people, we do most certainly do science. It’s just not as much since the budget has been trimmed back over and over again till it’s barely enough to sustain the basic activities required. ISS is the perfect example of this: we built this amazing science platform in space, stocked it with astronauts and possibilities. When it came time to pony up the money to really use the thing, there was none. All redirected at following the law put in place by Bush’s “vision for space exploration,” when he failed to fund the project he had required. Leaving NASA to foot the bill by hacking up anything left that wasn’t 100% necessary.

    One of NASA’s biggest problems is that it’s used as a political pawn. It’s to politician’s benefit that people think it costs a fortune. It still stands that we’re relatively dirt cheap, and return more than we cost.

  33. Ismael

    It’s good you have people like Rift, breathing all your air, and sitting on the fence making no points whatsoever, “Golly! Look! It’s science!”

    It’s good you have people like Obama, to distract you from the real plot, smile pretty, hide the strings, and those that pull them.

    It’s great that you’re all over the world talking, talking, talking, and doing nothing- it gives us lots of time to finish our plans.

    Thank you! This has been educational for my species.

  34. SLC

    I say appoint Bob Park as NASA director who will cut the money wasting manned space program down to size. NASA doesn’t need more money, it needs to stop flushing money down the manned space toilet.

  35. Cheyenne

    @Spiv – Since you work there and know a lot about NASA do you have any recommendations where people like me can go to read about the science contributions that the manned program has made in the last decade? The hard science I mean, the discoveries that we have made (and that only could have been made) by putting people into space. I hear a lot about “there are some really interesting things that we think will lead to….” blah blah blah but I’m having a hard time tracking down what the manned program has actually contributed to science in the past decade or so.

    Given that we are spending multiples of billions of dollars on manned missions NASA should be able to very easily point out all of the wonderful discoveries it has made. The ISS is, afterall, the most expensive single “science” project ever undertaken.

  36. WATCH OUT FOR APRIL 29TH!

  37. Rift

    Thank you for proving my point Ismael.

    Or did you have a point besides sidetracking this thread into areas that have nothing to do with Phil’s orginal post?

    i’m not a fence sitter, I just don’t want to read a ton of comments, rants, about why obama didn’t/hasn’t done this or that, that has nothing to do with phil’s post.

    Again, you prove my point, Ismael, thank you.LOL

    Let’s see, we’ve already had Iraq mentioned, that NASA only explores empty space, that we all think obama can walk on water, and that i breath air…

    Oh and that somehow we are furthering Ismael’s plans for world domination… While we plan to do nothing with the money thrown at science but waste it…

  38. Oh, and don’t worry about NASA dissolving, ESA and others will replace it!

    esa logo Pictures, Images and Photos

  39. coolstar

    Regardless of what people like Spiv say, NASA really does very little science now, as Cheyenne has rightly pointed out. At least very little science compared to all its OTHER missions. There ARE good reasons for a manned space program, but doing science pretty obviously isn’t one of them. IF the ISS and Shuttles are such wonderful places to do science then why haven’t various industries built their own? For the same reason most industrial concerns have stopped even flying science missions on the shuttle: it’s a waste of money. There are much better and very much cheaper ways to get the science done, plain and simple. As other posters have pointed out, there are lots of reasons, mostly political, why the President hasn’t appointed a new NASA chief administrator yet. Frankly, I can’t see where the lack of an administrator has harmed NASA in the least, during this time. And Griffin was actually a pretty good head of NASA, comparatively speaking (of course, he was politically tone deaf to a really astonishing degree for someone who’s spent his entire career in large bureacracies).

  40. “where did NASA come from”

    The Internet! See my last post. ^_^

  41. XMark

    I’m wondering, where exactly does SpaceX stand in readiness to bring things up to orbit? I heard they can reduce rocket launch costs a lot, but I’m not sure how far along they are, or even if they’re likely to be successful with it. I know they got the Falcon 1 up into orbit successfully, and they’re planning the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 some time this year, but that’s about all I know.

  42. Charles Boyer

    “I don’t think you can blame the GOP for that…as I’ve heard one of the people who has been blocking Obama’s choices has been Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.”

    Nelson is protecting his own skin, because Florida is a 50/50 state and the I-4 corridor is where the split between the Democratic and Republican concentrations are.

    I-4, if you do not know the state, is roughly 45 miles north of Kennedy Space Center.

    Lose a lot of jobs by cutting NASA’s budget and Nelson will probably be evicted from office.

    Lose a lot of jobs by cutting NASA’s budget and that president can probably kiss Florida and its 27 electoral votes away.

    You may think that overall to the residents of the state that KSC and Brevard County may not be the most important issue and you would be right. However in a state with such a tight split between the two major parties, small areas become major factions in swing vote issues. One area where this happens is in our foreign policy with Cuba and the response to it that the Cuban immigrants down south have. Another one is the aerospace and NASA associated jobs that are in Brevard, one of Florida’s largest counties.

    So Obama had better tread very carefully where NASA is concerned. If he fails to live up to the promises he made in Titusville last fall, he will certainly pay for it in 2012 and he will have a much harder time winning a key state in electoral college politics.

  43. I think it’s pretty clear from the remarks that while President Obama had a lot of nice things to day about how NASA embodied our response to the crisis posed by Sputnik, the context of his renewed emphasis on science is a response to the energy and environmental crises. NASA’s core mission doesn’t address either of these crises directly, so the speech only mentions NASA peripherally.
    I would look for an address at NASA HQ, probably when the new administrator is installed in the next few months, for more substantive comments regarding NASA’s funding and mission.

  44. On the one hand, there is a great deal wrong with NASA as an Agency.
    On the other hand, NASA has been painted into a corner by forces beyond its control, and not by internal decisions. NASA has virtually zero degrees of freedom to make internal policy decisions. Policy decisions are strictly forced on NASA by Congress and the Administration: scrapping the Saturn, no Skylab, Shuttle, ISS, dropping investment in science and technology, turning away from a commitment to innovation, staying with outmoded, expensive, dangerous, and unsustainable technology.
    In a new Administration, with new policies and new investment priorities, NASA could easily become the force for innovation that it used to be.
    But first, we have to re-think the cliques and self-advocacy groups that have gradually evolved. Each of these interest groups has become more and more isolated and self-serving in the harsh, earmark-oriented, survival-of-the-politically-fittest environment that NASA has become. Sub-groups of space and Earth science, sub-groups of aerospace engineering, inflexible visionaries, inflexible reactionaries, individual NASA Centers and their local dependents, on and on: “What’s in it for ME?”
    Ask not what NASA can provide to your friends and family, ask what NASA can do for the new Administration, its new policies, and new, innovative directions for the U.S. NASA can do a lot, but only by re-invention and re-investment, not by circling the wagons and clinging to the past.

  45. XMARK – the easiest thing to do is to check the SpaceX website. My take on SpaceX right now – we’ll learn a lot after the launch of Falcon 9. On paper, they look good, and they have bent substantial metal, but, in a lot of respect, rocket operations are a bit of an art.

    As to the how “NASA does/does not do science” and “manned spaceflight is/is not scientific” – I am with coolstar. We need to have a public debate about space development, as opposed to science vs exploration.

  46. I like what I see so far but i do agree, we need a new head of Nasa and we need that ASAP.

    I’m not concerned about a 5 year gap, it may be the best time ever to be subtle about where billions are being spent to let the economy recover. I’d imagine 5 years from now we may be able to look back and say “See, what we did? We didn’t let fear win and we took the bull by the horns and recovered” and then not only say that but sick back and watch mans foray into space be reinvigorated with potential missions to the moon and beyond.

    America is strong when we commit to what we do. If we don’t commit 100% then it won’t happen. I believe Obama knows that in his heart and he has to get NASA under his wing before he can commit America to it.

    I’m sure he wishes he could commit more resources to every science and educational program but he has the house and senate to deal with and as stated above a re-election to be mindfull of. A second term would be something to bite the bullet and take a risk on.

  47. Ben

    Obama will invest in NASA when the terrorists that live on the Sun motivate themselves enough to throw the next X-class solar flare at us and fry our entire electrical infrastructure.

    Right now, the roof’s not leaking, and he’s not inclined to climb up there and fix it.

    But dey rain, she is comin, you mark my word.

  48. JoeSmithCA

    Oft to opin
    Oft to suggest
    Oft to complain
    but nary a thing to do

  49. Rob G.

    Maybe this guy would make a good candidate for NASA’s chief administrator?

    http://www.universetoday.com/2009/04/26/model-saturn-v-rocket-launch-a-success/

  50. Rift

    Science vs. Exploration???

    You’re kidding right?

    Exploration IS science.

    Right now we largely have information on ONE planet. A single point on a graph makes a lousy way to make predictions about planets. Global warming research would get a huge boost in the arm by studying Mars, Venus, and the exo-stellar planets more closely.

    And while unmanned missions are useful, there are certain things only man can do in space. it’s not ‘anachronistic pipe dream’.

    As others have pointed out politics have waylaid the shuttle and the space station. The orginal plans for the shuttle (although i doubt many of you are old enough to remember) wer MUCH safer then what was designed, but congress cut NASA’s budget after apollo and we got what we got. I blame Congress for the lost of both Challenger and Columbia, we would have had a safer vehicle if they had given NASA just a tiny bit more money. And without those two diasters, the ISS would be doing a lot more science.

    Don’t give me hogwash about NASA not doing any ‘real’ science, since they are the ones that wanted to put more satellites up to research global warming and that got nixed by the bush administration.

    And Hubble makes amazing discoveries everyday. Opportunity and Spirit STILL are, Cassini and Galelio did amazing things, as are the other mars probes.

    Nasa does precious little science my grandmother’s left foot.

    Political grandstanding and anti-tax rhetoric since you’d rather have your HD TVs and Blu-ray players then spend money to help society LEARN more about the universe. Selfish, selfish people.

    The fact these people against spending tax money on astronomy and space are reading an astronomy blog boggles my mind.

    As for why private enterprise isn’t launching things, getting into space is expensive, only a large governmental agency can do it. Not because there’s no money in it, because they can’t afford to even get off the ground.

  51. MadScientist

    NASA is meant to explore? I haven’t heard that since the days of Wehrner von Braun.

    How about the USGS (which I think is still part of the USDoC) you know, to do something called “volcano monitoring”.

    Manned space exploration has always had its problems – chiefly “we think we have better things to do with this money”. Personally I’m all for space toys, but I wouldn’t be a big supporter of human exploration of space.

  52. tw

    Bah…

    Obama talking about science…Ill wait until he DOES something.

    Anybody remember him giving a nice speech about stem cell research and lifting the ban on federal funding?

    Then 3 days later BAM he signs a law banning federal funding.

    Dont trust what a politician says, look at what they do…

    in other words be skeptical.

  53. dhtroy

    Show’s you what you know Phil … the reason a new head hasn’t been chosen for NASA is because our Alien Overlords haven’t been able to make up their mind.

    Last I heard, it was a toss-up between OctoMom or Michel Jackson.

    Oh COME ON … you just know those two couldn’t possibly be human!

    :p

  54. Cheyenne

    @Rift – You kind of missed the point there. I don’t think anybody that reads this blog has a problem with doing non-manned missions in space (and are probably- like me, huge supporters of it). It makes sense and has tangible benefits. It has a high return on investment. The criticism is aimed solely at the manned program.

  55. Elmar_M

    On SpaceX, in contrast to NASAs Constellation, they at least do already have flight testing hardware. One needs to add to this that they have done that for a fraction of the budget that NASA has spent on Constellation so far. Sure, they might fail at their first launch, but even if it takes Falcon 9 a few attempts until it succeeds it will have cost only a fraction of what Constellation has cost already (!) and there is no flightworthy hardware for Constellation to see anywhere (the X vehicle does not count as it has almost nothing in common with Ares1).

    The shuttle was a compromise and not because of a lack of money, nono! It was ruined by political decisions and the requirement to have an RLV NOW without intermediate steps on the way.
    It was also built to fullfill to many tasks at once. It was built to be a passenger, and a cargo vehicle and even act as a sort of space station. And then the military came in and required more downrange so it could be used for military missions and black ops (those required that the shuttle would always be able to land on a “friendly” airport). All these led to design compromises and a vehicle that operates at its limits. It is a miracle that it ever came to happen, but we could have had a fleet of specialized vehicles for each task for much less money, if some decisions had been made differently.

    Then NASA showed again bad judgement when they cancelled the DC- X/Y project (Clipper Graham) in favor of Lockmarts X33. The X33 was again over designed and to ambitious. Some things simply became requirements for the sake of it (why did it have to be a composite tank if the aluminum tank was better an lighter?).
    Anyway, it was again cancelled after massive budget overruns and wasteful spending. Lockmart also (as so often) failed to deliver on their own promises. They overran costs multiple times and we are not talking small money here either.

    The Constellation project just is the next in this line of failures. It is in many way designed by politics instead of reason (e.g. to keep certain parts of the country busy, right Jeb?). The design process was wrong. NASA engineers and alternative solutions were ignored in favor of the agenda of Griffin and some others. It is not going to lead to a sustainable space infrastructure either. It is another one shot at the moon project, if it will ever get there anyway.
    It is a failure in all aspects and should have been cancelled years ago.

    Meanwhile the small contractors that were meant as a sideshow and are stealing NASAs show.
    I say: Take the Constellation money and invest it into COTS like programs. There is clearly a lot of potential in those. Besides the two contractors chosen in the end (orbital and SpaceX) there were many others, that demonstrated interesting technology and developed creative solutions. Lots of innovation happened there (IMHO the two finalists were among the most conservative solutions and they already bring a real cost improvement).
    So why not do that? Instead NASA is whining “we need more money to throw at a project that is beyond saving”.
    The money is not the problem, the management is!

  56. Rob_E

    I don’t know much about the politics of budgeting or who’s up to what shenanigans in Congress.

    But it’s probably easier to pick a family dog in an afternoon than it is to choose a qualified NASA administrator. You may have to cut the Prez a little slack, he has a lot on his plate.

  57. Radwaste

    “And (perhaps most excitingly) it includes the creation of a new initiative: the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E.”

    This would be the same Federal government that established the Department of Energy. Hey, I work for a contractor thereof, and I can’t figure out what they do. They haven’t generated an erg of energy.

    You can make noise about this or that President, but it remains that funding is the Constitutional duty of Congress. You should repeat that out loud a few times, everybody.

  58. Radwaste is the first to inject some sanity in the this thread.

    It is silly to hear either side of this discussion argue about what the former or current president will add or take away from the budget when all they can do is either sign or reject the budget submitted by Congress.

    I don’t remember anyone yelling about a lack of “science funding” when the Democrats controlled congress.

  59. Cody

    Comment on Erin “Obama is a dad first and foremost. I’m not a parent, but I respect that he puts his parenting up near the top of his priority list.”

    I respect that he is a good parent, but when you are elected to be the President of the United States you are not being elected so that you can take better care of your family. NO! You are elected to lead the Nation. As a president you take care of the Nation first and then your family. BUT when you take care of the Nation first you will most likely take care of your family indirectly. As passing laws and such that will keep not only your family safe but the whole Nation.

    AND ABOUT NASA NOW.

    I’ve lived in Florida all of my life and I have seen countless shuttle launches FROM MY FRONTYARD. I live over 40 miles away from the Cape. I have to tell you that when I see the shuttle skyrocketing towards space I feel inspired. I know im not the only one who feels that way. IF you live in Florida you would understand. Apart from the great achievements that have already been made and will be made by space exploration by NASA, NASA also instills inspiration and sheds new light on the people of this great Nation.

    U.S.A

  60. Charles Boyer

    “On SpaceX, in contrast to NASAs Constellation, they at least do already have flight testing hardware. ”

    The Ares 1-X test flight currently scheduled for this summer from Pad 39B won’t be using flight testing hardware?

    What will they use then?

  61. Mark Sletten

    Radwaste Says: “…it remains that funding is the Constitutional duty of Congress.”

    Actually, it’s the duty of Congress to write laws (the President has veto powers over proposed laws). Also given to Congress is the duty to appropriate funds — taxes and such.

    It’s the President’s job to enforce the laws. Also given to the President is the duty to write the budget (Congress is given veto power over the budget).

    Funding NASA is clearly a Presidential function — whether we have the money or not apparently.

  62. The Other David M.

    I’d be more than happy to see Obama greatly increase NASA’s non-manned flight missions. You know, the ones that are actually doing exploration and science. The same ones that are being cut so that we can build Ares…

    When NASA makes science a priority, then they can get priority in science budgets.

  63. Mike K

    NASA could go a lot farther on their existing budget if they’d focus on real science instead of manned missions, which are great for the imagination but very poor for doing exploration and discovery in outer space. NASA’s unmanned missions over the last several decades have cost a tiny, tiny fraction of the amount spent on sending men to the Moon, the ISS and up in the shuttle, while returning to us 99% of the great science done in space.

    I sympathize with your position, Phil, I really do. But I wish you would speak to this seriously sometime. What is the ultimate point of sending men into space? It’s not like we can really go much of anywhere out there anyway. Imagine getting so much more science done without increasing the budget at all – just fund unmanned missions!

    Until NASA’s focus changes to real science (which, when they set their minds to it, they do better than anyone), I simply can’t support the obscene amounts of funding we give them for pointless manned missions that accomplish close to nothing. Brave men and women, all of them, but it’s theater – period. Nothing more. And it’s the most expensive theater I’ve ever seen.

  64. Daniel Hawkins

    @Radwaste, @Tman

    Coming off of what Mark Sletten said, pretending that the executive branch doesn’t have an enormous impact on what gets funded, and how those funds are implemented, is quite ignorant. And while the President himself doesn’t have much direct control, (no one individual does), his appointments and broad directives have far-reaching consequences.

    In regards to the funding of NASA, I honestly don’t think NASA deserves very much right now – even for unmanned flights. While I am hopeful that we will establish permanent human settlements elsewhere in the solar system, there are many technological hurdles that aren’t the kind that can be solved by NASA engineers. It makes the most sense to me to focus on basic research into new materials and new sources of energy, which will then enable NASA to develop new approaches to space exploration that aren’t even being imagined today.

    I realize that NASA does do this kind of research, but unfortunately its relatively narrow focus limits the kinds of questions that are asked. Breakthroughs are unpredictable, and the next big one in space exploration might be an unanticipated side benefit from research into say, geothermal energy.

    The point is that some time in the future, going into space will be several orders of magnitude less expensive. Why waste money now on dead-end technologies, when it could be better spent funding basic science research at universities, which would bring us closer to the days of easy access to space?

    Should we continue to fund NASA? Yes. Should we significantly increase its budget? Not yet.

  65. Charles Boyer:
    “The Ares 1-X test flight currently scheduled for this summer from Pad 39B won’t be using flight testing hardware?”
    Only first stage. Rest is dummy. And even this first stage is fake – it is 4-segment with dummy fifth segment, not planned real 5-segment 1st stage. Usefullness of this test is at best very dubious.

    “What will they use then?”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ares_I-X

    * First stage: live, four-segment solid rocket RSRB
    * Second stage: dummy (future upper stage, J-2X motor)
    * Third stage: dummy (future instrument package)
    * Fourth stage: Orion Boilerplate with Launch Abort System (LAS)

  66. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The Ares 1-X test flight currently scheduled for this summer from Pad 39B won’t be using flight testing hardware?

    Aren’t you discussing cross-purposes? In the same paragraph: “the X vehicle does not count as it has almost nothing in common with Ares1″.

    So please tell a curious outsider, what are they testing if Ares 1-X isn’t like Ares1? (Except for the launch pad, I assume. :-) )

  67. The Other David M & Rift (and everyone else)

    we need to have a discussion. This may seem crazy talk, but its not
    sceince does not necessarily mean exploration, and exploration does not necessarily mean science

    I know that may seem crazy, but there are many forms of exploration – artistic, spiritual, sociological, and yes, even science. So human spaceflight can be substantial exploration, and minimal science.

    However, I personally tend to avoid the word exploration, as it doesn’t really have a good definition. I prefer development, because that is the point of human spaceflight – long term space development moving towards a spacefaring society.

  68. Grand Lunar

    I’m hoping good progress will result from the increased funding.

    I say be patient when it comes to the new NASA chief admin; one way or another, one will be instated.
    The real concern will be what direction NASA will go when the new admin steps in.

    I agree with other that mention a point that’s been addressed on this blog once before; NASA needs new mentality.

    Incidently, I’d rather NASA had gone with a program like Direct 2.0 rather than the current Ares. It seems a smarter design, and less expensive to develope.

  69. mk

    @Ferris…

    What precisely would a “spacefaring society” look like?

  70. Nigel Depledge

    BJN said:

    Surely you don’t suggest that it’s easier to pick an administrator and establish goals for NASA than it is to choose a family pet?

    What, you mean the two use different processes and criteria?? ;-)

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Thomas Lee Elifritz said:

    Explore what, empty space?

    Well, if we can ever find any empty space, sure.

    First, define “empty”.

  72. Charles Boyer

    “So please tell a curious outsider, what are they testing if Ares 1-X isn’t like Ares1? (Except for the launch pad, I assume. :-) )”

    The test launch this summer will be a critical test using a suborbital flight profile of the actual first stage design minus the final of the Ares 1 with a dummy second stage and payload. Its goal is to determine the severity of pogo issues among others.

    From NASA:

    The Ares I-X flight will provide NASA an early
    opportunity to test and prove hardware,
    facilities and ground operations associated
    with the Ares I crew launch vehicle. The test
    also will allow NASA to gather critical data
    during ascent of the integrated stack, which
    includes the Ares I vehicle with a simulated
    upper stage and the Orion crew module and
    launch abort system. Data collected will
    begin to confirm the vehicle as a whole is safe
    and stable in flight before astronauts begin
    traveling into orbit.

    The Ares I-X test is part of a larger flight test
    program that will include five tests of the
    Orion launch abort system between 2008 and
    2011, a follow-on Ares I-Y test in 2012, and an
    integrated test of both the launch vehicle and
    spacecraft, called Orion 1, in early 2013.

    While I am not a big fan of the Ares 1 (I prefer the EELV, which is a proven system that would need fewer modifications than either Ares or Direct) I agree with their test plan as being rather reasonable.

  73. Charles Boyer

    ahem, “minus the final ” is “minus the final stack”

    time for an edit function, n’est c;est pas?

  74. Asimov Fan

    @ mk Says: (April 28th, 2009 at 6:08 am)

    @Ferris… What precisely would a “spacefaring society” look like?

    Don’t you read any science fction at all then? You need to! ;-)

  75. mk

    Heh-heh… science fiction indeed.

  76. Asimov Fan

    The Bad Astronomer wrote :

    While this is an important part of NASA’s mission, it’s only one part. I would say that NASA’s main goal is to explore. To push back boundaries, to see how far we can go, to see just what we can do in space. I would bet solid money that most people in this country would agree with that; the most famous and publicly-known missions are Hubble, Cassini, Apollo and the like. That’s what we see from NASA, and that’s what the public needs to see.

    But there’s no mention of this in Obama’s speech. No talk of solid reinvestment in NASA’s space science, or of how it will help create the next generation of scientific exploration in astronomy, space, and aeronautics.

    I’m with you there. Well said. :-)

    A few people have talked here about exploration and science – they are certainly linked in my view – exploration is about going further and making new discoveries that we didn’t know before. Science is pretty much the same with perhaps a little more emphasis on the understanding than the adventuring.

    I consider some of the greatest explorers in history to include both Magellans – the man Ferdinand who circumnavigated the globe* and also the robot that mapped Venus and revaeled its hidden surface. I think the Voyager and the Hubble Space Telescope rank – along with Aldrin & Armstrong, Jim Lovell and John Glenn, – among the greatest and most accomplished explorers in human history.

    I think what they’ve done -& are still doing – matters.

    I do NOT think we have to look at things in an either / or way.

    Manned spaceflight versus robotic probes?
    Why choose just one – we can & should have BOTH! 8)

    Government funded space explorers or private space explorers? (which lets not forget have yet to really get off the ground excepting only space tourists on govt. programmed flights, btw.)

    Again, why not BOTH? ;-)

    Friendly space rivalry to be first to land humans on Mars or colonise the Moon or a co-operative approach where two -or more nations- join together and share the glory learning about getting on along the way?

    Guess what – both are possible again! :-)

    As for all the criticism directed at NASA by some here – talk about ingratitude & overlooking the many superb things NASA has done for everyone! :-(

    Astronomers – anyone who even likes astronomy – owes NASA an unpayable debt for the HST alone – not to mention the Voyagers, the Mars rovers, the Apollo program, the previous robots that also landed on the Moon (who recalls their names? ;-) ) Magellan, MESSENGER, Stardust, Genesis, the International Space Station, the Mariners, the Vikings, et cetera, etc ..

    Really people, before you start tearing NASA down and abusing them you might want to stop and think about all they’ve actually done – most of which is far beyond what any other group – nation or company could or has ever manage(d).

    I hope Obama does have something good NASA-wise planned which will be announced later. I understadn formsomething ireadsomewhere that he’s a bit of a ‘Star Trek’ buff .. ;-)

    If any group will get us “to boldly go” NASA will.
    They’ve already demonstrated that.

    —-

    * Minor technical point that I’ll make before anyone else : Yes, Magellan (Ferdinand that is) died halfway round his great voyage -and lost five (?) of his ships and most of his men. A handful of surviving crew in one leaky, battered boat made it back to their home port. We still remember them & their achievement today. Even if we do keep latinising his name from the original Portugese; Magelhaen. How many others, how much about the politics and economy of that age can we name? I think exploration, space means a lot more than well much else in a human instinctual, semi-intangible, powerful way. It matters to me & many, many others.

    Then when you think about the breath-taking hardships the old explorers had to endure – look up the stories of Scott, Magellan, Robert O’hara Burke & William Wills, Rene Caille, Earnest Shackleton, Livingstone & so many more & then think of what we could do if we had the will and courage and determination instead of bickering about money and politics …

    We are being well and truly put to shame by our ancestors. We have the ability to go so many places, achieve such things and yet seem to just lack the gumption. :-(

  77. Asimov Fan

    @ Mk :

    “Heh-heh… science fiction indeed.”

    You say that like its bad thing. :roll:

    Its not.

    Not in my view & not when you consider some of the things SF has predicted and imagined and inspired.

    I suggest you read and think a bit more.

  78. Asimov Fan

    My suggestion for the NASA top dog?

    If he’s interested, I think we could do a lot worse than get John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, into that job. An inspirational man who had – & may well still have – that “right stuff.” ;-)

  79. Charles Boyer

    @Asimov Fan: “Manned spaceflight versus robotic probes?
    Why choose just one – we can & should have BOTH!”

    Precisely.

  80. StevoR-Correcting

    @ Charles Boyer Says:

    time for an edit function, n’est c;est pas?

    ABSOLUTELY!

    Overdue in fact. :-(

    Come on please Bad Astronomer, it can’t be that to enable us to edit ourposts hercan it surely? Other blogs from years ago gave us that option -why can’t we have it here?

    Please, Dr Phillip Plait, please. Edit or at least preview capability would make this alreday great blog so much better still.

  81. StevoR-Correcting

    Make that :

    Come on please Bad Astronomer, it can’t be that * hard * to enable us to edit our posts here can it surely?

    Other blogs from years ago gave us that option – why can’t we have it here?

    Please BA, I’m begging you. Pretty please with Eta Carinae going supernova on top?

    ***

    I rest my case.

    ….. Until the next stuff-up. Sigh ;-(

  82. Flying sardines

    John Glenn or maybe Buzz Aldrin or possibly another of the original Mercury-Apollo era astronauts may make a good choice for NASA chief, yeah.

    After all, they’ve had to deal with immense public pressure as both astronauts and later with public attention and politics. They’d certainly have any different perspectives and, you’d think, the real passion and care about the agency.

    That might be worth a try if Obama happens to be reading this blog! ;-)

    Has any astronaut actually headed NASA before?

  83. Partition

    “And out of the woodwork comes the political loons…”

    Translation: “I have no real counterarguments, so I’ll just make grade school insults because, you know, my precious, precious ideology is the ONLY POSSIBLE ANSWER to the world’s issues.”

  84. I think people, as counterpoint to Phil’s argument, should read Miles O’Brien at True/Slant:

    http://trueslant.com/milesobrien/2009/04/27/first-dog-trumps-final-fronter/

    @Cheyenne and others

    The manned program is and does real science, you just don’t see it here and it doesn’t get as much press. NASA does a pretty good job of getting word out about space derived tech (which some call Space 2.0), but I find it’s a little lacking with science done on the shuttle and ISS because its not as flashy as a space telescope image or as popular to report on in blogs or print media.

    I’d really recommend Jeff Foust’s site Space Today (spacetoday.net). It has a ood chunk of the day’s space news. For instance, if you had gone over there on various days you would have found links to:

    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/04/14/salmonella-vaccine.html (From recent ISS work. Salmonella studies alone have led to 162 science papers)

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-moondust23-2009apr23,0,7982956.story (From Apollo)

    Space Today does not have all of the news, and manned studies are not very common, but the stories are there ans science is being done.

    Check out this series of videos astronaut Don Pettit created on his off times at the station:
    http://www.sciencefriday.com/videos/series/4/

  85. To answer those who are wondering about what a spacefaring society looks like – In a submission to the transition team that I helped with, we defined it as:

    A truly spacefaring society embraces a much grander scope of space activity than currently exists:

    • Ease of Travel: A spacefaring society has the capability to transport large numbers of people, goods, and materials to and from the earth’s surface, and between various in-space destinations, in a much safer, more frequent, and substantially more affordable manner than is current available.

    • Personal Accessibility: In a spacefaring society, average people, not just the wealthy or highly trained astronauts can travel, work, and live in space. Such a society entails large numbers of people—eventually thousands—not just visiting space briefly, but actually living there, working, and raising families.

    • Resource Utilization: A spacefaring society uses off-world resources and the characteristics of the space environment to provide materials, products, and services for the economic and social benefit of both earth-side and in-space communities.

    • Off-world “Local” Economies: As our nation becomes a spacefaring society, “local” in-space markets will be developed and strengthened, providing a more robust and diverse space economy, which will provide more benefits earth-side as well.

  86. BTW, for those wondering about having an astronaut NASA admin – we did that from 1989 to 1992, with Richard Truly.

    It was a rather mixed bag, and I am not certain someone like Glenn or Buzz would do well with it.

    What you really need is a political manager. (which is why I like Len Fisk)

  87. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Hey, wasn’t there a thread or post some time ago here – by the BA – announcing the new NASA boss? I thought it had been made official on this man’s wikipedia page an’ all … ;-)

    Plus before that wasn’t there a web poll on who should be the next NASA administrator wuith a corresponding BA blog article & thread?

    Anyone else remember that?

    I thought it had all been done – signed, sealed and certified and now I find it wasn’t …

  88. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ Ferris Valyn :

    BTW, for those wondering about having an astronaut NASA admin – we did that from 1989 to 1992, with Richard Truly.

    Who? Sorry but that name is a complete blank for me – as NASA boss & astronaut. Shuttle crew member I presume?

    (I’ll have to go & wiki the name after writing this.)

    It was a rather mixed bag, and I am not certain someone like Glenn or Buzz would do well with it.

    John Glenn was a politican (senator /congress critter) for many years – he even ran for the US presidency.

    Buzz Aldrin, I think, runs a space advocacy group.

    If I recall right, I think on that poll mentioned, Sally Ride’s name came up as a possible candidate too … (First female American in space.)

    What you really need is a political manager. (which is why I like Len Fisk)

    Again, I haven’t heard of Len Fisk. Generally, politicans & political managers hardly “float my boat” or strike me as having the right inspiration, passion and background for this job – but that’s me.

    Be interesting to see what Robert Zubrin would do – he seems to have a good Mars mission planned.

    My other prefered candidate would be Alan Stern of Plutonian ‘New Horizons’ mission & Edgeworth-Kuiper belt fame.

    Historically, the best NASA admin’s were Werner Von Braun and James Webb right?

  89. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Whoever’s in charge I think they need :

    1) Real vision and the drive and focus and “Ooomph” tomake it happen.

    2) Proper funding & this menas say as much as wasted on Iraq. Or as is watsed now in funding Israel. (Hey, if we can throw away the money invading other countries, then surely we can put it to better use “invading” space!)

    3) A firm deadlien and focus on aspecific goal or set of two or three goals – ten years time we’llbe on Mars or have afunctuioning Lunar Colony and Farside telescope etc … Because we seme toneed deadlines toget anything done -look at Apollo done with its deadline and other things (shuttle, ISS) done without.

    All In My Humble Opinion Naturally.

  90. Plutonium being from Pluto

    TAKE II :

    Whoever’s in charge I think they need :

    1) Real vision
    and the drive and focus and “Ooomph” to make it happen.

    2) Proper funding & this means, say, as much $ as has been wasted on Iraq. Or as is wasted now & has been in the past in funding Israel.

    Hey, if we can throw away the money invading other countries, then surely we can put it to better use “invading” space!

    3) A firm deadline and focus on a specific goal or set of two or three goals – eg. in ten years time (“before this decade is out”) we *WILL* be on Mars & / or (preferably ‘and’!) have a functioning Lunar Colony and Farside telescope etc …

    …Because we seem to need deadlines to get anything done in this area – compare Apollo done with its deadline and other things (shuttle, ISS) done without.

    All In My Humble Opinion Naturally.

  91. Plutonium – there have been a few announcements, but nothing was ever confirmed, and since then most of the people under discussion have since either been appointed elsewhere, or have said they dont’ want it.

    Concerning Senator John Glenn – personally, I would be surprised if he really wanted to put in the kind of time needed to be NASA admin (no offense, but he is 87).

    Concerning Dr. Aldrin- doing space advocacy is not the same thing as managing an agency like NASA, with competing interests, hostile members of congress, and being responsible for the myrid of projects – its not all just moonbases and Hubble.

    I will also admit a concern with any and all potentail astronauts – I worry taht there will be an attempt to preserve the astronaut mythos, at the expense of real space development (in particular when it comes to things like Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures, and the like). NASA needs to embrace the idea of real space development, including things like space tourism.

    Concernign the best NASA admin – first, von Braun was never a NASA admin. So discount him. As for Webb – yea, he is regarded as one of the best, if not the best. However, its important to remember – his training was not as a scietntist or engineer, but as a lawyer.

    Concerning the issue of political managers not being inspirational – frankly, being inspiring isn’t nearly enough. Having a vision is great – lots of people have it – the issue is taking that vision, and turning it into reality. This is what separates visionaries from revolutionaries, and arguably someone like Bob zubrin is a great example – While his Mars Direct proposal has been quite revolutionary, there is good evidence that he doesn’t necessarily play well with others, and that would really hurt NASA – again, managerial and organizational skills are key.

    BTW, concerning Dr. Lennard Fisk – He had Dr. Stern’s job back in the 80s – you can read more about him at http://aoss.engin.umich.edu/people/lafisk

  92. Ken

    I really think we need to not only be funding unmanned science missions, but manned missions as well. Even if the astronauts do little more than go up, tinker with ISS for a while, and come back down *it’s still valuable!*

    Manned space flight today is hideously expensive and very dangerous. The only way that will change, though, is to DO it until we’re good at it. That means costly mistakes will be made, both in $$ and lives. But I don’t see any other way. Manned spaceflight is very different from robotic missions, experience in the latter doesn’t necessarily help in the former.
    Building different designs, trying them, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and of course learning how to deal with contingencies is the difference between costly/dangerous and cheap/safe.

    I think the barnstormers of the early 1900s were the biggest contributors to the safe and effective aviation industry we take for granted today.

    The big hangup is, of course, cost. It’s flat out too expensive for private industry to take on, except in the rare cases where a sugar daddy (e.g. Paul Allen, Richard Branson) is bankrolling the effort. Even at that, it remains to be proven that even those deep pockets will get anywhere. SpaceShip One was a nice demo, but it was suborbital – up 100km and right back down. Big deal. Orbital flight takes rather more energy and precision. SpaceX has a manned vehicle on the drawing board. That’s a far cry from hardware.

    Fact is, if it isn’t going to produce a profit in 3-5 years, private industry is not interested in funding it. But somebody has to, or 100 years from now we’ll be in exactly the same place saying what a waste manned spaceflight is.

    Private industry has maybe a 5-year vision. Governments have a 100-year vision – or could have if they weren’t run by 5-year corporations.

    As far as whether the vehicles should be built by NASA/government or private companies (funding aside) that certainly is an interesting discussion. Right now NASA has a great deal of knowledge and experience, no reason private contractors shouldn’t be able to leverage that into viable platforms. It would be nice to see that knowledge and experience leveraged before it all retires away. Personally though I think if my tax dollars are going to be paying for it then I want to see the results remain taxpayer-owned and not disappear into a proprietary maw that we as consumers will need to pay for again and again (as we do with pharmaceuticals). A valid subject of debate I think.

  93. BTW, I just decided to spend a minute looking at the NASA web site of ISS experiments and publications:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/List.html
    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/Publications.html

    That’s a lot more experiments than even I thought.

  94. Elmar_M

    “The Ares 1-X test flight currently scheduled for this summer from Pad 39B won’t be using flight testing hardware?
    What will they use then?”

    Charles and other, like others have already pointed out, the launch of Ares1 -X has very little signifficance. I am not the only one saying this, there are many others that will probably have a better way of explaining why that is so.
    Sure NASA says that it is a huge milestone, blah, blah.
    The sad truth is that it wont do anything to test the biggest issues that will come with the final design. The oscillation is one of them. This becomes a bigger issue with the new SRB- based first stage design. Not only does that use more segments but also a slightly different fueling. All that causes the oscillation and vibrations that will be a problem for the final design. Anyway the first stage tested in Ares1-X is still based on the old design. It has one segment less and it is using the old fueling.
    Further the second stage and the payload are only dummies. The orion mockup cant have much in common wih the final Orion since the design for that one has not even been finalized yet.
    So data gathered from this launch is dubious at best.
    And even this launch is already months behind schedule.
    In fact, I think that Falcon 1 had more in common with Falcon 9 than Ares1-X has with Ares1. If not more then at least as much.

  95. Punchcard

    Boo hoo. Compare the NASA budget to the NSF sometime. I have no pity.

  96. Rhawk187

    I was pretty sure Bush increased NASA’s budget, and the NSF’s, whereas Clinton lowered them. How is this such as assault on science? Yes, he was against stem cell research, and wasn’t an environmentalist, but beyond that?

  97. Radwaste

    Mark Sletten Says: (April 27th, 2009 at 8:41 pm) “Actually, it’s the duty of Congress to write laws (the President has veto powers over proposed laws). Also given to Congress is the duty to appropriate funds — taxes and such.”

    Article 1, Section 8. Read it.

    Then comment. You’ll be a lot better off that way. The Presidential budget is a proposal. The President is not required to submit one.

    If you are like many Americans, you don’t want to talk to the assistant manager when your French fries are cold. Only the Manager will do, damnit, I’m important!

    But he’s not who cooks your meal…

  98. J. Greer

    Don’t worry, obumma will get around to it when his teleprompter tells him to.

  99. While it’s true that ARPA was the progenitor of the modern Internet, their role in creating it was actually a rather small one.

    ARPA had research projects going on at several universities. In order for the computers at these universities to share theyr ARPA project information with each other, they created a simple networking protocol called TCP/IP, and linked these computers together in what they called ARPAnet. This allowed FTP and telnet between the various machines, eliminating some of the cumbersomeness of the old uucp method of transferring data.

    The thing is, ARPAnet got so popular with the university departments that weree doing ARPA research that the universities started using it for other purposes unrelated to ARPA. They began tying more and more general-purpose university machines into the ARPAnet, until ARPAnet’s original purpose as a defense dept. research aid had been totally supplanted by the universities’ general educational and research uses.

    And of course, when the Computer Science students who used ARPAnet graduated and went out into the workforce, they wanted to take ARPAnet with them, so it began spreading into the commercial realm. It wasn’t long before HTTP came along, Mosaic’s graphical browser came onto the scene, and BOOM, the Dot Com Boom was born.

    In other words, the whole thing was more or less a grass-roots movement, which happened to use ARPAnet as its initial catalyst — and APRAnet itself wasn’t the goal of ANY of the actual research projects within ARPA, it only came into existence internally within ARPA as a means to an end.

  100. Dan

    So basically, screw NASA, focus in solid state and biophysics first. I tend to side with this, as I loathe astrophysics for its seemingly useless applications to the real world as far as modern research goes. Exploration to other planets seems way too far off in the distant to appeal to my investment in NASA, however, we must as a human race fulfill a 50 terawatt energy supply increase to keep powering our lives at the rate at which it increases in the next 50 years. I think that focusing on energy first and improvement of energy resources is really the way to go, considering we have to double our energy output in a mere 50 years, and do so cleanly, as to not completely screw the environment more than we already have. There’s going to have to be some huge leaps in thermoelectrics (really huge leaps, like actually getting some 3.0 zt values out of materials…).

  101. The Other David M.

    @ gss_000

    That’s about 250 papers for a $100B investment.

    I tell you what. Let’s be fair and spread the money spent on ISS over 20 years, since it’s been in the works for about that long.

    That’s $5B a year. US universities produce roughly 30,000 PhDs across the sciences and engineering fields. Divide the first number by the second.

    I’ll bet if you handed every single science and engineering grad student in the country a one-time $167,000 award to spend on their research we’d get a hell of a lot more science than what’s in those 250 ISS papers.

  102. dough

    Dan Says:

    “So basically, screw NASA … I loathe astrophysics for its seemingly useless applications to the real world as far as modern research goes.”

    I can understand how people think this way, but it is crucial that you look at the long term benefits. And I don’t mean 5-10 years down the line, I mean 100-200 years. Exploration is key to the future of mankind and it’s easy to remark against the translucent results. Critics ridiculed Columbus for sailing west, but someone’s gotta do it.

    Cody Says:

    “I have to tell you that when I see the shuttle skyrocketing towards space I feel inspired.”

    To this day, I wonder how many countless scientists and engineers have been motivated to pursue their careers because of a space launch, or seeing people jump on the moon. I know the majestic photos of outer space has molded the path of my career.

    Even if NASA may not directly affect someone in my lifetime, I believe that the plans it has set in motion will churn out discoveries for future generations to come.

  103. Ken – I’ve got to disagree with you

    The big hangup is, of course, cost. It’s flat out too expensive for private industry to take on, except in the rare cases where a sugar daddy (e.g. Paul Allen, Richard Branson) is bankrolling the effort.

    There are a few companies I could name in the NewSpace arean that don’t have a single major funder, like Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR, or Orbital Outfitters.

    Even at that, it remains to be proven that even those deep pockets will get anywhere. SpaceShip One was a nice demo, but it was suborbital – up 100km and right back down.

    Just because its suborbital, doesn’t mean it can’t do useful work, in some fashion. It might b frivolus tourism, or it might be the latest suggested by NASA’s suborbital RLV science projects.

    Finally SpaceX has a manned vehicle on the drawing board. That’s a far cry from hardware.
    That is flat out wrong.

    Falcon 9 (part of their manned vehilce – http://spacex.com/galleryimages/f9_verticalonpad2.jpg

    Thats called hardware. As for Dragon itslef, – http://www.spacex.com/assets/img/DragonQualUnit_Nov2008_w.jpg

    Thats called hardware.

    Is it fully qualified and developed? No, but we are well passed the drawing board stage

  104. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ Ferris Valyn : (April 28th, 2009 at 10:45 am)

    Plutonium – there have been a few announcements, but nothing was ever confirmed, and since then most of the people under discussion have since either been appointed elsewhere, or have said they dont’ want it.

    Okay, I just remembered reading the poll via a link from this blog ages ago & then seeing an “official” announcement also via this blog and also ages ago, last year sometime I think – seems we all jumped the gun a bit! ;-)

    Concerning Senator John Glenn – personally, I would be surprised if he really wanted to put in the kind of time needed to be NASA admin (no offense, but he is 87).

    Maybe but I still think *if* he’s willing to do the job ( & yeah, I don’t know if he is) then he’d be a good and inspiring choice. He’s a space & a politics expert with real charisma and he’s shown he’s got the “right stuff” before. Its just an idea but one I think may be worth trying. Just think of the PR value too – it’d make people think and remember and hopefully get some sparks flying again – same applies to Buzz Aldrin & other “big name” astronauts. One element I think does matter is getting the public excited and on side more again.

    So I think it could work even if Glenn ends up being delegating a lot of the work. I’m not sure that his age alone should disqualify him. Still maybe I’ve just read the Tom Wolfe book (& the seen the ‘Right Stuff’ movie) too often! ;-)

    Concerning Dr. Aldrin – doing space advocacy is not the same thing as managing an agency like NASA, with competing interests, hostile members of congress, and being responsible for the myrid of projects – its not all just moonbases and Hubble.

    Well true enough. Still ..

    I will also admit a concern with any and all potentail astronauts – I worry taht there will be an attempt to preserve the astronaut mythos, at the expense of real space development (in particular when it comes to things like Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures, and the like). NASA needs to embrace the idea of real space development, including things like space tourism.

    Hmmm … “Real space development” here seems to mean private enterprise and good as that may be; they’ve yet to prove they can do more than sub-orbital flights. I’m disappointed by where they too HAVEN”T gone since ‘Spaceship-1.’ Space tourism, so far, has just been private citizens buying their way onto govt. operated spaceflights – mostly, ironically, the ex-Soviet Unions.

    If you mean more engineering and building, desiging and flying new ships then I agree though we need more. I think we need to start doing more & talking less – & we need focus and funding esp. I hope China and, yes, even Iran manage to give NASA and ESA the hurry-up. ;-)

    Concerning the best NASA admin – first, von Braun was never a NASA admin. So discount him.

    That’s right. Funny, isn’t it? I always thought of Von Braun as the NASA leader running Apollo. I did wiki Truly and went onto NASA admins list there too. There was also another astronaut who breifly served as acting NASA boss, forget the name. I guess Von Braun’s impact and profile outweighed his actual role.

    As for Webb – yea, he is regarded as one of the best, if not the best. However, its important to remember – his training was not as a scientist or engineer, but as a lawyer.

    To be honest aside from Griffin & Tom Paine; Webb is the only other NASA admin whose name I can recall off-top-of-head.

    Concerning the issue of political managers not being inspirational – frankly, being inspiring isn’t nearly enough. Having a vision is great – lots of people have it – the issue is taking that vision, and turning it into reality. This is what separates visionaries from revolutionaries, and arguably someone like Bob zubrin is a great example – While his Mars Direct proposal has been quite revolutionary, there is good evidence that he doesn’t necessarily play well with others, and that would really hurt NASA – again, managerial and organizational skills are key.

    Hmm … Maybe there needs to be a cultural change and have less managers and more do-ers? Perhaps managerial and organizational skills should be made less necessary – & vision and focus more so.

    Zubrin has a plan that sounds durn good to me. I’ve met the guy when he gave a public lecture in Adelaide, South Australia. I’m tempted to say let him have a go – put him in a full capataincy of NASA (ie. NOT a democracy, he tells ‘em & they do it!) & see how it goes.

    BTW, concerning Dr. Lennard Fisk – He had Dr. Stern’s job back in the 80s – you can read more about him at [link]

    Thanks. Yeah he does sound like he’d make a reasonable choice too. :-)

    The thing that really frustrates me is that the lunar return – and Mars flights, etc .. – always seme to be scheduled for twenty years time – and have been since 1970. We should’ve been on the Moon again and on Mars in 1980 – or 2000 or 2010 – but here we are having taken that one giant leap and then fallen back on our butts. :-(

    Here we are still messing about in low earth orbit with space stations and shttles that while great aren’t exactly what I hoped for from the future. (now present.)

    I always thought my generation would see the first human footsteps on Mars, that we’d really get a “space age” going – and we’ve stalled over money and politics and lack of guts. We’ve taken the first steps then settled back thinking its all too hard and we can’t seem to be bothered. That exasperates and disgusts me, really its NOT good enough.

    Time we just got on with it! Got back on our metaphorical feet – one step on Moon, our other foot on a near-Earth asteroid, our arms reaching up for Mars and beyond …

  105. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ the other David M :

    I’ll bet if you handed every single science and engineering grad student in the country a one-time $167,000 award to spend on their research we’d get a hell of a lot more science than what’s in those 250 ISS papers.

    Not the *same* sort of science and improved knowledge that we get from the International Space Station though.

    There are some areas (zero-gee construction, microgravity experiments, etc ..) that can only be studied and learned from via the space stations.

    There is probably a lot more too that we’ll gain and learn from the International Space Station (wish they’d give it a proper name!) once it is finished and operating fully. We don’t know what we’ll learn but the potential is certainly there.

    Also do you remember the early history ofHubble when the spacetelescope’s mirror was found to be flawed? It was consideredan absolute laughing stock and everyone put the boot in – but look at the HST &all its done now! The ISS could prove a similar example. Many people call it a white elephant now but in the future they may be compelled to revise this opinions and see it as a real piece of brilliance too.

    Furthermore, the role the International Space Station plays is not merely scientific but also atrailbalzer for engineeringand construction and diplomacy. Is it silly to imagine a future when peacetalks are held aboard the ISS – when, for example, we fly up Mahmoud Ahmadhinejad and whoever Israel’s PM then is for talks there with their conflict put in real perspective by the unearthly view out the window? Would seeing space make extremists (of all persuasions) think twice and affect their views positively? Maybe it would. That too, could prove worth at least trying ..

    —–

    I’m a ‘Babylon Five’ fan too. :-D

  106. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ MaDeR, thanks for the explanation. [Seems I forgot to update before posting again. D'oh!]

    @ Charles Boyer, I was stressed and didn’t formulate my question properly, but thanks – that was interesting too. As regards the question on flight-ready hardware, it seems that there is hardware, just not Constellation class yet.

    time for an edit function, n’est c;est pas?

    They can put a man on the Moon (well, perhaps not yet), they can build the Internet (well, perhaps not IPv6 so much) – but they can’t assemble a default blog edit function.

    [And despite promises, specifically: Discover can't deliver. Was a first simple preview promised to be ready in February-March? It has been so long, I can't remember...

    In effect, Discover takes science superbloggers and removes them from perfectly fine sites and puts them behind an abysmal interface. Way to promote science, science blogging and magazine tripleth!]

    Web life can haz sux.

  107. Elmar_M

    Just want to mention that it is now confirmed:
    NASA will reduce the crew capability of Orion from 6 to 4.

    http://blog.al.com/space-news/2009/04/nasa_slashes_orion_crew_explor.html

    Now it is getting dangerously close to being just another Apollo instead of an “Apollo on steroids”.
    50 billion spent so far on this?!!!
    Constellation is beyond pathetic!
    I am sure that Falcon 9 will at least do one test flight this year. If that one is successful we might see two. That is much better than what NASA has been doing and SpaceX did all that for a small, tiny fraction of the budget!
    But hey, maybe we can hitch a ride from the indians then. They are about to build their own shuttle and they want to be done with that shortly after NASA has Ares 1 in space! Of course if NASA keeps getting delays like these, then they might have it first. Just awesome NASA, please keep going!

  108. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    [tap, tap... does this work?]

  109. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The sad truth is that it wont do anything to test the biggest issues that will come with the final design. The oscillation is one of them.

    I’m intrigued by the problems that comes from using larger stages, either tank sloshing in liquid fuel rockets or hollow pipe sounds in solid fuel rockets.

    [So why don't they try to use pulverized fuels in tanks for atmospheric staging, to perhaps circumvent the whole issue? I dunno. Vibrational clumping?]

    As I remember it, the problem goes back to stage sizes, that are set solely by the requirement for train delivery. That in turn is decided solely by an effort to buy cheap parts across the nation. I wonder if the overall system is any cheaper, though.

    While it’s true that ARPA was the progenitor of the modern Internet, their role in creating it was actually a rather small one.

    Actually, it was Cern and its requirement for massive yet transparent data handling that was the progenitor of the modern webified internet. US may have built the plumbing as “a series of tubes”, but it was definitely Europe that filled it with s*h*i*t! … or something like that.

  110. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    [What spam filter admits "cheap parts" but rejects s*h*i*t? (Or accept links in names but not in the comment?) Other problems with this interface.]

  111. Plutonium being from Pluto

    You may be thinking of this – it was widely reported (including here, I think) – http://www.space.com/news/090113-obama-nasa-administrator.html

    Concerning Glenn – given his political background, I suspect he might do better than the average astronaut, but that is by no means certain – working in Congress or the Senate means representing constitutes and working with a large group of equals. This is very different from being a high manager within an executive agency (which is what NASA is). But the fact that Glenn has been a Senator does suggest he has some experince working with people in Congress. That said, Senator Glenn has not been in office since 1999, and there have been more than a few retirements or seat turnovers, which means he would probably have less allies in Congress.

    As for utilizing a “big name” to get the public excited – the public will get excite when THEY can participate – that is why people care so much about things like health care, or the economy – they have to. Thats the only really practical way to get people to care about it. It is why there is excitement and interest in things like Hubble – everyone takes part equally. The same cannot be said for human spaceflight.

    Attempts to raise interests by appointments of big names, or stunts, really don’t help the goal of doing more with space, and becoming spacefaring.

    Concerning Real Space Development – I would submit that you are wrong, as we can see from things like the Falcon 1, which has already flown. If we broaden the scope a little, and consider space development that has been around longer, we can see the effects of things like Comm sats as well. And I would actually suggest that quite a bit has happened, although not at the speed we would like, but there are things happening (the flights of the Goddard vehicle, and the winning of the LLC Level 1 by Armadillo Aerospace).

    As to what further examples I woul suggest for pursuing real space development, I suggest you consider the following 4 links
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/1/13/682792/-Becoming-Spacefaring:-Integrated-Space-Policy-
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/1/14/682802/-Becoming-Spacefaring:-Technology-investment
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/24/714488/-The-case-for-EML-Entrepot-depots-and-RLLs
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/1/27/11551/0319
    (no these weren’t all written by me, but I consider the suggestions to be excellent)
    Basically, we need to develop the markets, the legal system, the infrastructure, the interconnected systems, financing systems, and societal systems needed to support space.

    In short – don’t ask “what does it take to put a human on Mars” – ask “what does it take to put 100 human, on the moon, at the same time”

    BTW, for those curious, here is a link to all NASA administrators – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_administrator

    Hmm … Maybe there needs to be a cultural change and have less managers and more do-ers? Perhaps managerial and organizational skills should be made less necessary – & vision and focus more so.

    And while you are at it, can you also make the office of the president less political, or pro-wrestling real?

    Look, NASA is a large federal organization, with multiple competing interests, ranging from Aeronautic research, to space science, to human space development. Its budget is $16-18 Billion a year, with major centers in multiple states, and is always dependent upon funding from a very political body, the US Congress, which has competing areas of power, and the actual money comes from US taxpayers throughout the country. It must work with major corporations that are worth billions of dollars, and it operates with energies that could result major loss of life and be enormously costly if things go wrong.

    Yes, vision and focus are needed, but they aren’t enough – you need to be able to handle such a complex beast as NASA, which means being able to hand politics and manage.

    Zubrin has a plan that sounds durn good to me. I’ve met the guy when he gave a public lecture in Adelaide, South Australia. I’m tempted to say let him have a go – put him in a full capataincy of NASA (ie. NOT a democracy, he tells ‘em & they do it!) & see how it goes.

    That is, arguably, what was suppose to happen with Dr. Griffin, and yet we all know the results. The problem isn’t that Nasa is “a democracy”, but rather, NASA administrator isn’t all powerful, when it comes to the situation outside the agency, which is as important, if not more important. A good example of this comes down to the relation of NASA to the congress – in the US there is both budget authorization and appropriations, and there are different committees for both in both the Senate and the House – effectively, authorization tells NASA what it can spend its budget on (as well as determine how many people it employs, what centers to keep open and the like) while appropriations actually determines how much money NASA will have to spend, and how much discresion it has to spend it. IF you want to see more of this, google the phrase shuttle workforce issues, or shuttle workforce retention, and you begin to see how more than a few members of congres have turn NASA into a fair amount of pork (and this is all coming from a space supporter, remember)

    The point I am trying to get at is that it isn’t enough to have an engineering plan to get to Mars (which is what Zubrin has provided) – you must have a funding plan, a workforce plan, a media relations plan, a dealing with congress plan, and so on.

    To a certain degree, what is needed is that the President needs to have a vision and focus for space, and then he needs to give the administrator the political coverage to carryout that vision.

    As for you frustration about not having gotten further – I am right there with you. And there have been a number of decisions that have really hurt us (the loss of skylab and Mir I think are 2 great examples)

  112. mk

    I believe the secretary of Defense is in the process of scrapping the F22 fighter jet. It is outrageously wasteful spending for something we really do not need.

    Someone at NASA needs to step up and do the same for the ISS, Shuttle, Ares. Outrageously wasteful with little to no return.

    For Phil Plait and those in manned space flight kinship with him there is no price too high for continuing wasteful manned missions. As “Ken” commented above: “Even if the astronauts do little more than go up, tinker with ISS for a while, and come back down *it’s still valuable!*” Hey, there’s no arguing with that kind of logic! ;^}

    Someone with the courage of Secretary Gates need to step up to the plate. Enough is enough.

  113. The Other David M.

    @Plutonium being from Pluto Says:

    Yes, the science we’ll get from the ISS (a whopping 250 papers so far) will be different that what we would get from plowing an additional $5B a year into pure sciences. We’ll get plenty more “what happens to bone density in zero-g” studies. Whoop-de-do. We’ve been doing that for two decades in Low Earth Orbit. Point out one big science advance that’s come from research in Low Earth Orbit over that time. Thank God that the scientists back here on Terra Firma haven’t been as stagnant as that.

    As far as the “this is teaching us how to work together as a world and build something great” argument, I don’t understand why you need to be in orbit to do that. Quite frankly, I’ll just point you in the direction of the LHC, which was built and manned by an international effort. And unlike the ISS, the LHC will answer real questions about science, and truly advance our knowledge about how the universe works. Oh, and it will do this on a budget that amounts to roughly 10% of what the ISS cost. So would you rather have the ISS or 10 LHC-class experiments?

    Put science money into real science, not manned spaceflight.

  114. mk – I disagree with that notion from Ken, the

    Even if the astronauts do little more than go up, tinker with ISS for a while, and come back down *it’s still valuable!*”

    HOWEVER, I am more than prepared to provide evidence that human spaceflight does provide an ROI – it doesn’t necessarily provide a science ROI, but thats not what is has ever been about.

    The Other David M – would you also propose we take money out of banking regulation for science? Or out of education? What about public health?

    Human spaceflight isn’t about science, BUT that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an ROI, a very valuable one at that.

  115. Lisa

    I dunno i’m a little pissed at NASA right now, what with their lack of desire to fund graduate students. Apparently they and i quote “don’t see the value in funding graduate students” on the project i’m working on . At all. We’re building a fairly integral part of the new space suit that will be needed to go to the moon again (a mission necessary if we ever plan to go to Mars) and the project is running horribly behind schedule because there’s no funding for students to help. Most if not all of us will have left the project by next year because of the lack of funds. I’m the only student at my university on this project and the only reason i’ve been able to be on it for the time i have been is because of an outside scholarship that is only applicable for masters students.

  116. Ken

    Ferris – “it doesn’t necessarily provide a science ROI, but thats not what is has ever been about.”

    That is basically my point.

    The question to start with is: “Do we ever want to have a safe and economical manned spaceflight capability?” Think 100 years from now.

    If the answer is “yes”, then we need to start someplace and we need to start sometime.

    That “someplace” is where we are now – costly and dangerous. If we do nothing over the next 50 years, that starting point will not get any better.
    We’ll be having the same exact discussion then, too.

    That “sometime” won’t be any better off later either. My pocket crystal ball tells me 50 years from now we will still have disease epidemics, banking scandals, commies/terrorists/bad-guys-du-jour, wars, natural disasters, the whole thing regardless of the amount of money thrown at these problems today. (Sometimes past performance is a pretty good indication of future performance!)

    So as long as we’re continuing a manned spaceflight effort it doesn’t matter if we call it science, tourism, construction, or whatever. We’re still gaining the experience necessary to bring down costs and risks in the long term.

  117. mk
  118. mk

    One more try.

    The question to start with is: “Do we ever want to have a safe and economical manned spaceflight capability?” Think 100 years from now.
    If the answer is “yes”, then we need to start someplace and we need to start sometime.

    What if the answer is “No?”

    In reality, with Manned Space Flight proponents there is no cost too great, no risk too high, and no ROI too low. No matter what, for you, it will always be worth it. So talk of ROI, talk of waste, that’s all BS to you. There is no conversation really to be had.

    If critics talk about science, you say science isn’t important. If they talk about money, you say no matter what it’s worth it. If they ask about what we’re really getting, it’s well, you never know what great discoveries will come from it. And the ultimate answer, the only way we can survive as a species is to go all out Star Trek!

    In other words the goal posts are always shifting with you guys. Manned Space Flight has produced nothing compared to what we are getting from robots and probes and satellites and telescopes. Nothing! (and that other stuff is cheaper…. talk about ROI! ;^} )

    With you people It is always… “Just you wait! Just you wait! Someday, you know, say 100 years from now… you just wait! Manned Space Flight will really rock, and who’ll be laughing then? Huh?! Tell me!” …Or something like that.

    Phooey.

  119. gss_000

    @mk

    “If critics talk about science, you say science isn’t important. If they talk about money, you say no matter what it’s worth it. If they ask about what we’re really getting, it’s well, you never know what great discoveries will come from it. And the ultimate answer, the only way we can survive as a species is to go all out Star Trek!”

    Wrong. So very, very wrong. Your definition of “science” is so narrow that you ignore every argument people make for the science from manned space programs. Did you even read my post with links to research papers and experiments?

    Here are just four things in the past few months that the manned program has led to:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1102811/Surgeons-used-space-shuttles-nose-cure-arthritis.html
    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/04/14/salmonella-vaccine.html
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28736691/
    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090424/full/news.2009.397.html

    Not science? If not, then your definition is horrible and you’re being willfully ignorant.

  120. gss_000

    @ The Other David M.

    “I’ll just point you in the direction of the LHC, which was built and manned by an international effort. And unlike the ISS, the LHC will answer real questions about science, and truly advance our knowledge about how the universe works.”

    Russia, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Canada. Yup. sure are no international partners collaborating on the ISS.

    And last I checked, the LHC still isn’t up and running. It’s broken, busted, and not returning a thing. Not a good example so far of return of investment.

    What frustrates the hell out of me with this attitude is it discounts the technologies derived from the manned program, as though that is not a return. It’s intellectual snobbery frankly.

  121. Ken

    The question to start with is: “Do we ever want to have a safe and economical manned spaceflight capability?” Think 100 years from now.

    If the answer is “yes”, then we need to start someplace and we need to start sometime.

    That may be your point, ken, but I am with with mk on this one – these kind of “someday” payoffs are a little bit stupid, and not the best/most efficent method for producing an ROI. More often than not, they don’t.

    If you want to invest in new space transportation technology, then lets argue for that. If you want to discuss for pushing things like private spaceflight, or space development, then argue that. But the lofty “100 years from now” is frankly, pretty worthless IMHO.

    What we need to do is make space provide an ROI right now.

    So as long as we’re continuing a manned spaceflight effort it doesn’t matter if we call it science, tourism, construction, or whatever. We’re still gaining the experience necessary to bring down costs and risks in the long term.

    It does matter, actually, because the question that gets asked is “Who is funding it?” Thats the real problem, and thats why we have the manned vs unmanned debate.

    mk

    Let me ask you this mk – would you ban private human spaceflight? Or, if you wouldn’t ban it, would spend money to regulate it?

    As for providing an ROI – again, I don’t talk in lofty rhetoric. Lets talk about measurables – for example, lets talk about the Futron study that discussed how potentially large the space tourism market is, in the near term – not in 200 years, or 100, or 50 – right now, from 04-29-09 until 04-29-19 – the research into that demonstrated real market potential, which would help grow the economy. Or if thats still to abstract, lets consider the fact that, with only a prototype flying, Virgin Galactic has already taken in over 40 million in deposits for tickets.

    Or lets consider the interest there has been in utilizing suborbital RLVs for scientific purposes – many scientists have actively expressed interest in ths.

    Or lets consider the report from the NSSO about the potential offered by space solar power. Not in 50-100 years, but very much in the near term.

    Or we can talk about the interest that AStrotech has in utilizing ISS as an R&D facility – I suggest watching the video at http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/12/12/0014/6113

    This is not a “someday” – this is right now.

  122. mk

    @Ferris…

    It’s been a while so I can see why some might think I am against all forms of space exploration. Of course I am not. Since this post was originally about NASA I was speaking to that.

    I’ve said in these pages before that if people like Richard Branson and other adventurous billionaires want to go get together and venture out into space and crank up some more money for the economy… rock on! I do have issues (as is obvious, by now… ;^} )with spending billions and billions of tax payer monies to flit about in low earth orbit and test perfume fragrances and other nifty things equally as important. I genuinely feel as if we’re sacrificing many important programs and potential future programs each time we send a shuttle up to add a toilet onto the ISS. It crushes me.

    For the record, however… if I had the money I’d take a ride up there with Branson in a heart beat!

  123. mk

    –heartbeat– one word.

  124. mk,

    Sorry for taking so long to get back.

    Ok, heres the thing – our government, doesn’t just fund science – it funds a lot of things – welfare, schools, international development, and so on.

    One of those things that the government does fund, at least some of the time, is industry creation – we’ve done it for thing like railroads, aviation, cars, computers, internet, and so on.
    There is real discussion about pushing the growth of green energy.

    The point I am getting at is that the human spaceflight budget shouldn’t come out of the science budget, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fund it – we should fund it as part of industry creation, and sociatal growth (after all, would you submit that the funding for midnight basketball from science as well?)

  125. mk

    Hey Ferris, no sweat.

    I can’t say I’m completely unsympathetic to this idea. However, I’ve never heard it laid out like that from anyone in the government or at NASA. (I may have missed it, for sure.) I only hear and see things like the ISS and Shuttle and Ares and am told the “experiments” they are doing are the best science we can get up there and we really need to build a space colony on the moon and then go to Mars because the earth isn’t going to last forever, big bad asteroids are coming and on and on… etc.

    Now, I’m not 100% convinced that what you’re saying is the best thing for our society, but I will say it is somewhat less hard to swallow than anything I’ve heard thus far. So thanks for that. I’ll keep an open mind as I move forward and look up and research some of these things.

    Cheers.

  126. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Sorry about the break I’ve been crook with the flu lately – no not swine flu, but nasty anyway – been in bed last few days. :-(

    @ Ferris Valyn Says: (April 29th, 2009 at 5:30 am)

    Plutonium being from Pluto

    You may be thinking of this – it was widely reported (including here, I think) – [link cut for moderating]

    Yes, thanks that’s the one. There was also a poll I remember seeing linked via the BA blog. Wonder who won in the end? Anyone else remember? :-)

    Concerning Glenn – given his political background, I suspect he might do better than the average astronaut, but that is by no means certain – working in Congress or the Senate means representing constitutes and working with a large group of equals. This is very different from being a high manager within an executive agency (which is what NASA is). But the fact that Glenn has been a Senator does suggest he has some experince working with people in Congress. That said, Senator Glenn has not been in office since 1999, and there have been more than a few retirements or seat turnovers, which means he would probably have less allies in Congress.

    Ok, I’ll conceed that, but he’s still familiar with the situations, the processes, etc .. If he’s willing – & that’s the big ‘if”, I reckon John Glenn would be worth a try even if just a figurehead.

    As for utilizing a “big name” to get the public excited – the public will get excite when THEY can participate – that is why people care so much about things like health care, or the economy – they have to. Thats the only really practical way to get people to care about it. It is why there is excitement and interest in things like Hubble – everyone takes part equally. The same cannot be said for human spaceflight.

    Or exploration in general. How many people took part in Magellan’s voyage or Columbus’es or Amundsen’s?

    Not everyone wants to go, not everyone can go – those that do endure a lot and risk everything.

    Yet *everyone* does benefit from the knowledge of what’s beyond that hill, that ocean, that “vast gulf of space” .. (HG Wells WotW quote there!)

    Besides, *does* everyone take part equally in, eg. Hubble?

    I think its more a case of the team of astronomers and engineers operating it and the rest of us being inspired and enjoying and benefitting – and, yes, in tiny part funding.

    Personally I’d rather my tax money fund Mars rovers than art galleries and sporting teams, rather it be spent on sending women & men to Mars and the Moon than Iraq and Afghanistan, rather it went on funding the ISS than Israel. Priorities I guess ..

    Attempts to raise interests by appointments of big names, or stunts, really don’t help the goal of doing more with space, and becoming spacefaring.

    I disagree here. Unfortunatley our current culture is very celebrity driven – & NASA seems all out of celebrities. Not out of real unspoken heroes mind – just out of the sort of Paris Hilton’s, Jessica Simps and the like that seem to monopolise public attention & media exposure for reasons that escape me. If half the amount of time and energy Joe Public wasted on them was put into following science .. & yes I know they’re attractive physically, I’m not immune to that myself but do we really need so much time & attention devoted to them? Wouldn’t a quick “oh she’s pretty – in a skin’n'bones’n'plasticy kinda way” be enough & then we turn our minds to other matters that .. well actually *matter* instead? IMHO. :-(

    I do think we need to catch the public’s attention and imagination – look at the reaction when Glenn got his shuttle flight aged 70 plus. The PR/ A-list name factor may be illogical, unsavoury and it may stink … but if it is important and does effect things (& think it does) then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot to ignore it.

    Imagine if somehow we could get Neil Armstrong to take on the job? ;-) (Pipedream I know but ..)

    Concerning Real Space Development – I would submit that you are wrong, as we can see from things like the Falcon 1, which has already flown. If we broaden the scope a little, and consider space development that has been around longer, we can see the effects of things like Comm sats as well. And I would actually suggest that quite a bit has happened, although not at the speed we would like, but there are things happening (the flights of the Goddard vehicle, and the winning of the LLC Level 1 by Armadillo Aerospace).

    As to what further examples I woul suggest for pursuing real space development, I suggest you consider the following 4 links [ links del. for mod. - all from daily kos site.] (no these weren’t all written by me, but I consider the suggestions to be excellent)

    I don’t believe things are either/or.

    Private enterprisecan play a part – but we’ve got to have govt as well becaue private isn’t theanswer on its own. Not only are they not really suited to serving sciencific interests or leading exploration progarms – can you imagine big corporations heading up the first mission to Mars?

    ((wo?)Mans’ first words on Mars? : “I claim this planet for Fizzy Soda, I come to boost sales for only my soft-drinking kind! ;-) This mission brought to y’all by fast food joint A, shoe company B & Tampon manufacturer C. Land on Sunday, sell on Monday ..” Sigh. I can see it now. I suppose if that’s what it takes to get us there .. but .. yeck.)

    But they’re not even capable – so far they’ve had one or two sub-orbital flights putting them where NASa was in the early 1960′s. NASA by contrast has sent people to the Moon, spaceprobes to Mars, has many manned missions per year, runs interplanetary spacecraft, has people living in space aboard the International Space Station et cetera .. I’m for private enterpirse having ago – but they’re no substitute for good old fashioned national public space agencies. A nice complement maybe and perhaps with time there significance will grow but .. we’ll see.

    Let’s back both – especially NASA and other public agencies because they are after all *everyones*. (Especially the scientific communities.)

    Basically, we need to develop the markets, the legal system, the infrastructure, the interconnected systems, financing systems, and societal systems needed to support space.

    We already have markets, legal systems and so forth here that can support or affect space. At present there’s not much space in terms of humans up there exploring or working to really support. Way I see it anyway.

    Markets are on Earth as that’s where the peopel are – & it looks like they need some re-thinking now anyhow. Space wil be integrated into that.

    Legal-wise, the UN has laws of space already eg. no weapons, no nukes, about as enforced and highly regarded as the rest of the international law I know ;-) :roll: ..

    … But its a start. Law is usually wa-aay behind science anyway & will no doubt be forever playing catch up on a case by case, situation by situation, law-by-law basis – as it pretty much does here too. Wait for lawyers and we’d wait forever.

    Finances-wise – see market. Infrastructure, well yeah, we need to build it but who does that – public space agencies and private ones too. Society? Well again, Society follows where explorers lead! Did Columbus wait for society to be ready before heading out? Society like the law will be a bit behind the cutting edge .. permanently .. Big deal. We need to inspire & have an impact on Society – by going out & making exciting discoveries and useful findings -b y making astronauts celebrities & heroes again not the butt of talk show jokes.

    In short – don’t ask “what does it take to put a human on Mars” – ask “what does it take to put 100 human, on the moon, at the same time”

    Okay. I ask myself that.

    I think it can be done with one inspired and inspiring leader, a Von Braun or Zubrin, Kennedy, Korolev or Glenn, with a real plan, focus and daedline with lots of intelligent and capable staff that do what he asks when he asks them without politicking too much about it, and, yes, with lots of money too! (Yeah that’s the tough part – but take say half the money from occupying Iraq, half from funding Israel, half wasted on funding sports teams & artists and we’ll be probably have more than enough there!) Throew in abit of co-operation withothernations, a few helpful suggestions from the public and a bit of media hype and we can do it.

    Hope that’s something like what Obama has planned. :-D

  127. Plutonium being from Pluto

    CONTINUED :

    @ Ferris Valyn :

    BTW, for those curious, here is a link to all NASA administrators -

    [link cut for moderating - silly system here isn't it? BA, you had it set up better before 'Discover' you know!] ;-)

    Thanks. ;-)

    “Hmm … Maybe there needs to be a cultural change and have less managers and more do-ers? Perhaps managerial and organizational skills should be made less necessary – & vision and focus more so.”

    [PBFP. ie. me & not Ferris. Valyn's quoting me. Oh, you get it! ;-) ]

    And while you are at it, can you also make the office of the president less political, or pro-wrestling real?

    Well, its a bit outta the scope of this discussion but I guess we could give those a shot! ;-)

    Look, NASA is a large federal organization, with multiple competing interests, ranging from Aeronautic research, to space science, to human space development. Its budget is $16-18 Billion a year, with major centers in multiple states, and is always dependent upon funding from a very political body, the US Congress, which has competing areas of power, and the actual money comes from US taxpayers throughout the country. It must work with major corporations that are worth billions of dollars, and it operates with energies that could result major loss of life and be enormously costly if things go wrong.

    Yes, vision and focus are needed, but they aren’t enough – you need to be able to handle such a complex beast as NASA, which means being able to hand politics and manage.

    Can’t they separate this out somehow – get a guy running the show and the actual space program and others doing his political and managing work under his authority – with the *main* priority on getting things done & stopping the banalities from interfering in the actual important exploration?

    NASA worked well enough with Apollo – have things really gotten so much worse now that they can’t be turned back & fixed?

    “Zubrin has a plan that sounds durn good to me. I’ve met the guy when he gave a public lecture in Adelaide, South Australia. I’m tempted to say let him have a go – put him in a full capataincy of NASA (ie. NOT a democracy, he tells ‘em & they do it!) & see how it goes.”

    [PBFP. ie. me & not Ferris. Valyn's quoting me. Oh, you get it! ;-) ]

    That is, arguably, what was suppose to happen with Dr. Griffin, and yet we all know the results. The problem isn’t that Nasa is “a democracy”, but rather, NASA administrator isn’t all powerful, when it comes to the situation outside the agency, which is as important, if not more important. A good example of this comes down to the relation of NASA to the congress – in the US there is both budget authorization and appropriations, and there are different committees for both in both the Senate and the House – effectively, authorization tells NASA what it can spend its budget on (as well as determine how many people it employs, what centers to keep open and the like) while appropriations actually determines how much money NASA will have to spend, and how much discresion it has to spend it. IF you want to see more of this, google the phrase shuttle workforce issues, or shuttle workforce retention, and you begin to see how more than a few members of congres have turn NASA into a fair amount of pork (and this is all coming from a space supporter, remember)

    The point I am trying to get at is that it isn’t enough to have an engineering plan to get to Mars (which is what Zubrin has provided) – you must have a funding plan, a workforce plan, a media relations plan, a dealing with congress plan, and so on.

    Okay, granted.

    But why not have the engineer with the plan for exploration running the show & have other people whose experise is coming up with the funding, the workforce, the media handling, etc .. doing their job to support the guy with the plan?

    Is that really too simple? Too hard?

    Get a chief, get some one with vision for space then get teh others pulling the necessary oars under his command – he says we’re doing this they find away to do this, he says we’re doing that, they find a way to do that.

    Then succeed and they all win. Or fail and the top guy goes and another one with a better plan takes over but at least they’ve actually tried something! Given it a full-blooded no-holds barred red-hot *go* – & learnt from it properly what works and doesn’t and why.

    Not just messed about and had plans never come to anything so we really don’t know; just a lot of coulda’s, mighta’s, if the dumb compromises hadn’t been made, (*cough*, shuttle, *cough*) if funding had been there, if only .. & why are we still lolling around in LEO and falling behind China, Europe, India, Iran, North Korea and who knows who else?

    I know NASA a big cumbersome body. Maybe it needs some slimming down – maybe some aspects need to be put in seperate boxes – say take aeronautics or JPL out and have them seperate special divisions that take care of their own aspects while turning NASA into a more Space Exploration focused bizz. Maybe sub-contract the pork projects keeping them as state funding, useful but not controlling factors, I dunno.

    I don’t claim to have *all* the answers.

    (A lot of noisy suggestions sure! ;-) )

    But, surely, they can work out a better, less political, less bureacratic more “just getting on with it” type system ..? Surely!

    To a certain degree, what is needed is that the President needs to have a vision and focus for space, and then he needs to give the administrator the political coverage to carry out that vision.

    Absolutely! Yes!! The Priseentneed stoset avision tell ‘em what we’;re going todo -eg. a person on Mars by 2019 then put someone whoshares tahtvision in aboslute charge & insist that we pull out all the stops to make it so! :-)

    I hope Obama has that vision. We need another Kennedy – another bold leader who will just set a deadline, say we’ere doing this, its going to be hard but worthwhile and then back it up and keep things going.

    Nostalgiac for Apollo? Me? Well maybe just a bit! ;-)

    But my point is this : we could do it back then ..
    Our technology & knowledge has advanced so much – surely its possible, surely we’re able to do it all over again & then more!

    As for you frustration about not having gotten further – I am right there with you. And there have been a number of decisions that have really hurt us (the loss of skylab and Mir I think are 2 great examples)

    Thanks. To be honest, I can’t say that either ‘Skylab’ or ‘Mir’ particularly float my boat – I most love the thought of landing on and exploring new worlds, building a Farside lunar telescope and colonising the Moon and Mars – but yes. Agreed & appreciated. :-)

  128. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Correction :

    The Priseentneed stoset avision tell ‘em what we’;re going todo -eg. a person on Mars by 2019 then put someone whoshares tahtvision in aboslute charge & insist that we pull out all the stops to make it so!

    Smoking keyboard syndrome. Sigh. No editing ability here. Sigh.

    Plus I did check through before submitting believe it or not & missed that bit. Sigh again. :-(

    That paras meant to read :

    The President needs to set a vision, tell ‘em what we’re going to do – eg. a person on Mars by 2019 – then put someone who shares that vision & has a good plan how to accomplish it in absolute charge & insist that we pull out all the stops to make it so!

  129. mk,

    sorry for the delay – I think the reason its never been laid out that way is because then it forces NASA away from the traditional model it has used, which greatly benefits from the dolling out of federal monies and pork. This is how NASA has sustained itself, which I view as a bad thing and a tragedy. Given the chance, I think human spaceflight could do exactly what I am tlaking about.

  130. Plutonium being from Pluto

    sorry for the delay, and for the screwing up of the format.

    Or exploration in general. How many people took part in Magellan’s voyage or Columbus’es or Amundsen’s?

    Not everyone wants to go, not everyone can go – those that do endure a lot and risk everything.

    Yet *everyone* does benefit from the knowledge of what’s beyond that hill, that ocean, that “vast gulf of space” .. (HG Wells WotW quote there!)

    There are many things that people benefit from, but are opposed to (case in point, biology, evolution, and modern medicene)

    Besides, *does* everyone take part equally in, eg. Hubble?

    I think its more a case of the team of astronomers and engineers operating it and the rest of us being inspired and enjoying and benefitting – and, yes, in tiny part funding.

    Practically speaking? No, it is true. But theoretically speaking, the astronmer who decides to photograph the eagle nebula has exactly the same access to the data that anyone and everyone else has. And when something incredible is discovered, everyone takes part in that knowledge.

    Human spaceflight is different – its direct interaction, and only someone who is up there gets it. Those of us on the ground, well, we get left out.

    I disagree here. Unfortunatley our current culture is very celebrity driven – & NASA seems all out of celebrities. Not out of real unspoken heroes mind – just out of the sort of Paris Hilton’s, Jessica Simps and the like that seem to monopolise public attention & media exposure for reasons that escape me. If half the amount of time and energy Joe Public wasted on them was put into following science .. & yes I know they’re attractive physically, I’m not immune to that myself but do we really need so much time & attention devoted to them? Wouldn’t a quick “oh she’s pretty – in a skin’n’bones’n’plasticy kinda way” be enough & then we turn our minds to other matters that .. well actually *matter* instead? IMHO. :-(

    I do think we need to catch the public’s attention and imagination – look at the reaction when Glenn got his shuttle flight aged 70 plus. The PR/ A-list name factor may be illogical, unsavoury and it may stink … but if it is important and does effect things (& think it does) then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot to ignore it.

    Imagine if somehow we could get Neil Armstrong to take on the job? ;-) (Pipedream I know but ..)
    With all due respect to Dr. Armstrong, but I don’t think he would do a good job.

    Stunts work over a short time – minutes and days – maybe weeks if you are lucky. To do something like a Mars trip, or a moonbase, or whatever big project we want NASA to do, requires multiple year committment. Yes, people paid attention to Senator Glenn’s flight, and they noted it on the evening news, but did you hear much about during his training? Or to consider another – the X Prize was almost a decade long, but did you hear much about it prior to the flights we saw in 2004?
    Thats the problem with stunt picks – they last a short amount of time.

    I don’t believe things are either/or.

    Private enterprisecan play a part – but we’ve got to have govt as well becaue private isn’t theanswer on its own. Not only are they not really suited to serving sciencific interests or leading exploration progarms – can you imagine big corporations heading up the first mission to Mars?

    But they’re not even capable – so far they’ve had one or two sub-orbital flights putting them where NASa was in the early 1960’s. NASA by contrast has sent people to the Moon, spaceprobes to Mars, has many manned missions per year, runs interplanetary spacecraft, has people living in space aboard the International Space Station et cetera .. I’m for private enterpirse having ago – but they’re no substitute for good old fashioned national public space agencies. A nice complement maybe and perhaps with time there significance will grow but .. we’ll see.

    Let’s back both – especially NASA and other public agencies because they are after all *everyones*. (Especially the scientific communities.)

    Its not an either or, but thats not what I am arguing – what I am arguing is that we need to position NASA to leverage space development, and in conjuction, leverage space development to go farther into space.

    Let me give you an example – there are multiple methods for leaving LEO – one option is a really big Saturn V style rocket, launched at once, and away we go. Another option is a smaller rocket, and a gas station in orbit, where the rocket can refuel, and then go. Which method is better?

    If set up correctly, I would submit that the gas station is better – if NASA were to buy gas from the station, that would encourage the development of new orbital commerce methods – not as a contractor, cost plus contracting model, but as a fixed cost user operator model. Doing so will create a profit method for flying to and from space, and when private industry sees that, it will invest money into going itself.

    Another example could be to utilize suborbital RLVs as a training aid for astronauts – this will mean that more seats will be bought, and more flights will happen. This will encourage more private investment into the suborbital RLV industry, which will encourage its market growth, and make cheap access that much more likely to happen.

    If government gives private industry a reason to go to space, it will go. And if government can utilize private industry to get itself closer to the end goal, all the better.

    I really suggest you check out Jon Goff’s blog – http://www.selenianboondocks.com for a lot of thoughts on this

    We already have markets, legal systems and so forth here that can support or affect space. At present there’s not much space in terms of humans up there exploring or working to really support. Way I see it anyway.

    Spacefaring doesn’t happen in a vacuum – you need the structure for it to happen. I suppose if all you are interest is having 1 or 2 people go to the moon every year, or to mars every year, that is acceptable. For me, its a waste of time and money – I want hundreds of people going, or even thousands. And not in some distant 200 years or so, but in 10-20 years (and yes, I think its doable in that timeframe, if we get government AND private industry working on space)

    Markets are on Earth as that’s where the peopel are – & it looks like they need some re-thinking now anyhow. Space wil be integrated into that.
    Again, check out Jon’s blog. Already there are space markets, like Comm sats, which I admit are on the ground. However they are dependent upon space assets, and IF we develop markets that require cheap, regular access to and from earth orbit (as opposed to what we have right now) that means that NASA doesn’t have to spend as much money on rockets, to get its astronauts in orbit – it would be the equivelent of artic researchers who take American Airlines down to Argentina, and then get speciallized transport to the south pole.

    Legal-wise, the UN has laws of space already eg. no weapons, no nukes, about as enforced and highly regarded as the rest of the international law I know

    But its a start. Law is usually wa-aay behind science anyway & will no doubt be forever playing catch up on a case by case, situation by situation, law-by-law basis – as it pretty much does here too. Wait for lawyers and we’d wait forever.

    Actually, no, you’ve got more than a few things wrong. With regards to the UN, the main form of law is the Outer Space Treaty. While it oesn’t allow nuclear weapons, it says nothign about weapons in general, and it says nothing about things like property ownership, or conduct of satellites in orbit, or things like that.

    Furthermore, consider the situation closer to home, with suborbital tourist Rockets – who is responsible if something happens to the rocket, and people are killed? And who should be responsible for certifying that such a vehicle is safe to fly? What level of insurance is needed for a space tourism company? Some of these have answers, but some do not, and private enterprise won’t get involved if it doesn’t see a profit.

    Finances-wise – see market.
    Not enough. What about having transferable tax credits, provided you invest in a space company? That is the short verison, but there are others.

    Infrastructure, well yeah, we need to build it but who does that – public space agencies and private ones too.
    The question is what type infrastructure? AGain, do you want a big, costly, 1 time rocket, that gets 1 person to mars? Or would you rather spend that money on a reusable system? Would you rather one that competes for money from private enterprise, or leverages the developments in private enterprise to do more?

    I think it can be done with one inspired and inspiring leader, a Von Braun or Zubrin, Kennedy, Korolev or Glenn, with a real plan, focus and daedline with lots of intelligent and capable staff that do what he asks when he asks them without politicking too much about it, and, yes, with lots of money too! (Yeah that’s the tough part – but take say half the money from occupying Iraq, half from funding Israel, half wasted on funding sports teams & artists and we’ll be probably have more than enough there!) Throew in abit of co-operation withothernations, a few helpful suggestions from the public and a bit of media hype and we can do it.

    The fact is, those 5 people did things very different, and did not inspire people all of the same way. Kennedy’s level of inspiration and impact was significantly greater than Zubrin – one led a nation to the moon, and another led a bunch of people to Denver (or where ever the next Mars Society Convention is)

    Yes, the staff was capable, and didn’t fight amongst themselves, but again, you need a level of influence which Kennedy had, and Zubrin does not.

    As for the whole “funding from Iraq, and sports and stuff” – again, thats like asking Pro Wrestling to become a real sport. We are going to waste money on certain things.

    Can’t they separate this out somehow – get a guy running the show and the actual space program and others doing his political and managing work under his authority – with the *main* priority on getting things done & stopping the banalities from interfering in the actual important exploration?

    NASA worked well enough with Apollo – have things really gotten so much worse now that they can’t be turned back & fixed?

    Only if the president is willing to give the NASA administrator almost unlimited political cover and backing, which is very unlikley. And even then, its unlikely to be totally successful. Contrary to what you might think, NASA was not the model of efficency that you think it was during Apollo – consider the arguments about which mode to use, or when James Webb went to Kennedy about expanding the role of space, and Kennedy responded “I am not interested in space” – http://www.space.com/news/kennedy_tapes_010822.html

    Having a budget that iws 4% of the national budget, rather than less than 1%, gives you more leaway, and means the president has given you the political clout.

    Okay, granted.

    But why not have the engineer with the plan for exploration running the show & have other people whose experise is coming up with the funding, the workforce, the media handling, etc .. doing their job to support the guy with the plan? Is that really too simple? Too hard?

    It has no sembance with how government works, and you are assuming that the engineering plan is the main point needed for going to space – in point of fact, it is one of the last thing, in a lot of respects. It is the reason no one is talking about something like a manned trip to Jupiter – everyone is well aware that funding for that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    You are right, NASA needs change, and there are areas where it should be restructured, or eliminated. I say all this as an active member of the space advocacy community.

    But, surely, they can work out a better, less political, less bureacratic more “just getting on with it” type system ..? Surely!

    I don’t believe they can. At least not until we’ve developed a spacefaring society. For the simple reason that NASA is government funding, and government is inherently political. That may not be pretty, but its reality.

    The President needs to set a vision, tell ‘em what we’re going to do – eg. a person on Mars by 2019 – then put someone who shares that vision & has a good plan how to accomplish it in absolute charge & insist that we pull out all the stops to make it so!

    I hope Obama has that vision. We need another Kennedy – another bold leader who will just set a deadline, say we’ere doing this, its going to be hard but worthwhile and then back it up and keep things going.

    Nostalgiac for Apollo? Me? Well maybe just a bit!

    Again, the issue isn’t so much NASA, as its NASA’s relation to Congress. If the President is willing to give NASA the political cover to do that, then it will happen. Of course, this means that the president will have to compromise elsewhere (you want that rocket Mr. President? Then stop complaining about global warming. And stop trying to stick it to the health insurence companies)

    Our technology & knowledge has advanced so much – surely its possible, surely we’re able to do it all over again & then more!
    The problem is, our societal instituations and atitudes have not moved in the same direction, I would submit. And without that, it doesn’t matter if the technology has moved.

    Thanks. To be honest, I can’t say that either ‘Skylab’ or ‘Mir’ particularly float my boat – I most love the thought of landing on and exploring new worlds, building a Farside lunar telescope and colonising the Moon and Mars – but yes. Agreed & appreciated.

    While Mir and Skylab might not be as exciting as going to Mars, they would’ve given us further developed infrastructure in space, that would’ve moved us much closer.

    If you have the chance, check out the movie orphans of Apollo. You’ll see what I mean

  131. By science Obumma meant gender and AfricanAmerican studies.

  132. Of course NASA will get funding last, its the FINAL frontier!

  133. Art

    Well it was US government research and funding that created the Arpanet project. The US government did create arpa, and was the original driver towards the development of the internet.

  134. Harold

    Obama does not champion science. Anyone who supports the use of wind turbines and think they work are idiots. Obama is pissed today because Ares 1-X was successful. If its not a disaster
    Obama can’t turn a trick. Thank you NASA for a job well done.

  135. one

    .
    about the “new” new-plan…
    .
    “Begins major work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific heavy-lift rocket that will take us deeper into space.”
    .
    develop the hadware for lunar missions needs 8-10 years, so, “decide [the HLV] in 2015″ means NO lunar landings before 2023-2025
    .
    “Restructures Constellation and directs NASA to develop the Orion crew capsule effort in order to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the Space Station – thereby reducing our reliance on foreign providers.”
    .
    an Orion built ONLY to serve as ISS “rescue capsule” is very expensive and useless… it’s much cheaper to (just) dock a third Soyuz to the ISS
    .
    more discussions and proposals on the Space Summit Facebook Group:
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&gid=356261201268
    .

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »