Obama lays out bold revised space policy

By Phil Plait | April 15, 2010 2:08 pm

[Update: I originally called the new space policy "visionary" in the title of this post, but after some thought I changed it. It’s actually not visionary, it’s pragmatic, so I took the word out. Other than that I haven’t changed anything in this post since it originally went up.]

President Obama gave a speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today to outline his new, revamped space policy.

You may remember that his last revamping caused quite a stir, with people screaming that it would doom NASA. I disagree. Canceling Constellation still strikes me as the right thing to do, because it was becoming an albatross around NASA’s neck. Mind you, this was also the recommendation of the blue ribbon Augustine panel. You may also note that NASA astronauts are split over all this, with Buzz Aldrin, for example, supporting Obama, and Neil Armstrong and many others disagreeing.

It’s a mess, and hard to disentangle what everyone’s saying. There’s been a huge amount of misinformation about it (with — shocking — Fox news leading the way; they spout so much disingenuousness, nonsense, self-contradiction, and outright stupidity that it makes me want to fly to their studios just to slap them). But Obama’s plan seems pretty clear.


The New Space Policy Plan

1) As before, NASA’s budget will be increased in the new plan. Let me repeat that: NASA’s overall budget will go up. And not just a little; we’re talking $6 billion over the next five years. A lot of that goes into scientific research. So far from it being doom and gloom, that’s good news.

2) A new heavy-lift rocket will be developed. Let me repeat that as well: funding is provided for NASA to create a new heavy-lift vehicle. So yes, Constellation will be canceled, but a new system will be developed that (hopefully) will be within budget and time constraints.

nasa_orion3) The Orion capsule, based on Apollo capsule legacy, will still be built. Initially it will be for space station operations as an escape module, but can be adapted later for crewed space missions.

4) He wants NASA to plan manned missions to near-Earth asteroids in the 2020s, and to Mars in 2030s, but no return to the Moon.

OK, so what do I think of all this?

My opinion on the new space policy

1) The increase in NASA’s budget is most welcome. Some of this goes to climate change studies (which the denialists will rant and scream about, but too bad). Some goes to science, some to education. All in all, given NASA’s minuscule budget, any increase rocks. And a lot of this goes into space science.


2) This new rocket proposal makes me very happy. As I have stated repeatedly, NASA keeps going from one project to another without a clear goal or a streamlined system of attaining it. The Shuttle, as amazing as it is, was a terrible project once it was realized — hugely over budget, hobbled massively from what it should have been able to do, and unable to provide cheap and easy access to space with a fast turnaround. Ditto for the Space Station; it became a political pork barrel project and instead of a sleek engineering wonder it became another bloated project with no clear goal.

Some people are complaining that we’ve already sunk $10 billion into Constellation, and we shouldn’t throw that money away. I think that’s a red herring. If Constellation was a waste of money, then we need to staunch that flow. I’m not saying it was, but I’m pointing out that you need to show me that the system was not a waste of money first before complaining that we can’t cancel it after spending that much.

As Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, said in a press release:

The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds. To quote a member of the Augustine Commission, which was convened by the President to analyze Ares/Orion, "If Santa Claus brought us the system tomorrow, fully developed, and the budget didn’t change, our next action would have to be to cancel it," because we can’t afford the annual operating costs.

Mind you as well that this money already spent won’t be wasted. It’s not like we have a lot of rockets sitting around gathering dust. That money was spent on developing technology, knowledge, and experience that will go into any new system created.

I’ll note that the cancellation of Constellation means a loss of many jobs. This new plan should restore a lot of them. I’d be interested in seeing a balance sheet for that.

Another complaint with little or no merit (coming from a lot of folks, including the insipid talking heads on that Fox link above) is that once the Shuttle is over, we need to borrow a lift from the Russians to get to space. As much as I’d like to see us with our own, independent, and healthy space program, I don’t see riding with the Russians as entirely a bad thing. It’s cheaper than the Shuttle, by a large amount. The bad political decisions involving NASA for the past forty years have put us in this predicament, not anything Obama has done over the past 15 months.

And I’ll remind you that this predicament really started rolling when the Bush Administration and NASA decided to stop the Shuttle program with no replacement possible for at least four to five years after the last Shuttle flight. Even if Obama had done nothing; we’d still need the Russians’ help to get into space.

And it’s only temporary. Under Obama’s plan we’ll have a new rocket system around the same time Constellation would’ve gotten going anyway.

As far as relying on private space, I have been clear about that: NASA should not be doing the routine, like going to low Earth orbit. Let private companies do that now that the technology has become attainable by them. NASA needs to innovate. And I’ll note that NASA has relied on private space venture — Boeing, Lockheed, and many others — for decades. This is hardly new.


3) As an adjunct to everything I just wrote above, the Orion legacy capsule project will continue, underscoring my point. We’re taking the knowledge gained over the past few years and applying it to new technology. I rather like Orion, and I’m glad it’s not going away.


4) Well, here’s where I think the new policy falls short. I strongly support missions to near-Earth asteroids. These rocks are areal threat to life on Earth, and the more we know about them the better. Getting to them via rocket is actually easier in many ways than getting to the Moon, so these kinds of missions are cost-effective, and we can learn vast amounts from them. And we would also gain critical experience in visiting asteroids that could come in handy if one has our name on it.

I’m not as gung-ho on getting to Mars because I think the engineering and knowledge needed to put humans on such a long trip is not where it needs to be yet. So how do we get that knowledge? By going back to the Moon.

Obama specifically downplayed a return to the Moon, and it seems he said that we won’t be doing that. I think that’s a huge mistake. Yes, we’ve been there before, but that was a totally different set of missions. That was a race to win, not to stay. A lot of science was planned and obtained for the Apollo missions, but it wasn’t sustainable. Stopping now — especially with a heavy-lift vehicle on the horizon — is a tremendous waste of an opportunity.

Going to Mars depends critically on knowledge learned on going back to the Moon and staying there. So on this point I disagree with Obama’s new plan.


Conclusion

Obama has clearly been listening to both supporters and critics (imagine that!). It almost sounds like he’s been reading my blog (I wish). Bill Nelson, a Democratic Senator from Florida, was vocally opposed to Obama’s initial plan, but accompanied him to this speech. That indicates to me that they have been talking — certainly about the politics, but also about the nuts and bolts — about all this. Obama’s change in plans to continue Orion and more concrete plans for a heavy-lift vehicle clearly come from listening to his critics.

Certainly, this revamped policy the right political move for him; Congresscritters from NASA centers were pretty unhappy about that first policy of privatization. But it’s also the right thing to do.

Obama, in this speech, stated specifically he wants us to be the dominant world power in space. He says that under this new plan, we will actually be sending more astronauts into space in the next decade than we otherwise would have. If his plans are accepted by Congress, if they are funded at the levels requested, and if NASA can implement them, then I think the President is correct.

My overarching desire: that NASA have a clear goal, an actual set of specific, visionary destinations that will inspire the public and make us proud of our space program once again. Part of that desire is for this to have political support and funding to make it possible. Too often, NASA has been told to go do something but not given the money to do it, and that’s a major factor that we’re where we are right now.

Obama’s new policy, with one exception, will give NASA what it needs to be visionary again. That one exception — not returning to the Moon — is a strong one for me, and I will see what I can do to get it put back in. I’m just one guy, but I’ll talk to folks and see what trouble I can stir up.

In the meantime, I’ll also caution that at this moment, these are just words from the President. Good words, and hopeful ones, but just words. It will take deeds to see this through: a clear plan by the White House, cooperation from Congress, and a commitment from NASA to see this policy through.

If those things can happen, then for NASA, for America, and for humanity, then the sky is no longer the limit.

Per ardua, ad astra.

Comments (233)

Links to this Post

  1. Dr. Phil Plait Comments on Obama’s Speech « The Space Geek | April 15, 2010
  2. Al infinito y más allá « Castor Ex Machina | April 16, 2010
  3. to boldly try to go again. maybe. kind of… « weird things | April 16, 2010
  4. NASA Programm verlängert/erweitert bei physikBlog | April 16, 2010
  5. Obama lays out bold revised space policy - blog.lob.ws | April 16, 2010
  6. To Infinity and Beyond? « Politics and the City | April 16, 2010
  7. Obama’s NASA Speech « Blogging with Badger | April 16, 2010
  8. New Direction for NASA « Maniacal Musing | April 16, 2010
  9. This Week in Science - Online Political Blog | April 17, 2010
  10. Obama’s New Plan for NASA – Some Different Sources « It’s the 21st Century, Stupid! | April 18, 2010
  11. Obama lays out bold revised space policy - The Michael Jackson Internet Fan Club MJIFC | April 18, 2010
  12. ideonexus.com » Blog Archive » Science Geekiness for Moonday, 20100419 | April 18, 2010
  13. Lunch @ Mach 30, Ep 3: Reflections on President Obama’s New Space Policy « Home of the Mach 30 Podcast | April 23, 2010
  14. Obama lays out bold revised space policy | Bad Astronomy … | Commercial Space Travel | April 30, 2010
  15. What I’m reading ed. 100509 « The Hermitage 3.0 (Beta) | May 9, 2010
  16. Why not go back to the moon? | Skipbox Blog | May 15, 2010
  17. Why not go back to the moon? | The World Matters | May 15, 2010
  18. So What’s With These Reactions? « The Space Geek | June 7, 2010
  19. News Roundup: Why the Sun Lost Its Spots | 80beats | Theoretical Physics | March 20, 2011
  20. The Value of NASA | Skywatcherz.com | May 17, 2011
  1. Travis

    Good post.

    For me, the most redeeming aspect of the entire speech today was the defense of funding NASA, in light of “all of the problems here on Earth.” That was fantastic and certainly deserves a mention. Pointing out that, dollar-for-dollar, NASA’s ROI is exceptional was an excellent, and unexpected, move.

    As for returning to the Moon. I agree that it seemed like he was ruling it out altogether, and that it’s a horrible idea to rule out, but it might not be all bad. Assuming the plan works and we have a heavy lifter being developed by 2015, the next administration might implement a Moon program using that existing architecture. That would render what was said today as irrelevant. We can only hope though. Of course, once the heavy lifter is in place, NASA could be granted some degree of autonomy in choosing its major destinations, which would be nice, but probably entail a whole boatload of red tape.

  2. Dan

    I think that going to the Moon for the sake of going to the Moon isn’t a worthy goal – at least, not anymore. It’s been done, y’know?

    But, if returning to the Moon becomes part of the process of getting people to Mars, I’m all for it. But that requires that there be an actual plan. Not a nebulous goal of “people on Mars by 20XX,” but a plan, a timetable, something that NASA can show the American people and say, “Look, here’s how we’re going to do it,” and that plan involves the Moon as a stepping-stone or or a convenient (such as it is, certainly more convenient than Mars itself) spot for testing of equipment or techniques or what-have-you, that’s great.

    But going back to the Moon just because it’s there and we haven’t been in 40 years doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  3. Christoph K

    Could it be thet you meant “Per ardua, ad aspera” or “Per aspera, ad astra”?

    The one you used means “Through adversity, to difficulties”.
    Which i hope won’t happen ;)

    Besides of this i cann only agree!

  4. PsyberDave

    I would think going to the Moon would be a good way to prepare for going to Mars. No?

  5. Maritova

    I agree with Dan. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the plans on lunar return, or how those plans were communicated, but to just have “someone landing on the Moon by a certain year” doesn’t mean much, and it doesn’t capture the public’s attention like it needs to. Any plan to return to the Moon needs to have a clearly-stated goal of something like “establishment of a lunar research base by 20XX” to be “permanently manned by 20YY.” Too much imagery has been focused on an Apollo-like scene of putting a lander on the surface and astronauts walking around for a while before leaving again.

  6. Space Geekette

    With you on nearly all of this, but don’t quite see the path forward for Orion. If we strip down the existing high-performance vehicle to serve as a backup lifeboat, it won’t be architected to support exploration. And without explicit line items in the budget, the key features of long-duration crew support that still need to be developed will wither on the vine.

    I just don’t see how the current plan moves us forward in a productive way towards any sort of exploration-class crew vehicle.

    Then again, if we do commit to a more robust Orion design, wouldn’t that put a bit of a damper on the commercial crew developers? What investor would feel safe counting on NASA as a customer when it has another dog on the sidelines yapping to play?

  7. Sam

    Why is the new plan any more likely to be on time and under budget than Constellation or the shuttle were? It seems a bit premature to laud the new plan on these issues the very day it is announced.

  8. The short term exploration of the Moon will be by robots. If a need for human presence is recognized I’m sure the priority of landers will be increased.. that’s what’s great about the Flexible Path, it’s flexible. Without a lander, though, there’s plenty of other destinations to explore with humans.

  9. Even if NASA doesn’t return to the moon, someone else will – China, Russia, private company. One would hope that any mission to Mars would be international in nature, and we could blend the technology and knowledge we develop exploring asteroids with the technology and knowledge they develop on the moon. Of course, that makes too much sense, so it won’t be done.

  10. Jim

    #1 – I’m also all for going to the Moon for the sake of staying on the Moon, with a long-term base of some sort. That would also be very nice, independent of any impact it had on future Mars missions.

    Honestly, I think one of the most long-term useful things we can start doing right now is to work out ways to reduce offworld bases’ dependence on Earth for consumables. Flying food and supplies up to the ISS is one thing; running a supply chain between Earth and the Moon or Mars is quite another. Having a base on the Moon would be a great proving ground for techniques and technologies — close enough to travel if need be, but far enough to have an incentive to innovate.

  11. Jove

    We landed on the moon!!??

  12. Plasticrectangle

    I strongly doubt that the Moon will be completely neglected under the new plan. The Lagrange points are too useful to be ignored, they’re perfect as a fuel stop or construction site for a Mars craft.
    As for landing again, I have to agree with the President; been there done that, and far more hostile an environment than Mars. For one thing, we know there are massive amounts of water underground on Mars, perfect for use by explorers. Smaller amounts and harder to get from the Moon.

    Not a bad place for a hotel or some museums I’ll admit.

  13. Richard

    PsyberDave,

    I doubt it. Martian terrain is much different, gravity is double that of the moon, and there’s an atmosphere, complete with weather, so your landing and return mechanisms are going to be much different. Really the only thing that transfers at all is going to be getting into orbit, but we’re already pretty good at that.

  14. Could he have meant that we focus on Mars, and not treat the Moon as a final destination?

  15. Why is it, nowadays, whenever “getting back to the moon/going to Mars/etc” gets talked about, no one ever seems to consider the phrase “Earth Orbit Rendevous”?

    It was all the rage in NASA before the LOR plan was adopted. It changes the game so that a ginormous off-the-pad superrocket isn’t necessary, and it provides opportunity for the generation of infrastructure in LEO that could serve more purposes than just “going to Mars” or whatever the current goal happens to be.

    But nooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooo, it’s all about “and then we’ll develop a new HUMONGALOID rocket!” Constellation was so much more of the same, with just the slightest hint of EOR involved down the line.

    pft, says I. Pft.

  16. Quite honestly, I don’t see ANY heavy lift vehicle being developed in the next 10 years. I pray I am wrong!

    And Mars???? That’s a dream with current technology and economics. We won’t go there for another 40 or more years. I’ll be long gone… :(

    There’s a lot of loose ends, a lot of ifs… and NO CLEAR GOAL. Again. As much as I hated Bush, at least he CREATED that clear goal – to go back to the Moon first. But it was underfunded. Why not just correct course and start funding it properly? We must proceed by steps, and after NEO we should proceed to the Moon and asteroids. Only after that we sit down and think.

    After this speech, what’s the clear goal?

    Save jobs.

    OK, but NASA should be about exploration.

  17. While this is a step in the right direction I have a few questions.

    1) Given the partisanship in congress, what are the chances these proposals will become reality?

    2) Even if this gets passed congress, what is there to stop the next administration from changing priorities again? This has happened many times before.

    3) Constellatioon may have been canceled, but what’s the difference between it and the new heavy lift vehicle? Why won’t this program also have delays and cost overruns? Isn’t it just Constellation with a different name and slightly different mission?

    –Kirk

  18. PsyberDave

    Thanks Richard. That makes sense.

    Vaguely related, I would like to see serious, aggressive exploration of Titan, Europa, and other interesting places. If I had Bill Gates money, I’d do it myself (not literally, but I wouldn’t wait around for Congress).

  19. Lame

    His plan is too vague in terms of getting astronauts to the ISS. Probably because there really isn’t one. Politically, it’s asinine to trust it to the Russians.. and private companies aren’t even close to getting human cargo into space. What are you people thinking? We should take steps forward, not backwards. Keeping humans out of space is clearly a step back.

  20. You really believe we went to the moon?

    Naw, I’m just joshing. Great post, Phil!

  21. Tavi Greiner

    Very well said, Mr. Plaitt! I happen to see a positive step forward with the President’s proposed direction. It’s good to see someone lay it all out like it really is, rather than tear it to shreds like it really isn’t.

  22. wade

    I think a mission to an asteroid is about economics and resources on top of basic research. I think the best source of rare earths ( such as Neodymium) in the long run will be asteroids. I am pretty excited about the plan, but I worry that there is no long term political stability in Nasa’s budget.

  23. I don’t think skipping the Moon is a terrible idea. While we could learn a bit about space operations on the Moon, I don’t think it’s clear what that would be and how it would translate to Martian operations. The Moon and Mars are pretty fundamentally different beasts when it comes to EDL (entry, descent, & landing), surface ops, and ascent. An atmosphere, an additional 1/6 of a gee, and an AU make quite a bit of difference.

    I’m also not convinced that we can’t learn the skills we need to get to Mars without going to the Moon first. In fact, that seems to be the aim of Obama’s plan – developing the *skills and capabilities* to get to and operate on Mars, incrementally. So, Phil, your concern that “the engineering and knowledge needed to put humans on such a long trip is not where it needs to be yet” is exactly what Obama’s plan is addressing – and it’s no less visionary than Kennedy’s goal to land on the Moon! He called for technologies that hadn’t been invented yet, made of materials that hadn’t been discovered. And NASA rose to the challenge, inventing and discovering!

    Plus, having a capability-oriented set of goals rather than a simple place and date certainly gives the space program the leeway in the future to decide to drop some astronauts onto the Moon, if that’s deemed valuable enough. (As an aerospace engineer with a strong interest in planetary science, I have a hard time picking which place would be most scientifically interesting – except Europa, of course. We need to crack the ice and find the space lobsters in that ocean.)

    I find it interesting that a lot of the commentary now is along the lines of Sam’s (#7) above: “I like destinations and dates, but I just don’t believe that Obama/Congress/Bolden can make it happen.” To me, that breed of criticism is not substantive but instead speaks to (potentially unfounded) personal prejudices that Obama is somehow not pro-space, that Bolden is ineffective, or similar. When people get their passions up about a subject like this, it’s difficult to take a hard look at facts!

  24. Moon!!! Moon!!! Moon!!!

    Where can you assemble a huge spacecraft and get it off the ground with just 1500 m/s delta-v and no Q problems? Moon!

    Where can you build the next Hubble telescope , bigger and without stabilization problems? Moon!

    Where can you plant a radiotelescope for 384.000km-based interferometry? Moon!

    Where will chinese go in the next 10 years? Moon!

    Where can you have some rest from your mother-in-law? Oh wait…

    PS picking up the EOR issue by Mooney: wasn’t the ISS supposed to be kind of a spaceport for Moon travels? Or am I confusing with Kubrick’s movie?

  25. Ferris Valyn

    markogts – ISS will be a spaceport, for all deep space travels. Moon, Asteroids, Mars, and beyond

  26. @markogts: Space, space, space! Orbit, orbit, orbit! No need to land at all – we’re getting better at in-orbit assembly and formation flight all the time!

  27. Your name here

    Maybe we should all email-bomb NASA and the White House with our suggestions.

  28. John F

    This is from the NY Times:

    “Obama said that by 2025, the nation would have a new spacecraft ”designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space.”

    ”We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow,” he said.”

    Honestly, how anyone can see this as good is beyond me. NASA was killed today and so far it seems that people are applauding it. While there are some great things in the proposed budget that will benefit places like JPL, NASA is more than just robotic exploration that is sent into space via technology developed in the mid 1960s. As was discussed after a lot of soul searching by yet another independent commission after the Columbia Accident, NASA functions best when it has a specific goal. More to the point, that commission specifically warned against the kinda of nebulous “plans” the President has put forth. Start to design a heavy lift rocking in 2015?? A new spacecraft by 2025??? And then we might go to an asteroid?? Really??? You think this is a good thing?? Constellation was based on already existing technology and look at all the problems they had. As it turns you agree with the President’s opinion that these problems are so severe, the best thing to do is to scrape it.

    I cannot express enough how sadden I am by what happened today. In a letter that Astronauts Neil Armstong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell sent to the President, they said, “For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.” I fear that these words are beyond prophetic. The very things that were warned against after Columbia are now taking root. It is hard not to think that if President Clinton had created the Constellation program, none of this would be happening.

    The United States has just become the Portugal of the Space Age.

    I am sorry you don’t see it that way Phil. It will be curious to ready your posting 5 years from now when the actual discussions of “what is NASA really doing for us anyway” start to happen. I hope you are reminded that your cheered it on.

  29. Matt

    You are correct that many presidential administrations are to blame for NASA’s current woes, not just Obama, but I don’t even think a major portion of the failure goes to Bush either. I was a fan of Clinton, but he short-sightedly cut off the various shuttle replacement programs in the 90’s such as the X33.

    NASA put less than a billion dollars into that program and very nearly had a working prototype, which is WOULD have had if they hadn’t been so obstinate about using untested experimental technologies to save weight in the fuel tanks.

    After NASA canned the program Lockheed went back and redesigned it with simple carbon-fiber which ended up meeting NASA’s original weight targets and worked just fine.

    Clinton really shouldn’t have left office without a shuttle replacement program underway, and it should either be finished by now or nearly ready to go.

    I think Lockheed is still working on theX33, though. I’m not sure why everyone else seems to have abandoned the goal of single-stage-to-orbit.

  30. Martin Ratcliffe

    Plan 1. To the Moon: Imagine for a second investing in the spacecraft requirements, technology, and human spaceflight for the few days journey to land on the Moon, say by 2025. After that investment of dollars, the next goal is to go to Mars. Now you have to develop new spacecraft for much much longer duration and there is no infrastructure out beyond the Moon, so you have to build it, develop new technologies, and build the experience for deep space operations. Starting that in 2025 after a moon mission could take us to Mars sometime this century.

    Plan 2. Not to the Moon: Develop and build spacecraft that are designed ultimately for a long duration flight, beginning with baby steps (Mercury-Gemini style) but “beyond” the Earth-Moon system to Near Earth asteroids. Develop the knowledge and technological know-how over the next 15 years, so that by 2025 we have visited half a dozen NEO’s, and then you can orbit Mars by 2030’s, and later land. And in the meantime build on the already existing international partnerships that built the ISS, and have European partners build a lunar lander that uses US infrastructure to get there, and you get the Moon too, potentially at least.

    It’s called flexible path for that reason – if the conditions are right for plan 2, you do both, you get Moon and Mars. If conditions are not right, you only get Mars, and develop the ability to show we are smarter than the dinosaurs and we can divert asteroids. Plan 1 only gives you the Moon.

  31. K

    I think it’s stupid.
    A) it’s another safe bet political game. Will Obama even care in 2020 or 2030? Which means the next guy will change everything and it’ll be 2030 and 2040. And so on and so on.

    B) Again, and I can’t say this enough, I WAS PROMISED ROCKET SHIPS AND SPACE TRAVEL WOULD BE COMMONPLACE BY THE TIME I WAS AN ADULT. I do not have a jet pack. My car does not fly. By 2030 I could be dead from old age and that’s only for the 1st mission to Mars, not a colony, not real people going into space. For that matter, MY SON has been promised, by astronauts at NASA that HE would be living on Mars by the time he’s grown. He’ll be 34 by the time the 1st Mar trip gets going–IF no one changes it between now and 2030.

    And I’m sorry, but all of that is unexceptionable. Now. We need to do Mars right now and there should damn well be waaaay loftier goals by 2030 than the 1st damn mission to Mars. People need to be living and working on Mars and Venus, complete with babies being born on other planets and arguments about independence from earth by 2030.

  32. drow

    NEOs are more interesting than the moon, may provide many of the same resources, and are the next logical stepping stone towards mars. putting a lander down in the middle of antarctica makes slightly more sense than putting another one down on the moon.

  33. I’m not really happy about Orion staying as is. Going back to the crew capsule concept just strikes me as a significant step backwards from developing SSTO vehicles which would be far more useful, cheaper and more efficient in getting astronauts into space. Though I understand that the first SSTO prototypes would only be good for launching humans and not much else so a heavy lift vehicle would still be needed…

  34. It’s not just Fox spreading misinformation. The Today Show made it sound like our reliance on the Russians is because of the Constellation cancellation, too.

  35. I leave the computer for a day and the BCA gives up and now this what next the Pope steps down.

  36. James

    I understand what you are saying about the moon, but Mars is another ‘planet’! I really think the public will get behind this sort of goal and allow NASA to take the project to it’s conclusion. Without stupid people complaining it is going back over old ground etc…

    Our expansion into space is going at a snail pace, but if we can skip a few steps and actually pull it off…

    …well that would put us back on track. Oh and I really want to see a man/woman on Mars before I die.

  37. tacitus

    Where can you assemble a huge spacecraft and get it off the ground with just 1500 m/s delta-v and no Q problems? Moon!

    Bad reason. Unless you can mine the materials locally, the cost of getting the raw materials there would be prohibitive. Far better to assemble the spacecraft in Earth orbit if necessary. Even better, build a far cheaper alternative launch capability, like a space elevator.

    Where can you build the next Hubble telescope , bigger and without stabilization problems? Moon!

    Excellent reason. I think the astronomers may be the ones who lose out the most by not going back to the Moon. The perennially dark polar craters are an ideal place to put all kinds of telescopes and astronomy-related equipment, and a permanent base nearby would allow for upgrades and repairs to be made far more easily than Hubble.

    Where can you plant a radiotelescope for 384.000km-based interferometry? Moon!

    Ditto.

    Where will chinese go in the next 10 years? Moon!

    Terrible reason. Who cares if the Chinese go? The more the merrier I say, and concerned trolls who fret and pull their hair about this happening are just employing empty cold-war style jingoism.

    Where can you have some rest from your mother-in-law? Oh wait…

    Pass. :-)

  38. Geoff in Yorkshire

    3. Christoph K Says: April 15th, 2010 at 2:30 pm
    Could it be that you meant “Per ardua, ad aspera” or “Per aspera, ad astra”?
    The one you used means “Through adversity, to difficulties”. Which i hope won’t happen
    Besides of this I can only agree

    As an ex-RAF serviceman I cannot accept your remark without comment! This has been the RAF motto for all of its existence – and means what the originator says, that is ‘through adversity to the stars’.

    Per ardua ad astra (“Through Adversity to the Stars”) [1] is the motto of the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces such as the RAAF, RNZAF, and the former RCAF. It dates from 1912 and was used by the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps; and from 1 April 1918 by the Royal Air Force.

  39. Dan I.

    “Seems to me an albatross was a ship’s good luck charm til somebody killed it. Yes, I read a poem.”
    ~Malcolm Reynolds~ “Serenity”

    Sorry Phil, too easy to pass up when you described the killing of the albatross (aka Constellation) as a good thing.

  40. Bryan D

    It honestly sounds like kicking the can further down the road, and that can has been rolling for almost 40 years now. 2030ish? Yeesh.

  41. K.M.

    I’m not American, so I don’t really have the right to pass strong judgment on what your country does.

    But….

    I was 8 when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon. I was basically born with the space age, grew up with Apollo and the successor Space Shuttle. I too was promised the moon (pun) and flying cars and the rest.

    Well, I don’t have the moon, except in memories and what I’ve studied (partly in University, partly by myself).

    I do have computers and the internet and all the modern conveniences that emerged from America of that era.

    So, here is my unworthy judgement. America is declining. There are many reasons for this. Your culture is dependent on super-power contests and manhattan projects. If no large magnitude challenges exist, you’re not interested.

    Going to the moon? Been there, done that. Except…. YOU, the current generation, HAVEN’T been there or done that. All that accumulated knowledge, all that spent money, is gone.

    Problem is, you’ve been coasting for at least 25 years. All that you have in terms of wealth and power is derived from things that were done in a time that began in the post-war years and ended sometime in the 1970s.

    Do this: go to YouTube and listen to Pres. Kennedy deliver his “we will go to the moon in this decade” speech. Listen to MLK’s speeches. Tell me (and other non-American observers) that you haven’t lost something. Tell me and the others that coasting and thinking that things are fine is OK and all will be right in the end.

    News: Its not OK. Maintaining a vibrant, progressive culture takes work and costs money. Possibly lots of money, maybe a few lives.

    To paraphrase de Grasse Tyson: if you think that space exploration and the other things are difficult/expensive, just wait and see what happens if you don’t do them.

    I’m going back to my Chinese-built computer, based on technology first developed in Americal, run by an operating system that was probably coded by non-Americans, but again based on technology first developed in America.

    Get the point? Stop F****** around and go do something important. Or else wait around for some other country to take charge; try explaining that one to the grandchildren.

  42. tacitus

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the de-emphasizing of a medium term manned mission to the Moon is as much to do with kicking the budgetary can down the road as anything else. If there was a definite targeted manned Moon mission on the books, they would have to start firming up the plans and schedule for the mission, which means very quickly committing huge resources to the effort.

    Keeping the plans more vague with longer term targets avoids that sticky issue.

    (Heh: Bryan just beat me to it)

  43. Jeffersonian

    You’ve convinced me, Phil (on the moon thang).
    I’m having trouble parsing Neil’s complaint.

  44. Whew

    I don’t get the Mars idea. What’s the point?

    Step 1
    Moon has water and metals. Learn to mine Moon, live in space (grow plants, recycle waste, breed, etc).
    Step 2
    Mine asteroids, possibly comets (metals, water, etc)
    Step 3
    Slowly ferry parts to Moon for Mars mission. Build ship in Moon orbit.
    Step 4
    Fuel it with H and O2, etc, from water, etc. from previous steps

    If part of the point of going to Mars is the ability to get off this rock should something bad happen, learning to build in space should be a higher priority.

    AND THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT:

    What fuels the imagination of children young and old is the ability to witness the ascent of men and women atop a huge machine going on an adventure of a lifetime. PUBLIC ACCESS to space must be maintained. We as a people MUST continue to have a stake so that all is not lost to private industry (I wonder what SpaceX’s insurance company will say about people watching launches?).

    I had the privilege to watch STS-131 launch from Banana Creek. The experience is one of my most treasured memories. Not only was it incredible (I wish we had better words than in the dictionary to describe it), but I got to meet a teacher who was there for her 4th grade class; I also got to meet the daughter of a gentleman from JPL who had a toxic chemical sensor riding up to the ISS. I then got to meet him, as well, and shake his hand. It was a chance encounter, but I was a regular guy who got lucky to be with 4,000, or so, other lucky people to mix in with the real heros (the engineers of our public space program).

    Will this continue to happen when the space industry becomes privatized? Will space flight become a trade secret? Will we no longer be able to watch Booster Cam or ET Cam?

    I would rather pay extra for NASA and read in graphic detail about how the Shuttle functions than not be able to put a clip of a rocket launch on YouTube because I didn’t get clearance from Coke because their logo is on the side.

    It’s going to happen, of course, because it does make sense to some degree, but the burden of being part of the truth (knowledge) is paying a price for ownership.

    Let’s just make sure we continue to own that knowlege as a collective, not as a corporation.

  45. Travis

    @Bryan D

    True. But we’ve also been spinning our wheels for the last 30 years and it’s going to take time to get that momentum going again.

    Depending on how much freedom NASA is given to pursue R&D, these breakthroughs could come sooner than expected, thus speeding up the exploration timeline. Of course, funding has to stay consistent (or consistently escalating), for that to happen. I think Obama will continue funding, but who knows about following administrations.

    I’m being very optimistic here for sure, and I don’t expect it to happen that way (we don’t know who is coming in after Obama), but it’s still a possibility to consider.

    Still, waiting until the 2030’s is maddening.

  46. Wayne on the plains

    I’m disappointed you didn’t have more to say about Orion, that’s the part of the plan that concerns me the most. In addition to competing with the private capsules, it’s only being developed as a stripped-down lifeboat. We’ve got to use Soyuz to get up there, and for nominal return, so what purpose will they really serve? If it’s just an excuse to keep funding it so that later it can be designed to its full potential, then maybe, but why not just say it’s being developed for those long-duration missions he wants?

    I’m also very dubious about the claims that a heavy-lift vehicle that’s no more than hand-waving now can be ready before Ares-V would have been. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ares, but how can they not have been ahead of something that will be completely new and designed from scratch starting next year at the earliest?

    I’m still unconvinced, but I haven’t had a chance to hear the whole speech yet either…

  47. justcorbly

    I like breaking the tradition of having NASA’s mission shaped by big, bold Presidential initiatives that set specific destinations to be reached within a certain time. They all imitate JFK. Big speeches, and then nothing happens. Remember the National Space Plane? Remember how Bush I led us to Mars? Remember how Bush II said let’s do Apollo one more time?

    I like the way Obama seems to understand that we need to build a public and private space-faring infrastructure capable of supporting missions to, and long-term habitation in, any number of destinations. This is a fundamental break with, and an improvement over, the crash program model based on Apollo.

    I really like directing NASA to develop a new HLV, and I really, really like making it contingent on use of new propulsion technology. Better propulsion — going faster — is the key to exploring and exploiting the Solar System. We must be able to get to Mars in a few weeks, not a year or so.

    I’m OK with repurposing Orion. We need something to haul people back and forth to LEO. And it isn’t like Orion was going to haul people to Mars.

    The tub thumping from the Fox and the other conservatives is just evidence that they are really more interested in the Glory of the State than in saving money. If Bush II had made the same speech after the Shuttle disaster they’d be cheering and salivating in their cocktails.

  48. Though I understand his passion, I was a bit embarrassed by Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s decrying of the de-emphasizing of manned space the other night on The Colbert Report, especially since his argument was based on little more than sentimental memories of being inspired as a youngster by NASA astronauts. So were (and are) we all, but his argument could have used a bit more “factiness” and a lot less nostalgia. End of rant.

  49. Jon

    I think putting people on asteroids is more dangerous but accomplishes similar enough goals to going to the moon. Perhaps we’ll just leave the moon to private industry and go after the real prize of getting to Mars.

    Where next though? Radiation around the jovian moons sucks pretty bad. I would be wary about Enceledus; being launched into Saturn’s ring system on a plume of water does not sound all that fun. Titan actually has atmospheric pressure. I wonder if oxygen can be derived from any of it’s surface? Just go out and grab some ice rocks to put in the oxygen machine I guess.

    How’s the radiation exposure diff between Europa and Titan?

  50. Terry Hancock

    To be more accurate, the new plan does not call for _NASA_ to return to the Moon.

    I’m actually delighted about that because that is a goal that private space may well be able to accomplish on its own (or relatively on its own — it can accomplish it as long as it has the pot-boiler tasks of providing taxi and supply services to LEO to sustain it). The profit motive there is easy: the Moon would be a very compelling space-tourism destination. And there are resources. We won’t really have a hard time justifying that investment.

    Having NASA go there would actually be competing in an arena where private space could make a real high-profile difference. So I think it’s actually cool for NASA to step out of the way and not steal their thunder.

    And Near-Earth Asteroids are a much more exciting stepping stone for a NASA program, in my opinion, if for no other reason than that no one has done it before.

    Yet they would require almost no technology development: with small delta-V requirements, an asteroid-rendezvous mission wouldn’t require huge new propulsion systems. We’d just need something like a space-tug (modified upper stage?) and use existing space-station derived living modules. We’ve already done the research into long-duration spaceflight, so we know we can handle that. The biggest problem is the radiation issue — but we can deal with that with water-shielded shelter approach.

    Shouldn’t cost much more than Skylab did — for the same reasons: it’s all just adapting existing hardware. Or did I miss something?

  51. GS

    The Blessed one has spoken, and the faithful have sung his praises.

  52. John

    Hey! Let’s clone a guy, send him to the moon to run a mining operation, vaporize him every three years and… oh.

  53. tacitus

    Where next though? Radiation around the jovian moons sucks pretty bad. I would be wary about Enceledus; being launched into Saturn’s ring system on a plume of water does not sound all that fun. Titan actually has atmospheric pressure. I wonder if oxygen can be derived from any of it’s surface? Just go out and grab some ice rocks to put in the oxygen machine I guess.

    I don’t think anyone knows at this point. It all depends on what’s going on back here on Earth and what our space faring capabilities are at the time. I think it will be a long time (100 years at least) before we go anywhere other than the Moon, Mars, or the asteroids. We will have our hands full with just those three destinations, and it will be many decades before they are fully explored and exploited.

    I can only guess, but I suspect the only other near to medium term destination will be space—habitats in space, either in Earth orbit or nearby.

    The outer planets, Venus and Mercury will likely remain the realm of robot exploration for the foreseeable future. Given that we haven’t even explore Jupiter’s system with a single fully capable spacecraft yet, there is decades-worth of automated exploration to be done there before we need to go there in person.

    Only if we make some startling discovery (like life or some evidence of ETI activity — yes, that startling) do I see us rushing anywhere further than the asteroid belt.

  54. tacitus

    GS Says:
    The Blessed one has spoken, and the faithful have sung his praises.

    The bitter one has spoken and needs to go crawl back into the hole he came from.

  55. Being of shanty Irish heritage, I propose constructing a Guinness brewery on the moon. Though lord knows it doesn’t travel well…

  56. chad

    A post written like a true liberal. Disgusting

  57. Astrofiend

    41. K.M. Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Amen bruh!

  58. I heard some of this on the radio this morning – it’s a far cry from Kennedy “we choose to these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” and promising to get a man on the moon in less than ten years.

    25 years for a man to land on Mars? When only a couple of years ago it was thought that it wouldn’t take more than 15 years to achieve that?

    The problem is too much beauraucracy and too much lobbying for piece of the NASA pie – and I’m starting to think that private endeavours are going to be outpacing NASA in short order.

  59. Plutonium being from Pluto

    WOW! :-O

    I am stunned. I so didn’t expect to hear this when I woke up this morning & I just may have to change my mind & take back all the negative things I’ve said about Obama before.

    But I’ll need to see & hear more & most of all need to see something concrete actually happen.

    I’d still like to see us go back to the Moon & keep theshuttles flying until their replacement is immediately able to take over but still .. WOW!! What a turnaround. I do like this new Obama plan.

  60. Nick

    Of course he’d want to go to Mars. The Moon is nice, bright and shiny, and owned by America, but what colour is Mars ? Red. Exactly.

    Seriously, though, Has anyone heard from Robert Zubrin ? He had a lecture scheduled on Monday the 19th in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and he might be a bit busy revising. It’s not Mars : Direct, but it does skip over returning to moon, which he was never a fan of.

  61. ASFalcon13

    Phil, I’ll take you on point-by-point here.

    1) The $6 billion over the next five years is a cop-out. Recall the Augustine Commission, which pointed out that we’d need a ramp-up to $3 billion per year in order to have any meaningful exploration program:
    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/384767main_SUMMARY%20REPORT%20-%20FINAL.pdf
    It doesn’t take much math to determine that the $6 billion over 5 years is $1.2 billion per year. It is an increase, so Obama can wave his hands and say “Look how much I love NASA, I increased their budget!” but still falls short of the target.

    2) I like the dedication to a new heavy-lift vehicle, but why such a long timeline? Preliminary design studies have already been performed for several heavy-lift concepts – a bunch were presented to the Augustine Commission during their hearing – among them Ares V (and an Ares V Lite verstion), DIRECT, and a Shuttle-C-styled sidemount vehicle. I’d much prefer to see a year or two alloted to flesh out the concepts, and then a selection made by 2012 at the latest, rather than waiting all the way to 2015 as Obama’s proposing.

    3) I was less than impressed with the Orion as ISS lifeboat proposal. If you don’t consider commercial crew access to ISS, then it’s clear that we’ll be relying on Soyuz to get our folks to the ISS. Soyuz has been doing a fine job of getting crew back down, so developing the Orion lifeboat turns out to be billions of dollars of investment to do nothing more than insure against a narrow set of unlikely contingency cases. With this view, I imagine it wouldn’t be long before someone realized what a waste of money the Orion lifeboat idea is and axe it. It looks to me that this is a way for Obama to reduce the money going into Orion (and ultimately get rid of it) while trying to avoid being perceived as the bad guy who dropped the axe on the it.

    Now, I’ve also heard that this idea would help the commercial guys by removing their requirement to stay at the ISS for several months…Orion lifeboat will do it for them instead. However, I’m not convinced by this argument either. Part of the idea of the commercial guys is to provide a cheaper way to access ISS. Now, if they do develop a cheap capsule, their effort is undermined by the fact that NASA still has to pay to fly the Orion anyway. At that point, you have two separate operations teams (transportation, prep and assembly, pad ops, and recovery in addition to mission control), training requirements and skills maintenance for two different systems, two launch vehicles and two launches, and two space capsules. At that point, why not just pay a bit more development cost up front to just launch and land on Orion, since it has to be up there anyway? Sure, it won’t be a full 50% saving per launch, but it will be cheaper than requireing a two-vehicle architecture to do the job of one.

    Finally, the argument that Orion may be expanded to fulfill later roles ignores engineering realities. It’s much easier to remove capability from a vehicle than it is to add it in. There will be pressure (cost pressure, reduction in mass, etc.) to remove equipment and capabilities that currently exist in Orion, but aren’t needed for a lifeboat role. I’m talking big things, like the LAS and launch abort GN&C, and the lunar-mission-sized re-entry TPS. It’s difficult to put these things back in. For one, adding mass to a spacecraft is always a tooth-and-nail fight, especially if things you’re trying to put back in are things that were removed earlier to meet a mass target. “Scars” may be left in to allow for expansion later on…but if the engineers don’t know what the future demands on the system will be, how are they supposed to know how much room for expansion to leave?

    4) This is where I agree with you. I won’t say anymore on this, as you’ve already summed up my thoughts on this topic quite nicely.

  62. What? Fox News spouting disingenuous nonsense?!? Say it ain’t so, Joe! Er, Phil!

  63. QuietDesperation

    I’m not American…

    You would have done well to stop there, because…

    Your culture is dependent on super-power contests and manhattan projects.

    …is a complete load. To our friends outside the USA: please stop trying to pigeonhole one of the most diverse populations ever assembled into one nation. Please. In return I will stop picking on English food and French hygiene. ;-) Japanese furry hentai is still game for ridicule, however.

    Problem is, you’ve been coasting for at least 25 years. All that you have in terms of wealth and power is derived from things that were done in a time that began in the post-war years and ended sometime in the 1970s.

    Are you high? So all that computer technology and the Internet and mountains of medical technology and piles of other things all just appeared out of thin air? So what is it gets *assembled* somewhere else? The economy is global.

    And Western RPGs are stomping all over JRPGs. ;-)

    Do this: go to YouTube and listen to Pres. Kennedy deliver his “we will go to the moon in this decade” speech.

    Apollo was a cold war blowout. If we had followed Von Braun’s incremental path we’d probably be much more established in space right now.

    Stop F****** around and go do something important.

    Show us the money, Jackson, and we’ll be happy to do it.

    OK, you want a Manhattan Project sized idea or three? Forget Mars. Here’s what I’d focus on.

    Space: Solve the big problem: cost to orbit. Get the price per pound to LEO down to a pittance, and others will follow. Space plane, lasers, skyhook, whatever. That’s the weak link right now.

    Space: An interplanetary drive capable of crossing the entire system in a week or two. Probably something nuclear. If the environmentalists complain about radiation in space, give them a book about the Sun (with special details about the composition and magnitude of it’s entire, unfiltered daily output) and send them off to bed with milk and cookies and a pat on the head.

    Earth: Come up with a method with extracting uranium from seawater. The Japanese are the only ones working this as far as I know. You solve this one and we have more than enough global energy for *billions* of years. This should be a global effort. Almost any amount poured into it is worth it if it pans out. So many other problems would go away as a result.

  64. tacitus

    I heard some of this on the radio this morning – it’s a far cry from Kennedy “we choose to these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” and promising to get a man on the moon in less than ten years.

    25 years for a man to land on Mars? When only a couple of years ago it was thought that it wouldn’t take more than 15 years to achieve that?

    The problem is too much beauraucracy and too much lobbying for piece of the NASA pie – and I’m starting to think that private endeavours are going to be outpacing NASA in short order.

    No, I am sure there was plenty of bureaucratic nonsense in NASA back then too. The difference between then and now is simply that we’re not in a Cold War with another nuclear superpower today. It was a political and strategic imperative to beat the Russians to the Moon and to keep up and stay ahead in the Space Race that was already going full tilt. That’s what allowed, no, pushed NASA into taking risks and cutting corners and thus getting us to the Moon in 10 years.

    I have absolutely no doubt that we could get an American to Mars and back within 15 years if the imperative was strong enough. But the world has changed, and now not only is there no pressing political or scientific need to get to Mars quickly, there is also more emphasis on doing it safely, without undue risk to the crew.

    Let’s say Opportunity stumbled over the wreckage of an alien spacecraft tomorrow, one that had evidence of interstellar or superluminal capabilities. How long do you think it would take for NASA to get deliver someone safely to the surface of Mars? Less than 10 years, I’d wager, especially if China and Russia decided that they wanted to go it alone and be the first ones there to claim the prize. Money would once again be no object, and all involved would suddenly accept a far higher risk of failure, including the American public. Frack, even a one-way mission of the type that’s proposed on occasion would be considered worth the risk.

  65. Synopsis

    I think that even going to Mars should just be a stepping stone towards further exploration of the solar system. Visiting NEO’s would give us great experience for visiting the asteroid belt (I suspect exploiting them is another matter though)

    Do plans for Mars ever include Phobos and Deimos? They’re way closer to Mars than the Moon is to Earth right? Wouldn’t that make them excellent waystations for Martian and intra-solar expeditions?

    On a different note, I wish the guy who wrote this article http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N18/nasap.html had comments so I could give him a verbal smackdown for being such a shortsighted idiot… but perhaps that fact that he was wrong about Obama’s plans is punishment enough :)

  66. I liked everything but the Moon part. I think we need to go back and not just to plant a flag. We need it for science, exploration and a host of other things. Imagine a radio telescope set up n the far side of the Moon with virtually no interference coming from Earth! Yeah, just not on board with abandoning the Moon. Yes, we went. Did we do much? We did as much as we could at the time. So, that is where we need to pick back up.

  67. North of 49

    K @ 25:

    Oh do I hear you. We must have read the same Popular Science/Popular Mechanics/Analog magazines that promised us everything from weather control to rocket boots and colonies on the Moon, Mars, Io, Ganymede, you name it.

    Go back to the Moon? Hell yes. We barely touched it the first time around, as if Columbus had approached the coast, sent in a boat, grabbed up a pailful of sand, sailed home and declared “Mission Accomplished!”. And don’t forget, back then we didn’t know the Moon had water. Maybe even enough water to sustain a colony.

    But even if none of that were true, we should still go back. Been there? Yes. Did that? No, we didn’t do diddly. Left some flags, some footprints. Still to this day know so little of it from the viewpoint of human eyes on the ground, human hands sifting the dust, human feet walking into craters we can, today, only map from orbit. (Yes, sure, super-high resolution compared to past efforts, but still, how do you match that against a pair of trained human eyeballs looking at the same thing from six feet away?)

    How do you sell it? I’m not a PR person, but something along the lines of “unfinished business” might be enough of a hook.

  68. Brian Too

    Haven’t the last 5 – 7 presidents ALL announced that we were going to Mars?

    We keep talking about how there’s no continuous support for a manned Mars mission, but at a conceptual level, there has been. The problem seem to be when NASA funding comes up against other funding requests, NASA comes up short (or maybe all programs get less than they ask for).

    I get the feeling that people like the concept of putting people on Mars (it feels like advancement and looking to the future), but then there’s a war to fight, and Social Security to fund, and darned if that city didn’t get hit by that (hurricane/tornado/flood/earthquake).

    It’s all too easy to let today’s necessities crowd out the long-term work that builds or even changes a future.

  69. ethanol

    Addressing your enumerated points Phil:

    1. Agreed. More money is good, and while I would have appreciated a 10 fold increase in NASA’s budget I am aware that not everyone shares my priorities, and I also realize that any truly substantial increase in NASA’s budget (say, one consistent with arriving a mars in 15 years) would have those same talking heads on fox screaming about big government spending. Nevermind the return on investment from space science vs. say, war.
    2. Heavy launch is vital, as there really isn’t a commercial impetus for it, and it is the bottleneck through which any deep space program in the near future must pass. Even with in-space assembly, larger launchers are more efficient and its much easier to build out of larger pieces. I would like to see them put the time and effort into making a launch vehicle worth using for at least two decades, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind seeing a definite proposal sometime soon. Not the biggest fan of the shuttle analogues.
    3. I’m not so sure about keeping the Orion capsule. It’s a bit beefy and expensive as an escape pod, although I wonder if it would be up to the task of a several week NEO visit. More likely, it is being kept in production both for the jobs and in case the falcon 9/dragon system doesn’t pan out.
    4. On the subject of the moon I have to disagree with you. I don’t think the moon will teach us a whole lot about landing and working on mars, and the argument that a moon base will make it easier to get to mars doesn’t hold a lot of water. Water, split into rocket fuel of course, is the only real resource that the moon could provide for such a journey. And think of the amount of effort required to set up the base, develop the mining, separation, purification, the amount of energy required to split it, storage issues, and then the business of getting this fuel to a craft which would otherwise have no business visiting the moon at all. How could that possibly be easier than simply launching the fuel into orbit? Maybe in 50 years, but I think we want to get to mars before that. Also remember that with a realistic funding scenario, the money that goes into setting up a moon base comes out of the mars program. The flexible path was by far my favorite of the Augustine commission proposals and I am glad it has been chosen (but I also would like to see a more specific timeline)
    tl; dr
    1. yay money
    2. yay big rockets
    3. hm orion
    4. screw the moon

  70. Scott

    I think this proposal is a vast improvement over the initial proposal, which I thought amounted to an end to the role of the U.S. as a leader in manned space exploration. This has some muscle and teeth behind it although more will be required. I am distressed at the idea of trying to bypass the Moon; I think it is a worthy goal to return their permanently and agree with the idea that it will help us develop the knowledge we will need to go to Mars. I still believe relying on Russia to get Americans into space is a bad idea but the U.S. doesn’t have much in the way of good choices at this point and Phil is certainly correct that the U.S. is in this lousy position because of decisions made by multiple previous administrations. I just hope that relations between the U.S. and Russia don’t go south in the next few years and leave us scrambling to find another way to get astronauts into space.

  71. Rob

    We need a vision for NASA and I believe it should be to create the systems, set the direction and help get Americans in space. The second objective should be to create an econony in space to provide a reason for Americans to go. Finally we need to secure space so we always have the high ground.

  72. I’d imagine landing on the moon is sort of futile unless we have some science to prove *ON* the moon, however i do believe NASA would recommend orbiting the moon as a practice mission to prove any technology that would be sent on an orbit to Mars, so i don’t think the moon is out of the question all together ;)

    I hope the community though can “fuel the fire” and NASA through all its social networking efforts can show the world the excitement of space travel and we can learn from our mistakes and charge forward to the future.

  73. MadScientist

    I agree that routine operational launches such as telecomms or earth observation systems into geosynch or LEO should not be handled by NASA. On top of that I think we need more leeway in choosing the launch provider – for example, if I built a bird with public money, why can’t I pay the Russians to put it up? For reasons which should be obvious, military launches will still need US providers but it would be good to have more choice as well (SpaceX, Lockheed, Boeing, etc).

    The only bit I’m not comfortable with is the propulsion systems which are “not yet imagined”. An awful lot of work has gone into the development and evaluation of solid and fluid fuels over the decades; any major changes would have to be in rocket design rather than fuel. For example, it’s pretty damned hard to beat hydrazine + N2O4 (but what horrible chemicals to handle!) For liquid fueled rocket costs to come down people have to invent rockets with much lower complexity (easy to say, not so easy to do). This bestseller management style of “it must be cheaper but better” is obviously still around. Merely insisting that something must be cheaper and better will not necessarily make it so.

    The engineers tend to be very conservative and do things which they are reasonably comfortable will work – and in the short term that does mean you can put things together in a relatively short time, but you also know it’s going to be pretty much only more of the same. To break from that requires enormous research funding directed specifically at trying to overcome current limitations. On top of that, it can be decades before any significant breakthrough is made. Are politicians willing to fund costly programs that are guaranteed to have nothing to show for many years?

  74. Allen

    I’ll be writing to my Congressman to vote this into law.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to establish ourselves on the Moon before we begin to even think of going to Mars.

    Excellent post, Phil.

  75. Lorq

    I totally disagree that going to the moon would have any special value in “preparing” us to go to Mars. We didn’t need to go to the *moon* in order to figure out how to go to the moon. And we don’t need to go to the moon to figure out how to go to Mars. Sure the moon has raw materials and potential fuel sources, and it’s a stable platform where more extensive facilities could be constructed — but that has nothing to do with making a trip to Mars easier or more economical. The big challenge to getting to Mars has to do with the long transit time, and the way to deal with that is to study long-term human exposure to space — which is what the ISS can do (and which the Obama plan supports by extending the station’s life-span) — and to shorten the transit time with better propulsion systems (which the Obama plan specifically indicates will be a major focus for NASA). Not only is a big Constellation-style moon program not necessary for these things, it’s not even desirable. Going to Mars by way of the moon is choosing a *more* difficult way to get there when it’s already hard enough; it’s like going from Boston to New York by way of Wyoming. Getting hung up on using lunar resources for a Mars trip (with all the insanely complicated and expensive logistics that that would entail) would put back that trip by 50 years — easily. Now, if we’re saying we’d prefer to go back to the moon for its own sake, that’s another story. But it’s clearly not the optimum way to go to Mars.

  76. @24 markogts & 25 Ferris … Originally the ISS was to serve as stop to the Moon, but it is in the wrong orbit (so that the Russians could easily launch to it).

    @46 Wayne … agreed … I think Orion-lite is a waste. Use the Dragon from SpaceX or the X-38.

    The Mars for Less plan argues that we could use commercially available MLVs rather than HLVs and avoid the development time and costs for HLVs and that it is more economical.

    Even the Mars Direct plan calls for an HLV no greater than the Saturn V. And Elon Usk said in an interview that building the Saturn V (updated with modern components) again would be a good idea. BTW it’s a myth that the plans have been lost, they’re on microfiche.

    If Griffin had focused on the destination … either the Moon or Mars … instead of reinventing the wheel … We’d probably already be back on Luna or close to it. The Obama budget does nothing more than re-initiate the process to re-invent the wheel. Kind of silly when we already have the plans for a wheel that we know that worked … GOOD ENUFF!…

    So, here are the next steps:

    1. End the Shuttle and turn LEO over to private enterprise …no problem with that!
    2. Turn the ISS over to some other research agency or to ESA … or to Bigelow.
    3. Turn “studying climate change” over to NOAA or some other research agency.

    Let’s clear the decks so that NASA can focus on exploration!

    4. Pick a destination.
    5. Designate a timeframe less than 10 years.

    Get boots on the ground. Incrementally expand the modules and equipment. Meanwhile, dust off NERVA for the next generation of transports.

    We could easily be back on the Moon in less than 10 yrs and on Mars in 15.

  77. Jo Diggs

    You have to admit he raises some good points!

    Lou
    http://www.fbi-logs.hk.tc

  78. hexhunter

    But we have to go to the Moon to teach the Space Marines ‘low-gravity combat tactics’ in case of a Martian/space oil scenario…

    Some wire-fu practitioners could teach them.

  79. DLC

    We will not be returning to the moon.
    I’m close to 50, and we won’t be going back in my lifetime.
    Likewise, you can forget deep space missions aside from the odd robot now and then.
    Instead of expanding outward and surviving, we will be collapsing into ourselves.
    Spending more money means nothing if you do not spend it on anything worth having.
    As for cancelling constellation — Sooner or later we’re going to have to stop designing our horses by committee. AND more to the point — if you keep re-designing the boat, you Never launch!

  80. ethanol

    71. Madscientist:

    sure hypergolic fuels are great – in maneuvering thrusters. And H2 + O2 are alright – for making it into orbit. But for faster (or lighter) interplanetary transfers the name of the game is specific impulse, and that’s something that chemical fuels just suck at. And the replacement for chemical rockets in this respect are already being developed: I’m thinking in particular of VASMIR, which will soon be used to keep the ISS in orbit. It still needs to be scaled up for a mars mission but that’s the sort of thing NASA should work on. It will probably also require a whole lot of RTG’s, maybe even a proper nuclear reactor. But if we can’t get over that fear perhaps we should stay in low earth orbit.

  81. moonbathunter

    @74 hexhunter

    Are you suggesting we enslave the Moonbat people before they can attack us?

    Wake up! We know they are living on the Moon it won’t be long before they try to steal our cheese! We must act now before it is too late!

  82. ScottW

    A statement on this by Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), includes this gem:

    “The decision by the Obama administration to gut NASA’s manned flight program does more than jeopardize the long term goals of solar system exploration, the cancellation of the space shuttles replacement will effectively leave the United States reliant upon the
    ***Soviet Union***
    to grant us access to low earth orbit. As a member of the Armed Services Committee I am very concerned with that possibility, and as an American I am disappointed by the prospect.”

    Soviet Union. *giggle*

    http://akin.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1491:akin-against-ceding-low-earth-orbit-capabilities-to-russians&catid=25:press-releases&Itemid=74

  83. RogerPenna

    Going to the Moon before going to Mars, so we can prepare for such a trip is only part of the problem… and a problem caused EXACTLY because of lack of technological progress in other areas. That is… going to Mars is a really complicated thing if each part of the journey will take 6 months of more!

    And thats where NASA´s new plan must focus. Cheaper access to space. Faster space travel.

    Skylon, Lightcraft, VASIMR. All techs that depend on more funding, are withing 10 years reach if they get the funding, and can revolutionize access to space as well as space travel.

  84. 24601

    So we’re killing off the shuttle fleet. Ok. But why not use the tank and boosters to help lift the next vehicle? Give the tank some engines of its own, and strip down the vehicle to little more than a cargo pod with a cockpit? I can understand that the shuttles themselves are becoming aged and unreliable, but the tank and boosters should still be relatively fresh. Adapt them instead of tossing them.

  85. RogerPenna

    @Ethanol: I agree about VASIMR. Imho, its nonsense to try to reach Mars with 6 month trips timelines. Waste of time, waste of space, waste of energy.

    VASIMR should be able to reach Mars in 39 days, provided it has a 200MW reactor. Well, we are talking about 2030. I expect such reactors till then! What we CANT DO is to be using chemical rockets to fly to Mars in 2030!

    I am also a supporter of lightcraft and Skylon. About Skylon you can read at its company´s website, http://www.reactionengines.co.uk

    As for lightcraft, its laser powered propulsion, for non-crewed ship to transport payload into orbit. A powerful laser fires pulses under the ship. The reflective surface of the ships concentrates the laser in a single point where it heats the air until it becomes plasma and expands very rapidly, propelling the craft upward. The system is designed for it to accelerate very fast so by the time there is no air anymore for the laser to heat, the craft already has delta-v enough. The USAF is putting money on the research and Myrabo, the creator of the system, also has a deal with the brazilian airforce, which is making tests at an hypersonic windtunel in São José dos Campos. (Myrabo had already realized tests with a scale model in 2000)

    These are some examples of the inovation we (humans, since I am not an american) need, if we really want to explore space.

  86. Mary

    I just watched Obama’s complete speech. It will be interesting to see if his ideas pass through the neccessary political channels to begin implementation. The plan may not, nor could any plan, please everyone. But, he is a president who shows an understanding of the importance of space exploration and its overfopw to advancements here on Earth. A supportive and knowledgable president isdefinately a positive thing.
    Whenever I have watched him speak, it always impresses me that he can talk for an extended time and never once refer to notes.

  87. gss_000

    Lot of misinformation on all sides of this. What’s neat and sometimes very annoying is how space matters can be a litmus test for how people see space.

    For instance, while the Augustine Commission did note the issues with Constellation, what a vast majority of the reporting, including this blog, never mention is they praised the management of Constellation in light of all the budget issues handed to them by the Administration and Congress.

    I’m really disappointed we’re not going to the moon anytime soon. To say we’ve been there is like saying I’ve been to Asia, Africa, and Australia because I’ve been to NYC. I hope the tech does come down the line that gets us there faster, but I’m worried the new plan will just be a repeat of the flags and footsteps of Apollo.

  88. RL

    I don’t think this is much of a plan. I agree with Armstrong and Lovell.

    @ Mary, 85. No, notes. Just a teleprompter. When he speaks without it, he has trouble putting words together.

  89. Dr. Stephen Godfrey

    I watched the Presidents Speech today and it was GREAT ! He does something Bush would never do. The President actually listens to others ! WOW ! He is smart-very, very, very, very smart!
    He is willing to listen and revise. We will go to the moon, mars, everywhere! he is putting tons of money into space! Bush hated to read a book! His advisors said he NEVER read a book or they never saw him read even ONE book during the 8 years in the WHouse. Bush did what others told him to do-esp. his Vice ( and I mean that as Vice-in corruption ) Cheny–did most of the decision making in his alternative government departments. President Obama is a GREAT MAN he listens and we will go to the MOON! It would be nice if we could send many of these republicans in a rocket to Mars. Laugh! In the news today they said the average income of the Tea Party group member’s $$ 82,000, they are 99 % white and according to this republican research assessment 84 % of them have no close personal friends who are of any other non-white culture, this same study also showed that even though the Tea Party groups see themselves as Americans their basic knowledge of American government is below a 3rd grade level as 78 % did not know the difference between The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution ! This was all from an internal GOP valid research statement of the Tea Party group of over 10,000 members. This study also found that 69 % of these saw the KKK in a very high positive light for role model for their children.

  90. brad

    @ RL, 87. It’s funny that nobody pointed out that Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush 2, McCain, and Palin all use/used teleprompters.

  91. badnicolez

    @brad, 88

    I’m sure people were impressed all the time by the fact that all those other people could talk for so long without notes, too.

  92. Ben

    The author’s true intent for going to the moon first is he is afraid we will not make it to Mars. That way, NASA still have something to claim and keep the public interested. 20-30 years is a long time for the public to wait without any results. People might forget, and NASA might be scrapped entirely.
    Forget entirely all this heavy lift rockets, and the dozens of space shuttle variation. Put all of NASA’s effort on risky single stage to orbit technology. The payout will be more than imaginable. That is the holy grail. Low cost to orbit. Once cost barrier is gone, space tourism and Mars will come naturally. Technology payout in terms of new material and knowhow will be a gold mine as well. We need that second internet type revolution.

  93. My apologies for sounding crass here, but I can’t understand how anyone, especially an astronomer, can be happy with this plan. To me, this sounds like virtually every other presidential promise uttered in the last couple decades of presidents – “I have a commitment to this goal, and we plan to see change in the future”. Ultimately, those plans float around until the next president extends them farther out, citing whatever crisis replaces the budget crisis. Before you know it, 50 years will pass, I will die of old age never having seen another US spaceflight beyond the shuttle program (let alone a trip to the moon or Mars), and the newly inaugurated president in 2060 will mention that he has a commitment to returning the US to space, despite the apathy crisis going on, and give NASA a paltry budget raise.

    No, if anything, this shows that Obama DOES have a commitment to manned space flight: a ridiculously low commitment to it, that is. Basically, he’s whimpering that it’s too hard to go to Mars right now, and so we need to reevaluate our current plans and aim for some fuzzy date 25-30ish years out. I call BS on that, for reasons listed below:

    First, somebody tell me – how long had earthlings been making manned flights into space before Kennedy’s famed “before the end of this decade” speech? I’ll give you a hint, it was measured in days. Still no clue? It was 43 days. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space on April 12, 1961, and it was on May 25, 1961 when Kennedy promised that we wouldn’t just be in space, but we would be on the moon in less than a decade. And we kept that promise.

    Further, science historians will remember that when Kennedy had made that speech, it was only three and a half years after the first time a manmade object (Sputnik) was launched into orbit.

    Lastly, it might be a blight on American egos, but prior to Kennedy’s speech, the USA hadn’t pioneered into space yet. Sure, we were sorta toying with it, but the Russians were the ones actually doing something, getting people and crafts into orbit.

    So where am I going with this? If it’s not blindingly obvious, my point is that at the time the race for the moon started, rocket technology essentially didn’t exist in any highly useful form. And in a decade, we went from having nothing but a few leftover German scientists with some ideas to landing a man on the moon! So it begs the question, if we could go to the moon under those conditions, then why with 50 years of technology and innovation behind us, can’t we be on our way to Mars by 2015? The answer is painful: We COULD do this, but nobody really cares.

    Obama plays the financial crisis card and uses that as a reason to be cautious with NASA’s plans. Big deal. In the 60’s we were in the middle of a cold war, with the genuine possibility of World War 3 starting at the drop of a hat. There were economic crunches that would battle the issues we’re having today. And yet we made it happen. Why? because we CARED about it.

    I hate to play psychologist, but I blame part of the reason we don’t have a Mars colony today on the uber tolerant society we’ve morphed into. Here we are in a world where even the slow fat kid on the losing little league team gets a trophy, and when murderers in the middle east try to kill our own people there are those who sincerely think that we can solve it all by being their friends and singing kumbyah around some international campfire. We’re a bunch of apathetic slobs, and I think if China launched a flight to Mars next week to mine minerals to build bombs, we would probably just wave as they went on their merry way.

    We have the technology to be on mars in a decade. Heck, we could be on the moon by 2012 if we really put our minds to it. But sadly, it seems that even the leaders in the scientific community have fallen for the lie that this President (or the last couple, for that matter) cares about space travel. They get excited when the president throws a few pennies at an organization that’s still underfunded even with these raises, and claim this is a good thing. Wake up. The president has given more money to the Wall Street executives who caused this financial crisis than he’s given to NASA, and there’s ANYONE who thinks this is acceptable, let alone good? Really?

  94. Jeff Fite

    About going back to the moon:

    I find compelling the various arguments that the Moon would serve as a stepping-stone to Mars. There are differences, truly, but not so much that we should bypass the Moon:
    –Mars has an atmosphere. This introduces important differences in how we will land, and what resources we will have available–but we still can’t breathe it, or walk around without a pressure suit or SPF 100,000 sunscreen. And, on a related note…
    –Mars has weather. Yes, but not a lot. There are sandstorms to deal with, but no hurricanes or marsquakes or highly-active volcanoes. The big engineering challenge the weather presents is the extreme temperature changes between day and night, summer and winter. Those will challenge our structures more than anything else in Mars’ atmosphere. Practicing construction on the Moon can simulate those temperature extremes every two weks, as the sun rises and sets.
    –Mars has twice the gravity. Again, important to how we will design our machines–but really, the important thing about gravity when you are living in space is whether you have any. (Not you, personally, of course. YMMV.) Prolonged free fall has profound effects on human physiology, but we don’t really know what happens after prolonged exposure to low-gravity conditions. We can find out on the Moon.

    There’s more, of course. But I want to introduce a concept to this thread before this post gets any longer: the Hudson’s Bay start.

    The Hudson Bay company explored and exploited much of central Canada in the 19th century, and was famous for it’s large and well-equipped expeditions, each going into the wilderness for weeks or months at a time. It was the company’s policy to begin each expedition by making camp on the first night only a mile or two out of town. Stopping for the night, making camp and dinner and breakfast and breaking camp again would allow the expedition to ‘remember what they forgot’–before it was too late to go back to town for a case of matches.

    I think the Moon should be our ‘Hudson’s Bay start’ to the rest of space.

  95. Daniel P.

    I like the part where you said “The increase in NASA’s budget is most welcome. Some of this goes to climate change studies (which the denialists will rant and scream about, but too bad). Some goes to science,” I welcome the distinction you made between climate change studies, and science :-).
    Thus concludes my rant and scream.

  96. The only planet known to support any life is here, so it behooves us to devote a tiny amount of NASA’s budget to studying Earth and not talk about the whole thing lest it attract attention.

  97. “The Hudson Bay company explored and exploited much of central Canada in the 19th century, and was famous for it’s large and well-equipped expeditions, each going into the wilderness for weeks or months at a time.”
    ===

    They were not going into any wilderness. They were going into Cree land where lots of people lived. Some would say the Hudson Bay Company was “trespassing” on Cree land. And they would be correct.

    At least let’s get our factual history correct.

  98. a denialist

    We don’t deny GLOBAL warming. weren’t glaciers covering 1/2 of montana only 4000 years ago. I guess if we excavate deep enough we’ll find 4000 year old suv’s, and maybe al gores great great great great… grand dads statue, commemorating the original ban on everything carbony. You are a carbon dioxide(the terrible greenhouse gas du jour) generating unit, and after these knuckleheads have their way, you will be taxed for existing. Think about it, 6,000,000,000 of us CO2 generating units to deal with, what shall we do, LETS TAX THEM. I know there are lots of wackos out there(right wing nuts). That doesn’t give you an excuse however, to pledge your allegiance, to the extreme left nuts, all of the time. you do have more than a cortex i hope. Thnx 4 reading this far lol. and when is spell check gonna recognize lol as a real expression.

  99. Additionally, I’d like to add that inflation over five years time is probably going to eat nearly 1/3 of this budget increase. So not only is is a bad compromise, it’s also not as sizable as it appears upfront.

  100. Messier Tidy Upper

    I like this new Obama space plan much better than the old one! ;-)

    But still … There are a couple of things I’d do differently If I got my preferred option (which, yeah, I know I won’t but still ..)

    1. More details & a tighter timeline for going to Mars. Its still too vague and far off for my liking -I’d want it tobe set for no more than ten years time – anything else is just too nebulous and far off for my taste.

    2. The gap between the Space Shuttle finishing and its replacement taking over? Ideally I wish this would be no more than a month or two – not years. Yes I guess its a bit late & we would have been so much better off had we started working on and actually building a replacement for the Shuttle in say, *1985* – or at latest 1990 – instead of, well what has it been, just a few years ago? I’d rather see us keep flying the Shuttles until the replacement is flight-ready than have a long gap where the United States has no human-rated space vehicles.

    3. Missing out on the Moon. Durn. That sucks. Yes I’d take a trip to Mars over one to the Moon anyday & yes its true that we’ve been there before but still I don’t see why we can’t do *both* & why we can’t use the lunar experience as part of the preparation for going to Mars. That & I’d love to see us build a giant Arecibo style dish on the Lunar Farside for SETI & much more.

    So I’d give this Obama plan 7 out of ten – which is a big improvement on the 3 out of ten I’d have given his previous plan. :-)

    NB. Have not yet read all the comments here – hope that doesn’t show too much! ;-)

  101. Astro

    Going to Mars > going to the Moon (again)

  102. QuietDesperation

    @Dr. Stephen Godfrey

    Dude. Decaff. Seriously.

  103. Wayne on the plains

    @ 89. Dr. Stephen Godfrey

    I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at your post, it’s just so silly and offensive all at once. I’m sure your “leaked GOP research” was done to the utmost scientific standards, but I don’t believe any of the so-called “statistics” you cite.

  104. Ug. Still does not actually get us past the problem of not having any manned space capability for at least several years.

    Let me just say what I’ve been saying for the past several years: Build a simple space capsule, like a stripped-down Orion. Nothing fancy for deep space stuff, just enough to do what capsules like Soyuz do (to and from the space station and life support for a few days)

    Then put the goddamned thing on a goddamned Atlas, which already comes damn near the requirements for manned space vehicles and won’t need much else.

    Problem solved.

    As for the new heavy lift rocket. If NASA does not stop changing its damn plans we’re never going to have any new rocket of any kind. They spent the 80’s talking about the Shuttle-C, then the 1990’s talking about Magnum and then Venturestar and then Ares and now what?

    Make up your goddamned mind and stick to it. Stop working on a project until it’s 75% complete and then ditching it, starting a new program from scratch and selling off the old hardware as surplus. It’s goddamned maddening that they can’t ever get anything done because they can’t seem to stick to a design long enough to the final stage.

  105. Plutonium being from Pluto

    The increase in NASA’s budget is most welcome. Some of this goes to climate change studies (which the denialists will rant and scream about, but too bad).

    I can’t speak for all Climate Change /Anthropogenic Global Warming Skeptics but Im one AGW Skeptic who has no problem with climate change *studies* as long as they are rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective rather than an excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering.

    Studies and learning more information and gathering more relevant observations are never a bad thing in my book.

    Over the top ideological lobbying by people like Al Gore & Jim Hansen OTOH is not merely a bad thing but a terrible and totally destructive & unhelpful thing. Just my view ok.

    ***

    I am still gettting over my shock at Obama’ s reversal of his old “killing off the US human space exploration” policy and change to this new one. It is certainly sounding much more promising and hopeful than the old idea and hopefully it will actually come to something.

    So I am, some may be surprised to note, considerably happier with Obama & in favour of it pending further information and research on it.

    But … Constellation is still cancelled right?

    If so I think that’s a mistake – the heart rending thing for me there is that we were finally, finally seeing something *actually happen* with a new rocket and spacecraft system there only to see it gone by Obama’s decree. What a shocking, disgusting waste it seems to me if we do not go ahead with what we’ve already started there.

    Finally, whatever happened to the suggestion in a recent New Scientist magazine that we could maybe start witha trip not to Mars but to its moons esp. Phobos instead?

  106. MaDeR

    About Dr. Stephen Godfrey: obvious troll is obvious.

    About PBFP:
    “Im one AGW Skeptic who has no problem with climate change *studies* as long as they are rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective rather than an excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering. ”
    Translation from trollingo to common english:
    Climate change studies that give results that I like are “rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective”.
    Climate change studies that give results that I do not like are “excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering”.

    Not so obvious troll is still obvious. :>

  107. Q

    Sure, going to the moon would be nice but there is a better place to go to. I ‘am surprised that so few people are aware of Phobos.

    Benefits of going to Phobos instead of the moon:
    1) Less deltaV back and forth (yes, it’s true)
    2) People on Phobos are shielded from radiation, compared to the moon.
    3) At Phobos, astronauts can easily drive robots on Mars surface in real-time. Think real-time VR = just as good as a real astronaut on Mars, probably better because an astronaut only has it eyes to look with compared to the endless possibility of a VR controlled robot.
    4) Due to the lower deltaV it would be easier to build up a permanent base compared to the moon.

    The only drawback is the longer time spent in space when travelling to Phobos and back (radiation and isolation).

    http://www.angelfire.com/md/dmdventures/orbitalmech/DeltaV.htm

    discovermagazine.com/2009/jun/21-russias-dark-horse-plan-to-get-to-mars/article_view?searchterm=oberg&b_start:int=1

  108. Stanley H. Tweedle

    A promise is one thing, keeping it is another!

    And there are many other nations who are willing to go to the Moon and have lunar bases over there too!

  109. I find it funny how people are blaming Obama for the Shuttle retirement.

  110. I dont care about the expert panel. Shuttle needs to be replaced. I do NOT agree about NO return to the moon – it is a tactical and strategic position as are all the Lagrangian points. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA how much the Russians are charging to launch and return an American astronaut – not to mention a MILITARY one? I didnt like the Constellation program, MAJOR 40 YEAR BACKSTEP. This is all some bad Jedi mind trick.

  111. Elmar_M

    I applaud the Obama administration for the new space plan. It is in most parts pretty good and during his speech Obama said a few things that I have been preaching for a very long time.
    I love the new emphasis on research into enabling technologies (e.g. propulsion systems). This is awesome! New technology is something that is absolutely needed if we really want to actually go somewhere and if we want to build a sustainable space exploration infrastructure. This is also where I see NASAs biggest chance for contribution, Leave it to the commercials to develop launch vehicles and to offer launch servies, but be a forerunner at developing new technology that commercials can license to make new, better space transport systems. I am very happy about commercial crew transport and that there will be a lot less cost plus contracts. That is all really good.

    I was very disappointed by the compromise to keep Orion. This was clearly done to shut up certain congress men that were lobbying to keep the status quo and the profitable cost plus contracts in their states. That was a bad decision.
    I am also not to sure about the heavy lifter. For one, I dont think that it is NASAs job to build launch vehicles, or to offer LV- services. Second, I think that NASA should spend some more time on research first. This is going to be another expensive, slow, bloated cost plus project that will waste money. Yes it will waste money! Let the commercials invest their money into development. Pay them in comepetitions and milestones. Cost plus contracts are not the way to go.
    I second Phils notion about the moon also. I think that we should, at some point, return to the moon. Now that we have found water there, it could be very interesting.
    Otherwise, pretty good programme.

  112. Stargazer

    I wish people would stop saying let’s not go to the Moon, been there done that… Yes, astronauts have landed six times for brief scientific exploration, and with huge science return. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing more to do there.

  113. UmTutSut

    “I strongly support missions to near-Earth asteroids. These rocks are areal threat to life on Earth, and the more we know about them the better.” Of course, Phil; you’re a scientist and astronomer. But do you really believe the Great American Public — who yawned en masse at the later Apollo missions to the Moon, a body they can see almost every night — will get seriously excited about flying humans to an invisible asteroid??? I just don’t buy it. Mars, yes, because it holds a special fascination for various reasons. But to 99.99% of the public, an asteroid is just a space rock that killed the dinosaurs.

  114. UmTutSut

    Phil wrote: “As far as relying on private space, I have been clear about that….” Look, I don’t really care whether the logo on a launch vehicle reads NASA, Space-X, Orbital, whatever. But don’t try to sell me on the idea that the commercial types can place humans in LEO better, cheaper — and especially, faster — than a NASA effort. They don’t have the demonstrated experience or expertise. Except for Falcon 9, whose success/failure remains to be seen, the commercial guys just have paper rockets. Encourage their efforts, but betting the wad on commercial LVs and spacecraft is based on dreams, not reality.

  115. Jay

    Two Stage to Orbit, Vertical take-off and Landing like God and Robert Heinlein intended!

    The rest is just political BS.

    We don’t need ONE SINGLE piece of new technology!
    Accept maybe a ray gun that would make people do the intelligent thing…

    Go to the Asteroids first because they are the highest value ECONOMIC target in the Solar System!

    Illegitimi non carborundum

  116. UmTutSut

    One more strongly held opinion: This business of humans *orbiting* Mars is eyewash. There’s nothing humans can accomplish from orbit that can’t be done by robotic spacecraft. If we’re going to go, we need to land and put a team of scientists, planetary geologists (and biologists?) on the surface.

  117. MC

    Important question: should those of us who are encourage by this plan write to our Congresscritters to tell them that we, their constituents, would like for them to vote for an support this new plan? After all, Congress has not approved it, and thus it could get shot down, destroying any hope for the future of NASA. If so, how should we construct such a letter (and I do mean a letter, as in a physical letter, as Congresscritters tend to ignore email), and how to we refer to Obama’s new plan for NASA? Does anyone know when it will go before Congress (House or Senate or both) for approval?

  118. Grand Lunar

    Most of the speech reaffirms Obama’s position.

    I am rather pleased that Orion will stick around, though, even if at first it serves as a lifeboat. I just hope NASA can manage to get it to touchdown on land, as opposed to splashdowns.

    As for the heavy-lift rocket, I hope that they’re looking at Direct 3.0.
    It does seem to retain as much of the workforce and make use of shuttle hardware as possible. And it might meet the needs of the many…er, future spaceflight.

    What I’d like to see is this; NEOs first, Moon second, then Mars. Probably a mission to Phobos can be thrown in between as well.

    Also, even though we’re working on VASIMR, I think a nuclear thermal rocket can be a good start to making new propulsion systems. Better to refuel with just one propellant than two, IMO.

  119. giorgio

    The entire speech was pure rethoric.
    No clear plans, no clear destinations, no dates, no commitements .
    Obama is doing what the Chinese emperor did 500 years ago: he stopped a powerfull chinese fleet from going on and circle Africa and discover America.
    Now the opposite will happen with space.
    the chinese will go there first and claim it.

  120. M

    I like a few responses including K’s and those adding something like the vasimr, also the one about we can go to the moon in 2012 if America wished it so.

    A few things stand out that everyone is complaining about for the last 40 years. The (NASA) space agency is subjected to politic interference and so never completes the projects it starts.

    Other points include private spaceflight vs government controlled spaceflight. My view on this is simple, yes government space agencies are the best, safest and ONLY way other innovations will come to the people, however I cannot guarantee the Earth will not be destroyed tomorrow by a meteor et al…silly movies aside. The quickest way into space for the long term will be through private enterprise. Yes it hurts me to say private enterprises, where yes there will be many more deaths…many more enquiries and nothing will be done and the companies will earn big money doing the same crap over and over….but they will get us into space faster i believe.

    You must ask yourself a question: do you want the space that youve been promised 50 years ago by the government or space youll get in the next 50 years through private enterprise? We know they will deliver by cutting costs and killing people…but frankly the sacrifice of the few for the many is one of humanities greatest enduring qualities.

    Lol now i can have a go at the Americans..again…he he he.

    Has america slept over the last 40 years…its naturally a provocative question. The Americans dont understand the question because they barely understand or acknowledge their own history. Their entire rocket and space program came from German ingenuity, the only true American development was the space shuttle program, which you can either admire or not as a successful American achievement.

    Americans honestly believe they have been a superpower since the dinosaurs, believe they have the best health care system, believe the Germans were the first to persecute and genocide the jews (and not them). They probably dont know Elvis’ great…grandparents were Scottish.They also believe they invented all todays technologies which apparently were based on their own previous inventions. The Brits had to give them radar in ww2 for goodnes sakes cause they were a bunch of incompetent fools, and hence all there current stealth bombers and fighter technology and counter technology came from the UK originally.
    The Americans couldnt even build that Batman car cause they said it couldnt be done…a year later the Brits had built it etc. LOL they couldnt even design and build a vertical take off and landing aircraft and as far as i know they still havent got one like the harrier. The russians technology and scientific achievement far eclipsed Americans right up until the end of the cold war and they used capitalism to wreck a perfectly good country.

    Summing up I believe the Americans never had anything to lose, their entire intellectual community (post ww2) came from and continues to come from Germans, British, Indians and Russians and their off spring.

    Will the chinese succeed..yes…Purely because they are not democratic, and lets face it democracy has major failings. And to be honest the western world isnt actually democratic, it really needs a new title like neo-democratic. A new system needs to be developed for the future really, anyways…

    The answer:
    lies in making a single 100% reusable “ship” that can enter and leave orbit. This has been identified by a number of people…ALL space agencies need to (come together and) do this if they wish to continue extended space exploration. Forget cost over runs on this and get it done. or move aside and let the Brits DO IT, cause i guarantee with 100% certainty it would be done and effective, reusable and cheap.

    Thumbs up for UKSA.

  121. Radwaste

    This disgusts me. Phil, you’re a serious member of a leading skeptic organization, and you’re buying the pretty speech?

    Everybody: Congress, not the President, is in charge of spending. All of it.

    I think we are declining because we are obsessed with safety and money – while understanding neither.

    I have family working for United Space Alliance, and they are looking at devastating layoffs. There’s a difference between the pretty speech and what they are being shown by their management. Now, this would be in character – with reporting the miraculous decline in unemployment due to “stimulus” packages.

    NASA has a huge, overriding problem with how they spend money: they suck at showing the American couch potato how awesome they can be (aside from budgetary pecadilloes). That’s why a minority of school kids know about Martian landers and surf Google Moon.

    And there are no heroes in robotic exploration. None.

    You here are enthusiasts. I remind you: go to work and look around, where people will blink at you and ask wonderful things like, “Whutta you wanna know that for?” The gap between what we can do and what we will do is standing right next to you in line at McDonald’s, and that’s a bigger distance than Mars at opposition!

  122. Lukester

    Phil,

    I am severely disappointed in your take on Obama’s plan. Any time I hear an announcement about space exploration, science, or NASA, I run quickly to your blog to get the *real* information.

    The way you’re allowing your love for Obama’s ideology to cloud your judgment on this issue is disappointing to say the least. Your true love, according to this blog, is science and understanding of astronomy. Obama’s plan does nothing to further this cause, yet you defend him because you agree with him politically.

    Announcements like these have been coming from the last 4-5 administrations, and, quite frankly, Obama is just following in their footsteps of “we’re going to push things out, cancel this, move the target, go to the moon, not go to the moon, go to mars, not go to mars, something about asteroids, something about a new rocket, cancel the new rocket, get private industry, climate change, but we’re still committed to science and space exploration!” of the last presidents.

    And your headline calls this plan “bold and visionary.”

    Hah.

  123. sequel7

    My first question is what’s up with the blatantly photoshopped image with Obama…? It dates back to at least 2008, and the NASA globe is clearly not an original part of the image.

    http://blog.nothingbutsoftware.com/2008/10/obama-pays-44465-to-get-gamers-off-the-couch/

  124. ZomZom

    “Bold and Visionary,” are you kidding me? It’s not good enough to simply *not* be George Bush. 2015 for a heavy booster design and mid-2030’s for our next manned landing on another celestial body are simply passing the buck to future administrations, and a far cry from Kennedy’s “before this decade is out” challenge. Our post-shuttle manned space program is still vaporware.

    Obama’s comment that we’ve “been there” before with regard to the moon is insulting. Have we been to the far side? Have we been to the poles? Exactly how much of the moon have we been to?

    Obama will join Nixon in history’s assessment of presidents who have squandered America’s lead in manned space technology, vision and leadership.

  125. Ed S.

    We are bypassing the moon in the current plan because of money. By not going there, we do not spend money on a lander, habitats, etc., and instead spend that money, presumably, on a spacecraft capable of long distance and long duration trips beyond earth orbit. We don’t need a lander for an asteroid.

    Not much has been said about the spacecraft, however – only that we will attempt to reach an asteroid by 2025, and that money will be spent on new propulsion systems. I agree that Orion would be very difficult to upgrade once it’s built as a life raft – and, it’s not a deep space vehicle anyway, despite being touted as one.

    This plan could be greatly improved by incorporating some actual goals and stated timelines for a true deep space exploration vehicle – for example a craft assembled at the ISS, employing some sort of plasma drive or ion propulsion, carrying a crew of 4-6 with the capability to operate for at least a year or more in deep space. Development of such a vehicle, combined with a heavy lift booster, would constitute a much more exciting program than the cancelled Constellation program. Obviously, such a system could also ferry astronauts to the moon, in concert with an ESA or Russian designed lander, but it’s true value would be in moving past the moon to destinations beyond.

    Imagine if we could design and build that new heavy lift vehicle – starting now, not 2015 – while doing the research on in-space propulsion. When the heavy lift vehicle is ready around 2015, our concurrent R&D program could have resulted in a final selection for the propulsion system, and designs for the spacecraft itself. We could then begin the process of designing and building sections of a crewed spacecraft and lifting them to the station for assembly. (Meanwhile, having a heavy lift vehicle will open up great opportunities for large robotic vehicles…remember JIMO?) Such a program could enable a mission to an asteroid as early as 2020, assuming 5 years for the heavy launcher and 10 years to concurrently design and build the spacecraft.

    If we continue the international consortium that we have for ISS, our partners could focus on the Lunar lander/habitat design, and coupled with our transport system we could be operating on the Moon during the 20’s.

    It’s fun to dream, huh?

    btw – passing the baton for LEO access to commercial companies is not giving up manned spaceflight. Quite the opposite, it is expanding US manned spaceflight capabilities. These are US companies, employing US citizens, designing and manufacturing hardware and systems here in the US – I don’t understand the complaints that we’re suddenly walking away from human spaceflight. We will wind up with two or three US launch systems and spacecraft rather than one, and it’s possible that they will be used for missions other than just ferrying up passengers to the ISS. In 10 years we may have a hotel and research facility built by Bigelow, various vehicles adapted for orbital tourism, etc. That’s vastly more than we can do today.

  126. Henry

    Committing to make a decision in five years on the Heavy Lift Vehicle? A year after he leaves office? That’ll be hard to do. He’s just kicking the can down the road….
    Oh. and pretty much all the lander technology we’re going to “save having to do” by bypassing the moon is a) already done, and b) going to be needed to rendezvous with an asteroid, anyhow. Unless, of course, you just want to go look out the porthole at it, and we can do that with unmanned vehicles.

  127. Christopher

    I always dreamed a trip to Mars would go like this…..

    1. Take a small rocket to a space station in Earth orbit
    2. Transfer to a larger rocket on the space station
    3. Take that rocket to the moon & moon base of course
    4. Transfer yet again to an even larger rocket on the moon
    5. Take that rocket to Mars & a Mars base on there

    When you want to go right to Mars from Earth it becomes “Unrealistic” due to costs of such a trip & the tech it’d take to get there, not to mention the time to get there as well.

    I always thought NASA’s goal was to follow the steps I just did here as it’s a lot more doable in the long run, but a lot of folks don’t seem to care for the long run they want to get there ASAP, well, that’s fine & dandy, if we had WARP drive, but we don’t.

    Heck, if we had Star Trek Transporters the trip would be even shorter, but that tech is still in it’s baby steps, not anywhere near to get us to work in one piece, let alone to Mars.

    This coming from A Star Trek Fan no less, but sometimes you need to look at the tech from a reality standpoint to see we have a long way before we have that kind of tech, and if we continue to think that the current tech can get us there ASAP we’ll never reach the level of tech shown in Star Trek or any other sci-fi for that matter of fact.

    Space flight is still a new thing, and until it becomes as easy as a flight to like say NY to LA, and just as safe, if not safer, as if there a rupture in the craft you’ll have worse problems then just loss of cabin pressure folks, it’s not as simple as pushing a button and your there.

    If only it was, but it’s not, its complicated, it’s rocket science after all.

  128. Trodo

    I’m delighted to see asteroids made “the destination.” As for the moon, if we continue to explore it with unmanned missions, we’ll probably go there for the water. Everyone seems to be forgetting that we can get the water off the moon with a mass driver. That water will provide the fuel to go beyond Mars. But asteroids and THE MOONS of Mars are the best initial goals, because we only need to develop one set of technology to go to both.
    As for Orion, I always thought it was a lousy space ship–it’s too small–but it’s a good orbital capsule, and by sponsoring a program to make it a lifeboat, Obama makes it easier for Lockheed to develop it as a space taxi. Lockheed hasn’t seen much profit for their space activities; they could use a little encouragement.
    I think Obama is doing more to get us a rational space program than anyone since LBJ. Good luck to him!

  129. KC

    I think I should point out that Obama didn’t cancel Constellation – Constellation collapsed under its own weight!

    Although a more defined timeline is desirable in the long run – let NASA develop its own timeline rather than have some politicians impose an unrealistic one that can’t be achieved. Without long-term stable funding any timeline we might set would be out of date before the ink was dry. Given the funding situation, the timeline has to be allowed a little bit of vagueness.

    I think going to an asteroid would be really awesome. Though much exploration can be done with spacecraft there’s no substitute for a Geologist getting his boots on the ground there. I didn’t gather from the speech that the Moon was ruled out – I think it will be necessary to do some test flights at the least before a Mars landing.

    I would hope that the Orion capsule would be returned to its proper size! I think that was one of the big flaws of the Constellation program – the Orion keep shrinking to the point that it was a glorified Soyuz capsule.

  130. Obama’s new plan is interesting, but I wonder what about more “alternative” ways of spaceflight, for example, mass drivers. By using a ground-based spaceshot system, we could greatly ramp up the amount of stuff we can get into orbit, while significantly reducing costs. I hate to say it here, but rockets are pretty inefficient. I mean, I know it would be pretty much impossible to build a system from scratch and have it work perfectly, but that’s why there’s RESEARCH.

  131. KC

    Re: “the pretty speech”

    While the job loss is bad – there’s nothing the President or Congress can do to prevent that. All this was set in motion years ago…shuttle canceled, multiple shuttle replacement projects canceled, Constellation chronically underfunded, etc.

    As Elon Musk pointed out, we can’t build something that costs 50% more and carries 50% less. It just isn’t an option.

  132. Covertghost

    Thank you Obama.

    Advances in propulsion systems definitely NEED to be made if anyone wants to experience deep space exploration.

    The current system isn’t physically capable of exploration unless you have re-fueling stations set up all over the galaxy.

    While you say we won’t go to the moon, I see that changing in later administrations when we start playing around with habitats (though much of this can be recreated on ground).

    Once we get an efficient, fast propulsion system engineered, space will see a new boom in discoveries, travel, etc.

  133. Shane

    I am very happy with new funding. I am less happy about the politics. It seems any plan from any administration will simply be over ruled by the next. I fully understand the need to keep our workforce employed, but, throwing money around for political reasons does not reduce budgets or make spaceflight any more affordable. Making space flight, orbital and beyond, affordable is the largest obstacle to real work being done.
    I am with Phil on the moon mission. It is the perfect test ground for many technologies needed for Mars. Radiation shielding, using existent materials on other locations, long term human habitation, and so many other things we need to make Mars safe enough to gamble on. If humans can build a base on the moon, and reside there for years at a time, Mars is a much better gamble. Space flight will never, ever be risk free. Many would easily gamble on going to Mars now, even without a return, I surely would. But, the fallout from a failed mission or astronaut deaths, would REALLY cripple the space program(look at the shuttle accidents).

  134. Sean

    Horrible post and response. Very skewed imo.

    I fail to see how canceling Constellation will transfer lost jobs to other projects in Obama’s plan. Tell that to the people who will be affected in this decision ( note: I’m not affected or work in aerospace but fully support them ).

    Prediction:Chinese Flag on the moon before we create new propulsion technology ( Has Obama been watching too much Star Trek? )

  135. Nate

    @Matt
    Afraid you are wrong, both the X33 and X34 were cancelled by Bush in March 2001, to make way for his vision of the Orbital Space Plane. You are also wrong about the status, confusing the X-33 and X34. The X33 was not close to completion, while the X-34 was in prototype stage.

  136. Michael

    Why am I not surprised at this blog? Obama says no need for manned space flight, Phil says “Obama’s great and RIGHT!” Obama later says no, we will have manned space flight and Phil says “Obama’s great and RIGHT!”

    Sorry Phil, but it’s getting hard to actually figure out how YOU feel about it because you don’t seem very *skeptical* except when it comes to Fox News or right wing opinions.

    Just starting to appear a little disingenuous.

  137. Pi-needles

    @119. Jay:

    Accept maybe a ray gun that would make people do the intelligent thing…

    Why thankyou, I’ll accept one of those if you’re offering! ;-)

  138. Michael (140): That’s not what I said. I have always been an advocate for manned spaceflight. When the first policy came out, I said what I did here: Constellation is a mistake, and we should let private industry give us LEO access. I also said NASA should lead the way to new roads, to innovate, and deep space rockets fall under that purview.

    The only thing I’ve changed my mind about is Orion, and that’s mild. I didn’t mind all that much that the project was canceled along with Constellation initially, but I also don’t mind seeing it renovated, and in fact think it’s a good idea.

    It sounds like you simply don’t like my politics. A lot of people seem to have a hard time separating their distaste for Obama and my politics from what I’m actually saying.

  139. There’s a great deal Obama can do and a great deal he can’t do. What he can do is play the politics to NASA’s advantage. What he can’t do is make Americans give a damn about manned spaceflight enough to properly fund it. That’s our responsibility.

    Anyone want to help me set up a not-for-profit space exploration organization? While I’m hopeful about the president’s plan to some extent, I foresee massive loss of support for NASA in the coming decades. The people who kill it won’t be politicians, but the people who hired them.

  140. Glimmer

    Americans honestly believe…

    Will you STOP with this crap? We are not a not solid block of citizens with uniform tastes and opinions and education. This is bigotry, plain and simple. Cripes, the disagreements in these comments, posted by a set of relatively like minded folks, should tell you something.

  141. Michael

    “It sounds like you simply don’t like my politics. A lot of people seem to have a hard time separating their distaste for Obama and my politics from what I’m actually saying.”

    Phil, I understand what you are saying about the Constellation program. And throwing good money after bad isn’t the answer, that’s for sure. Maybe not throwing political jabs in your science blog would help those of us who appreciate and look up to you so much. You are a fascinating mind, and everyone is political in their own way. I certainly don’t begrudge you your political beliefs! However it just seems no matter what Obama does, it’s cheerleaded by you.

    Please don’t think I am attacking you personally, I’m not. I would just like to know that you agree with the actual plans and issues and not just be happy someone with “R” beside their name isn’t saying it.

  142. MC

    Let me ask this again since no one else is addressing the extremely important issue of contacting your Congresscritters. Phil, or anyone else for that matter: should those of us who are encourage by this plan write to our Congresscritters to tell them that we, their constituents, would like for them to vote for an support this new plan? After all, Congress has not approved it, and thus it could get shot down, destroying any hope for the future of NASA. If so, how should we construct such a letter (and I do mean a letter, as in a physical letter, as Congresscritters tend to ignore email), and how to we refer to Obama’s new plan for NASA? Does anyone know when it will go before Congress (House or Senate or both) for approval? All too often we just sit on our haunches doing nothing to let our representatives know what we want, then complain when they fail to act in the best interest of science and space exploration. Well, the solution to that is to be active and let them know! Or am I the only one hear who thinks that?

  143. John Valersky

    The NYTIMES graphic (really interesting) shows Space Operations taking a 20.5% hit in the 2011 budget-about 2 billion dollars. Another smaller hit in NASA IG( not sure if that’s a good idea!) and other activities and a little less than a billion increase in a category that includes NASA supporting activities. But it’s hard to match the 2011 budget from the graphic with the overview presented orally which cites the 6 billion dollar increase over the next five years. I suppose I’ll just review what’s available on the net-I did see that a
    little over three billion goes for the engine/rocket development.

    BTW your blog’s assessment seems to line up pretty well with Fox’s:

    “President Obama is set to pump an additional $6 billion over the next five years into NASA’s budget, Fox News confirms.

    The announcement is expected to come Thursday, before a visit by the president to Cape Canaveral, Fla.

    Along with the budget increase, Obama is expected to announce a revival of the NASA crew capsule concept that he had canceled with the rest of the moon program earlier this year, in a move that will mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said Tuesday.

    The space capsule, called Orion, still won’t go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the International Space Station to standby as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials said.

    Administration officials also said NASA will speed up development of a massive rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.

    The moves are designed to counter criticism of the Obama administration’s space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware, and local jobs.

    The president killed President George W. Bush’s moon mission, called Constellation, as being unsustainable. In a major shift, the Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station. But it also extends the space station’s life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocketships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, the moon, Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars.

    First man-on-the-moon Neil Armstrong, veteran Apollo astronauts and former senior NASA managers have been attacking the Obama plan — before the latest revision — as the death of U.S. leadership in space. Armstrong in an e-mail to The Associated Press said he had “substantial reservations” and more than two dozen Apollo era veterans signed a letter calling the plan a “misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.”

    Even with the revival of the Orion crew capsule, the overall moon return mission initiated by Bush — which involved a base camp — remains dead. And the revived Orion, slimmed-down from earlier versions, won’t be used as originally intended, to land on the moon.

    The capsule will be developed and launched — unmanned — on an existing rocket to the space station, said a senior NASA official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to detract from the presidential announcement. The Orion would remain at the space station and be used as an emergency escape ship back to Earth. That would mean NASA wouldn’t have to rely on the Russian Soyuz capsule to return astronauts to Earth.

    Launching Orion on unmanned existing rockets — such as Atlas or Deltas — would save money and time.

    The Obama plan also will speed up development of a larger “heavy-lift” rocket that would take cargo and crew away from Earth orbit to the moon, asteroids and other places.

    Originally, Obama was proposing just spending billions of dollars on various research programs to eventually develop breakthroughs to make such trips cheaper and faster. Critics said that plan was too vague.

    Now, the president is committed to choosing a single heavy-lift rocket design by 2015 and then starting its construction, officials said.

    This shift by Obama means NASA would launch a heavy rocket years before it was supposed to under the old Constellation plan, the NASA official said. However, it will be different from the Apollo-like Ares V rocket that the Constellation plan would have used. Instead it will incorporate newer concepts such as refueling in orbit or using inflatable habitats, officials said.

    Overall, the Obama program will mean 2,500 more Florida jobs than the old Bush program, a senior White House official said. In addition, the commercial space industry on Tuesday released a study that said the president’s plan for private ships to fly astronauts to and from the space station would result in 11,800 jobs.

    “We wanted to take the best of what was available from Constellation,” the NASA official told The Associated Press as part of a White House briefing.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report”
    So why the rant. Seems a fair look at the proposal.

  144. Dave

    It is a fundamental tenet of project management that sunk costs (i.e., money already spent) should *never* be used to determine whether or not a project is continued. The money is spent; it is gone; there is nothing you can do about it. Instead, you look at the estimate of what it will cost to complete the project and make a judgment about whether benefits of completing the project are worth the additional money that will be needed to do so.

    This sounds like a reasonable plan. We’re not abandoning manned space (but we’re going to have to rely on the Russians to get us there for a while); we’re developing a badly needed heavy-lift capability; and we’re spending more money on space overall. We’re not going back to the moon, which is unfortunate, but we can’t do everything.

    I’d rather see a smaller, focused manned program than grandiose, visionary schemes with little actual hope of completion.

  145. Kris

    The only way for a sustainable human space exploration is to first build a shipyard on the Moon. The Moon has available, vast quantities of materials needed to make the ship structure (Ti, Al), fuel (Al, O) and water for the crew. Sure, a lot of energy is needed to extract and purify these from lunar regolith, but that is what nuclear power is for. Build and fill the tanks on the Moon and launch into Earth orbit. Build the complicated stuff (engines, reactors, computers, robots) on Earth, launch into orbit and assemble everything in space. This way, you can build bigger spaceships than when you launch everything from Earth. Better yet: build big (and I mean BIG) satellites for terrestrial clients. You could even make some money that way.

    This is how the space colonization will be done. But the U.S. will never do that.

  146. Peter Davey

    The 19th Century French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, best known for his study of the new American republic, wrote, in the course of that study, of his concern as to whether any country governed by the “popular will” could maintain a “necessary continuity” in its affairs.

    We may yet see whether de Tocqueville’s worries are justified.

    Much more recently, the late Robert A Heinlein famously wrote that: “The laws of nature are not the exclusive property of any group or society. They belong to anyone prepared to make use of them.”

    I understand that he was thinking of the Japanese when he wrote that warning, but I suspect that he would have no trouble with the idea of the Indians, Chinese, etc replacing them as competitors.

    Heinlein also wrote: “The Earth is now simply too fragile a basket for the human race to continue to keep all of its eggs in.”

    In other words, the nationality of the country(ies) operating a successful manned space programme may be less important than the fact that someone is.

    As the poet W H Auden once wrote: “History, to the defeated, may say “Alas”, but cannot alter or pardon.”

    If no-one produces a successful manned space programme, then the losers may include the whole human race.

  147. blakut

    It’s Mars that Obama’s after. It’s the modern day version of the “Putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade” speech…And we could do it too…

  148. Kris

    Regarding going direct to Mars. There is nothing interesting on Mars. No, really: with the Moon, we can at least bet that we will use lunar He-3 in the future, so you can at least find some justification for going there. Or, we can bet that mining asteroids will become feasible and economical, so we need to start exploring them now.

    But there is nothing useful on Mars. Sure, it may be easier to build a colony there, but there is no good reason to do that.

    Moon or asteroids, whichever you prefer. But Mars is a pipe dream. You can fly there once. By the second time, you will run out of money and public interest.

  149. @Michael

    “and not just be happy someone with “R” beside their name isn’t saying it.”

    …but someone with an “R” besides their name isn’t saying it. So what do you want him to do? Bend the laws of reality? Rewrite the post so that it reads, Obama (R-IL)? Say that Bush didn’t do what Bush actually did? If you can’t read someone saying, “I agree with this person…” without being compelled to accuse them of being dishonest with themselves and without encouraging them to actually be dishonest, then don’t speak. This sort of statement adds nothing to the conversation. Conversations are had by people who assume good-faith on the part of each other. You obviously assume Phil Plait has no interest in evaluating the ideas at hand, and by making the accusation and not addressing the issues at hand, you yourself are acting in bad faith. You don’t want to participate in conversation. What you obviously want is a screaming match- and no one on this blog is going to engage you in that.

    You want to discuss the issue? Discuss the issue.

  150. “There’s been a huge amount of misinformation about it (with — shocking — Fox news leading the way; they spout so much disingenuousness, nonsense, self-contradiction, and outright stupidity that it makes me want to fly to their studios just to slap them)”

    Phil would it be okay if someone went to Colorado to kick you in the crotch for being a liberal tool?

  151. “It sounds like you simply don’t like my politics. A lot of people seem to have a hard time separating their distaste for Obama and my politics from what I’m actually saying.”

    When have you said something that was not parroting Obama? Stick to the science Phil, in that arena you are quite good.

  152. John Valersky

    Here’s the URL for the 2010 budget and outyears. Has a good summary chart as well. I snipped it but not sure how to attach it to a blog like this. Need to study it to see exactly where the money’s supposed to be going.

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428837main_NASA_FY_2011_Congressional_Justificaton_Budget_Book_Rev-01_BOOKMARKED.pdf

  153. RE: The Arquette Sisters

    Someone’s beggin’ for a bannin’.

  154. DigitalAxis

    You know, I don’t think the comments here are necessarily disagreeing with each other.

    I’d love to see NASA get the money to build a shuttle replacement, build a moon-base and go to Mars, and I’m sad to see manned spaceflight go. THAT kind of money certainly isn’t pocket change and I doubt Congress will authorize that. And if Congress doesn’t care about American space superiority, they won’t get it.

    On the other hand, if NASA isn’t getting any more money, temporarily cutting out manned spaceflight is probably the best they can do; at least NASA will have enough money to do unmanned spaceflight well, rather than limping along as it has been. The only real problem with this is curtailing any possibility of restarting manned spaceflight should Congress, out of the goodness of their need-to-get-votes, give NASA sufficient funds. At least Obama understands the importance of giant friggin’ rockets, which will hopefully be multipurpose.

    As an addendum/case study, I was excited by Bush’s plan to go to Mars… but then I learned he’d only allocated a $1 billion increase for NASA. I think the plan was to take that $1 billion plus money from shutting down everything but the shuttle program and Hubble, and go to Mars. That really didn’t seem feasible. Ultimately, developing the technology and going to Mars will require a LOT of time and money, and right now when there isn’t enough money or guaranteed political favor for a sufficient amount of time, NASA shouldn’t waste their resources.

    I will admit my response would be much more negative if Obama recommended cutting all unmanned missions in favor of manned spaceflight. I like the unmanned missions; they, at least, are already going to the outer planets, and probing deep space.

  155. Stuart

    As an engineer who started his career in the Shuttle program, I have always nursed strong opinions on how our space program should proceed. But like NASA itself, those opinions over the years have followed an uneven trajectory.

    On my first work day in 1984, I was immersed in a world of evangelistic optimism. Plans were to launch once per week, some from Vandenberg for polar orbits. I had the pleasure of demonstrating our manufacturing process to a group of schoolteacher astronaut candidates, one of whom would be selected to ride the Shuttle sometime in the next year.

    Then came January 1986. The schoolteacher died as we watched live on NASA monitors. The energy put toward manufacturing 60 external tanks per year was redirected into safety inquiries and studies on how to mothball hardware. The cutting edge technology areas, including mine, were cut back or eliminated. I left the industry. Two decades later, it was sad to see the very same part I worked on in the 80’s implicated in the downing of Columbia.

    All those were formative experiences, but what stands out just as strongly was a story I heard years later from project manager at an oilfield equipment company. He had started his career as an EE working on the Saturn V Instrument Unit. During his last days on that job, after the Nixon administration canceled Saturn and a new vendor was selected to build the Shuttle External Tank, his team tossed binders of test data and design drawings into huge trash bins. They even made a game of it.

    So came the shameful end of American heavy lift capability. As the Shuttle program progressed, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that our new flagship was essentially a Gemini module with wings. Astronauts would not be able to approach the Moon or even geosynchronous orbit.

    Obama’s plan restores the heavy lift capability that we literally threw away during the financial exigency of early 1970’s. I give Obama credit for looking past the current downturn and toward reestablishing this fundamental capability. We will need heavy lift if we are to make serious plans for the moon, Mars, asteroids, or points beyond. The five year wait for design selection probably has Wernher Von Braun laughing in his grave, but a running start in 2015 is preferable to the unrealistic plan Obama is replacing. We should hope that what emerges in the 2020’s will not have suffered the constant budget and design compromises that yielded the fatal flaws in the Shuttle.

  156. Lee Holmes

    Phil, you probably know–even though you wrote otherwise–that the latest Augustine Commission–the Human Spaceflight Plans Committee–did not recommend the cancellation of the Constellation program. Indeed, Norman Augustine on many occasions went to great lengths to explain that they were recommending nothing; their charter was to review the status of the US human spaceflight program and to present their analyses of the costs, relative merits, and probabilities of success of vatrious options to implementation of a great program worthy of a great nation. This is what they did; nothing more, nothing less.

  157. G.D.

    #41. K.M. Says: April 15th, 2010 at 4:18 pm– Humans set foot on the moon. K.M. I think it is safe to assume you are a human in a country full of other humans who are just as capable as Americans. If you think humans should go back to the moon, then please get your countrymen/continent to do so. Better yet, let’s all try to work cooperatively toward getting as many humans off this rock as possible, it will probably help spare us, and hopefully many other species, from the next mass extinction event. As an American, I think it is stupid for any human to depend on America (or any one country) to save the world, or even just make it a better place to live. We are people just like you, capable of greatness, and unfortunately, capable of great stupidity, mass hysteria, and evil as evidenced by the Bush II administration and many other times throughout American history. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that humanity’s odds of survival improve the more people work toward survival of the species. So as we used to say and actually do in the USA: stop your bitching and get off your ass;-)

  158. itskurtins

    I am not going to read through the comments 2* I am sure I will find some one saying that we should stop all of space exploration because we can spend the money down here feeding all the hungry people on earth. The real problem with that is that we are spending an order of magnitude more on the two wars we have going, and two orders of magnitude more on the defense budget. So what benefit is gained by blowing away our science budget so we can continue to endear our selves to the poor of the world by assenting their leaders, and accruing collateral damage in the process. Yes the bald choice: war on the one hand, peace on the other. I choose peace.

  159. Greg

    How is this plan bold? Having a lasting presence on the moon is more important then going to an asteroid.

  160. @#56 Chad “A post written like a true liberal. Disgusting”

    This is so not a liberal/conservative argument. Privatization over government is a conservative pillar.

    Your stance is just knee-jerk Anti-Obama rhetoric. ” whatever Obama says or does, I’m against it”
    You’re demeaning democracy.

    As has been pointed out on another blog, if we can’t turn over r0utine ops to private control, we have no business being in space anyway.

  161. Sir Struggle

    “We’ve been there before” is a horrible argument in this case. That’s like saying, “I’ve been to Europe before” just because you had a 7 hour layover at Heathrow on your way to somewhere else. Apollo just proved that we could get there, and they did a few scientific tests while they were there to justify it. Further missions will test sustainability and safety which are the most important things for manned space travel.

    What’s the point of going all the way to Mars if Astronauts are going to shorten their life spans considerably because of muscle deterioration and occasional solar radiation? (the Apollo guys just got lucky with the latter.) These things are the basics and we still have no idea how to combat them, yet we’re just going to skip that whole step and go further? Robots and remote cameras are a fine alternative, but we already have those on Mars. We’ve already landed a craft on an asteroid so you could equally throw back the “we’ve already been there” argument as dumb as it is.

    Lunar missions would give us the building blocks for long-term manned missions while keeping the people “relatively” close. Gordon Ramsey would tell you, “Don’t try to be gourmet, when you still have trouble cooking an omelet.”

  162. RogerPenna

    @Ben #93

    I agree totally… the holy grail is CHEAP ACCESS TO EARTH´S ORBIT!!! All the rest, moon bases, Mars exploration, etc, will come NATURALLY!

    Although I guess it would be good if NASA was investing money in that, isnt this exactly what Obama is planning by forcing private companies to compete with each other?

  163. Sir Struggle

    As for the death of Constellation, I’m kind of ho-hum on that one. Yes, it’s a very inefficient system, but if you would please show me an efficient one the human race has come up with to overcome Earth’s gravity, I’ll concede. There really isn’t a graceful way to reach LEO or beyond without consuming massive amounts of resources, so if you are the first to do it, there’s a massive payday for you in the future.

    Canceling a program 1/2 way through is kind of silly unless there is a viable alternative, which in this case there is not. My apartment has more square footage than the ISS, so saying it would be a viable platform for an extended mission is garbage. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the most useful things to come out of the Space Program since the shuttle was introduced have all been their payloads. Hubble, CHANDRA, etc… have been revelations and have easily justified the cost of NASA, but the possibilities of setting up larger versions on the moon shouldn’t be ignored.

    Imagine Keck on the Moon! Hell, imagine 1/2 of Keck on the Moon!

  164. Lukester

    April 15, 2011: Obama gives a speech saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, regrettably, The National Aeronautics and Space Agency has been completely disbanded.”

    April 16, 2011: Astronomer Phil Plaitt writes a blog entry praising the “boldness” and “visionary” aspects of Obama’s speech, saying “this is really the right way to go for space exploration! We need to encourage other countries to start doing something. NASA has long been overrated. Obama knows best!”

    April 16, 2011: Commenters on Phil Plaitt’s blog begin to question Obama’s decision saying, “What about Mars?”

    April 16, 2011: Legionnaires of Plaitt such as “The Chemist” accuse stupid right-wingers of bias for questioning Obama’s visionary-ness and start threatening the ever present “ban-hammer” on dissenters.

    Circa April 16, 2025: America watches other countries build successfully build, launch, land, and return humans and spacecraft to and from the moon.

    Note: I since noticed Phil removed “visionary” from his blog title. This is a step in the right direction.

  165. Sir Struggle

    April17, 2025: The first phone-booth time/space travel device is perfected by an American/British Alliance and the past 14 years of space exploration is rendered obsolete immediately, even though no one living even knows what a “phone booth” is.

  166. Bob_In_Wales

    I’ve been watching NASA and US space activities in general for over 30 years now. As a westerner its been the lightning rod for those of us interested in space. NASA and you other yanks have done great, hell inspiring, stuff. However, can I suggest that what you need to actually do is:

    1) Forget the silly nonsense about “maintaining American leadership” in space. If it is worth going there it is worth going there. You shouldn’t demean the adventure by justifying it with what has sunk below extreme patriotism into rank jingoism.

    2) Find some way of rescuing NASA from its role as political football. You need to have a long term, all parties, agreement about what you want to do in space and stop chopping and changing what you ask of NASA every time there is a change in administration.

    3) Stop going for “the next big leap”. Step by step gets you further and with less money if not necessarily as quickly. Just how much money has been effectively wasted on all the X projects, etc?

    Over here in Europe we haven’t (looks embarrassed) achieved anything like as much as you have. But we had early rockets which we developed into Ariane 1, then 2, 3 and 4. We developed (in 10 years only) Ariane 5 (originally to carry Hermes which was dropped) which we use as a (heavy?) launcher for satellites.

    We now have the ATV for the ISS – which we launch on Ariane 5. And the ATV comes in two parts, manufactured separetely and assembled at Korou, one of which is propulsion etc. and one of which is the pressurised cargo compartment. Which means when we want to we can develop a manned capsule which we can attach to a used and proven propulsion system and launch on a used and proven rocket. In a sense you could argue we have a heavy launch and manned space flight rudimentary infrastructure already in place.

    Incremental development.

    My personal suspicion is that ESA could have a heavy launch capacity and manned space flight before you do, did we make the political decision to go for it.

    The other thing about ESA is that, while slower than NASA, it seems to be insulated from political winds due to its being a multinational organisation. Hence the slow but steady development of capability. And significantly less wasted money.

    Perhaps NASA should apply to join? It might solve (2) and (3) above – if requiring (1) to be solved first.

    ——————————-

    On a separate issue, most of us space fans over here have long been agreed that we feel that the best infrastructure to aim for is:

    1) Two stage to orbit – the physics seems to be against SSTO.
    2) An LEO base for transfers, assembly etc.
    3) Lunar and planetary missions to be staged from the LEO base.

    So I’d put in my vote for that. Whether you go to the moon, asteroids, Mars or where ever and whether you use manned or unmanned missions surely this arrangement would be advantageous.

    Perhaps we could hope for a confluence of capabilities? Virgin Galactic via TSTO and/or Falcon via rocket and/or anybody else could supply people to LEO. Bigelow Aerospace and/or the ISS could provide assembly/crew transfer facilities. Araine 5 and/or Constellation 2 HLV and/or anybody else could supply vehicle parts.

    I certainly think now that the ISS is up and the money has been spent we should all be pushing to make the most out of it and try to turn it into a lightning rod to attract new ideas, people, equipment, uses. It should _never_ be deorbited. Bolt on another gazillion inflatable habitats and run with it.

  167. Jim

    My biggest fear in all this is that its a preliminary move to shutting down NASA. Obama can say he is increasing the budget and he is committed to human space flight, but nothing is set in stone. I never thought Constellation was a good idea and am not bothered by its cancellation. But this policy seems vague, like most of his policies. Remember, we are only going to decide which heavy lift booster will will build in 2015. The design, testing, etc will still need to be defined and all of this are subject to the whim on Congress. Two years from now we could hear” we really wanted to go deeper into space but we just can’t afford it”. The changing of the policy to include Orion and the heavy lift vehicle speaks to political need rather then sincere belief in Human exploration. If it was a bad idea why revive it to do something it wasen’t designed to do when the Soyuz is proven technology? Once NASA stops being involved in exciting programs and is reduced to doing advanced research it falls out of the public eye. It can then be quietly killed.

  168. locke

    Well, Phil got it partly right (hey, no one REALLY thought he was as smart as the President and his advisors, did you?). One part he got wrong was about the shuttle, it can’t both be “amazing” and a “terrible project as it was realized”. Facts are, the shuttle ended up EXACTLY as it was destined to; anything bigger and bolder was not going to fly, literally. It’s the LIES that were told to Congress about it decreasing the cost to LEO by a factor of 10 that weren’t realized, but tha’s t what they were LIES, as they were never physically feasible. The other main part he got wrong was his fixation on sending humans back to the moon, which is just pretty naive.
    There will be sustainable bases on the moon once we can pay for it by going to places that are easier, like NEAs. The moon is a luxury to exploration and exploitation of the solar system, not a necessity.
    It must be hard be the BA at times like this, as most of his skeptic colleagues seem to actively hate Obama as do most of the “pro-space” types who post here and on sites like space.com.

  169. @#175 Locke

    I disagree with your assessment of the shuttle. It is an amazing, sophisticated machine. The project, timelines and mission objectives were the disaster. As I recall, everything was downsized, at least fiscally, and the promises-cutbacks-redesign-delay paradigm became the status quo at NASA ever since. A political football.

    I agree about the moon. We’ll go back in due time. Meanwhile lets excite the people, industry, and NASA by rebooting.

    Teabaggers are the vocal minority. I think Obama is doing a great job. Tough love for sure, but we voted for change. It’s curious that they take the opposite view, whatever it is, just to start an argument. Let’s debate policy, not (perceived) political leanings.

  170. Alex

    It’s sad that “vision” and goals for NASA are being defined by people that cannot possibly have them. Long term science, technology, space exploration vision and strategies for the country and in some respects for humanity should be free from short-term political whims of illiterate pork barrel stuffers and political dogfighters.

    Anybody with even miniscule ability to read political double speak can see that Obama’s so called “space policy” (who he was when it was shaped before him?) is nothing but a mindless political covering-ass measure of a weak politician. Kill off any contraversial or failed projects, replace them with nebulous, low visbility crap that will outlive his presidency and be forgotten or cancelled anyway by the next bozo in the chair, and nobody will have an ammunition to bite him for that.

    Killing “return to the Moon and STAY THERE” goal I believe is a devastating and potentially final blow to flailing and starved space program. “Constellation” fate should be taken as an alarm bell and a challenge – it shows how far behind US is technologicaly in the space exploration. Cancelling Moon vision is also in a sense just an admission of the impotence of US space engineering and a giving up on the future of the country, which after losing almost all its manufacturing capabilities will be left without engineering capabilities next. Not this president’s concern though… He knows how future US jobs will look like – they will be very “green” and alien :)

  171. locke

    @Kim Poor, I’m going to have to continue to respectfully disagree about the Shuttle. To me, what is amazing about it is that it flies at all! I think people just get carried away over the fact that it has wings and can land on it’s own (even though its glide ratio approximates that of a brick). A parafoil on a vehicle (as was prototyped in an x-vehicle a few years ago) would give most of the advantages with much lower complexity and cost, and larger safety margins.
    For the rest of your post, I totally agree, it’s just annoying (and hugely ironic) that so many of the vocal minority show up on sites about SCIENCE!

  172. Jansen

    I’d probably agree with all of this if the moon landing (and everything else related to the “things we’ve done” in “space”) weren’t fake. There’s no evidence that says we’ve gone up there. I just don’t buy it. This “space travel” garbage is nothing more than a front for other government programs.

  173. Robert Leyland

    I’m with Alex (#178) on this one.

    Sadly each new administration kills the plans/goals of the previous administration. There is no continuity, so nothing gets done.

    I had hoped that a smart guy like Obama could see that. Instead of killing Constellation, figure out whats wrong, what causing the delays, and fix it. NASA, and the US needs a heavy lift capability. Constellation was to be that capability. To kill it, without a replacement seems crazy.

  174. Don

    Great discussion! Read most of the comments but you all are missing the main point of the speech. It was buried and no attention was called to it but there are three HUGE problems going to the moon and living there for an extended period of time or even going to Mars.

    Quoted from the speech:

    “That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? How do we harness resources on distant worlds? How do we supply spacecraft with energy needed for these far-reaching journeys?”

    The first one is the most important. Without a really quick way of getting to Mars and back a mission now would be way to slow and the passengers would likely die from radiation. Thus, it is not feasible until a solution to the problem of radiation shielding is found. The same for energy consumed during flight. Take a look at ISS and its huge solar collectors. You’d need that in spades to go to Mars. Or a large nuclear power plant.

    I’ve lived and worked on the Space Coast over 40 years. Witnessed the last Saturn 5 launch standing in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Cocoa Beach as it lit up the night sky! I saw the first Shuttle launch from KSC and many others after that. I witnessed Challanger blow up (way to cold that day for a launch but Raygun wanted it).

    Everyone I know who works at NASA, all the locals, the politicians, the grass roots people in this area of Florida appreciate and support the Presidents plan. It speeds up the time line for new launch capabilities, opens the routine launching of cargo and astronauts to private enterprise (more business here), and allows NASA to get back to dreaming about what to do next given the scientific knowledge they will develop over the next few years now that they have a research budget again.

    As long as we are going to have a 5 year down time on launches (which I’ll miss) we may as well develop the flexibility to do multiple missions, asteroids, moon, mars since all of them will require a heavy lift vehicle.

    The new plan is flexible, allows innovation, and can be focused on many areas of exploration once the hardware and technology is available.

  175. Sir Struggle

    @ 181 Robert Leyland,

    The thing that is wrong with Constellation is the same thing that has been wrong with every other NASA project, military project, or any project otherwise related to the government since before we were even born. The gov’t is way too in love with the lowest bidder approach, which comes back to bite them in the ass every time. All a company has to do is lowball the offer and while it’s not feasible to to ever complete a project in that time frame for that cost, they still get the contract.

    Examples (from all walks of government) include: Highway construction (I know everyone here lives in a town that has had some stretch of road being built/improved that started before you could even drive), Military technology (see F-22 ,F-35, B-1, B-2… I could go on and on with this one for hours), Space Technology (Shuttle, Constellation, even successes like the Hubble).

    Point is, cost overruns are not unusual and have almost come to be expected. The bonus is they make a convenient public excuse when you want to shut something down. The government has wasted 8 times the money on overruns for the F-35, but you don’t see them scrapping that one.

  176. Radwaste

    “Without a really quick way of getting to Mars and back a mission now would be way to slow and the passengers would likely die from radiation.”

    I’ll call foul on this one. What do you think the exposure is, and what do you think the LD/50 rates are for ionizing radiation?

    Hint: the ISS is in space.

    =====

    A continuous illustration of the ease with which Americans are terrified is the “to Mars and back safely” phrase, which I have heard uttered by people who cannot bear sending their son to the mailbox. The responsibility for assuming risk lies with the person assuming it.

  177. Plutonium being from Pluto

    108. MaDeR Says:

    About PBFP: “Im one AGW Skeptic who has no problem with climate change *studies* as long as they are rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective rather than an excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering. ”Translation from trollingo to common english:

    In case you missed it, Madder that was in common english.

    Climate change studies that give results that I like are “rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective”.
    Climate change studies that give results that I do not like are “excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering”.

    No.

    I meant exactly what I said – studying the climate is one thing and entirely legitimate and reasonable but shrieking that “the world is doomed, theend is nigh & the sky is falling unless we adopt some radical Green manifesto” is NOT.

    Science is studying and taking observations and soberly assessing what may or may notbe happening and trying to work out why.

    Non-science (nonsense even!) is Al Gore’s error-riddled, scare-mongering horror masquerading as “documentary” movie and Hansen’s frankly crazy claims about how bad things will get if he doesn’t get to impose his preferred solution on everybody. AGW alarmism is not science but politics – notice how partisan & unscientific the “debate” is & who the lead spokesmen for the Alarmist side are – Al Gore the failed presidential candidate and egomaniac turned woukld-be global “Messiah” & James Hansen, the ex-scientist turned political activist best known for claiming to be censored while speaking at a press conference. D’oh!

    If you, MaDER (or anyone else for that matter) really cannot tell the difference then I suggest you need to put aside your ideological blinkers and really try looking harder

    The climate fluctautes and varies with colder periods (eg. 1940-1960) and warmer ones (eg. 1980-2010) and it always has done -thereasonas are complex, many and not well established despite what the warmers say to the contrary.

    Not so obvious troll is still obvious. :>

    MaDer why do you keep saying I’m a “troll”? Honestly, I want to know.

    Because it looks to me like the only reason is that you simply disagree with what I’m saying.
    Which wasn’t a crime of any sort last time I checked. :roll:

    I’m not the one who has launched into an ad hominem attack here.

    I have a right to my opinion and the right to express it.

    You, MaDer are entitled to your opinion too & it is clear our opinons are polar opposites but doe sthis make me atroll, you atroll or can it not be a simple case of people being ale to disagree and and argue their cases rationally if strongly?

    I hope you see this and get a bit saner MaDer. I suggest you take your blinkers off & start reconsidering your comments because fromwhere I sit the troll here is *you*.

  178. Plutonium being from Pluto

    EDITED & CORRECTED VERSION of # 185 with extra stuff :

    (More editing time please BA!)

    **************************************************

    108. MaDeR Says:

    About PBFP: “Im one AGW Skeptic who has no problem with climate change *studies* as long as they are rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective rather than an excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering. ”Translation from trollingo to common english:

    In case you missed it, Madder that was written in common english.

    Climate change studies that give results that I like are “rational and aimed at actually understanding the truth of the situation from a scientific and intelligent perspective”. Climate change studies that give results that I do not like are “excercise in hysterical Green scare-mongering”.

    No. Not at all.

    I meant exactly what I said – studying the climate is one thing and entirely legitimate and reasonable but shrieking that “the world is DOO-OOMED, the End is Nigh & the sky is falling unless we adopt some radical Green manifesto” is NOT.

    Science is studying and taking observations and soberly assessing what may or may not be happening and trying to work out why.

    Non-science (nonsense even!) is Al Gore’s error-riddled, scare-mongering horror masquerading as “documentary” movie and Hansen’s frankly crazy claims about how bad things will get if he doesn’t get to impose his preferred solution on everybody. AGW Alarmism is not science but politics – notice how partisan & unscientific the “debate” is & who the lead spokesmen for the Alarmist side are – Al Gore the failed presidential candidate and egomaniac turned would-be global “Messiah” & James Hansen, the ex-scientist turned political activist best known for claiming to be censored while speaking at a press conference. D’oh!

    (& yes they *are* Alarmists – I call them that because that’s what they are not as an insult. If they feel insulted by the truth then maybe they could, y’know tone down their scare-mongering and start being more moderate & reasonable in their doom-saying! ;-) :P)

    If you, MaDER (or anyone else for that matter) really cannot tell the difference then I suggest you need to put aside your ideological blinkers and really try looking harder.

    The climate fluctautes and varies with colder periods (eg. 1940-1970) and warmer ones (eg. 1980-2010) and it always has done – the reasons are complex, many and not well established despite what the warmers say to the contrary.

    Try reading Ian Plimer’s book or looking at the many skeptic websites out there.

    For me, the whole AGW issue comes down to these points :

    1.) I am not convinced the climate is doing anything unusual at present.

    [a matter of scientific fact.]

    2.) I do not think a warmer climate is, overall, a bad thing for us or life on Earth generally.

    [Also a matter of scientific fact.]

    3.) We know Co2 levels and past temperatures have been much higher without leading to the apocalyptic scenarios painted by the AGW Alarmists.

    [Scientific fact agan – just look at the geological & palaeontologicl record.]

    4.) Even if it turns out that AGW is real & that *is* a problem rather than beneficial the solution to it will most likely be a technological, scientific one.

    [Mix of political / sociological and scientific historical fact.]

    5.Legislating “morality” whether puritan or green morality has never worked and while humans are human never will. The world will not agree to economic suicide – & even if the USA & other Western nations did China and India’s progress to being something near as good as we are would overwhelm any “carbon footprint” “advantage” in us surrendering our quality of life for the sake of the Alarmist Green lobby.The fiasco at Copenhagen last year proved that. There is no way the proposed Green solutions of tax and legislate can work given this reality.

    [Political and socioeconomic fact.]

    Not so obvious troll is still obvious. :>

    MaDer why do you keep saying I’m a “troll”? Honestly, I want to know.

    Because it looks to me like the only reason is that you simply disagree with what I’m saying.
    Which wasn’t a crime of any sort last time I checked. :roll:

    I’m not the one who has launched into an ad hominem attack here.

    I have a right to my opinion and the right to express it.

    You, MaDer are entitled to your opinion too & it is clear our opinons are polar opposites but does this make me a troll, you a troll or can it not be a simple case of people being able to disagree and argue their cases rationally if strongly?

    I hope you see this and get a bit saner MaDer. I suggest you take your blinkers off & start reconsidering your comments because from where I sit the troll here is *you*.

  179. Plutonium being from Pluto

    I was delighted when I heard about Obama’s NASA policy change yesterday but, on reflection, I’m having more and more reservations as to whether it is actually as good as I first thought. :-(

    The extra funding and the idea of going to Mars are great if vague and too far-off in time. I think a Kennedy-esque target of nomore than ten years & a detailed specific plan to go to Mars or at least an asteroid that was to be immediately get implemented would have been
    far, *far*, better than the sort of airy-fairy-ish stuff Obama seems to have said from what I’m gathering here and on the news.

    Moreover, Constellation should have been re-instated entirely, no if’s or buts about it. We are too far advanced with it already to give it up. So what if it was originally Bush’es plan and that means giving that much loathed ex-president a smidgin of credit and honour for having the vision and cajones to propose it.

    Yes, by all means start working on a replacement for Constellation; make it a short, interim, “learning the technology & techniques” stop-gap like Gemini was between Mercury & Apollo but as somebody else in this thread pointed out :

    You do NOT just keep getting things 75 % done then abandoning them & if you do go back to the rocket-design drawing board with each new president taking office then you’ll never get anywhere!

    I think we should still return to the Moon as well.

    There are many good reasons to go – especially lunar water, having a near to home and thus more easily “rescue-able” (is that a word?) “testbed” colony and my personal fave SF idea building an Arecibo-style lunar farside telescope. :-)

    Obama said : “We’ve been there before.”

    Well, fact is, we haven’t. Not our generation anyway. :-(

    Kennedy’s generation went to the Moon. The people back in the 1960’s and 1970’s did.
    My generation (gen X) have NOT.

    There has never been a woman on the Moon, only one scientist has ever been – Harrison Schmitt on the very last Moon landing, no astronomer has ever been there, no poet or .. so many other things. There are so many places on the Moon we’ve yet to explore and learn from. There is so much we can and hopefully will one day do there.

    We should not give up the Moon to China. The United States went there “in peace for all mankind.” I do not think we can safely assume that China will be so benevolent and generous. I do think that if we gift the Moon to the Chinese “communist” (in name if not now economic nature) dictatorship we probably will NOT like what they do with it. :-(

    I also strongly think we need to keep the Shuttle’s flying until their replacement is flight-ready to take over. Yes, the Shuttles are old, perhaps we need to modify them or build new ones but …

    Honestly, who here would be so dumb that they’d sell their old car and then say they’d wait five or ten or, who knows how many, years before buying and driving their new car? If you’ve only got an old car you drive it until you have a new one *then* transfer to using the new one & not the old. This is exactly the same type of situation.

    Yes, the shuttle should be replaced – we should have done it years ago. But we can’t stop using it just because its old. We need to fly the old vehicle until we have the new one.

    Yes, space travel & the shuttle itself isn’t 100% safe – but then nor driving on the road or life generally. Besides, if I could choose how I died then dying doing what I loved or specifically aboard a Space Shuttle would be a great way to go! Some risks are worth taking & noone is forcing the astronauts to fly if they don’t want to – there will be plenty of people who do choose to take the risk for science and the sheer joy of it. 8)

    Another disaster is always possible – this is true whatever the spacecraft is, however safe it is designed to be. If it happens then it is sad and we greive for those lost and try and correct any problem that caused the loss – but then we get up and go again and move on!

    So keep the shuttle whilst building their replacements then move to that replacement whatever it is.

    Keep Constellation while building its replacement(s) and go to the Moon – & asteroids & Phobos & Mars. Not necssarily in that order but certainly go to all of them!

    Obama’s revised NASA & human space exploration then is, IMHON, an improvement but still is NOT enough of one to necessarily save Obama from the shame of having the worst space exploration policy of any US President so far.

    Obama’s getting there but he still needs to revise it some more and show more committment to the space program than I’m seeing even with this much imporved but not yet there policy.

    I hope Obama or his advisors read this blog and others and take the criticism on board like they did before. We can’t afford to invest in the space program? Wrong – we cannot afford not to!

  180. Plutonium being from Pluto

    ^ me, # 187 :

    ” … as somebody else in this thread pointed out : You do NOT just keep getting things 75 % done then abandoning them & if you do go back to the rocket-design drawing board with each new president taking office then you’ll never get anywhere!”

    One of those people being # 106. Steve Packard (April 16th, 2010 at 1:10 am) :

    “As for the new heavy lift rocket. If NASA does not stop changing its damn plans we’re never going to have any new rocket of any kind. They spent the 80’s talking about the Shuttle-C, then the 1990’s talking about Magnum and then Venturestar and then Ares and now what? Make up your goddamned mind and stick to it. Stop working on a project until it’s 75% complete and then ditching it, starting a new program from scratch and selling off the old hardware as surplus. It’s goddamned maddening that they can’t ever get anything done because they can’t seem to stick to a design long enough to the final stage.”

    Exactly! Spot on there Steve Packard,well said – & also in your other point too that this plan :

    “Still does not actually get us past the problem of not having any manned space capability for at least several years. Let me just say what I’ve been saying for the past several years: Build a simple space capsule, like a stripped-down Orion. Nothing fancy for deep space stuff, just enough to do what capsules like Soyuz do (to and from the space station and life support for a few days) Then put the goddamned thing on a goddamned Atlas, which already comes damn near the requirements for manned space vehicles …”

    It may not be much but it would be a lot better than nothing which is what we get otherwise.

    Another person raising that was # 79. DLC (April 15th, 2010 at 8:14 pm) :

    “As for cancelling constellation — Sooner or later we’re going to have to stop designing our horses by committee. AND more to the point — if you keep re-designing the boat, you Never launch!”

    Thankyou both – I couldn’t agree more.

    @ 39. Dan I. Says:

    “Seems to me an albatross was a ship’s good luck charm til somebody killed it. Yes, I read a poem.”
    ~Malcolm Reynolds~ “Serenity”

    Sorry Phil, too easy to pass up when you described the killing of the albatross (aka Constellation) as a good thing.

    Great quote & point there. :-)

    @ 173. Jim : Also spot on. Your biggest fear expressed there is mine as well. :-(

  181. StevoR

    @ 94. somecallmejim Says:

    “My apologies for sounding crass here, but I can’t understand how anyone, especially an astronomer, can be happy with this plan. To me, this sounds like virtually every other presidential promise uttered in the last couple decades of presidents – “I have a commitment to this goal, and we plan to see change in the future”. Ultimately, those plans float around until the next president extends them farther out, citing whatever crisis replaces the budget crisis. Before you know it, 50 years will pass, I will die of old age never having seen another US spaceflight beyond the shuttle program (let alone a trip to the moon or Mars), and the newly inaugurated president in 2060 will mention that he has a commitment to returning the US to space, despite the apathy crisis going on, and give NASA a paltry budget raise….

    [ Snip!] … my point is that at the time the race for the moon started, rocket technology essentially didn’t exist in any highly useful form. And in a decade, we went from having nothing but a few leftover German scientists with some ideas to landing a man on the moon! So it begs the question, if we could go to the moon under those conditions, then why with 50 years of technology and innovation behind us, can’t we be on our way to Mars by 2015? The answer is painful: We COULD do this, but nobody really cares.

    Obama plays the financial crisis card and uses that as a reason to be cautious with NASA’s plans. Big deal. In the 60’s we were in the middle of a cold war, with the genuine possibility of World War 3 starting at the drop of a hat. There were economic crunches that would battle the issues we’re having today. And yet we made it happen. Why? because we CARED about it.

    I hate to play psychologist, but I blame part of the reason we don’t have a Mars colony today on the uber tolerant society we’ve morphed into. Here we are in a world where even the slow fat kid on the losing little league team gets a trophy, and when murderers in the middle east try to kill our own people there are those who sincerely think that we can solve it all by being their friends and singing kumbyah around some international campfire. We’re a bunch of apathetic slobs, and I think if China launched a flight to Mars next week to mine minerals to build bombs, we would probably just wave as they went on their merry way.

    We have the technology to be on Mars in a decade. Heck, we could be on the moon by 2012 if we really put our minds to it. But sadly, it seems that even the leaders in the scientific community have fallen for the lie that this President (or the last couple, for that matter) cares about space travel. …

    Too durn true alas. Well said. In fact I think you win the comment of the thread in my view. :-)

    – StevoR aka Plutonium being from Pluto

  182. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @97. Doug Watts Says:

    The only planet known to support any life is here, so it behooves us to devote a tiny amount of NASA’s budget to studying Earth and not talk about the whole thing lest it attract attention.

    Aside from not understanding what the blazes you are on about with your last line there, tell me, Doug Watt’s, what do the letters NASA stand for again?

    National
    Aeronautics &
    Space
    Administration

    So then, what does that suggest they – by definition – focus on?

    Answer : yeah – Aeronautics and *Space*! ;-)

    The United States Geological Survey (US GS), NOAA & many other groups have the Earth to study as their focus. Doing that is principally their job – NOT NASA’s.

    I think one of the troubles with NASA post-Apollo is that it has lost direction, its focus has blurred and expanded away from the stuff it should be doing like space exploration to cover things like “climate change” & Earth studies.

    Now these areas should be studied, sure, but I don’t think NASA is the right body to do so.

    NASA is & should be kept to being about space travel and areonautics – as it says in its name.
    That’s where its money and focus should go. It can help out occassionally in other areas but that’s NOT what it should mainly be about & nor should it put too much of its precious funds & energy into such sidelines.

    @ 98. Doug Watts Says:

    “The Hudson Bay company explored and exploited much of central Canada in the 19th century, and was famous for it’s large and well-equipped expeditions, each going into the wilderness for weeks or months at a time.”
    ===
    They were not going into any wilderness. They were going into Cree land where lots of people lived. Some would say the Hudson Bay Company was “trespassing” on Cree land. And they would be correct.”

    Well if you follow the line of Politically Correct hindsight and fail to take the historical context and how the Hudson Bay Company people at the time saw things I suppose that is the (politically) “correct” thing to say. :roll:

    You *could* stop & wonder at what “Wilderness” means to different people or consider the fact that the Cree built no cities (let alone spacecraft) and lived in a way people then (& some even now!) considered primitive, uncivilised and savage. Which, yes, depends on your point of view to some extent. Just don’t forget that *other* people’s views may also be valid too – such as those of the Hudson Bay Company pioneers.

    It is, of course, very easy to damn the pioneers who made your country and the Wider Western World the wonderful, technologically advanced, cosmopolitan place it is today through your computer from the comfort of your air-conditioned home surrounded by the luxuries of western supermarkets and shops – all brought to you via the evil “imperialist capitalist” system the PC mob decry.

    It is equally, of course, also ungrateful, rude and hypocritical to do so.

    I doubt you could endure the things the Hudson Bay Company Pioneers did or will contribute anything near as much to modern society and your country & culture’s prosperity as they did. But then I guess you win Politically Correct points and they didn’t even know the term existed much less the modern concepts of Cultural Relativism, Historical Revisionism, Indigenous Tribes .. sorry “nations” worship … er, study & Left wing political anti-patriotism. :-(

  183. Plutonium being from Pluto

    PS. Not knocking the Cree or their way of life here. I’m sure it had much positive going for it & was admirable in many ways even if they didn’t build anything lasting or invent NASA.

    But I do think our Western culture is better in almost every way and has done more worthwhile than their society has & I don’t think we should apologise for our culture or how history worked out. The modern Historical Revisionist & Politically Correct approaches are ungrateful, self-abasing and lack an appreciation for the heroism of those in our historic past and under-appreciate and under-rate our Western civilisation & its acheivements – &, yes, I’m very sick of such negative hypocritical, ingrates who don’t realise just how lucky they are or how good they have it. :-(

    /rant.

  184. Pi-needles

    @31. K Says:

    People need to be living and working on Mars and Venus, complete with babies being born on other planets and arguments about independence from earth by 2030.

    Venus!?! By 2030!?! WTF! : – O

    Dude, I’m as fond of old SF ideas of that planet as anyone but you *do* realise what that planet is like right? Suffocating super-dense atmosphere, searing temperatures of 460 degrees Celscius / 865 Fahrenheit (hotter than your average oven), sulphuric acid rain, volcanic near-molten lava surface, ocean floor plus crushing atmospheric pressures and so forth.

    Somehow I think Venus is the last planet we’re likely to colonise in our solar system – if we ever do.

    Mars I can see us getting too in the near future (circa 20-50 years?), the Moon about the same timescale and maybe the odd asteroid or two as well. Mercury, Ceres, the main asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter are probably likely later targets (100-200 years approx. timescale?) and after that just maybe the moons of Saturn, the other gas giant’s moons, Pluto-Charon, Eris and the other TNOs. (300 – 500 years or so perhaps?)

    Venus though? Now that’s a tough one! ;-)

    Expecting Obama to plan to get humans landing on Venus – I don’t think so! ;-)

  185. Matt

    Awesome post. The best, most level-headed summary of this political clusterf@ck I’ve read yet.

  186. Jya Jya Binks Killer

    @ ^ Matt : Whose post are you meaning?

    The BA’s?

  187. akear

    I am surprised they did not mention faster than light speed!

    Below is a video on Neil deGrasse Tyson take on Obama’s Nasa plans. Maybe somebody in the Obama administration should watch this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhNZENMG1o

  188. @195 akear:

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson rocks. The view he expressed in that video goes right along with my thoughts, especially at the beginning where he’s talking about having a specific plan. That’s the biggest failure I see in this new space plan: the “plan” part is sorta missing.

    Seriously, who in their right mind thinks that deciding on which rocket to build in five years and then going out again in some wishy-washy 20-35 years is a good way to go about this? Again I’ll say it: When manned space flight was 43 days old, and the US had yet to put a man in space, we committed to being ON THE MOON within 10 years, and we did it in 7. In the time it took us to literally start from scratch and get to the moon in the 60’s, Obama wants us to pick which rocket we’re going to build next so we can someday go back to space, in some indeterminate point in the future. I sincerely do not understand why any scientist, especially an astronomer, can call this a good plan, let along “bold” or “visionary”!

    And I think that is my honest, genuine question for any scientist out there who actually supports Obama’s plan: Why is a plan that injects minimal cash and makes long, drawn out goals a good plan? Phil? Anyone?

    I just can’t wrap my brain around it. In the era of slide rules and protractors, we designed a rocket, a capsule, and sent men to the moon in about 7 years time. Today we have computers that can do billions of computations a second, and we want to spend nearly the same amount of time sitting on our hands, thinking about which propulsion system we want to build next? Really?

    I apologize for railing on this, but I grew up in the era of the Shuttle, where I would play in my treehouse, pretending I was an astronaut working on a satellite. I grew up fascinated by space, and to me, this new plan doesn’t seem bold or visionary, it seems like a travesty. A travesty to our nation’s scientists. A travesty to those in favor of deep space exploration. And most of all, a travesty to every toddler who will go their entire childhood without seeing a US-based mission into space.

  189. Lastly, and I swear I’ll get off my rampage after this post (unless someone riles me up, lol!), does anyone realize that we were talking about going to other planets back in the 70’s? There was this huge plan to use Apollo technology to get us to Venus around 1975. Here we have rocket technology, only a decade old, and we had bold, visionary plans. Now, with three and a half decades of technological advances, the best we can do is plan to go to someplace new in a couple more decades from now…maybe? I said it in my first post and I’ll say it again, Mars would be possible within a decade, and the moon would be possible within a couple years if we actually cared enough to try.

    Okay, that’s all. Have a great day.

  190. Jeff Fite

    @ 98 and 190, and self-referential @ 95:

    Doug, thanks for making that point. I thought hard about the words I used in that post, because I see your point, and agree with it in many respects. I chose ‘wilderness’ because it evokes undeveloped and remote territory, and I hoped my readers would not see me implying ‘uninhabited,’ or worse, ‘uncivilized.’ But, the post was going long, and I had to make a choice, finally.

    I also put a lot of thought into the word ‘exploited.’ The double meaning of ‘extracting resources’ and of ‘taking unfair advantage’ was intentional–and I think nicely fits with your thoughts.

    Pu, thank you for pointing out that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in history is very difficult to pin down–and is highly dependent on one’s point of view. (“Pu” <– you see what I did there? ;-)

  191. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ ^ Jeff Fite :

    Pu, thank you for pointing out that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in history is very difficult to pin down–and is highly dependent on one’s point of view. (”Pu” < – you see what I did there?

    No worries. :-)

    & I presume you mean using the chemical symbol “Pu” for Plutonium, right? ;-)

  192. Your assessment is mostly correct, agree or disagree with it. With the exception of the heavy lift rocket. NASA has been directed to research a heavy lift rocket, with Obama pledging to decide whether to build it and in which form in 2015. Its a paper design at best. Having worked on many of these, chances of it lasting are slim at best.. just looks at, oh, X-33/Venture Start, X-38/CRV, SLI, OSP, etc., sorry if those of us in the industry have no faith in pie in the sky programs without concrete plans. I am very excited by these commercial companies, and wish NASA had lent them support years earlier.. however, they share one thing with NASA.. hubris. Some NASA insiders seem to think only they can do manned space, and they are wrong. However, these manned spaceflight startups somehow think they will be immediately successful are also suffering from overconfidence – just like the early (or even modern) days of the space program, there will be delays, false starts, and accidents, some companies may run out of money and go out of business. This plan may be bold, but its not grounded in that reality either.

  193. Jeff Fite

    Pu = plutonium. Yes, indeedy. Ha! I kill me!

  194. Jeff

    Smoke and mirrors – wait and see.

  195. Bob

    I am on the fence now about this whole thing.

    Will see what happens as time goes by – hope your right Phil.

  196. Sir Struggle

    What bothers me the most is that this just seems like a “keep NASA alive until I am gone and won’t be blamed” kind of fix more than anything else. Nasa always kept an eye on the inconsistent ozone hole for years for the feds, and now they are apparently think that that should be their main job.

    I don’t have any proof to back it up, but I would bet that most NASA employees are tired of being the fact finders for ACTUAL gov’t institutions that were actually made to do it. Why would you get a job at NASA to study global warming? We have other government funded agencies that exist for that exact purpose.

    Expanding funding into something they’re not supposed to be doing is just a waste of money and the people that actually care about space (you know, the original purpose.) There are thousands employed by NOAA that would LOVE to be in on the money but their money is apparently better spent on unsuccessfully seeding clouds and such.

  197. Sir Struggle

    I was kind of vague as to my actual point previously. Let me just say that the point of an Aeronautic and Space Administration should deal with just that. If they gather data that can help with climate change or meteorologic data then they can share it, but it shouldn’t become expected.

    NASA’s main focus should be things related with what their name insists. They should be constantly innovating ways to reach Low Earth Orbit and beyond for the smallest price possible. They should be ahead of the curve trying to get ANY info possible when it comes to astronomy and space exploration.

    Taking a sizable portion of their budget and assigning them to do something that you already have a group assigned to is not smart budgeting.

    Eventually politicians will understand that Net Job Loss is not the same as Job loss. Yes, NASA just probably hired a load of meteorologists and Climate change “Experts”, but that same number of people just lost their jobs on the other end.

    Before committing to one while joining the college community, I was dead set on Aerospace Engineering as my major because of my love for it, but was unfortunately swayed because of the cuts in the industry at the time (late 90’s.) I settled on Computer Engineering (a smart choice) but I am constantly bothered by what I might have been able to do in my favorite field.

    Bottom line of the rant is that if you want space advice, call NASA: if you want weather advice, call NOAA. (And while they can share facts and figures with each other to help out from different perspectives) don’t think that one can fill in for the other.

  198. Andrew

    If this insanity continues we will be without a space program until at least 2020. The Constellation is a heavy lift rocket and is more than 50% complete. Ares had a successful launch this fall. What sense does it make to start from scratch and be even further behind? I am sure the Chinese and Russians are enjoying watching NASA being destroyed from within. They did not have to lift a finger.

    Even hapless Sarah Palin is more progressive than Obama when it comes to space travel, and she thinks dinosaurs and cavemen were walking the Earth at the same time!

  199. Jack

    @ 207 Andrew,

    Is Constellation a rocket? A heavy lift you say? Really? And already 50% complete? Amazing! And Ares had a successful launch this fall? And you see those bad Chinese and Russians again too, who only want us to fail miserably!

    Please do some research before you post. This is just complete and utter nonsense.

  200. Jim R.

    The privatization ideas in Obama’s space plans are real good… just not enough. 6 billion dollar increase for NASA’s budget over 5 years is really nothing. What did the Augustine Commission recommend as an increase for NASA’s budget?

    Overall, the new plan sounds interesting. But without clear goals on where we’re going in what timeframe (gee… we’ve been talking about going to Mars by 2030 for years now)… Obama’s space plan is a lot of hope, and not much substance. At least the Constellation plan had dates set to get back to the Moon (along with hardware that was actually built). Also, it gets me that there are serious commentators who believe a HLV is going to be built by 2015. Give me a break. When Obama loses re-election in 2012, this plan will be reset… again.

  201. Alex

    Am I the only one irked by the utterly cynical remark “We’ve been there before”?

    Does this man think the space exploration as a of collection of T-shirts?

    Does this man think of “Mars” (if he can find it in the sky) as a place to put the flag in, to leave a footprint and close this off with “We’ve been there before”?

    How much does this man know of the projects and the extents of practical use of our natural sattellite for planetary needs provided that permanent human presense can be established there?

    And who are “We” in this idiotic phrase?

    “They” were different people at the different time in a different country. “They” were heroes working their butts off and making scientific and technological breakthroughs, achieving fantastic goals and some – sacrificing their lives in the process…

    “We” on the other hand – with garages overflowing with chinese junk, with grandchildren to pay our debts, mexican-fed obese and unemployed “population” in “service sector” w/o national identity that just ate through their space inheritance left to them by that generation of americans and has nothing left even comparable to it – “WE” NEVER been there.

    So YOU, Mr. President – has NOT been there too. Maybe you were preoccupied studying other matters in Indonesia at the time. And now you’ve just guaranteed that “WE” shall never be there too…

    And WE deserve it.

  202. akear

    I read that the Russians expect to have US astronauts as passengers until 2020. Cancelling constellation makes the US a dependant not independent space nation.

    Obamanaut = frequent flyer miles on Soyuz.

    I think Armstrong is realizing he will never see another American venture beyond Earth’s orbit. The US space program is heading for a real crap bath. It is going to be a miserable decade for US exploration.

    We still have Jersey Shore though!!!!

    I think a few will understand that in-joke reference.

  203. MaDeR

    PBFP: I do not think article comments are good place for long discussion. What about BAUT forums? I have account there.

    By the way, walls of text does not help you. Ah well, I will be back in evening and try to read it. -.-

  204. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ ^ MaDeR :

    Thanks. Glad you’ve seen it. Not so sure about the BAUT forums but we can give that a go – as I’ve replied to this on the Akin thread :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/04/16/akin-breakin-heart/comment-page-2/#comment-260282

    Do you use the same ‘name’ on the BAUT thread? I go under StevoR there (& as I guess you’ll have noticed here too occassionally.) :-)

    @ 213 Alex – I agree – well said. Except some of us deserve it & some don’t. There are some good people out there too who get caught up & made to suffer because of the weakness, folly and stupidity of others esp. Obama in this case.

    A question to the fans of this Obama plan – which yes is better than the old one but not by nearly as much as I first hoped. :-(

    If Obama is *really* saying here that we *are* going to Mars as opposed to just talking about it then :

    1.*when* exactly are we landing there?

    2*which* rocket will be launching the astronauts?

    3. What immediate steps are we taking right now to ensure that it happens?

    Vague feel-good talk is all very well but never amounts to much. Fine sounding, soothing words are clearly Obama’s specialty. :roll:

    Actual results, OTOH, not so much.

    Show us the detailed plan and the schedule please – then I might halfway believe this is more than just hot air & political spin. :-(

  205. akear

    Obama’s plan is more like a screen play to a science fiction film. What is shocking is the lack of detail in the plan.

  206. Josh Reiter

    I don’t think the assumptions made in point #2 are completely correct. The way I understand it is NASA is going to research and discuss over the next 5 years whether they need a heavy lift vehicle and what the vehicle might be. I think this is to give the private industries a chance to show off what they got before they have to start competing against a NASA based launcher. This also kicks the can down the road and lets another President after Obama worry about what NASA does then.

    Same is true for the Orion being turned into a life boat. It will be launched without a crew and parked on a the ISS. This is to keep it from competing with the Dragon capsule or other designs that are being put together out there. I have a feeling that will not see this capsule adapted for anything beyond Earth Orbit.

    We desperately need the money being funneled into new technology to work on designing and building a fuel depot. Once we get a depot into space the costs of “deep” space travel will drop significantly. Unfortunately, a good percentage of the money added to the budget is going to go into Earth sensing technologies and satellites to bolster the “Green” economy Obama so heavily endorses. Last I checked NOAA monitors the atmosphere and should be tasked with creating these sattelites if their is a justifiable need. NASA just needs to revert to the NACA days of old and focus on enabling technologies that enhance the effectiveness of 3rd party space centric organizations.

    Private space definitely needed NASA to get out of the way so that they have a chance to step up and show us what we can do. SpaceX is set to launch their Falcon 9 medium class launch vehicle within the next few weeks. So, it will certainly be exciting to see what comes from that and what will soon be sure to follow. The fact of the matter is that we really don’t know what design of rocket or manned vehicle will be the most cost effective. We need several competing groups to start bending metal and launching multiple designs in order to root out the most robust and cheapest platform.

  207. Eric

    All this talk of a heavy lift rocket. I thought the good old Saturn V was pretty good at that. What happened, did they throw the blueprints away?

  208. One thing I’d like to see in future US space programs is, while not depending entirely on the Russians as we may have to do for a while, not entirely going it alone.

    We should form a consortium of democracies with money and engineering ability (Britain, France, Japan, Germany, maybe S Korea and a couple others) and pool our resources in our return to space/the moon/where ever. We’d have more money, yeah it wouldn’t be just our flag but the US woudl be a LEADER still in an effort that would go farther, faster, and with incalcuable scientific and political progress.

  209. Alex

    @218 “…We need several competing groups to start bending metal and launching multiple designs in order to root out the most robust and cheapest platform…”

    :) :)

    We all already know which competing private group will win the the cheapest platform competition :) Even if it will initially have an “american” fake front. :) “Robust” is not that important. There’re billions of potential Taikonauts where this group hails from… :)

    We, “green” obamericans, instead, are welcome to grow popcorn in our backyards with which to watch the saga of brave taikonauts on chinese flat TV panels via chinese satellites and to produce green alcohol from it to spoil our gasoline with.. :)

    We, americans, are obsolete and outsourced now :) :) That’s the true meaning of the so called “new bold revised space policy” and everything else what’s going on in this country and in the “globalized” world… But one thing remains irrefutable – maybe “white men can’t jump” – but they did go to the Moon and had a hell of a ride in a dune buggy there… :) Something that Mr. Obama made sure nobody would ever see again… But, they say he plays a decent basketball.. :)

  210. akear

    I think NASA is going to keep the Shuttle going a few more years when they realize what a large US manned space gap we are facing. Even in 1975 the shuttle was at least in development. This is the first time in US history that we have facing an uncertain future in US space exploration. There is almost no plan at all. I guess the US will resemble the French industry for the next decade, which is perfectly capable of sending cargo into space, but has no human space program.

    This is brutal.

  211. Melia Cooke

    Ad astra per alia fideles — “to the stars on the wings of the faithful ones”

    song Infinity:they (might be) are Giants! :)

    To the Moon folks!

    DO NOT DENY LUNA – or it’s a no go…..

  212. Messier Tidy Upper

    News update :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/04/28/one-nasa-manager-maneuvers-to-save-constellation/

    One NASA leader Jeff Hanley — the manager of the Constellation Program — is fighting to save the Return to the Moon program and could be on a winner. I hope.

    Sorry BA I think you are a smart and good bloke & I love your blog but on this issue (& also a few others) I think you are sadly intellectually and emotionally blinded by your severe case of Obamania. I hope it clears up and you recover and see things clearly one day soon.

  213. Messier Tidy Upper

    This is what former NASA mission controller from the Apollo days who helped save Apollo 13 during NASA’s “finest hour” Chris Kraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Kraft ) says about Obama’s plan :

    http://www.hcnonline.com/articles/2010/05/05/bay_area_citizen/news/5chriskraft6.txt

    Plus here’s what Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the Moon, is quoted as saying :

    ***

    Obama ‘errs over space’ [Headline]

    WASHINGTON : [caps original] Neil Armstrong .. says US president Barack Obama is “poorly advised” on space matters, renewing criticism of a plan to abandon a project to return US astronauts to the Moon.

    Appearing before a Senate committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Armstrong said Mr Obama’s plan to end the Constellation program and cut space efforts appeared to be made without input from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the President’s Science advisor. “If the leadership we have aquired through our investment is allowed to fade away, other nations will step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that this would bein our best interests.” Armstrong said.

    Source : Page 71, The Advertiser (South Australia’s local daily newspaper) on 2010 May 14th.

    ***

    I think those are two people with vast and relevant expertise in this area who have earned the right to have their opinions heard and taken into account.

    Not that Buzz doesn’t of course! ;-)

    However, I *do* get the impression (perhaps I’m wrong but this how I see it) that the majority of space exploration experts; incl. most – if *not* quite *all* – the astronauts still favour a return to the Moon rather than Obama’s plan and that Buzz Aldrin is in the minority on this issue.

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 »