One NASA manager maneuvers to save Constellation

By Phil Plait | April 28, 2010 7:30 am

NASA logoI am on record as saying that I think that the Constellation rocket program should be axed, and replaced with a system that is more cost-effective and less likely to run overbudget as Constellation has. President Obama’s speech recently made it clear that Constellation’s days are numbered, and that he is urging NASA to look into a better heavy-lift vehicle.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Jeff Hanley — the manager of the Constellation Program — has apparently sent out an email that is an attempt to save at least part of the current system. I have not seen this email, but it’s alleged to try to use Obama’s idea of continuing with the Orion space capsule concept to save even more of Constellation.

nasa_orionObama wants NASA to keep developing the Orion capsule as a lifeboat for the space station (and, I assume, a crew capsule for future deep space missions). Of course, to test such a capsule it has to be lofted to orbit. How do you do that? This is where Hanley’s email comes in: the best way to get Orion into space is aboard the Ares 1 rocket, the first such vehicle to be built under Constellation.

As schemes go, that’s pretty clever. Hanley is leveraging Ares — which will be canceled under Obama’s plan — using Orion. In other words, the Ares 1 rockets will have to continue to be developed and built if we are to get Orion up and running. That way, even if Constellation is canceled, at least part of it will live on.

Drawing of NASA's Ares-1 rocketIt may be clever, but is it wise? I’m not sure. The Ares 1 has been tested once, and a lot of folks outside of NASA took a very dim view of it… Buzz Aldrin essentially called it a fraud, saying it was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show by NASA to make it look like progress was being made, when in reality it was a failure. That doesn’t make me hopeful that Ares 1 is what we want to throw our support behind.

I’ve been pretty clear on this: Constellation is basically a good idea, but is off to such a rocky start that it may be best to stop throwing money at it. NASA needs to do these things, in this order:

1) Figure out what its Next Giant Leap is — asteroid rendezvous, Moon base, mission to Mars;

2) Figure out just what is needed to not only accomplish this goal, but to sustain it with an eye toward the next big goal;

3) Start cutting metal.

The problem, as usual, is in Step 2. Sure, that first step (ironically) is sometimes fuzzy and vague, but Obama laid out at least a place to start in his speech last month (even if I disagree strongly with him about the Moon). But politics, public relations, whatever — NASA always stumbles (with plenty of help from Congress) at that dreaded Step 2, drawing up plans that seem to over-reach and not be realistic in terms of budget, goals, and timelines. That’s why we have the Shuttle, the space station, and no future plans.

Before I get the usual anti-Obama comments, remember that it was the Bush Administration that called for the retiring of the Shuttle before we had a working follow-up vehicle. So no matter what we have to rely on other countries and private industry until we get that next-gen rocket. But what happens next is perhaps the most critical thing NASA has ever done since the Apollo program was first announced. Political maneuvering and white-elephant saving are the last thing NASA needs.

What NASA needs is a clear goal, a clear vision, and a clear way to make those happen.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: Constellation, Orion

Comments (66)

  1. SLC

    What NASA needs is a plan to phase down the money-wasting scientifically unproductive manned space program and concentrate its limited resources on robotic missions, as proposed by Maryland physics professor Bob Park and Un. of Texas physics professor Steven Weinberg.

  2. Calli Arcale

    It wasn’t just the Bush administration that called for cancelling Shuttle; it was fallout from the Columbia accident, really, and I don’t think any White House administration can really be blamed.

    I disagree strenuously with Buzz Aldrin about Ares 1 having been a failure. It’s hard to call a mission a failure when it meets its mission objectives. It failed to do whatever it was he wanted of it, but that’s a different problem.

    I have mixed feelings about Ares, personally. On the one hand, it seems like an all-liquid vehicle would’ve been much better. On the other hand, Ares 1 actually flew. I find it difficult to imagine how NASA or anyone could start over from scratch and still fly a manned mission earlier than Ares would’ve. I am reminded of Akin’s 39th Law of Spacecraft Design:

    39. The three keys to keeping a new manned space program affordable and on schedule:
    1) No new launch vehicles.
    2) No new launch vehicles.
    3) Whatever you do, don’t decide to develop any new launch vehicles.

    They made that mistake once — so now, to correct the problem, they’re going to make that mistake again?

    Falcon 9′s the ace in the hole, of course. It’s a new launch vehicle, but it’s very far along in the development cycle. If it is successful, we could be just fine without Ares 1. But if Falcon 9 fails, and the corporation burns through its financial reserves trying to get it there, what do we do next?

    I do agree with Obama that NASA should continue work on the super heavy lift rocket. Even if its name needs to change for political reasons. But I have misgivings about throwing away a rocket that was nearly ready, even if I wasn’t a big fan of it from the start.

  3. J Hall

    How much is an asteroid composed of metal worth? I thought I heard (here?) that it could be on the order of trillions. It seems we know how to capture one: gravity tractor or sails. So how long until any of these are viable and then how do you get the metal to the earth without destroying a populated area? Do you have to process the metals in space?

    I believe this will be the future of commercial space travel and it would be great if NASA could lay the framework by answering these questions.

  4. I agree with you, your government should provide NASA with one clear goal. Like Kennedy did: “go to the moon in this decade” ambitious but simple.

  5. RAF

    . The Ares 1 has been tested once, and a lot of folks outside of NASA took a very dim view of it… Buzz Aldrin essentially called it a fraud, saying it was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show by NASA to make it look like progress was being made, when in reality it was a failure. That doesn’t make me hopeful that Ares 1 is what we want to throw our support behind.

    Why is referencing what Buzz Aldrin has to say relevant?? Is Buzz a more recognized “authority” than Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan?

    Said it before, I’ll say it again…if we think we know everything we “need” to know about the Moon after only 6 landings, then we’re playing a fools game.

  6. Ronald

    Manned space is not a waste SLC. It’s a key part of our future and the sustainability of our species.

  7. Ed S.

    Constellation was not a bad program – it had a clear mission, timetable, and initially it was thought to be adequately funded. Unfortunately it spun into weird directions when it was determined that two completely different rockets would need to be developed, and they would have to be based as much as possible on shuttle hardware (particularly the solid boosters). The “shuttle-derived” constraint led to some seriously strange results, particularly the Ares I, a.k.a. “the stick”. At any rate, the program today would be very difficult to complete and would have much reduced capability than originally planned. NASA needed to make the hard decision to go back to the drawing board and do it right, and I think Obama has forced the issue.

  8. 1) Give the Space Scuttle a manual transmission.
    2) Asstronaught training.
    3) Shift into reverse.
    4) Lift-on!
    5) America now has the world’s premier vertical tunneling modality.
    6) Do studies.

  9. SLC (#1): I’ve said this before as well: Bob Park is wrong. I disagree with him strongly that we should defund manned space. At the very, very least, it’s totally the wrong thing to do politically. Mike Griffin made this very clear in a speech to astronomers at a meeting I attended a few years ago: NASA is funded through public money, and the public likes manned space exploration. Without the manned program, there is no unmanned program.

  10. RAF (#5): I referenced Buzz because in the link I provided he points out why the Ares 1-X test was not what it seemed. There are other pages online as well, but that’s just the one I chose to link to.

  11. justcorbly

    I agree with Aldrin’s premises: It’s time to let the private sector do the grunt work of getting cargo and people to and from LEO. It’s time to start building a national infrastructure that can support deep space missions anywhere in the Solar System.

    We need to put aside essentially throw-away missions that spend billions to get to one specific target and then leave us all standing around wondering what to do next. The Air Force does not buy aircraft that can only fly to one location. The Navy doesn’t buy ships that can sail to only one location. What good is a cruiser that can go to Honolulu but not Tokyo? What good is a purpose-built program that gets us to the Moon when we decide to go somewhere else? The Air Force and the Navy, or any commercial airline, don’t spend billions on one-off projects to get to some single destination and then trash everything once they get there. Neither should NASA.

    I take Obama’s plan as a realization that we need to build a system capable of taking us to any number of places in the Solar System.. Essentially, that’s a very big heavy-lift vehicle, bigger than anything we’ve built so far. I really like his insistence that it must incorporate new propulsion technologies. We’re not going to explore and exploit even the inner Solar System if it takes 2-3 years to get someplace and back.

    Like sports teams, every program and every proposal has its fans. But, space exploration is not a sport. Nor is it exclusively an exercise in scientific research. We go to places in space to Be There, not just to find out what they’re made of.

    I’m glad Obama refrained from giving a chest-thumping speech that set a narrowly defined goal. That’s the wrong way forward.

    (On returning to the Moon, didn’t someone in the 1980′s propose using a Shuttle to ferry a crew and a lunar lander to orbit, followed by a tug (command and service module) on a large vehicle like the Proton, or even another Shuttle. Rendevous and then go off to the Moon. Seems like a reasonable approach to me. Not the thing to do if you are a president who wants to emulate JFK. But perhaps the more rational approach.)

  12. Harman Smith

    “I agree with you, your government should provide NASA with one clear goal. Like Kennedy did: “go to the moon in this decade” ambitious but simple.”

    I think that’s important, but it’s not like a simple goal will fix all of NASA’s problems. The difference is that NASA got a lot more funding in Kennedy’s time.

  13. UmTutSut

    Phil wrote: “Constellation…is off to such a rocky start that it may be best to stop throwing money at it.” I’ve yet to see a cogent explanation of how, if NASA can’t develop a LEO launch vehicle using upgraded Shuttle and Saturn hardware, commercial space can do it better, cheaper or faster starting from scratch. The track record simply doesn’t support that view.

  14. Stan9FOS

    “NASA always stumbles (with plenty of help from Congress) at that dreaded Step 2, drawing up plans that seem to over-reach and not be realistic in terms of budget, goals, and timelines.”
    NASA is hamstrung by the same constraints that every other government organization is under – primarily, any time a program is considered, it’s a given that timetables & budgets will be wrecked by going thru the congressional gauntlet, so you give overly “optimistic” estimates to put things thru the system. Reality, fortunately, never enters into the equation, other than the reality of having to cope with a mentally ill government. Nothing will ever happen unless NASA can induce the movement of significant numbers from column A to column B.
    No problem; when the planet-killer asteroid arrives, congress can just pass a resolution to downgrade the threat and move the deadline for impact back a few years while we figure it all out.

  15. Jeff

    “What NASA needs is a clear goal, a clear vision, and a clear way to make those happen.”

    You are so correct, and back in 1972 I was cursing NASA for diverting its money into the shuttle, even though I was just a lowly, but smart, physics major.

  16. Martha

    Forget rockets, we need a space elevator. Cleaner and rehusable.

  17. DavidR

    Dr. Plait:

    You raised the point/question that I meant to comment on before. It’s all good that the expense of developing the Orion capsule will be channeled into a “life boat” for ISS. But it seems to me that the new Nasa/Obama plan is missing an important component. If not Ares I, then how is the Orion capsule supposed to get into orbit? The shuttle? Hitch a ride on the Soyuz?

  18. Lynne Rivers

    I agree with Phil’s last sentence, “What NASA needs is a clear goal, a clear vision, and a clear way to make those happen.” We’ve had that in the past, but now it’s very murky.

    A common misconception right now is that Ares is over-budget and behind schedule. Ares I is on schedule, in spite of being under-funded. Congress admits this, and knows they messed up on funding. What we need is a leader who’s willing to stick to a plan and give promised funding so the plan can succeed.

    We also need a NASA administrator who will buck up and stand for what he knows is right and a deputy administrator whose husband doesn’t stand to gain by canceling Constellation. Do you wonder why Buzz Aldrin is standing behind Obama? Because his son also stands to gain by canceling Constellation.

    Do you wonder if “folks outside of NASA” took a dim view of Ares I-X because they also stand to gain by Constellation’s cancellation?

    Shuttle’s termination was planned because of safety and plans immediately began to determine a safe and improved replacement. Designs were reviewed the the best one selected. Let’s make it work!

  19. justcorbly

    >>What we need is a leader who’s willing to stick to a plan and give promised funding so the plan can succeed.

    Clear vision and spunky leadership are all well and good. But… Human space travel in the U.S. has had its destination established by Presidents from day one. That is exactly the precedent that must be broken. It’s unhealthy and unwise to allow the political pressures that invariably impose on any president to determine where we go in space. If nothing else, what happens when a president decides to roll back all manned exploration?

    Kennedy set a target of the Moon. We got there, and then we trashed the Apollo and Saturn program because the programs lost their political constituencies once that goal was reached. In other words, Apollo and Saturn were only very big one-off efforts. The Ares-based return to the Moon project is also just one very big one-off effort.

    We need to build a broad-based capability to go wherever we want in space, whenever we want. We do not need to build yet another narrowly defined, goal-limited, tall, skinny stovepipe project

  20. Avery

    I am against anything Obama is for.

  21. H.Lee

    Congress and the American public have been asleep at the wheel. The Columbia disaster was a wake-up call that the Bush administration addressed. Here we are now, 7 years later, reopening the debate for a safe path forward. Don’t forget that crew safety is at the heart of the issue. It’s about astronaut safety, folks. Bottom line. I’ve been ready to buy my plane ticket to space for more than 20 years. I’m rooting for these startups, but Obama is taking a huge gamble at the expense of our dominant position as the world leader in space because these start-ups are in their infancy and they don’t know what they don’t know! I don’t want to bet my tax dollars on that kind of a gamble. What we need is a dual path. Keep the best of what we’ve learned from 30 years of shuttle that is preserved in the Constellation program – let’s fund it properly and let’s get our astronauts back in space on American ships, not at $50 million a pop payable to the Russians. Let’s invest in start-ups and let them prove themselves, but not at the expense of terminating our human spaceflight program now for too long of a season while Russia, China and India race ahead.

  22. Marko Polo

    To me it seems that building on the strengths of the Shuttle Program, which has been very successful, IS the right direction. You don’t take what you have learned over the last 30 years, and throw it away. I don’t understand how Obama praised the Falcon 9 during his speech at Kennedy a few weeks ago without even cracking a smile. It has NO history, NO manned rating, and is definitely much further behind the Ares in flight readiness.

    I find it interesting that the author quotes Buzz Aldrin – only. Why not list other *more* relevant previous Astronauts? I guess because they disagree with his views. Well, two wrongs don’t make a right. And I also find it interesting that Gloria Garver isn’t called in to testify when she is CLEARLY influencing the current Administration’s direction. She (her husband) has an awful lot to gain by canceling the Constellation program.

    Meanwhile, China seems to have clear goals, a timeline, and is investing heavily on their Space program. They are NOT sitting by the sidelines waiting for us to decide what to do.

    So, what are we going to do as a nation? Argue whether the current direction is a little behind schedule, cancel the program, and HOPE that a commercial company can come through – all the while PAYING a foreign country -whatever they demand, by the way- to take our astronauts to the ISS. That doesn’t sit well with me as I believe Chinese would be very difficult to learn.

  23. chick rocket scientist

    Ed S. (#7): Saturn V, Apollo, Atlas V, EELV, Delta IV and even the Falcon 9 have the same “stick” shape. Regardless, Ares I configuration was demonstrated using the Ares IX test launch – yes, demonstrated – real hardware, launched successfully (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ZHzAvFuYc), providing thrust oscillation and other data to validate the design.

    Basing Ares on the Shuttle RSRMs means utilizing proven, demonstrated reliable hardware that has an established engineering base and a knowledgeable workforce. Further it utilizes processing infrastructure already in place and paid for by tax payers. The common systems between Ares I and V save taxpayers between $4 and $5 billion in life cycle costs. The solid rocket motor technology has been demonstrated on more than 120 Space Shuttle flights.

    Constellation has a launch capability of 400,000 pounds to orbit with the Ares V. This has not changed since the start of the Constellation program. It also happens to be 8 times greater than the capability of any of other launch vehicle. Ares I is also safer than any other system, with 100% crew abort coverage.

    The failure of President Bush is that he didn’t build Constellation into the long-term budget. Had funding been maintained as it was initially planned, it would have not been an issue.

  24. Cheyenne

    “Without the manned program, there is no unmanned program.”

    Sorry but where’s the evidence for that? If the king of science discovery ISS was de-funded you think we’d kill off the James Webb telescope or the Mars rovers? Seems like a weak hypothetical scare tactic to take.

    And what do most actual scientists think about the benefits that we get from the unmanned missions vs the manned ones? Since anybody can see that the science and exploration that the robotic missions have achieved massively surpasses the achievements of the manned program in the last 30 years – wouldn’t it be fair to ask why you support having de-funded the unmanned program to a large degree for the sake of a rather unfruitful manned program?

    One can only imagine how much more we would know about the universe, our solar system, and Earth if we would have spent the money that was mis-allocated to the ISS and shuttles into a much more robust, scientifically focused set of robotic missions.

    Man to Mars by 2030 right? Does anybody want to take a rather large bet on that? What a joke, what a waste of money and time. Let’s invest in what actually works for now.

  25. JoeSmithCA

    @Martha #15
    It’s under development but a very, very far way off. The enourmous hurdle I recall when I last followed elevators is that carbon nanotube ribbons are just not strong enough yet (or may never be) to withstand the enourmous amount forces acting on it. Rockets are the far more near term, but I agree if we can get past all the technological hurdles it could work. Also I believe another potential future tech involves ground based lasers to push loads into orbit without a tether but it also has some major hurdles to overcome.

  26. JoeSmithCA

    #22 Chick rocket scientist
    “Constellation has a launch capability of 400,000 pounds to orbit with the Ares V…”

    No offence but the Ares V but I don’t recall seeing an Ares V anywhere. I’ve penned designs for launchers with far greater capability. The russians have penned lots of designs with less, equal or greater capability and my son made a rocket just this morning with crayons. Hmmm and his looks alot better looking with the green, blue and red scribbles are over the sides.
    In other words “My rocket is gonna be better than YOUR rocket. Neener, neener.”

  27. Lynne Rivers

    #25 JoeSmithCA – “Neener, neener?” Now that took some research.

    Maybe you should review the Ares design and plans forward. You have to progress through step one before you can go on to step two. If we continue to get hung up in the politics of human spaceflight, you’re right – we’ll never see it. How unfortunate for your son, and others like him, who have dreams (and brains).

  28. ASFalcon13

    I’ve noticed that a lot of folks are characterizing this as political maneuvering on Hanley’s part, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Right now, the President’s budget recommendation is just that: a recommendation. Constellation is still the law of the land until the budget passes through Congress, and all the workers are still under orders to execute as though nothing has been cancelled. Recall that Bolden has already come under fire from Congress due to perceptions that he’s violated FY2010 budget protection of Constellation. The upshot of all this is that Hanley is required to continue future planning, whether the White House or NASA HQ likes it or not, especially in case Congress stalls in the budget process and goes into continuing resolution (not unlikely) and/or decides not to cancel Ares.

  29. RL

    Two thoughts:

    1. A clear mission needs to be assigned. I don’t think that the White House has done that, isn’t focued on it and won’t do it.

    2. If there wasn’t a manned space program, there would still be an unmanned program, but you wouldn’t have been able to fix Hubble. And if you couldn’t have fixed Hubble, I have to wonder how committed Congress or the public would be to funding big future projects (like we have now).

  30. Scooter

    Buzz Aldrin calles the Ares test a failure? Didn’t he just get voted off Dancing With the Stars in the first round? He is the only veteran astronaut that I know of that is in favor of cancelling Ares and the only one that showed up with the President at KSC. What does that tell you. The fact that President Obama’s April 15th audience at KSC was hand picked speaks volumes. Tbe President plan is so unpopular that Republicans and well as Democrats are working together to fix.

  31. Calli Arcale

    Yeah; in Hanley’s case it’s more management maneuvering than political maneuvering. He has the unenviable job of making sure his assets are able to support whatever it is they’ll need to support in future, without violating whatever they have to support right now, with only an approximate idea (subject to change) of what they’ll want later. I don’t envy him.

    I think we need a manned program. If we don’t, I think future generations will look back and go “WTF were you thinking???” If we cede leadership in space now, we may never get it back.

  32. Durant

    It is sad that we are even having this discussion. If Charles Bolden, were a true leader instead of a ‘yes-man’ – He would resign today and admit that Lori Garver and John Holdren are clearly running the show at NASA. John Holdren, the same man who once proposed forced sterilization for women after they gave birth to a designated number of children. Lori Garver, the same woman who has more flips than an IHOP’s top pancake chef. The same woman who thinks that NASA’s job is to create ‘World Peace’ and ‘Feed The Hungry’…

    Sentaors Mikulski and Shelby and their committee will do the right thing and not fund this. Stay the path with Constellation.

  33. Paul

    No, Constellation is not a good idea. Even if there were no development hiccups at all, the end result would be a scheme far too expensive to be useful. As Greason noted, if NASA were handed the system today, fully developed, their first step would have to be to shut it down, since they couldn’t affort to operate it.

    SpaceX has developed their Falcon 1 (and just about completed development on Falcon 9) for a tiny fraction of what NASA has already spent on Ares 1, never mind the even larger amount they had planned to spend on Ares development in the future. The spare simplicity of these launchers will enable large numbers to be built and launched, yielding the hard-won experience that is the only true way to obtain reliability in a launch system.

    Those supporting Constellation need to wake up and admit to themselves the NASA emperor really has no clothes. Reality is calling, and the game cannot be continued to be played as it has been in the past.

  34. Durant

    Paul, I respect your opinion, but strongly disagree. What we are talking about is like comparing a hot dog to a ribeye. Of course a hot dog is cheaper. But it is not even in the same Ballpark (pun intended) as a Ribeye.

    The Falcon9 is being desinged for cargo. Ares 1 is being developed for crew/cargo and is the first development step for Ares V. The safety of Ares is unmatched. Mr Frost (NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel) notes: Use of heritage systems with their track record, Ares I/Orion have a 10-fold safety advantage over any existing system!….Yep 10-FOLD!!!

    You mention that Falcon9 has ‘Just about completed develepment’. MR. FROST (NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel) told the follwing to the Senate Appropriations Committee just last week:

    Senator Mikulski asked:
    The hope is that the commercial launchers will be ready in 3 years. But looking at development of Shuttle, which was ongoing when Sen. Shelby and I came to the Senate, and that did not come to pass as planned.

    How could a commercial vehicle getting what they need to know in late 2010 be ready in 3 years?

    Mr. Frost replied:
    My experience is that this will be a tough target to meet. The commercial launchers are developing hardware now when standards are not ready. So that could result in standards compromises.

    PS) Paul, I like my steak cooked Medium-Rare!

  35. amphiox

    2. If there wasn’t a manned space program, there would still be an unmanned program, but you wouldn’t have been able to fix Hubble. And if you couldn’t have fixed Hubble, I have to wonder how committed Congress or the public would be to funding big future projects (like we have now).

    If we are going to talk hypotheticals, if there wasn’t a manned program but the total funding was the same (so the unmanned program gets 100% of the pie) then either 1. Hubble would have been designed from the start to be easily fixable robotically, or 2. Hubble would have been designed from the start to be easily replaceable by new space telescopes whenever it failed or needed an upgrade. The plans for the replacement telescopes would be part of the original budget, and there would be a production line set up to churn them out as they were needed, all as part of the original program.

    We chose to try an fix Hubble with a manned mission because we already had a manned program. It was just a question of using the resources we already had. Fixing Hubble was never and could never be a justification for a manned space program.

    For the amount of money the manned Hubble missions cost, we could have built, launched, operated, and replaced as needed, an entire fleet of space telescopes. In which scenario would more science have been done is an open question, probably unanswerable.

  36. Ed S.

    #22. chick rocket scientist – The Ares I is referred to as “the stick” due to it’s exceedingly tall and narrow design, compared to other rockets.

  37. Andrew

    I disagree with everyone who is supporting Obama. Do you even know what the moon is all about? no. OK, we’ve gone there, but what have we done? Are we just going to do a little stuff there and leave for Mars? What’s the point? With that same logic European explorers would’ve never found America after Columbus and there would be no trails west after Lewis & Clark. We need to take advantage of the moon’s resources. Helium-3 is a rare resource on Earth but plentiful on the moon, and is used for FUSION REACTORS, the next gen power source, and is unlimited.
    In creating a moon base, you are taking advantage of three important things:
    1. Helium-3 and hydrogen, important power sources
    2. 1/6th gravity, vital for reducing escape velocity from the moon to space
    3. Moon dust, which when compressed in a furnace and heated to 800°C, will be converted to drinking water.

    In canceling the constellation program we will waste over 10 billion$ already invested in the program. Why quit when we’ve used up over six years on it?
    Obama’s “bold new approach” simply hides “flexible accomplishments.” That means creating all this stuff without a specific goal. That is such a complete waste of money!
    Whats the point of going to Mars? Our technology isn’t good enough for Mars missions, and the Moon is a logical choice over Mars for future human space colonies. Obama says we can orbit Mars and go back to Earth in the mid 2030′s, but we would’ve wasted billions of dollars on something we could do for free back home: VIEWING MARS.
    In canceling the constellation program we’re abandoning the Moon, and we’ll be 2nd or 3rd in space technology. For example, take China for example. (I’m Chinese) They say that they will build a moon base in within 15 years. Why? Because of its gravity. The moon’s 1/6th gravity will vastly reduce the costs of rocket propellant, and that building and living there for 6 months is within our reach. The Chinese are smart about this, So should you.
    Extending the ISS for a further 5 years? Are you kidding me? 200 miles isn’t a frontier anymore. There are hundreds of satellites orbiting the Earth as I speak – it isn’t a frontier anymore. We have mastered low Earth orbit already. Why improve on it any further? we need to move on casually as like a moon base, but not rushing for Mars and maybe asteroids or Ceres.
    We are retiring the shuttles in 2010, so canceling this and the shuttles will be a blow to the US. We are going to kill thousands of jobs on this, and Constellation is already designing next gen rockets over the shuttle.
    Look at the US since the founding of NASA. We have accomplished so many things since the Space Race. In fact, for over half a century. If we are going to continue that, and cancel the shuttles, AND cancel Constellation, that will make that “easy” objective suddenly impossible.
    Look at our generation of people: The mid 30s to the baby boomers. What Obama is doing is to cancel something that is left for our children, so what will be made of them when they grow up? They will be so discouraged to hear about Obama’s cancellation of Constellation, something I, my friends, and so many other people were interested in and hoping to build a moon base by 2020. A complete disaster to all of those people.
    As I said before, the 1/6th gravity should be taken advantage of. If we spent 2 billion$ here on Earth for one rocket and its propellant, it would cost about 330 million dollars instead on the moon. That is something there.
    Living on Mars is very unlikely and terraforming a planet is a process that takes over 2,000 years, and that is only for a small planet like Mars. If it were to be a super-earth (7 to 14 times the mass of Earth) it would take well over 10,000 years. Do you think we can do this stuff? No. However, taking advantage of the moon will make this goal easier.
    So, all you idiots that don’t understand Obama’s cancellation of Constellation, or those that support it, I really hope you would rethink it and ask Congress to deny the budget being taken. So many former and legendary astronauts are urging Obama to rethink about this. If you are a pro-Constellation, good for you, and please urge Congress to deny the budget. If you aren’t: You need to rethink about this. That includes you, Paul.

  38. Ed S.

    The Ares I-X test returned data, which evidently made it a success. However, the vehicle contained very little “real hardware”. The solid booster was not the Ares I version, and the 2nd stage and payload were dummies. Perhaps it is correct in that it validated the “stick” configuration, if the criteria was that it go up and not some other unplanned direction. The stage separation could have been better. But, to be fair, that’s why we test, right?

    I think the arguments for and against Constellation boil down to protecting jobs versus investing in a more diverse and capable space program. If you work on Constellation or you are a politician with constituents who work on Constellation, then the “program of record” is the only choice. If you don’t, then other options look better. That’s the painful choice in a nutshell.

  39. MadScientist

    That’s funny – I think the best way to loft Orion is to use the Ariane 5. You may need to have a look at the boosters strapped on to get the lift capacity projected for the Ares-1 (if you really want that much lift), but why build and troubleshoot a vehicle which is pretty much the same as an already existing and well tested vehicle?

  40. justcorbly

    There’s a lot of way off target thinking gone on here.

    The unmanned robotic research part of NASA depends on the manned effort in a political sense. Yes, people do get interested in a few missions like Hubble and Cassini and the Mars rovers because they produce pretty pictures. But, don’t kid yourself. The public does not understand the science and has no interest in or enthusiasm for any of the other dozens of missions. Without crewed missions, NASA’s buget would be slashed by more than 50 percent. Anyone who thinks geeky space missions people can’t understand have any political clout is just wrong.

    Funding the Constellation program sufficiently to make it work is politically untenable. Not going to happen. The deal Bush made was to fund Constellation from savings derived from the cancellation of the Shuttle program. Guess what? That’s not enough.

    People here who don’t like Obama’s proposals ought to be the first to recognize the need to get NASA’s crewed space flight programs out from under the political sponsorship of politicians. So long as human space flight projects are launched as big presidental initiatives. every one of them is at risk for cancellation or not so benign neglect at the hands of the first president who doesn’t like them. That’s what happened to Apollo. It was a Kennedy mission. Nixon wasn’t about to continue sponsoring an effort to generate success and glory that would accrue to the Kennedy name. So, he killed the program and spawned the Shuttle, an effort that should have been aborted.

    Emotionally, it is difficult not to have the president declare for some big, bold new space initiative. But, we cannot move into space by depending on a succession of stovepiped and narrowly focused presidential enthusiasms. Even more, such projects are the enemy of what we really need to do: Build the capability and the infrastructure to go where we want in the Solar System when we want to go. That will never happen so long as we conceive of human space flight as one long repeating series of Apollo Redux.

  41. gss_000

    Sorry, Phil, while I can see why you came to your conclusion here mainly due to reading only one article, it is not entirely correct. By reading other articles a bigger picture emerges

    It is the law that no part of Constellation can be canceled until Congress approves. Until the budget is passed, Constellation still has to be worked on. This is why Hanley is correct when he wrote:

    “”This direction,” Hanley wrote in the e-mail, “remains consistent with … policy to continue program execution and planning in the event that the program or parts thereof will continue beyond (this financial) year.”

    In the two months since the budget was rolled out, the plan has already been modified to include Orion. It’s only good management to try to plan for any eventuality.

    And your point two is a little off:
    “NASA always stumbles (with plenty of help from Congress) at that dreaded Step 2, drawing up plans that seem to over-reach and not be realistic in terms of budget, goals, and timelines.”

    Except, they were given a budget guideline and timeline that became unreasonable when no money was given. The Augustine Commission, while it criticized the need for Ares in light of where it was today, did praise the program for being well managed in spite of not getting the budget it needed.

    The new policy has all the elements you are complaining about. I like that private companies are being drawn in. That’s good. But another rocket study by 2015? A trip to Mars and asteroids in some hazy future? If anyone thinks this won’t be changed when another President comes in or sometime down the line, they’re fooling themselves.

    Now point me to one company or project that takes a big step that hasn’t been over budget and way off its timeline. If you say SpaceX, you’re wrong. All big projects have issues. We’re forgetting that Constellation survived party changes in Congress, which is pretty impressive if you want to have a program that is sustainable. Was it perfect? No. Did it need modification. Emphatically, yes. I’m not wedded to Ares, but throwing out everything was silly.

    Even worse, the new policy has the elements of “flags and footsteps” in it as well. The tech emphasis is really good, but saying the moon will be ignored for now because we’ve “been there” only means we aren’t working toward building a sustainable future in space. A mix between the tech demos of this plan and the lunar bases of Constellation would be a wiser move.

    Lastly, Phil. You keep on bringing up Buzz Aldrin’s opinion, but you never have mentioned Neil Armstrong having the exact opposite view. Does his view not matter? Or because he didn’t come up with a very out there plan, you don’t think he has a point.

  42. justcorbly

    Aldrin’s opinion is no more “very out there” than Armstrong’s. He’s advocating the approach he thinks is best. That’s all.

    More importantly, there is no reason we should attach more weight to a former astronaut’s opinion than to the opinion of anyone else.

    As I see it, and as I’ve said, the choice is between building a space-faring infrastructure and capabililty, or building just another in a series of throw-away efforts.

  43. Brian Too

    Technical question: If Ares is built upon the Shuttle solid booster design, does that design not retain the O-ring feature?

    I know that NASA upgraded the O-ring system after the Challenger accident, but my understanding was that the O-rings were a systemic weak point in the SRB’s. The only reason they existed was that no one knew how to handle such large boosters as single units. The problem was during manufacturing, not assembly.

    What would it take to design the O-rings out? Would such a design change significantly improve launch safety?

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    I [Dr Phil Plait -ed.] am on record as saying that I think that the Constellation rocket program should be axed, and replaced with a system that is more cost-effective and less likely to run overbudget as Constellation has. President Obama’s speech recently made it clear that Constellation’s days are numbered, and that he is urging NASA to look into a better heavy-lift vehicle. Not everyone agrees, of course.

    I am one of those who strongly disagrees and I’ve said so before too.

    Cancelling Ares- Constellation is a huge mistake in my view.

    Constellation is basically a good idea, but is off to such a rocky start that it may be best to stop throwing money at it.

    The Hubble Space observatory got off to a terribly rocky start and was viewed as an initial disappointment and the butt of many jokes some very nasty & mean-spirited when it had its early spherical aberration issue.

    Apollo, NASA’s most impressive program ever (methinks) got off to an even rockier start. For instance in the book of ‘Apollo 13′ (Jim Lovell & his co-writer Jeffrey Kluger note :

    “The Apollo spacecraft, by even the most charitable estimations, was turning out to be an Edsel. Actually, among the astronauts it was thought of as worse than an Edsel. An Edsel is a clunker, but an essentially harmless clunker. Apollo was downright dangerous. Earlier in the development and testing of the craft, the nozzle of the ship’s giant engine – the one that would have to function perfectly to place the moonship in lunar orbit and blast it on its way home again – shattered like a teacup when engineers tried to fire it. During a splashdown test, the heat shield of the craft, had split open causing the command module to sink like a $ 35 million anvil to the bottom of a factory test pool. The environmental control system had already logged 200 individual failures; the spacecraft as a whole had accumulated roughly 20,000. During one checkout run at the manufacturing plant, a disgusted Gus Grissom walked away from the command module after leaving a lemon perched atop it.
    -Page 13, Apollo 13 Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Coronet Books 1995.

    Moreover, that was *before* the Apollo 1 fire which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chafee and Ed White.

    It would have been easy to abandon Apollo altogether after that.

    Just as it would’ve been easy to write off Hubble after the spherical aberration blunder.

    But thank FSM we didn’t – imagine what we would have missed out on!

    Imagine what we may be missing out on now with Obama cancelling Constellation which also seems to be widely criticised and off to a troubled start just as Apollo & the HST once were.

    We know today that it was right to persist with Hubble & with the Apollo program.

    I think that shows that it would be the right course of action to persist with Constellation too. If we don’t build it and try to get it to work we’ll never know if it too could overcome its early mishaps and difficulties and really accomplish amazing, beautiful, marvellous things.

    Per aspera ad astra – through difficulties to the stars.

    That’s the NASA tradition – not giving up halfway or 70 % of the way through because things are hard. We do these things precisely *because* they are hard as JFK would say.

    I hope Jeff Hanley succeeds. I hope Constellation is saved and we get to see it fly and overcome its early problems to land humans – incl. women and astronomers and many others – on the Moon.

  45. Alex

    Calli says that the cancellation of the program date back to the Columbia accident. I’d put the reasons for cancelling shuttle back at Challenger. Before then, we could still believe that STS was having teething problems, and could achieve the goals of the program. After the accident, the cancelling of commercial satellite launches by Regan, and the DOD’s decision to use expendable rockets for it’s launches, it became clear that STS was destined to become a dead end.

    On Aldrin & Armstrong. There is one reason why we should place higher weight on their opinions. They both have advanced degrees in relevant fields, Armstrong has a Masters in aerospace engineering, while Aldrin has a Doctorate in Astronautics, so we should consider their opinions above the average person.

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    If we keep getting things 75 % done then abandoning them & if we do go back to the rocket-design drawing board with each new president taking office then we’ll just never get anywhere! :-(

    From the old thread about Obama’s latest revised (but still not definitely looking like going anywhere fast) plan :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/04/15/obama-lays-out-bold-and-visionary-revised-space-policy/

    (Taken from # 188 posted as Plutonium being from Pluto.)

    The following few quotes by others say it all methinks & are worth quoting again for those who may not have seen them before* :

    # 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 new Obama 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 … thing on a … 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.

    So much so, that I’m quoting you twice! ;-)

    ——————————-

    * After all, they were a *long* way down a very long comments thread.

  47. Paul D.

    Throwing away a partially-done bad program is better than finishing it. Even better would have been never starting the bad program in the first place, but NASA doesn’t have a time machine so that’s not an option.

    The problem with NASA and human space activities in general remains the exorbitant cost. NASA’s launchers have been getting progressively more expensive, not less (adjusted for inflation). This kind of negative progress is hardly something that justifies any taxpayer money, never mind the eleven digit sums needed for Ares.

    The grand visions of lunar 3He mines will never be practical until costs are reduced by many orders of magnitude. Ares would not do it, and nothing derived from Ares could do it. If you want to see that sort of thing in the future (or, more realistically, you want your grandchildren to see it), then Obama’s proposed changes are a step in the right direction. NASA has proven itself incapable of reducing costs, but private industry reduces costs all the time.

  48. justcorbly

    >>On Aldrin & Armstrong. There is one reason why we should place higher weight on their opinions. They both have advanced degrees in relevant fields, Armstrong has a Masters in aerospace engineering, while Aldrin has a Doctorate in Astronautics, so we should consider their opinions above the average person.

    Decisions about human space flight are political decisions. Guys with advanced engineering degrees get called in to help design whatever the politicians have decided to build. All things considered, that’s a good thing.

  49. MadScientist

    @Brian #43: Yes, there are O-ring issues – what’s your point? That simply means that you should never launch if any temperatures monitored on the launch pad are below a threshold. I have no idea if a different material had been selected after the Challenger tragedy, but even if the material had not changed the threat from deformed O-rings is now well known.

  50. Mike Mullen

    “It is sad that we are even having this discussion. If Charles Bolden, were a true leader instead of a ‘yes-man’ – He would resign today and admit that Lori Garver and John Holdren are clearly running the show at NASA. John Holdren, the same man who once proposed forced sterilization for women after they gave birth to a designated number of children. Lori Garver, the same woman who has more flips than an IHOP’s top pancake chef. The same woman who thinks that NASA’s job is to create ‘World Peace’ and ‘Feed The Hungry’…”

    Or that’s what some senator says Lori Garver said. If you go find the actual presentation it reads quite differently, but hey why worry about checking your sources when you’ve got a great sound bite?

    Ares I was supposed to be quick, simple and cheap, it has proven to be none of those things, better to call it quits now that just blunder on wasting money.

  51. Jeff

    andrew : “Living on Mars is very unlikely and terraforming a planet is a process that takes over 2,000 years, and that is only for a small planet like Mars. If it were to be a super-earth (7 to 14 times the mass of Earth) it would take well over 10,000 years. Do you think we can do this stuff? No. However, taking advantage of the moon will make this goal easier.”

    Well said friend. I said this loudly in 1972 , and since I’m just a lowly prof. way down the pecking order in NASA’s way of thinking, they didn’t listen to people like me. If they had, instead of that dull shuttle project, they would have a moon base up there long ago and maybe I would have even been able to demonstrate with my Newton scale balance that a 1 kg object weighs 1.6 N on the moon with a direct demo. instead of just having people imagine it.

    See, when the Apollo program was hot and the momentum was with space flight, then they should have started the moon base in 1973 and then it would have worked. Apologists for NASA, you’re just stodgy, unimaginative, and wrong.

    And a favorite students’ of my , her father, has worked at NASA for 35 years, and his job is hanging in the balance. I don’t like that situation either.

  52. Bobby Ewing

    We received a response from United States Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina regarding the NASA Constellation Program. Copy of his written reply is here:
    http://www.jlaforums.com/viewtopic.php?p=45341836#45341836

  53. Grand Lunar

    It’s amazing to see the push for Ares 1, when other rockets in existence right now can do the same job.
    Given that the Orion lifeboat isn’t manned for launch (AFAIK), then the launch vehicle needn’t be man-rated yet. This opens up the use of Delta IV or Atlas V, and allows NASA to jump straight to SDHLV.

    What I can’t understand is why NASA doesn’t look to the Direct 3.0 plan.
    Seems reasonable, capable, and affordable, plus it makes use of what we already have. And it could still use some of Constellations elements, like the 5 segment SRB and J-2X, as well as Orion.

    As for the moon, why not let other nations have at it? The US has been there, so why not now let Russia, EAS, JAXA, or China work to get there, while the US goes on to NEOs and Phobos?

    Personally, I’d want to see a runway lander like the original CEV design by Lockheed instead of the Orion. Or perhaps a lifting body type like the HL-10.

  54. TheBlackCat

    In canceling the constellation program we will waste over 10 billion$ already invested in the program. Why quit when we’ve used up over six years on it?

    Three words: sunk cost fallacy. Short version: money and time you have already spent can never be used as justification for spending more time and money. The costs are unrecoverable and therefore should never enter into your decision about the allocation of future time and money.

    The bottom line is if they can build a better ship in the same time and money it would take to finish the constellation, or build a ship that is better enough to justify additional time and money spent, then it doesn’t matter whether we spent 100 trillion dollars on the constellation before, the correct decision is to scrap it.

    I know this seems counter-intuitive, our instinct is to include previously-spent resources in determining the allocation of future resources. That is why it is called a fallacy in the first place.

    I am not saying it is necessarily the case that we CAN build a ship that is better enough, I don’t know enough on the subject to say, I am just pointing that using the money already spent on the constellation to justify continuing to spend money on it is a fallacy.

  55. TheBlackCat

    Here are a couple of articles discussing the sunk cost fallacy:
    http://www.skepdic.com/sunkcost.html
    http://virtualphilosopher.com/2006/09/sunkcost_fallac.html

    By the way BA, is there any way to whitelist websites for the moderation filter? If so, major science websites like aaas or nature, major newpapers, and prominent skeptical websites like skepdic, the fallacy files, csicop, and randi.org should probably be whitelisted.

  56. Cheyenne

    @TheBlackCat – Re: Sunk Cost Fallacy – You’re absolutely correct. This is one of the most common problems that people have with regards to making resource allocation decisions.

  57. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    But it seems to me that the new Nasa/Obama plan is missing an important component. If not Ares I, then how is the Orion capsule supposed to get into orbit? The shuttle? Hitch a ride on the Soyuz?

    The full blown Orion masses 22,679 kg. [Wikipedia] Orion light is anybody’s guess.

    However, LEO launch systems capabilities [Wikipedia]:

    Atlas V HLV 29,420 kg.
    Delta IV Heavy 22,950 kg.
    Falcon 9 Heavy 32,000 kg.
    Long March 5 25,000 kg.

    Soyuz-FG 7,100 kg.

    So you may at least go commercial or ask the chinese, but perhaps not the russians. We’ll see.

  58. Kris

    The difference between the US space program back in the 1960s and now is that back then the program had a GOAL. The hardware was being developed in order to meet this goal (i.e. get to the Moon). The goal was known, so the detailed specifications could be made. Then the stuff could be designed, made, and tested against these specifications.

    Obama has cancelled Constellation, along with the goal. So the U.S. is now going to develop a heavy launcher. But since there is no clear goal, the specification cannot be fixed. So what will happen, is that the specifications will be changed as the development progresses to match this what has actually been built. So at the end, you will get a vehicle that meets the specifications. However, these specifications will not correspond to any actual goal. So, for practical purposes, it will be useless.

    Next: the vehicle is to integrate new propulsion tech. Oh, yeah… So, they are going to design a vehicle around a non-existent tech, or, design a new tech for a non-existing vehicle?

    In short: this is not a space program. This is a jobs program.

  59. Paul

    Setting the Goal for the space program is like setting the Goal for the economy. It’s unitary central planning of the most blatant kind. It won’t open the space frontier any more than it would work creating viable social structures down here on Earth.

    If space is to be anything beyond a series of high tech Potemkin villages, it has to involve private entities making money there, doing diverse things. Space and NASA need to get to that state as soon as possible. We need to get out of the mode of thinking Apollo was any sort of healthy model. It wasn’t and isn’t.

  60. SLC

    Re Phil Plait @ #9

    Of course, then, Steven Weinberg is also wrong. I am sorry Dr. Plait but I will value the opinion of Prof. Weinberg over a dozen Mike Griffens.

    Re Phil Plait

    What NASA needs is a clear goal, a clear vision, and a clear way to make those happen.

    OK, fair enough. Therefore I will propose a clear goal. A robotic mission to discover if there is life in the sea on Jupiters’ moon Europa. The discovery of life elsewhere in the universe would be the greatest achievement in the history of human science. This is doable at a far lower cost then a stupid manned mission the Mars, and scientifically would be far more valuable.

    Re RL @ # 29

    If there wasn’t a manned space program, we could have launched a dozen Hubble telescopes so the one going dark wouldn’t have been a big deal.

  61. Andrew

    Obama is making a big mistake over canceling the Constellation program. OK, maybe it might be a little over budget, but what about the specifics? Obama said that we are going to visit a near-earth asteroid in 2025, man an orbit around Mars and come back, and in the mid 2030s, land on Mars. What is the point of visiting an asteroid? To mine resources rare on Earth? OK, the moon does just that, and it wouldn’t even cost nearly as much. Orbiting Mars? What the heck. It isn’t worth all the money to orbit Mars when you can spend much less money sending unmanned missions to Mars, and what are you going to do when you’re viewing Mars? You can do it for free back on Earth.
    Landing on Mars. If it is successful, what are we going to do there? Build a base? Why not on the Moon? OK, maybe we’ve been there, what what have we done? We’ve literally scratched the surface of the Moon. We don’t even know what the Moon is all about, despite robotic probes and orbiting satellites. Why rush to go to Mars? If Obama thinks we’re been lazy boys back on Earth spending billions and billions of dollars to go to a place we’ve already been there before, he’s wrong. In fact, we know less about the Moon than Mars. Don’t deny that. It is a fact.
    SLC: OK, fair enough. Therefore I will propose a clear goal. A robotic mission to discover if there is life in the sea on Jupiters’ moon Europa. The discovery of life elsewhere in the universe would be the greatest achievement in the history of human science. This is doable at a far lower cost then a stupid manned mission the Mars, and scientifically would be far more valuable.
    Partially you are correct. However, the flaw is that you must be careful about saying that. The only way to spend spacecraft to Europa is unmanned. Personally, once we’ve mastered interplanetary travel, my first target is Gliese 581d, the most Earth-like planet yet discovered.
    I want to get the point out that unmanned missions to places has a far lower cost than manned missions. An unmanned mission to Mars takes about 500 million$. A manned mission to Mars would be in the hundred-billions, and more.
    Obama is underestimating the Moon. According to his beliefs, he thinks that sending 6 moon landings (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17) is enough, and we’re moving on to Mars. Well, take the 1/6th gravity. Remember what I said about taking advantage of it? A rocket booster that would cost 2 billion$ on Earth would cost 6 times less on the moon. A moon base is within our reach. It’s just our economy, the modern recession, and Obama’s doubts about the program that’s stopping this great achievement to build a moon base and stay there for 6 months.
    Messier Tidy Upper, you are absolutely right. Apollo was a rocky start, but they had a goal. The Space Race was still in operation, and Congress, the public, and the President were so enthusiastic about it that they decided to pour billions into NASA. We can do the same thing here. Obama’s making a big mistake. As an analogy, a won game isn’t won until it is finished, as in chess – the other player, the losing player, can still win if you have a won game. This program, Constellation, has a goal. But we aren’t have competition – a “won game.” Canceling the program allows the other player to win the game. Do we want to let that happen? NO.
    Save Constellation now.
    Andrew — – 2

  62. Andrew

    By the way Jeff, why NASA didn’t build a moon base in 1973 after Apollo is because they didn’t have the enthusiasm to accomplice the funds. When Apollo 11 landed before the Russians did the public and Congress cheered. When NASA decided to use the Moon for science stuff, they snoozed. Eventually, they ran out of budget. A moon base would be heavily scientific. Besides, they didn’t have the technology to do this.
    I’m not saying I’m opposing you Jeff, it’s just that I wanted to make it clear that NASA was really not ready for it, and they lacked innovation from the public and Congress, instead of being lazy boys.
    Andrew – - 3

  63. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 61. Andrew Says:

    Messier Tidy Upper, you are absolutely right.

    Thanks. :-)

    The Space Race was still in operation, and Congress, the public, and the President were so enthusiastic about it that they decided to pour billions into NASA. We can do the same thing here. Obama’s making a big mistake. As an analogy, a won game isn’t won until it is finished, as in chess – the other player, the losing player, can still win if you have a won game. This program, Constellation, has a goal. But we aren’t have competition – a “won game.” Canceling the program allows the other player to win the game.

    Yes indeed. I think we are being complacent when it comes to space technology, exploration and development at the moment and I fear this will come back to hurt us badly later.

    Its happened before with Sputnik & Gagarin catching the West napping and the early Soviet lead over the US in the space race. We were able to catch up again then .. But we certainly can’t be sure of doing the same this time. :-(

    It is far better to be out in front leading and advacing the technology and holding the advantage(s!) rather than losing to nations that may be hostile or untrustworthy later. I don’t think we really want to put our future and our children’s quality of life and potential futures in, say, Chinese hands.

    (Yes we’re already doing badly enough in that regard economically I know – all the more reason NOT to lose the scientific and space high ground advantage too!)

    @62. Andrew :

    I wanted to make it clear that NASA was really not ready for it, and they lacked innovation from the public and Congress, instead of being lazy boys.

    Very true. Its not NASA’s fault they haven’t been funded and directed well enough.

    I blame sucessive US presidents from both parties for lacking the vision and foresight neeeded. I expected better from Obama. The political and economic side – money & will – has too often been lacking and has hamstrung the engineers and visionaries who could have taken us to the Moon, Mars and beyond by now given the chance do so. :-(

  64. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Personally, once we’ve mastered interplanetary travel, my first target is Gliese 581d, the most Earth-like planet yet discovered.

    Sorry but Gliese 581 d is hardly all that “earth-like” a planet with a mass between 7 and 14 times that of Earth’s. Ouranos has 14 times earth’s mass and so at the upper end it is pretty clearly if disappointingly a gas giant or maybe “gas dwarf” would be a better term.

    Unfortunately even at the low end of its mass range (if its seven or so earth-masses not 14) I think we can’t be sure *what* GJ-581d is like because we have no analogue in our own solar system – it may well still be a “gas dwarf” typoe world as suggested by MIT professor Sara Seager for Gliese 581-c. Or it could be a super-sized version of Pluto or Mars – rather than being terribly “Earth-like.”

    Frankly, I think the term “Super-Earth” is misleading at least for the exoplanets found so-far which would probably be more accurately and better described as Super-Pluto’s or Super-Venus type planets.

    Still there is the chance that it is an ocean planet as described on its wikipage :

    According to Stéphane Udry, [The planet's discoverer - ed.] “It could be covered by a ‘large and deep ocean’; it is the first serious ocean planet candidate.”
    .. …Gliese 581 d is probably too massive to be made only of rocky material, but it is speculated that it is an icy planet that has migrated closer to the star. Calculations by Barnes et al. suggest, however, that tidal heating is too low to keep plate tectonics active on the planet, unless radiogenic heating is somewhat higher than expected.

    Whatever Gliese 581d’s nature – and for that matter the other exoplanets of that red dwarf star – it is an intriguing target and I’d love to see it close up and learn about the Gliesean 581st system generally.

    Yet, that said, it would NOT be my first choice for an interstellar journey.

    Instead I’d first visit the Alpha Centauri star system because Alpha Centauri B is a near certainty for planets I’ve read although none have yet been found suggesting they might be low-mass. Plus you get two sun-like stars and areddwraf if Proxima is also amemberof the system as commonly thought.

  65. Plutonium being from Pluto

    D’oh! Ran out of editing time as I worked on my interstellar journey targets wishlist.

    I’ll recap an edited version & then continue if that’s okay :

    ****

    Instead I’d first visit the Alpha Centauri star system because Alpha Centauri B is a near certainty for planets I’ve read although none have yet been found suggesting they might be low-mass. Plus you get to two sun-like stars – and a red dwarf if Proxima is also a member of the Alpha Centaurite (?) system as commonly but not universally thought. Alpha Centauri is also, of course, the closest star(s!) to our Sun at just 4.3 light years distant versus 20 lightyears for Gliese 581.

    My next target choice would probabaly be Epsilon Eridani which has the nearest exoplanets known so far although as a very young and probably still forming sytem it may have a lot of debris and dangers there and likely not yet any habitable worlds.

    Otherwise let’s see :

    There’s Tau Ceti but it has low metallicity and thus earth-like worlds are unlikely.

    Sirius and Procyon are much brighter, younger stars whith white dwarf companions that would have fried any planets present during their red giant stage so their interesting star systems and but unlikely abodes for habitable expoplanets. (Sorry V but Sirian super-lizards rare most implausible!)

    There’s a lot of red dwarfs nearby – Barnard’s Star, Wolf 359, Lalande 21185, Luyten’s Flare Star (UV Ceti), Lacaille 9352 – but again, prospects for earth-like planets seem remote.

    Epsilon Indi could be a good option though – an orange dwarf star barely visible to our unaided eyes so not too dim and with some interesting brown dwraf companions as well all loctaed just 12 light years away so, yes, that’d probably be my third option after Alpha Centauri and Epsilon Eridani.

    There was actually a list of Sun-like stars that could support habitable planets produced by Rand and written about by Isaac Asimov back in the mid 1960′s which listed – in order of probability of having habitable planets – the following stars :

    Alpha Centauri A & B, Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti, 70 Ophiuchi A, Eta Cassiopeiae A, Sigma Draconis, 36 Ophiuchi A & B, HR 7703 A, Delta Pavonis, 82 Eridani, Beta Hydri, & HR 8832.

    Source : Dole, Stephen, & Asimov, Isaac, Planets for Man, New York, Random House, 1964.

    Since then we’ve discovered a few more things such as Epsilon Eridani’s youthfulness and Tau Ceti’s low metallicity but these stars – plus perhaps the triple star system of Keid (aka 40 or Omicron-2 Eridani) which has a sun-like star plus a red dwarf and a white dwarf would still be high on my list of possible earth-like exoplanets and worthwhile targets for interstellar travel once we can do that – if we ever can.

  66. Andrew

    Paul. Pro-Obama supporters. Shame on you guys. SHAME ON YOU.

    Sorry for being a bit rude there, but you do notice this is a death trap?
    Now, you’re talking about the cost of this program. OK, maybe it’s gonna cost about 100 billion$. Do you have any idea how much Americans spend on, for example, fast food, every year? 248 billion$. That is more than double the amount of NASA’s budget plans for Constellation. In fact, for 100 billion$ to use up in 16 years, that’s the same as 3.968 trillion$. That’s like, in 50 years US debt is owned. There are other things that Americans spend way too much on that could’ve been used on the space program. Remember Microsoft? Its program used up over 100 billion$ too, and look at us with awesome 1TB hard drive, i7 quad-core processors, 24″ monitors, and a virtually limitless information stock on the internet. That goal started out from around 1950 to 2010, 60 years. In 1998, Microsoft invested 100 billion$ for its program. NASA’s budget is also roughly the same size as the budgets of each of the following states: Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee. The federal government spends over 30 times as much money on Social Security as it does on NASA. Americans spent over 19 times as much at restaurants in 1997 as the federal government spent on NASA that year. AND, America spends 293.387 billion$ on defense…every year. America spends 419.79 billion$ every year on Social Security issues. NASA’s budget represents approximately 0.2% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. And you thought NASA was piling the money on its 16 year program. Epic failures…

    Andrew – - 4

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