NASA's budget: JWST saved, but not much good news

By Phil Plait | November 21, 2011 11:00 am

A few days ago, the US House and Senate compromised on a (partial) federal budget, and President Obama signed it into reality. Among many other things, NASA’s budget was in there. Congress has posted an overview of the bill, which I recommend perusing. Space News has an excellent overview of the budget, as does The Planetary Society blog.

The big picture: NASA will get a total of $17.8 billion for fiscal year 2012, which is about $600M less than last year, and over $900M less than what President Obama wanted.

Ouch.

But totals aren’t necessarily as important as specifics. What are the details?


James Webb Space Telescope

As you may recall, the House wanted to ax the James Webb Space Telescope, literally giving it 0 dollars. The Senate wanted to save it. The new funding just passed gives NASA’s Science Directorate a total of $5.1 billion, which is an increase over last year by about $150 million. That sounds great, but this total includes $530 million for JWST to keep it going.

I’m glad that the project won’t be canceled, but I’m very concerned about the source of that money. I can do that math. All things being equal, a $150M increase with $530M dedicated to JWST means NASA will have to cut other programs to the tune of $380 million. The Congressional summary even says this explicitly:

The agreement accommodates cost growth in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by making commensurate reductions in other programs, and institutes several new oversight measures for JWST’s continuing development.

[Emphasis mine.]

$380M is a lot. A whole lot. While people working on JWST can breathe a momentary sigh of relief, this will almost certainly put many, many NASA missions on the chopping block. And this doesn’t mean the folks at JWST have it easy either; the bill says costs must be kept under control, and as that passage above says, Congress will be watching. I suspect that if there are any more cost overruns at this point, even Senator Mikulski (of Maryland, where NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the JWST operations center will be) won’t be able to save it.

Even if things go the way they are, it will cost over a billion dollars more than even the President’s request to get JWST into space in 2018. So this year’s budget hit to other missions is not an isolated case; we’ll be seeing more of this over the next few years as well.

I haven’t heard anything specific about fallout with regards to other missions, but I have little doubt this will have a huge impact on future Mars missions, and a proposed mission to orbit Jupiter’s moon Europa (which was recently found to have subsurface lakes of liquid water). Stay tuned.


Commercial space

NASA’s ability to provide money to commercial (that is, private) space companies took a devastating hit in this budget. It’s allocated a bit over $400 million in 2012, less than half of what the President requested ($850M). This will seriously compromise private space companies like SpaceX, which contract through NASA for considerable funding. SpaceX was looking to start launching supplies to the space station in the next few months. There have been many delays to this (the Russians don’t like the idea, for example, which has held things up) and this cut won’t help, now or in the future. This could delay commercial flights by several years, and during that time there will be a drain of trained engineers as well.

In a way, this reminds me of the same problems NASA itself has had since the Shuttle started winding down with no replacement system set up. Short-sightedness like this caused a lot of highly-trained folks to leave, and even if funding is fully restored, it’ll be too late to stop that brain-drain.

As you might expect, I’m pretty unhappy about this. I’m a big supporter of private space launches. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake.


Space Launch System

This bit is interesting. NASA has proposed to build a new rocket system that will be capable of lifting much more to orbit than the Shuttle could, and can launch missions into deep space. This Space Launch System is NASA’s answer to the cancellation of the Constellation rocket system, which was over budget and behind schedule when the White House — wisely, again in my opinion — canceled it.

NASA wants a test launch of the SLS in 2014. My friend Andy Chaikin is a historian of NASA — he wrote the book A Man on the Moon which was the basis of the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" — and he has grave doubts that the SLS is what NASA needs to spend money and time on. I agree, though the situation is complicated. I’d like to see companies like SpaceX take over that sort of thing, but SpaceX is still young and has only launched four rockets into orbit. I think (and hope) it has what it takes to do the job, but time will tell.

So how did human exploration of space fare in this funding bill? The total allocated is $3.8 billion, which is slightly less than last year. The SLS rocket system gets $1.8 billion of that, and the Orion capsule, designed to carry the humans, will get $1.2 billion.

It seems that Congress wants to spend a lot of money on NASA rockets, but not much on commercial space. If that strikes you as ironic, given the very strong privatization rhetoric used by Republicans for every other aspect of government, then join the club.

I was initially happy when the President wanted a new rocket system for NASA. I’ve been rethinking that stance. I have not made up my mind entirely, given the flux everything is in right now. But I wonder if it makes sense for NASA to build an entirely new rocket right now. Given the huge cuts to science (excepting JWST), I have to wonder what sort of payload they expect to have on top of the SLS. Humans of course, to explore the Moon, Mars, near-Earth asteroids… and I’m all for that, but I want to see big, fully-loaded scientific probes to other planets as well. As Andy points out, NASA isn’t a jobs program. Building a rocket just to build it makes no sense at all. NASA needs a long-term plan, and it has to include science and manned exploration. Unfortunately, with chaotically blowing political winds, that kind of long-range thinking is nearly impossible.


Conclusion

I don’t have a solid conclusion here. I’m marginally happy about JWST, but as I predicted, funding it means robbing Peter to pay Paul. How many missions will be savaged to pay for this?

And as I’ve said before, over and again: this is all ridiculous. The thing to do is double NASA’s budget. It’s a tiny fraction of the US budget — less than 1% — and it produces a huge amount of knowledge, inspiration, and, if that’s the sort of thing you need as justification, return-on-investment in real dollars. We choose to spend a ton of money on things that really are useless — I’m sure you can think of something that fits that description — but then cut NASA to subsistence levels and ask them, literally, for the Moon. It’s counterproductive, and it’s bizarre.

So what’s next? In the near term I’ll be curious to see how NASA figures out what to cut and what to keep, of course. In a few months the White House will release its budget request for fiscal year 2013. We’ll see how that pans out, especially with the push for Mars exploration.


Related posts:

- Our Future in Space – panel at TAM 9
- Obama lays out a bold revised space policy
- Where will JWST’s money come from?
- The watershed moment for JWST

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (56)

  1. I don’t see the point in getting back man to the moon, unless America is fueling other cold war, only this time with China. Guess where the money for the man on the moon will come from? China…
    Other than that what is in the moon that is interesting NASA? Is it the helium isotope for nuclear fusion?

  2. ScottF

    A naive question, I’m sure, but here goes: Now that the shuttle program is over, shouldn’t that free up a bunch of money in NASA’s budget?

  3. Björn

    Uhm, actually SpaceX launched four rockets into orbit (2 Falcon 1s and 2 Falcon 9s).

  4. I would much rather see NASA get behind SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – especially given that a lot of the work is already done. I don’t understand why this is so controversial from a PR standpoint – the entire Mercury and Gemini programs were done using private rockets – Redstones and Atlases. So why not stick an Orion on top of an FH and cut the time in half? The SLS is cool but I’m not sure its necessary. Unlike the Shuttle, we already have existing technology that can be used.
    Glad to see JWST get saved – that was monumental in keeping the US’s standing in science.

  5. The specific numbers quoted in this article don’t add up to anywhere near 17 billion. Does anyone have an intelligible explanation of where the rest of the money goes?

  6. ScottF’s got a good point. Maybe the answer lies somewhere between the costs of developing a new rocket and maintaining an old one. Are these two activities of comparable price?

  7. @Gonçalo Aguiar,

    We’ve already stated that we want to send humans to Mars. Given how long it has been since we’ve sent humans anywhere further than a near-Earth orbit, I think it would be foolish to suddenly toss a bunch of folks towards the red planet. The Moon could be a good test bed. It’s close (relatively speaking) so we could send a couple of missions there to work the bugs out. (A lot easier to work bugs out from Earth-Moon than from Earth-Mars.) Plus, having men walking on the Moon again might inspire people/politicians to support NASA and increase their funding.

    (On a purely selfish level, I’d like to see men walking on the moon in my lifetime.)

  8. XMark

    Helium for nuclear fusion isn’t immediately relevant because that type of fusion is still many years away from practical use.

    But still – I think manned exploration and colonization of space is an end goal in itself rather than some means to another end. What do we get from colonization of space? FRICKIN PEOPLE IN SPACE.

    What’s so great about the international space station? It’s a FRICKIN INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

    Why was it so important to land people on the moon? FRICKIN PEOPLE ON THE FRICKIN MOON.

  9. PSP

    I too am skeptical of the need for manned explorations anymore – as Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg is fond of pointing out, astronauts “radiate heat, bump into things…”. NASA’s most successful programs in the past dozen years have been unmanned exploration robots.

    And, yes, where is that long-term plan, passionately, articulately expounded? Sometimes parts of NASA seem like just another aimless, bloated bureaucracy. But I’m relieved that Congress didn’t scrap the JWST – that’s a robot I can get excited about!

  10. Scott

    A lot of support for astronomy comes from the National Science Foundation. Here’s the scoop on that too:

    “National Science Foundation (NSF) – The legislation funds NSF at $7 billion, which is $173 million above last year’s level and $734 million below the President’s request. Within this funding, NSF’s core research program is increased by $155 million to enhance basic research critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness.”

    It would be nice to see some sort of breakdown on the NSF funding.

  11. VinceRN

    So S***can the SLS, put the $400 million or more back into private, that leave $1.4 billion. Much of that can go to the other programs we’re worried about, and some of it can add to that $00 million for commercial.

    And while they’re at it they can send me four million or so. That’s not too much to ask is it? They can call it a consulting fee.

    @ #6 XMark – Amen brother.

  12. Mike

    I hate to say it, but recent years have convinced me that we’re not going to make much progress on manned spaceflight until we perceive that we’re in danger of the Chinese beating us to Mars. Of course, when that happens, we’ll probably spend money like a drunken sailor to catch up and pass them; and then completely lose interest again once that’s accomplished.

    That said, I think manned spaceflight is essential if you want to see the scientific missions continue. No manned spaceflight = disinterested public = no JWST, Mars rovers, etc.

  13. Mike

    I”m not following your math on the astrophysics budget:

    Total astrophysics budget (including JWST) increases by $150 million over FY 2011. JWST funded at $530 million. How does that equal a $380 million cut in other programs? Was JWST was funded at $0 last year?

  14. QuietDesperation

    What do we get from colonization of space? FRICKIN PEOPLE IN SPACE.

    What’s so great about the international space station? It’s a FRICKIN INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

    Why was it so important to land people on the moon? FRICKIN PEOPLE ON THE FRICKIN MOON.

    Yeah, great. Nice, um… arguments? Sort of?

    I just think of all the unmanned missions we could have had for the money spent on the politically bloated Shuttle program and the ISS. We could have peppered Mars with all sorts of rovers and dirigibles and other little proxy explorers. We could have put up a *fleet* of Hubble scopes, each one more capable than the last.

  15. QuietDesperation

    I hate to say it, but recent years have convinced me that we’re not going to make much progress on manned spaceflight until we perceive that we’re in danger of the Chinese beating us to Mars.

    Why is that a danger? I though we outgrew this cold war piffle. If the Chinese want to waste all that time and effort to get warm fuzzies about themselves, let them.

    That said, I think manned spaceflight is essential if you want to see the scientific missions continue. No manned spaceflight = disinterested public = no JWST, Mars rovers, etc.

    Complete nonsense.

  16. Easy solution? Double the budget. But good luck with that ever happening. I say we cook up a plot to trick the government into thinking a huge rock has our name on it. Milk it for a few years and then say “oh hey look it’s gonna miss us but thanks for the extra funding!” ;)

  17. James

    Is America so picky over the money it spends on its war machine? I’m guessing not… seeing as how many of your politicians have links to the companies that get the defence contracts and so are basically lining their own pockets.

  18. Björn (3): Ah, you’re correct. I was only thinking of the Falcon 9.

  19. rational

    I’m depressed when I read things like : “this is all ridiculous. The thing to do is double NASA’s budget. ” Given the political process, its remarkable that we have any space program left at all. If it weren’t for some argument for job creation we wouldn’t. I am a space enthusiast but the fact is that America’s finances are a shambles, the politicians are feeling pressure to cut but they can’t cut whats mandatory (over half the budget) and they don’t want to cut whats popular (i.e. what the author views as “useless”), so what is left? NASA will always seem like a luxury despite solid arguments to the contrary. The United States is in decline. Let’s hope that India and China can move things forward as they become the dominant economies.

  20. frankenstein monster

    I just think of all the unmanned missions we could have had for the money spent on the politically bloated Shuttle program and the ISS.

    Yeah. right. we heard that one. humans are obsolete, robots are more efficient, leave the universe to the robots. Great. you should start with yourself.

  21. Whew!!
    Despite the bad news, I’m ecstatic that JWST is saved, at least for the time being. Look on the bright side!

    As for the SLS, the thing that gets me about the SLS is that it feels like reinventing the wheel. Cobbling together bits of Shuttle technology is presumed to be cost-effective, but is it really, with all the R&D that’s gone on all over the world in the last decade or so? And what ever happened to the Energia launcher? I thought the Energia/Buran approach was genius. From the start, the Energia/Polyus (with the Zenit boosters) could lift almost a hundred metric tons to LEO. In fact, Energia launched before the Buran was even ready to ride it. In a sense, the Energia/Polyus platform WAS a “Shuttle Derived Launcher” that existed before the shuttle it was intended to launch! NASA’s approach seems kinda backwards in comparison.

  22. Satan Claws

    It’ll be useful to compare the budget against this chart: http://xkcd.com/980/huge/
    Puts a whole different perspective into this… The 8.7 billion USD budget is just some 9 grey blocks near the bottom half; slightly over three B-2 bombers, or about six shuttle launches.

  23. Brian Too

    Um, if NASA is in a funding crunch due to the JWST, and that seems certain, then what needs to go to pay the bills?

    Seems to me like the SLS ought to get the axe. Or at least a substantial postponement. The SLS risks being “Constellation v2″ in almost every respect. NASA has heavy lift vehicles at it’s disposal. If they don’t like their usual suspects in the domestic inventory they can go with the untested private sector. If they don’t like that option then there are multiple foreign providers.

    I’ve said this before, but if the JWST wasn’t so absurdly far over the initial estimates then a lot of this could have been avoided. Now that the situation isn’t avoidable some hard choices need to be made.

  24. I noticed something in both articles referenced in the first paragraph. They both mentioned a joint ESA-NASA mission to Mars. I think this is the right path. While this argument will apply for all areas of space, I strongly believe that we need the first boots on Mars to be global boots, not national ones. We have even made agreements in regards to the idea that space is not for any one nation (ambassadors for humanity and whatnot). Furthermore, I think that an international mission to Mars will provide inspiration far more than a national mission would. I sincerely hope that the US builds the international relationships necessary to make such a goal a reality. If they don’t I hope someone does.

  25. Dragonchild

    Ah, the magic of compromise. Instead of fully funding some programs and axing others, they decided to underfund EVERYTHING. Because while it’s stupid, at least it avoids making any tough decisions.

  26. QuietDesperation

    Yeah. right. we heard that one. humans are obsolete, robots are more efficient, leave the universe to the robots. Great. you should start with yourself.

    Robotic probes are certainly far more efficient for now. I never said humans are obsolete. That’s your own lack of comprehension talking. Did you even grasp what I said, or did you let your emotions rule your response? Well, you implied you want me dead for daring to have a different opinion than you, so we know the answer to that. Way to go. (slow clap)

  27. Grimoire

    I think that an international mission to Mars will provide inspiration far more than a national mission would.

    Can you provide any reasonable expectation that a manned Mars mission would actually provide any real inspiration? What value is there in horribly expensive heroics at this time? Do you think it wouldn’t instantly become political as to who got to build what module in which district? You think costs wouldn’t multiply, or design and goal changes shift with the political winds? And so on and so forth. Maybe we get to Mars, but at the end all we have is a few Mars rocks and some romantic stories in the history books. Go read a Twilight novel if you need romance so badly.

  28. @Grimoire – Sure, the global response to Apollo 11. If going three days away to our own moon provides that level of global inspiration, putting people on Mars will have a much greater impact. I’d note that I didn’t give a time frame for going, merely stated that I think going as one world is better than as one nation, but my first remark was pretty clear about that. There are certain issues that would need to be worked out first, of course, and yes it will probably be more difficult to do it internationally than nationally. But we should still try. Go read a Carl Sagan book if you’re that uninspired by human accomplishment.

  29. Chris

    @22 Santa Claws
    I saw that xkcd graphic also. Spent way too much time looking at it. Also saw this little tidbit. $13.6 billion on tobacco advertising and $91.66 billion on cigarettes. And we can barely afford the $17.8 billion for NASA. Outlaw tobacco send the money to NASA. Win, Win, Win.

  30. Grand Lunar

    “NASA wants a test launch of the SLS in 2014.”

    Actually Phil, that’s the test of the Orion MPCV, not the SLS itself.

    I too am glad JWST is saved.
    As for the rest of the news….ugh.

    I’m frustrated that commercial space is getting less, while all the while Congress whines about paying the Russians to get to the ISS. My irony meter goes off scale-high with that sort of mentality.

    As for SLS, I say can the thing and for Congress to get rid of that particular part of the “law”.

    In addition to the upcoming Falcon rockets, we have the already proven Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, both of which can support deep space exploration with either fuel depots or by evolving either design to become an HLV (I personally favor the Atlas V).

    Of course, what would be really great is to finally read this one day;
    “One percent for space approved”.

  31. Infrared

    NASA’s budget is now less than half a percent (0.45% for 2012, I believe), so doubling it won’t even make it 1% yet it will produce so much scientific gain. Personally, I’d want to see an orbiter of Uranus since we know so little about the ice giants (a few paragraphs should be sufficient to get anybody up to speed on those planets) and there’s some basic questions that can be answered with or without an expensive flagship mission; there’s only a launch window every 15 years. The Jupiter probes are fantastic, but I’m not so sure about the Mars sample return mission, it seems too expensive, risky and possibly will produce little scientific gain.

    The SLS seems to also be a bad idea: it lifts about as much as a Saturn V, so how can it carry a crew to Mars? Earth-orbit rendezvous seems the only possible way no matter which rocket, and I don’t see why we can’t do that now with a Delta IV or Atlas V. This kind of manned spaceflight is quite an expensive way to have less scientific gain than an unmanned mission (even the JWST), but landing people on Mars has strong potential to discover any possibility for life on that planet. It may be better to stop having Congress build an Apollo rocket and focus what we have to free up resources for unmanned scientific gain. The private companies should be able to access the ISS, that’s sufficient and efficient. $3 billion will be allocated to the shuttle-Apollo tech rocket and capsule, yet only $400 million in comparison to private companies? That’s crazy. Unfortunately the public in general has no idea nor seems to care too much.

    The ultimate answer for everything to work out is to double NASA’s budget, indeed (which seems to be dwindling percentage-wise by the year). Considering what useless programs we can afford, that is no problem to the economy which would benefit from new technology produced by NASA. Gee, that sounds like Neil Tyson.

  32. @26 Quiet Desperation Robotic probes are certainly far more efficient for now. I never said humans are obsolete. That’s your own lack of comprehension talking. Did you even grasp what I said, or did you let your emotions rule your response? Well, you implied you want me dead for daring to have a different opinion than you, so we know the answer to that. Way to go. (slow clap)

    *takes up slow clap*
    *slowly claps faster*
    *looks around, realizes QD was being sarcastic*
    *shrugs sheepishly, stops*

  33. Peter Davey

    With regard to the question of a human presence in space, it was the early 20th Century Russian scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who said:

    “Earth is the cradle of Mankind, but no-one stays in the cradle forever”.

    More recently, it was the American science-fiction writer, Robert A Heinlein, who said:

    “The Earth is simply too small and fragile a basket for the human race to continue to keep all of its eggs in.”

    I believe that those two comments deal with most of the points raised in the debate.

  34. @ ^ Peter Davey : Seconded by me. :-)

    I’d just like to add a trio of favourite relevant quotes to those too :

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    - President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    &

    “Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”
    - Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight.

    &

    “But out of the whirlwind came a silent bird from the stars, a symbol of our ability to work with nature, to use our intelligence and within the limitations of our world, to do great things.”
    - David Levy on witnessing the 4th landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Page 28, ‘Astronomy’ magazine October 1982.

    *****

    Let’s do some great things, build and fly marvels and never mind the nay-sayers, bean-counters and worthless politicians!

    Oh & I’d recommend reading in full what the likes of Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov among other visionary authors have to say about spaceflight and its importance for Humanity’s future in some of their essays, stories and works. If only those two men were alive still today .. wonder what they’d say about this, sure they’d say it brilliantly. :-)

  35. Nigel Depledge

    Quiet Desperation (14) said:

    I just think of all the unmanned missions we could have had for the money spent on the politically bloated Shuttle program and the ISS. We could have peppered Mars with all sorts of rovers and dirigibles and other little proxy explorers. We could have put up a *fleet* of Hubble scopes, each one more capable than the last.

    Yeah.

    Sadly, I don’t believe that, had the money not been spent on Shuttle and ISS, it would have been spent on unmanned space missions.

  36. BTW. I’ve just stumbled on the BA’s guest (?) article on the new Crux blog here. You’ve kept that pretty quiet BA! ;-)

    It & its embedded talk also seems relevant and interesting here so its linked to my name for this this comment now.

    ***

    Must say it really cheeses me off that we seem to have made such little progress in space exploration since the 1980′s.

    The Space Shuttle was a marvellous piece of engineering and the future possibilities for now back then seemed so gloriously bright (shiny even!) but today we just seem to be treading water and sinking , going backwards if anything. That’s how it appears to me, anyhow. So frustrating and sad.

    We built built such wonders once.

    So many plans and dreams have promised and failed to come to be.

    We know we can reach the Moon, fly seven people and space telescopes all at once.

    Do so much.

    If only we now had the money and the will to do so.

    Let’s build and light and fly some candles!

    Let’s give NASA all the money it needs. It’s an investment well worth making and would I think boost the United States economy & national mood.

    (Hmm .. Maybe we can make sure we afford it by scrapping Congress altogether, please? That should save lotsa dough plus ease everyone’s problems bigtime! ;-)

    (Yes, I’m joking about abolishing Congress – although, So. Very. Tempting.)

    PS. Might’ve asked this before but can’t recall getting any answer : Is it possible at all for NASA to get private sponsorship or is that verboten?

  37. Plan A :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0JLMBYYWkY

    Cancelled. :-(

    Plan B :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/03/nasas-plan-b/

    Whatever did happen to this?

    Now plan C? :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulHd4g8Mmgw&feature=related

    (There was also a separate Shuttle-C plan – click on my name for clip.)

    For pity’s sake let’s pick one design, fund properly and stick with it and durn well make it fly!

  38. Detroit Matt

    Dumb question : If Space-X needs NASA funding, what exactly makes it “private” ?

  39. Mike Saunders

    Wow! NASA gets so much more than NSF, and there are a lot more cooks to split the NSF funding across as well. You space types shouldn’t cry too much you know.

  40. Jes

    I can only imagine what JWST would give us, and I know that what I imagine will be so inferior to the reality. I can’t wait. My only regret is having abandoned my love of space as a teen when I stopped having time for it. I’m thinking about getting myself a telescope so I can go use my Google sky maps and see some of the beauty up there myself.

  41. QuietDesperation

    Must say it really cheeses me off that we seem to have made such little progress in space exploration since the 1980′s.

    o.O

    1990 – Hubble Space Telescope
    1991 – Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory
    1994 – Clementine lunar mapper
    1995 – SOHO solar observer
    1996 – NEAR Shoemaker
    1996 – Mars Global Surveyor
    1996 – Mars Pathfinder + Sojourner rover
    1997 – Cassini-Huygens (successful landing on Titan! No Sirens observed)
    1998 – Lunar Prospector
    1999 – Chandra X-ray Observatory
    2001 – Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe
    2001 – Mars Odyssey
    2003 – Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit & Opportunity)
    2004 – Mercury MESSENGER orbiter
    2004 – Swift Gamma ray burst observatory
    2005 – Comet Tempel 1 – Deep Impact
    2005 – Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
    2006 – New Horizons (to Pluto)
    2007 – Phoenix Mars lander
    2007 – Vesta/Ceres- Dawn
    2008 – IBEX
    2009 – Kepler
    2011 – Juno (to Jupiter)

    And that’s just stuff from the USA.

    MASSIVE amounts of science have come from these probes. The WMAP revolutionized our understanding of the early universe. The dual Mars rovers were brilliant, and there’s a new big one the size of a small car being prepared. This whole “it’s not teh awesome if there’s no astronauts” attitude is silly and unrealistic.

    The Space Shuttle was a marvellous piece of engineering

    Shuttle: $60,000/kilo to LEO.
    Current Russian Proton booster based on 1965 tech: $5,000/kilo

    Yeah, brilliant. Not to mention the Shuttle program sucked funds from more efficient commercial expendable launch vehicle efforts, was a political football, the thermal tiles were a nightmare to maintain, you had to literally rebuild the engines every time, and so on. It delivered on pretty much none of its initial promises. We ordered new fully loaded Ford F-350 and got an old Morris J2 for the price of a Bugatti Veyron.

    We should have stayed with the BDB (“Big Dumb Booster”) and pursued the SSTO- single stage to orbit- concept like they were exploring back with the old X plane program.

  42. What about plate tectonics? 60 ns means * c means 17m. I don’t think italy is moving away from Cern at those speeds. But still, how fixed is OPERA with respect to CERN?

  43. Nigel Depledge

    Quiet Desperation (43) said:

    And that’s just stuff from the USA.

    Cassini-Huygens was a joint NASA – ESA – ISA mission.

  44. don gisselbeck

    The NASA budget is a few weeks profit from the carbon industry. They could pay for double the amount and not notice.

  45. Bob

    I’d say let the robbery happen. As painful as it is, the JWTS is this generation’s Hubble. If we had launched only one orbiting research sattelite these past 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope would have been the one we wanted up there.

    If the JWTS needs other projects’ budgets to survive, then let it happen. The JWTS may unlock the secrets of the re-ionization era, and give us the best insights we’ve ever had into creation itself.

    As for the Senate Launch System, while I like the design, it will also keep Americans out of space for a long time to come. SpaceX Dragon is the only hope we had of a quick return, and without funding, it won’t happen.

  46. Nigel Depledge

    Quiet Desperation (43) said:

    This whole “it’s not teh awesome if there’s no astronauts” attitude is silly and unrealistic.

    MTU was not saying that. He has frequently complimented the mission teams for the robotic probes. To paraphrase him, it’s not exploration if there aren’t people out there.

  47. flip

    #24, Catalyst

    I agree with your hope/idea for international cooperation for manned missions. The ISS shows that we can work together instead of ‘racing’ to the finish line.

  48. Phil,
    Good anysis. I agree with a lot of your points. However, I’d like to know what evidence there is for your claim that the Russians dont support commercial space. I’m fairly sure the article that was going around a while back was a
    Mistranslation. I believe the Russian space program supports all efforts to increase access to ISS.
    Ben H.
    Mission Control, TX

  49. Steven D

    Wow, Phil, I love you, but the innacuracies in this post are a bit staggering. Number one, you are bitter that Congress is cutting funding for the private space industry. There is no private human spaceflight industry at the moment. What you do have are companies being subsidized by the government to build a non-NASA capability to ferry humans to the ISSP. There is no market for human spaceflight of that sort except for flying 4-8 astronauts to the ISSP. Which the Russian government is probably doing as cheaply as any American company (if they weren’t heavily subsisdized by the government of course). Also, the commercial crew program has nothing to do with the COTS and CRS programs, which are funding Space X and Orbital to develop an automated resupply capability for the ISSP. Don’t worry, we are still subsidizing that capability. Of course after four years, both companies have missed their schedule commitments and failed to demonstrate their ability to dock with the station. Our human spaceflight is a mess–the administration has no vision and Congress has entered the rocket design business. We need a mission, reasonable funding, and a plan. Unfortunately, the administration nixed the Moon, and we have no reasonable alternative.

  50. me

    “I hate to say it, but recent years have convinced me that we’re not going to make much progress on manned spaceflight until we perceive that we’re in danger of the Chinese beating us to Mars.

    Why is that a danger? I though we outgrew this cold war piffle. If the Chinese want to waste all that time and effort to get warm fuzzies about themselves, let them.

    That said, I think manned spaceflight is essential if you want to see the scientific missions continue. No manned spaceflight = disinterested public = no JWST, Mars rovers, etc.

    Complete nonsense.”

    YOU are complete nonsense. No why, no how, just an unhelpful, derogatory remark. Guess what? You’re a troll on a science website. Feel good?

  51. TRJ

    End all funding for human spaceflight and stick to robot probes. The robots are much more cost effective. As for space colonization, it won’t happen. All those who came to the Americas by choice, came for a better life for their selves or their families. What that meant varied, freedom from religious persecution, their own land, escape from famine, the fur trade, the gold rush, better paying jobs than in their native lands, education, etc. For the moon or Mars to have a successful colony, economically it would have to be able to survive independent of Earth after a start-up period, and in some way produce a better life than what is available on Earth to give people the incentive to immigrate there. Just not realistic.

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