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Big Changes In Proposed U.S. Space Budget 522

Posted by michael
from the to-the-moon-alice dept.
Guppy06 writes: "CNN has this article on some of the effects of Bush's budget proposal would have on the space program. To make a long story short, funding for the manned space program is being trimmed (there's talk about outsourcing the shuttle program) and some high-profile missions to the outer solar system have been cut (say good-bye to the Pluto-Kuiper Express). On the flip side, nuclear propulsion research is getting a boost. Love it, hate it, some big things seem to be in store." The Planetary Society has their reaction to the budget proposal. And because it's been submitted several times: the ISS suffered a computer outage but all is well now.
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Big Changes In Proposed U.S. Space Budget

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  • Trimmed? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunity&yahoo,com> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @06:53PM (#2958637) Homepage
    I'm sorry, there aren't any trimmings left. They're seriously digging into the budget. I wish the politicians would wake up and maybe put some money into our future instead of the military.

    Unless, of course, they feel the military is their future.
    • by maynard (3337) <[j.maynard.gelinas] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:03PM (#2958724) Journal
      Here [space.com] is a space.com news article which details exactly that. The US military does believe that space is their future, and they want to control it. There's talk about creating a new space force division, though for now it looks like the air force will control space missions for the near future. Given this one may ask, why are they killing off manned flight? I think it's because they realize that automated systems, not manned flight, is where both terrestrial and space flight is going. Humans have far too many physical limitations which automated systems don't share. Everything from very limited acceleration to supporting basic biological needs go against the requirements for "controlling space". To further this policy NASA (along with whatever scientific projects are ongoing and/or planned will be eviscerated.

      Cheers,
      --Maynard
      • On the other hand the survival of our species would only be perpetuated by a permanent move into space.

        With enough research and time we'll be able to overcome the limitations in technology which make this too costly.

        Someday we'll be able to self-sufficient bases on other planets which pull all the energy, food, air and materials from the surface of that planet.

        Do we want America, and it's values to be on that distant rock, or do we want another country with it's own set of values to be the one that survives the next catastrophic meteor/nuclear war/ice age/etc...

        I think those are questions Bush should ask himself when cutting back on the budget.

        • by jafac (1449)
          If people could get off of the Earth and into space, then they would be beyond control of Earthly law. Beyond control of the military. Beyond control of the wealthy elite that currently runs things on this world. They see no easy money in space, and no reason to open space any further. How could they possibly keep humanity enslaved here on Earth if humanity had any means of escape? Face it - we've "languished in low-Earth-orbit for the past 30 years" for a reason. Those currently in power wish to remain in power. They wish to preserve the status quo.
        • Do we want America, and it's values to be on that distant rock...

          As long as there's a Starbucks, sure.
        • On the other hand the survival of our species would only be perpetuated by a permanent move into space.

          What's so important about the survival of our species? (an honest question, I've never really thought about it much myself)


        • > On the other hand the survival of our species would only be perpetuated by a permanent move into space.

          I agree. However... the administration (regardless of which party is in power) is more interested in keeping the stock market high so they can get re-elected.

          American politicians govern to optimize the next election's returns; American businesses manage to optimize the next quarterly report. There ain't no long-term perspective, let alone a long-term plan.

      • Look, I used to love NASA. I grew up in Florida, it's hard not to have NASA-worship. When I graduated from MIT, our speaker was NASA's bigwig. I love the ideal of the agency.

        They blew it, big time, with the space tourist issue, and it will cost them.

        Look, dating back to the Civil War the United States has a fascinating history of the military industrial complex. The military traditionally funds research until it meets their needs then turns it over to the private sector to exploit.

        Recently (past 20 years) this process had some very vocal whining about giving the research to business, but in general it has produced significant benefits to the nation.

        NASA, however, has really got problems.

        Look, their PR blows. They don't do a good job of convincing people that they matter. They haven't provided much of a connection. Since the Challenger, they've been scared to do much. When an American paid the Russians to take him into space, it wasn't NASA's place to throw a temper tantrum.

        They are government employees. They forgot that. The second they decide that they are better than the American people they lose their defenders. Nobody in America likes elitists. As a nation, we are comfortable with people buying their way to the top, its the American way. When a bunch of scientists decide that they know best because of their intelligence and education, the American people get fed up.

        The religion of America is capitalism. Good or bad, it forms the cornerstone of modern America. Americans worship wealth. It makes sense to a degree... If the market decided that you were successful, that works.

        Academic and intellectual elitists are universally scorned in this country.

        NASA has shown themselves over the past two decades to have no interest in serving Americans. Their believe that their work will continue because they are smart and important was the downfall.

        The military has a strong ability to play the system. A bunch of scientists don't.

        Congress will open up space as NASA found it to commercial interests. The space forces will grow naturally from the air force (like the Army Air Force became the Air Force, the Air Force Space Division will become the Space Force, or Star Fleet :]). Some form of NASA will continue to do pure research into the cosmos, but it will be smaller.

        NASA hasn't openned space up to the people. They've become more and more ivory towerish because of their one failure at putting a civilian in space.

        People would like to go into space.

        People don't like to bust ass paying taxes to support a group of people that tell them they are too stupid (or drink to much) to go into space.

        Sorry, if you want to feel that you are better than the American people, do it without their money.

        Alex

        • Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!!

          Huge amounts of SHITE in this previous comment. Bloddy heel, I'm Irish and I can spot all the hoes in these arguments!!!

          first of all, any astronaut has to undergo special training. There is a reason that NASA traditionally selected jet pilots, y'know, and that's the 9 or so G's that astronauts experience. Training them is an expensive exercise, and should not be undertaken lightly (now the intersting research that suggestesd that women can handle more G's than men is another matter entirely)

          On its own, this argument kills most of yhe previous one.

          The accusation of "elitism" is spurious. You are heading for a "siumpsonesque" scenario where anyone above the average is a freak (thus lowering the average....) .Anyone working on the space program is, IMO (?I don't claim it's humble) entitled to be proud of their achievements.

          Also, construction methods and control methods are way too complex to allow "Joe Punter" into space. Perhaps with molecular manufacturing and AI it will be possible to allow your average person into space, but at the moment, one really does need to be useful to the mission on hand, and tourists are barely popular on the surface of the planet!!!!

          And lastly, it's so damn expensive to send someone into space that sending someone without a specific purpose is stupid and wasteful.
    • Hmm. Gee. Defense spending increased to record highs, not-quite-formal declaration of an unlimited war against America's enemies, et cetera and so forth, and you have to ask whether Bush sincerely believes that our best immediate future is a more militarized one?
    • Re:Trimmed? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SirSlud (67381)
      > they feel the military is their future.

      To be honest, look at the strings the IMF and WTO have on their loans to developing nations. Unless suddenly the system has a change of heart, I firmly believe that the military has to be the future of where all the power is centralized.

      Yes, it sounds like flame bait. I wish it wasn't this way, but as I see it from up here [canada.gc.ca], the multinationals (and I'm putting Canada in with the US here, so I'm not dissing) are setting themselves up for a rough ride in the future. It's simply a matter of where power resides. If we're determined to center it all on this continent ... well, lets just say that visibilty breeds criticism, and it's only those who are growing in wealth who can't afford to aknowledge it.

      It's somewhat ironic, because the space program owes its successes (and failures .. know about that first planned US rocket to outer space?) to the cold war. And now it's being obliterated, in order to deal with the Cold War v2 (aka, terrorism). Anyone want to read into the increased funding of nuclear propulsion?
      • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:35PM (#2958946) Homepage Journal
        >> they feel the military is their future.

        &gt> I firmly believe that the military has to be the future of where all the power is centralized.

        A quote, forget from whom, but seems poignantly relevant: The easiest way to get shot is to carry a gun.

        Bush seems the stereotypical spaghetti western cowpoke, speaking softly and carrying a big gun, and, in the spirit of late Hollywood arrivals, lusting after a bigger gun. I wonder who (in the figurative and collective sense) among us will get shot as a result of this.

      • "Anyone want to read into the increased funding of nuclear propulsion?"

        Other than making deep space probes heavier, cheaper, and faster? I'd say that the historically pro-nuke Bush administration is hoping for spin-offs to finally make US commercial reactors competitive with the French.
      • Re:Trimmed? (Score:2, Funny)

        by mlsemon2 (413798)
        I always wondered how third-world nations would repay their loans. Now, I know the answer. The military is our future...

        GWB: Mr. President, have our money yet?

        President of Argentina: I swear, it's in the mail.

        GWB: I don't believe you. Mugsy, can you see that our friend's kneecaps are OK?

        Donald Rumsfeld: OK, Boss! [pulls out baseball bat] *thwack!* *thwack-thump-thwack!* *thwack!* Yah, boss, de're fine! Good kneecaps!
    • Re:Trimmed? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:13PM (#2958798)
      The Military and NASA have always worked hand in glove.

      Many things that were too expensive for NASA were developed by the USAF.

      Examples
      The SpaceLab was simply the final name for an Air Force Manned Orbital Lab.

      Shuttle's cargo bay was designed around the size of the spy sats.

      NASA is the civilian arm of Space exploration and development while the real interesting stuff is being done in black projects by the Air Force who has the real budget.

      I'm of the opinion that the real advances will come out of Air Force spending. Examples.

      707 - That was designed as a military tanker to replace the K-97. Only after the USAF bought it did the airlines buy it.

      747 - Was designed in the CX project that the C-5 won, then Boeing pushed it for a commercial aircraft.

      Many of the advances in materials and propulsion technology come out of the Air Force because they have the money to spend.

      The engines on a CRJ-70 aren't evil because they were developed for the A-10 and S-3. It's just an offshoot.
    • Cut it to zero ASAP (Score:2, Interesting)

      by WinPimp2K (301497)
      We won't get into space in any meaningful way as long as a government employment program is sucking up and destroying the engineers who could make it happen. Gut NASA like the beached whale it is before the corpse explodes from the pressure of its own decomposition.

      The Wright Brothers (or pick your own early aviation pioneers)did not require a 15,000 man ground support crew to fly.
      Lindbergh made a solo flight from the US to Paris so he could win a $25,000 prize.

      If Bush really wants to get into space (and yes, the military does - they are not really stupid) he should get Congress to set up a series of prizes. Five billion tax free for the first resuseable spacecraft to make three round trips to the vicinity of the ISS in a thirty day period carrying say three people and two tons of cargo on each trip.

      Rather than controlling the development of spacecraft, the government should just promise to buy a bunch of them that meet a certain price performance criteria. And, if Bush with his noted tendencies towards such things can not make it happen, it will probably happen somewhere else (India, China, Japan - hell maybe even France - (those arrogant little snots still miss Napoleon))
      • what, having a monopoly on space transportation isn't enough of an incentive for someone to develop a reusable orbital launch vehicle (3 launches in 30 days with 3 people and two tons of cargo)?

        They have to get a "reward" bounty of $5 billion of my hard earned tax dollars on top of it? Screw that. Lockheed already got billions of my dollars to develop an X-33, which they failed to do. So they picked up their marbles, and MY money, and went home.

        Why should business get a financial incentive from the government to develop a technology that's going to give them a monopoly, and the ability to set monopoly pricing? That should be enough of an incentive. But nobody's taking the risk of trying to develop one, because they know damn well, once they prove that it's possible, everyone's going to try to do it - and then they'll have to *compete* for their bread and butter.
        And as many companies have proven in the past 20 years, nothing is worth investing money in unless they have a guaranteed monopoly. (which is why we're not seeing any more challengers to Intel, or Cable-based broadband, or Microsoft, and why we had an internet boom - because investors thought that every pissant "internet" company they threw money at had a chance at becoming "the next microsoft")
      • by ender81b (520454)
        The Wright Brothers (or pick your own early aviation pioneers)did not require a 15,000 man ground support crew to fly.

        Yeah and the wright brothers didn't have to :
        1.) accelerate to Mach 25
        2.) deal with extremely dangerous and hard to handle fuels
        3.) Figure out how to live in an incredibly hazardous enviroment of no air, extreme heat/cold, large amounts of radiation, micrometoriods, and oh yeah, You have to support a crew for 30 days also
        4.) Wright brothers didn't have to maintain a 99.4% success ratio (Nasa ratio with the shuttle) otherwise their funding would be destroyed
        5.) Deal with one of the most complex machines ever made in the history of mankind with somewhere around 12,000 moving parts and millions upon millions of possible problems

        Is nasa perfect? Hell no they waste a shit ton of money. But don't just babble about how the commercial sector could somehow get it done better.. They won't. 99.4% seems like a pretty good succes rate to me. Oh yeah btw all of the shuttle matinence is outsourced to a private company.
      • "The Wright Brothers (or pick your own early aviation pioneers)did not require a 15,000 man ground support crew to fly."

        First off, the Wright Brothers were lucky to go a few hundred yards at a time. The moon is about 36E7 meters away.

        Another hole in your analogy is that the Wright Brothers didn't have to develop their internal combusion engine from the ground up. While the Wright Brothers were the first to mount such an engine on a lifting body, engines of the required efficiency were by no means anything new. The F-1, on the other hand...

        Comparing spaceflight to heavier-than-air flight doesn't hold water. Space launch systems are extremely complex and will continue to be until they're built en masse by an assembly line. They also are required to be self-sufficient in the extreme, as opposed to being able to land in any convenient field in case of problems. The closest terrestrial analogy isn't an airplane, it's a seaship.

        And speaking of ships, most if not all of the big trans-oceanic expeditions of the 15th through 18th centuries were funded by national governments (Portugal, Spain, France, England, et al). And even today, centuries later, building and operating a sea-faring ship (or even a Great Lakes ship) requires a heck of a lot more than two bicycle mechanics and a garage.

        "Five billion tax free for the first resuseable spacecraft to make three round trips to the vicinity of the ISS in a thirty day period carrying say three people and two tons of cargo on each trip."

        Do you really think that, if they needed to develop all technologies from the ground up, $5 billion would be a profit?

        And even then, generally speaking, the only people who have the resources to even begin to do something like this (beyond the "look at our pretty pictures!" phase) are the big aerospace companies. You know, the ones that would rather work for a government contract?

        "Rather than controlling the development of spacecraft, the government should just promise to buy a bunch of them that meet a certain price performance criteria."

        You've just narrowed the playing field even more. Building one takes a lot of effort. Building several takes a factory.

        "And, if Bush with his noted tendencies towards such things can not make it happen, it will probably happen somewhere else (India, China, Japan - hell maybe even France - (those arrogant little snots still miss Napoleon))"

        Of the countries you just listed, the only one that shows even an interest in manned space flight (let alone an honest-to-God manned space program) is China. Manned space flight continues to be an unprofitable venture from a business standpoint (in all the other cases it's cheaper for them to let the US do all the hard work) and the only reason the Chinese want in on the "space club" is to try to prove to everybody (including themselves) that they're just as good as the US.

        As long as industry isn't interested in funding it, we have to rely on the government. Industry may eventually become interested when they start to see short-term profit potential (mining and such), but until then space exploration is a short-term money hole and best dealt with by the government.
      • The Wright Brothers (or pick your own early aviation pioneers)did not require a 15,000 man ground support crew to fly.

        They flew a distance of a few dozen feet. The Moon is 250,000 miles away. Get a grip.

        Lindbergh made a solo flight from the US to Paris so he could win a $25,000 prize.

        I'll pay you $50,000 if you fly to the Moon solo and bring back a rock, or a handful of lunar soil.
  • Sound like Bush (Score:2, Interesting)

    by quantaman (517394)
    From what I've heard of Bush the only technology he's comfortable with is Nuclear or other military technologies. Anyone else find this a little odd?
    • by Lars T. (470328)
      That's unfair and not true. He also likes oil tech.
  • hmm.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by AA0 (458703)
    While many of the "techie" areas seem to have been cut the plus side is the kegger budget has been boosted by 450%, enabling astronaughts to get wasted almost any day of the week, this seems much cheaper than flying anywhere to me.
  • by mr qix (546712)
    I don't see the logic in this... taking money away from "broken" programs which can't seem to fix their issues, and give more money to the programs without problems. How are the programs which actually have things that need fixing going to get these things fixed now? (i.e. Space Shuttle, plagued with problems since its inception, which is receiving $65mil less than last year)
  • by thogard (43403) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @06:56PM (#2958667) Homepage
    The origianl plan was for an inital fleet of 8 at $500m each. We now have 4 and no spare parts and no ability to build any more. The launch cost is exceessive since the facilities costs were intended to be doing several launches per week.

    Killing the shuttle (or sending it of to comercial land) will allow Nasa to get onto the things it should be doing the next time the administration changes its mind.
  • Oh that's smart... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aexia (517457)
    "Outsource" space projects to private companies who will then perform research in space, patent it, and charge the gov't a fortune in royalties that will cost far more than any of the savings achieved by privatizing the space program.

    Brilliant.
    • You forgot the punchline: most people, especially the more politically powerful ones, retire to cush jobs in these overcharging companies once their current terms of service end.
    • If any government money funds a project, any products of that research usually have to be free for the government to use. If the project has been completely outsourced, then yes, the government would have to pay to use the COTS (commercial, off the shelf) products that would be derived from that research. However, this is how almost everything else works. Why should space technology be that different?
  • by TastesLikeChicken (54530) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @06:57PM (#2958675)
    I don't know why presidents proposed budgets get so much press. Presidents don't really make the budget congress does.
    • It gives a good insight into the presidents mind. It is an easy way for americans to see what his priorities are. I'd bet my left nut GWBush wants nuclear power in space is for fast-tasking spy sats.
  • by supernova87a (532540) <kepler1@hotm a i l . c om> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:00PM (#2958702)
    President Bush seems to forget that pure scientific research has been the most productive driver of American prosperity in the last 200 years. So many of the technologies we enjoy today are a result of research that, at the time of funding, could not be directly justified. Hopefully, universities and research institutions will be able to get through this budget crunch time intact, but the blow to students and scientists seeing their field attacked may be much more severe, I'm afraid.

    I think that the most astronomy that's going to get done in these next few years is astronomy by the Air Force, with satellites that are pointing down at the Earth, instead of up at the skies. There never seems to be a shortage of funding for those projects, even though diverting 1% of that money would probably save NASA and the US space research program.
    • President Bush seems to forget that pure scientific research has been the most productive driver of American prosperity

      Indeed but not all scientific endeavours are equally worthy of funding. Some areas of research produce solid, reliable breakthroughs, while others require a budget several times that of the NSF while producing few interesing ideas (forget about applications).

      This applies equally to space exploration as to other not so successful approaches to science. If an area does not look ripe for breakthroughs you adjust the funding. This happens in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, CS, you name it. Why not in space too?
    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @08:04PM (#2959111)
      Actually, after reading the take by the Planetary Society, I'd have to say that (ignoring the chunks taken out of the manned space program) this is the most space-friendly proposal I've seen for a while now. And it all revolves around the nuclear propulsion bit.

      More and more of our space exploration is taking place in the outer system, with only the occasional lunar mission (been there, done that) and two or three high-profile Mars missions. Everything including the asteroid belt and out are beginning to get the treatment that Venus and Mars got in the past decade (and as a result we know more about the surface of Venus than we do of the earth itself!)

      However, because of the distances involved (Venus and Mars are a mere stone's throw away), all of these missions will require a lot of time and a lot of fuel. The more fuel you use to put the probe on its way to its destination, the less the probe can do. While the ion drive has a lot of promise and will probably continue to be researched, it's just not a near-term solution to this problem. On the other hand, there's nuclear propulsion.

      As the Planetary Society pointed out, nuclear propulsion has been studied before (NERVA [astronautix.com] and Orion [astronautix.com]are the two most famous), has decades of research already there waiting to be used, and promises a near-term solution to deep space propulsion (if not launch vehicles). Combine this with the fact that the United States is the undisputed leader in the field of nuclear propulsion, and I can't help but see big results coming soon.

      As an example: When I submitted the article, I was disappointed with the umpteenth cut of Pluto-Kuiper Express. But the Planetary Society take reminded me that, with the prospect of nuclear propulsion, there isn't anywhere near the pressing need to launch it immediately to make it to Pluto in time. Putting a nice liquid-fueld fission engine (for example) into the plan means that we aren't forced to launch "something, anything" now and can take the time to refine the probe before launching it.

      So long as the anti-nuke folks don't kill the proposal in Congress, we've just taken a big step towards putting a person on Mars.
      • So long as the anti-nuke folks don't kill the proposal in Congress, we've just taken a big step towards putting a person on Mars.

        Well, that's just it: I really don't expect that Congress, currently on the kick "we must protect all Americans" is going to be excited about the potentially dangerous nuclear propulsion system. The truth is that a lot of radioactive material would have to be launched into space, and if there is an explosion on takeoff, a good chunk of Florida will a pretty unpleasant place to live.

        This line item is purely political. Bush knows that Democrats will be the most vocal opponents of this, and then he'll blame it on them that the NASA is so underfunded. I don't think he seriously expects this increase to go through; he just cares about the cuts. As is the case with international treaties, I'm afraid the space program is another thing for which our frat boy president doesn't see any motivation. It's a shame, but it's by far not his worst crime.

    • If you're looking for dividends from research, military research is without a doubt far more productive than general scientific research. Take for example...the internet. Or GPS. Or half a dozen other things you use every day. If its "spin offs" you want, you should be jumping for joy over this budget.
  • by Aexia (517457) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:01PM (#2958712)
    as privatizing airport security.
  • Unfortunately I think the space program is just a wee bit too high up on Maslow's Hiererchy for most people at this time...
  • by Angry Toad (314562) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:05PM (#2958744)

    I didn't think it was as bad as could be, really. Losing the Pluto-Kuiper probe is a bummer, but there's still pretty strong (in relative terms for today's financial climate) support for basic science.

    More to the point - Nuclear Propulsion - Hooray!. This is an utterly fabulous development, and I'm probably going to get flamed for saying so. It's still the truth, all the same. Decent nuclear propulsion is the only way to reduce the current long flight times around the solar system.

  • not all bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by markj02 (544487) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:06PM (#2958750)
    It's good to see that ISS and shuttle funding is going down, although the cuts are not aggressive enough. Those projects provide little scientific benefit and are enormously expensive. They should be wound down quickly.

    The missions to the outer planets, I think, are very important and should receive full funding. They may not be very efficient, but travel to the outer planets takes so long and is subject to so many constraints that we really need to get these projects going now. It's a shame that they are being cut.

    Nuclear propulsion in space is a hot potato because it's potentially dual-use. If this research is conducted completely openly and in an international framework, then it may be acceptable. Otherwise, it will be perceived as simply a way for the US to militarize space and put nuclear technology into space, and, domestically, it would be little more than a ploy for transferring NASA funds to military research.

    • ISS is a necessary step to getting to other planets. It allows US to continue researching the effects of space, and ways to combat those effects, which will need if you want people toba able to walk once the get to mars(or where ever)
      It also allow NASA to test different ways of doing things in a comparitivly safe enviroment.
      It is nice to see Nuclear propulsion being looked at, cause that will cut the costs of space exploration.
      • ISS is a necessary step to getting to other planets.

        Only if you want to send people to other planets. I don't see any reason for doing that any time soon. Automated probes are much more cost effective and will yield enormous amounts of scientific information at much lower cost for many decades to come.

    • "Nuclear propulsion in space is a hot potato because it's potentially dual-use."

      The only dual-use I'm seeing with nuclear propulsion in space is the ability to put some large space warship into orbit (StarBlazers!). A nuclear reactor and a nuclear bomb are two very different things. If anything, a nuclear rocket is downright safer than a chemical rocket: No explosive and caustic fuels, not even an oxydizer. Just a small reactor and some liquid helium.

      Besides, we're already quite capable at putting nuclear warheads into space. Check out the Minuteman family.

      "it would be little more than a ploy for transferring NASA funds to military research."

      I doubt there are any big research areas into nuclear propulsion that hasn't already been looked over ad nauseum by the USN (the pros on the subject). About the only thing NASAs work on nuclear propulsion could help with is making reactors cheaper and more plentiful (perhaps enough to mount them on cruisers or maybe even destroyers).
      • AFAIK, there are no fission or fusion reactors being used in space right now, and no spacecraft carries enough fissionable material for a chain reaction. Putting a reactor into space changes all that and crosses a threshold that we may not want to cross. In fact, I suspect that is the main motivation behind this Bush initiative: once there are reactors in space for civilian and scientific use, it's going to be much harder to object to the use of large quantities of fissionable material in space for military applications.
  • Makes sense to me. If you're not going to allow anyone with a history of drinking, lying, or cheating [Slashdot [slashdot.org]] to fly you don't need a big budget for manned spaceflight.
  • Evacuate the ISS, let it burn up on re-entry, and use the money we save to fund real science.
    • by socokid (398226)

      I can't believe you were modded up for that...

      This forum isn't long enough to list all the things we now enjoy due DIRECTLY to advances made in space technology via development of things like the ISS, the hits AND the misses i.e. take your pick of Mars explorers that didn't make it. I know, that to those who know nothing of the ISS or other space programs other than it's a big money object floating in outer space, this insight may be lost, but believe me, your statement couldn't be more irresponsible.

      I apologize, but I couldn't let that go.
      • Re:Deorbit the ISS. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mfago (514801)
        As a member of the team that built two of the last "failed Mars explorers," I can assure you that we (as a whole) learned absolutely nothing from the experience.

        The failure was a political one, nothing more, and since the missions were run on a shoe-string budget there really wasn't much new in the way of science: the instruments were all left over from Mars Observer.

        IMHO, the Europa and Pluto missions really need to fly. Nuclear propulsion is definitely more important, but find somewhere else to cut!
  • The planet needs new propulsion for space missions, with it we go forward, without it we stagnate. Manned missions are getting trimmed because the Space Shuttle is a huge white elephant and noone is willing to admit it (the russians put the same size payloads into orbit for FAR cheaper than the Shuttle). If we go back to the basics (researching new propulsion), then everyone wins, including (ultimately) manned missions elsewhere.
    • The Russians launch payloads cheaper because their scientists work for pennies on the dollar compared to US scientists. One reason for that is because it's much cheaper to live in Russia/Kazakhistan. Another reason is, there aren't any other opportunities for brilliant scientists to earn more money, without going to work for organized crime.
  • by D_Gr8_BoB (136268) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:20PM (#2958850)
    Don't tell me Bush is thinking of bringing back Project Orion [islandone.org]. It's almost a good idea, except for the bad PR and the possible nuclear contamination. Not that I'd object to Bush getting some bad PR, of course.
    Apparently, there were plans to build a high-atmosphere sky base above the USSR during the cold war using this technology. Makes you wonder just what our government is capable of.
    • There is a lot more options for nuclear propulsion than the Orion idea. A variation of the atomic jet engine is one example (there was an atomic-powered "jet" in which a reactor core heated fuel to high temps for propulsion).


      Pump your favorite fuel through a nuke core and whoooosh! High power rocket. There is also the nuclear power for systems operations. Nuke engines doesn't mean blowing up nukes behind you against a pusher plate (Orion). That was merely one extreme design that COULD get a package to Alpha Centauri in a lifetime, but it isn't going to happen.

  • by Platinum Dragon (34829) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:26PM (#2958894) Journal
    If I could trust the Bush administration to have a legitimate interest in science and nuclear-based propulsion, I would be happier about this budget-shuffling. The ISS has been a slapped-together fiasco, a victim of politics and bureucracy - a perfect example of what NASA and space exploration shouldn't be.

    Nuclear-powered probes have been used for, literally, decades. It's actually something of a misnomer to call the Voyager, Cassini, et al probes "nuclear-powered". "Decay-powered" might be a better term, since their energy source is radioactive decay generating heat. Putting nuclear-powered rovers on other planets might be a good idea, allowing rovers to run longer. I wonder how much longer Sojourner and Sagan Memorial Station could have run with a decay-based backup. Of course, there is always a concern about radioactive materials being exposed to the environment; not much of a problem in interplanetary space, something of a problem if the probe is on a planet suspected of having life.

    The point of decay-powered power generation is to run electricity-based devices for long periods of time at distances from the Sun too great to make solar generation effective. If the Bush report refers to nuclear reaction-based power generation and propulsion, I'm a bit lost. The best reason to use nuclear-powered engines and generators would be to support manned flights that require much energy for life support, emergency power, pushing along its own bulk, et al. There's also the issue of fission- vs. fusion-based generators and engines.

    Perhaps I should find a copy of the report, but that one little bit rubs me wrong. The Bush administration seems hell-bent on reviving Cold War-era defense programs that were never actually proven, and dropping or evading weapons treaties, some of which dealt with the development of nuclear technology for space use. I just can't shake the feeling this is a wedge to finally move the nuclear race into Earth orbit; one proposal mentioned by Sagan in 'Cosmos' was Project Orion, a propulsion system based on the detonation of fusion bombs.

    I'm pretty sure it's paranoia... but it's a nagging feeling, and it creeps me out.
  • by andaru (535590)
    Bush has used the Sept. 11 attacks to transfer the wealth of our country directly into the pockets of his cronies.

    Now he wants to give those same friends a huge tax cut with the idea that the will all run out and build factories to employ us all. Hah!

    During the whole anthrax episode, five people died, and an additional ten got sick and recovered. Ten people got sick at a post office when a ream of copier paper was irradiated to kill anthrax.

    Now Bush wants to spend an additional $11bn on anthrax.

    How much do you suppose is in his budget for AIDS research (or cancer, or the slew of other diseases which kill many more people than anthrax has)? Certainly no $11bn.

    Why can't these politicians ever have cronies in worthwhile industries? Because worthwhile industries don't have the money to bribe the politicians blue. Why not? Because worthwhile industries don't get kickbacks and deals from the gov't. Why don't they? Because they don't have buddies in the gov't. Lather, rinse, repeat...

    Ultimately, there is no incentive for the companies that actually get funded to do anything except whore for more funding and pretend to spend what they already got while pocketing it.

    Sigh!

  • The shuttles and the ISS are rotten programs.

    It's blazingly obvious to anyone who's taken a good look at the shuttle program that they should never have made a second one. They were supposed to learn from their mistakes making the first one, and make better shuttles, but instead they basically copied their first attempt at a reusable vehicle to make a small fleet and kept it in service even after it was obvious that it offered no benefit over single-use rockets.

    People wondered what the point of the ISS was from day one. It's just a huge money-sink in the sky.

    The best justification for these manned missions is that they are paving the way for future manned spaceflight, but they are somehow both bloated and unambitious: so costly that their failure could not be tolerated, so only "established" technologies are used for the functions they are supposed to be developing, merely spending resources on accomplishing these non-accomplishments rather than taking chances on potentially revolutionary technologies.

    NASA is increasingly an organization of frightened bureaucrats, desperately avoiding failure, rather than bold explorers, risking much to gain much.
  • Thanks President Bush-for-Brains, you just saved the american taxpayer 0.001% of the the budget, what are you going to do now?
    I'm going to disneyland!
    What an idiot.
    so, how do we plan to get people into space without the shuttle? begin a whole new launch program, and on less money? Not yet.
    What NASA needs is a budget increase so it can go on doing what it currently plans on doing, and activly fund research into cheaper ways to get into space.
    This is so short sited for so many reasons. Nothing would bring this country together more then putting a US citizen on Mars.
    Spin off development is huge. If this is privatized, all spin off technology will be patented.
    If you think the shuttle has no payoff, why would large corporation be pushing for its privitization? Has a corporation, ever, pushed for something they can't benefit from?
  • Space for Profit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Com2Kid (142006) <com2kidSPAMLESS@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:29PM (#2958915) Homepage Journal
    We gotta start making some MONEY up there damnit.

    It is not like it cannot be done, the main issue (and granted a huuuge one) would be to build the initial stations in space for handling of various extracted resources.

    Hell there are 8 other planets in this solar system, why do we have to tear apart ours? There are some darn valuable resources up there, *taps lycos on the head* go get'em!

    Seriously though, hhhuuuge startup costs, but scaled, not likely too much more then the initial startup costs of getting resources from the "New World" way back when.
    • Anybody run any numbers on what it would take to make money mining asteroids? Obviously there's the enormous cost up front of aquiring the rock (and a comet, cheaper in the long run than continually resupplying volatiles) and building the facilities, but how cheap is it to drop the stuff back down to earth? Platinum, for instance, is worth a good $400 or $500 an ounce. and iridium is almost as much. Both of them are extremely difficult to find around here but are much more common in space. If they could be dropped for a few hundred dollars per kilo there's still a ton of profit left over.

      The New World isn't quite as good a comparison. The colonists didn't have to bring much with them and survival was, if not easy, not inordinately difficult. There were also factors contributing to increasing emigration other than pure profit (persecution, quests for utopia, etc). It was also not quite as expensive to come here.

  • The GOP has hated the space program since Kennedy; it's a proven winner for the Democrats.
    Sounds like they can finally kill it (in the name of fiscal responsibility); outsource everything and absorb what remains of NASA into the military.

    The emphasis on nuclear propulsion... hmm... There are a lot of very hot, very promising technologies out there just dying for research money. The one they single out sounds suspiciously like a barely disguised weapon's program. Be prepared for double-talk like: "defensive weapon" or "humanitarian bombing".

    =brian
  • The problem is that he's toting the party line... Reganomics all over again.... Sigh...

    The regan and bush years made our space program as bland and worthless ever. Now we have little bush showing that he is as short sighted as daddy.

    I have always said that the only way to get the space program properly funded we need to declare war against another planet better yet another solar system.. (Alpha Centauri, you're going down....)
    politicians will spend on research only if that research is important to security or getting them re-elected.
  • by Orne (144925) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:39PM (#2958973) Homepage
    Do ANY of you people manage your own money? The budget is NOT CUT. What they've done is reduced the rate of increase. Yes, from the first paragraph, NASA is getting what it got last year, plus $500 million MORE.

    What NASA, and the rest of our federal government, needs to do is eliminate the sheer waste of money that is going on... Focus on products that produce science, not kickbacks (*cough* ISS)
  • by foo fighter (151863) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @07:40PM (#2958976) Homepage
    Write to the President and your Congressional delegates and tell them about it!!!

    Their staff is there to listen to your comments and respond to them. They do take your voice into account.

    They like email more than letters since the anthrax scare.

    Here's a like to this years budget in HTML and PDF: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2003/index. html

    Send your comments to the President at this address: president@whitehouse.gov

    Find your Senator at this page: http://www.senate.gov/senators/senator_by_state.cf m

    And find their email address here: http://www.senate.gov/contacting/index.cfm

    You can find, then write to your Representative here (this is very slick): http://www.house.gov/writerep/

    Please, please, please take a more active role in the direction our national technology policies take. Keep an eye on http://www.eff.org/alerts/ for issues of which you should be aware. If we don't do it as technology professionals and enthusiasts, no one will.
    • I used to handle mail for a House office. I would suggest FAXING the letter. We responded to e-mail but I know many other offices ignore it. It can't hurt to do it though. Snail mail takes longer and there's the anthrax problem.

      Faxes, however, get there instantly and are typically treated exactly like mailed letters. It also gets the office's attention if their fax machine is constantly spitting out letters on a topic.

      Be respectful in your tone of voice. Being bitchy is a surefire way of getting the letter chucked.

      Include your address and only send the letter to your senators and your one representative. No address means the letter gets chucked. And sending it to anyone else just means the letter gets referred to the office you should've sent it to in the first place... assuming it doesn't get tossed.

      In most cases, you'll receive a non-committal response in a few weeks and your rep won't even know about your letter.

      However, if a lot of constituents are sending individual letters, the issue will likely be brought up with the Congresscritter.
  • At about $20 million a head, it would take about 500 visitors a year to meet NASAs budget.
  • Congress specifically added the Pluto mission in response to public interest - and we believe that public interest is important to the program."

    Of course they did. That mission was never presented as an 'either-or' scenario, where funding would be drawn from some other budget to pay for the mission-- because no congressman wanted to appear as 'anti-science'. A true campaign would be to ask us plebes 'which of the following missions do you want see funded? a) Mars b) ISS c) Europa d) . . .

    I applaud the fiscal responsibility in this new budget. The reality of the situation is that we are at war, and money is tight. Nothing is stopping these scientists from going to Tokyo, London, Paris, or Moscow to plead their case for the mission.
    • You were asked to vote on what mission you want funded: you, I hope, voted for your senators and representatives. Your post seems to indicate, although I trust this isn't so, that you miss the point of a represenatative democracy: the people don't vote on individual issues, the select leaders who are (supposed) to become informed and vote in their interest. Thus, congress generally does what people want them to do. Whether we individually agree or whether we want to admit it or not, they do because it keeps them in office.
  • waste of money (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Darth_Burrito (227272)
    Of course I don't know jack about these kind of operations, but you would think constantly reorganizing the Nasa budget would result in untold amounts of wasted cash. Many projects take a long time to go from development to realization. When you are constantly cutting back and reorganizing resources, you are wasting the moeny and effort already invested. Nasa needs smarter, better, cheaper, but they also need to have guarantees that projects they start will be funded throughout their proposed duration.
  • budget priorities (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phantomlord (38815) <<slashdot> <at> <krwtech.com>> on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @08:20PM (#2959199) Journal
    How many of the people criticizing the cut have sat down and actually made a budget? The first thing you have to do is rank the priorities of your expenditures. Number one on my list is paying my mortgage and after that comes food, electricity, and other things which I need today if I'm going to be here tomorrow. WAAAAAAAY down on my list are things like entertainment, toys/gadgets, games, etc.

    The federal government's most important priority is to maintain the infrastructure which makes the US possible. Things like operational costs of the three branches, minting money, foreign relations and maintaining a military (what good is all the other stuff if anyone can take it from us at whim?). In the middle area, you see things like HUD, Dept of Education, SSI, etc (stuff which they don't have a constitutional mandate to create but which people have become reliant upon). Way down at the bottom of the list, you'll find things like most of NASA, fluff research grants( did we REALLY need to spend $45k to find out how many people rinse their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? ), etc. Things which are nice to have but aren't critical.

    Now that you have your priorities, you only have a fixed amount of money to spend. An outside force has made it necessary to increase spending on one or several of your highest priority items. Nobody is going to die if NASA's budget gets reduced for a year or three to shore up our more important needs. If pure space research means that much to you, donate from your own pocket to one of the non-profit groups out there promoting research.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    For some time it's been apparent to me that NASA's space agendas have become driven by PR (hence the obsession with Mars) while those of the ESA have been driven more by science.

    It would seem to me that, particularly with the heavy-lift capability of the Ariane 5, that ESA should grasp the nettle and send its own probe out to Pluto, thus gaining a march on NASA. It is, after all, the only planet not to have been visited by a probe and considerable positive PR for ESA could be made out of that. It would also be a symbol of Europe's growing technological strength vis a vis the US.

    How about it, ESA? All the other firsts for visiting planets have been done by the US or the USSR; here's your big opportunity!!!
  • For a good example, check out the MIT Radiation Lab series of books for the work that was done during WW2 and eventually spawned a huge amount of the technology we use today. Used your microwave oven lately? e.g. Another example, Gallium Arsenide integrated circuits used to be the bread and butter of military applications, now they are used in most cellphone handsets, WLAN cards, etc.
  • The PKE was cancelled more than a year ago. It's New Horizons, now. Unfortunately, I've deleted the emails I've recieved with details of the NASA budget (from NASA, my research institute, and the Division for Planetary Science), but I'm pretty sure the New Horizons is on, not off. When I read the first email, I turned to an officemate and commented that they'd cut Europa for Pluto. Given the budget cap they already expected and the fact that Europa was going to be over that cap anyway, it was an expected and logical move to make.
  • I'd have thought it was dead obvious: if NASA wants to get funding from Bush they've got to convert the boosters to fossil fuels!
  • Okay...how many wrecks have we made on the Martian surface?

    Yet, how many times on /. has it been posted about some probe around this or that moon/outer planet being coaxed into doing more than it was ever designed to do, beyond life expectancy?

    Still, I suppose they need to scrap the Europa mission - imagine if they did find proof of life there...and I don't mean the Russell Crowe flick.
  • Think about it (Score:4, Informative)

    by Watcher (15643) on Tuesday February 05, 2002 @11:15PM (#2959852)
    There seems to be a lot of fear about the new budget killing off science and killing off the manned program. Think about what is being done here for a moment:

    In the unmanned space programs, missions are being put on hold so that nuclear propulsion technologies can be dusted off and put to practical use. This would cut down on mission time, and in doing so allow us to get probes to their destinations faster, and possibly with more power when they get there. That would have the net result of 1) cutting down on the money spent monitoring the probes during their cruise phase and 2) potentially extending their time at their destination spent gathering science. If you look at it from a business perspective, this makes sense-you want to invest money in the project for a gain (in this case, knowledge).

    Aside: would be nice to see them develop a general purpose class of probes that they could basically shotgun to the outer planets (and unlike the Voyager probes, orbit their destinations). That may be more practical with this propulsion and power system. Any thoughts? Probably not going to happen until NASA has enough cash and confidence from the White House. No time soon.

    Now, on to the manned space program. The Shuttle and ISS costs are way, way out of line. Take a look at the findings from the commitee last year. They're expecting its going to cost many more billions of dollars to finish the ISS in the plan which was comitted to. This on a project that is already considerably over budget, and suffering from numerous technical, engineering, and managerial problems (eg incompatable water purification systems, maintenance panels with the procedure for replacing the panel on the inner side where it can't be read while you're reinstalling it, and so on). If those costs aren't brought under control, it could easily swallow up the more productive unmanned program. The shuttle program is very much in the same boat, since the shuttles cost a huge amount to launch, and are only just barely reusable (they have to rip out large parts of the propulstion system, and refurbish the shuttle between launches, at a huge cost). I would be much happier to see them put yet more funding into developing a next generation system, but first getting the current manned space program under control is important.

    If the costs aren't brought under control, and new technology developed, it is very unlikely we will even have NASA in a decade. It is very hard pressed to keep the budget it has when there are other programs (such as fighting this little war thing we have right now) are getting the lions share of the money available. Like anything else, a little wise long term investment could reap huge benefits (such as a better unmanned program that allows us to have many more probes in operation, including the much needed additional communication equipment). It would be great to see some long term planning that results in a return to the Moon, or a solid plan to go to Mars. That will require that the NASA administration take the initiative and plan out a program that won't break the budget, and that NASA also earn the confidence of Congress that money invested won't become part of another horror story of misused funds. Its a hell of a challenge, particularly for a government program, and I would be interested to see NASA step up to it.

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