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NASA Cancels Missions After All 256

jd writes "Barely a day after NASA chief Dr. Griffen swore blind that projects might be frozen but not cancelled due to the new priorities and budget constraints, news comes of a new asteroid mission that has been cancelled due to the new priorities and budget constraints - something Dr. Griffin did not mention in his earlier comments. The visit to two asteroids, short about $90 million, was completely abandoned according to NASA, with no possibility of revival. In consequence, smaller missions are reportedly feeling at much greater risk."
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NASA Cancels Missions After All

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  • by RedHatLinux (453603) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @10:46PM (#14852072) Homepage
    Probably not, because history has soon that whenever a president is in some form of political trouble, they will often trot out "visions" of American returning to space with such regularity you would think they were smoking Peyeote, but they are shelved once the crisis passes or a new president takes over.
    • This project has experienced a problem with cost overruns, which was the real reason it was cancelled, not because of the CEV. Granted, had the budget not need to flex to push CEV development forward, the cost overruns might have been allowed, but there is more involved here than just human spaceflight goals affecting science.
  • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Saturday March 04, 2006 @10:50PM (#14852080) Journal
    I constantly hear people saying one or both of two things.
    1. NASA shouldn't be shooting for the Moon and Mars because it takes away from the smaller missions.
    2. NASA should take a lesson from the private industry on how to get to space cheap.

    But isn't this exactly what government is great at. Shouldering HUGE projects that no private industry in its right mind would spend money on... Ultimatly to progress science or humanity in general. No private industry is going to beat NASA to Mars. So let them have the small missions, hell once they really get their feet under them we can even contract out the smaller missions to them. But the really big stuff like getting people to Mars is only going to get done my NASA. And sure maybe we could hold back and wait for technology to progress a bit more, but we would still be stuck in Europe if that was the case.
    • (Or Africa or Asia, sorry Native Americans, you'd still be here, and probably in greater numbers..)
    • by ToasterofDOOM (878240) <d.murphy.davis@gmail.com> on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:05PM (#14852126)
      The one reason that government's can sometimes do things better or first is because they don't have to make a profit. Onced something is profitablt the private industries generally do something better, and one day NASA might just be a small research group that only concerns itself with the bleeding edge, unlike today when everything in space can be seen as bleeding edge.
      • by Z34107 (925136)

        The one reason that government's can sometimes do things better or first is because they don't have to make a profit

        The government doesn't have to make a profit; somebody else does. Doing things "first" comes at the expense of the entire country, and "better" is always debatable.

    • And sure maybe we could hold back and wait for technology to progress a bit more, but we would still be stuck in Europe if that was the case.

      I guess I'd be stuck in Africa, which may not be too bad for me, but a whole lot better for my great great great great great grandparents.

      • I guess I'd be stuck in Africa, which may not be too bad for me, but a whole lot better for my great great great great great grandparents.

        Yes, because in 1750, life in africa was so much better than life in America - and 1850 and 1950... Chances are, if your family would have stayed there, it would be dead by now. It's pretty safe to say that more lineages in Africa have died in the past 500 years than have lived. The problem is, however, your family would not only probably be one of those lineages that die
        • We don't owe you anything.

          That statement was meant to be funny. I'm not implying that you owe me anything, and you certainly don't. I don't buy what you said about people being worse off in Africa at face value, though.

    • But isn't this exactly what government is great at. Shouldering HUGE projects that no private industry in its right mind would spend money on... Ultimatly to progress science or humanity in general.

      Your argument appears to be hinged on the notion that revisiting the Moon represents "progress". It looks more like "regress" to me: boldly re-solving a technological problem that was solved in 1969 and was already considered boring by the time I was two years old.

      Of course, Mars is a lot farther away. If we

    • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @04:36AM (#14852893) Homepage
      I think you're really missing a very large point about what the government is for, and what private industry is for. Private industry is really great at putting money in forseeable goals where profit can be made. It's really bad at funding basic research in areas where there's no clear profit to be made. It's also really bad at developing anything that benefits everyone as a whole, but can't be charged for. 100 years ago what corporation would have wanted to fund some patent clerk who didn't even do any experiments and just wanted to think about the nature of light? But yet now our entire view of the Universe is different, and many of the devices you use every day rely upon an understanding of relativity.

      The problem (as far as a corporation is concerned) is that in science you don't always know what you're going to find out before you find it out. Weird problems in one area can lead to huge advances of knowledge in something that's completely unrelated. That's why it's best for the government to continue funding this basic research, since it's the people that're going to eventually benefit from it, or maybe never benefit from it. What corporation wants to fund experiments counting the number of Neutrinos (very weakly interacting particles that have no forseeable practical applications) that come from the sun? No corporation in their right mind is the answer. They'll never make back money invested in it. But yet that very experiment has led to big developments in the understanding of particle physics. We now know that neutrinos have mass, and oscillate between the different types of them. And even this knowledge has no practical applications of it at all. Might it someday? Maybe, then again maybe not.

      Really, the big problem with a Mars mission is you're going to waste a lot of money on one big project that could produce a LOT more scientific results if used in 100 other small projects. You'll probbably gain some technology along the way, but what do we really expect to gain scientifically from a manned Mars mission? Maybe we'll find life on Mars, and learn more about planetary geology. Is that worth scrapping all the other smaller missions? I don't think so.

      What worries me about the manned Mars mission is the vast majority of the money is going to go to private industry to develop technology only suited to going to Mars. That's great if you think Science is just about making the world like Star Trek, but it isn't so good if you think science is about learning things about our universe. Don't get me wrong, I think the manned missions have some importance. I just don't think that importance overshadows the science that Nasa (and really hardly anyone else) produces.
    • Rubbish. Manned missions to Moon or Mars are useless scientifically. These schemes are just a large scale version of the old fashioned PR exercise. What the government is great at and should do are in fact these smaller, more theoretical projects that no one else should be interested in, and bring no immediate public adulation or commercial gain. The important experiments they are cancelling cannot be done by any private enterprise.

      Manned missions are only meaningful in terms of colonisation or commercial e
    • by colmore (56499)
      The problem with having private industry do the smaller missions is that NASA's smaller missions are (in general) the good ones - less about publicity and symbolism and more about real and useful scientific research. Private industry tends to not publish its research in journals and will hold its findings in secret or, worse, in patent.

      The primary thing to be gained by travel to space is intellectual property, which is why, until IP law gets the enormous overhaul it will need to properly balance return on
  • Space Exploration (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wayne_Knight (958917) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:01PM (#14852119) Homepage
    Merely sending people up in to space isn't exploration. We've sent probes to many of the planets (Mars in paticular), and there are plans to a new space observatory. Considering the costs associated with space, I think the U.S. is doing just fine. Hell, I like to wonder, where is everyone else?

    Oh, and for you anti-NASA freaks, I'd like to provide you with a link to a history of NASA's budget [wikipedia.org]. It calculates to about $3 per taxpayer per year. Compare that to the military budget, which is about 500 times higher.
    • Merely sending people up in to space isn't exploration.

      True, but there are a lot more people into science fiction than there are that actually understand the science, and those are the ones you have to entertain these days...

    • Re:Space Exploration (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)
      It calculates to about $3 per taxpayer per year.

      That chart shows the current budget at $16B. Assuming that there are around ~250 million actual taxpayers in this country, that comes out to $64 per taxpayer per year.

    • Try 31 times higher. (Score:5, Informative)

      by MacDork (560499) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @02:26AM (#14852644) Journal
      It calculates to about $3 per taxpayer per year. Compare that to the military budget, which is about 500 times higher.

      That's a bit of an exaggeration... NASA's share of the federal budget [kowaldesign.com] is roughly 15 billion dollars. The DOD gets 475 billion. That's closer to the neighborhood of 30 times. It's worth mentioning that the executive branch gets 25 billion a year though; About the same as the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and NASA combined... Limos and jets cost more than shuttle missions apparently.

  • by amightywind (691887) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:06PM (#14852127) Journal

    This is a difficult situation because the mission has a lot of merit. But it was over budget and had technical problems [spaceflightnow.com]. Something had to go in a climate of budget tightening. Most people on this forum will rail at this decision. They should blame the aimlessness of NASA's manned space program since Apollo, and credit NASA administrator Michael Griffin for doing something about it.

  • Damn... (Score:3, Funny)

    by n0dalus (807994) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:21PM (#14852158) Journal
    I guess that means no Space Jackets for us :(
  • A Clear Vision (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr. Sorenson (947697) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:24PM (#14852167)
    It would be nice if there were a clear vision with set objectives for the space program. It would be nice to have some set time tables for a lunar colony or a mission to Mars. Right now there doesn't seem to be a plan for NASA other than satellite maintainence and some miscellaneous probes/rovers.
    • I'll give you one. I have an idea to get into space as cheaply as a space elevator, with materials and technology we have now, I even know who would pay for its design and construction. I submitted it to slashdot as a story about a month back, but its still in the pending queue (presumably waiting for the right stories to come along). I might have to just spill it if its not posted soon, tis burning a hole in me brain. However thats neither here nor there.

      Space has got vast, essentially unlimited resource

  • JPL (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jacks smirking reven (909048) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @11:57PM (#14852277)
    Anyone else agree that if any section of NASA should be getting more money it's the JPL. Much of the increased interest in space and the last few really excellent displays of space technology (Rovers, Cassini, Deep Space 1) while the shuttle division languished in time. JIMO [wikipedia.org], one of the most fascnating and ambitious missions has had its budget sliced as well. I say we go with the most science for the buck and unmanned is the best way to get that outside of our own orbit at this point.
    • Re:JPL (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 05, 2006 @12:20AM (#14852346)
      I worked at JPL this summer and you're absolutly right.

      JPL is special in that it is run by the California Institute of Technology for NASA. JPL employees are employees of Cal-Tech, not the federal government.

      JPL is much more focused and efficient then any other NASA center, and it shows. It's also the only place in the US where a space mission can go from concept, to detailed design, to fabrication, launch from KSC, and then operations are at JPL as well. End-to-end inside the JPL fenceline.
    • Re:JPL (Score:3, Informative)

      by glitchvern (468940)
      The problem is that over the last 15 years while Nasa's budget has remained relatively constant in inflation adjusted dollars we have given science more of the budget, increasing from 24% to 32% of Nasa's total budget. This extra funding for science has come from the human spaceflight budget and now we don't have enough in the human spaceflight budget for return to flight. Add in hurricane Katrina which severely damaged several shuttle facilities, our commitment to other nations to complete ISS, and the c
    • Re:JPL (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)
      When the time came up to decide whether or not to give JIMO money to actually develop and build the mission beyond the concept phase, NASA shied away from it. They decided it relied too heavily on technology that is still under development like ion propulsion. Yes, both NASA and ESA have built and tested ion propelled spacecraft (like DS1), but the duration of those missions was something like 12 months each, as opposed to years, and the mass involved was fraction of JIMO's. A failure would mean the loss of
  • They're not going to the asteroids cause there's more important stuff to do? They need to go blow those things up. Good going NASA. We're all going to die now.
  • by Bombula (670389) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @12:26AM (#14852358)
    Like everyone else here, I understand the dichotomy between missions for scientific benefit and missions for inspiring mankind. Occassionally there is some crossover, but it is less common than we'd like. So when scientific missions like this asteroid one get cancelled in favor of inspiring missions like putting men on the Moon and Mars, it is easy to cry 'political agenda'. I'm not even sure htat's fair, but there it is.

    But it's the missions that DO have good crossover that seem to me like they should be prioritized. And the best example I can think of are the missions to put up huge space telescopes to find a second Earth. Finding another Earth would be hugley inspiring, and as far as I understand it these scopes would be fantastic scientific instruments as well.

    Am I the only one who was particularly sad to see these missions delayed?

    • On the other hand, the Kepler telescope is moving forward, and there is some overlap in purpose. The Kepler looks for new planets by watching for them to transit their home stars. I believe it is supposed to be capable of locating planets as small as earth, but will conduct a survey of over 100,000 stars.
  • by pocopoco (624442) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @12:26AM (#14852359)
    The science missions were rapidly becoming useless anyway. Search for life my ass, they should have been exploring how exploitable the mineral resources were.

    It's time to dump the stupid navel gazing telescopes and put some money into actually doing things in space instead of just looking at them.

    If you always just claim people are too expensive to send, you aren't going to develop very good engineering and technologies to send people. I'm glad we've broken out of this loop and will actually being doing something worthwhile in space again.
    • yeah, all those stupid eggheads have been distracting America from it's true priorities: Kicking Mars' Ass.

      it's stuff like that that requires American men. you can't delegate ass-kicking to robots. unless they're awesome 50 foot tall robots with lasers shooting out their eyes.

      so our path is clear: America needs to create an army of 50 foot tall robots to kick Mars' ass. there exists a robot height gap between the US and the Soviet Union that threatens our ability to kick Mars' ass.

      also we need to explode
    • You seem to be implying that manned missions are better preparation for eventual asteroid and moon mining. I disagree. Life support is very expensive. Remote-controlled reports with good sensors would probably make better space miners. Perfecting remote-controlled robots would go further toward the mining goal.
    • You are an idiot. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fmaxwell (249001)
      The science missions were rapidly becoming useless anyway. Search for life my ass, they should have been exploring how exploitable the mineral resources were.

      It's time to dump the stupid navel gazing telescopes and put some money into actually doing things in space instead of just looking at them.


      It's morons like you who have made the U.S. fall behind in science. You see the spectacular pictures coming back from the Hubble Space Telescope and the only wonder you are filled with is wondering if there's a wa
    • Bush's "mission to Mars" is just his attempt to neuter NASA, long-despised by the GOP because of its ties to the Democrats (e.g., Kennedy Space Center).

      He will convince people (like you) that it's okay to kill off the Shuttle, the International Space Station, probes like the one being discussed here, and unmanned planetary missions -- because we're going to Mars. Then he'll use the fiscally irresponsible federal deficit spending (that he encouraged and approved) as a reason why NASA can't have enough budge
      • First of all, technology has improved a lot since the 1960s.
        There are cell phones with more computer processing power
        than all of NASA during the Apollo program.

        Second, to bring the cost down, we should use techniques
        that have great leverage on reducing costs. These are
        advanced automation and use of local materials.

        Advanced automation means instead of sending robots to a
        place, you send a robot factory. Instead of sending
        structural beams to the moon, you send a magnetic sifter
        to separate the 0.2% iron-nicke
        • First of all, technology has improved a lot since the 1960s.
          There are cell phones with more computer processing power
          than all of NASA during the Apollo program.


          A close encounter with Mars still puts it 69 million kilometers from Earth. The moon is about 385,000 kilometers away. Lighter weight computers just won't have much effect when you look at what must still be carried: Astronauts, food, water, compressed gases (for air), fuel, switches, wiring, etc. While processing power has done wonderful things
  • So instead of bitching about NASA draining on economy and tax money, what about donations? Can't NASA just ask for public funding through donations from multi-billion corporations? I'm sure 40 million can be used as tax write off for them. Hell, worst comes to worst, at least I don't think, I'd mind seeing "NASA - United State of America (sponsored by CocaCola, the real thing)" logo flashing next to solar panel when passing asteroid.

    For some reason, people tend to get more excited about silly sci-fi movi
    • So instead of bitching about NASA draining on economy and tax money, what about donations? Can't NASA just ask for public funding through donations from multi-billion corporations? I'm sure 40 million can be used as tax write off for them.

      No. Every dollar spent by NASA must be first appropriated by Congress. If NASA sells some old hardware, or receives a donation, that money goes straight to the federal government's general fund, not to NASA.

  • The US should give up on NASA actually doing anything and outsource. Space probes to JPL, boosters to Energia in Russia, and everything else to China. Close most of NASA's "centers". We'd get more bang for the buck.

    Out here in Silicon Valley, we have NASA Ames, which has a good wind tunnel and a large number of marginal NASA programs. The wind tunnel is worth keeping, but everything else, including the airfield, could be canned with no great loss.

  • For the enhancement of scientific knowlege and the required development of advanced technology, A National Science Trust shall be established, with funding authorized by Congress, for the purchase of information about the natural world from Eligible Parties (private entities owned and controlled by other such entities in the U.S. or its unified free- trade partners). No less than 2/3 of the components and services used by the Eligible Parties to acquire this information must be obtained from other Eligible
  • Foolish Choices (Score:4, Informative)

    by rben (542324) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @10:26AM (#14853470) Homepage
    Going to an asteroid made a lot of sense. The asteroid Amun, which is the smallest known metallic asteroid near Earth, has over a trillion dollars worth of metals. Mining it would pay back a hundred fold on the cost of developing the technology to do so. Instead, we have another pie-in-the-sky mission of going back to the Moon and on to Mars with no payback. It will just cost a fortune.

    I'm all for going to the Moon and on to Mars, but I want a sustainable space program. I want to see us go out to space and develop the resources that are out there.

    As has been pointed out on this thread, the Shuttle isn't the best way to do this. We need safe reliable transportation to space at a reasonable cost. I think the best answer is a space elevator. The folks over at www.liftport.com are working on actually building one -- well actually four of them. If LiftPort accomplishes it's goals, it will have four space elevators that will be able to carry a shuttle load of cargo to orbit on a WEEKLY basis. Since the elevator will extend out sixty thousand miles, it will also serve as an excellent launching platform for missions to anywhere in the inner solar system. The Earth's own momentum will supply the initial velocity needed.

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