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ISS Construction Resumes 125

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the old-meets-new dept.
avtchillsboro writes "The NY Times has an article detailing new construction on the International Space Station (ISS) and the additions via coming Space Shuttle missions through 2010. From the article: 'For more than three years, the International Space Station has floated half-built above the Earth. Maintained by a skeleton crew, the station — an assemblage of modules and girders — has not come close to its stated goal of becoming a world-class research outpost. But now construction, which has hung in limbo since NASA's space shuttle fleet was grounded after the 2003 Columbia disaster, is scheduled to resume. The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off next Sunday carrying a bus-size segment of the station's backbone that includes a new set of solar-power arrays.'"
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ISS Construction Resumes

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  • Cost Versus Utility (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Sunday August 20, 2006 @09:38PM (#15946091) Journal
    The International Space Station is a novel idea and I've always supported countries working together. After reading the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] on its costs, I have to question its utility versus the cost. The European Space Agency estimates it to be around 100 billion Euros [esa.int] which isn't cheap.

    According the Wikipedia entry, NASA spends $5 billion annually on the ISS. I guess I hope to hear more news of discoveries from ISS and scientific advancements once it nears completion but I have not seen much in the news as of late. In fact, Hubble seems to be the best investment we've made next to the ISS. Is this just a proof of concept that we can work together with other nations on space exploration? What do we envision for the ISS in our future?

    I know that this is an easy thing to complain about and I'm not the first to ask if it's really worth it. But can anyone tell me what $5 billion of our tax payer dollars has done for us? And why is it that construction grinds to a halt when only one of the member nations involved grounds its shuttles? Is this really an "international" space station? Also, doesn't this leave the United States eternally committed to developing this project? Will we ever be able to opt out of this even after its completion?

    With the current administration in the United States, spending doesn't seem to worry them [cbsnews.com] at all. And with the National Debt Clock [brillig.com] ticking at around $8.5 trillion these days, I guess I should expect nothing more. Why is it that "small government conservatives" have the knack to make that clock jump by large percentages?
    • by Wizarth (785742) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @09:57PM (#15946134) Homepage
      There are some things that just should be done, and damn the cost. That is what a government is for, to do the things that are not profitable, that are not returning on investment, to get the ball rolling to get the basics in place, until it does become reasonable to make a profit, for a company to step up and say, yes, we'll foot the initial outlay because NASA has done the boring, unprofitable grunt work, they have tried the thousand ways to do it wrong, and now we know which way will work.

      It is the government's job to finance the future potentially useful tasks. To drag out a tired example, it's a modern Columbus. It is a cost that is most likely going to return nothing, but if it does, the potential rewards will make it all worth it.

      That really ran on.
      • by rde (17364) * on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:17PM (#15946188)
        There are some things that just should be done, and damn the cost
        You're right, of course. Thing is, the space station isn't one of those things. It may have been had it been built as originally planned, but it's a mere shadow of its aspirational self. When you evicerate a project the way this one has, you're left with a huge bill and no return. If the original plan was to build somewhere for millionaires to holiday while waiting for Branson to get is arse in gear (and, indeed, space), then fine. However, it was build as a science station, and the science it's doing - and will do for the foreseeable future - is negligible.

        I'm not a fan of using starving etheopians/national debts/shambolic foreign adventures/whatever to cavil about the cost of any particular project, but there are many, many ways NASA and ESA and everyone else could've spent the money. It's nearly forty years since the moon landings; we should be going to war with Mars now as it declares independence. Instead, we're left with a freefalling white elephant that's got all the utility of a fingerless campanologist.
        • by Wizarth (785742) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:26PM (#15946214) Homepage
          I agree, you're right. It is not being used the way it was designed, and has turned in to a white elephant.

          But, in todays society, if they scrapped the ISS, I could never see them starting a new one. At least, with this white elephant, the bean counters could possibly be swayed with the "we've invested this much, lets invest some more and get something out of it" argument, where I cannot see this mentality starting from nothing. Especially since they will have the "failed white elephant" of the ISS to hold up as an example of why it will never work.
          • by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @11:09PM (#15946323)
            Maybe, but a number of scientific projects have been canceled after a lot of money was invested. The superconducting super collider was canceled after it was partially built, and at least one NASA mission that was nearly ready to fly just recently got killed to cover the cost overruns in the manned space program.
            • Maybe, but a number of scientific projects have been canceled after a lot of money was invested. The superconducting super collider was canceled after it was partially built, and at least one NASA mission that was nearly ready to fly just recently got killed to cover the cost overruns in the manned space program.

              Actually, both your examples support the OP's arguments:

              The killing of the SSC despite the massive sunk costs has lead to absolutely zero support for new large scale physics construction in th

          • by tehcyder (746570)
            the bean counters could possibly be swayed with the "we've invested this much, lets invest some more and get something out of it" argument
            As a bean-counter myself, I suggest you look up the concept of sunk costs to see why this is never a good argument.
        • by ctr2sprt (574731)
          Instead, we're left with a freefalling white elephant that's got all the utility of a fingerless campanologist.

          Behold rde, the new BadAnalogyGuy!

        • Quasimodo wants to go on vacation, so he gets his clumsy brother to fill in for him at Notre Dame. The brother's first day up in the tower, he loses his footing and falls forward, smacking his forehead against the carillon as he falls to his death. Two priests gather around the fallen corpse; one says "This isn't Quasimodo at all! Who was this man?" Other priest says "I don't know... but his face sure rings a bell."
        • by tehcyder (746570)
          all the utility of a fingerless campanologist
          That's a strange expression, as you could in fact still be a bell-ringer without fingers (you could tie hand bells to your arms, or maybe use your feet on a rope bell).

          Did you mean a violinist, or something?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by LuxMaker (996734)
        There are some things that should be done, but the cost should be carefully considered to see if there is not something better in which the money may be spent. I personally believe the money would be much better spent on a lunar base and to use that as a launching platform to other planets. My reasoning is as follows:

        The moon has plenty of He-3 and we should work on the best possible way to mine this even though we have not produced a viable fusion reactor yet. With plenty of He-3 available it shou
      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday August 21, 2006 @12:32AM (#15946569)

        There are some things that just should be done, and damn the cost.

        That's an emotional argument, not a logical one. It's little better than "the end justifies the means", and it is very cliche; all the time, the answer to "why are we doing this" is "because it's there!" That's great if you're spending your own bucks to go climb Everest- I wish you the best of luck. But if you're going to spend trillions of dollars, I need something much more concrete. Go google "waggonauts" some time, and read for an INSIDER's view of how stupid human space exploration is. Seriously- it was written by NASA people...

        You need to stop and realize that most space exploration hasn't been for research or the betterment of mankind. It's all a bragging rights/land grab game between nations, while lining the pockets of defense contractors. Why do you think Kennedy put people on the moon? Because the Russians were the first to put people in space- dozens of them- before the US put Glen up. The race to put a man in space also helped quite a bit with refining nuclear missile technology. Why do you think Bush got interested in the Moon and Mars? Only because China got interested in the moon, and "the world's greatest superpower" can't be outdone...

        Did you ever notice that countries that were not involved in the space and weapons races have remarkably better socities and infrastructure, because they devoted resources to taking care of their people?

        To drag out a tired example, it's a modern Columbus. It is a cost that is most likely going to return nothing, but if it does, the potential rewards will make it all worth it.

        Spain financed Columbus because he was in search of conquest; gold, shorter trade routes, etc. It was a bit of a crapshoot, but they figured that if he came back at all, they stood a great chance of making a killing, and they were right. The difference here is that we have nothing to gain from exploration of Mars or the Moon; it's a childish pipe-dream to think we'll find anything practical in terms of natural resources on either planets. Putting a couple hundred people on 3 ships for a few months PALES in comparison to the challenges involved in a manned trip to Mars. There is no giant cache of gold on the moon or mars, and even if there was- the economics just don't add up, and they don't get better as you throw more money at the problem. People with a space exploration fetish concoct the most amazing chains of "if we..." arguments to justify exploration...

        It's also a common fallacy that space exploration brought us wonders like zero-g pens, velcro, orange tang, and remote medical monitoring. All existed before the manned space program. I know slashdot readers hate to think it, but we've gotten very little out of space "exploration", especially the manned kind.

        • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:08AM (#15948686) Journal
          Spain financed Columbus because he was in search of conquest; gold, shorter trade routes, etc. It was a bit of a crapshoot, but they figured that if he came back at all, they stood a great chance of making a killing, and they were right. The difference here is that we have nothing to gain from exploration of Mars or the Moon; it's a childish pipe-dream to think we'll find anything practical in terms of natural resources on either planets. Putting a couple hundred people on 3 ships for a few months PALES in comparison to the challenges involved in a manned trip to Mars. There is no giant cache of gold on the moon or mars, and even if there was- the economics just don't add up, and they don't get better as you throw more money at the problem. People with a space exploration fetish concoct the most amazing chains of "if we..." arguments to justify exploration...

          First, let me point out that I agree with your original premise - the ISS is a boondoggle.
          The comparison with Columbus is flawed; more accurately one would ask if the 'Columbus' venture would have made sense had they outfitted him with gold-plated ships, silken sails, the highest-paid crew...and then asked him to 'test the capability for long term voyaging' by floating 100 miles offshore for a month. You are right that the investment is staggering and gross, for a mission that's tentative and whose value is questionable.

          However, I'm going to take serious issue with your rationale. You question the value of space exploration; really? Are you prepared to live in a Logan's Run world where people are terminated at the end of their useful age? Or perhaps a Soylent Green world? Because, I think it's an unquestionable fact that the earth is a closed system. Resources are finite. However, population keeps increasing, the standard of living for everyone is also increasing, and people's lifespans are increasing. Where are you willing to impose the brake? Have any idea what sort of governance and enforcement will be required to STOP people from having children?
          Personally, I see it as a Hobson's choice: either we accept that there are limited resources on the planet and resign ourselves to being trapped here. Or, we spend huge sums of money NOW in the hopes that will parlay into someting akin to the discovery of the New World of the 15th century. Can we bank on it? No, obviously not. But I don't see much of an alternative, maybe you prefer a police-state existence.

          Is space exploration hideously expensive? Yep. But you trivialize the challenges of the 15th century mariner when you say that "Putting a couple hundred people on 3 ships for a few months PALES in comparison to the challenges involved in a manned trip to Mars." - that's a joke. We can calculate with a reasonable degree of certainty what's involved, they had ABSOLUTELY no idea. They had a significant expectation that they would NOT be coming back, at least of them surely WOULD die on the trip. You might think it's insignificant that a bunch of dirty, uneducated sailors risked their lives but I assure you it mattered to THEM. Welcome to 2006 - we substitute money for risk.

          And finally, your 'comparison' is specious: "Did you ever notice that countries that were not involved in the space and weapons races have remarkably better socities and infrastructure, because they devoted resources to taking care of their people?"
          Did you ever notice that the countries that were not involved in the space and weapons races spent the last 40 years being protected by the countries that DID? Duh. Although I can sense behind your words that you probably thought the Cold War was just a trivial dispute between esoteric philosophies.
        • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
          It's all a bragging rights/land grab game between nations

          Which explains why we've been flying for the past 25 yrs grabbing up all the plots of land on the moon. However, I'm not sure how it explains the ISS...

          The difference here is that we have nothing to gain from exploration of Mars or the Moon; it's a childish pipe-dream to think we'll find anything practical in terms of natural resources on either planets.

          I guess you have it all figured out, SuperBanana. Go tell them scientist folk they're full of bea
        • by penglust (676005)
          And what's wrong with an emotional argument for space exploration. I am familiar with several contries where they have concentrated on the population. I am very familiar with Germany. They have high income taxes and their sales tax just went to 20%. They had super medical benifits true. But they were not free. Typically employeers pay 50% of the insurance costs and the employee the other. These costs are going up and the benifits are going down. It seems in every country, except for Sweden, the prog
        • There are some things that just should be done, and damn the cost. I believe you are right about space colonies and manned exploration being an emotional endeavor and not a fiscally responsible one, but I am an emotional creature and even though logic can sometimes sway, I want to see humanity go to the stars. Or, at least the descendants of humanity. Let's face it, that is not going to happen if we stay isolated here on Earth. Yes people are starving, yes we could make very good use of the money, and
      • by niktemadur (793971) on Monday August 21, 2006 @12:52AM (#15946618)
        There are some things that just should be done, and damn the cost.

        In proyects such as the ISS, there are always inventions and advances that are not cost effective in the foreseeable future, but that benefit mankind tremendously in future generations.

        To drag out a tired example, it's a modern Columbus.

        FWIW, the King of Portugal invested in one fruitless expedition after another to circumnavigate Africa, but sailor's superstitions got in the way every time. I believe it was in the fourteenth attempt that the crew was caught up in a nasty storm and, after it had abated, discovered to their surprise that they were way south of Cape Bojador, according to legend, ends of the Earth. This was the turning point. Every single expedition after that progressed fearlessly further and further, bringing back paydirt each time. In the early XV Century, the King of Portugal set the stage for Columbus.

        Here's another example: In medieval times, the alchemical process of creating lenses, perfecting the techniques of polishing them so that they would be as near perfect as possible. Meanwhile, all around, plagues and misery bedeviled society, which made lenses a pointless and costly exercise in trivial matters, according to the pundits of the age.
        Little did the pundits know that from this work, among other things, the microscope would come to being, the discovery of the source of diseases was only a matter of time.

        For the majority, things always make much more sense in retrospect. For now, in the matter of the ISS, we need faith in the future fruits of peaceful labor on an epic scale.
        Yes, bureaucracy inflates expenses so that these things seem like pork barrel proyects. However, isn't the cost still a fraction of the money that goes down the black hole known as the Military Industry, which needs to invent wars in order to dispose of aging weaponry and keep the money-go-round in motion? For the time being, this is what we need to question, instead of peaceful endeavours of knowledge.
        • by Wizarth (785742) on Monday August 21, 2006 @01:07AM (#15946657) Homepage
          Here's another example: In medieval times, the alchemical process of creating lenses, perfecting the techniques of polishing them so that they would be as near perfect as possible. Meanwhile, all around, plagues and misery bedeviled society, which made lenses a pointless and costly exercise in trivial matters, according to the pundits of the age. Little did the pundits know that from this work, among other things, the microscope would come to being, the discovery of the source of diseases was only a matter of time.
          Oh that is a great example, much better then Columbus.
        • by zippthorne (748122) on Monday August 21, 2006 @03:06AM (#15946939) Journal
          A good example, but still flawed. It's one thing for a few eccentrics (or even a few dozen dozen eccentrics) to play with optics on their own dime. It's quite another to be involved in a massively expensive boondoggle of a concentrated space-lab whose main goal seems to be to be done jointly by several nations rather than to actually advance mankind's knowledge by any amount. All of the experiments proposed for ISS could be done far more cheaply (at least an order of magnitude) separatly on automated mostly independant launches. Eliminating the need for rendezvous would cut that much from the cost by itself.

          Someone once said that building things like the supercollider have nothing to do with the defense of the nation, except to make it worth defending. This may be true, but we must not send good money after bad. The superconducting supercollider project was cancelled. If even one superconductiong supercollider project, or space telescope, or very large array of telescopes, or interplanetary space probe at the edge of the solar system is cancelled to provide funding for an excercise in political futility, well that's just sad.
          • by Teancum (67324)
            I don't know.... what was described in the parent post was precisely a good example of government boondogles as you are describing, and comparable proportions of government wealth being spent on apparent (for the day) crazy ideas.

            There were several government pork projects that would certainly be comparable to the SCSC that existed during the middle ages. I could go into several of these, but one in particular below:

            Perhaps one of the most notable was the astronomical observatory [wikipedia.org] that Tycho Brahe [wikipedia.org] built on
      • To drag out a tired example, it's a modern Columbus.

        Yikes. I hope the ISS doesn't become a tool to wipe out entire nations whose way of life differs greatly from our own.
    • by reporter (666905) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @09:58PM (#15946139) Homepage
      My perception of NASA (and other space agences like JAXA [www.jaxa.jp]) is that it focuses solely on run-of-the-mill projects seeking incremental but significant advances in technology. That sort of research is useful but does not capture the imagination of young adults contemplating a career in science and engineering.

      When President Kennedy pledged that Washington would put an American on the moon, the pledge captured our imagination [wikipedia.org]. We Americans would do something that had never been done in the past. Further, putting an American on the moon was not an incremental advance in technology but was a huge leap that faced a high risk of failure.

      NASA should go back to its adventurous roots by devoting 25% of its budget to exotic, high-risk projects. The remaining 75% would go to run-of-the-mill projects.

      NASA, not the American military, should be splurging money on building a prototype of a hyperdrive, enabling faster-than-light travel [newscientistspace.com]. Even if the prototype does not work, it would significantly facilitate the breakthroughs that will be necessary for a successful hyperdrive,.

      • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @11:59PM (#15946482) Homepage
        Exotic High Risk Projects?

        Clearly you are NOT American, because it is very obvious to any outsider looking in that the USA will no tolerate any reasonable level of risk at all. Look at the stink when just 7 people die, and only a 2 Billion dollar shuttle is lost? Hell, 7 people is nothing - and Dubya it chucking a billion a week at Iraq - and ALL of those lives and dollars are completely wasted. I don't see anyone reviewing the Military budget (450 Billion) because people keep dying.

        Hell, servicing Hubble - arguably the most successful space craft ever - was cancelled because people might die. I bet if you asked ANY rated astronaut if they're prepared to take the risk of servicing Hubble you'd get a 100% affirmative "We'll go!" answer.

        No - the USA has turned its back on the pioneering spirit - and the whole "Earth, Moon, Mars and beyond" thing is a joke. It's going to be a debacle of the greatest kind: even worse than the ISS. Jebus, it's no even clear how to build a BDB (Big Dumb Booster) any more. The "Stick" so eloquently argued for is a multibillion dollar development, and not even remotely "using existing hardware" as advertised.

        Don't get me wrong, I love the ISS, and if it costs 2 Billion dollars a shot to get my pretty 2560 x 1024 wallpaper - then that's a cost I'm willing for US tax payers to pay! Even if the ISS ends up costing 100 billion Euros, the experience of actually having worked together in space (and yes, many contries HAVE contributed) and the knowledge gained by assembling the thing probably almost justify the expense.

        See the thing most of you have forgotten, is that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes: and NASA has had plenty of failures in recent years. The problem is that NASA isn't being driven by an agenda which requires those lessons to be turned into conventional wisdom, and success!

        Hell, it might cost a Trillion US dollars before there's any conventional wisdom about getting to LEO, and how to do things beyond LEO - and if it costs a trillion - or two trillion - or a hundred trillion dollars, then that's the price it costs to buy our way into this galaxy. No one is standing by, watching us, and they don't have a "Key To The Galaxy" waiting for us when we set foot on Mars. Escaping the doomed Earth, and populating the Solar System is going to be the most expensive venture ever undertaken by man. The effort may well cripple the Earth for a long time.

        One thing is clear: whatever the cost, we need to know how to get off the planet reliably and cheaply.

        Personally, I think sitting atop a million kilos of rocket fuel is the dumbest idea ever!

        The future isn't rocket powered: it's laser powered: http://lightcrafttechnologies.com/ [lightcraft...logies.com] or its via space elevators. It most certainly does not make sense to burn 95% (or 99%!) of your payload just toget into orbit! If you're gonna burn fuel, the burn it on the ground.
        • Personally, I think sitting atop a million kilos of rocket fuel is the dumbest idea ever!

          For your future reference, sir, what you are describing is better known as Spam In A Can.
        • by Wyrd01 (761346)

          Exotic High Risk Projects?
          Clearly you are NOT American, because it is very obvious to any outsider looking in that the USA will no tolerate any reasonable level of risk at all

          Your assumption that government represents every single one of its citizens accurately is incorrect.

          Case in point; I am an American and I would love to see NASA take on some "exotic high risk projects". We're exploring space, it's going to be dangerous, and I wish more of us (Americans) would accept the fact that some loss is goi

      • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday August 21, 2006 @12:10AM (#15946509) Journal
        it is not totally practical.
        First off, W. is running up a defict like there is no tomorrow. This will force us to cut back at some point.
        Second, at this time, we have to rebuild our launch capacity. That means that we need to be able to launch what we had back in the 60s. Nixon killed that capability. W. is restoring it. While I know that many folks hate the CEV (and some hate even the launchers), we will have the same launch capacity that Kennedy got us 40 years ago.

        Once we have Oriion, I agree with you that it will be time for NASA to return to the interesting ideas that a commercial company can not and will not do. Of course, I have said for a decade the right thing to be doing is a one-way trip to Mars for colonizing. And the only thing that comes back are goods ; Now, Musk is pushing that concept. That is where the real money will be.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Second, at this time, we have to rebuild our launch capacity. That means that we need to be able to launch what we had back in the 60s.

          The launch capacity we had in the 60's (the Saturn V) was as expensive as the Shuttle - we don't need expensive shipping, we need cheap shipping.

          Nixon killed that capability. W. is restoring it.

          No, Congress killed it back during the Johnson administration. Nixon inherited a fait accompli - a Congress that wasn't interested in funding NASA's ever more grand

      • Putting an American on the moon was not an incremental advance in technology but was a huge leap that faced a high risk of failure.

        That's because of the approach that was chosen. If the US government had listened to Von Braun, there would have been a permanent space station in orbit since the sixties, a platform for ongoing moon missions by the seventies. We would be reaping the benefits of this today.
        Instead, they went for the most expensive, dangerous and least permanent route. Because JFK made the mos
      • NASA, not the American military, should be splurging money on building a prototype of a hyperdrive, enabling faster-than-light travel. Even if the prototype does not work, it would significantly facilitate the breakthroughs that will be necessary for a successful hyperdrive,.

        Yes. Let's invest in a hyperdrive designed by a theory that no one understands, that's outlined in a paper that was never peer reviewed. Would you like it to be powered with Seorn's perpetual motion machine [google.com] as well?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by halibatsuiba (638034)
      "And why is it that construction grinds to a halt when only one of the member nations involved grounds its shuttles?"

      There is only one member nation with shuttles...
      Nasa's shuttle is the only vehicle able to carry big enough loads up there.

      That's why.
      • WTF have you been smokin? Can I have some?

        The Ariane V outclasses anything we have thought of building.
        Russia, China, India and Japan have launch vehicles.

        ISS stops when the Shuttle is grounded because the US won't pay for those launches, makes us look bad and all.

        Also I will remind all the gentle readers, that the USSR launched more space stations than the number of times we landed on the Moon. I really rather think the Russians know a thing or two about launching, assembling and running an orbital platf
    • by Jeremi (14640)
      But can anyone tell me what $5 billion of our tax payer dollars has done for us?

      Arguably not so much so far, other than give us half a permanently manned outpost in space. But it would be stupid to abandon the project now, when it's so far along -- better to finish it up and make the best of it. If nothing else, it gives us more experience living and working in space.

      And why is it that construction grinds to a halt when only one of the member
      nations involved grounds its shuttles? Is this really an "intern

    • intangibles (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Quadraginta (902985) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:26PM (#15946215)
      But can anyone tell me what $5 billion of our taxpayer dollars has done for us?

      Maybe it's a subtle thing. But there is a practical difference between a crabbed, pessimistic, Can't-Do defeatist culture and a culture full of ambition and daring that does impractical but spectactular things with a spare 0.1% of its GNP: one produces living descendants a thousand years later, and the other merely produces elegant, sardonic essays written in a dead language that are closely studied by scholars of the future.

      Man does not live on bread alone, to paraphrase Moses, but perhaps also on dreams that inspire his best efforts and give him a sense of wonder and hope for the future. I mean, if you don't think this way -- if you're not much interested in things unless there's something in it for Number One -- then you don't have children and your genes get edited out of the species. This is perhaps why clever cynicism is more noteable among societies (and individuals) in decline than in ascendacy.
      • I have a dream: a dream of a space program with vision. Sadly, it's only a dream.

        As NASA continues to spin its wheels and waste money, Americans see less and less reason for its existance.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by niktemadur (793971)
        Bravo, Sir!

        A sense of joy in life, the spirit of an explorer, the heart of a child, always ready to stand in awe.

        However, there is strong reason for disillusionment among the current living generations. When growing up, we saw marvelous representations of climate-controlled, domed cities in harmony with nature, grand space stations rotating in Earth orbit, colonies on the Moon. We were told that we could very well be living in space with our children once we reached...the age we are now.

        These and other wo
        • Re:intangibles (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Quadraginta (902985) on Monday August 21, 2006 @04:13AM (#15947122)
          Oh I dunno. I'm part of that generation. I remember listening to the radio when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon in the summer of 1969. I was glued to the TV for every Apollo launch. I also remember thinking, in the mid 80s or so, that the Moon colonies and regularly scheduled commuter trips to Mars were sure taking their time coming.

          But I don't think it's our "institutions" that failed. I think we did. The aerospace engineers didn't turn stupid, or lose heart. They just lost our interest, and we stopped paying their salaries. In the 70s and 80s the country turned its attention back inward to indulge in twenty-five years of narcissist navel gazing. We told ourselves we needed to "fix" things on Earth first, things like poverty, prejudice, war, pollution. I suppose it escaped our attention that these things are as much fixtures of life as bad luck, death and taxes, and we can no more fix them for good than we can make it so all the children are above average. But we had a lot of fun spending all that money, marching, and making fine speeches. And it was actually a lot easier than building spacecraft, and a lot less dangerous than trying to live on an airless minor planet.

          So it goes. I suppose I'm disappointed. But I don't think I'm cynical about the years since then. They weren't devoid of miracles. We may not live on the Moon, but we do have amazing electronic widgets, and we've done remarkable things in medicine. I'm not even disgusted with all the money we spent standing on the brink of nuclear annihilation. We guarded half the world's freedom for 50 years, and, amazingly, without having to fight the appalling war everyone thought was coming any moment. That's something remarkable, actually.

          In this sense, attitudes of cynicism and pessimism are a reflection of the profound failure by both our public and private institutions...

          Maybe. But maybe attitudes of cynicism and pessimism are not the result of, but a major cause of, failures in public and private institutions. I mean, why exactly should we expect our institutions to be more courageous and dedicated than we are as individuals?
          • by tomato (66378)
            "We told ourselves we needed to "fix" things on Earth first, things like poverty, prejudice, war, pollution. I suppose it escaped our attention that these things are as much fixtures of life as bad luck, death and taxes"

            Those things are very fixable with 450 billion of funding. That's the size of the US military budget, which is larger than the next n countries put together (n slowly increasing in size).

            Fixing them in the USA alone would be a good start.
            • Umm, no, they're not. You /cannot/ change people's attitudes by throwing money at problems. Nor can you "fix" war if your military budget is zero and people's attitudes remain unchanged.

              So, prejudice and war still exist if the US military budget is zero. What's next? How about poverty? Poverty is a function of so many variables that we have yet to completely eliminate it after tens of thousands of years trying. I will assert, though, that we are far closer today than at any time in history. In any ca
            • by irablum (914844)
              See, that's the problem. No amount of money can "fix" poverty. No amount of spending can remove "prejudice, war, or pollution". The problem is that all four of these issues involve "fixing" people's attitudes.

              "Fixing" poverty means making everyone above average. In any world where there are rich people, there will be poor people. The reality is that poor people in the US have more real property than average income people throughout the world. On the other side, "fixing" poverty throughout the world me
          • by NateTech (50881)
            My generation (the one behind yours) remembers watching you get disillusioned and older, remembers being relieved when the Cold War ended and you folks finally decided that Mutually Assured Destruction was stupid, but not because you really thought about it... only because the "other side" ran out of money first, and faces the prospect of your generation bankrupting the country in retirement because most of you didn't save enough money to live on.

            Just imagine the possibilities you've left us with! ;-)

            (Perso
            • Uh, dude, I think you counted years wrong. I'm not a boomer, I'm Gen X, which it sounds like you are, or maybe Gen Y. Boomers weren't watching Apollo as grade-school kids, they were in college and marching against the draft. I have many of the same criticisms you do about the boomer generation. I'm sympathetic.

              Although...you'd probably be more effective if you focussed a bit more.
              • by NateTech (50881)
                Well the "generation" names are generally not very accurate. I found articles that claim I'm Gen X, but there's no way I would have been alive to see any of the moon landings at an age where I could possibly remember them.

                I guess what I'm saying is... anyone alive long enough ago to have caused all the total screwups we have today in major political parties... thanks a lot. You were able to vote back then. Now I can only do so much to stem the tide of insanity and disrespect for our Constitution coming f
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And why is it that construction grinds to a halt when only one of the member nations involved grounds its shuttles?

      I think the answer lies in recognition that just because an effort is collaborative doesn't mean any given area of responsibility is equally divisible between contributors. Similarly, it doesn't follow that since an operation didn't take place when the chief surgeon was delayed that the chief surgeon operates alone.

      Take for instance my own country -- which is folksy, grease-loving and bor
    • by StikyPad (445176) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:37PM (#15946243) Homepage
      First of all, Wikipedia says:
      the Space Shuttle program, which as of 2006 nearly costs $5 billion annually, is normally not considered part of the ISS budget

      As for the ISS expenditures:
      NASA's 2007 budget request [12] lists costs for the ISS (without Shuttle costs) as $25.6 billion for the years 1994 to 2005. For each of 2005 and 2006 about $1.7 to 1.8 billion are allocated to the ISS - this sum will be rising until 2010 when it is calculated to reach 2.3 billion and then should stay at the same level, however inflation-adjusted, until 2016, the defined end of the program.

      Nontrivial, but less than half of the $5B you incorrectly reported.

      And while the utility is certainly important, it's not the only measure of value. The experience itself is a value, in that the people involved are gaining experience with constructing things in orbit, and having a continuous human presence in orbit furthers our knowledge of the physiological effects of living in space.

      The ISS may be a small step, but it's a step, and that's ultimately how humanity progresses for the most part -- in steps, not in leaps and bounds. The ISS may only be an incremental progression, but it's progress nonetheless.

      That's not to say the ISS hasn't been somewhat disappointing, but that's at least in part due to several modules being cancelled due to complaints about cost. It's the typical bureaucratic Catch-22: People want to see results before upping the ante. Unfortunately, it's not rarely possible to work like that. If you fund everything except the wheels of a car, all you've got is a nice air-conditioned box.

      And even if you consider the ISS a failure, it's important to remember that science is progressed by failure just as much as success -- at the very least we should have ideas on what to do, or not to do, the next time.
      • by khallow (566160)

        And even if you consider the ISS a failure, it's important to remember that science is progressed by failure just as much as success -- at the very least we should have ideas on what to do, or not to do, the next time.

        Not really. This reminds me of the currently popular saying by Pauli, "It's not correct, it's not even wrong." If the ISS were doing something novel (construction techniques are somewhat novel, but the ISS doesn't do enough of that), if it weren't taking money that could be better spent on

        • by StikyPad (445176)
          If the ISS were doing something novel (construction techniques are somewhat novel, but the ISS doesn't do enough of that)

          Actually that's the majority of what they've done to date.

          if it weren't taking money that could be better spent on unmanned space probes, funding some coherent plan to develope a competitive launch industry in the US, or even just returned to the taxpayer. This is the sort of failure that doesn't aid science.

          That's simply not true. The only way you could consider it a failure is as a was
          • by khallow (566160)
            You ignore the opportunity costs associated with the ISS. And some minor construction work in space, and perhaps as much as $60 million in space tourism doesn't begin to justify this beast and the tens of billions of dollars that could have been spent better elsewhere. Nor the continuing funds that NASA is dumping into this and the Space Shuttle.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by mapmaker (140036)
      NASA spends $5 billion annually on the ISS.

      That sounds like money better spent than the $19 billion in farm subsidies [cnn.com] the government pisses away each year.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)
      According the Wikipedia entry, NASA spends $5 billion annually on the ISS. I guess I hope to hear more news of discoveries from ISS and scientific advancements once it nears completion but I have not seen much in the news as of late.

      Why do you expect any science/discovery from any facility or instrument that isn't completed?
    • by achurch (201270)

      The European Space Agency estimates it to be around 100 billion Euros which isn't cheap.

      I dunno . . . if the US can spend several hundred billion dollars to kill people in the Middle East, then a mere hundred billion or so for potential scientific advances doesn't seem all that bad.

    • I have no references to back this up, but NASA has stated that as soon as the ISS is completed, they will mothball it and the shuttles. That puts paid to the lie about doing useful science on it.

      NASA's goal since Apollo had been to further NASA's goal; see recursion, specifically tail recursion.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Naelphin (599415)
      It has a simple purpose. To stop unemployed Russian rocket scientists from going to Iran or North Korea for money. Think of it is as a welfare program.
    • by hlavac (914630)
      spending doesn't seem to worry them at all
      Why would it? They are the ones printing the money! A few billion more is nothing, it just costs the paper ;)
    • by mencial (848314)
      The ISS's only purpose is to serve as a destination to the Shuttle.

      The Shuttle's only purpose is to serve as a vehicle to the ISS. We do not let kids ride school busses one third the age of the Shuttles. Both are insanely expensive mistakes. It is perfectly OK to make mistakes on science, but what is not OK is to recalcitrate on them and let them crowd out very useful projects. But then, Very Big Companies With Very Good Connections would have to give up some nice contracts.

      We should first get a nice way to
    • by RyuMaou (162745)
      Hey, if we don't build the space station, where will Dr. Heywood Floyd go on his way to check out the Monolith?
  • Awesome! (Score:3, Funny)

    by nacturation (646836) <nacturationNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday August 20, 2006 @09:40PM (#15946094) Journal
    I didn't know they were hiring! So where do I email my ISS construction résumé?
     
  • by Digitus1337 (671442) <lk_digitus.hotmail@com> on Sunday August 20, 2006 @09:47PM (#15946110) Homepage
    If the station "has not come close to its stated goal of becoming a world-class research outpost," then what is in said world-class?
    • More to the point, which world?
    • by EsonLinji (723693)
      Well, all the stuff that's actually on the world, as opposed to floating way up above it.
    • Out-of-this-world Class.
    • by khallow (566160)
      The original plan as I understand it was that the station would have six people, half which were doing scientific research full time. When they had three people, they had one person work half time on scientific stuff, getting about 20% of that output. During the time they had two people, they had virtually no scientific output (except maybe learning a bit more about why zero gee is not good for you). Due to the many delays, they are producing far less scientific activity than promised.
  • Wow... the headline had me confused. I thought they were talking about this ISS ship [memory-alpha.org] instead.
  • ...That's a space station.
  • I submitted my request for the disco ball years ago!
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:12PM (#15946175) Journal
    In space, no one can hear the rattlesnake.
    • In space, no one can hear the rattlesnake.

      "Enough is enough! I want these motherfuckin' pieces of foam insulation off this motherfuckin' shuttle!"

  • by EchoBinary (912851) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:15PM (#15946182) Homepage
    "..through 2010.." I hope HAL keeps the pod bay door open.
  • "For more than three years, the International Space Station has floated half-built above the Earth"

    Anyone remember "2001, A Space Odyssey?" Heywood Floyd is rocketed from Earth to an orbiting space station, which is ... half-built. http://dayton.hq.nasa.gov/IMAGES/SMALL/GPN-2003-00 093.jpg [nasa.gov]

    • by solitas (916005)
      > Anyone remember "2001, A Space Odyssey?" Heywood Floyd is rocketed from Earth to an orbiting space station, which is ... half-built. (http://dayton.hq.nasa.gov/IMAGES/SMALL/GPN-2003-0 0 093.jpg)

      Maybe so: but compare the size of it and its apparent utility (what the movie showed taking place on it) to this orbital version of'Dogpatch' (http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/136653main_s11 4e7221_high.jpg).

      It seems like all they're ever doing is fixing it and waiting for the next food/oxygen delivery (and s
      • It seems like all they're ever doing is fixing it and waiting for the next food/oxygen delivery (and someone's impending ride home).

        Yeah, you gotta hate that reality thing.

        In the movies, everything is so much easier. We've solved that pesky zero-G thing (no matter how damaged the ship is, the gravity always seems to work), they never have to deal with the mundane tasks of fixing stuff and getting supplies or anything. It's all action, adventure, and no matter how big the problem is, it gets solved in--at

        • by mfrank (649656)
          So I take it you've never watched "2001: A Space Odyssey", the movie they're talking about?
  • Moon base! (Score:4, Funny)

    by BigZaphod (12942) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @10:46PM (#15946272) Homepage
    Screw ISS. Let's bring on the moon base! Space stations have been done before, anyway. There's no need to build a giant floating structure - there's already one there! No need to bring food, either. The moon has all the cheese you can eat! (See: A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Wizarth (785742)
      The thing is, the trip from the surface to Low Earth Orbit (where the ISS is) is quite a different trip then from LEO to the moon.

      AFAIK, the current plan (or one of) is to launch docking stations up to LEO, using existing lifters (such as the Soyez rockets), then launch vehicles from there to moon orbit. A similar floating dock will be put up in moon orbit, and landers will be launched from there to the surface.

      Of course, this all has to be lifted from earth, but I reckon they get better utility using craft
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by heptapod (243146)
      The International Space Station would be a good idea if they put it at L4 or L5. Sadly the Russkies can't make it that high with their equipment so humanity is stuck piddling around in LEO with no chance of going any further in the near future.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fbjon (692006)
        Are you talking about a permanent station at Earth's L4/5?? Wouldn't we run into the same problems as with a Mars trip then? Ditto for the Moon's L4/5. Putting your first manned station with it's ass hanging in the (solar) wind doesn't seem sane to me.
  • For moment I thought they were talking about a new version of IIS! Noooo!
  • Think about it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 20, 2006 @11:03PM (#15946309)
    from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_the_Unite d_States [wikipedia.org]:

    The military expenditure of the United States Department of Defense for fiscal year 2006 is:
    Total Funding $441.6 Billion
    Operations and maintenance $124.3 Bil.
    Military Personnel $108.8 Bil.
    Procurement $79.1 Bil.
    Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation $69.5 Bil.
    Military Construction $12.2 Bil.
    Department of Energy Defense Activities $17.0 Bil.

    ISS doesn't sound very expensive to me. If you want to stop wasting money, stop spending it on lining the pockets of your defense contractors and causing untold grief in the middle east.

    And to those who say 'Why are we doing it all? Why aren't there any other countries contributing $$$, vehicles etc?' Think about this:

    1. Russia put up the first module.
    2. Many countries are constructing ISS modules.
    3. The shuttle was designated to transport said modules to ISS. Modules were designed specifically for transportation to ISS -BY_ the shuttle.
    4. Many countries supply tech/hardware/people etc. .robot
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HansieC (861856)
      I would have argued that the ISS is part of military expenditure, particularly if Saddam actually has built a WMD factory in heaven disguised as a chocolate chip factory.
    • Re:Think about it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theantix (466036) on Monday August 21, 2006 @01:35AM (#15946730) Journal
      That's a logically incoherent answer. If you're caught robbing a store, saying "but I just stole the candy bars, jimbo stole the safe" -- yeah well you still stole the frigging candy bars now didn't you?

      Just because the USA spends a lot on military doesn't mean that the unrelated expenditure of the ISS isn't excessive compared to any other uses of the money. What you are REALLY saying is just that from your political perspective, those military expenditures are ones you don't respect and would prefer to see them cut first. That's a red herring from the issue of how much is the correct amount of money to spend on orbiting space station research.

      If you cut the spending on the ISS, the gov't could spend that very significant amount money in any number of places or simply return it to the citizens via debt repayments or even tax cuts. Not _just_ the agencies you love to hate. If those agencies are overfunded their budgets ought to be cut, but again this has nothing to do with the funding of the ISS -- once those would be cut the question of how much to fund the ISS still remains.

      Fact is, I agree with your implied position that the amount of money the US spends on defense is truly insane, while the amount of money to support the ISS is justified. But the argument you used to support that is total bull.
  • Any bets on whether or not Bigelow Aerospace's [space.com] private space station(s) will be completed before the ISS is finished? Granted, part of the reason Bigelow Aerospace has been able to get so much done so quickly is because they bootstrapped on the TransHab technology abandoned by NASA.
  • by m874t232 (973431) on Monday August 21, 2006 @04:31AM (#15947167)
    Sooner or later, we will have manned space stations. But the ISS and shuttle fleet are a bottomless pit, draining resources from all the great things we should be doing for space exploration. Well, soon all of that is going to be eclipsed by something even worse: premature attempts at manned trips to Mars.
  • Hey Guys,

    I think that many people looking at the ISS are missing the big picture in all of this.

    The Alternate purpose of the ISS is to bring many nations together to do something BIG where we all contribute as a planet and invest, not in the thing itself but invest in the relationships between the various partners, afterall twenty years ago who would have suggested to have the US and the former members of the USSR working together on a project designed to have a leapfrog to the planets and beyond..
  • Expensive space dorm in my opinion: $90 billion for three inhabitants. (It was cut to two after the Columbia accident to lessen re-supply needs, but is back to three. Two are needed for minimal maintenance.)
  • ORIGINAL movie idea starring Samuel L. Jackson.
    "Who the f#$( brought these M~+#^~((ng snakes on the M~+#^~((ng Space Station?"
    My script for sale....
  • According to CosmicBlog [msn.com], the Marex [marexmg.org] webcam aboard the ISS is just getting operational, and has posted two images [marexmg.org]. You can view them at the marexmg site, or receive them directly over a radio or scanner hooked to a computer soundcard.

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