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NASA Priorities Out of Whack? 258

amerinese writes "Just last week, we saw a story on NASA reconsidering the fate of the DAWN mission, another reminder of the space agency's budget woes. Gregg Easterbrook over at Slate.com argues not only is the budget a little short, but NASA's priorities are all wrong. From the article: 'For at least a decade, it's been clear that the space shuttle program is a clunker. Nonetheless, NASA's funding remains heavy on the shuttle and the space station, while usually slighting science. This year's proposed budget for fiscal 2007 takes the cosmic cake.' Is NASA just not thinking creatively enough?"
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NASA Priorities Out of Whack?

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  • I mostly agree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by liliafan ( 454080 ) * on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:14PM (#15027146) Homepage
    Whilst I agree with the vast majority of this article, the planet finder project should be given a much higher budget, study of the earth should have a much higher priority, I think the author leaves the Near Earth Object study a little low on the list, I would think this should be at least number 2 on the list of priorities, first save the Earth from itself the study of moisture is important so this is fine, second save the Earth from a huge chunk of rock eliminating mankind, from there on down yes cool study other object in our solar system, study possible locations for other life out there.

    Additionally I am not sure about the moonbase, until we get a definitive answer on the question of if water exists on the moon I don't see the point in building a base there, really we should be putting a lot more focus on studying the moon, what rare minerals can we find, is there any water anywhere that can be used to fuel spacecraft travelling further than the moon. These questions can all be answered with probes and possibly robotic landers we should be putting more effort into studying in this way before we even consider sending people back let alone building a base there.

    I am interested in the study of the universe, I am curious about development of galaxies and black holes but I am more interested in protecting our species from an extinction level event either from us damaging the planet or from an asteroid wiping us out. It seems like NASA is really just trying to get popular support here. For the unknowing masses building a moonbase would seen really impressive, having mankind walk on the moon again would be a great advertisment for NASA, "hey look guys we still got it". Given the set backs they have experienced in recent years I can kinda understand their reasoning to feel like they need the public behind them again, but I think a report saying we have found a way to save the Earth would be a lot better for their publicity than a report saying we have some guys bringing more rocks back from the moon.
    • Re:I mostly agree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daniel_Staal ( 609844 ) <DStaal@usa.net> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:21PM (#15027211)
      There is one good reason to build a Moonbase: Telescopes on the far side of the Moon are as insulated as you can get from interference from human sources. A good set of telescopes, in all spectrums, on the far side of the Moon should be an eventual goal of NASA. (Not that we need people there to run them...)

      The only other reason for a base on the Moon is turism: It's a place where a person can walk on the surface of another major body and be back within a few months.

      Neither of these should make a Moonbase top priority.
      • Thank goodness the folks at Slate have a better understanding of NASA's purpose than I do: I have a hard time figuring out where "environmental and climate research" is derived fomr "the National Aeuronautics and Space Administration." But then again, I've always been bad at figuring out acronyms.
        • The reason NASA does environmental and climate research is to please a voting constituent that would otherwise be opposed to space research. The green crowd will support the NASA budget if some of the dollars go towards projects they find agreeable. If all the money was spent on deep space probes, there would instead be cries for redirecting the NASA budget elsewhere.

          BTW, the funding for the shuttle was partially justified in the same manner. Some of the claimed benefits of the shuttle program were to ma
      • Say what?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

        Why spend all that time and treasure putting telescopes so far from humans and then spend even more time and treasure putting humans RIGHT NEXT to the damned things?

        If you think having telescopes on the far side is good because it is out of the way of human pollution, then why for heaven's sake do you want to throw human pollution back into the mix as close as that?

        The vibrations from human equipment, outgassing, dust raised ... sure, vibrations and dust are natural events there, but humans add more.

        Good go
        • How many objects you've ever seen are manufactured by autonomous robots?

          How many complicated engineering projects have been built by tele-operated systems at the end of a long time lag?
        • The vibrations from human equipment, outgassing, dust raised ... sure, vibrations and dust are natural events there, but humans add more.

          You need humans to fix these things when they break. You also don't get that much vibration from humans a couple miles away, and you can't raise dust with no air.

          • by NadNad ( 550015 )
            you can't raise dust with no air.

            Say what, indeed! I guess that dust one sees in those newsreels of the moon landings and buggy-rides was there because some Hollywood effects hack didn't do his research. Just because there are no air currents to carry the dust around doesn't mean when you wipe moon dust off of a surface that it doesn't go flying in whatever direction you wiped it...

            • Re:Say what?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

              by fbjon ( 692006 )
              Yes, it flies off and then falls back down to the ground like any other rock or object. No air means there is nothing to keep the dust floating, it just falls down.
              • Re:Say what?!? (Score:3, Interesting)

                by qeveren ( 318805 )
                Lunar dust is -awful- stuff. It doesn't matter that there's no air or wind to waft the stuff around: it's constantly getting lifted from the surface by electrostatic levitation. It sticks to things persistently. And it's wretchedly abrasive. This isn't friendly fuzzy Earth dust we're talking about here, these are billions of tiny shards of sharp glass.

                Moon dust sucks.
          • and you can't raise dust with no air.

            The guys that've been to the moon would disagree; the lunar dust was a huge problem, it would get into everything, including the pressure seals of the suits, where it would cause small leaks. You don't need air to throw dust around... that doesn't make sense.

        • Why spend all that time and treasure putting telescopes so far from humans and then spend even more time and treasure putting humans RIGHT NEXT to the damned things?

          The telescopes would go on the far side of the moon. Why would tourists want to go there where there isn't the famous view of the earth?

          But really, my question is why would they think of a moonbase as something to help us get to Mars? There may be less gravity on the moon, but it's still a gravity well that you have to come back out of. Put

      • No, there are plenty of other reasons for a base on the moon. Space based solar power for one, or helium-3 mining for another. It's also a good mine for anything else that you want to send somewhere. Why build something at the bottom of a hole and waste all that energy to get it out if you can build it--from nuts to soup--in space?

        FYI the moon is not tidally locked and your telescope would only be usable about 1/3 -1/2 of the time, this is the same reason why you'd need 3 beaming stations for lunar based so
        • Re:I mostly agree (Score:4, Informative)

          by terrymr ( 316118 ) <terrymrNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:44PM (#15027425)

          FYI the moon is not tidally locked and your telescope would only be usable about 1/3 -1/2 of the time, this is the same reason why you'd need 3 beaming stations for lunar based solar power.

          huh ? If you mean the same side of the moon isn't always turned toward the earth then i think you're wrong on that point.
          • Sorry, yes your right of course. Brain fart. What I was thinking of was lunar face exposure to the sun as it orbits, so you'd still have the same issues (and in any event you'd need some sort of relay to get your data back to Earth).
            • s/your/you're/; s/it/the moon/;
            • The relay issue is solved. A halo orbit about L2 requires very little propellant to maintain and would provide a clear view of both the telescope and an earthly ground station 24 hours a day.

              We know how to do communications satellites, and we know how to do halo orbits (SOHO is a very good example), there's no new technology there (well electric propulsion would make the propellant last longer, but by the time we build anything, that won't be anywhere near novel.

              But.. while the telescope is directly facing
        • Re:I mostly agree (Score:3, Informative)

          by Stephan Schulz ( 948 )

          FYI the moon is not tidally locked and your telescope would only be usable about 1/3 -1/2 of the time, this is the same reason why you'd need 3 beaming stations for lunar based solar power.

          Of course the moon is tidally locked to the Earth. Earth is not (yet) locked to the moon. But the far side of the moon is named for a reason.

          A telescope still would have to deal with the sun, though. At lunar night, there should be no problem at all (no significant scattering without a real atmosphere). During lunar

      • There is one good reason to build a Moonbase: Telescopes on the far side of the Moon are as insulated as you can get from interference from human sources. A good set of telescopes, in all spectrums, on the far side of the Moon should be an eventual goal of NASA. (Not that we need people there to run them...)

        I mostly disagree with the above statement. Optical telescopes can work just as well on satellites than on the moon -- even better in a zero-g environment so there's no mirror flexure. But an array of la
      • A moonbase Telescope would be real science, so it won't be built.
      • "The only other reason for a base on the Moon is turism"

        And how is a telescope on the far side of the moon going to help determine whether we're speaking to a bot or not?
    • I would tend to agree somewhat. However there is one huge hole in the complaints and arguments. NASA has a lot less control over its priorities that most people think. It gets its priorities largely from Congress. And despite the implications of the article, it is not driven largely by Congress members with shuttle contractors in their districts. Yes, the shuttles are old technology and the ISS has little resemblance to its original intention. But there are international agreements here and huge cancel
      • It seems to me that most people deep down either don't care about manned flight or don't understand the resources necessary to keep the USA at the forefront of manned flight. If you personally believe that robot science is more important than manned flight, just say so, but don't pay lip service to the idea of keeping the USA at the head of the pack in manned flight and then demand that NASA divert resources from creating the next generation of manned flight into robotic exploration. The fact is, manned f
    • I think the moon base and Mars belong on the long term plan. Part of that plan will be maintaining and upgrading our manned space flight capability, extending our unmanned capabilities, and developing new technolgies that increase the cost effectiveness of pursing our space exploration goals. I am satisfied to make steady progress towards these goals, even if, being middle aged, I might not live to see an astronaut planting an American flag on Mars. In terms of the the role that space exploration play
    • I am a hardcore geek. Been one all my life. I love space, science, technology, all that stuff.

      However, I have gotten to the point of being willing to give up a year (or more) of space-exploration if it meant that same $13 billion/yr budget could be pointed at earth, addressing things like global warming, pollution, deforestation, human-rights violations, overpopulation, etc.

      Do we have our eyes so glued to the telescopes looking at places we probably never will get to visit that we don't notice the ground c
  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:17PM (#15027176)
    I'm not surprised, although I think they still manage to be more fiscally responsible and sensible than the rest of the US government as a whole. Barring the money sink that is the space shuttle and international space station (why do we still need this? Oh yeah, politics), they've had really successful projects. Just take the recent Mars rovers for a high-profile example.
  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stlhawkeye ( 868951 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:22PM (#15027215) Homepage Journal
    People see shuttle launches on TV. And most will, at least, not protest the money being spent. But they might get pissy about billions vanishing into a black hole of government science whose results they cannot watch on TV. NASA's prioritization is, at least to some small degree, a slave to public opinion. Yet another reason why privitization of the emerging space industries will be helpful. Then, at least, informed people with money can set priorities as opposed to politicians who just want to get elected.
    • Then, at least, informed people with money can set priorities as opposed to politicians who just want to get elected.

      If you have to resort to corporations, who almost by definition are out to make money short-term, instead of politicians, who are there to build a better society long-term (that's why you voted for'em right? right?) there is something seriously, seriously wrong with your society.

      • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stlhawkeye ( 868951 )
        If you have to resort to corporations, who almost by definition are out to make money short-term, instead of politicians, who are there to build a better society long-term (that's why you voted for'em right? right?) there is something seriously, seriously wrong with your society.

        There's no difference between a politician and a corporation in the United States, except this: politicians pass legislation based on the impulsive instincts of their voters, no matter how malinformed, misguided, bigoted, or wrong

  • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:28PM (#15027274)
    The US congress controls NASAs budget. No, they don't just tell them how much money they're going to get. They have control down to the line items. Shuttle boosters and whatnot are made in certain peoples home states and you'll have a really hard time reallocating that money, even if the folks at NASA want to do so from top to bottom.

    Here's an experiment: Find out what state NASAs big dollar items come from. Then look at who is on the committe that controls the NASA budget and what state they are from. Look for correlations. After that, we can talk about priorities at NASA.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 30, 2006 @02:10PM (#15027706)

        Here is the first part of the experiment you suggested. It turns out that the appropriations committee that handles Nasa's budget has experience some serious changes this year and as such we may see so new "spending" habits with future budgets, who knows. However, the individuals that currently sit on the appropriations committee responsible for NASA as of March 2006 is as follows:

      Link to committee membership source
      http://www.planetary.org/news/2005/0323_US_Congres s_Reorganizes_Committees_to.html [planetary.org]

      Link to Nasa Budget
      http://www.nasa.gov/about/budget/AN_Budget_04_deta il.html [nasa.gov]

      Nasa Appropriation Committees

      Senate Committee on Appropriations
      Full Committee:
      Thad Cochran (R-MS) Chair,
      Robert Byrd (D-WV) Ranking

      Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science:
        Richard Shelby (R-AL) Chair,
        Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Ranking

      House Appropriations Committee
      Full Committee:
      Jerry Lewis (R-CA) Chair,
      David Obey (D-WI) Ranking

      Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies:
      Frank Wolf (R-VA),
      Alan Mollohan (D-WV) Ranking

      Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
      Full Committee:
      Ted Stevens (R-AK) Chair,
        Inouye (D-HI) Ranking
      Subcommittee on Science and Space:
      Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-TX), Chair
      Bill Nelson (D-FL) Ranking

      House Committee on Science
      Full Committee,
      Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) Chair,
      Bart Gordon (D-TN) Ranking

      Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics:
      Ken Calvert (R-CA), Chair -
      Mark Udall (D-CO) Ranking

      Nasa Budget:

      See Link (PDF Warning)
      http://www.nasa.gov/about/budget/AN_Budget_04_deta il.html [nasa.gov]
    • by Groovus ( 537954 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:02PM (#15028350)
      The President names the head of NASA, the head of NASA sets the tone and agenda for the whole organization. Very rarely does the head of NASA not fall into line with the President's space policy (if he has one). Congress approves or disapproves the plan set forth under the direction of the NASA administrator. Thus the focus of the space program is directly traceable to the President's thoughts and goals in this area.

      In addition to sending men to the moon/Mars being a good sound bite for the general public, manned missions tend to be heavily oriented towards a Florida/Texas locale with a subsequent influence on their economies. Considering the obvious interest our current President has in those states, it's one more reason (not the only one), this administration has focused on manned missions.

      We need to find a better balance between manned and unmanned missions for NASA, I think the pendulum swings a bit too far in either direction sometimes, and now is one of them. They really do have a symbiotic relationship, and we have need of both. Apart from that, it's time to put the shuttle down and work on our next manned vehicle more seriously - there's no good reason to keep those things flying anymore, send one to the Smithsonian and call it a day.
  • It's Marketing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:29PM (#15027278)
    If a bunch of engineers and hard scientists got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget most effectively, we'd see only automated missions. The data gathered would be wonderful, it would be efficient, and their budget would be cut in half the next year by Congress.

    Manned exploration is the sizzle that sells the steak. You have to keep a manned program going to keep the short-attention-spanned taxpaying pinheads interested in space. If space is just drones and bots flying off to take soil samples and collect space dust, the money will get diverted to a subsidy to study how pet monkeys could be used to deliver nuclear warheads to a target or some other stupid Pentagon project.
    • Re:It's Marketing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by roystgnr ( 4015 )
      If a bunch of engineers and hard scientists got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget most effectively, we'd see only automated missions.

      Speak for the hard scientists. If a bunch of engineers got together and decided how to spend NASA's budget next year, we'd see nothing but launch vehicle R&D. Trying to seriously explore the solar system with current vehicles is like trying to explore another continent via catapult.

      What's more, we'd see a dozen different companies competing to create those
    • While I'd like to see manned efforts in space continue, the way it's currently happening is at the expense of space science.

      I myself believe that the Hubble Space Telescope and similar missions have quite a bit of sizzle, too.
  • by epaulson ( 7983 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:34PM (#15027329) Homepage
    One of the arguments given for completing the ISS is that other nations have contributed to it, and it would not be in good faith for the US to stop working on it.

    How much for us to just buy them out? I suspect much less than the cost of completeing it.
  • by CXI ( 46706 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:34PM (#15027331) Homepage
    While there are points to be made about how the shuttle is a bad choice for space flight and science isn't getting the funding that's needed, this author clearly doesn't understand all the benefits of manned space flight. I mean seriously, saying that the moon is only interesting to geology postdocs? That all people do in space is to take each other's blood pressure? He clearly lacks ANY knowledge of the science and innovations we gain by reaching new frontiers. One of his references is to a radical writer's article that thinks Apollo missions stopped off it orbit before going on to the moon and fails to understand the concepts of where to get fuel, where to stage equipment and where to practice somewhere relatively close by. Now, not only are blogs spewing crap but "news" sites are too.
    • While I'm a space junkie (specifically Apollo) as much as the next /.'er, Apollo was primarily a political win with scientific and technological benefits.

      That said, yes, the benefits of *getting there* were worth it, but I don't know of any value to the rocks brought back other than for, as the article puts it, geology postdocs.

      I'm sure there would be more advances in science and technology in a moonbase and later a launchpad to Mars. The space fanboi in me says "sign me up!", but the realist (who I try to
      • maybe we really should be trying to get our local house in order before opening branch offices

        Our difficulties trying to get our local house in order are one of the reasons we need to look into opening branch offices. Hundreds of thousands of years of progress later, the life expectancy near Olduvai Gorge [cia.gov] is still 45 years.

        You are right that the benefits of Apollo involved politics, science, and technology (in rapidly descending order) and not colonization. That doesn't mean we need to give up on manned s
    • Amen. People like this author bug me, so I'm going to rant for a bit.

      For at least a decade, it's been clear that the space shuttle program is a clunker. Nonetheless, NASA's funding remains heavy on the shuttle and the space station, while usually slighting science.

      Ok, so you missed out on the "Shuttle to Retire by 2010" headline by about 2 years. Also The fact that they are working under a mandate to develop a new crew vehicle and a new versatile heavy launch vehicle means nothing to the author. I'll ig

  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChuckDivine ( 221595 ) * <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:34PM (#15027335) Homepage

    One can easily argue our national priorities are considerably out of whack. Easterbrook argues there are better places to spend the money than the projects which have been proposed. He might be right. But it's easy to argue that the proposed projects do have value.

    A moon base might not help Mars exploration. But a moon base can begin the process of using lunar resources to support both exploration and human needs on earth. There's more to space than scientific exploration.

    The James Webb Space Telescope might focus on the distant universe and questions of esoteric value. Planet finding, on the other hand, will have little real impact on humanity as well, at least in the near future. Both projects do have worth, however.

    Of greater interest to me is comparing NASA funding to other things our society does. Back in October the Washington Post proposed canceling Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, and cited the need for health care for poor children as a worthier alternative. What few people recognize is that health care spending in the U.S. is 100 times the NASA budget. Health care spending is also increasing annually at multiples of the NASA budget. If poor children aren't getting decent health care, that's the fault of the health care industry, not NASA.

    NASA, while far from perfect, does appear to be struggling to improve and is making some progress towards that end. It would be nice if other American activities -- for example education -- showed the same kind of work at improvement.

    • Hmm, I'm pretty sure American education is struggling to improve as well. Struggling to improve and improving are two different things, and both edu and NASA are certainly doing the former.
  • Unfortunately what I mean by popular backing is influencial Senators and Congress men protecting jobs and investment in several sites all over the country. Lean mean, robotic science projects don't generate this kind of big permenent infrastructure which drives it's own lobby in Washington.
  • Gregg Easterbrook (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:36PM (#15027351) Journal
    Also writes a weekly column [nfl.com] on NFL football during the season.
  • That's a recent, but not the most egregious case of near-sighted budget failures within NASA. All the science programs are being gutted, despite them having been the most successful and cost effective programs in the current space sector. Dawn stood out because it would have returned a mere $30 million to the coffers, the bulk of the $370 million budgeted for the mission having already been spent. Obviously you have to get your $30 millions here and there if you want to save a few billion to increase spendi
  • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @02:03PM (#15027634) Homepage Journal
    Easterbook just doesn't get it. Earth observation is nice, but it can be done with existing technology - commercial space satellites, high atmosphere observation balloons and planes. It doesn't require the scientific and organizational might that NASA embodies. The moon base does have uses. Firstly, there is the study of human phisiology in space. Second, there is the construction of telescopes and sensors of various types to give us a much better understanding of space. Third, is the mining of HE3 (heavy helium) for propulsion purposes. Fourth, is a platform for other space operations. It is going to be expensive. No doubt.

    I agree that the space shuttle is a problem. But I don't understand why he brings up the two disasters seen on TV. It is as though he thinks that the real disaster was the PR problems which resulted. If that is the case, he is only making it worse. What we need is a redesigned shuttle. The Shuttle is out of date. There are new technologies that could be harnessed to make it better. In addition, there is the very real problem that the shuttles wear out. They may be reusable, but that doesn't mean they are going to last forever.

    I want to see more funding on long term programs, the far-out stuff like NERVA, anti-gravity, and the like. These are the kind of programs that NASA was chartered for.
    • I can't help but notice how much NASA has been in the news lately with their scientists supposedly being muzzled for speaking out about global warming. NASA started as an engineering agency, but has been having public image problems (and politicians micromanaging) ever since it made science a priority at the end of Apollo.

      Why not have NASA focus again on engineering (i.e. putting people in space is primarily an engineering task) that pushes the edge of what is possible (e.g. manned lunar/Mars/asteroid rond

  • The budget cuts wouldn't be so easy if Joe Sixpack understood what NASA was doing. If NASA could come out and show more end products that produced a better "wow" factor Joe would back them more.

    Most people don't see the value in collecting comet dust. But if you show them something that NASA R&D is doing for them today they might buy into it more.

    Government budgeting is a popularity contest. Give the people something they can get behind and support, not technobabble they don't care to understand.

  • NASA Mission Statement

    • To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.
    • To advance human exploration, use, and development of space.
    • To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.

    http://naccenter.arc.nasa.gov/NASAMission.html [nasa.gov]
    • NASA websites are supposed to have a 'last modified' date -- that one didn't. If you check the link, it goes to planning documents from 2002.

      From the link they cite as a source, trim off the url down to 'codez' ... it'll then redirect you to the 'NASA Portal' w/ FY2007 Budget & Planning Documents [nasa.gov], which includes a PDF with the 2006 Strategic Plan [nasa.gov].

      (I don't know what they've done to the PDF, but you can't copy/paste from it cleanly ... but searching on the text in it lead me to NASA Strategic Goals [nasa.gov], whi
      • Nice find! Here are the goals of the 2006 NASA strategic Plan. I think it is very interesting only one has anything to do with our own planetary system. The overall theme appears to be space dominance and aerospace technology.

        Strategic Goal 1: Fly the Shuttle as safely as possible until its retirement not later than 2010

        Strategic Goal 2: Complete the International Space Station in a manner consistent with NASA's International Partner commitments and needs of human exploration.

        Strategic Goal 3: Develop a
  • Preventing comet strikes would give taxpayers a return on their money...
    Eh? It's the precise opposite. Creating a public fear of impacting comets or asteroids sounds like a classic example of a cash cow that would allow NASA to leech money from taxpayers.
    • There would be a varity of TV shows, News feeds, books all formed around this. All the people that do that pay taxes.

      It may create as serious of funded observatories, which means more Jobs with all the support industries. Again, more tax dollars brought in.

      Not to mention the chance of not becoming extinct.

      FInally, the revinue generated by the spin off from NASA have paid back 13 tax dollars for every dollar NASAhas spent.
  • Unmanned space probes are cool, no doubt, but manned space flight is where it is at. We have to learn how to live off planet. There is a whole universe that, absent any proof of intelligent life, is ours for the taking, and using NASA to create some orbital mirror of satellites with which we can watch ourselves flex is boring. I don't fund NASA so some scientist who can't get a job making a cool product can do a thesis, I do it so that I can be inspired, and yes, manned space flight is inspiring.

    I like the Space Shuttle. Yes, we can rail on about how it didn't meet its goals, how it was overhyped, but stop for a moment and look at what it actually is and does? It's practically a space station in its own right, it is so big. It launches like a rocket, lands like a plane, can bring back stuff in a fairly roomy cargo bay and has a cool robot arm. It's turned the notion of in-space assembly from the stuff of science fiction into ho hum routine. Before the space shuttle, we didn't even know if we could build a human space habitat. Sure, we could launch one, but build one? And we've done it.

    I wish that we could build a newer shuttle, and, I wish we could send it to the Moon. I understand that CEV is better built for that. But, when they launch that CEV, look around inside, and compare it to the shuttle. The new CEV will have less room than the old shuttle.

  • by el johnno ( 964271 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @02:59PM (#15028298)

    The article's author seems to be arguing that NASA's main priorities should focus on areas of earth science. While I agree that earth science is important, I have to wonder how much NASA should even care about that stuff -- they are an aeronautics and space administration after all.

    If I was head of another government department with a strong mandate for earth sciences (NOAA [noaa.gov]), I'd only want NASA's help to get some of my earth-pointing satalites up there and keep them flying -- and to stay out of the way beyond that.

  • by cmholm ( 69081 ) <cmholm&mauiholm,org> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:10PM (#15028439) Homepage Journal
    Combine NASA's budget with it's marching orders from the Administration and Congress, and you've got a situation that in-house creativity ain't gonna solve.

    Between the ISS and Shuttle ops, 40% of the budget goes to Lock-Mart and Boeing just to keep the ISS' lights on. Then 25% for technologies to support the Moon/Mars plan.

    The remaining 35% ($5.3 bil) for space science can only go so far. Got existing missions to support/complete. Plus, this Administration ain't too hot on Earth science missions. The data returned tends to include a lot of climatology data they don't want to hear about, so it's cheaper to not collect the data in the first place, rather than twist researchers' arms after the fact.

  • by Chemkook ( 915402 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:11PM (#15028449)
    Anyone who is in the "know", knows what NASA's primary object is.

    If not, view this video.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-908036967 6973948865 [google.com]
  • by soldeed ( 765559 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:14PM (#15028487)
    We are in a race against time against catastrophe. This planet is a death trap that history (as attested in the fossil record) has shown time and again in mass extinctions, supervolcanoes, tsunamis, asteroid impacts, ect. The only way we are going to survive long term is to establish manned colonies and spread out in the universe, and we are behind schedule! Our manned space program is not a frivolous waste of time and rescources. What better science can be done by a rover that cannot be done better by a trained geologist on site? No rover or probe sent to the moon ever did a better job than the apollo astronauts, whose scientific accomplishments are often glossed over or ignored. Plans are afoot to construct a huge array of antennas on the lunar farside making the most awesome radio telescope ever concieved, but It WILL NOT get built without MANNED spaceflight! It is hyperbol to suggest that science funding is being permanently cut. The manned program needs more rescources NOW to re-establish capability to leave earth orbit (that we foolishly discarded 35 years ago after spending billions to develop it! At the same time They must finish the space station to meet international obligations and only the shuttle can do the job. This is only a temporary situation. The Shuttle WILL be retired in 2010, and after the CEV and associated boosters are developed their operating costs will be far lower than the shuttle. More of NASA's budget will then be available for a more robust science program. And as I have said, you will not be able to beat the science that can be done by astronauts, on site. But the most important thing is, in the wake of NASA's scientific explorations establishing infrastructure, private concerns for mining, construction, tourism, what have you, will follow, and the first space colonies will get started.
  • On JWST and TPF (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trapezium Artist ( 919330 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:58PM (#15028959)
    As someone who is closely involved in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), I find the way that Easterbrook chooses to pitch it against Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) quite peculiar. He thinks that looking for the first galaxies that formed in the Universe with JWST is esoteric, which in some senses it may well be, but searching for planets around other stars with TPF is, for all practical purposes, equally so. Both goals are, nevertheless, very exciting and inspiring.

    In fact, JWST is a general purpose observatory in much the same way Hubble is, and will enable a very broad base of astronomy, from cosmology at high redshift in the early Universe, all the way back to the formation of planetary systems in our own Galaxy, and to the study of objects in the Kuiper Belt of our own solar system. Again, practically speaking, these are all esoteric and yet you only have to look at the public's fascination with the enormous number of astonishing discoveries that Hubble and other astronomical telescopes have made to realise that such things play a vital role in our philosophical understanding of our part in this vast Universe.

    With regards the idea that JWST is somehow NASA's spolied child, keep in mind that the US astronomy community identified it as its number one priority in the most recent Decadal Review of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the European and Canadian communities: NASA is following through on this outside recommendation. Of course, there are grave problems in the NASA space science budget and no-one likes to see missions cut or delayed, and yes, there have been cost overruns on JWST (albeit largely due to non-technical issues outside the JWST project's control), but it's simply wrong to believe that NASA has somehow made its difficult decisions in a vacuum.

    Most astonishing though is Easterbrook's naive assertion about gravy train aerospace contractors building the JWST: just who, exactly, does he think is going to build TPF? A couple of University of Podunk astronomers and a dog? TPF is, if anything, even more technologically challenging than JWST and can only be built by many of the very same aerospace contractors: it's bonkers to think otherwise.

    Finally, on naming the former Next Generation Space Telescope after James Webb, while, I remember very clearly the moment that was announced by NASA and yes, it was a bit of a shock. All the same, it's important to remember that Webb put in place much of NASA's space science program at the same time as running Apollo, so his credentials are respectable at the very least. In any case, get over it: let's get the JWST done and launched, and answer some of those fascinating esoteric questions.
  • Dear lord (Score:2, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 )
    Lets not honor are agreements with other antions.

    We are obligated to get certian thing for the space station up there, and right not the shuttle is all we got to do it.

    Yes, NASA need a bigger budget.
    Yes, the space shuttle needs replacing. Persoanlly, I think the 'space plane' way of getting up and down is the way to do it. That's another topic.

    But we have commitments.

The wages of sin are unreported.