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Obama to Abandon Human Space Flight?


Pangloss
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No talk at all about a manned vehicle. The only dim light on the horizon is the possibility of funding for commercial enterprises, the hope being that some private company could eventually build something that could reach the ISS.

 

Well according to this article, the light may not be as "dim" as you think...

 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100131/ap_on_sc/us_sci_space_taxis

 

It suggest the administration is trying to outsource spaceflight to the private sector, encouraging competition in the design of spacecraft and providing a similar environment as the X-Prize did, except the winner of this contest gets a stream of ongoing revenue from the government.

 

I think this is a great idea. NASA doesn't exactly have the greatest track record designing a shuttle replacement.

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It suggest the administration is trying to outsource spaceflight to the private sector, encouraging competition in the design of spacecraft and providing a similar environment as the X-Prize did, except the winner of this contest gets a stream of ongoing revenue from the government.

 

I think this is a great idea. NASA doesn't exactly have the greatest track record designing a shuttle replacement.

Yep. I suspect that JSC's CCDEV project, Commercial Crew Development, is going to see a lot more development in the future. http://procurement.jsc.nasa.gov/ccdev/

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We can easily afford more NASA programs and have zero reason whatsoever to cut a single one. We could run a dozen simultaneous, pointlessly-redundant manned space programs, and quadruple the budget of every other NASA project, and STILL we should not even be batting an eye at the cost.

Well, but in reality science only gets so much money. We could get more NIH programs, but we don't. In reality the chances of getting extramural funding are often between 1-10%. The question is simply what to prioritize. If the big money goes into manned flight then simply other areas will be cut. Simply as that. And as Swansont already pointed out, other areas of research yielded better bang for the buck.

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Why do we need manned flight? Humans are an impediment. Too fragile.

 

Because for the survival of the human race we need to not have all our eggs in one basket. The only way to ensure our survival is to have colonies elsewhere and the only way to establish those is manned flight.

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The question is simply what to prioritize. If the big money goes into manned flight then simply other areas will be cut. Simply as that.

It is not "as simple as that." The scientists assumption is that if funding were cut from human space flight (not manned flight, BTW; stop being sexist :D), those funds would transfer to NASA's science budget. That assumption does not follow. Politicians in particular think otherwise. Some examples:

  • When the US ended the Apollo program, the monies spent on sending men to the Moon were not transferred to NASA's science budget. NASA's budget just shrank all around, including its science budget.
  • When Great Britain banned government funding of human space flight activities, the monies spent on those efforts were not transferred to the BNSC's science budget. Those monies were used on other non-related efforts. The BNSC's science budget shrank.
  • When the US cancelled the Superconducting Super Collider project, the monies allocated to that project were not transferred to collider projects.

 

Politics ain't rocket science. Politics isn't science, period. That's why scientists make lousy politicians. Politicians think differently. In a politician's eye, the cancellation of a big project means more money becomes available for their pet projects, even if their pet project has nothing to do with the cancelled project.

 

And as Swansont already pointed out, other areas of research yielded better bang for the buck.

That is assuming NASA is judged on its scientific output. If that were truly the case, NASA would be a tiny little program that occasionally launches Earth observing satellites (only). Those robotic interplanetary missions are cheap only in comparison to human missions. They are ridiculously expensive when compared to other science programs. How much research could the NIH or NSF do with $400 million (the cost of delaying the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory by two years)? With $2.3 billion (the total cost of the Mars Science Laboratory)?

 

 

Besides, this is a bit moot. Obama will not cancel NASA's human space flight program.

 

My predictions for the proposed FY2011 NASA budget:

  • A proposed cancellation of Ares I and Ares V. This project is floundering from lack of funding (it was never adequately funded by the Bush administration) and from internal turmoil (too many rocket scientists do not know how to think like a politician).
  • Congress critters will fight the above.
  • Increased spending for the Commercial Crew Development project. Whether this gambit will work is a big question. If it does work, it will mean cheaper access to space. Failure means anything from a huge waste of money to lost lives.
  • A slight increase in NASA's Earth observation budget.
  • Not much of a change in NASA's planetary science budget. JPL is rather poor at managing money. MSL is grotesquely over-budget, for example, and that supposed 90-day rover mission has made it rather clear how JPL operates (i.e., intentionally underestimate mission duration to make it appear cheaper). Infighting between JPL, Goddard, and Ames does not help.
  • Possibly, a humaniform robot on the Moon in 1000 days.

Edited by D H
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It is not "as simple as that." The scientists assumption is that if funding were cut from human space flight (not manned flight, BTW; stop being sexist :D), those funds would transfer to NASA's science budget. That assumption does not follow.

 

But Obama has proposed an increase in NASA's budget, so this objection is moot.

 

When Bush proposed the moon/Mars initiative, he didn't fund it adequately, which led to cancellation of projects as the initiative cannibalized existing funding. A change or reversal of this policy at least allows for the possibility of more missions.

 

And I think that the comparisons to NIH and NSF aren't apt. NASA isn't being judged against those agencies, it's being judged in terms of its mission. Robotic exploration is far cheaper than manned exploration, and that's the paradigm that's relevant.

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When Bush proposed the moon/Mars initiative, he didn't fund it adequately, which led to cancellation of projects as the initiative cannibalized existing funding.

Agreed, particularly with respect to FY 2009. Bush gave NASA an underfunded mandate. NASA did what they could to follow the mandate, and that included cutting the planetary budget for FY 2009. The FY 2010 planetary budget was restored to its prior level, plus some.

 

A change or reversal of this policy at least allows for the possibility of more missions.

That is naive. A change in that policy frees up monies for general use. It might stay within NASA, it might not. It might not even stay within budget function 250 (science and technology).

 

And I think that the comparisons to NIH and NSF aren't apt. NASA isn't being judged against those agencies, it's being judged in terms of its mission.

Wrong, particularly NSF. NASA and NSF are the purview of the same committees in both branches of Congress and both fall within the same budget function. The budgeting process nominally starts with giving various government agencies the same budget they had the previous fiscal year, plus inflation. Major changes in the policy throw those nominal starting points for a loop. The monies might stay within the same budget function for smallish changes (small in terms of the overall federal budget). Big enough changes entails modifications to the entire federal budget.

 

Suppose for the sake of argument that the President and Congress decided to cancel human space flight altogether. There is no guarantee that those funds would transfer from NASA's human space flight program to its other budgets. I would argue that the opposite would occur: NASA's planetary budget in particular would shrink rather than expand.

 

Robotic exploration is far cheaper than manned exploration, and that's the paradigm that's relevant.

I disagree that that is the relevant paradigm. I switched my career from working on unmanned space flight to human space flight precisely because I saw more value in our human space flight endeavors.

 

I have given multiple examples of indicating that politicians do not follow your paradigm. You have yet to discuss those.

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Officials said NASA was expected to see some "modest" increase in its current $18.7 billion annual budget — possibly $200 million to $300 million more

 

That's the only context under which I am speaking.

 

 

Can politicians cut the budget in the future? Sure, the can always cut the budget. I'm not talking about that, though, so it shouldn't be surprising that I haven't address those points.

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Well according to this article, the light may not be as "dim" as you think...

 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100131/ap_on_sc/us_sci_space_taxis

 

It suggest the administration is trying to outsource spaceflight to the private sector, encouraging competition in the design of spacecraft and providing a similar environment as the X-Prize did, except the winner of this contest gets a stream of ongoing revenue from the government.

 

I think this is a great idea. NASA doesn't exactly have the greatest track record designing a shuttle replacement.

 

Private development is years (probably decades) off and does not logically preclude an government-run manned presence in space.

 

And spending on commercial development is nothing new, it just follows the Bush administration's lead. But in this new NASA-less context the amount is trivial -- if they were serious about having commercial enterprise build a serious manned space flight program then they would give it a serious budget.

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I like the idea of working in an international effort. The US is heading for default, so it makes no sense to think about extensive manned missions. Get a colony on Mars or the Moon and then go bankrupt, that would suck for them.

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My predictions for the proposed FY2011 NASA budget:

The numbers came out. See http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/420990main_FY_201_%20Budget_Overview_1_Feb_2010.pdf (pdf).

 

So how did I do?

A proposed cancellation of Ares I and Ares V.

That was a no-brainer. What did surprise me a bit is that the proposed budget also eliminates Orion and Altair.

 

Congress critters will fight the above.

Another no-brainer.

 

Increased spending for the Commercial Crew Development project. Whether this gambit will work is a big question. If it does work, it will mean cheaper access to space. Failure means anything from a huge waste of money to lost lives.

This budget represents a *huge* move toward commercialization, starting with spending $50 million today.

 

A slight increase in NASA's Earth observation budget.

A sizable increase in the Earth science budget, 26.8% ($380 million)

 

Not much of a change in NASA's planetary science budget.

11% increase in the planetary budget, 2.5% decrease in astrophysics (although it rebounds in out-years). Most of the increase in the planetary budget will go toward cost overruns in the Mars Science Lab and to restart the DOE plutonium program. (Without plutonium there are no missions to the outer planets.)

 

Possibly, a humaniform robot on the Moon in 1000 days.

Not enough detail yet to say whether this item becomes real. (Google "Project M" for more on this project.)

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Private development is years (probably decades) off

 

The X-Prize was created in 1996 and claimed in 2004. That's 8 years to accomplish a tangible goal for a fixed size prize.

 

and does not logically preclude an government-run manned presence in space.

 

But you also said...

 

America's human presence in space is slated to conclude in 2020.

 

So it's not as if the commercial program couldn't ramp up in time...

 

But in this new NASA-less context the amount is trivial -- if they were serious about having commercial enterprise build a serious manned space flight program then they would give it a serious budget.

 

What? The Ansari X Prize was only $10,000,000, and look at what it accomplished as far as motivating the private spaceflight industry. The amount that's "trivial" in a NASA-less context:

 

This budget represents a *huge* move toward commercialization, starting with spending $50 million today

 

I think that's certainly enough to kickstart the industry. And apparently Obama intends to pump "billions" into the project over the next decade.

 

And with that much money at stake, I can certainly imagine the likes of Boeing and Lockheed getting involved.

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And with that much money at stake, I can certainly imagine the likes of Boeing and Lockheed getting involved.

 

IMO, commercial spaceflight will be dictated by the money (unless Bill Gates wants to underwrite it of course, and I'm not sure even he has enough money to do so). And the money to be made would be from satelite launches and space tourism. A satelite launcher does not need to be sufficiently large to launch what is required to put a human into orbit (especially considering we have to return a human safely). And its probably more cost effective to launch a second satelite to address the occasional unplanned failures than develop and maintain a manned program in the hopes the satelite can be repaired.

 

As far as tourism, that can be done with a sub-orbital craft (as IIRC was done to win the X-prize). This technology will fall far short of what will put people into orbit. Its entirely a different ballgame to re-entry from a real orbit than it is from the much slower sub-orbit. And the profit from taking tourists into a real orbit is probably no different than a sub-orbit assuming a clever marketing strategy. As such, I'm skeptical that tourists will actually get into a real orbit commercially.

 

Therefore I don't think human spaceflight will come from the commercial sector, despite the wishful thinking. I just can't see any money to be made from doing so.

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The X-Prize was created in 1996 and claimed in 2004. That's 8 years to accomplish a tangible goal for a fixed size prize.

 

So it's not as if the commercial program couldn't ramp up in time...

 

"Ramp up?" That's all, eh? Just a simple ramp-up and we're good to go, right?

 

It took eight years to basically double the speed of civilian flight to Mach 3. Orbital velocity is about Mach 25. And wing-twisting tricks won't help you deal with re-entry at that velocity, so nothing has been accomplished regarding on that front by SpaceShip 1 at all (though the term "re-entry" was bandied about as if it actually meant something).

 

For civilian efforts to reach the International Space Station (for example), they'll need to double that speed three more times (Mach 3 to Mach 6, to Mach 12, to Mach 24). I guess we can assume for the sake argument that they'll deal with the re-entry velocity problem concurrently.

 

So that's, what, another 24 years?

 

 

What? The Ansari X Prize was only $10,000,000, and look at what it accomplished as far as motivating the private spaceflight industry. The amount that's "trivial" in a NASA-less context:

 

I think that's certainly enough to kickstart the industry. And apparently Obama intends to pump "billions" into the project over the next decade.

 

And with that much money at stake, I can certainly imagine the likes of Boeing and Lockheed getting involved.

 

Well we'll see. I'm not convinced that the bottleneck was lack of funds or corporate interest. The goal was cost-efficient space travel, and if that remains the goal of civilian effort then the bottleneck will continue to be the present level of scientific advancement on these frontiers.

 

After all, if inefficient space travel is the goal, then we already have a program that does that. Private industry won't be interested in that. They have to make it pay -- that's the whole point.

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Ok Pangloss, clearly you're skeptical.

 

This is quite a character reversal, are you in favor of the government doing this over private industry?

 

Amazing! Kind of like you favoring gun control like a patchouli-scented hippie

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Ok Pangloss, clearly you're skeptical.

 

This is quite a character reversal, are you in favor of the government doing this over private industry?

 

Amazing! Kind of like you favoring gun control like a patchouli-scented hippie

 

Rofl!! :D

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I think politicians have completely lost sight of the purpose of space travel. We can invest hundreds of millions of $/€ to put a device into orbit that will tell us very interesting information about dark matter, or extra-solar planets, or the makeup of the sun or a hundred other things that only our top scientists will understand anyway. This is good science, but shockingly bad value for money. As long as this is what our space programs amount to, I say scrap the lot and buy food for sub-saharran africa instead.

 

The only way the extreme cost of space exploration can be justified IMAO is if it allows mankind to colonise the universe. Almost all the problems on planet earth stem from lack of resources - there are just too many of us for one planet. We need to go!

 

An unmanned space program is like alcohol-free beer.

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It took eight years to basically double the speed of civilian flight to Mach 3. Orbital velocity is about Mach 25.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_velocity#Misconception

 

Planetary or lunar escape velocity is sometimes misunderstood to be the speed a powered vehicle (such as a rocket) must reach to leave orbit; however, this is not the case, as the quoted number is typically the barycentric escape velocity, and vehicles need never achieve that speed. This barycentric escape velocity is the speed required for an object to leave the planet if the object is simply projected from the surface of the planet and then left without any more kinetic energy input: in practice the vehicle's propulsion system will continue to provide energy after it has left the surface.

 

SpaceShipOne comes to mind here... they found a slower, cheaper way to get into space than simply launching a ballistic missile from a pad on the ground. I think the opportunity certainly exists to do the same thing to enter LEO and reach it at speeds far less than Mach 25.

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Back to the original subject- The Moon. Why send humans back? Been there, done that. Do we want to double check that Junior and Moon Maid were not hiding from us the last time? Just ask Diet Smith. A far too costly & dangerous gambit for a meager payout. Hell, we remain blissfully ignorant of what lies beneath > 90% of the oceans! Who fabricated and fitted those blinders upon our heads? It's time to snap out of it, folks! Perhaps fund a modest institute for OCLD (Obsessive-Compulsive Lunar Disorder) research?

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SpaceShipOne comes to mind here... they found a slower, cheaper way to get into space than simply launching a ballistic missile from a pad on the ground. I think the opportunity certainly exists to do the same thing to enter LEO and reach it at speeds far less than Mach 25.

SpaceShipOne was a suborbital vehicle. It could not orbit, period. It spent a few minutes "in space" (above 100 km altitude). SpaceShipTwo will similarly be a sub-orbital vehicle. It will take very brief ventures into space. If it succeeds, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites plan to build SpaceShipThree, which will be an orbital vehicle -- and it will go at Mach 25.

 

If you want to enter LEO you need to be going Mach 25, period. That is orbital speed.

Edited by D H
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On the other hand, achieving a certain speed in space is much, much easier than achieving it in atmosphere, so Pangloss's projection is also misleading.

 

Not at all. First off, most of the velocity increase occurs while the vehicle is still in the atmosphere. Second, the problem of slowing down (safely) is in a very real sense much more difficult than is the initial problem of getting up to orbital speed. SpaceShipOne didn't really address either problem.

 

The ideal rocket equation is a starting point for describing how to achieving some desired change in velocity. A puny little engine is all that is needed to get to Mach 3. A much larger vehicle with larger engines and a lot more fuel is needed to get to Mach 25. A simple way to look at the problem is that a vehicle going Mach 25 has 70 times as much kinetic energy as a vehicle going Mach 3. However, the launch problem is much harder than that. That larger vehicle needs to get itself and all that extra fuel up to speed as well. Launching a vehicle into orbit is more than a couple orders of magnitude harder than the leisurely Mach 3 flights taken by SpaceShipOne.

 

Now comes the even harder part: Getting back down to ground (safely). The atmospheric heating that occurs during launch is much smaller than occurs during entry. SpaceShipOne did not even begin to address the re-entry problem. SpaceX and the to-be-cancelled Orion vehicle use non-lifting bodies to address the problem. SpaceShipThree and SpaceDev's Dream Chaser are lifting bodies. Lifting bodies that go from Mach 25 to subsonic before stalling are a tough problem. That is a *huge* dynamic range.

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