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Book Review: Moon-Mars Commission Report 254

code_rage writes "A preview of the Aldridge Commission Report was discussed recently on Slashdot. Now that the full report has been released, a more in-depth presentation might be appropriate." code_rage has written a lengthy summary of the report below. Other readers sent in the Executive Summary and several news stories.
A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover
author President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy
pages 64
publisher US Government Printing Office,
rating The glass is half {empty,full} depending on your outlook
reviewer code_rage
ISBN 0160730759
summary Presidential Commission proposes major changes to NASA

The single most prolific spinoff attributable to NASA is not Teflon, Tang, or Velcro. No, it's high-level reports on how to fix NASA. The latest report, written under the authority of a 9-member commission named by President Bush, proposes how to implement NASA's latest orders: complete the Space Station and retire the Shuttle by the end of the decade, return humans to the Moon by 2020, and eventually send humans to Mars.

The Background
The President's proposal, while lacking details, has been greeted with enthusiasm by many aerospace workers, for whom the application of the term "beleaguered" is more than appropriate. What other major industry has lost half its workforce in the last 15 years? (Oh yeah, the airline, IT and telecom industries, who managed about the same attrition rate in only 2 years: evidence of efficiency, or something.) Space scientists have awaited the implementation report with some trepidation: their Hubble servicing mission has already been traded for the uncertain prospect of a robotic mission, and some NASA science missions have already been pushed back by the budget impact of the Moon-Mars mission.

Meanwhile, public opinion has not quite caught fire. Opinion polls taken in January show at best indifference and at worst hostility to the new plan. Greg Klerkx wrote "Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the explosion of Columbia, other than the human tragedy, was that it changed very few opinions about NASA or NASA's human spaceflight activities. Both should continue, the polls unanimously concluded, but with no more or less vigor than at present." [p. 12, Klerkx 2004]

The Commission, led by longtime government official E.C. Aldridge, also includes four space scientists, a retired Air Force General, a former Congressman, a business and government executive, and the well-known CEO of a high tech firm. Notably, no astronauts or former NASA executives were on the panel.

Transmittal Letter
Executive Summary
Section I - Introduction: The Space Exploration Vision
Section II - Organizing the US Government for Success
Section III - Building a Robust Space Industry
Section IV - Exploration and Science Agenda
Section V - Inspiring Current and Future Generations
Section VI - Concluding Comments

Historical Context
After any disaster or major program failure, commissions are empaneled and they tend to produce two sorts of reports. The first type of report is a failure analysis, including specific prescriptions for recovery. The second is a more broad examination of strategies and goals. This report falls into the second category. While the Aldridge Commission report includes some recommendations that duplicate some previous ones, the new report differs in some important ways from those.

In 1986, the Paine Commission examined how NASA should respond to the Challenger failure. The commission's report in places reads like a primer on space technologies, and proposes specific goals similar to those of the Bush plan: completion of the Space Station, return to the Moon, and a manned mission to Mars. The Paine Commission seems to have felt that the basic problem facing NASA was a lack of a long-term vision and political commitment.

In 1990, the Augustine Commission studied how NASA should respond to a variety of troubling problems on the Shuttle and other programs. This study endorsed space science strongly, while also supporting Space Station. The report focused strongly on workforce issues like morale, attrition and aging. It also noted weaknesses in NASA's executive leadership practices. The report made some specific reform proposals, some of which reappear in the Aldridge report.

The Report
The Aldridge Commission report differs from previous examinations in important ways. First, it has a very limited scope. The Commission did not perform an open-ended study of what NASA ought to do, or how much emphasis to place on astronomy vs planetary science vs human spaceflight. They only studied how to accomplish President Bush's new goals for the space program. Paradoxically, their limited brief resulted in a far more profound proposal to reorganize NASA than previous reports. The range and depth of reforms proposed by this report greatly exceeds those of previous reports.

The top-level recommendations include:
1. Establish a Space Exploration Steering Council, reporting to the President
2. NASA should establish much more private industry participation in space operations, beginning with unmanned launch services
a. Reorganization of NASA HQ
b. Spin off NASA Centers as Federally Funded Research & Development Centers (similar to JPL and the DOE National Labs)
c. NASA should establish 3 new organizations:
+ a technical advisory board, modeled on the Defense Science Board
+ an Independent Cost Estimating organization, modeled on DoD Cost Analysis Improvement Group
+ a research organization, modeled on DARPA and formed from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts
d. NASA should adopt DoD-style project management methods
3. NASA should identify and begin development of critical technologies
4. Renew and sustain development of a robust space industry
a. NASA should actively solicit ideas from all sources
b. Congress should fund prizes targeting specific missions and technologies, and work on space property rights
5. NASA should pursue international partnerships
6. NASA should consult regularly with scientists and the National Academy of Sciences
7. The space exploration program should be tied into educational programs and public relations

Section I "Introduction: The Space Exploration Vision" presents three basic justifications for the exploration program: The human urge to explore, economic growth, and national security. Three "imperatives for success" are also presented: sustainability, affordability, and credibility. Sustainability is described as being able to sustain both technical momentum and long-term political support for what will be an expensive program. Affordability is described as "go as you can pay," where each milestone is reached through "spiral, evolutionary developments." The report compares the funding to cancer research, where the pace is determined by a political judgment of "annually, how much can we afford?" The report describes credibility as an amalgam of best practices. While the Commission recognized that space exploration is full of risk, NASA must not appear careless or foolish. NASA must embrace both management practices as well as technical ideas regardless of their source.

The Commission's Report is itself a model of the practices they exhort NASA to follow. Whether by intention or not, many of the ideas in the report have been the stated position of advocacy groups like the National Space Society and the Mars Society. Some of the reforms have been specifically proposed by previous Commissions.

The biggest problem I wondered about was funding. So far, about $12B has been proposed for this vision. Yet, many of the recommendations seem likely to cost a great deal of money. For example, on p. 23, the report states that much of NASA's infrastructure needs substantial modernization. Elsewhere, technology R&D is addressed by proposing a DARPA model or even the In-Q-Tel Venture Capital firm funded by the CIA. The Pentagon's "System-of-systems" approach is proposed as a model for project architecture. Special attention is given to the need for reliable heavy lift launch capability. In discussing how to pursue international participants, the Joint Strike Fighter program is listed as a model. Each of these areas requires either significant direct investment (infrastructure, heavy lift, R&D) or large bureaucracies to administer complex contracts (system-of-systems, JSF model). There is an unavoidable tension between the need for R&D, "go as you can pay," available funds, and "credibility."

The money issue is partially addressed by proposing tax incentives, privatization and private competition. But competition cannot reduce the amount of honest-to-goodness investment needed to remediate the technology deficit. It can only promote the most efficient approach. We need more R&D, yet private competition is seen as a way to "reduce government investment" (p. 20). The elephant in the room is that aerospace is a highly regulated market with relatively low profit margins. This means that direct reinvestment is fairly low. A glance at a list of the top R&D companies shows that top-tier aerospace companies do not reinvest a lot of their own money.

The second issue that troubled me is the applicability of the models they proposed. JPL, the National Labs, various DoD organizations and methods, the X Prize, and other examples are listed as models for various reforms of NASA. This raises some questions. First, are these models applicable? No evidence is presented to indicate that the Commission considered whether different organizations with different goals, constraints, missions, and sizes can use a given model successfully. The proposal to spin off most NASA centers as FFRDCs seems quite radical. Would any commercial firm spin off everything except a design team? Is this what the Aldridge Commission proposes of NASA? How many NASA employees would be left, and in which disciplines? Can the JPL model be applied well to other NASA centers? Would the centers work together better or worse? Would there be limits to how many centers a given contractor would be permitted to operate? I suspect it's much easier to designate JPL as a model than it is to enact in the real world. Do the security and procurement scandals at some DOE labs give us anything to worry about? What about the need for the National Labs to chase proposals in light of funding cuts? Does that make organizations more market oriented and relevant, or does it simply waste the time of researchers?

Finally, the Commission's report failed to address the biggest political problem our human spaceflight program faces: a lack of relevancy to ordinary people. The transmittal letter to the President states that the Commission's web site received over 6,000 written inputs, and that public comments were 7:1 in favor of the new vision. This is of course not a scientific survey, rather it is a self-selected and rather small sample of people who are presumably interested in space exploration. Elsewhere in the report, supportive public testimony is cherry-picked without context or attribution. In one case, I recognized a quote that, taken out of context, sounds much more supportive of a government monopoly on human space travel than the speaker probably meant: "We all wanted to go" (p. 13) was characterized as an expression of the deep and broad effect that the Apollo program had on Americans. I believe this was Tony Tether, Director of DARPA. The full quote was: "What NASA seemed to forget was that then, we all wanted to go," Tether told commissioners. "We were forgotten about." But if NASA can find a way for American citizens to take the baby steps that would eventually allow them to reach the moon - or even just space - themselves, it would do wonders for the space agency's support, he added. "If you can do that, you will have a constituency that you don't have today," Tether said. The longer quote is here.

These anecdotes do not invalidate the report, but I do wonder if the Commission is overselling the enthusiasm that the public will have for this program. Section I, and the report's title, endorse the "inspiration, education, and innovation" arguments for space travel that have so far failed to garner support for a more expansive space vision. One brief mention was made of space tourism and of making NASA an engine of the economy (p. 20). There are hints at the relevance problem sprinkled throughout the report, but public support is more or less presumed, not demonstrated.

What's Good:
If your attitude about NASA reorg proposals is "wake me if it's a big deal," then this is your wakeup call. The Aldridge Commission Report proposes the most profound and far-reaching reorganization of NASA since its founding.

To a larger degree than I would have expected from this board, the proposals are strongly market- and business-oriented. I presume this is the implicit desire of President Bush (MBA, former CEO) and possibly NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe (an accountant).

The report is written in an engaging, enthusiastic style.

What's Bad:
Where's the Beef? "Go as you can pay" does not seem like an adequate response to an agency that has faced aging infrastructure and workers for more than 14 years (see Augustine report). Increased funding and profit margins might address many issues better than bureaucratic realignments or spinoffs. There is no discussion of how to value intangibles like scientific discovery and inspiration, yet tangible values are of prime concern to contractors. NASA's credibility is discussed only in terms of competency, not based on perceived relevancy to the public.

What's Missing:
There is no consideration of potential disadvantages of the various proposals. Supporters of space science may find the report dismissive of their priorities and concerns. There is no critical evaluation of the benefits of space program investments vs direct investments in education, science and technology.

This report is remarkably thin on supplementary materials: there are 13 pp of appendices. More is available on the Commission's web site.

[Klerkx 2004]: "Lost In Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age," Greg Klerkx, 2004. ISBN 0375421505
[Paine 1986]:
[Augustine 1990]: e/racfup1.htm
[Aldridge 2004]:

The reviewer is an aerospace engineer with experience in human spaceflight engineering and operations, commercial satellite development and operations, and scientific satellite development and operations. No current relationship to NASA, and no significant interests in companies with an interest in this proposal.

You can download A Journey to Inspire, Innovate and Discover from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to contribute.

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Book Review: Moon-Mars Commission Report

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  • Excellent Review! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by apsmith ( 17989 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:16PM (#9453337) Homepage
    This is an amazingly thorough review - thanks "code_rage"! And you've hit on exactly the point that disturbs me a bit too - if this is all so great, why aren't we planning to spend a lot more money on it, rather than just continuing in the same-old ho-hum manner in space? Perhaps the commissioners felt that was out of their scope, but that seem to be the substance of Kerry's []
    complaint too - if we're serious about this, lets spend some real money on it!

    My thoughts from a couple of days before the report came out are up on sciscoop [] - I think the report does adopt a lot of the "O'Neill" vision of space. Maybe it's our job to make sure the money really comes through now.
    • > This is an amazingly thorough review - thanks "code_rage"!

      You're thinking the author?

      This code_rage person not only read the report and not only understood it well enough to summarize it, but well enough to clearly and concisely express damn near everything insightful, informative, and interesting possible about every section of it.

      So the only thing left for any of us to do is scrounge at the bottom of the (+1, Funny) barrel. Code_rage, you utter bastard!

    • Re:Excellent Review! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 )
      Wonderful article. In a similar vein I would suggest looking at Dr Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor site and his various reviews of NASA policy. also, this article (which is linked on Jerry's site) truely says it all on the problems with NASA.
    • An OK review though it leaves out the huge pink elephants in the room.

      A.The board completely avoided closing some of NASA's to many competing centers which desperately needs to be done. They spend to much time fighting each other and there is way to much duplication of effort and overhead. They did this because they knew if they tried to close any centers the congressional delegation in the state its in would fight the whole plan tooth and nail. That strongly suggest NASA's centers are more pork than an
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:16PM (#9453339)
    ...given so little detail?
  • X-Prize (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mz6 ( 741941 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:17PM (#9453346) Journal
    First off, what a great review! I know you briefly touched on the X-Prize, but don't you think that once the X-Prize is claimed it should have a pretty grand effect on Space exploration? Especially since the plans include going to Mars? I think for them to accomplish this goal in the next 20 years they will need some major funding, and above all some better innovation.

    Just my $0.02.

    • Re:X-Prize (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:25PM (#9453423) Homepage Journal
      To get to Mars is going to require a radically new technology. We either have to speed up the spacecraft considerably, figure out a way to safely put the crew on ice for the trip, or figure out how to recycle almost every scrap of organic material the crew is going to use.

      A 3 year trip is a lot of food, and a hell of a lot of packaging material. In flight-replitishment with remote probes is going to be very tricky. (Think hitting a bullet with a bullet.)

      It's also going to require a very unique set of individuals who can stay confined with others and not go completely nuts.

      • Re:X-Prize (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:39PM (#9453553) Homepage
        Lets look at it in terms of MREs. According to a company that makes MREs (My Own Meal), each of their MREs are 8 ounces and provide 1200 calories each. In space, certainly 2400 calories would be plenty - I'd be surprised if they burned anywhere close to that, but lets be pessimistic. That's 16 ounces per day. Given an estimated 9 month mission (3 months transit in each direction, 3 month stay), that's 270 lbs per astronaut. The fuel mass alone will dwarf that; it's a non-issue.

        Where you got your "3 year trip" line from, I'm not sure (perhaps if you wanted to get there with ion drives...) Even three years of MREs, however, would only weigh one ton per astronaut. We're looking at a spacecraft that on its own will weigh hundreds of tons. It's still not that big of a deal.
        • Anyone who's eaten MREs for a substantial amount of time will tell you that MREs really stand for Meals Refusing To Exit. If you picked a food that actually digested and could be evacuated properly, you will see some fuel gain from waste disposal.

          MREs are evil. Eat ONE hamburger after a week of MREs and get ready to poop a weeks worth.
          • Re:X-Prize (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Artifakt ( 700173 )
            Anyone who's eaten MRE's will tell you that MRE really stands for something totally unprintable. I was in the basic training class that tested the original dehydrated pork patty meal, which was one that was dropped from the final mix. If you think the ones in use today are bad, you should see the rejects. To be fair, the "passed through a Canadian reactor ham brick on two thick crackers" meal is pretty good, and the noodles and chicken in sauce is fine if you have time to use a heater. We can hope the astro
        • Re:X-Prize (Score:4, Informative)

          by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:59PM (#9453743)
          "Where you got your "3 year trip" line from, I'm not sure"

          Three years is the minimum-energy transfer orbit to and from Mars... any faster than that starts to require a lot more fuel.
          • It took Spirit and Opportunity a mere three months to get to Mars.

            According to this NASA page [], the fast transit considered is only two months. Most proposals I've seen are for 3 to 6 months.
            • Re:X-Prize (Score:3, Informative)

              by 0123456 ( 636235 )
              "According to this NASA page, the fast transit considered is only two months."

              Maybe you should read that page more carefully, since it says nothing of the kind: 'the transit time to Mars will be about 180 days', then there's nearly a two year stay waiting for a launch window back to Earth.

              "It took Spirit and Opportunity a mere three months to get to Mars."

              Spirit: launched June 10 2003, landed January 3rd 2004

              Opportunity: launched July 8, 2003, landed January 24th 2004

              That sure was a long 'mere three m
        • Re:X-Prize (Score:4, Insightful)

          by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:09PM (#9453865) Homepage Journal
          Remeber, when you throw around numbers like "only a ton", that is a ton per astronaut. And that doesn't include packing material. If you have a 10 person crew, that is 10 tons of material. Each kilogram of cargo required several more kilograms of fuel to push it to it's destination, and several kilograms to slow it back down to orbital speed.

          Sure, half of that will be used up on the inbound leg, but then you have to boost the other half OUT of mars orbit and back to earth. That's more fuel, which for the first part of the trip is just cargo needing even more fuel for the first leg to push it.

          We are talking about a set of complex equations where painting on the interior can make the spacecraft 5 tons heavier.

          • I mentioned that it was a ton per astronaut. Compared to most mission design proposals (which typically range from 100 to 1000 tons), it is trivial. The biggest area of focus needs to be on specific impulse for the craft and radiation shielding. These are the areas where you'll cut off the most mass - not food.
        • by Jim McCoy ( 3961 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:21PM (#9454003) Homepage
          Food is easy. Try packing all of the water and air you will use for the next 9 months in a small suitcase...

          Both of these consumables can be recycled slightly (water more than O2) but there will still be loss because we have not come close to building a closed loop environmental support system that is ready for space or small enough to make it up there. A closed-loop water system is close enough to reality that some of it could be applied here, but a closed-loop system for breathing is not going to be flying anytime soon (these involve things like growing plants to convert CO2 to O2, which increases the volume and weight of the spacecraft significantly.)

          A body at rest consumes about 0.3L of O2 per minute. That is 432L per day of metabolic consumption and 116000L over nine months. Using 3000psi composite cylinders (larger, but lighter and we are weight-restricted here) you are looking at about 1.5 tons of weight for gas storage with no reserve and with no allowance for regulation or distribution of the O2. If the astronauts were actually going to do more than lie very still for nine months then your O2 budget goes up.

          For water the problem is both easier and harder. It is easier because we have actually made good progress on small, lightweight water recycling systems, and it is harder because each litre of water lost carries a significant cost in terms of weight. An average person consumes 2L of water per day, so you would need 540L for your nine-month mission. We will start by saying that your water needs for cooling and other uses can be handled by non-recoverable losses in the recycling system. Now, if your water recycling system is 80% efficient you will still need to lug up 250 pounds of water and another hundred pounds of container and piping.

          Now we are talking about 2 tons of consumables per astronaut, assuming the astronauts do nothing more than lie in their chairs and watch TV for nine months...

          BTW, the grandparent came up with three years because for a Mars trip there are two options, short stay or long stay. For your short trip the astronauts would have a couple of weeks on the surface before they would have to leave so that their return transfer orbit would be able to catch up to the earth. The other option is to keep the astronauts on the surface for a year and meet up with earth after both planets have cicled around and are close enough for a transfer orbit. The grandparent poster was also assuming a more fuel-efficient transfer to Mars using a Hohmann transfer orbit, which takes 8.5 months.

          No one gets a "three month" stay on Mars, at least not if they want to return to Earth. It is either weeks or a year. Any other option requires a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of fuel to catch up with the Earth.
          • Water and O2 can be made on Mars, along with propellant. Without recycling. Columbus didn't take along every piece of food and ounce of water they'd ever need, because he knew there was going to be stuff he could use when he got there.

            And I have this really neat thing on my desk. It's called a "plant." It has the astonishing ability to take CO2 and converting it to oxygen. Other models can also make food and process water! With this kind of astonishing technology, I don't know why we can't go to Mars *righ

            • I'm not sure about trying to grow plants on mars on an initial mission (would the space, mass, and energy requirements for such a large, even inflatable, pressurized greenhouse really justify it? Perhaps - it's hard to say). On the other hand, you probably could justify a big plastic bag of photosynthetic bacteria and minerals in a "just add water and CO2" situation - perhaps they could even produce sugars for you. :)

              I'd imagine it'd be a whole lot easier than trying to grow plants... although if they co
      • Re:X-Prize (Score:3, Informative)

        by Entropius ( 188861 )
        I know some folks who work on water filtration and recycling systems for missions like this. It's quite a challenge, as things that we don't even consider as contaminants will build up in the water supply over enough cycles.

        Remote probes aren't efficient anyway, since you've got to pay the energy cost to boost that stuff halfway to Mars anyway. May as well just make a bigger main spacecraft. On the bright side, those supplies can be boosted into Earth orbit in advance of the manned mission taking off.

      • Re:X-Prize (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

        To get to Mars is going to require a radically new technology.

        Not really, we have much of the technology, we just need to move it off the lab bench and into the field. The real problem is going to be to design equipment that can last for the whole length of the trip, and to arrange for proper spares etc..

        Sparing is a very black art. The (US) Navy has been working on the problem of properly managing spares, minimizing MTBF and MTTR, and minimizing the ammount of preventative maintenance required etc. f

      • 1) Last time I checked plants like Carbon dioxide. Mars' atmosphere is almost 98% CO2. Plants just need to be kept warm.

        2) It takes 6 months to get to Mars using current technology. We've had people on the space station longer. The only real issue is radiation, and that's only if we launch at solar maximum. The 3 year figure is getting there, staying for 1.5 years, and getting back. This is taken from NASA's reference mission.

        3) It's not like they're going to be incommunicado the whole time. A 40 minute d

        • Plants metabolize oxygen just like we do.

          Yes, the do convert CO2 (and water vapor) to O2 and sugar. But they need oxygen to fuel the process.

          And assuming that you can just take off on Tuesday and be on Mars six months later, it's going to take you at least as long to get back. That's 12 months.

          And orbital mechanics aren't that simple. The Earth and Mars are on 2 different orbits. Once per year, the Earth is closer to Mars. Months later, Earth is on the opposite side of the Sun from Mars. Thats the dis

          • But we can crack CO2 and make oxygen. All we'd need would be electricity from solar panels or nuclear power. (Nukes would be better because solar panels have a low power density.)

            Second, it's not one 12 month trip, it's two six month trips, with replenishment on Mars. Don't bring along enough food and water and fuel for the whole trip, just enough for one way. (Plus emergency.) In situ production saves cost and weight.

            70 minutes is fine. Email and photo attachments are great. With a better comm system (a

      • You know, you really ought to catch up on the FAQs []. It's only a 6-month flight to Mars, and astronauts would be on the surface of the planet for 1.5 years -- for a total round-trip of less than you're saying it'd take one-way. Besides that, if we're smart enough to use resources on Mars -- i.e. carbon dioxide in its atmosphere to manufacture rocket fuel for the return trip [] -- we can pare down the amount of materials necessary for this trip greatly.

        Mars today is doable. We just have to do it right.
        • I said a 3 year trip. That includes 6 months out, 6 months back, and 18 months loiter time. (What do I just pull these numbers out of my ass or something?) Depending on the way the orbits line up, 6 months of fudge room.

          Now, considering what a challenge it is to get material into Earth orbit, with an industrial base and a ready supply of factories and refined material, I am highly doubtful you would have much luck trying to scratch build that infrastructure on an alien planet, with materials you are carry

    • I know you briefly touched on the X-Prize, but don't you think that once the X-Prize is claimed it should have a pretty grand effect on Space exploration?
      The X-Prize is all but irelevant when it comes to space exploration. Space exploration and exploitation means acess to orbit, not glorified amusement park rides. Space exploration needs the equivalent of a min-van, while the X-prize craft are little more than golf carts.
      • I believe what the grandparent was (attempting) to comment on was that the report states that NASA should try to follow the X-Prize model in places, not use the X-Prize rockets themselves.

        The report claims that such prizes and bounties for specific pieces of the exploration pie will energize the industry and provide some good tech, to boot.
    • Re:X-Prize (Score:2, Informative)

      by Waffle Iron ( 339739 )
      If you're flying in a commercial airliner, you've got about 13% of the potential+kinetic energy that it requires to win the X-prize.

      However, once you've won the X-prize, you've still only achieved about 3% of the potential+kinetic energy that it requires to reach orbit.

      Considering that you've got to carry your rocket fuel with you as you go, achieving orbit is even harder than the 3% number would suggest. There's still a long way to go.

      It's going to be a long time before private astronauts competing f

    • Yes, I think the Ansari X-Prize is very important. The Aldridge Commission report did mention the X-prize competition as a model that should be expanded upon. They said that about $400M has been invested by the competitors, to go after a $10M prize: a 40:1 investment.

      Another important effect of such prizes is the disproportionate amount of excitement that is generated. I don't think anything NASA could do for $10M would generate as much news coverage and public interest.

      Also, these sorts of competitions b
  • Space Academy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Manhigh ( 148034 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:20PM (#9453375)
    explore options to create a university-based virtual space academy" for
    training the next generation technical work force.

    This may be my favorite part. Itll will be difficult to replace the upcoming flood of retirements with so few students majoring in aerospace engineering (emphasis on space) these days. Giving NASA an academy from which to draw potential engineers, astronauts, and technicians would give it a pool of driven young minds.

    Can the Starfleet Academy be far behind? :)
    • Re:Space Academy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:27PM (#9453447) Homepage Journal
      I kinda like the idea. Though at that point you would have to indenture the graduates to the feds, because defense contractors would be picking them off like flies.
      • Except for the fact that this vision calls for extreme privatization of space, which means having these guys picked off by defense contractors is exactly what we want.
    • Re:Space Academy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I know people who have recently graduated with aerospace degrees, and have not been able to find jobs in their field.

      The problem is not supply of workers, but demand for them. Fooling more students into entering dead-end careers is both useless and deplorable.
      • Re:Space Academy (Score:4, Informative)

        by joeljkp ( 254783 ) <joeljkparker&gmail,com> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:04PM (#9453802)
        I'm an undergraduate aerospace student, and I'm working at NASA every other semester. Among friends, this plan is a big deal. I hear that NASA is gearing up to hire lots of young engineers, and from where I'm sitting, I see a lot of 20-somethings in my office. Whether this thing keeps going or runs out of steam will mean work or grad school (or another major) for a lot of current students.
  • by ctishman ( 545856 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:23PM (#9453416)
    Am I the only one who's a bit frightened by the concept of Space Property rights? We all knew it was coming of course, but why not something more akin to our handling of the oceans as international waters? Sure, let private corporations control asteroids, artificial satellites and other space debris but keep space itself free for general use by all, or by some international body.
    • "Sure, let private corporations control asteroids, artificial satellites and other space debris but keep space itself free for general use by all, or by some international body."

      LOL... I'd love to see a government or corporation try to build a wall around a big chunk of space and claim it's theirs.
    • Good question. At this point, I think the advantages of property rights may outweigh any theoretical disadvantages. As long as we take the attitude that you can only own what you can actually occupy and make use of, it's hard for me to imagine what there would be to fight over. And unlike the oceans, there is no prospect of "overfishing".

      Can you think of what the problems might be?
    • Ocean Property rights are helping now in the form of Marine Wildlife Sanctuaries, especially in Australia with their Great Barrier Reef.

      The oceans are now ruled in a really COMMUNIST way - take what you want, everybody owns it together (thus no one has incentive to guard it).

      It's killing ocean habitats around the world, leading to massive overfishing in some otherwise very, very fertile waters, and depriving us (as consumers) the opportunity of eating responsibly "farmed" fish (be that farm an area of oce
    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:19PM (#9453980)
      > Am I the only one who's a bit frightened by the concept of Space Property rights? We all knew it was coming of course, but why not something more akin to our handling of the oceans as international waters? Sure, let private corporations control asteroids, artificial satellites and other space debris but keep space itself free for general use by all, or by some international body.

      Actually, that's basically what "Space Property Rights" means.

      Currently, there are no property rights in space (or more accurately, on other worlds). By treaty, bodies in outer space are "governed" rather like Antarctica -- no government can claim the Moon for itself and issue deeds to explorers. Likewise, no private citizen can land on the Moon and claim it for himself or herself.

      In the case of Antarctica, maybe that's a good thing - it's a nice lab, but it's pretty small and can't sustain a tourism industry.

      In the case of the Moon, Mars, and (collectively) the asteroids - they're big enough that it'll take so damn long to "pave over 'em" or otherwise "despoil" their "natural" state, that scientific research wouldn't be jeopardized by private ownership of 'em.

      Without space property rights, there can be no return on investment for the private sector. Without the private sector's involvement, the only entities doing space exploration, tourism, industrialization or colonization, will be governments. Problem is, governments have "better" things to do than establish offworld colonies. Space exploration doesn't help a government stay in power, and unsurprisingly, governments tend not to give a fuck about it except insofar as to use space programmes to spread the pork around.

      A radical proposal:

      "The first person to land on Mars, and to live there some specified minimum duration (such as a year), and to return alive owns the entire Red Planet."

      - From Mars: Who Should Own It []

      With space property rights -- whether in the radical form above, or by following the more traditional "Homesteading" model in which government opened up the West by taking ownership of the land for the express purpose of giving it away to anyone who could survive there long enough -- we're much more likely to make it off this mudball.

      • "The first person to land on Mars, and to live there some specified minimum duration (such as a year), and to return alive owns the entire Red Planet."

        That's a _great_ idea! This will guarantee that the whole planet will turn into a big death-match arena, giving all us Earth-dwellers plenty of entertainment!

  • Fund Raising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:24PM (#9453420) Homepage Journal
    If NASA's running low on cash, here are two ideas that might be good ways to get money.

    1) A national lottery. Opportunity and Spirit cost (individually) $400 million. A nationwide lottery would be able to raise this much money, and would excite people. They would know that their money is going to put something on another planet.

    2) A reality TV show about astronaut candidates. This long-running series, run by one of the major networks, would give a human face and personality to space flight. I'm not talking about people being voted off or anything stupid like that, but an unvarnished look at how astronauts are trained and selected. NASA could get the license from a network and make a few million bucks and improve its image.

    • A national lottery would be unprecedented and somewhat illegal without the approval of each state. For instance Powerball isn't available in a lot of states because of their gambling laws. Revenue from state lotteries often go towards education but much of the time it is reappropriated later and added to the states tax revenue.

      A government partnership with a network to do a television show is interesting to say the least. It's something that I would watch and would probably increase public support, whi
    • 2) A reality TV show about astronaut candidates. This long-running series, run by one of the major networks, would give a human face and personality to space flight. I'm not talking about people being voted off or anything stupid like that, but an unvarnished look at how astronauts are trained and selected.

      Well, there is a show in the works that sounds pretty close to what you're talking about [], except that they want to send some average Joe into space. Of course, The Simposons did it first []. All hail

  • by 14erCleaner ( 745600 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:26PM (#9453440) Homepage Journal
    You know, back when I was a kid (in the 60's, during the Gemini/Apollo era), I thought space was the coolest thing ever. It seemed a sure thing, and a good thing, that we'd be colonizing other planets within a few years.

    Of course, it didn't happen. It turns out that just hoisting enough life-support for a person for a few days into orbit costs more than most people earn in their lifetimes. The benefits of going to the moon, building the space station, and other manned ventures have turned out to be in two areas:

    * Spinoff technologies

    * Psychological side-effects

    That is, none of the actual benefits of space travel have come from the space part, more from the preparation and the coolness factor. The real practical advantages have all come from unmanned craft, mostly communication satellites.

    So, why don't we get more excited and/or spend more money on terrestrial exploration? There is better mapping of Venus than there is of the ocean floor these days.

    I'm not trying to denigrate anybody's dreams or anything, and I recognize the value of science for its own sake, but maybe blowing another $100 billion on a one-time put-a-guy-on-Mars mission isn't really a good idea. Let's try to find some more practical way to spend our budget surplus (*cough*). How about curing diseases, for example? Bill Gates has personally increased the funding for research in diseases like malaria by a significant factor; why can't our government fund this kind of stuff more?

    Pardon my grumblings....I'm just disillusioned in my old age. (where's my space ship, dammit! :)

    • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:36PM (#9453525) Homepage Journal
      why can't our government fund this kind of stuff more?

      The short answer is "Because the rich folks don't want to pay a lot of taxes."

      The top tax bracket (for >$400,000) was 91% in the 50s and 60s, and right now it's only 39.6%. Also, the number of brackets has been decreased, so they can't raise taxes without affecting more and more people.

      Link []

      • The problem isn't that taxes are too low for the rich. The problem is that there are enough loopholes, that the super rich get out of paying any real taxes in the first place. Clost those loopholes, and while it may hurt the banking industry of the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, the IRS would rake in a heck of a lot more dough.
    • You bring up an excellent point. I for one can't figure out why the DOD can piss away 100 million on plane tickets while NASA is looking to ebay for spare parts.

      Frankly who on Earth are we defending ourselves against with Nuclear Weapons? Sure there is deterrent, but I think having enough weapons in our inventory to obliterate the civilized world 8 or 9 times is enough at this point. A missile delivery system that can drop 7 warheads on 7 different targets in 45 minutes seems like it'll due for the time b

      • > And about the only foe our fighter craft face in the sky seems to be mechanical failure

        I dunno... in Afghanistan and Iraq, our UAVs were downed like flies. Although I agree completely with your point. :)
      • I agree in principle with some of what you are saying, but we are not actually developing and building Nuclear Weapons at this point. At SRS in South Carolina, clean up and maintance is the primary job, but no significant money is spent on Nuclear weapons.

        Yes, more money should be spent on troops (primarily increasing pay so people might actually consider the military as an alternative to private enterprise), but throwing more money at Education has never worked. BOE's can waste more money faster than an
      • Of course we overspend on defense. We fund entire generations of weapons that never get employed usefully in modern conflict scenarios. You have to wonder why the F22 is being funded at all when the military is already moving on to the JSF for the bulk of missions. Oh are we in mortal danger if the Russians can build a prototype of a plane that can outperform the JSF? Get back to me when they can afford to produce ten of these and keep them functioning for four years.

        I'm in favor of a strong military, but t

      • by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:58PM (#9453739)
        "We spend to much money developing weapon systems. We don't spend nearly enough developing the troops to actually use them."

        Is that some kind of joke? Or are you not living in the US?

        The US Air Force spend _2 million dollars_ per pilot training them - and that figure is at least 10 years old, so G-d knows what we spend these days. If that's not a significant investment, I don't know what is.

        The US Army also has a pretty damned good training program for fighting wars. Regardless of whether going to Iraq was right or wrong, the US Army annihilated the Iraqi army with startling speed. Good training costs money, ergo, I would be somewhat surprised to hear we cheap out on battlefield training.

        IOW, you're right, but the US military is obviously doing a pretty good job of training soldiers in weapon system usage. Maybe we ought to put some money into Civil Affairs training, but that wasn't your thesis as far as I can tell.

        It's always amazed me that people aren't more aware of the educational institutions that are directly affiliated with the Department of Defense, too.

        • I think the real problem we face right now is that while our military is VERY good at winning the war, they're really not up to the task of occupying the territory. Unless we come up with some fantastical new technology for this, it probably means that we need a heck of a lot more troops on the ground.
    • "The benefits of going to the moon, building the space station, and other manned ventures have turned out to be in two areas:

      * Spinoff technologies "

      And the 'spinoffs' are highly over-rated too.
      • You mean like cell phones, semiconductor cubing, hubble scientific facts found, advanced keyboards, Customer Service Software, Database Management System, Laser Surveying, Aircraft controls, Lightweight Compact Disc, Expert System Software, Microcomputers, Design Graphics, scratch resistant lenses, Dustbuster, shock-absorbing helmets, home security systems, smoke detectors, flat panel televisions, high-density batteries, trash compactors, food packaging and freeze-dried technology, cool sportswear, sports b
        • If your list wasn't almost entirely bogus, it might actually prove something. The simple fact is that almost every claim of 'space spinoffs' turns out to be untrue, or something so trivial that it can't even come close to compensating for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent flying people into space.

          Are you really claiming, for example, that the CD was invented by NASA!?!?!
          • You didn't mention patents, but I have an interested tidbit to add about that. People seem to like to quote a drop-off (or lack of) NASA patents. Here at NASA Langley, that was due to a policy stating "you can only file for a patent if your invention has real commercial possibilities". Why? Filing for patents is damn expensive.

            Just this year, I believe, they changed the rule back to "you can file for a patent if your invention has some of of aerospace applicability." So we should start seeing an uptick (at
          • I'm not claiming. I'm quoting the link I gave. It was all cut & paste.
    • If Boeing and Lockheed became interested in biotech or nanotech they wouldn't have to petition the government for further aerospace welfare funding.

      The public has turned into a funding arm for aerospace contractors at just the time when they should be figuring out how to make things work in the private sector.

      Biotech, proteinomics, genomics, nanotech, clean energy, computing, photonics, networking, etc etc etc are all areas that can provide direct benefits to mankind now and pose more unanswered questions f

    • "blowing another $100 billion on a one-time put-a-guy-on-Mars mission isn't really a good idea."

      A "one-time put-a-guy-on-Mars" is a complete waste of time and money, a base on the moon isn't much better since its gravity is to low and no atmosphere.

      Putting a permanent colony on Mars would be priceless. It would dramatically alter most of humankind's horizon, give us a second biosphere, and hopefully give us a fresh start free of many of the encumbrances and inertia of societies on Earth. It would also a
  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info.devinmoore@com> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:30PM (#9453471) Homepage Journal
    "spiral evolutionary development"?? D'OH!

    Also, about costs... may I point out the following:
    Mars lander that Jose'd itself into the surface: ~100 million dollars.
    Mars lander that did NOT Jose itself, and that sent back kick ass pictures: ~1 billion dollars (Viking).
    Do it right or don't do it at all!

    • Another Mars lander that did NOT Jose itself, and that sent back kick ass pictures: 400 million dollars.

      It can be done more cheaply than it has in the past, it's just a matter of effort and innovative thinking.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:32PM (#9453493)
    how many great chemists are making perfume? how many great physicist are working for nike? how many brilliant electronic engineers are making elmo dolls? how many billionares are buying yaghts?

    If only they were all working on advancing technology; only working on how to make things better, finding better uses for things, doing important research...instead of making the things we've convinced ourselves are important.
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @12:42PM (#9453574)
    That statement describes two problems with the moon project (I will leave MArs alone, we do not have the tech to make it happen so it is all hypothetical).

    First, there is no money to fund a moon program. When asked at a recent discussion on the subject if the military would fund such a venture, the DARPA fund manager simply said "no". He didn't qualify it even with an extra comment. It became quite obvious that there is no funding mandate for another moon landing despite rhetoric.

    Secondly, the public must weigh the value of going someplace we have already been against funding new work on the frontiers of quantum physics, nanotech, biotech, computing, etc. I find it hard to believe that a moon landing would benefit the public or the scientific community more than a breakthrough in nanotech, for example. The public should be funding science on the frontiers of discovery, not on the explored trails.

    In any case I don't know why this topic merits serious discussion any more - regardless of the projections for the costs, it is clear that the government has no plan for providing anywhere near the funds for even the most modest proposal.

    • by Bad D.N.A. ( 753582 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {anddab}> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:19PM (#9453983)
      Without any funding of its own, the presidents exploration initiative is like the NIH deciding that penis enlargement is what it should focus on. Oh sure, everyone wants a bigger penis, until they find out that cancer research, heart research, etc.. all got dropped to pay for it.

      NASA funds a lot of good science and a good fraction of it is in serious jeopardy because the money is being pulled away to fund the exploration initiative. Want to venture a guess to what program may be hit the hardest? It's the Earth Sciences.... "But wait", you say, "aren't those the guys who study stuff like global warming". I wonder why that's happening... I wonder....
  • I wonder... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Starji ( 578920 )
    It sounds an awful lot like NASA is becoming less like an area for developing new technologies and more like some kind of regulation agency for spaceflight. That analogy doesn't quite give NASA all the credit they deserve, but it does sound like they are stepping down from more mundane tasks and focusing on some of the more ambitious projects.

    Personally I think that is a pretty good way of handling human expansion into space. The public will get to know about everything out there, and then private indus
  • Look at the bottom of every page on's site: There are links to "Absinthe - Generic Viagra - Cialis - Hammocks - Cuban Cigars Humidors - Absinth - Sildenafil Citrate Salvia Divinorum - Salvia - Buy Salvia Divinorum - Free Samples - Xenical - Shopping"...
  • Not the answer... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mratitude ( 782540 )
    As the old saying suggests, "If the answer to a question begins, 'The government...', the question was asked in front of the wrong people."

    Space is the remaining frontier and the issue of 'costs' in this context denotes the very problem at the core of the issue - Government is the last resort in everything and should only be done when a society cannot do something for itself.

    The evidence on non-public funding being inadequate to perpetuate technologies that will make space travel/habitation viable isn
  • space shuttle, etc (Score:2, Interesting)

    by scharkalvin ( 72228 )
    The space shuttle isn't a 'safe' technology. In fact space travel itself is dangerous. Astronauts must know their line of work has it's risks and they accept this much as firefighters, police, and military personal accept the risks in their chosen professions. So why limit the shuttle to the ISS (ie: let hubble die) because it's risky? DUH! That hasn't changed since the first astronaut climbed atop a redstone. The shuttles will have to be replaced by something else, and that something won't be any sa
    • "Keep the shuttles flying as long as needed."

      Potential astronauts are everywhere, but there are only three shuttles left. Lose one more and it doesn't matter what NASA want, the shuttle program is dead... it simply cannot function in any useful sense with only two shuttles (in particular because at any time there's usually one shuttle undergoing major maintenance work).

      Even with three shuttles it's going to be very hard to finish ISS before they stop flying.
      • A reminder that only 3 Orbiters could reach ISS anyway: Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. OV-101 Columbia, the first and heaviest Orbiter, could not reach the ISS and was left to scientific missions.

        Right now, NASA has necessary redundancy, but, yes, I agree that the loss of an additional Orbiter would serious tax NASA's new safeguards and rescue modes. They plan on having a 2nd Shuttle ready to launch on the pad as a rescue vehicle while a mission is in progress. Considering how long to takes to prep an
  • by Vincent Galliard ( 789114 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:06PM (#9453825)
    Going to Mars is important. It is, if nothing else, a proof of concept - going to Mars is orders of magnitude more difficult than going to the Moon. It requires better propulsion, better equipment, more efficiency and the planning and execution to see a group of people through a multi-year mission to another planet and back. If we can go to Mars, we can (with minimal additional scaling effects) go anywhere in the Solar System. This (other than scientific research) is the purpose of going to Mars, no more and no less.

    "What's so great about that?" you might ask. If you want it in one word, that word is "Mining". Consider: in a nickel-iron asteroid, there is an amount of metal roughly equivalent to the metal mined in the course of human history. Not to mention rare heavy metals - Iridium, Osmium, Platinum - things that are scarce on earth but relatively more abundant in asteroids. A mining operation of that scale is more than lucrative - it also presents a way to attain necessary raw materials without tearing open the surface of our own planet.

    But, yeah, mostly, it's the money. Money is the key - and I don't mean "having enough money to do these things". What I mean is opportunities for profit in space. Space travel currently costs a lot - I maintain that this is due to lack of expertise. If there is a sufficient profit motive in space, companies will find ways to do things cheaper and faster and, arguably, better (not being a terrible believer in an unregulated market, this last point is debatable). Prove that we can go get to the money, and people will go get it.

    Which brings me to my last point - spending philosophy. A lot of people decry spending on the space program, arguing that the greatest benefits have come from near-Earth satellites and such; and besides, they say, aren't there better things to spend the money on? This is true, in a sense. But, I, for one, would rather spend another billion dollars on the space program, on research and development, than on a new B2 bomber that doesn't work the way it should and whose role as a long-range strategic bomber was obviated by the end of the Cold War. Finding a more worthy cause - education, health care, welfare - does not eliminate the need to spend on less worthy causes. The point is, we don't know yet what we might find worthy in space. It is a money sink until we find that. I think it is worth examining - with plans like reuseable launch vehicles and space elevators and Lagrange-point stations, we have a number of ways to lower the financial barriers to space.

    I am not generally one to talk so, but I think we have a responsibility to future generations and to our own sense of intellectual completeness to reach into space. The cost will be mitigated over time. The benefits could be grand. The investment will surely be prohibitive. The continued and future examination and implementation of space travel depend on a long-term view of the investment, a willingness to look for opportunities, and a certain modicum of childlike wonder and hope. Space is great. It's just hard to get to right now.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:08PM (#9453848) Homepage
    There's a key line in the "executive summary":
    • NASA Centers be reconfigured as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers to enable innovation, to work effectively with the private sector, and to stimulate economic development.

    "Stimulate economic development" is a code word for "spend money in my Congressional district". And "Federally Funded Research and Development Centers" aren't organizations tightly focused on single goals.

    That "executive summary" addresses all the wrong stuff. It doesn't mention cost, schedule, or basic approach. It's all about organizational structure. That's not how Apollo was done.

    It also says very little about NASA's thirty years of failures to build a new launch vehicle. Those bozos can't even replace the existing Shuttle. Not for lack of money, either. In the past 30 years, NASA has spent more money than it did from 1960 to 1974, with far less to show for it. Keeping all those "centers" going costs billions.

    DARPA, by comparison, is tiny. DARPA itself is a few hundred people. They buy and evaluate; they do nothing in house. There are no "DARPA centers" chewing up billions in overhead.

    • I love the "patriotic" imagery Boeing puts in its promotional material and commercials. In fact Boeing is more involved in ripping off American taxpayers than most other companies. I'm not talking "alleged", I'm talking about direct claims from the Pentagon, GAO, etc that Boeing does not dispute.

      Projects like these are more subjective, but lets face it, Boeing and Lockheed lobby hard for this gravy - these open-ended projects are where they really make their bank.

    • ... Those bozos can't even replace the existing Shuttle. Not for lack of money, either. ...

      Ok, you have a NASA administration that is completely incompetent (by your own admission, throwing good money after bad), and then you complain that the commision wants to change out the organizational structure. As if leaving these people in the positions to make business decisions is viable?

      And amazingly enough, changing NASA's finance model to a DARPA model, shouldn't cost as much money as NASA is now, so it sh
  • by azmatsci ( 759463 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:36PM (#9454184)
    Whats the deal with everyone saying we don't have the tech to go to Mars? They tech has existed since the early 70's. You do not need advanced hab modules or rockets, simple computers (LINUX or HAL, take your pick) work fine, and you don't need some crazy spinning gravity inducing spaceship to get you there. The origional plan was for an Apollo-type pod and LIM to be used with an additional cargo container for water and food. The simple profile had 1.5 years out, a 2-6month stay, and a 1.5 year return. Its not rocket science people. OK so it is. But the fact remains it is not hard to go to Mars. The point of giong to Mars should be the development of all the new tech to make the journey and stay more confortable and profitable. Which is the real reason we should be going, profit. When people came to the US, they had to make money for their investors back in UK or Spain to pay off their journey. Mars should be the same. Send the poeople there sponsored by compaines like Lockheed and Boeing and have them do research to make their companies money. I volenteer to be one of these people, but my wife is going to be pissed.
  • NASA has simply outlived its usefulness as an agency. There are a few projects that by international agreement still need to be continued for a number of years (such as the completion of the ISS), but I would not cry too much if Congress simply pulled the plug altogether.

    Some aspects of this proposal are valid, such as spinning off the research agencies. I could see the creation of a "Department of Science" or some other federal bureaucracy that would oversee national research laboratories, including much of the NSF programs (Like the Antarctic research bases), leftover items from NASA such as JPL or Ames, and include other scientific projects that are generally "Big Science" that take so much capital to put together that it really makes sense to fund them with federal dollars due to legitimate return on their value. A restructuring of the NSF would also have value on its own as well. A restructuring like this would even allow other areas of research to be created that currently aren't being done.

    When I think of NASA, I think of a bunch of cool looking guys (and a few cool women) dressed up in spacesuits going to places that nobody has ever gone before. For over 30 years NASA has done nothing even resembling this idea, so it is no wonder that a bunch of greying astronauts (no matter how fit they are) with stuck-up elitist attitudes have absolutely no connection with ordinary Americans like myself. I happen to know personnally (I've been in his home and done things with his kids... now raising kids of their own) one of the Apollo astronauts, and boy did he have a bunch of fun stories including his own recollections of Yuri Gregarian, not to mention Neil Armstrong and others I'm sure /. readers would be familiar with. The NASA that exists today is not the same sort of agency that existed back during the Apollo program.

    I am a solid supporter of further space exploration. I feel we, as a species, need to get off this rock and move on throughout this universe. NASA, rather than helping out in moving this idea forward like they did in the 1960's, they are now a major obsticle keeping people from going into space. The longer NASA continues to exist as an agency, the longer and harder it will be for my kids and grandkids to get into space themselves. If this is a P.R. perception that NASA needs to change for both myself and within NASA as well, so be it. I wish it would simply go away because we no longer need the agency.

    I do think that a civilian-based space exploration agency of some sort should exist, and perhaps something should be done to preserve the Astronaut corp, but there is so much more to NASA than astronauts that this minor part of the agency could be kept running for almost nothing compared to what it is currently taking to run the agency. When the main Astronaut corp office is in LEO rather than in Houston, Texas, I might give those guys a little more respect. Unfortunately I think the USAF will have a military base in space well before NASA gets its act together.
  • What I see is .... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by innerweb ( 721995 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:24PM (#9454859)
    ... another tipping of serious government resources to be given to the private sector, specifically, defense and similar contractors.

    NASA works primarily because it is government. Yes, it always has the chance to be swayed from one political side to the other (slightly). NASA, though is also one of the few (only?) institutions of the government that has actually returned more money to the economy than it has taken. The thought of slice and dice on NASA is chilling. NASA provides (or provided) a strong platform for bringing initial research from the point of being non-viable in a business sense to a viable and even necessary understanding for businesses.

    Take a look at most business today, especially corporations. How far down the road are the looking for a return on investment before they are willing to spend their capital on anything? Not even 4 years in most cases. There are a few exceptions, but normally limited to the pharmaceutical companies. Even most investment funds are geared to a year by year investment strategy, and they have one of the longest look ahead time frames for any product on the market.

    I see the same private interests peeking up here as I see in almost all other privatization, schools, parks, roads, etc. The failure of this view is to recognize that by their very nature, all businesses must make a profit, and that means to the exclusion of all things perceived profitless (or not profitable enough). Our space program would have never happened if that had been the view (profit), and more than likely many things from tennis shoes to microwave ovens would either not exist yet or never exist. (Yeah, I know theoretically, all things in time will exist, but realistically, from a profit motive standpoint, most things will not exist, as the profit motive is not strong enough and even a societies available consumption is finite in nature. Basic supply and demand says no (or not enough) demand, no need for a supply.)

    One of the problems with advanced cutting edge/bleeding edge research (like the moon missions) is that you have to throw tons of money away to get the advances. But as has been shown time and again (moon shots, Internet, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, ), the benefits can be unmistakably life altering. This is something that most businesses are not good at, and in the hands of businesses would slow to a trickle.

    IMO, NASA should be returned to its prior years of glory. I say glory because as a nation we glorified it. We stood as a people behind its mission. The bully pulpet of the president was strongly behind it. It was advertised and promoted. If anything should be outsourced, perhaps that would be the best start. We do so well promoting our drug using abusive sports heroes, but we fail to promote that which is essentially most valuable to us as a society, even as a race.


  • It seems to me that the Aldridge Commission report is just taking the next logical step in carving up NASA, considering how much NASA had ignored the strategic survival plans from the two prior commissions.

    After all, if in 1986 they tell you that you had a car accident due to your drinking, then in 1990 they tell you your driving is still terrible, then we can only conclude that when you have another inept DUI accident in 2002 that it's time to restrict your driving to "work only".

    NASA has proven itself to be a poor repository of space vision. And we can see with increasing clarity that it is also a poor place to put your technological hopes for SSTO, solar power stations, lunar and asteroid mining, and overall Human habitation in space.

    I can't blame NASA for all of this, however; we must also point at the money-fickle Congress. NASA has earned good marks with the thing they were allowed to pursue in good faith and budgeting, that being the interplanetary probes. We may as well relegate them to that so they can (to borrow that hated modern phrase) "concentrate on their core competency". I'd leap for actual joy if NASA was reduced to a "National Space Exploration Administration", which would design equipment, build probes, contract to have them launched, and then manage and track them with the DSN.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27