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Despite a succesful test flight of a prototype of its Ares I rocket, an independent panel insists NASA is on a collision course.  (Source: MSNBC)

The panel, led by former NASA officials, many of whom now work in the private sector, insists that the Ares program should be put on hold and NASA should rely on commercial rocket develop by companies like SpaceX, whose rocket is pictured here.  (Source: 62MileClub)

They also take issue with Congress's plan to scrap the Internation Space Station in 2015.  (Source: NASA)
The future of NASA is murky as different opinions are voiced

As new space powers like China and India surge ahead with their efforts to create moon bases and launch manned missions to Mars, the U.S.'s space program sits at a crossroads.  Once one of the world's brightest scientific beacons, an underfunded NASA now has to come to grips with the reality that it may be beaten in the critical return to the Moon and journey to Mars.  Now with the Ares I rocket prototype having logged its test flight, the true decision time about the fate of NASA begins in the government and scientific forums.

Many complain -- we've already gone to the moon, why go back?  "And what's the point of expensive programs like the International Space Station (ISS) that cost taxpayers millions and return results that on the surface don't seem a cost-effective way of solving pressing Earth based problems?" they argue.

On the other hand, the lure of exploration and scientific discovery are always driving forces, as is national pride.  While the NASA officials would be unlikely to admit it on record, most will be embarrassed if we get beaten to Mars.  For these reasons alone, the U.S. is unlikely to turn away from its dreams of exploring the solar system -- however, the critical emerging argument is how best to achieve such dreams.

Retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine is leading a panel that has supplied a 155-page report to Congress with suggestions from individuals intimately involved in NASA's past successes.  The panel has suggested some rather drastic shifts in the government's space spending strategy. 

Among the panel's recommendations are to focus on refining Ares I before deploying it and, in the meantime, buy rides to low-Earth orbit from foreign players.  It also recommends that rather than scrapping the ISS or shuttle fleet, to instead retain them, using them on a reduced basis.  Finally, it recommends that rather than trying to set up a moon base, we instead focus on traveling to Mars, or alternative low gravity destinations such as near-Earth asteroids or the Martian moons.

Congress, though, largely feels that the such drastic changes are unnecessary, and is leaning towards pumping $3B USD extra into the space agency to try to fix its problems.  U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — a Florida Democrat who flew aboard the space shuttle and helped convince President Barack Obama to give NASA's top spot to his former mission commander, Charles Bolden – says that President Obama promised him, "NASA will get enough money to do what it does best: go explore the heavens."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords,  an Arizona Democrat who is married to an astronaut and chairs the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, characterized the Ares I-X prototype test program as "well managed" and "executable".  She said that the test flight showed NASA to be "on track with its human space exploration program", and that no major policy shift was needed.

The Augustine Panel, though, insists NASA's plans are a surefire recipe for failure.  They say that the return to the Moon will cost approximately $145B USD -- $45B USD more than previously estimated.  Given the current NASA budget of $18B USD yearly, even President Obama's planned cash infusion won't be able to provide enough funding by 2020, the planned mission date, the panel argues.  The panel adds that the shuttle fleet's retirement timetable is unrealistic and should be extended to 2011.  And it sharply remarks about the government's plans to shutter the ISS in 2015, commenting, "It makes no sense to shut down the space station after five years of operation."

The panel argues that rockets from commercial startups such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus 2 would better serve the industry.  Here a critical question becomes whether Augustine and his colleagues -- many of them who work in the private sector -- can offer unbiased analysis, given that many of them would stand to profit from such a shift.

Currently NASA plans on offering $50M USD over the next year to fund the commercial development of rockets to carry astronauts.  The Augustine Panel, though, suggests that Ares won't be ready for manned missions by 2017, and that heavier investment in commercial endeavors is the only practical approach.  XCOR Aerospace's Jeff Greason, a member of the panel said it was his "personal opinion" that commercial rockets were a better value than Ares.

So will Congress follow the recommendations and "pull the plug", cutting back on Ares, after its first successful flight?  Or will it go its own way, charging ahead with Ares?  The omnibus spending bill that applies to NASA, which is to be passed in a few weeks, will shed some clues.  But ultimately the nation may have to wait for a Presidential address from Barack Obama before the true fate of NASA and the U.S. space program is made clear.

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Why start from scratch?
By ussfletcher on 11/5/2009 2:08:50 AM , Rating: 1
One thing I've wondered since I started my internship at NASA was "Why reinvent the wheel?" We have had working rockets since the 1960's capable of just about everything expected from the Aries. Russia has had a similar rocket as well, it seems that it would be most efficient to start with an old design and modernize it.

Another thing I've wondered is "Why Mars?" Really, it seems rather pointless to send humans to Mars other than to just say "Yay we did it!" Honestly I think there are higher priorities, like maintaining a base on the moon, which would render space stations obsolete.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By freaqie on 11/5/2009 2:19:35 AM , Rating: 3
not only would they be rendered obsolete.
it would be much cheaper. also astronauts could stay longer (as there is some form of gravity so most negatie space side effects would be a lot weaker)
and it could become semi selfsupporting.
possibly with a bit of hard work, even profitable
(hotels , mining rare minerals etc etc)

the moon also has a lot of resources available.
so if they were able to extract those, only vital parts would need to be shipped there. (assuming metal or concrete or some form of building materials could be extracted)

and what about the moon as a step up into space.
it has much more potential then just going to mars...
again i think a moon base is a very good step.

and nevermid the prestige that we are the frst to colonize a planet for the first time in history, how bout that for prestige

those are just my two cents though

RE: Why start from scratch?
By CZroe on 11/5/09, Rating: 0
RE: Why start from scratch?
By Yeco on 11/5/2009 6:57:57 AM , Rating: 2
Space stations won't become obsolete, because on the moon there is no micro gravity like in space!! And believe me it won't be cheaper. Owke there is some gravity, but not enough to overcome the biological side effects. And then there is the fact that the moon isn't protected by anything form cosmic rays!
Isn't the constellation program technology form the sixties? Just use some parts of the shuttle and add some seats for more crew.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By callmeroy on 11/9/2009 11:21:35 AM , Rating: 2
"owke"...I read that as "OK" is that right? LOL

I have nothing constructive to add but that made me first glance I thought you were referring to some Native Indian or something. :)

I've never seen anyone use that word

carry on..

RE: Why start from scratch?
By dastruch on 11/5/2009 5:17:54 PM , Rating: 2
sounds like at least 145*10^11 cents to me... :)

i say go for it!

RE: Why start from scratch?
By spudis on 11/5/2009 5:25:34 AM , Rating: 1
Your sense of a government Mars mission is probably correct. It is a decades-long, multi-trillion dollar, flags-and-footprints PR stunt, with no long-lived legacy to show for it (as was the Apollo program). What we need is a new template of spaceflight, where we gradually and steadily build and expand a space-faring transportation infrastructure. That was the intent of the Vision for Space Exploration -- we are to go to the Moon to learn how to extract useful materials from the resources there (mostly water, air and rocket propellant) to expand and extend human reach in space. Only after we learn how to do that will we be ready for trips to the planets.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By Ringold on 11/5/2009 9:00:11 AM , Rating: 2
Can't we do the same thing with Mars, and in a slightly less hostile environment? We've been to the Moon, so whats the gain there? Propulsion technology exists to make the trip to Mars in months instead of years. Skipping the moon sounds like it'd provide the sort of experience no one yet has; long distance interplanetary travel, with the associated protection from the hazards of prolonged space travel and logistical issues that months in isolation present. Private companies, as far as I know the same planning on the orbital hotel, have already tested lunar surface construction techniques (in the desert outside Vegas). They've already tinkered with ideas about how to construct parts of lunar bases at Lagrange points and lower it to the moon, then bury them for protection. NASA going to the moon would just be doing, for far more money, what the private sector is slowly working on doing all on its own. If the governments involved in space (or any market), I feel like it should at least be blazing a trail that the private market can't yet do and may not otherwise attempt without someone else first showing it can be done and how to do it.

The main drawback I see to skipping the moon is, for a while, US citizens will look to the moon and know communists are up there and we aren't, but thats going to happen either way.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By Iaiken on 11/5/2009 11:51:33 AM , Rating: 3
Having been to the moon and having set up an off-planet operation are two totally different things. We have a hard enough time getting people off our planet with current technology. Without some form of staging area in space, it is ridiculous to entertain the idea of going from the surface of the earth to the surface of mars and back again.

You have to walk before you can run and when it comes to space travel we're still only at the crawling stage.

Additionally, there are so many aspects that go beyond the simple logistics of it.

The experiments on the Bathyscaphe Trieste with regard to the stresses on the human mind caused this type of isolated confinement with few others demonstrates the necessity of private space (no matter how small). Thus any sufficiently sized space vehicle for human interplanetary travel is going to have to be lifted into space in parts and assembled there. This means that some form of off-planet staging area is going to be an absolute necessity.

Speaking of near-earth logistics, the moon makes an ideal place for off-planet assembly as any astronaut who has space walked can tell you just how much of a pain in the ass it is to work in free fall. The moon offers a low-gravity environment and a surface upon which we can construct sheltered assembly areas and work environments.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By Ringold on 11/5/2009 4:55:41 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't say we may not need to assemble a craft in orbit. This is also not a new concept; NASA gave the idea of launching the command and service modules separately for lunar missions. If we can assemble the ISS, we can plug together modular spaceship components. I also didn't say it'd be easy; but then that is the only reason government should do it, not because its easy but because it is hard. (That last part sound familiar in the history of presidential speeches?)

Your best point may be if NASA really thinks sending components to the moon for assembly is ultimately cheaper than doing so in orbit. Otherwise, I'm not seeing a reason not to leave the moon to private enterprise and focus on going straight to Mars (from Earth orbit), tackling the issues we agree exist head-on: logistics, psychological issues, health issues, and propulsion.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By PrimarchLion on 11/5/2009 3:11:17 PM , Rating: 3
I think one of the primary reasons for building a moon base first is its close proximity. If something goes wrong, there is a chance for a rescue mission if one is prepared.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By TSS on 11/5/2009 7:40:42 AM , Rating: 2
Why mars is probably the same question they asked back in the 60's, only then it was "Why the moon?"

Because you can damnit. It inspires people.

Cutting edge is not doing something you've already done, or what's "possible".

RE: Why start from scratch?
By freeagle on 11/5/2009 9:35:35 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is that you spend a lot of money for a extremely difficult project, such as the trip to mars. This project will probably create very small ( if any ) infrastructure for future missions. This means, another such trip will cost a lot as well and the public wont be as eager to finance it. But if you put the money you have now to create viable facilities to make future missions easier ( and cheaper ), you could end up with several mars like missions, but with some delay.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By delphinus100 on 11/8/2009 11:37:28 PM , Rating: 2
Understand, I'm all in favor of a rationally done return to the Moon, and missions to Mars...

But 'inspiration' is at the bottom of my list.

I'm old enough to remember Apollo well (and was a space buff well before that), and it showed me that 'inspiration' lasts up until the second, maybe third mission (except for space enthusiasts who already care). And the public attention span is, if anything, shorter now than in the late 60's.

This is another argument for doing it in the most cost-effective way we can (which is not the direction we seem to be going now, with Constellation as it's currently configured), so that it doesn't require massive, ongoing public support (which tends to translate into Congressional support), and if anything stay below the public radar.

I don't know if anyone's 'inspired' by research in Antarctica, but neither does anyone complain about what it costs. That's largely because it's done with mature, economical transportation technologies that are also used in many other applications.

That's the point we need to get to in human spaceflight. What was said about emphasizing overall space transportation/propulsion technologies (that would let us reach the Moon and NEOs and Mars and beyond on a regular basis) was absolutely correct. (as well as more work on other important, but destination-agnostic technologies, like long-term life support, and combatting long-term microgravity effects and galactic cosmic ray/solar flare protection).

Those who excessively focus on the Moon or Mars, and argue with each other over their respective importance, except their common notion that they're 'tired of boring round-and-round in LEO' (as if we've done everything that could be done there) and 'dump the Shuttle' (without a better reusable launcher to replace it), are like mountaineers who want to go straight for the peak from their downtown hotel, when they don't even have a good way to reach the mountain and establish a fracking base camp...

RE: Why start from scratch?
By stromgald30 on 11/5/2009 1:49:09 PM , Rating: 2
One thing I've wondered since I started my internship at NASA was "Why reinvent the wheel?"

NASA was never optimized for operating something repeatedly. Every one of their programs has/needs a 'mission'. Once that mission is done, they go onto a new 'mission' and need to design new vehicles. That's the culture/philosophy of NASA . . . and in any large organization, it's very hard to change culture/philosophy.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By Kyanzes on 11/6/2009 10:20:11 AM , Rating: 2
A manned trip to the Mars could have significant importance. "Prestige first" is not solely about pride (though it's also important) but also means "technology first". Technology means strategic advantage. Etc.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By jmurbank on 11/6/2009 7:15:13 PM , Rating: 2

One thing I've wondered since I started my internship at NASA was "Why reinvent the wheel?" We have had working rockets since the 1960's capable of just about everything expected from the Aries. Russia has had a similar rocket as well, it seems that it would be most efficient to start with an old design and modernize it.

Another thing I've wondered is "Why Mars?" Really, it seems rather pointless to send humans to Mars other than to just say "Yay we did it!" Honestly I think there are higher priorities, like maintaining a base on the moon, which would render space stations obsolete.

Ares is using old rockets engines. Ares have an interchangeable rocket system for different missions and different payloads. NASA is not re-inventing the wheel this time like they did for the space shuttle and the re-usable lander, they are using rocket configurations similar to Apollo and Gemini missions. Also NASA is including additional features for safety. What is new is the enhancements that NASA made to the old equipment and the launch pad that will be used for Ares. NASA should really be done with Ares by the end of 2010.

It is not worthless to go to Mars. There is a difference sending robots and sending humans. Robots are labs, but humans include senses that robots can not match. To get an idea what I am explaining is if you read a book about the Grand Canyon or Yellow Stone National Park, it is a different feeling of going there to experience. A book can paint its own picture while you can paint an even bigger picture that is a lot more colorful than the book. Mars or any world will have the same effect even though most worlds are deserts.

One thing that comes to mind about NASA is that they are too comfortable and an a perfectionist. Being comfortable and an a perfectionist is a bad thing for progress.

RE: Why start from scratch?
By delphinus100 on 11/8/2009 11:00:37 PM , Rating: 2
"Honestly I think there are higher priorities, like maintaining a base on the moon, which would render space stations obsolete."

How can the Moon possibly make space stations 'obsolete?'

There's a great difference between the Moon (about three days away, requiring non-trivial propulsive flight down to and up from from its surface), and easily reached objects in Low Earth Orbit (potentially reachable in hours, requiring only the use of thrusters for rendezvous and docking).

The Moon has its own scientific, and potential economic value, but some things can be done best, or done only through long-term operations in LEO.

Consider this...
By Amiga500 on 11/5/2009 3:40:32 AM , Rating: 2
A: Who composes "The Augustine Panel"?

B: Who would stand to gain most from NASA having to sub-tier work out to private industry?

Nothing like listening to those with vested interests. The most cost efficient way of going to the moon will be through NASA, not through sub-tiering the same work to consultants who charge a lot more.

RE: Consider this...
By randomly on 11/5/2009 10:18:59 AM , Rating: 4
You should look up who is on the Augustine panel.

Having followed all the Augustine commission hearings and debates since they started I have the utmost respect for the members of the panel. Certainly there are economic, political, and commercial pressures that are aimed at influencing NASA, but the commission report itself is an intellectual honest evaluation. There is tremendous validity in the report. What program is actually selected by the political powers that be is another matter.

Jason Mick unfortunately did a very poor job of reporting this.

1) The commission was SPECIFICALLY CHARTERED NOT TO MAKE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS but to compile a list of program OPTIONS that would fit the stated budget or one slightly higher. This was very intentional so that whatever option the White House ended up making it would not be necessary to refute the commissions recommendation if they were different programs. The Commission worked very hard not to make any specific recommendations.

2)They did not say ARES I should be refined before deploying. In fact ARES I only appears in one of the program options they proposed and that was only the Program of Record that was deemed unexecutable due to huge budget shortfalls. The Condensed answer is that ARES I should be abandoned since it comes at huge developmental and operational costs yet provides no new launch capability that doesn't already exist with the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. The current NASA program of developing and operating two totally new and different rockets (ARES I and ARES V) is just too expensive. We need to make do with a single heavy lift vehicle.

3)Contrary to what Jason Mick says, only one of the seven options presented includes Shuttle extension. Shuttle extension is the only way to close the gap of US access to the ISS. Note that this option totally contradicts what Jason says in the previous sentence about buying rides from foreign services while ARES I is in development since extending the shuttle provides the access to ISS. Shuttle extension also goes along with cancellation of ARES I/V and development of a more closely shuttle derived heavy launcher such as the SD-HLV or the DIRECT Jupiter.

What Jason is calling recommendations are actually a list of program options, many aspects of which are mutually exclusive. Doh...

It is my fervent hope that whatever program is eventually picked that ARES I is canceled. It is a horrible mistake of a launch vehicle that sucks up more than $15 Billion dollars just to develop, let alone to operate, and it won't be ready till 2017 at the earliest barely in time to be operational before it's destination the ISS is splashed into the sea in 2020.

We need to do just develop a single Heavy Lift Vehicle. My preference is the Jupiter as it makes the best use of the existing infrastructure and minimizes development costs. Most bang for the buck. So we have some bucks left over to actually do some missions.

RE: Consider this...
By randomly on 11/5/2009 10:20:15 AM , Rating: 2
For the curious, you can read the Augustine report here

RE: Consider this...
By Amiga500 on 11/5/2009 12:45:14 PM , Rating: 3
I had a very quick flick through...

To say I was concerned at the manner in which options were presented would be an understatement. Within the conclusion section, there was a recommendation that NASA should not be it's own supplier - and that was encompassing all options.

That is tantamount to recommending work be contracted out to private industry... and funnily enough... the first two names on the panel - both ex-CEOs of aerospace companies. I didn't bother looking at the resumes further.

There is bias in there - even if the panel was supposed to be neutral.

RE: Consider this...
By randomly on 11/5/2009 2:03:46 PM , Rating: 2
You may not realize it but NASA already contracts out more than 80% to commercial companies so going to 100% is not that big a change. The arguments to have NASA focus on specifying contract requirements and letting commercial companies fulfill them for fixed contracts are compelling.

NASA has historically has had a lot of problems with program creeps and delays. Cost control is difficult to maintain if you are your own supplier, it's better to have a disconnect between the group specifying the requirements and the ones designing and building the equipment in the most cost effective manner.

This can clearly be seen in NASA and other government divisions as well as in private industry. It's a well recognized phenomenon.

RE: Consider this...
By Amiga500 on 11/5/2009 3:03:11 PM , Rating: 1
If 80% of the equipment is already subcontracted...

Why do they have such a big problem with cost creep?

Can't have your cake and eat it dude. :-)

RE: Consider this...
By randomly on 11/5/2009 3:52:13 PM , Rating: 3
Because NASA keeps it's hands fully involved with the systems development and the features and mission specs keep drifting.

An example is the Marshall Space flight center trying to do the design of the ARES I and V in house. MSFC hasn't designed a rocket in decades, they haven't designed an upperstage in over 40 years. The real rocket design expertise lies in Boeing, Lockmart, and ULA. Lockheeds current Centaur upperstage is considerably higher performance than what MSFC is designing for ARES V simply because MSFC doesn't have the expertise to design light weight common bulkhead upperstages like Lockeed does who have been refining their designs for decades.

We don't need a duplication of rocket design teams. NASA should contract out what it can and focus on those research and development areas that are not already covered by commercial companies. Basic research, science, mission planning, mission requirements, system specifications and requirements, etc.

There is a limited amount of money available for NASA, we need to make the most efficient use of it to get the most benefit. We need a more efficient management structure, we need to lower the fixed costs at NASA, we need to make maximum use of existing facilities and infrastructure, We need to spend less money on developing launch systems and more of it on actual missions.

RE: Consider this...
By Ringold on 11/5/2009 5:10:18 PM , Rating: 2
If 80% of the equipment is already subcontracted... Why do they have such a big problem with cost creep? Can't have your cake and eat it dude. :-)

There's a couple other factors the other guy didn't specifically mention that allow him to have his cake and eat it too. Namely, the cozy relationship between NASA, LockMart and a small number of other regular firms. Markets with few competitors are less efficient. Giving SpaceX and other 'new space' companies a little support and a fair shake would go a ways towards changing that.

Don't know what about economic history leads you to think a government agency can ever, especially over the long term, be more efficient than private enterprise. At the end of the day, the goal of business it to provide the most value for the least amount of money, whereas the goal of a bureaucrat is his own career and prestige, not what the actual nominal goal of his agency is. Businessmen always know they have limited amounts of money (and government contractors would too if the government handled contracts in a sane manner). Bureaucrats know they can just ask for more from the government, and governments know no spending limit. (For evidence, I reference current budget deficits across the OECD)

RE: Consider this...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/5/2009 4:13:07 PM , Rating: 3
Jason Mick unfortunately did a very poor job of reporting this.

If we had a dollar for every time this was the

RE: Consider this...
By stromgald30 on 11/5/2009 1:45:52 PM , Rating: 2
Privatizing NASA technology isn't new. It was done with communications satellites back in the 70s and was proposed for the space shuttle in the late 80s. NASA just dropped the ball with commercializing human space flight.

Sure, there are some vested interests, but the benefits are obvious. NASA wasn't designed to manage operational efforts. It should strictly be an R&D agency.

Here's an interview with an old NASA center director saying basically the same thing (and with more detail from his experiences):

Space Elevator?
By Litzner on 11/5/2009 6:59:02 AM , Rating: 4
I say don't worry about Luna or Mars at this point. Focus development on the space elevator, once you get that is drops costs drastically to do anything in space. Until we have a space elevator realistic space exploration by humans past Mars will be in question.

If I am correct the most expensive part is leaving earths gravity. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong in my opinion on the space elevator as I wouldn't not consider my self a expert in this subject.

RE: Space Elevator?
By 91TTZ on 11/5/2009 11:46:42 AM , Rating: 2

I've seen it listed as that before, but I've never actually heard someone use it.

RE: Space Elevator?
By Viditor on 11/5/2009 8:41:37 PM , Rating: 2

Very popular in 1950s Sci Fi (I use the term myself). It's a good way of guaging the age of the speaker...:)

If I am correct the most expensive part is leaving earths gravity.

Absolutely correct...and there are several Space Elevator projects underway. The problem is that they will require Carbon Nanotube construction, which is still 1-2 decades away. But there's always the chance of an early breakthrough! :)

RE: Space Elevator?
By TMV192 on 11/5/2009 11:46:08 AM , Rating: 3
The problem is that after you stop them from laughing, you'll still have to wait 50 years

RE: Space Elevator?
By kattanna on 11/5/2009 12:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
aye.. but im still laughing

RE: Space Elevator?
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 11/5/2009 6:25:21 PM , Rating: 2
How about a space rope.... Like in gym class but into outer space. I would be a cheap way to get into space... Just climb. A great side benefit is the strength you gain from climbing the rope. Just do not slide down too fast that would be one H*ll of a rope burn. :)

A space elevator sounds like a great thing just I still can not imagine the amount of material it would require to build and then how does it stay up? Viagra? That is the amount of weight pulling down would be unbelievable.... then what if the unthinkable happens, it falls. What damage will that create?

Better to leave it in the hands of private sector
By superPC on 11/5/2009 1:11:57 AM , Rating: 2
Space X has done it's job well. it is on track to fulfill its promises that to reach LEO it will only cost 1000$ per pound. with the new Falcon IX they're well on course. i think NASA should refocus on next generation propulsion (ion engine, VASIMIR, nuclear power plant and propulsion, etc) and leave the LEO, GTO to private companies. even if it means NASA loosing the race to mars or the moon, it's more economical that way. just look at airplane industries. it's all private since the beginning and it has serve us well up to now.

By raddude9 on 11/5/2009 8:30:51 AM , Rating: 2
Space X has done it's job well
Wait a sec, out of 5 launches the Falcon 1 failed 3 times, not exactly my definition of doing well!
Still, best of luck to them, at least they are trying to reduce the cost of getting to space.

By MozeeToby on 11/5/2009 12:50:51 PM , Rating: 2
To truly get into space, the cost to LEO needs to be more like $100 per kg. It's fundementally impossible with chemical rocket technology. There are lots of 'non-rocket' launch technologies that could, theoretically fit the bill.

The space elevator, however, is too ambitious for this point of our technological developement. If you don't want to spend a lot of money, start with a hypersonic skyhook or laser propultion. If you're willing to go huge, build a launch loop or orbital ring. Do something other than burn thousands of tons of chemicals just to make LEO.

Real Embarrassment!!
By HighWing on 11/5/2009 4:02:53 PM , Rating: 2
So they say it would be an embarrassment if another country beats us to Mars?

However, what kind of embarrassment would it be if a private sector company beats NASA back to the moon? With a planned date of 2020 for NASA, that is a LONG time for many of these private sector space tourism companies to refine their current methods. I wouldn't be too surprised to see that 2020 date for NASA pushed back further. Mean while in maybe 2017 Virgin Galactic or some other company is doing moon fly bys.

Obviously this is all just speculation, but to me it seems like the private sector is on track to beat NASA. And I see that as a reason to really question NASA's objectives and spending.

NASA has lost the dreamers...
By jonmcc33 on 11/5/2009 4:42:48 PM , Rating: 2
Go back decades ago, when movies like Star Wars and Star Trek were first out. The curiousity and drive for space exploration by man was at an all time high. Add a few decades, take those sci-fi shows off and have a few shuttle accidents and nobody thinks manned space exploration is necessary.

Regardless of the cost of money and even human life, it is our duty to break off from our planet and explore the universe. Evolution calls for it.

Our planet is becoming too crowded, too prejudice and too violent. I'd rather live in space by myself then have to worry about some durka durka jihad trying to blow me up where I work.

Outer or inner space
By FPP on 11/7/2009 4:19:04 PM , Rating: 2
You know, I think we really need to think about a vastly different space program. We have precious little to show for the last 30 years of manned activity and a whole lot of money spent.

Most of what we know about space was done with telescopes and satellites. These cost a pittance compared to manned flight. On top of that sat tech is no longer new i.e. we know how to do it and depand on it. A space program where unmanned exploration and core tech development are the top priorities should be the engine to move forward.

By neilrieck on 11/7/2009 10:47:54 PM , Rating: 2
Using history as a guide, Europeans sailed for centuries in the Mediterranean before they ventured around Africa to India and China. Likewise, we've got to develop our space-legs by paddling for decade or two between the Earth and the Moon. On a related note, the Moon is only 3-days away so rescue missions are always possible. A 9-month trip to Mars makes a rescue mission almost impossible. Now I think it would be really bad for one country to attempt this alone. Going back to the moon should only be attempted by a consortium of space-faring nations. This would be one way to divert money away from destructive wars (the US has already spent $1 trillion on the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict) to something constructive like space exploration.

p.s. In the 1990s, president Bill Clinton went to America's partners to ask for help to build the ISS. Wouldn't it be neat if President Barack Obama did the same thing for Altar/Orion/Ares?

Now if you really want to feel what it would be like to live on the moon, go back and read Arthur C. Clarke's 6-page short story from 1951 titled "The Sentinel" ( ). This story about lunar geologists was the basis for "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Choose to go to Mars
By CityZen on 11/5/2009 2:11:24 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know about you, but I would love to hear Barack Obama pronounce these words: "We choose to go to Mars, not because it's easy but because it's hard"
Talk about inspiring words ...

RE: Choose to go to Mars
By Reclaimer77 on 11/5/09, Rating: -1
RE: Choose to go to Mars
By lightfoot on 11/5/09, Rating: 0
Their first mistake...
By ksherman on 11/5/2009 9:25:28 AM , Rating: 1
was a 155 page report to Congress. They won't read that themselves, they'll shove it off to an aid that summarize it in 5 minutes or less.

The future
By marsbound2024 on 11/5/2009 12:29:16 PM , Rating: 1
The future is out there, not down here. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said, "The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever." Look, the United States is going to have a difficult time competing on Earth-bound manufacturing fronts. Really the only way the United States can lead is by exploring new frontiers of science and technology. Also, we need to start inspiring our students and children to become scientists, engineers and mathematicians. We will need them as we venture out into the solar system. There are vast reserves of resources out there--especially in the asteroid belt and on NEOs alone. As soon as we can start mining for raw material out there, the better off we will be. Space is the next ocean to be explored by the next Columbuses. We'll eventually need new homes. Stop kidding yourselves people! All those close-minded individuals who say "We need to focus on problems here before going out there" are not thinking logically. THE SOLUTION is out there, not down here! Think of all the technologies NASA has developed through spin offs. Anyone inclined to disagree should read NASA's Spinoff Magazine. NASA technologies have contributed BILLIONS into the economy and so we actually get a huge return on our investment. But alas, even a return on investment shouldn't matter because what we get in the future is far more valuable, both intrinsically and economically.

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