NASA: Situation Normal, All Foamed Up

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So let's get this straight: It takes forever for NASA to fly another shuttle mission, the main purpose of which is to see whether the shuttle can repair foam tile problems in space (that and collecting overdue Blockbuster rental tapes left at the Intergalactic Space Station and replenishing dangerously low Tang supplies). And now NASA is grounding the shuttle fleet because of more foam problems.

Is this any way to run a space program?

I don't think so. Give me Burt Rutan and other space entrepreneurs anyday.

More on NASA antics here.

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  1. Nick Gillespie,

    Any reasonably ambitious space program would encounter these sorts of long-term problems, whether it is private or public. Space flight is a technologically, etc. daunting task.

    Does that mean I think the government should be in the space business (with the exception of military sattelites)? No.

  2. Man, the shuttle really was a dead-end, huh?

    How much further along would we be if we’d stuck to rocketry?

  3. There would be a big diff, though. Private industry wouldn’t be spending public money on its screw-ups.

  4. But..but..

    We NEED to spend billions of dollars to send shuttles up into a void..

    because…uh..

  5. joe

    I’ve heard that critique before from a former NASA scientist. “Big dumb rockets” are simple (relatively), cheap (again, relatively), and less prone to failure.

    I’ve also been hearing some scathing criticism of late that most of the manned missions are unnecessary. Which makes sense, now that I think about it: what did the moon missions accomplish besides bringing back rocks? (Not saying whether bringing back those rocks was bad, mind you, but did we need to send people to do it?)

  6. Bypassing the “Should we be spending money on it” arguments, and moving into the “So since we are, what are we doing” line — I note that the scuttlebutt around here is that NASA is happily taking the Bush “Mars, Bitch!” money and using it for something more generally useful — since no one thinks Bush or anyone else actually wants to go to Mars. (D’uh).

    Looks like NASA’s first order of business is to sever manned and heavy-lift capacity, which is overdue. While I’m sure the “Let’s Make a Space SUV” idea was thrilling at the time, it’s really cheaper just to fling your cargo up seperately from your people.

    It’s safer, cheaper, and there are less safety/mass tradeoffs.

    It’s being sold as a “Mars critical” piece of design (which, in all honesty, it probably is — you’d have to lift a lot into orbit, and people don’t need to be attached) but in practice it’d be something to make any future NASA endeavours a lot more efficient — manned or unmanned.

  7. And yet, Russian Soyuz flights go up like clockwork.

    Things would go cheaper and probably safer if we just fire up the Atlas series, and dump the facade of reusability.

  8. Space exploration brings a tear to my eye, but it’s got to become privatised for it to really take off. (No pun intended.)

    Cue people howling about how we’ll turn into an ‘Aliens’ type society, with an evil megacorporation running everything. Oh wait, that’ll just be joe. (Just ribbin’ ya, joe. We agreed on something in another thread, so I thought I had to throw an obligatory jab.)

  9. How much further along would we be if we’d stuck to rocketry?

    The shuttle is a rocket, only it returns as a glider.

  10. I have a theory that the shuttle is just another iteration of the recycling craze/fantasy.

  11. Someone remind me what manned space flight has actually accomplished? Anything more than a few lunar footprints?

    I’m not entirely opposed to sending things up there (GPS satellites, for instance), but humans seem to be a very expensive, delicate and unnecessry cargo.

  12. Erm, wait a minute…aren’t the shuttles built by private industry?

  13. This article was written over 2 years ago, but it’s still on the money. It’s also hilarious:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/suprynowicz/suprynowicz12.html

  14. I wonder how many nifty robots we could buy with the cash that’s being spent on this Tony Orlando and Dawn era boondoggle.

    I can’t even think of a cynical reason why the shuttle wasn’t mothballed 15-20 years ago. I don’t imagine it’s that much money for defense contractors. They could build the rockets to launch the robots anyway.

  15. What we need to do is auction off most of NASA (i’ll concede the the govt. does have a legitimate defense interest in space), switch from chemical to nuclear rockets for interplanetary travel, and catch the hell up on the 30 years we’ve been dragging our feet by letting the Space DMV run the show instead of Space Porsche (Or Space Toyota, Space GM, etc).
    As someone who has been deeply interested in space exploration his whole life, it saddens me to say that the space shuttle will eventually be seen as a giant mistake that didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and caused a hell of a lot of problems doing it. If we’re going to be spending our space exploration money through NASA, we should at least demand it not go into something few people think should still be flying. The ability to put maybe 20 people in space every year for a couple of weeks at a time is not something we should be proud of decades after Apollo.

  16. Russ R

    Way I see it, manned space missions accomplished 2 things:

    (1) acquired useful scientific data on the effects of space on the human body
    (2) instilled some national euphoria

    As for (1), that’s great, except it is a bit self-serving. As for (2), that’s also great, except it is not worth the price.

    And, let’s say that maybe there are a few missions which require human presence (repairing the Hubble was one, I think). Otherwise…….

  17. They weren’t going to fix the Hubble, but the Shuttle has to keep flying OR THE TERRORISTS WILL WIN!!!

    Seriously, it’s the same argument as Iraq and Somalis – if we stop now, we’ll look like a bunch of idiots!

  18. The terrorists are going to have a much, much harder time terrorizing us when we move to Mars.

  19. joe,

    Ask yourself a question. What is the only profitable portion of the “space business?” What is the main launch vehicle for that portion of the “space business?”

    The Shuttle is a 1970s concept that has never delivered on what was promised of it. Yet we are expected to pour billions of dollars into the program anyway. Sounds like military contracting. Except in the case of the shuttle it gets liberals all fuzzy.

  20. “Erm, wait a minute…aren’t the shuttles built by private industry?”

    Yes, but according to government specs, which negates any thought of intelligent design.

    Sheesh, why are we still sending people to orbit the earth in the spacecraft equivalent of a Chrysler K-Car? I’m not too crazy about 25-year-old CARS, let alone …

    I guess it would be impolite to ask how Bush can put men on Mars, when we can’t put foam properly on shuttle …

  21. Anybody else see the ominous parallels between the Space Shuttle and The Concord.

    Thirty year old technology that was never cost effective.

    Created out of misguided national pride.

    Major catastrophe killing all on board signals demise within two years.

  22. Space DMV vs. Space Porsche

    cool analogy, Dave

  23. My point about the shuttles being built by private industry was a bit dumb, wasn’t it?

    What I was thinking of is how weird it seems that, while the govt is perfectly content to let private sector build space vehicles, there is no desire to let private companies run the program. I mean, please! Why can’t anyone see this contradiction?

  24. There is no shame in admitting that something doesn’t work. There is no shame in abandoning projects which no longer serve one’s aims (if they ever did). But there is great shame, and great harm, in holding on to something which is demonstrably not worth the price for fear of being shamed.

    Why can’t government say “Well, on second thought, this was a fuck-up. OK, lesson learned, let’s move on.” Successful businesspeople do this all the time.

  25. I’d suspect, JMoore, you’ve never spent five hundred billion dollars of someone else’s money and then had to turn to them and say, “Well, on second thought, this was a fuck-up.”

  26. But, Rich Ard, it’s very very very easy to do this, especially in govt circles! You just blame your predecessor! Makes you look even better.

  27. That must be why Social Security has up and vanished of late.

  28. Someone remind me what manned space flight has actually accomplished?

    It spurred the development of a wide range of products we take for granted today, like the afore-mentioned Tang, heart monitors, personal computers, small batteries, etc.

    Usually such innovation is the result of a large war. Space exploration seems a lot more efficient.

    Five years from now, for instance, I’ll lay odds we have several foolproof ways to attach foam insulation to almost anything.

  29. Hakluyt,

    ‘What is the only profitable portion of the “space business?”‘ Satellites?

    ‘What is the main launch vehicle for that portion of the “space business?”‘ Rockets?

    How’d I do?

    Retiring the Shuttles would be easy – have a nice decomissioning ceremony based on the Navy’s traditions. The floating museums in Boston and New York and other harbors go nice business.

    But there would have to be something replacing it, and I’m not sure even older technologies would work. Unless it was a really BIG version…hmm…..

  30. Call me heartless, but when 7 people are foolhardy enough to strap themselves into a 25 year old glider driven by a couple of missiles carrying a tank full of highly explosive fuel, I can’t help but feel that they should be Darwin Award nominees.

    Yes, I’m definitely heartless.

  31. Ah, yes, my theory only works when the demonstration that the project is not worth the cost is believed by those paying for it, of course. People will be willfully blind, from time to time. And, of course, whenever wealth redistribution is involved, all bets are off.

  32. Russ R

    You’re evil man.

    But if I ever get terminal cancer, I’m volunteering. I wouldn’t mind raining down on certain people. Sweet revenge.

  33. Why can’t government say “Well, on second thought, this was a fuck-up. OK, lesson learned, let’s move on.”

    Seriously, they don’t even have to do that. They can say, “Well, that was a big success, and now it’s time to move on to the next thing.” That way, no one has to have their pride hurt, and it’s not like the American public pays enough attention to know whether the space shuttle was a success, or if it ever even had a mission in the first place.

    I’m a big proponent of space exploration, because that’s the kind of guy I am. And I’d rather see money going to that than $500 billion in farm subsidies paying farmers to destroy their crop, r many of the other things the government wastes money on.

    But then, what we’ve been doing the last 25 years isn’t exactly exploration. It’s kind of like Columbus boldly announcing he intends to explore the world, then doing it by paddling a rowboat up and down twenty miles of Spanish coast, never out of sight of the beach.

  34. Call me heartless, but when 7 people are foolhardy enough to strap themselves into a 25 year old glider driven by a couple of missiles carrying a tank full of highly explosive fuel, I can’t help but feel that they should be Darwin Award nominees.

    Especially when it’s to lug high school science projects into space.

  35. A lot the baby boomers that running the government these days see NASA through the eyes of Boomer sentimentalism of the 1960s “Apollo 13” sort. I believe this, psychologically, was part of why Bush proposed the ridiculous Man on Mars idea. Even though a Republican, he can’t help but see his presidency through the eyes of the 1960s, John F. Kennedy and space program “national greatness”. I think he has the “legacy disease” as much as Clinton does, except his more of the Kennedy-military-industrial-complex type, whereas Clinton’s was of the Johnson-Great-Society type.

    As an Air Force brat born in the 60s, I vaguely remember the military mentality of “we gotta get there before the Soviets”. The cold war probably squashed a lot of debate on why we even had an Apollo program, much like terrorism and the war in Iraq is used to squash criticism of the Patriot Act, cutailing of civil liberties, etc.

    I think the Republicans, in light of NASA’s inability to keep shuttles from falling apart and thereby possibly causing the public to question its funding, will try to make the Chinese out to be the new Soviets, and keep funneling money into NASA under the guise of “beating the Chinese to Mars”.

    I’m not an engineering historian, but I’m willing to bet that the mentality of “well, the space program produced new technology that we use today” is probably not all that true. I’d bet dollars to donuts, most of those advances, particularly with Computer Science, would have evolved anyway through the private sector.

  36. joe,

    Why? So we can continue to support the space station? No thanks.

    There are a number of space business companies out there that deal with the issue of satellites that we really don’t have to worry about the matter.

  37. “Five years from now, for instance, I’ll lay odds we have several foolproof ways to attach foam insulation to almost anything.”

    ha ha ha ha ha!

  38. What I was thinking of is how weird it seems that, while the govt is perfectly content to let private sector build space vehicles, there is no desire to let private companies run the program. I mean, please! Why can’t anyone see this contradiction?

    Actually, JMoore, it is “run” by a consortium of “private” contractors.

    http://www.unitedspacealliance.com/about/

    A Boeing Lockheed Martin joint.

  39. Right on Keith, I’m with you.

    Why should we continue to send humans into space? Because we can! We have to keep exploring. Now, many of NASA’s science mission could be done by robots, and they should. But the moon landing was about more than bringing back rocks to prove that its not made out of cheese. It was to show not just the Russians that the U.S. could do it, but to show everyone that humans can do it.

  40. They can say, “Well, that was a big success, and now it’s time to move on to the next thing.”

    That’s roughly what they are saying. It’s to be retired by 2010 and replaced by a much simpler crew transfer vehicle. The reason for hanging onto the shuttle for that long is simply to finish building the space station — an even bigger boondoggle and disaster of an idea.

    Sometime around 1970 NASA turned away from being an organization exploring the cutting edge of space technology and engineering and instead became a space monopoly most interested in owning and operating a space truck.

    It’s bad that they somehow saw value in ending their innovative phase in favor of operating a space truck. It’s especially bad that the design they stuck themselves with has never come close to meeting its requirements.

  41. A NASA engineer told me in 1977 that the only reason the shuttle would be completed was to prevent “national embarrassment” after so much fanfare. The Russians saw fit to use their shuttle only once to prevent such embarrassment, but we have to keep blowing them up – as if that is not a source of embarrassment.

    As for tech spinoffs, I seem to remember teflon advertised as a spinoff even though it has been around at least since the thirties. The space program was one of the first users of many new products developed entirely independently of the program, creating the illusion that such developments were the result of the program.

  42. Hakluyt,

    Mars Rover. Venus Rover. Mercury Rover. Jupiter Probe. Comet Probe. Hubble 2. Hubble 3. Asteroid Hopper. Pluto Lander.

    Pure science, the kind that has no forseeable profitable applications, is an appropriate job for government.

  43. Surprise, surprise, Fox News is flacking for NASA. I was flipping channels last night and came upon a 20-minute puff piece called “Things the space program has given you… that you might not even know about.” It was the worst self-congratulatory piece of crap I’ve ever seen. The wonder of Tang! Amazing plastics! None of it would have been possible without the space program!

  44. “It was to show not just the Russians that the U.S. could do it, but to show everyone that humans can do it.”

    I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony, I’d like to buy the world some Coke, and keep it’s company …

  45. Someone remind me what manned space flight has actually accomplished? Anything more than a few lunar footprints?

    Well, many posts are economic in nature…sats are cheaper, etc. If I’m launching a new sat tv network, yea, big, dumb rocket.

    But there is more to space that sats. There is exploration, of man’s destiny to move out of the cave, to see what’s over the hill, beyond the forest, beyond the ocean.

    Man belongs in space because man can. Dogs can’t, monkeys can’t, birds can’t, not without man.

    We belong in space because man is a curious creature, with the intelligence to find a way to explore.

    Man will go to Mars for the same reason man went to the moon, for the same reason man has always explored.

    Because we can, because we should.

    Is it cheaper, a better use of resources? Who knows, probably not. But an artist would find a better use for paint on the side of his house, not on a canvas, but he paints because he can.

    I was born six months after the first moon landing, and I only hope to see man on Mars before I die.

  46. I’d bet dollars to donuts, most of those advances, particularly with Computer Science, would have evolved anyway through the private sector.

    As I recall from a History Channel documentary on the history of computers, the first microprocessors were developed in the early 60’s, say 1962ish, but there was no market for them because they were so expensive to produce. Per gram, they cost much more than gold. It wasn’t until 1964 or so, when Nasa was trying to cut down on weight in every conceivable way, that microprocessors began to be produced on a mass scale and now we benefit from Nasa’s involvement in the 60’s.

    I am sure computers would still have advanced, but I don’t think they would have reached the levels they are at today without NASA’s involvment (also the military’s for its weapon systems.)

  47. But John, should I be paying that artist to use the paint on the canvas? Why am I on the line so that you get to see Man on the Red Planet?

  48. BAI –

    let me just state for the record that i have yet to meet a philadelphian who likes that commercial, or in fact does not hate it with a passion.

  49. “Is this any way to run a space program?”

    Of course not. What you do is fire the lawyers and the bureaucrats and let the scientists innovate without fear of being sued.

  50. People seem to be conflating two issues: man going into space and taxpayers paying for man going into space. People are asking “what good is it to put man into space” as if it mattered. It doesn’t. People go into space because they can. No other reason needed.

    As to who should pay, the answer should be “those who want to pay”, not “everybody”. However, we will never see the day when the government isn’t paying to send men into space. Government pays to send men on roads, on the water, under the water, through the air, and through the ground (think subways and sewers). Space is no different. Taxpayers will pay for men in space until there are no more taxpayers or space is abandoned 100%. Even if space had been opened up by private interests as per Heinlein’s Harriman character, government would have bought ships soon enough, sending men into space for its own purpose. Griping about taxpayers paying for space isn’t any different than griping about paying for government cars, planes, or boats. All you can really gripe about is the purposes the trips are made for. For example, sending Sen. Glenn into space, as opposed to Col. Glenn.

  51. Man will go to Mars for the same reason man went to the moon, for the same reason man has always explored

    Yeah, because some other schmuck was footing the bill!!

  52. Just a note: NASA’s yearly budget is pocket change compared to the rest of government. If you want to kvetch about your tax dollars, there are approximately eight million other things in line ahead of it.

    I’d say a big chunk of NASA’s issue has to do with getting it’s budget allotted yearly, and having to bow to whatever current crop of retards occupies the relevant committees to determine focus.

    The Space Station was redesigned — each time costing an arm and a leg — multiple times because Congress kept futzing with it. God knows how much money was wasted by changing who was building what and when, and how big it’d be….

    Trust me on this — the shuttle and station are NOT NASA choices. Manned spaceflight, yeah. But what we’re currently flying and where we’re flying it to? Talk to Congress on that one.

  53. Call me heartless, but when 7 people are foolhardy enough to strap themselves into a 25 year old glider driven by a couple of missiles carrying a tank full of highly explosive fuel, I can’t help but feel that they should be Darwin Award nominees.

    “No, but if you wanna lie down, I’ve got a rusty knife around here somewhere…” might be in poor taste. 😉 I’ll just note that evolution happens by taking chances, to.

  54. The main problem with NASA is that it is an organization without a vision. It essentially has become a corporate welfare program for the aerospace industry and a way for junior congressmen to provide government jobs for their districts. There is no “big picture” at NASA. Funding decisions are primarily focused on how they can keep their workforce employed and how to make sure that all the centers and all of the private contractors get a piece of the pie.

    The shuttle is a product of this organizational mindset. It was originally sold as a “do everything” vehicle that was going to be “highly reusable” and “inexpensive.” Planned flight rates were on the order of 100 flights per year. After actually building the shuttle, NASA found that those flight rates were completely impossible, and the economic estimates made during the design phase were hopelessly optomistic. What they should have done at that point was plan for the retirement of the shuttle and move on to the next-generation vehicle that would take into account the lessons learned with the shuttle. However, the mindset that sees NASA as a Federal jobs program has prevented them from moving forward. Nobody is willing to retire the shuttle and risk all of the jobs associated with the program.

    So here we are still stuck in the same hole we’ve been standing in for thirty years. The shuttle is an unreliable, uneconomical, technological relic, but it is politically impossible to get rid of the damn thing. NASA and the aerospace community have been thinking about what a next-generation launch system would look like for several decades now (I actually did my graduate work on the subject). We have a pretty good idea of what makes the shuttle a problem child and what would be needed to make a superior vehicle, but we aren’t allowed to move beyond the planning stages. To do so would be to threaten the existence of the industy’s Sacred Cow. Building the next-gen vehicle means cancelling the shuttle, and nobody in Washington wants to contemplate that.

    Basically until NASA suceeds in blowing up a third orbiter, we won’t see the long-overdue cancellation of the program or any substantial forward progress on a replacement.

  55. I understand the whole private sector would be better train of thought… and nothing would cooler than for that to be the case, and I think it will be the private sector (not the public) that brings space to the average citizen. BUT until then, I will always cut the government program that employs scientists, doing science..over the billions that are currently spent on war and welfare.

  56. First, as a libertarian, I should say that in an ideal world all science would be private, yadda yadda yadda.

    Second, as a science geek, I should say that NASA does some pretty freaking awesome stuff, and I admire the accomplishments (even though, as a libertarian, I wish it were privatized, yadda yadda).

    Now, I do think manned spaceflight is worth doing for its own sake. (As long as it’s privately funded, yadda yadda.) But NASA’s approach has been to combine missions: Manned space travel, scientific expeditions, and national security missions (defense satellites, and yes, I know, not all DoD satellites are launched by NASA, but DoD and NASA have a working relationship).

    The problem is that manned missions are almost never the most cost-effective way to do science. They may very well yield better science than some unmanned missions, but quality can be balanced against quantity, and quantity is limited by cost. (Note that this limitation applies regardless of whether the science is privately or publicly funded.) The primary exception is studying the effect of zero-gravity on humans. But that brings me to my next point:

    Commercial approaches are the best way to get as many people as possible to “boldly go where only a handful of men have gone before.” Even if one isn’t interested in libertarian ideology, and even factoring in the huge cost of emerging private space travel enterprises, private space travel will still get a lot more people into space.

    And more people in space means more opportunities to collect data on how zero-g affects humans.

    That’s this geek’s take on it.

  57. Kent,

    The Buran was destroyed a couple of years ago when the roof in the building it was stored in collapse. I think a couple of its predecessors (gliders only like the Enterprise) are on display in Europe. It had greater payload capacity because it lacked large onboard engines.

  58. After spending one trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money over 40 years, NASA still can’t fly people 100 miles into space and return them safely to Earth. And this organization is supposed to send people to Mars???

  59. Anyone else notice how similar the Shuttle program is to Amtrak? Obsolete technology, incredible waste, unreliability, what else? Oh, yes. None of the politicians can imagine just killing the thing.

  60. Thanks, Hakluyt. I had no idea, but found this quote in a history of the Buran program:

    “After a single flight in 1988, the program quickly ran out of funds, as the Soviet Ministry of Defense fully realized the lack of purpose for the system, compared to its tremendous cost.” http://www.russianspaceweb.com/buran.html

    I am amazed they were able to fly the thing in the first place considering the poor quality of almost everything ever built in the Soviet Union. “Mig Pilot,” by the guy who flew his Mig 25 to Japan, is a great book on how crappy everything there was.

  61. I’m really happy about the Rutan space plane, but until it can sling a jar of Tang, a canister of oxygen and a velcro-sealed box of ball-point pens to the International Space Station, isn’t any more effective than the Space Shuttle at the Space Truck job.

    Certainly the Rutan plane is a stepping stone to something better than the Shuttle. And you can argue that private interests would never put the ISS up like that and that the ISS should go away. But there is a need for hauling stuff up to the orbital money pit and right now the old Russian Soyuz is the only reliable thing for the job.

    NASA in its present form is not good, but it is useful for doing goofy space science stuff that doesn’t have obvious commercial appeal yet. But, aside from the tax funds that it uses up for its budget, how is it hindering private space programs? Are NASA goons trying to sabotage every guy out west drawing space planes and building rockets? I’m not pulling a joe here, how is NASA a hindrance to private space efforts?

  62. Private space travel ain’t happening, folks. I used to do economic analysis for an advanced space projects study group, so I’m very familiar with the financial aspects of new space ventures.

    There are two big problems with commercial space travel:

    1. It is a very risky business, which demands a very high rate of return (think venture capital type rates of 25% – 50%)

    2. It requires an enormous up-front investment, and any revenue is usually at least 5-10 years out.

    Anyone who is familiar with present value analysis knows that when the discout rate is over 25%, revenues that are 10 years out might as well not even exist. So basically you have to have a business concept that makes a LOT of money and makes it QUICKLY, or nobody is going to give you a dime. To my knowlege there is no source of revenue waiting out there in space that satisfies these criteria.

    The business models most championed by private spaceflight enthusiasts are “space tourism” and “small satellite launch.” Small satellite launching bit the dust when Iridium died, taking $5 billion in investor wealth to the grave along with it. The launch startups who where depending on this market — Rotary Rocket, Kistler Aerospace, Kelly Aerospace, Pioneer Rocketplane, etc — all folded when it became apparent that nobody was going to need hundreds of small, low Earth orbit launches.

    Space tourism, on the other hand, is a COMPLETELY speculative, unproven and highly risky market. Even if a space tourism market does exist, it won’t exist after some space tourism operator blows a Hilton or a Rockefeller to smithereens — and they will. There is no such thing as a “safe” launch vehicle, and there never will be during our lifetimes. The only reason Rutan has gotten as far as he has with Spaceship One is because Paul Allen was willing to drop a boatload of cash on him. I doubt he could have ever secured regular venture capital financing.

    A lot of you seem to be preocupied with the Libertarian debate about whether space travel should be a public or a private venture. There is no debate here. The choice is between government subsidized human spaceflight, or NO human spaceflight. The idea that we can fire NASA and let the private sector pick up where they left off is a complete fantasy. Believe me, a lot of very smart people have been trying to figure out how to make it work for a very long time, and we are all still drawing a blank.

    Personally, I’m willing to let my Libertarian principles slide when it comes to basic science and technology research (like NASA, NSF, pharmaceutical research, etc.) The $14 billion NASA gets every year is chump change — about one half of 1% of the Federal budget. I don’t resent the few hours a year I have to work to pay the taxes that fund NASA. I DO resent the hell out of what they have been doing with my money for the last thirty years, though.

  63. Ultimately, getting mankind into space is the only choice. Granted, we’re in no hurry and there are a few other things we should take care of first, but when you consider the progress that has been made in such a short amount of time, it really staggers the imagination.

    Can private space exploration be expected to show any sort of profit? Certainly not now, and not likely for a very long time. However, there will always be private individuals who will spend the money as a labor of love. Plus, there are already opporunities to profit from putting satellites in space. As the technology beomes cheaper and techniques refined, I could see a company slowly puting aside money for R&D on real space exploration.

    We’re not likely to see any real manned acheivements in our lifetimes. What we’re looking at is going to be a centuries long process. There are those who understand this and are willing to dedicate (and in some cases, sacrifice) their lives to the job. Unfortunately, as Mr. Medlin has pointed out, 99% of those people work for NASA because they have no other option.

    Honestly, we’ll never reach a point where private individuals are zipping through the cosmos. But we’re not too far from one way colonization missions. If you gave me the option of boarding a ship headed into the far reaches of space, knowing that I’d never see my family or the Earth again, knowing that the odds were stacked against the ship reaching a new planet intact, a planet I could never live to see anyway, I would go in a heartbeat. I know there are many others who would also be willing. That’s the reality of space exloration. If we wanted to we could easily send humans to Mars in our lifetimes, but it would be difficult to bring them back and they couldn’t colonize the planet, so what’s the point? I’d still go, though, given the option.

  64. Private space travel ain’t happening, folks. I used to do economic analysis for an advanced space projects study group, so I’m very familiar with the financial aspects of new space ventures.

    There are two big problems with commercial space travel:

    1. It is a very risky business, which demands a very high rate of return (think venture capital type rates of 25% – 50%)

    2. It requires an enormous up-front investment, and any revenue is usually at least 5-10 years out.

    Doesn’t this sound a little bit like the first voyages from Europe to the New World?

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