Does NASA Even Antimatter Anymore?

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The age of private space flight is dawning, and wonderfully so. Still, some of us far-out space nuts like to keep up with what the Old Regime is up to–thus, NASA's latest announcement re: investigating antimatter drives for possible use in future Mars missions via its Institute for Advanced Concepts.

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  1. The age of private space flight? Well, if flying 62 miles high is your idea of space, OK. If you mean a private company launching an inhabited-by-humans vehicle that attains escape velocity (27,000 mph), flies around the moon, and then returns safely to Earth, it’s going to be a while.

  2. Pure science without a likely payoff in the short or even medium term is something that the private sector just isn’t that good at. Putting satellites in orbit? Time for NASA to get out of that business. But basic research is a common good that the private sector isn’t likely to do for itself.

    Seems to me that NASA should spin off about 2/3 of its mission to the military and the private sector, and reinvent itself as one of the National Institutes of Science.

  3. That is good idea Joe. It could become the government office of far out stuff. Do basic science research on things that are too far away from practicle application to attract private investment, yet potentially very valuable in the long term.

    Also, they should keep sending robots out to the planets for scientific research and maitain the Hubble space telescope. There is no private incentive for that kind of stuff, but it is still very important and valueable.

  4. Anyone who thinks the “age of private space flight is dawning” knows nothing about space or flight. Yeah, sure, maybe we’ll have some tourism, some private satellite launches, etc. But there’s no money in the hard science that is still in it’s relative infancy here. We have a long ways to go. There is no monetary incentive to do that science right now and for the long term.

    This is like saying, “the age of private shipping is upon us” the day after someone invented the first boat.

    The future may be uncertain, folks, but it certainly isn’t here yet.

    JMJ

  5. I’d have to agree. Stick NASA with the science stuff until private industry can get payloads in orbit (and kicked off towards other planets) reliably enough that universities and such just start hiring them to get their probes lofted.

  6. It could become the government office of far out stuff.

    Isn’t that DARPA’s job?

  7. If DARPA was on the ball, I’d have a damn flying car.

  8. Whatever NASA comes up with, if we can’t buy it and get it off the market, we’ll find a way to jack the price up so high that you’ll be paying through the nose just to look at it.

  9. Good point Jessee. But really, can we ever too much far out stuff? I don’t think we can, so lets let NASA have a crack at it.

  10. “If DARPA was on the ball, I’d have a damn flying car.”

    It’s locked in a secret government warehouse, next to the Ark of the Covenant and that 150 mile per gallon IC engine.

  11. JMJ,
    I’ve read two posts from you today that seem to make sense. WTF?

  12. I couldn’t agree with you more, Joe.

    I grew up in the shadow of JPL, worked there, and have plenty of friends there. They are good on the way-out insanely complicated stuff, like landing probes on Titan, and not so good at stuff like value engineering.

    Spin off the payload stuff, keep the “dream” stuff at NASA. Unmanned probes give a lot of exciting bang for the buck, in my opinion.

  13. …and that 150 mile per gallon IC engine.

    I thought it was a car that ran on water instead of gas — or is that a seperate car I was thinking of?

  14. Pure science without a likely payoff in the short or even medium term is something that the private sector just isn’t that good at. Putting satellites in orbit? Time for NASA to get out of that business. But basic research is a common good that the private sector isn’t likely to do for itself.

    The private sector does most “pure science” research. It is done in universities. Sure, universities get a lot of money nowadays from the government, but that is mostly so the government can threaten to pull funding if someone does research with stem cells, or starts looking at male female differences, or doesn’t allow military recruiters on campus, or something controversial like that.

    But “Private Sector” != “Just Corporations”.

  15. The antimatter missions will be flown by women.

  16. If DARPA was on the ball, I’d have a damn flying car.

    Tim it is called a Cessna, get one that can land on water.

  17. I’m kind of irritated by the argument that “since the private sector is too short sighted to do it, the government must step in.” The proponents of that argument do not understand the nasty implications contained within it.

    The idea is that the returns on some endevour like space travel are so low that sufficient resources won’t be directed toward it. However, what if the government was not involved? Would the resources that go into the government program not be used? Would the talented scientists and engineers starve in the streets? The answer of course is no. The people who work on these government projects instead would work on something profitable. The only way a non-government project is profitable is if it provides a service or good that people are willing to pay for.

    So what the people who argue that the government should step in are really arguing is that the government has to step in and redirect people from producing goods and services that people actually want to ones that are in less demand.

    This translates into a situation where the stuff people need and want is made more expensive so that a small group of people can commandeer wealth to their own ends.

    Today, NASA has become nothing more than a giant welfare program for aerospace engineers and a way to bribe Russian scientists with knowledge that could be used to make ballistic missiles so that they don’t work on those things. It is a shame to see so much wealth and so many talented people’s time going to waste.

  18. I am one of those who love space exploration, especially when it impinges on some of the big cosmological questions as it does with the Hubble Space Telescope. But it is clearly not an ethical for it to be financed by the government. I cannot justify forcing others to pay for the entertainment of my intellectual curiosity. It isn’t any more fair to those who don’t share my interest to force them to subsidize it then it is to force taxpayers to subsidize the building of new stadiums for NFL franchise owners.

  19. joe:

    Pure science without a likely payoff in the short or even medium term is something that the private sector just isn’t that good at…basic research is a common good that the private sector isn’t likely to do for itself.

    I disagree. The most expensive tools of astronomical exploration used to be the huge telescopes, and they were enthusiastically funded with non-government money. Many people love space exploration and it seems that their numbers and enthusiasm would afford many commercial and charity avenues for the financing of space exploration. In addition to the private satellite launch companies in operation, there are hundreds of organizations for astronomy/space enthusiasts.

    If space exploration were privatized there would be a motivation for those doing it to both educate the lay community about it as well as to cater to their scientific interests in order to generate donor support from them. This dynamic would tend to more actively involve the general public in the enterprise then they are with the taxpayer funded space program.

    The political power wielded by those who receive tax dollars for the government space program could well prove a formidable obstacle to eliminating it. Perhaps a way to over come this obstacle and transition into private space exploration would be to give tax credits to those make donations to non-government space exploration during the transition period.

    When the machinations of free enterprise motivate space exploration, I believe that it will yield surprising and even unimaginable progress. Just look at the results of the forays of capitalism into the other frontiers of human kind.

  20. Institute for Advanced Concepts.

    Wait a minuet! That’s what H&R is called.

  21. …Make that: “Wait a *minute!* That’s what H&R is called.”

    (The Preview button is for wussies)

  22. I waited for a minuet and all I got was a lousy waltz.

  23. Seems to me that NASA should spin off about 2/3 of its mission to the military and the private sector, and reinvent itself as one of the National Institutes of Science.

    The problem has been that NASA can’t figure out WTF it is anymore. Big part of the problem is that we keep electing different presidents. President A isn’t big on space, but B is and then C is lukewarm and NASA flops around, chasing behind.

    One service NASA provides (leftover from when it was NACA) is failure analysis when a plane crashes. They’ve got a body of expertise that you don’t find in private industry (though you might if we didn’t have this welfare state going).

    So we end up with what Tarran says.

    Today, NASA has become nothing more than a giant welfare program

    Much as I agree, unfortunately I have no hope that NASA is going to vanish in a puff of smoke anytime soon.

    In fact, at its best in recent history, NASA has been doing DARAP-like stuff. Given political realities, turning NASA into a scientific dream tank might not be the worst option.

    The only benefit we can possibly get from this welfare program (NASA and DARPA both) is civilian spin off technology.

    We are getting some of that. Unfortunately, DARPA is searching for its Mission almost as much as NASA is these days. They’ve both been criticized soundly for not doing R&D that’s “practical” enough.

  24. I doubt NASA will get anywhere with its matter-antimatter engines. Maybe if they stick with it for the next 100 years.

    There is plenty of money to be made in space, just maybe not space travel. Imagine this: a private company builds robotic harvesters, sends them out around the solar system, collects resources, sends them back to earth.

    The company sells the resources, and makes money. We could be doing that today, but no, that doesn’t make for good publicity or re-election campaigns so the government won’t do it, and it will be a while before the private industry can. Of course, this is all assuming that the government won’t stifle the industry. Which it will, don’t worry.

    Some of these people getting so giddy about private space flight must not have been around in the 1960s and all the space-flight promises and predictions then. We were supposed to have a permanent base on the Moon by now, with space travel a regular thing.

    Keep on dreaming, nobody cares about space travel, at least nobody that matters. We’re all stuck here with the rest of our fellow humans and their petty squabbles. Have a nice life!

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