At least one commenter didn’t take very well to my suggestion that an addlebrained moonshot would steer NASA resources away from programs which actually serve some practical good, for example as robotic exploration and Earth science. Let’s leave aside the obvious point that a moonbase would absorb more resources than NASA spends on the rest of its objectives combined. NASA scientists have already warned that the addled scheme to put men on Mars, of which the moonshot is part and parcel, sucks resources from productive missions. I guess that wasn’t obvious enough.
Let’s hear it from NASA administrator Michael Griffin:
“Viewed from the point of history several decades out,” he said in an interview, “the period where the United States retreated from the Moon and quite deliberately focused only on low Earth orbit [that is to say, Shuttle and Earth observation missions] will be seen, to me, a mistake.”[…] Mr. Griffin was appointed to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2005, a year after President Bush announced his “vision for space exploration,” which calls for returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and then moving on to send humans to Mars. Mr. Griffin has from the start been an enthusiastic proponent of that plan.
But it has put him in a delicate situation, as he has shifted NASA financing to the Moon initiative, while moving to complete the space station and shut down the shuttle program by 2010, and cutting back on its science activities. And in doing so, he has occasionally expressed doubts about the wisdom underlying the nation’s decision to build the shuttle and the station.
About those budget limits.
The plan to return to the Moon by 2020 has been met with some skepticism, especially among those who doubt that the space agency can take on such a daunting project within its $17 billion annual budget. Dr. Griffin said that NASA could do the job — and could reach the moon even more quickly, with more money.
You don’t need to read too deeply between the lines to interpret Dr. Griffin’s meaning here. The cost of pushing mass beyond Earth’s orbit hasn’t gone down very much since 1965, which means that moving human cargo to the moon should cost today more or less what it cost then. But we don’t plan to simply move people to the moon. We plan to move something comparable to the International Space Station to the moon, assemble it there and maintain a regular human presence. The costs associated with even the testing phase of a project of that magnitude would be, for lack of a better word, astronomical.
The money has to come from somewhere. As the article demonstrates Dr. Griffin feels increasingly uninhibited about moving NASA’s science missions from the front burner to the back burner and, as money and attention for the moon/Mars boondoggle ramp up, off the stove altogether. Given the administration’s general attitude towards science I’m sure that Griffin’s bosses are thrilled.
Gregg Easterbrook’s ruminations on evolution can be maddening, but two pieces in Slate on the complete inanity of putting men on the moon are definitely worth reading.
Remember, the main emphasis of senior US Government management is to figure out ways to increase their budget at the expense of their ‘competitors’. NASA’s competitors are pretty much every other agency in the Government. Since Bush has so far refused to increase NASA’s funding, the NASA Administrator is certainly playing a dangerous game in terms of jeopardizing existing programs (i.e., Space Station and Space Science) by ‘Going Big’ to use a new Bush phrase. But it looks like he (the new NASA Administrator) is just doing his job – which is to simply attract more funding.
I brought up the idea of budget chicken in a post many months back, but right now I’m really having my doubts. Important science programs have already been scaled back or cut, and I don’t see any sign that Griffin expect the sort of budget increase that would rescue them. It looks to me like they really mean what they’re saying.
America needs a coherent and results-based space policy.
My opinion is that the best thing to do with NASA would be to shut it down and create a new agency that will help create and then carry out that policy. NASA can’t do it, it appears mired in 1969 thinking and tied to manned space travel when there is no need for it.
Cost, risk and ultimate disappointment lie down that road.
NASA stopped being about science a long time ago, AFAIC, and became the gathering place for those who want to perpetuate the antiquated American space industry.
If anyone doubts that NASA is no longer useful, I sentence you to one uninterrupted week of watching the NASA channel on your cable service. In fact, if you can watch it for one day, I’d let you off early for good behavior.
Try it. You’ll see what I mean. This is NASA’s public face. I dare you to watch it.
Preach it, brother. Also, see Gregg Easterbrook’s “Moon Baseless” piece in the Dec. 8 “Slate” for still more convincing grilling of the riduculous Moon Base program over a slow fire.
I’m also strongly inclined toward “ThymeZone’s” proposal to simply bust up NASA completely. Of course, it should also be kept in mind that — on the basis of actual scientific return versus exorbitant cost — a majority of NASA’s UNMANNED space-science missions would also be cancelled for a long time to come by any sane government; i.e., one not controlled by the gargantuan aerospace-industrial complex set up as a result of the Moon Race. We would probably have something closer in size to the European Space Agency — and we would be right to do so. (I speak, by the way, as someone who has personally been absolutely engrossed by scientific space exploration, and Solar System exploration in particular, since late 1964.)
It should also be kept in mind that the odds of the government actually doing this — when they’re not even willing to cut farm subsidies — is close to zero.
Fuck all of it and all of y’all. The Cylons are coming. If we don’t build a Battlestar right now, who will?
The Space Station was never about science. It was about giving the Shuttle some place to go.
A moon base won’t do any more science than the station has. It’s all about finding the most expensive way to somewhere.
The Space Station was interesting — except that we really learned nothing about human habitation which the Soviets and the Russians hadn’t learned on Mir.
Bush has lots of visions, thank God we don’t have to care about any of his delusions after 2009 rolls around. Moon bases sound groovy. They’d make an ideal place to keep former leaders we no longer have any use for, but we’ve got this war to pay for (among other things). NASA is just one of many agencies that will have to do a bit more than say “But the President wants it,” to get anything for a while.
The most cynical part of my tortured little mind sees this an excuse for the government to start handing out large wads of dough to a few key contractors for R & D purposes. If the next president says forget it bub, the money will still be in the contractors’ bank accounts.
The less cynical parts…pretty much agree.
So the real question is, what can we do about it, and if not us, then who? I plan on closely watching the actions of the House Science committee, (and specifically, in my case, the Research subcommittee, although the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee would be more directly concerned with NASA, of course) which will be run by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) in the 110th Congress:
Okay, I hadn’t watched the NASA channel for a while, so after my post today, I thought, let’s just turn it on and see what’s up. So to speak. After all, there’s a shuttle mission up there and …
Okay, it’s on, right there as I write.
After about two mins, I started laughing. Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus, it’s ….. still the same. This material might be live for all I know …. it doesn’t matter, though. It’s just awful. I swear to god, a $50 gift card for anyone who can sit through an entire day of this …. wouldn’t be enough to get any reasonable non homeless person to do it.
Folks, this is your tax dollars at work. It’s like a metaphor for Iraq. What are these people thinking?
the same is true about foriegn policy, educational policy, immigration policy, etc.
IMO fixing our space policy should come AFTER dealing with these three, which means the fix occurs shortly after hell freezes over.
I thought we were going to Mars. Now it’s just the stupid moon?
I guess I think it would be nifty to have a moon base. I’m a nerd. Moon bases are cool.
However, I would rather have better space based telescopes, better research into climate change and better robotic research missions. If we have enough money for that AND a moon base, then let’s have both. If a certain war were not happening I’m sure we would have enough money for a moon base.
I could point out that while research into the Earth’s climate and the early cosmos has implications that challenge certain bible passages and industrial interests a moon base does not….
Also, before a Lunar Base, why not a Space Elevator?
Cheaper and once we get it up, lower launch costs. Plus it can be used for launches to anywhere, once you get the tether long enough.
Let’s be real. Space exploration is essentially a political operation. It’s always been “to show what we could do”, not “because the questions are interesting”. Science, by contrast, is driven by interesting questions. Sometimes, political interests and scientific interests coincide, but, frankly, the two groups are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times.
As a sometime scientist, I wish that NASA were the scientific entity which it claims to be. As a sometime military contractor, though, I know that’s pure moonbattery; NASA is a political entity, and there’s no reason to believe that will ever change.
So, the question we need to ask ourselves is “is our national prestige worth the costs of an on-going manned space program”? Because NASA will always be about man in space, or, at best, beautiful pictures from Hubble, and will only leave a pittance for Chandra or other good science.
The moon base is meant as a way station for the Mars trip. It is all part of the same megalomaniacal vision. Seriously, the only thing missing is the giant space laser with which to cow the Earth’s people into submission.
Why doesn’t a moon base make sense as a launch point for missions to the rest of the solar system?
It’s easier to launch from the moon: one-sixth the gravity. The lack of gravity and atmosphere also frees up ship design constraints: we could build and launch spherical ships, or trapezoids, or cluster-ships, or whatever we wanted, without worrying about aerodynamics. Also, launching from the moon means no problems with weather suddenly scrubbing a launch. I don’t know enough about gravity well dynamics/sling-shot effects, but those might also play a part in determining whether launching from the moon makes more sense than launching from Earth – or, for that matter, launching from an L5-type station.
If you believe manned space exploration and travel is per se not worth pursuing, then of course any ideas on how to make it more efficient – hell, more possible – aren’t going to mean much to you. But if you believe that, then you and I already disagree on a fundamental level.
I have to say, too, I’m tired of people saying “Look at all the people we could feed/house/etc. if we weren’t spending money on a space program.” We already feed/house/etc. lots of people with the money we spend on a space program.
It’s called “employment.”
NASA employees (astronauts, engineers, data jockeys, facilities, administration) – plus the people outside of NASA, who build the ships, who design and build the pieces of the ships, who fabricate the materials from which the ships are built- plus their support and facilities departments.
How many people work for the space program, directly or indirectly? My guess is tens of thousands, at least.
I swear, the “lunar shortstop” strategy was conceived by myself circa 1999. Anyone who can add 2+2 (i.e. anyone outside the White House) can see that it’s not really a savings to blast stuff to the moon and then blast it off to Mars. So the brilliant solution here is to follow in the pioneering footsteps of games like Battlezone and Eve Online: just start building stuff in space! All we need is a self-contained mobile universal factory thing that can do all sorts of metallurgy and reactions in an environment with no oxygen. What’s so hard about that?
Exactly why I assert that NASA exists now primarily to prop up that industry. An industry which serves no particular purpose, and is aligned with no particular policy. In that context, self-perpetuation becomes the goal, and missions are thrown out into space for the sake of throwing missions out into space.
This is exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, there’s all sorts of nifty space freighters we could build virtually anywhere but on the Earth’s surface. Sky’s the limit, really. But there is the small matter of getting all that stuff up there in the first place. The inevitable conclusion is that travel from planets to space is pretty much limited to shuttles for human beings, and machines needed for space-based industry, which will probably have to be sent up piecemeal. And that’s a project far harder than getting on the moon in the first place. Not inconceivable, not impossible, but certainly Manhattan-scale as far as what we’d need to know and develop. And I’m just not sure we can manage that anymore.
But you’re still using irreplacable fuel already launched from Earth to launch from the moon’s gravity. You just end up wasting more energy.
We still can’t even address the problem of long-term human health deterioration in space yet. Until that fundamental problem is solved, dreaming of expanding manned space exploration is sorta pointless.
Either you, or Arthur Clarke in 1968. Or Robert Heinlein in 1966. As you point out, it’s common sense.
I think that manned space travel is a great idea. However, the technology is so far from where it needs to be that we will do ourselves an enormous favor by focusing on the priorities that will do us some good. We won’t do ourselves any favors by starving Earth observation and robotic exploration for the sake of putting another pair of boots on the moon. Given the cost involved it really is an either/or decision.
Indeed, human travel is ridiculously expensive. Given what we are trying to accomplish in space it is also mostly redundant. After thinking about that conundrum for awhile I realized that our best chance is to send up a modular fleet of robots cabale of mining raw materials, refining them into components and sustaining themselves.
The advantage of this approach is that robotic technology has advanced exponentially while advances in life support tech come in baby steps, if at all, so the entire strategy gets dramatically more feasible every day. They can start with modest goals and then, once they’re out there and ready to work, we can add any task that comes to mind. You would have minimal support requirements and high tolerance for losses.
The disadvantage is that the robot fleet may well decide that it doesn’t really need us.
And that’s different from a human presence in space how? If you’re going to cite Heinlein or Clarke, then I can cite Asimov (think _Caves of Steel_).
Look, the romance of human space flight is real, and shouldn’t be laughed at. Given the choice, though, I’d much rather pay for an effective asteroid mining fleet, or hydrogen harvesting from Jupiter, or ten years’ worth of close-up images of Mars, than another set of boot prints dirtying up the Moon, and that’s the choice that we face.
One of the reason that NASA builds such expensive satellites, by the way, is that they always think about survivability, rather than thinking about redundancy.
All that said, Tim, you’re wrong about one key point, and I’d lie (by omission) if I let you do that. On at least two occasions, you’ve said
or something very like that. That’s actually a blatantly false statement: in 1965, we had no effective ion drive. Since then, we’ve built Deep Space One, and the Europeans have built and launched a SMART-1 based lunar probe. The price of ion drives is dramatically lower than that of chemical drives, and the scalability of their power/mass ratios is much, much better. There are other problems with using them to lift humans to the moon (they’re slow, so the astronauts need to be stored and shielded for a very long time), but they’re still far cheaper than chemical boosters.
I’m with Zubrin — the Moon pitstop is folly — and we need to implement Mars Direct.
Also, where is Rick Moran? I would love to hear some more of his insightful commentary.
I’m sick of hearing about the ‘romance’ of outer space and space exploration – and how it will inspire a new generation. I could have been a rich attorney – but thanks to watching the moon shots while I was growing up – I ruined my chance at the good life and was tricked into an engineering career instead. And now all I have to show for it now is 100’s of new inventions and ideas. Thanks you very much, but I’d rather have a trophy wife and a Porsche instead of a bunch of patents. Stupid NASA. They should get rid of it (NASA) completely and give it to someone who really needs it – like the poor oil companies. NASA, Who needs it!
Well, Joe, you’re in luck. Tim’s a graduate student in Chemistry, and my Ph.D.’s in math. I still have a bunch of patents, and the only reason I don’t drive around in a Porsche is that I chose to have a family, instead — and you can’t lug a cello around in the back of a Porsche.
So shove your romance back up your ass, OK? From a scientific and engineering standpoint, NASA is a joke.
Romance and inspiration are great. Just don’t ask me to fork over my tax dollar for boondoggles so that you can fantasize about romance and inspiration.
And …. watch the NASA channel. If one day of that romance and inspiration do not permanently destroy your brain, then you deserve …. the full treatment. One full week of romance and inspiration, NASA-style.
A channel devoted to videos of paint drying 24 hours a day would be more romantic and inspiring to me, but hey, what the fuck do I know. Watch the channel and judge for yourself.
Hey, I miss the NASA ‘public service’ channel. Whenever I had trouble falling asleep – I always could count on stretching out on the couch and tuning into the NASA channel to quickly fall asleep. Now that’s public service in my book.
As for the romance (of NASA). What else does NASA have to sell to Congress to maintain a respectable budget? Most of the public cares little for ‘Space Science’. The American public responds better to ‘Science Fiction’ – which means manned space flight. Of course there’s that one MINOR detail of the ionizing effects of radiation (on humans) to deal with. However, I agree that still doesn’t excuse NASA for squandering most of their budget on the idiotic Space Station and Space Shuttle. Not to mention launching senior citizens, congressmen, and teachers into space. Well two out of three.
Since it’s unlikely that Congress would ever have enough sense to bypass NASA and just give Burt Rutan a few Billion dollars to get us back into space. We’ll just have to live with a political instead of scientific NASA. Although I guess an alternative is to transfer all manned space flight to the AirForce – which would quickly put an end to the shuttle and space station.
Another thought. Not that this could be used to convice the Admin to increase NASA’s funding. However, anyone that has done basic or applied research has found out that typically you set out to solve a particular problem and end up coming up with lots of new ideas or discoveries that you never even thought about or considered when you first started out. Possibly, the same could be said for a well funded manned mission to Mars.
What “problem” would we be trying to solve by ginning up a mission to Mars?
Or in this case, better yet, James P. Hogan (think Code of the Lifemaker…)
I think that ion drives are an absolutely excellent way to move about space, adjust orbits and travel between planets. They already do that so I would be a terrible curmudgeon to deny them some credit.
Rather, and I am willing to go out on a limb about this, my point is that an ion drive will never lift someone from a concrete slab in Florida to an orbit from which they can take a credible shot at escaping altogether. For that you need the brutally fast reaction of oxidizer and fuel. The only credible alternative that I have ever heard involves lifting the ship using the pressure wave from a sequence of nuclear explosions. We may have plenty lying around these days, but I’ll take my refrigerated LOX.
One thing that I left out of my cost analysis – Russian tech is quite a bit cheaper and more reliable than ours (assuming that things haven’t changed, which they probably have). We could move mass into orbit cheaper if we were willing to take the pride hit, but I doubt that will happen.
Of course you liberals don’t understand the geopolitical implications here–Mars is a desert planet, full of sand–therefore, it is imperative that we get there before the A-rabs do, so we can stake a claim to all the oil that’s just sure to be there, under all that red sand!
I’m sympathetic to your point. The problem is that NASA does some things that we need right now, like Earth observation which contributes to understanding global warming. Other missions, the recent Mars orbiters/rovers for example, have paid off their investments many, many times over. It would be a shame to dump those for the sake a boondoggle mission to reaccomplish something that we have already done.
Actually, Tim, you’re dead on about getting *to* orbit; currently, the only way to vacuum is aboard a rocket. However, every ounce that you don’t have to send up to vacuum pays off many times over in the first stage — the lighter the capsule, the lighter the first stage, and the cheaper the launch.
“NASA exists now primarily to prop up that industry. An industry which serves no particular purpose, and is aligned with no particular policy. In that context, self-perpetuation becomes the goal, and missions are thrown out into space for the sake of throwing missions out into space.”
Could’ve come directly from a Creationist tract.
Way to find common ground with the fundies, TZ.
In case it wasn’t clear from Tim’s observation, a good deal of research in robotics is carried out by NASA itself. My favorite project is Robonaut, a roughly anthropomorphic tool-using robot, which I understand has unfortunately lost funding.
You are the man, Tim. I don’t know if I was the commenter you referred to, nor do I care.
I absolutely think they should just appoint you to NASA administrator now and get it over with. Global warming, though, hell yeah, that’s where it’s at. Let’s spend some more billions on that. Well, at least until the planet starts to cool off again, and we can just claim victory and pat ourselves on the back.
Well, at least it’s a PLAN for victory in Iraq. What plan have the Democrats offered so far?
Again, Tim, that’s a PLAN. What have YOU and the other moonbats offered as a plan, either for victory in Iraq, or for returning you to your orbiting ancestral homeland?
You can’t be serious. The need for a useful space policy has nothing to do with “fundies.” Who cares what they think?
No, Sherard, *you* are the man. I am in awe at your rhetorical skill — there is no one I know who would even claim to soar to such heights, or would even try. The clarity of your soul would put Lenin’s in the shade. Mao would bow at your Great Leaps of Logic. And, before you and your great strategic planning, the geniuses behind the Gallipoli campaign are silent in awe.
Yes, Sherard, you *are* the man.
It would’ve worked if the Royal Navy hadn’t chickened out, dammit!
Clearly, the planet is throbbing. That would also explain the earthquakes.
Now let’s gather around with our fundie friends and watch the NASA channel. Look, kids! There’s another tile that didn’t fall off during launch! Yahoo!
Could be worse.
There are also designs for “non-explosive” nuclear rockets, Tim. These use a fuel assembly to heat a working fluid as opposed to a chemical reaction. Designs for fission ones I think are prretty much ready to go–but are politically DOA. For obvious and sound environmental reasons. IF we ever develop fusion power (I don’t expect this any time soon) that could be used to heat the working fluid, which at low altitudes can even be ambient air. This should reduce to amount of mass onboard which needs to be flung into orbit.
But, yeah, at the moment chemical rockets are the only meaningful game in town.
There are also designs for very explosive nuclear rockets.
Such rockets remind me of a certain house page.
If we are to learn anything from history, wouldn’t it be wise to avoid funding ANYTHING originating in the Bush White House? With six years in the bigs, we have no hits, no runs, all errors,
ngp Dennie — the problem with the fission-based systems is the amount of shielding they require. They might be extremely useful for unmanned flights, but they would fry any human cargo in no time flat, which would kind of undercut their utility for getting people to the moon.
Wasn’t the design called NERVA or somesuch? Yep, the “fry all biologic tissue nearby” and the “what do we when one inevitably crashes” are the reasons the fission rockets will never be used. They might be useful for shoving off from orbit/the moon though–provided they’re manufactured there.
Of course, that kind of cuts against their utility in reducing earth launch costs….
Just thought I’d throw ’em out before somebody attacks Tim for obscuring options!
Great find. Laughed so hard that I expelled gas from the anterior vent. That’s NASASpeak for “fart.”
Actually, TZ — that’s NASA geek speak for belching. Or, worse, breathing out. (Anterior == front.)
But, I launch feet first.
I have a little bit different perspective than some of you. I’m involved with the science part of NASA, not the more political high profile side. It’s really frustrating to see the number of dollars getting siphoned off of legitimate, interesting, (and useful to human beings), science projects to do some stupid (imo) thing like the space station or the new moon project. The amount of money that NASA spends on science is minuscule compared to what they spend on those high profile projects, but the amount of useful data collected on lower profile science missions whether they are using rocketry, balloons or other methods, is pretty impressive for the most part.
I think one of NASA’s biggest problem these days is their aversion to risk. Space is a risky business and everyone in the space business knows that. Unfortunately the general public doesn’t seem to recognize that and when something bad happens fingers get pointed and whole programs almost go away. It seems that the NASA administration gets more turtle like every day–pulling their head in and only sticking their neck out when they are absolutely sure their head won’t be chopped off. Griffen’s comments not too long ago about NASA being in a risky business which we need to manage, not eliminate, was like a breath of fresh air from an administrator.
Griffin, not Griffen
I think the general public understands a lot better than NASA thinks it does. I think that NASA thinks it can bamboozle the public, and has little respect for the public. I think NASA thinks that a proper public would just gush tears and smiles — and money — over every damned thing NASA wants to do, if only the public “understood.”
The “public doesn’t understand” argument fails upon watching one hour of NASA’s cable channel. This is an instrument for NASA to make its case, sell its story, inform the public. Watch the channel. Who’s to blame for the public seeing things differently from the way NASA sees them?
Fuck NASA and its whiney bullshit. They couldn’t sell a whore on a troop train.
And they do an amazingly lousy job of it. That’s my point. For an agency that does a lot of really cool stuff along with a lot of really stupid stuff, they do a great job of boring people to death on the NASA channel.
When I say “the public doesn’t understand” I’m only talking about risk, and more importantly, the perception of risk, not about specific projects. I didn’t mean to make it sound like the public was too dumb to understand NASA’s mission(s) in general. I do think that NASA hypes the wrong projects……
Point well taken, I was yelling at NASA and not you :^/
My opinion of them is lower than a snake’s belly, to coin a phrase.
That’s a right-side-up snake, in a hole.
Here’s another one I thought you’d like, ThymeZone.
I like this one, too, for some reason.
NASA and JPL are hoaxers, as far as i am concered, NASA can be completely defunded. NO TRUTH = NO MONEY. F— NASA