Forum: Weblog comments

A Bold New Vision To Go ... Nowhere!

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Jeff Walden

from Mountain View, CA USA

NASA isn't the only way to get to space
In fact, it's one of the more inefficient ways out there.

Saturn V: yes, it got us to the moon, but it did so in an incredibly wasteful manner, throwing away nearly the entire rocket for every trip. For its purpose, just getting there, and getting there before the Soviets, it worked. America won the space race, the USSR lost and became history, the Cold War ended and the Iron Curtain was lifted, so arguably it was worth the cost for those particular circumstances. But as far as cost-effective repeatability goes, outside of the scenario of a Cold War, it's horrible.

Space shuttle: yes, it mostly works for getting things into space. That doesn't change that its original goal of cheap, reliable access to space went unmet. Rather than being designed to do one thing well, it's the result of a huge number of compromises, so instead of doing one thing well, it does everything with mediocrity. One estimate suggests the cost of the program, through early 2008, at $170 billion for a bit more than 100 flights -- over a billion a flight. That's not how humanity will ever truly be at home in space.

Other attempts since: X-30, canceled due to a more than tripling of expected costs. X-33, $1.2 billion down the drain before cancellation. X-34, nothing beyond a demo unit. Cost and time overruns every time, not to mention NASA always being a convenient political beanbag -- recall the current program only came into existence a handful of years ago.

Ultimately, as far as manned spaceflight goes, NASA does a great job at getting something done at huge expense when the need is critical. It does a poor job at cost-effective, routine manned spaceflight. It does a poor job at encouraging outside spaceflight development by private companies and such. Do you really think we can get into space en masse under NASA's guidance and initiative? One top-down organization held hostage by Congress and by congressmen looking for pork-barrel spending will not be successful at commoditizing spaceflight. Commercial spaceflight, of the kind being pioneered by the X Prize and the companies looking to fulfill demand that well outstrips what half a dozen flights a year can accommodate, is what what will take us into space again for good. I think the incompetent attempts by NASA play a part in reducing incentives for it to happen. Eliminating those will clear the field for truly motivated entities do do the work to make it happen -- I can't wait.
2010-02-04 07:35


"the only chance for long-time survival of the human race is to make sure we can live outside of Earth"

This is bullshit, and even if Stephen Hawking says it.

Our first goal, for the next 50 years or so, should be to make it possible to keep on living on earth! And this is hard enough. So forget about living on other planets for the next 300 years. This whole terraforming nonsense! We are just de-terraforming our planet and it is so fucking expensive to stop that (here, right now).
2010-02-04 09:59


from Belgium

The future lies in the hands of Captain Pirk???
"he interplanetary ships might come, but under a strong communist Chinese leadership, possibly backed by Russia."

Hey, wait a minute... It's the story of Star Wreck! So it will really happen!? We're doomed!!!
2010-02-04 12:01



Nomax: Hehe, yay for a new Pirkinning, then!
2010-02-04 13:04


Maybe if Obama wasn't so focused on spending at the twice the rate Bush was we would actually have the funds for NASA.

Obama just isn't very good at basic math. If you don't money, stop spending it. China can only fund our liabilities for so long.
2010-02-04 21:54


from California, U.S.

Couldn't agree more with KaiRo
I'm not a big government guy, but I do realize that there are some things that only a large government can undertake. I think that manned space exploration is one of those things for now. It's just not a reasonable business decision for a private company to try to put people on Mars (LEO tourism is a different story!). But it is a reasonable decision for the human race to go to Mars; we are explorers and we are inquisitive. We don't just want "pure science" to describe the universe around us (though I love that) but we want to visit as much of it as possible. I think encouraging that drive and the inspiration it yields are important to a healthy society. The more pragmatic side of me wonders what it will mean to America to cease to lead in space. If we are not leading, we are following. If we get too far down the list of followers in too many areas we might find our standard of living follows. On the bright side, some other great country will probably step forward and send people out into space for the good of mankind and itself.
2010-02-08 05:53

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