Not to detract from NASA or the Shuttle, but I think last weeks’ SpaceX launch was critically important, too. We now have privately owned companies that do what only large nations or coalitions of nations had done before.
(And it never ceases to amaze me that the Republicans are opposing the hand-off of space industry from tight government control to private companies. Cloak it in Cold War National Greatness rhetoric all you like, guys, we know it all comes down to one thing, and one thing only: jobs in your districts.)
Good for SpaceX, and also for Virgin Galactic who test flew a suborbital craft in October.
But come on, Marcus V. The old NASA was just Cold War bunkum and jobs in Republican districts? That sounds like something some progressive punk from Madison WI would write in a National Essay contest.
Granted, Gene Kranz is gone, and so are the days of Aldrin, Borman, and Lovell. But politics aside, are we not allowed to look back on them with pride?
*Not to detract from NASA or the Shuttle, but I think last weeks’ SpaceX launch was critically important, too. We now have privately owned companies that do what only large nations or coalitions of nations had done before*
Could not agree more. For all the complaining about Government run NASA and cost overruns, I doubt that Space-X would be near laucn without the half century’s work that NASA has done. No private enterprise or consortium could have done it without NASA and the U.S. Government bearing those costs.
*And it never ceases to amaze me that the Republicans are opposing the hand-off of space industry from tight government control to private companies. Cloak it in Cold War National Greatness rhetoric all you like, guys, we know it all comes down to one thing, and one thing only: jobs in your districts.*
Nor do I, and to add to it, it seems that ARPA-E a government funded Grant program for private enterprises showing promising ideas on the Energy sector will soon lose funding.
I am really proud of NASA.
No, I mean that the Republican opposition to SpaceX, right specifically now, often invokes appeals to national greatness and importance (“This is too important to hand off to private industry!” “We can’t allow ourselves to fall behind!” “Only a government program– only NASA!– can maintain our place in the world!”) in direct contradiction to the typical Republican dogma of small government and minimal government intervention.
And the louder those cries are, the more NASA contracting and manufacturing jobs are located in their states/districts.
In the 1990s, those cries were probably correct. In the 1960s, those cries were certainly correct: Only the brute force of a national government with its eyes on national security could marshal the resources. And it was– and is– certainly a matter of national security. You’ll be hardpressed to find a stronger believer in the notion that space is the ultimate military and commercial high ground.
So in that sense, I absolutely agree, and look back on NASA with pride.
But I also believe that big technology programs like that should be pushed into private hands as quickly as possible. We don’t have an equivalent agency producing fighter aircraft or aircraft carriers– private industry does that. We don’t have an equivalent agency producing supercomputers– private industry does that. In all those cases, the government regulates and purchases, but turns to private industry.
Let this be the same. It’s a few weeks from 2011. It’s possible now. So let’s do it.
Marcus, they don’t want to replace NASA, they want into NASA. Which might be the right thing to do, but this is an Obama plan and it sure as Shinola is nothing to do with private enterprise.
Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan all oppose this plan; their open letter to Obama is “here.”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36470363/ns/nightly_news/
_”I doubt that Space-X would be near laucn without the half century’s work that NASA has done.”_
Or conversely, if private industry had a free hand maybe everything we’ve accomplished in space the last 30 years anyway would have been done in 15.
Government can, on occasion, marshal resources for some focuses and specific pursuit in such a way that is obviously unparalleled. War being the best example, but something like ‘put a man on the moon and bring him back safe’ as well. NASA did that brilliantly. And what have they done for me lately? The whole shuttle program has basically been a PR campaign for NASA and Tang. What little they have accomplished could easily have been done cheaper and safer with simpler technology- see Russia, space program.
you believe that the soviet space program was superior to ours?
The whole shuttle program has basically been a PR campaign for NASA and Tang.
Do you realy believe this? If not why bother even saying it?
Space X and the rest of the space industry was underwritten by the U.S. government through NASA. No private corporation or consortia was able to afford it. If they could have they would have. Profit is a real motivator in this regard.
Look beyond your nose, at least once in a while and give credit where it is due.
Yes, I’m familiar with Armstrong’s letter. I wasn’t impressed with it when it hit the news, either. It’s almost an embarrassment and it’s half of what I’m complaining about– it asserts without justification that the only way to make progress in space is with direct government-designed launch capabilities, and then waves the flag and the scary Russians to stifle any meaningful questions. And in highlighting the Constellation, he neglects to point out that it was over-budget and behind schedule.
In fact, the way his argument is constructed, the more over-budget the program runs, the worse it would be to cancel it; that is the logic of highlighting how much money we’re “wasting” by cutting back a failing program. Spoken like a government contractor, really– if we’re a million over budget, we have a problem… but if we’re a billion over budget, you have a problem.
I say that’s half of what I was complaining about, because I can’t accuse Armstrong of wanting a jobs program for political purposes.
But there are other things wrong with that letter that I hadn’t yet complained about. First, is the endorsement of going back to the Moon, then going to Mars, with manned exploration. Why, exactly, are those things good ideas? Armstrong doesn’t bother to explain, probably because they’re badly formed Cold War era goals that are more symbolic than substantial. Not to mention, we’ve already been to the Moon– let’s do something new and useful. Why, exactly, is a human presence necessary? (Asteroids, I’ll give him that. Mining asteroids would be a good thing. Let’s go do that. But he doesn’t talk about mining them, just going to them.)
Again, Armstrong does not explain, and again it is probably because he is wrong. It’s understandable, in the same way that an octogenarian Korean War fighter pilot would resist UAVs and UCAVs zipping all over the battlespace. But “understandable” doesn’t mean “correct.” We’ve gotten more science and research and exploration done by Spirit and Opportunity than we could have with humans… and at a fraction of the cost. (The total cost, including the five consecutive mission extensions has been on the order of a billion dollars. Compare and contrast with the expense of getting people and life support to Mars and back, vs the greatly limited time they’d be there to get anything done.)
Nor did he give any explanation why government was the only entity capable of handling the task of launch services. “The only people who have ever done it are governments,” is not a valid argument when only governments have ever been allowed to.
And at this point, he’s pretty much wrong on the facts– we now have a launch capability to Low Earth Orbit. SpaceX has done it, even if NASA wants them to continue proving it; I understand the caution, but there’s now no reason to think that they won’t get there… and it’s not like NASA had a perfect record, either. There’s a valid complaint about the capacity of the launch, but it’s not as strong it could be, since SpaceX has plans for heavier launch capacity vehicles in the future.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand why this doesn’t qualify as private enterprise, either. It’s at least as private an enterprise, if not moreso, than Lockheed Martin and Boeing designing jets for the military.
And finally, all that said, I don’t think anyone wants to completely scrap or replace NASA. NASA does some things very well, and they’ve had some amazing successes. Recently, those have been in the arenas of exploration and space science– the previously mentioned Spirit and Opportunity come to mind, as does the Hubble telescope and a number of other programs. I am all in favor of letting them continue to do that.
But where their successes haven’t been, recently, is in providing launch services. So let’s take that away, and let private industry do that.
Unless, of course, you’re one of those private industry hating… Republicans? Yeah, apparently.
Armstrong does not wave “scary Russians”, unless mere mention of the Soviet Union constitutes such. You shouldn’t accuse people of being old fashioned – your attitude takes me back to the actual Cold War, when some liberals thought it was really clever to accuse anti-communists of being unmanly persons.
As for “waving the flag”, that most dreadful of sins, is there any positive commentary about our history in space, or on earth, that will not offend you?
I certainly think SpaceX has a future in space exploration – at least those parts of space that you’re not declaring off-limits, like the Moon and Mars. I think they should focus on that, instead of spending their money to pick silly fights with Kay Bailey Hutchison and the rest of Obama’s enemies. What exactly does that accomplish? Not sweetheart government contracts, I hope.
I accuse Armstrong, and Republicans in general, of playing the scary Russian card and waving the flag because that’s what they’re doing. It is a substitute for a reasoned criticism because as soon as the Russians are brought in, the debate stops.
Armstrong could certainly make a strong case for the need to retain leadership in space– it’s not a hard case to make from a national security angle or an economic angle. It would probably be a case I agree with. But he doesn’t do that, he breezes right past it in one step, from “We gotta do this,” to “This is the only way to do this.”
If you want positive commentary on our history in space, go see #5 above. I’m not going to write it again.
And if you’re really keen to go to the Moon, great, go ahead. Me, I see no compelling interest in putting more human footprints there… they’re just not terribly useful locations.
I’d rather see some useful things– solar based power satellites, asteroid mining, and some forms of micro gravity manufacturing for peaceful applications, or dominance of more strategic locations for military purposes.
I accuse Armstrong, and Republicans in general, of playing the scary Russian card and waving the flag because that’s what they’re doing. It is a substitute for a reasoned criticism because as soon as the Russians are brought in, the debate stops.
Jupiter’s Balls! Here are the two references to Russia in the Armstrong letter, in toto:
1. The United States entered into the challenge of space exploration under President Eisenhowerâ€™s first term, however, it was the Soviet Union who excelled in those early years.
2. Americaâ€™s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves.
This is trying to shut down debate by waving scary Russians? They’re not the ones beating an antique drum, YOU ARE.
… dominance of more strategic locations for military purposes.
You mean like Star Wars? Not only are you still fighting the Cold War, you’re trying to fight on both sides of it!
It’s not a particularly long letter. If he’d written a book, two references would not be much. But he wrote about two pages, instead.
Now, we could conceivably engage on the issues, here. We could, say, talk about the right role of NASA and government going forward. We could compare and contrast that to private industry in this and other similar industries. We could talk about what are good goals for space exploration and space exploitation, in the near future. We could talk about whether and to what degree space should be militarized. We could talk about human presence vs robotic/AI presence. These are fascinating and important topics.
Think of it! I could find out why you think the Moon and Mars are more important than I do. You could find out why I deride the Cold War scare mentality, and still push for militarization of space.
Or, you can just keep complaining that I’m not giving due deference to NASA’s glorious past, as personified by Neil Armstrong’s open letter. But you’re going to have to do that alone, Glen, because it is boring.
I don’t see the issue that way. I think you are missing some points.
First of all, please remember what happened before NASA was created. Let us began with the V-2 falling on London and Antwerp in 1944 and the “Me-262″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messerschmitt_Me_262 thundering the skies of Germany and sweeping all opposition soon thereafter. Let me recall how “Frank Whittle”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Whittle works on the jet engine were simply sacked by the British government – arguing reason of State during a war – and handed over to Rover and General Electric, companies that did not develop his ideas until the Me-262 appeared (in fact, Rover was so unable of even understanding the new technology that lately was deprived of it by the British government, which again handed it over to Rolls-Royce).
The history of rocketry during the 1950’s is similar. Only the Atlas ICBM, AFAIK made by Convair, was powerful enough to match Russian’s performance. That means almost losing two wars because, as I see it, a few aircraft companies were more interested in sharing the government’s funds in incremental development programs than in applying new approaches. NASA was created out of necessity and its creation was well justified (and a success).
IMHO, now some want that situation reverted. The cold war is over. US advantage in Space is way-long ahead from any other nation: no screw-less Messerschimtts, no V-2, no Sputniks in the near future… They argue free market, but most of them await government funding, if not are lobbying to cancel NASA programs in order to obtain that funding. In the middle of the issue, we’ve got the astronauts forced to fly on vehicles product of that lobbying in Washington.
As I see it, I’d set a clear difference on the roles of private companies in space, and if they are unable to reach some goals right now, I would not cancel any NASA program. I think private companies are able to lauch unmanned spacecrafts to Low Earth Orbit, even resupply modules to the Space Station, but beyond that, their capacity to reach NASA performance is not clear. The situation may change in a few years, but the US needs a manned vehicle now.
On the issue of returning to the Moon and going to Mars, I think you are missing the point too. The question is not going, planting a flag and coming back, but the technologies developed to reach there and political side of the issue: Nations are common projects that head some way. As “Renan”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Renan#Definition_of_nationhood said: _having done great things together and wishing to do more_. So don’t ask Armstrong for scientific reasons to go there. Ask yourself where your Nation is heading.
That means almost losing two wars because, as I see it, a few aircraft companies were more interested in sharing the government’s funds in incremental development programs than in applying new approaches. NASA was created out of necessity and its creation was well justified (and a success).
I think there’s several issues, there, though.
First, I’m not opposed to a government agency specialized in one or more particular technology areas, knowledgeable enough to guide and seed research. We have several of those, and I’m a very large fan of some of them, especially DARPA. DARPA, as it happens, was created in exactly the same climate, and just about exactly the same time, and even for the same reason.
But DARPA doesn’t claim ownership over technology fields, the way NASA tries to over space and launch. (Which is good, because DARPA fails a lot. DARPA fails a whole lot. But they keep their failure costs low and make up with it by really hitting it out of the park once in a while.)
Second, talking about incremental development and risk averseness… that’s part of NASA’s problem, or so we critics claim. It’s really damnably difficult to get a straight answer or straight comparisons on launch costs over the past 50 or sixty years, for a number of factors: First, everyone seems to calculate it differently; second, state actors will subsidize to make themselves look good; third, state actors will lie for propaganda purposes; fourth, even in good faith, some systems depend on the number of launches per year; fifth, it matters what type of launch you’re talking about, etc.
But most sources claim that launch costs have either been flat, or falling only very gradually since the Saturn rockets.
That’s exactly the problem that private industry supporters are claiming the market will solve. With Falcon 9, which costs about $5k/kg, vs the Shuttle’s $10k/kg, I think they have a good argument. The Ares I was supposed to get in that realm, too, but no one expected it to materialize until somewhere around 2017, give or take, and that cost figure was only for the most optimistic conditions. Launch it less often, and the price climbed steeply.
This is one reason I boggled when I read Armstrong’s letter, the first time– he was going nuts about the lack of launch capability… but championing a project that left us without a decent vehicle until 2016 at best? Whuh?
I’m not so relaxed as you are on the notion of our superiority in space. Not the way that the Shuttle was going in terms of maintainability, and not the way that Constellation and the Ares series of rockets was going in terms of development.
I’d be more sympathetic to the “product of lobbying” argument, though, if NASA wasn’t its own lobby. That seems to be a big blind spot for a lot of people– NASA lobbies to keep its own funding just like any other established entity. And since it provides jobs in congressional districts, no decision is made without politics.
It’s not possible to keep that taint out of the private sector, but I’d still like to see some actual competition. (Besides, air force pilots have to ride around in the products of similar lobbying, too.)
The situation may change in a few years, but the US needs a manned vehicle now.
Unfortunately, Ares I and Ares V are not it. Not until 2016, earliest. If someone wanted to raid the couch cushions for extension funding for the shuttle, while still looking to Space X and other private companies, I’d consider that prudent.
To be sarcastic about it, NASA’s ability to match NASA’s performance is not clear.
On the issue of returning to the Moon and going to Mars, I think you are missing the point too. The question is not going, planting a flag and coming back, but the technologies developed to reach there and political side of the issue: Nations are common projects that head some way.
Enh. Sometimes I’m sympathetic to this notion, but most often I’m not. I understand the role of serendipity in scientific and technological discovery, but I’m not a great believer in trying to plan my research budgets around serendipity– that’s what the university system is for.
And when I am sympathetic to it, it’s more often than not a plan to build some particular capacity or bring some particular cost down to a point where more and more people can use that capability to do new and interesting and unplanned things. That’s all very abstract, so to make it concrete, I’m thinking of things like the railroad network, the highway system, the telegraph network, the telephone network, the internet, etc.
I think the space program does, absolutely, fit into that cluster– it’s a transport and access program, right?
Where the argument falls down for me is in the notion that we have to somehow trick ourselves into getting there, that the only way we’ll ever get awesome access to space through lower launch costs is by declaring that we want to go to Mars.
If what we’re after is (especially) reduced launch cost, then why spend the money now on all the other stuff necessary to go to Mars? Just develop the launch capability.
(I always focus on launch cost, because I think that’s the critical component. No one else will focus on anything else, until the cost of getting there is economically viable. But once the cost is viable, and money can be made, people will apply their ingenuity to those other tasks. You may be thinking of some other key technology in getting to Mars, though; I suspect the same argument will still apply.)
Marcus, about your first paragraphs in #16, I think it is wrong to apply a straight business analysis to NASA’s tasks, first of all, as you say because the real costs are unknown. Secondly, comparison among launchers is difficult: the Falcon 9 and the Shuttle serve different market segments. Those are some of the reasons I found my opinion that there is not such “space” market as a whole, although there might be some segments, Low Earth Orbit, in which competition is possible, and desirable, in the medium term. I just wouldn’t let private companies enter in segments in which free competition is not guaranteed.
Of course NASA is a lobby by itself, but they way it works has accomplished more that was done before, as I told in my first post. The process of being in charge of the whole project while private companies develop concrete tasks that later are reviewed is expensive (since those reviews lead to modifications which need new funding) but has yielded the most complex machines ever built by mankind, machines that have worked pretty well. If NASA is well funded, they will have a human-rated launcher for 2016-17 and a space vehicle able to be upgraded to carry out missions beyond LEO.
By the way, combat pilots usually fly attached to ejectable seats… just in case someone lobbied too strongly!
Regarding your last paragraphs:
_I think the space program does, absolutely, fit into that cluster– it’s a transport and access program, right?_
Absolutely not. There would be in some segments, in the mid term. As I say in my first post, in my opinion, what it is tried to be done is to argue that there exist a free market in order to get a cartel. By the way, railways ended up being a cartel, and telegraphs a monopoly.
In addition, please check that if you follow your economic analysis till the end, the obvious conclusion is that Chinese, Indian and Russian rockets are cheaper, therefore American space industry should be scrapped.
First of all, space transportation is divided in many segments: Low Earth Orbit, below and above 1 ton, in which competition is possible; medium Earth and Geostationary Transfer, or direct Geostationary orbit (already covered by government developed launchers, even some overcapacity exists); human-rated vehicles (shuttle), heavy launchers (shuttle derived vehicles); restartable upper stages, for beyond earth orbit missions, etc.
Some of them such as medium, GTO and GO are linked to the military, who, really pragmatic, dislike such fickleness and have developed their own solutions. Human-rated is a minor market, since non-rated rockets are simpler, thus, less expensive. Each segments needs its own development, therefore it is not just a matter of dollars/kilogram because it is not the same a human kilogram than a device kilogram, and it is not the same a kilogram in a 100 ton payload that flies once per year than a nanosatellite weighting that kilogram flying once each three months.
There are different segments and IMHO NASA should keep control and budget on the ones there cannot exist a free market. That’s from the “economic” point of view.
Regarding Mars, as I told in my previous post, it is a question that has a deep political side. Neither scientists nor economists rule countries, politicians do, and that happens for something. Moreover, History teaches nations have expanded not only for economic reasons, but to deny that territory to competitors. Although such a program should cost the less as possible and develop new technologies to benefit the entire country, I think doing a straight economic analysis on the travel to Mars is missing the point.
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