The US Space Program – WDTPRS POLL

With this final Space Shuttle launch, the US now “leads from behind” also in the exploration of space.

Whither the US manned space program?

Chose the best answer and give your opinion in the com box.

The U.S. space program and NASA.

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  1. MarylandBill says:

    What NASA really needs more than anything else is long term direction. It seems that every Presidential Administration changes the direction they want NASA to go at least once in their term. Further, it seems incredibly difficult for the politicians to let NASA develop a replacement for the Shuttle. I can think of at least three or four efforts to develop a replacement for the Shuttle, all have been canceled fairly early in their development. Now, it is true that all of these programs were over budget, but I think we need to remember that this is common in cutting edge technology — How many new military vehicles come in under their initial budget?

    Now all of that would be irrelevant in a time when budgets need to be trimmed if NASA had not been the engine of scientific discovery and new technology development that it has been over the course of the past 50 years. NASA and the military are often the only organizations that are willing to spend money on new experimental technologies — and when NASA and its private industry collaborators develop a new technology it is far more likely to get into the public sector relatively quickly. Without NASA, it would have likely taken another 10-15 years for computers the size of the original IBM PC to become common place (NASA played a major role in shrinking computers down so they could fit them in their rockets which were considerably smaller and less powerful than the Russians were prior to the Saturn V). Without NASA, who knows how long it would have taken before a network of global telecommunications satellites had been developed? Lets not forget new light weight materials, insulators…

  2. I went with #2, as closest to my thoughts. We’ve learned more, by far, from unmanned exploration, particularly the Hubble and the planetary probes, than we’ve ever learned from manned space exploration, on both a total and bang-for-the-buck basis. If you want science, fund unmanned space projects. If you want to indulge your dreams of SciFi space fantasies, then fund manned exploration – but the Enterprise is not going to be beaming anybody up any time soon.

    One of the most tempting errors regarding technology is the assumption that solutions to any problem are just a matter of time. Back in the day, Buckminster Fuller, a prime victim of this sort of thinking, predicted that we’d be traveling faster than light by now – because, you see, if you plot the top speed at which people travel over time, you’ll see this exponential hockey-stick: in 1700, we could go maybe 40 mph on a fast horse; by 1850, maybe 100 mph on a fast train; by 1950, 600 mph in a jet; by 1970, thousands of mph in a rocket – well, plot that out, and by 2000, you’re at warp factor 5 or so.

    Didn’t happen, and doesn’t show any signs of happening. We may not get faster, or cheaper. We may not figure out how to keep people alive on long trips or alien planets – at least, not any time soon. Throwing money at it may not make it happen. We need more than blind hope and space cowboy dreams. Do the hard science first.

    Given the above reality-check, meaningful manned exploration of even our own solar system will require planetary-level resources – it’s an estimated $trillion to get a couple guys to Mars, and that’s the kind of estimate a sane man would triple. And that’s just a brief trip to Mars, no colonies or anything. “We” can afford meaningful manned exploration only if “we” means all or most of the industrialized nations acting together. Would that be a good thing?

  3. chcrix says:

    I also took 2, but I question the need for gov co at all.

    The political process has a true inverse midas touch. It all turns to rubbish.

    MarylandBill: I don’t think that the development of things like the Intel 4004 supports your view. Semiconductor development would have proceeded much as it did. After all the soviets wanted to succeed in their space program and failed. Yet they had considerable resources allocated. It’s not just a matter of resources.

    The space shuttle is a good example. Its’ less impressive parts are its’ less radical portions like solid boosters and its’ tiled surface.

    A radical solution would have been SSTO. Is SSTO possible – don’t know. But with govco funding a launch program, we can’t know what industry would have developed.

  4. introibo says:

    Wondering where in the Constitution is the provision for the federal government to conduct the space program. The Constitution (which our government officials and many others among us have sworn to uphold) is pretty specific in the tenth amendment: unless it’s spelt out herein, the federal government has no part to play.

  5. Martial Artist says:

    I have about two years (cumulative time) working for a major space contractor (Apollo program in the mid-1960s), and my mother worked for what was originally North American Aviation’s Space and Information Systems Division, and its successor owners until her retirement, by which time it was a part of Boeing. Since the development of the Space Transportation System (the official designation of what is “marketed” as the Space Shuttle) I have seen very little return on the truly enormous (unbelievably so, in my humble opinion) quantities of money spent by NASA. I voted “Who cares…” because I am unclear about what the most popular choice intends by the phrase “with some coordination with government.”

    If the intent of that qualifier could be sorted out to my Austro-libertarian Catholic sensibilities, I might opt for that, otherwise, just leave it to the free market. If commercial entities see a value in doing things in space, they will be done. If not, the only justification I can offer for government involvement would be defense of the nation, or the planet, from foreign attack (earthly or alien). Anything else will simply turn into yet one more unneeded vehicle for political pork.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  6. MarylandBill says:

    chcrix: The intel 4004 was not announced until 1971, two years after the moon landing (and ten years after we first put a man into space!). Every history of computers I have ever seen credits the moon race with being a major player in developing integrated circuits and other technology.

    Obviously not every technology you spend money on is going to work out (though while the Russian moon program was a failure, their space program as a whole has been rather successful by most standards!). It is however simply not true that everything the government spends money on turns to rubbish. Arpanet — I mean the internet proves that.

    Oh right, it is true that NASA’s unmanned missions are its most productive scientifically, and I expect that will remain the case until we develop the capability of sending people somewhere and keeping them there for weeks or months and not just days. As it is now, a probe finds something interesting, and you often have to wait 2-10 years to follow up on the discovery until you can design and send a new probe equipped to follow it up. Humans, on the spot, might have a better shot of following up right away.

  7. PostCatholic says:

    None of the above? The most important science isn’t coming from manned space flight but from instruments like the Martian rovers and the Hubble telescope. The breakthroughs to physics and temporal studies have been incredible. Of course, the Hubble got to its orbit via the Space Shuttle.

    I’m not an astrophysicist and I don’t know what the relative value of manned space flight is beyond its monopoly on inspiration. But I hope the limited dollars get spent in whatever direction increases our understanding of the universe the most. To me, it seems that the Webb telescope and the ATLAST are very promising programs.

  8. Obama now enters the elite club of ground-hugging-downer politicians: Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon.

  9. Now the USA can do to the space program what they’ve done with everything else that Americans used to do:

    Pay a third-world-country to do it for us.

  10. Jacob says:

    For those who say that unmanned has been more scientifically productive, I agree. But citing Hubble as an example is a poor idea. Remember, Hubble at the time of its placement in orbit was horribly messed up due to construction errors. If STS had not existed to do repair missions to fix the initial errors and then maintain and upgrade Hubble over the years, it would have been far less useful and would have had to have been shut down long ago.

    I am ambivalent about Manned Spaceflight at this point. Returning to the Moon is a nice idea that has its pros and cons. So does a trip to Mars. I am really for Mars To Stay ( and I think the best way to do that is through private enterprise encouraged by government.

  11. KAS says:

    I’m sad to see NASA go this way, but I think the private sector should be freed up to chase the space dream! Government needs to back off if they are not going to DO anything useful and let the private sector find ways to fund the dream and reach for the stars.

    I didn’t vote because I think the private sector should take it over without anything from the government– not even coordination. If people want to coordinate, they can do that without a government nanny assisting.

  12. John Nolan says:

    Looking at this obsolete, liquid-fuelled behemoth standing on its launchpad and destined to fly not a great deal higher than a jetliner, with a safety record which would have pemanently grounded any commercial aircraft, I am astounded that NASA is still fixated with the comic-book idea of manned space flight, given that our enormously enhanced knowledge of the solar system is due to unmanned probes. The programme that put a man on the moon 42 years ago (and who since the 1970s is bothered to go there again?) was a spin-off from the Cold War defence budget.

  13. Dr. Eric says:

    I think we should scrap all the space stuff until we have fully explored the earth. There are plenty of things to discover down here on Terra Firma let’s not waste money and resources we don’t have.

  14. Trad Catholic Girl says:

    Although the space shuttle program is ending, NASA will have a strong space exploration program now, and hopefully into the future. As a matter of fact, NASA has several more launches planned in 2011, including the Science Lab (Curiosity Rover) scheduled to be launched on 11/25/11 to search for microbial life on Mars. The federal agency also plans to continue sending humans into space (including plans to land on Mars within the next 20 to 30 years).

    I’m including a link to “NASA’s Plan to Win the Future 2012” (8 minute video) for more inf0rmation about NASA’s FY2012 budget request of $18.7 billion, reflecting a relatively flat budget projected for FY2012 “that supports a reinvigorated path of innovation, technological development and scientific discovery”:

  15. muckemdanno says:

    How can anyone who believes in the 7th commandment support the confiscation through taxation of the fruit of men’s labor in order to subsidize their own personal hobbies and interests such as the space program? They should read more Bastiat.

    “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.” – Frederic Bastiat

    “It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.” – Frederic Bastiat

    “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” – Frederic Bastiat

    If there is value for society in any of this stuff which is greater than the cost to society, it will, without doubt, be done by private industry.

  16. pfhawkins says:

    The entire budget of NASA over the last 50 years is roughly equal to the military budget of the last two years. Regardless of whether or not space exploration should be in the government’s purview, their stated reasons for shutting down this program seem disingenuous when they could be saving so much more by withdrawing our military from the many needless bases and conflicts it is involved in.

  17. Girraffeed says:

    I voted “Keep the government manned space program going, but cut its funding back,” mainly because I am in favor of cutting most funding back.

    That being said, we went to the moon 40 years ago with slide rules and ingenuity. If we were to actually set a goal for the space program, what could it do with our technology today?

    Lastly, although I don’t think much of his administration in general, JFK did hit a good point when he said “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

  18. Athelstan says:

    Hello Maryland Bill,

    What NASA really needs more than anything else is long term direction.


    It had that direction from 1961-1969. From both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue – and the public. That has not been the case since then. A few presidents have tried to – Reagan with Space Station Freedom, each of the Bushes with their moon programs – but no one else was on board (public included), and they invested little political capital in pushing their visions to overcome that. Instead the space program has ended up a football for conflicting political and contractor interests.

    NASA ended up a fairly dysfunctional agency as a result of all that. But it would be a shame to abandon the program, or even just the manned component thereof, because of that. There’s a role now for commercial ventures that should be strongly encouraged, but it would be nice to see NASA return to deep space, beyond-earth orbit exploration again, if it can be made to do so economically (and I think it can).

    Hello pf Hawkins,

    The entire budget of NASA over the last 50 years is roughly equal to the military budget of the last two years.

    Good point. In 1966, NASA peaked at a remarkable 4.4% of the federal budget, when LBJ was essentially able to cut blank checks for Apollo. Now it’s declined all the way down to 0.75%. (Surveys indicate that most Americans greatly overestimate how much money the space program really gets.) In other words, NASA isn’t the place where you’ll find lots of money to cut down the deficit – but you will lose (even with all its waste and inefficiency) a lot of good science and capabilities.

  19. Athelstan says:

    Hello muckemdanno,

    If there is value for society in any of this stuff which is greater than the cost to society, it will, without doubt, be done by private industry.

    Well, I admire Bastiat as much as the next conservative Catholic, but let’s be honest: private industry would never have funded the Voyager probes (still going strong now in interstellar space 35 years later), the Hubble telescope, Galileo or Huygens-Cassini, or Spirit and Opportunity – and it would be hard to put a price on the knowledge gained from all those missions.

  20. cblanch says:

    I think space exploration falls under the national security umbrella and therefore should be generously funded by the government… instead of say, Planned Parenthood.

  21. I voted private sector with government cooperation. I agree with cblanch: it does come under the category of national security.

    Plus: we need to colonize Mars, the sooner the better. I have an ever-lengthening list of people who need to go live there.

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