NASA is building a gorgeous new spacecraft it can't afford to fly


#1

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#2

NASA shouldn't be rocket building. The politicalization of the process makes them worthless at the exercise. It isn't there fault, it is the system, but the system can't be fixed. The best NASA can do is get a block of cash to hand over to SpaceX or whoever to do it right and call it a day.


#3

Sometimes I think the honorable thing for NASA would be for everyone working there to resign and go home as a form of protest. Yeah, yeah, I know, robot probes and JPL. Science. But so long as NASA exists at this pathetic funding level, why even bother with it anymore? Their existence allows the government to pretend they fund non-military space flight, but really now, with the cancellation of every manned space vehicle program since the horrible space shuttle (which should never have been built in the first place), and now our inability to even get a human being into LEO without Russian help, maybe we should just face facts.


#4

I keep waiting for NASA to get their "Benny the 1980something Space Guy" moment.


#5

Eh, in defense of the US, it accounts for nearly half of the spending worldwide on space programs and spends 4x the next guy on the list. It is easy to criticize the US, but it does vastly more for space exploration that anyone else.

Honestly, I'm not against more funding for NASA, but I would actually prefer NASA to skip the manned programs and stick to basic research and support of the private sector. Sending 5 people up into space every now and then on a congress pork barrel is never going to be anything more than an exercise in dick waving and legalized congressional kickbacks. The private sector is going to be what opens up space to real exploitation. NASA should focus on what the private sector can't do, which is fundamental research into the nature of our solar system and physics, and leave the moon hotels and mines for the first person to figure out a cheap way up.

NASA is fantastic at research, and they deserve our support. However, they however frankly suck at actually opening up space to more than a dozen people at a time.


#6

Certainly the whole manned space program since Apollo has been an obscene waste of time and money. The most egregious offender is the useless ISS, a training site for space toilet janitors and amateur CO2 extraction techs. I would rather NASA had never invested in the stupid space shuttle which came in at a huge multiple of the official cost estimates per shuttle and per launch to deliver an inferior mass to low orbit. Pathetic.

But that doesn't change the fact that a proper manned space program would be a good thing. It wouldn't be all that expensive if we exerted some vestige of discipline over these horrible defense contractors, but even with the obscene rates they charge we'd have plenty of cash available for it if we only held off on this insane and pointless warmongering.


#7

I don’t see how we’re supposed to keep bombing the shit out of random countries on the other side of the planet if we waste all that money on science and space exploration.


#8

Welcome to the most corrupt country on the planet kids. Big money, and big power will always attract graft corruption and fraud. I am not saying that there aren't hard working, dedicated people at NASA, I'm sure there are. The current manned space program is more about certain Senators, Congresspeople and contractors diverting funds to their states, corporate accounts and pockets than anything else. When viewed from the perspective of these people, the program is doing exactly what is intended.


#9

To be fair, it takes a lot less fuel to drop bombs from planes and launch strike missiles than it does to send anything beyond orbit.

Rocket fuel gets amazingly expensive, as there's an unfortunate problem wherein the higher you want to go and the larger the payload, the more fuel you require on an exponential scale. You literally need to have enough fuel to compensate for the weight of the fuel itself, and that just gets bigger and bigger at an alarming rate the more you're trying to put into space and the further out and faster you want it to go.

As you can imagine, the waste is colossal. The amount of fuel required to send a single pound of weight into space can send many more pounds across much shorter distances within the atmosphere.

Compound this with the fact that warheads are relatively lightweight, and that any worthwhile space implements are decidely not lightweight, and you begin to see some of the inherent biases toward destruction over exploration.

Add to this the fact that missiles have a much higher tolerance for crudity of construction (they're only meant to make a single, short trip, after all) and the far more immediate geopolitical impact of their usage, and it's no wonder we blow each other up rather than fire rockets into orbit or beyond. It's simply far more economical.


#10

Actually, rocket propellant is very cheap. The contribution of the propellant to the cost of a Falcon 9 launch, for example, is only about 0.3% of the total cost. This is why reusability is so attractive: it promises to reduce the cost of the equipment, which is much higher than the cost of a single launch's propellant.


#11

Resueability does help, but you still can't get useful payloads into orbit.

Humanity doesn't operate on the scales of material that have so far gone into space. Substantial human activity only exists through the employment of untold countless tons of material.

At the current rate of roughly $2000 per pound of material put into orbit, we simply can't put anything of real size up there, and the materials we do send have to be extremely lightweight - which is part of why the non-fuel expense is so high. We can afford to maintain our satellites and a rather small research-based space station with international cooperation, but anything beyond that meagre scale starts to become prohibitively expensive.

Ultimately it comes down to how we want to spend our resources. Space exploration is great, but it's only ever going to be affordable in the forseeable future on a scale of a few hundred satellites and maybe a dozen people in orbit.

Even if we somehow pooled our resources to send many tons of materials into orbit at horrific expense to build a moderate sized space station capable of housing a hundred or so people, what would be the point? Research can't really be meaningfully accelerated just by putting more people into space - you suffer from diminishing returns. And there's nothing we can manufacture in orbit that we can't do more cheaply on earth.

Heck, we can't even really extract mineral wealth from the rocky planets and asteroids because the distances involved are absurd, to say nothing of the engineering challenges. And what exactly would we extract that we can't collect more easily and cheaply here at home? Theoretically we'd target rare elements like Helium or Platinum, but the difficulty in finding and obtaining these materials in our solar system alone is staggering.

So when you put all this in front of the people who decide the budget, and tell them you could send a single research mission into space for a period of a couple years, or you could blow up untold numbers of targets with new guided missiles for the military, what do you honestly expect them to pick?

They can either support science and exploration with vague, nebulous results that may or may not actually be produced at some point in the future assuming everything works according to plan, or they can finance militaristic destruction and slaughter with immediate geopolitical repercussions that they can put an absolute value on.

Personally, I say put the money into science and research, but nix the space aspect. We've got plenty of problems in our own backyards that need worked on. As fascinating as star formation and cosmic background radiation and even new exoplanets are, knowledge of these things doesn't really do much to help us in anything but the longest of terms, if even then.

There are far more pressing concerns to deal with, like our energy problems. Spend less on warfare and space, put more into dealing with climate change. Not even the immediate concrete value of military spending compared to space exploration holds up against the value of preventing rising sea levels from wiping out the world's major coastal cities.


#14

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