NASA spaceflight review concludes agency lacks ability to get humans to Mars


#1

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#2

They have a lot of good points. It is useful to note that NASA's budget right now is the lowest it has been relative to the federal budget since 1959 (it is now 0.47% of the federal budget). Right now it is only 61% of the value it was when George W. Bush took office and 47% of what it was when Clinton took office. NASA could probably pull off a Mars landing with a 1% plan and solid requirements. But less than half of that and being a political football are only guaranteeing failure.


#3

Alternate headline, NASA spaceflight review states the obvious about the lack of ability for the agency to get humans to Mars.

There are two major reasons this is so.

1: Lack of vision. The Apollo program was successful because we had motivation for going, a time table for when we'd get there, and a United nation behind the effort. At the moment, at most we have agreement that the space program is important. Less agreement on what it should do, and how much we should fund it. With various congress people putting pork before everything else. IE: SLS is too expensive to be very useful, and its a big rocket without a clear destination while it consumes resources that could of been better used elsewhere.

A lack of vision is frankly the American people's fault. Too few of us value science or exploration, and we are too quick to be critical of big numbers without looking at the big picture. Example: 500 billion to go to Mars?! Outrageous! Even though that is less than what we spend on defense in one year. Not to mention that 500 billion would be over 20-30 years. Which would be less than American consumers spend over 20-30 years on just alcohol and drugs alone. Less than we spend on our pets over 20-30 years.

To be fair though, NASA has been without a clear vision since the end of the Apollo program. Indeed, one of the the reasons the shuttle and ISS became such a boondoggle like SLS is because of that lack of vision. We need to be honest with ourselves on why we want to send humans into space, and realize that its perfectly OK to send humans into space just to test the limits of what we are capable of as a species. Unfortunately, we've been too focused on the bottom line to dream about the future anymore.

Which is why Space X is so amazing, they are doing something we haven't done since the 60's. They want to go to Mars, because why the hell not? That honesty has given them a very clear path to getting to Mars too. Which is why NASA should just back their vision if Space X wins the commercial crew program contract as I believe they will.

2: Money. NASA's budget has been going down for the most part since the 70's, they simply do not have the resources to do ambitious missions like Apollo, let alone the next Curiosity or Cassini. That is a fact.

After 2020, we wont have any outer solar system unmanned probes exploring the outer solar system for the first time since the 1970's. Worse, the future of exploration is the outer solar system. Yet NASA had to kill its next generation Radioisotope Generator last year. Meaning we killed a generator that would of been more efficient/cheaper in the long-run, and allow more outer solar system missions. All to save a little money last year.

The money simply isn't there for a significant manned mission, let alone a significant unmanned mission. Which is just depressing. We used to be a nation of explorers, that embraced the unknown. Now we're a bunch of anti-science idiots who only care about ourselves.


#4

I disagree. The key to getting out of Earth orbit is heavy lift. You absolutely positively need a heavy lift rocket. The lack of the US having a rocket of the Saturn V class for the last 40 years is pretty much what has prevented any novel manned exploration advances. It also prevents the creation of the more impressive types of probes and telescopes. If nothing else occurs due to the recent space politicking other than the creation of an ultra-heavy lift rocket in the Saturn V class, I will at least be somewhat satisfied since then the door would be open to the future.


#5

I should make it clear that my criticism of SLS isn't because its a heavy lifter primarily. Its because its not a sustainable option. Just like the Apollo program wasn't sustainable beyond the 1970's. The problem is we will only have enough money to launch SLS two times a year maybe, if NASA's budget doesn't go up. That means getting to Mars realistically with Orion isn't going to happen anytime soon.

SLS is a rocket to nowhere. If you're smart, you engineer a rocket around your needs for it on a sustainable pathway to say Mars or wherever you want to go. SLS is engineered around the needs for continued pork to shuttle contractors. Also, if Space X pulls off stage recovery, the Falcon Heavy will prove just how silly and expensive SLS is in comparison.

Space X gets it. To open up space you need to launch on an affordable budget, and often. The Falcon Heavy should be able to do both despite being smaller than SLS.


#6

Can someone design a fuckoff-huge Saturn VI model, PLEASE?


#7

Are you really willing to go back to stage zero and start on the design of yet another rocket? The reason NASA can't launch so many rockets is because the budget is so small, not because the rocket is too expensive (it costs about $500 million per launch, which isn't that expensive for an agency that should have a >$30 billion budget). NASA's budget is criminally undersized.

I think you are putting too much faith in SpaceX. Smaller rockets mean smaller cowlings which mean more complexity and weight overall (you have to mate more components, provide interconnecting systems, and add more structural stability). It is useful to remember that Space Lab, a fully functional space station with a mass about a sixth of the ISS and over half of that of MIR, was launched with a single Saturn V rocket. With the upgrades available to the SLS, you would be able to have constructed the ISS in three launches and far more volume (and with less than $5 billion in launch costs). The same applies to building a Mars spacecraft.

To be fair, if I were to have my way, I would go even larger than the upgraded SLS. I would build the SLS and then do some serious feasibility studies on the Sea Dragon rocket (500 tonnes). But under no condition would I stop on the SLS. I would rather waste money and get somewhere than waste money and get nowhere.


#8

... frankly the American people's fault. ...

You know it chaps my @55 when folks say that kind of trash in a forum.

Back in 2008/2009, when Bush was handing off his enormous pile of poo to Obama, they forked over most of a trillion to the Monetary Masters of the Universe. And the handouts have not stopped since then, but they are not publicized. That was not the fault of the "American people". Among those folks who bothered to write their congress critters, opinion was something like 98 to 2 against this enormous boondoggle. But the handouts just kept going out. Some analysts say what, 20 or 30 trillion by now? Anyway, this was not the idea of the "American people".

Of course, all that "money" is just notional, if they spent it on anything real it would cause crazy inflation. It just covers their bad bets so they can continue to be "too big to fail"

But, back to the point of my rant. America could afford a space program, and to repair its highways and overpasses, and public healthcare, and railroads, and all that good stuff if not for the kleptocrats.

</rant >


#9

I see your point, but I still disagree. The space program is in the state it is in, because the American people simply don't see the value in funding science or exploration. Which is why politicians can cut funding for NASA, NOAA, and the NSF easily. They know that there wont be say the same amount of outrage from the general public as say there would be about the death of a TV character/or if some bigot reality tv star said something stupid. So even though we spend a very small amount of money on science and exploration every year. Its an easy target.

Polling pretty much backs me up too.

If you ask most Americans if we should remain a leader in space, or whether they support NASA. They overwhelmingly say yes to both questions.

Ask them though, about whether its worth its cost though? Barely a majority will say yes.

Ask them if NASA's budget should be increased? 10 percent answers yes, and 48 percents says NASA's budget should stay the same despite the fact that its been shrinking in real time spending power.

You need money to remain a leader in space, and to actually do things in space. The American people support the space program, they just don't want to pay for it.


#10

If NASA funding went way up, I'm not sure if human travel to Mars would be high on the agenda. It's much much more dangerous than travel to the Moon, and the payoff is pretty small. We no longer need to beat the Russians, and that face up there just ain't talking.


#11

Good news for all the astronauts who would otherwise have died on a barren planet millions of miles from home.

NASA takes great pains to make sure unmanned probes do not accidentally contaminate Martian soil with Earth microbes, so then they decide to send a giant walking biome there instead? And for what? Some kind of political ego boost?


#12

Manned space missions to Mars or the moon are a complete waste of money. What good is a human colony on Mars? It won't improve the human condition. We're talking about a $16 billion annual budget. Why not spend the money to do something good here on earth instead?


#13

Mission to Mars, a peaceful free market democracy in Afghanistan, and a social security lockbox.... that dude sure could clear brush /derail


#14

Could I ask you to please cite at least one analyst without causing offense?


#15

I respectively disagree. You are thinking of a manned Mars mission in the wrong way, it wouldn't be and shouldn't be a footprint and flag planting mission. It should be about pushing the limits of what is possible, and about innovating. You have to live for two years on Mars after you get there if you take the 8-10 month route. That means creating technology that will make us a more sustainable species. Yes, technically we could do so on earth but Mars puts us out of our comfort zone and pushes us to innovate. Which is crucial when it comes to forward progress as a species.

Plus it would speed up our exploration of the solar system if we had a real presence outside of low earth orbit. Make no mistake, I think robotic missions are hugely important and are what NASA does best. That being said, I think there is more to life than just existing. We need to push our limits as a species, and that means seeing how possible it is to live on another planet or go beyond our solar system.


#16

The money is spent on earth, We don't blast it off into space. All the money is spent on research and designs that can be used by the private sector eventually. It also means we retaining some of the brightest minds the United States, rather than risking brain drain. It also means jobs, and a future for many Americans on working on something that is amazing and worth while. Yet completely affordable.

Also, even if you scrapped NASA. 16 billion dollars wont go very far. A good example, the Department of Defense spent 20 billion dollars a year just on AC in Afghanistan and Iraq during the peak of those wars. Its a very small amount of money when you're talking about government spending. We already spend more on education, healthcare, and social services. Throwing 16 billion at those programs isn't going to make a huge difference.


#17

Do we? I think what you're describing is bacteria. I believe we need to respect our limits as a species, first. We don't and we're about to start drowning in our own mess. No planet close enough to get away to. We need to reach for the stars, yes, but not so we can export the same mistakes.


#18

No, to prove that the United States can do more than blow up brown people/bailout the banks with its billions of dollars. Look, its affordable. Cost is not an issue, I'll make that very clear. NASA's budget is less than 1 percent of the total budget. Its a tiny amount of money, that would make little difference if you threw it at education/social services/defense.

Do you not see the point of pushing our limits as a species? If we all thought the status quo was so great throughout history we would of never left the trees to evolve into humans, or left Africa, or left Europe.


#19

That is a rather defeatist attitude, and I'd like to think that our species is capable of more. You don't seem to think so. Who is to say we would export our mistakes? We would be sending the best and brightest of us, and why give up before we even try?


#20

I think maybe you're so ready to call other people defeatist that you didn't read what I said there very carefully. There has to be some reason for you to be talking past me, that's my guess.