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"Houston, We Have A Problem, And It's In Washington!"

By Signal 11 in Op-Ed
Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 09:57:01 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

The BBC is reporting that major cutbacks to the US space program are imminent. The plan includes shelving any new space shuttles, cutting flights of the space shuttles back to six per year and scrapping most of the ISS program -- essentially turning it over to the Russians.


The pluto space probe is dead -- a major concern to astronomers who note that it will be another two centuries before Pluto is close enough to the sun to have liquid on its surface. Simultaniously, Dubya directed NASA to continue Mars exploration. No mention of new funding to accomplish this was made.

Following in his father's footsteps, Dubya intends to revive the "star wars" project, but I'm really rather wondering how he's going to do that without a space program. The Chinese are actively building up the power to challenge the United States' dominance on the so-called infosphere. If our space program is scrapped, it'll simply be a matter of time before the Chinese surpass us in the space race -- probably within a decade, IMO. For a president who is busy bombing Iraq and wanting to expand the US military's power, it seems counter-productive to kill NASA.

Dubya also fails to realize that by gutting NASA he is directly threatening economic growth. NASA has an entire section of its website dedicated to "spin-off" technologies. Mass media in its form today would not be possible without NASA (communication satellites). These things are simply too expensive for private enterprise to undertake - the rate of return is obvious - for every dollar put into NASA, two dollars have come back out in spin off technology (IIRC). Entire markets have been created based on NASA spin-off technology.

Bush is going to shoot himself, and the United States, in the foot, with this course of action -- he's making good political moves at the expense of the welfare of the american people.

What most people don't know about this mantra of "balancing the budget" being used to justify these courses of action is that right now higher incomes across the board have force many into higher tax brackets. This has created a real (not nominal!) increase in taxation, and it is that push into the higher tax brackets that is fueling the republicans' push to balance the budget. In reality, the majority of the budget goes towards transfer payments: medicare, military spending, social security, unemployment insurance, etc. These things are legally required by various statutes -- Congress would need to disband or alter thousands of laws to have much impact on these transfer payments. In short, it doesn't really matter who's in office with regard to the budget.

So the message I'd like to give to Bush is simple: Look past your damned nose. If you want to start encouraging growth in our economy, you need to increase either consumer spending, or government spending. You can do that either with a tax cut, or funding more social programs. But leave the space program alone. Its contribution to the bottom line is more than any programs you are cooking up could ever be.

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"Houston, We Have A Problem, And It's In Washington!" | 66 comments (49 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
ISS *WAY* over budget anyway (4.11 / 9) (#2)
by DeadBaby on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:28:48 PM EST

To understand the cut backs you have to understand just how far over budget the ISS is already. NASA set budget guidelines for the ISS and they broke them, badly. I wish that funding was not being cut but the President is less to blame than NASA's inability to follow their own budget guidelines.

NASA will most likely end up out spending the current budget very badly anyway. It's not so much a cut as a notice that they simply won't have the funds to out spend themselves again.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
I imagine (3.75 / 4) (#6)
by retinaburn on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:36:19 PM EST

That a large part was caused by having to wait around for the Russians to finish up their components. Oh and funding the Russian components.

Neither of those would have been foreseeable at the time the budget was created.

When working on a project of this size being over budget (especially when dealing with SPACE and technology) is to be expected.

I wonder how often the Dept. of Defense is over budget ?


I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


[ Parent ]
Sunk costs! (4.57 / 7) (#9)
by Signal 11 on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:50:50 PM EST

The overbudget expenditures are sunk costs - we can never get them back. Using that as a justification for budget cuts now is a poor argument. Let me give you an example:

Let's say you purchase a brand new car worth $40,000. When you drive it off the lot, it loses $6,000 of its value - it is no longer new, hence it immediately depreciates. When you get it home, you decide you don't like the car that much afterall and you want to return it. The dealer will accept it back for $34,000. You balk because you paid $40,000 just yesterday!

An economist calls these sunk costs - you will never get the $6,000 back. The marginal cost of purchasing that vehicle was $6,000 - that's how much you actually lost by simply purchasing the vehicle.

The ISS is the same way - it cost $4 billion to put it into orbit. Those are likewise sunk costs. Now you have to look at the current situation - does the marginal cost of continuing the ISS project outweigh the next best use to which that money could be put to?

That is to say, we could simply scrap the ISS, and use that money somewhere else but would it make sense?




--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Limited Growth. (2.00 / 1) (#32)
by DeadBaby on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:38:28 PM EST

I normally would be upset over NASA getting a budget cut but as badly as NASA handled the ISS it's only fair that their budget is going to reflect it. Any government program that goes $4 billion over-budget should have less money to play with the next time around.

Of course we should keep the ISS but NASA is going to need to suffer for the next few years to offset their huge budget overruns. It'll balance out in the end.

It's too bad it had to end up this way but the ISS budget issue was just SO badly handled that I don't see any other way to fairly deal with it than to trim NASA's budget to make up for the massive over spending.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Did you wanna relate? (2.50 / 2) (#40)
by Miniluv on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 07:40:35 PM EST

Thanks, yet again, for the offtopic economics lesson Signal 11. Yes, you correctly defined both marginal cost and "sunk costs", but you failed to show why they are the wrong reason to cut NASA's budget.

Consider this scenario: A certain first-world government funds it's programs through taxation and debt instruments. (No naming names) Said country must balance it's debt instruments against the economy to insure they do not throw the economy off track by driving up interest rates, so these debt instruments are not a source of unlimited funding. Thus, this country has a limited budget every year and it must parcel money out for a multitude of programs and services. NASA happens to be one of them, and they pitch this wondrous project called ISS that's going to be shiney and new and in space. Everyone says "Wow, how much is this shiny new space object going to cost?" and NASA names a price for this country to participate. Things happen, time passes and suddenly NASA's price has come and gone, along with another $4Billion, and suddenly this government realizes that those dollars are gone. "Sunk" as it were. Does it not make sense to tell NASA to f-off the next time they come around looking for a budget infusion when they've proven themselves woefully incapable of managing money? ISS is not what's at issue, but instead the insanity of the budgeting system in a particular federal agency.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Sure! (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by Signal 11 on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 11:30:40 PM EST

Yes, you correctly defined both marginal cost and "sunk costs", but you failed to show why they are the wrong reason to cut NASA's budget.

I never attempted to say what the "right" or "wrong" action as. I simply advanced one way of looking at it.

Does it not make sense to tell NASA to f-off the next time they come around looking for a budget infusion when they've proven themselves woefully incapable of managing money?

Well, I can't answer that directly. I can pose another question, however: What was the comparative advantage of NASA's budget within the past five years? In other words - total up all the money that NASA has spent, and then compare it with the best use that money could have been used for. The difference between the two is the metric I would use in judging whether or not NASA was efficiently using the money. Simply saying "It cost four billion dollars!" is a meaningless statement to me - dollars is not a measurement of cost, and the cost of the ISS project is the foregone opportunities for which that money could have been used for instead.

As far as telling NASA to "f-ck off", I would humbly suggest that Bush consider restructuring NASA first before executing more drastic measures. IMO, it's too early to judge NASA on the ISS budget because it has had no opportunity to provide a return on investment - that is to say, the damned thing is still under construction so of course they're in the red.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Please, never run a business (2.00 / 2) (#50)
by Miniluv on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 01:28:08 AM EST

- that is to say, the damned thing is still under construction so of course they're in the red.
For a few minutes you sounded like you understood economics. Then you said that. The question isn't whether they've turned a profit, but instead that they are $4billion beyond projected budget. These are totally different issues. Spending $4B versus overspending by $4B project two totally different spins.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]
That's what he's doing! (none / 0) (#63)
by see on Sat Mar 03, 2001 at 03:05:05 AM EST

I would humbly suggest that Bush consider restructuring NASA first before executing more drastic measures.

NASA's budget isn't being reduced, but its priorities are being reshuffled and the independent administrative fiefs are being consolidated. If that isn't "restructuring", I don't know what the hell is.

The Space Station is operational, and will remain so; we're merely not going to spend much money expanding it. Failed projects like the X-33 are being killed. Projects that cannot be completed because of a lack of necessary radiothermal generators or the ability to build new ones in time (the Pluto-Kupier Express) are being set aside do they don't sap funds from what we can do.

And, if the record of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization is anything to go by, Bush's missile defense program will produce spinoffs for NASA. After all, the DC-X (successful 1/3 scale SSTO prototype) and Clementine (the probe that detected the first evidence of water ice on the Moon) were both SDIO projects.

[ Parent ]

WAY TO FUNNY :) (3.25 / 4) (#4)
by retinaburn on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:32:59 PM EST

the plan includes shelving any new space shuttles, cutting flights of the space shuttles back to six per year and scrapping most of the ISS program - essentially turning it over to the Russians.

Ohhh thats rich :)

I figure he'll slash the budget some country will make something that could 'possibly' be seen as a threat to US dominance and BOOM billions funneled back into NASA and the like ...its the good ol' American Way :)


I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


Bush is for tons of space spending (1.70 / 10) (#7)
by Wah on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:42:56 PM EST

but only if its got lasers and such attached a'side it.
--
Fail to Obey?
What Doesn't Work and Wasting Tax $s (4.33 / 9) (#10)
by quam on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:51:04 PM EST

I am confused why the U.S. leadership would seek to cutback the space program while it has successfully progressed and, yet, seek to advance an expensive missile defense system which has demonstrated failure. Moreover, Bush states he wants to lower federal spending and return "wasted taxdollars to the taxpayers." Yet, his actions are to the contrary.

While I support the concept of a national missile defense (NMD) program, I oppose its implementation because it is not ready. Even with significant expenditures for testing, the NMD has failed tests after tests. In fact, the U.S. spent over $10 billion on NMD during fiscal 2000. Perhaps the concept of NMD is ahead of its time.

If someone supports NMD, why would they support its implementation when it obviously isn't ready? Wouldn't someone who supports NMD oppose deployment of a flawed and inoperable system because deployment would set a poor precedent for supporting or funding future NMD programs?

By providing for the allocation of funds for this program, Bush sets a precedent of wasting taxpayer dollars. Obviously, such activities keeps taxes high.

-- U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.
Results (2.50 / 6) (#12)
by DeadBaby on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:55:52 PM EST

The American people want results they can actually use. Defense from rouge nuclear weapons makes people feel safe. Doubling the budget for the health department makes people feel safe. Adding more money into any various social program makes people feel safe.

It sounds like you're not from the US. It's very easy for another country to spend our money when they don't understand just how little interest there is in space these days in America.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Does the Constitution mean anything? (2.00 / 2) (#54)
by espo812 on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 09:53:34 AM EST

National defence is part of the mandated things the federal government must do. Space travel is one of the things the federal government is PROHIBITED from doing. We are waisting money (100% of the budget in fact) on NASA because it's illegal. We maybe waisting money on NMD, but at least it's legal. Maybe we would have enough funding to properly develop NMD if we wern't waisting money on NASA, and the Department of Education, and the EPA, and other illegal and stupid and inefficient programs.

espo
--
Censorship is un-American.
[ Parent ]
What Part of the Constitution Do U Not Understand? (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by quam on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 02:40:20 PM EST

Please substantiate your contentions --- where has the Court ruled the government is prohibited from funding NASA or "other illegal and stupid and inefficient programs" ?

If you truly believe the Constitution means something, then by all means, read and understand it. Blindlessly attributing the Constitution as support for your contentions is an insult to the Constitution and establishments of justice; most likely things you may hold to be important.

The EPA, created by Nixon, and other agencies you mentioned were born within the full scope of federal powers to provide for the general protection or safety of citizenry. It has been reaffirmed by Courts that taxpayers do not have standing to raise consitutional challenges to federal expenditures, except in some cases regarding the establishment clause (i.e.: expenditure of funds for the advancement of a certain religion).

-- U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.
[ Parent ]
Dumb Frat boy (2.46 / 15) (#11)
by Inoshiro on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:51:53 PM EST

For all those who voted for the dumb Frat boy.. I hope you're happy now. Space exploration is a very international goal, and now we've lost one of the more advanced (space exploration wise) countries from the joint effort.

And all of this for budget balancing, which would've occured under the old budget within a decade. Hardly a minor feat considering how in-debt the US to everyone (including the UN). But Bush pushed ahead with a retroactive tax cut. Talk about penny sound, pound foolish.



--
[ イノシロ ]
US is a creditor, not a debtor, and space leader (4.50 / 10) (#14)
by Delirium on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:01:04 PM EST

Space exploration is a very international goal, and now we've lost one of the more advanced (space exploration wise) countries from the joint effort.

Well, first of all it's not "one of the more advanced," it's unquestionably the most advanced country in the field of space-exploration. =P Secondly, the US hasn't abandoned space exploration - if you take a look at the "international" space station you'll see that the US alone has paid for more of it than all the other countries combined, and it doesn't look like that is going to change in the near future (Russia was the only other country with significant contribution and the US has ended up having to finance most of Russia's portion as well; a few European countries plus Japan contributed a minor module or lab to round out the "international" consortium).

Hardly a minor feat considering how in-debt the US to everyone (including the UN).

The US isn't very much in-debt to the UN - they owe them less than a billion dollars, which amounts to less than one tenth of one percent of the annual US budget. The sticking point is that a majority of the US Congress on principle refuses to pay it because they feel that it is unjust for the US to have to provide 25% of the entire UN budget; last I heard they were willing to settle for 22% but the other UN countries appeared unwilling to settle for that percentage.

Also your comment is rather inaccurate that the US is "in-debt...to everyone" - if you combined take the debts owed by the US and the debts owed to the US, the US is very much in the positive territory - other countries owe the United States billions of dollars more than the US owes anyone else (even after the US forgave many of the "loans").

[ Parent ]

us IS in debt (none / 0) (#64)
by radar bunny on Sat Mar 03, 2001 at 11:19:25 PM EST

Also your comment is rather inaccurate that the US is "in-debt...to everyone" - if you combined take the debts owed by the US and the debts owed to the US, the US is very much in the positive territory - other countries owe the United States billions of dollars more than the US owes anyone else (even after the US forgave many of the "loans")

This is absolutely not true. If you looke here you can find some information. Firstly, the US has a 5.7 trillion dollar debt of which 22% is owed to foriegn nations. That's 1.25 trillion dollars that we owe other countries. That's larger than the GNP of many countries and averages out to us owing about 4.5 billion to every country on the planet --- though in fact most is owed to Japan, Britan, and Canada. I beleive it was 1989 when we officially became a debter country -- i.e. owing more to other countries than other countries owe us.

[ Parent ]
Well, you're wrong... (4.22 / 9) (#17)
by trhurler on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:11:57 PM EST

Bush did considerably better in school than Gore, but that's beside the current point. That point is:

1) ISS is so far overbudget that in most government agencies, it would have been scrapped years ago. This is because it is an embarassment - it will cost people their careers(in fact, it did cost one guy his career already.)

2) ISS is not very international. We're doing all the heavy lifting, and the Russians are doing just enough to keep their egos afloat. Nobody else is doing anything but building a few pieces on the ground, and they're using US and Russian experts to help them so they don't screw it up. By international, they mean "international ego-booster," not "international partnership."

3) Mars exploration is far more interesting anyway, and they'll get budget for that.

4) Private space exploration would be orders of magnitude cheaper and more fun anyway.

5) It isn't as though the US is going to quit ISS. We'll still be funding and operating most of it - just not as much as we otherwise would have. Maybe the other FIFTEEN countries that have their name on it can chip in a bit more than the five percent or so that they're currently contributing IN TOTAL, eh? :)

As for the tax cut, I just can't get too upset about the fact that I might actually be able to afford to replace my failing car AND buy a place to live at the same time while still saving money for retirement and so on because of Dubya. Sorry:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
OT: tax cut (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by bjrubble on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:23:55 PM EST

I highly doubt the tax cut will enable anyone to replace a failing car. The only people who will see that much money coming back are the ones who can afford to replace their car already. The average family will see something like $1500 -- not too shabby, but is it worth keeping our national debt and losing the lion's share of our surplus?

[ Parent ]
I am aware of the situation. (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by trhurler on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:56:49 PM EST

I maintain that it will be much easier for me to do the things I said with that extra money than without. I'm aware of my finances. As it happens, by the way, the "average" household makes less money than I do; I'm probably a bracket up from them, although I haven't looked at a tax table recently and don't remember, and I certainly have more tax obligation, seeing as they have dependents and other deductions that I don't have. In any case, yes, I think it will significantly ease the problem of me replacing my car and buying a place and so on.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Surplus (2.00 / 2) (#38)
by slick willie on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 06:30:09 PM EST

How would you feel if your city, or your school maintained a budget surplus? That would essentially mean that they are running at a profit, right? The very definition of profit is keeping more than you spend. The budget should not run at a surplus, nor should it run at a deficit. It should be balanced.

The tax cut would benefit me immensely. I don't make a lot of money, but it would put about $3000 back into my pocket with the child credits. Put that aside for a few years, and I have some college already paid.

Under Bush's proposed plan, all retirable debt will be paid in 10 years, and I don't have a problem with that.

Losing the surplus is a Good Thing(tm). Leave profits to the private sector, where they belong.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

[ Parent ]

Spendthrift (4.00 / 1) (#52)
by bjrubble on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 04:08:22 AM EST

At a time when the economy seems perched between recession and recovery, the government hands out money based on optimistic ten-year forecasts?

It's just irresponsible. The debt needs to be paid down. The government is fundamentally unsound in this state. I'm amazed to say it, but I think Bush is simply too liberal in this matter.

[ Parent ]
OT: Bush grades (none / 0) (#55)
by Ludwig on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 12:35:07 PM EST

Bush did considerably better in school than Gore

Bush and Gore did about equally poorly in college.

(As for the tax cut, I doubt you'll be so sanguine about it if the optimistically-projected surplus it's predicated on fails to live up to expectations. But hell, at least it takes more than free drinks at a whistle-stop to buy modern voters.)

[ Parent ]

OT: Candidate Grades (none / 0) (#62)
by see on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 11:04:43 PM EST

Yes. But only one of them went to graduate school at Harvard. And it wasn't the idiot who rejected MIT's reccomendation on how to build the Space Station back in 1993 as Vice President.

[ Parent ]
Good. (2.25 / 4) (#13)
by ncohen on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 02:58:18 PM EST

Commercilization of spaceflight is an inevitibility, it should have happened decades ago. By cutting funding to NASA, the door for direct competition with NASA and commercial organizations just got a little wider.

Hopefully Rocket Guy will succeed and prove that one million dollars can, infact, launch a person into space.
-----
"(A+Bn)/n = x, hence God exists, reply!"

Funny (4.00 / 3) (#44)
by RangerBob on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 09:29:39 PM EST

Oh yes, those evil continually dropping federal funds to NASA are the reason that the private sector hasn't gotten more into spaceflight. Surely it's not that there's no real profit in it right now. Surely it's not that companies aren't wanting to pump lots and lots of money into something like this that won't turn an immediate profit. Surely it's not that there's no friggin reason for them to make their own space launch vehicles because it's cheaper to just pay NASA to launch them.

Come on, this is just silly. The private sector could already have their own damned shuttles if they saw a need to have them. There's nothing stopping them from doing so now. Go back to bed.

[ Parent ]
A note about "star wars" (4.00 / 10) (#24)
by rusty on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:55:05 PM EST

Bush does not plan to revive "star wars". He plans to revive the strategic missile defense initiative. Equally boneheaded, but not the same thing. "Star Wars" was a plan to use space-based lasers to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles. I think the current plans are for using ground or sea based intercept missilies.

____
Not the real rusty
thx 4 tip, "son of star wars" (4.00 / 2) (#31)
by Signal 11 on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:34:22 PM EST

Actually, the missile defense has been toted as the "son of star wars" by the media, I apologize for the mistake.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]
That's what you get... (4.00 / 3) (#34)
by rusty on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:44:53 PM EST

...for listening to the media. :-)

While the media generally report this as a dumb idea, and it actually is a dumb idea, the two are not for the same reasons, and if you listen to US mass media about the issue, you will be hopelessly confused. It's usually called something like "the son of star wars" because that makes for a good story and, well, it isn't *so* far from the truth. And who cares about the truth when you have a good story, right?

For much better info on SDMI, see NPR and search on "missile defense"; they've done a lot of good coverage of the topic.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

A Good Link. (5.00 / 2) (#36)
by joeyo on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 06:02:54 PM EST

http://www.physicstoday.org/pt/vol-53/iss-12/p36.html

Click to see why physicists think strategic missle defense is a stupid idea. (And physicists would have a lot of jobs to gain from such an undertaking...) Especially read the part about countermeasures.

/joeyo

--
"Give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will." -- demi
[ Parent ]

Another way to read the article. (3.00 / 2) (#47)
by physicsgod on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 11:04:20 PM EST

Instead of scrapping NMD because it's easily overcome, maybe we should expand it to take care of the possible countermeasures. Install orbiting KV's to take out missiles during or immediatly after boost phase, upgrade KV tracking to include visual and radar homing in addition to IR, and install terminal phase intercept rockets across the country to kill anything that makes it through the atmosphere (if it survives reentry it's probably not a balloon).

While it might still be possible to build countermeasures to this system at this point the only countries that could afford to do so would be US, Europe, Russia (and only because they have tons of ICBM's and don't need to build any more) and China (maybe, if they put all their people on it and the regime lasts long enough)

One last note about countermeasures, just because it's easy to think up something does not make it easy to implement (If that were the case we wouldn't have to worry about nuclear weapons, all our cities would be protected by anti-radiation shields). This is especially true in ICBM's, just imagine the look on Saddam's face when he's told the missile to hit the US that he's spent decades on now only has an 90% chance of reaching its target and it'll take 5 more years until they can get that below 50-50.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
'Star Wars' was what the press chose to call SDI (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by your_desired_username on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 06:21:13 PM EST

'Star Wars' was an unofficial nickname for SDI. I think it was coined by some journalist. SDI was a plan knock ballistic missiles (primarily ICBMs) out of the sky, by whatever means turned out to be feasible.

Lasers and particle beams were explored first, but discarded early as too expensive. Space-launched self-guided missiles traveling at 40,000+ km/hr (smart rocks and brilliant pebbles) were explored next. Eventually that was also viewed as too expensive (or too politically controversial), and the Reagan administration said something to the effect of 'Just pretend we can knock ICBMs out the sky. It will drive the Soviets crazy. Pretending is cheaper, and we'd rather spend our money on ICBMs and bombers.'

Now, which is more bone-headed, to pretend that one of humanity's most expensive weapons will never be used, or to search for a defense against it? I think the second is smarter; there are precious few weapons that have deployed but never used. But before the original SDI was terminated, its direction was changed from searching for a defense, to pretending to have a defense.

I doubt Bush will find enough money to make SDI successful; the Democrats will fight it, and many of the Republicans would rather spend money on other military toys. Perhaps most important, most Americans, (for good or ill) are not willing to give SDI a second chance.

Once someone actually uses a thermo-nuclear (or chemical, or biological) tipped ICBM on another nation - then governments will scramble to find a defense against ICBMs.

It's really too bad the US and the Europeans can't be convinced to co-operate on SDI.

[ Parent ]
Nice idea ... (none / 0) (#65)
by vrai on Sun Mar 04, 2001 at 12:30:32 PM EST

It's really too bad the US and the Europeans can't be convinced to co-operate on SDI.
A nice idea, and the UK seems all for it. However the rest of the EU are rather less keen, mainly because:
  1. The Russians are not exactly chuffed with the whole concept, and most European countries don't want to piss them off too much.
  2. As far as I can tell the EU is currently run for the benefit of France, and France doesn't like the US. Hence the whole Euro-Army as a (stupid, half-trained, conscript packed) alternative to NATO they came up with.


[ Parent ]
Politics (4.50 / 14) (#25)
by slick willie on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:59:23 PM EST

Gratuitous Bush-Bashing aside...

The point that a great number of people seem to miss is that "The Government," and specefically G.W. Bush, is not to blame here.

Go talk to Joe Truckdriver who can hardly make ends meet due to the high price of fuel. Ask him what programs are important enough for his tax dollars.

Go talk to Bob Plantworker, whose plant just got shut down, and is liable to stay closed, due to skyrocketing electricity costs. Visit with him about the mission to Pluto, find out where he thinks his money ought to be spent.

The fact is, space exploration is not capturing the public's imagination right now. Shuttle mission? Big Deal. Space Station? Feh. Everyday stuff. Now even though you and I and all of us here know that the spin-offs from NASA research are amazing, and well worthwhile, try getting that point across to J.Q. Public.

Until there is something along the lines of the cold war, the public is not going to support space exploration in a big way, regardless of who is in office. When the public gets behind it, you can bet that the powers that be are going to push for all the exploration NASA wants.

This completely ignores the actual point that Bush has increased NASA's budget.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

Yup... (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by CyberQuog on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:31:31 PM EST

We had a discussion in my history class about the space program, half the class seemed to think it was a waste of time. I agree in some ways that the money could be spent on better things, but who knows how this research will help us in the future. People thought Darwin's experiments and observations with finches were a waste of time, but because of it we will soon have medicines tailored to our DNA, better drugs for fighting cancer, and rice that can be grown in almost any region as a staple food with supplimented Beta Carotene. It's the same way with the space program, we don't know whats out there, but it could just be the next fuel that could replace gasolene and make power problems non-existant.


-...-
[ Parent ]
Don't follow (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by bjrubble on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 05:39:32 PM EST

"The Government," and specefically G.W. Bush, is not to blame here....
even though you and I and all of us here know that the spin-offs from NASA research are amazing, and well worthwhile...


So GW isn't wrong for following the "average" opinion even when that opinion is clearly uninformed and wrong?

[ Parent ]
Right/Wrong (3.50 / 2) (#39)
by slick willie on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 06:32:53 PM EST

I didn't say it was right -- I didn't say it was wrong. I merely pointed out the reality of the workings of our system.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

[ Parent ]

Worthwhile (2.00 / 1) (#51)
by bjrubble on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 03:26:10 AM EST

Hmm, maybe I interpreted "worthwhile" the wrong way. I think they are objectively worthwhile -- they pay off more than they cost -- but I guess it could also have meant just that the shit was cool.

[ Parent ]
wrong? (2.66 / 3) (#43)
by finkployd on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 08:08:15 PM EST

So GW isn't wrong for following the "average" opinion even when that opinion is clearly uninformed and wrong?

So because this "average" opinion differs from yours, it's clearly uninformed and wrong? My what a ego! I nominate you for the job of explaining to someone who barely makes ends meet why space exploration is more important then them having more money to support their families. Be sure to inform them why they are uninformed and wrong.

Finkployd
Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
wrong? (1.00 / 1) (#57)
by Delirium on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 02:13:22 PM EST

And what makes you think this opinion is wrong? Plenty of people consider your opinion that we should spend money on space exploration rather than more important things (feeding hungry people, researching disease cures, aid to undeveloped nations, etc.) to be "wrong."

[ Parent ]
The HIGH price of fuel? (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by cronio on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 08:05:46 PM EST

Joe Truckdriver don't know SHIT about the HIGH price of fuel. During good times, fuel is $4+/gal in most of Europe. I live in the US, and I understand that. No matter how high the price of fuel gets in the US, it's gonna be more than double in most of the countries in Europe. Unless, that is, the government stops subsidizing it. Have GW pass a law that stops the subsidization of fuel by the US gov't, and then we can talk to Joe Truckdriver.

[ Parent ]
OK, then... (2.50 / 2) (#46)
by slick willie on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 09:51:50 PM EST

Maybe you ought to sit down, and explain to the guys who haul the food you eat, among other things, why high fuel prices are a good thing.

Many independent owner-operators are closing up shop because they can't afford to keep their rigs on the road.

Well, they probably could, but DOT regulations generally prevent that.

Why would Joe Truckdrive care what they pay in Europe? When it's something that determines if a guy can make his mortgage payment or not, or if he can pay his fuel bill, he's going to be a little concerned.

Let's double the expenses you have to pay out of pocket for your livelihood, then you can talk to Joe Truckdriver.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

[ Parent ]

I never said high prices are good... (none / 0) (#60)
by cronio on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 08:14:13 PM EST

I said the prices in the US right now are NOT high prices. I'm saying that Joe Truckdriver should be thankful for what he's got here...because the prices in the US right now are lower than prices elsewhere during the best of times.

[ Parent ]
budgetary concerns (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by Signal 11 on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 11:21:36 PM EST

This completely ignores the actual point that Bush has increased NASA's budget.

Yes, but when you adjust for inflation, the real (not nominal) budget is lower, not higher.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Bush's NASA increase first in seven years (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by Delirium on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 02:11:43 PM EST

But you overlook the fact that Bush has been kinder to NASA in this regard than Clinton has. This year's 3% increase in the NASA budget is actually the first increase in seven years. So while 3% might not completely account for inflation, it comes much closer than any previous year 1994-2000. So in regards to the space program, having Bush in office is an improvement.

[ Parent ]
Why does this surprise you? (3.50 / 4) (#45)
by RangerBob on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 09:37:22 PM EST

You already have the "education president" funding his silliness by cutting the throats of his science agencies. Not that this is sending a mixed message or anything. "I support learning and knowledge, I just don't want to learn anything new". Even his own party is peeved because they want to increase science and research spending in order to regain our competitive edge.

And no, don't give me any of this "but the private sector will pick up the slack" crap. They private sector will only do things that make them money. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge and for the betterment of humanity doesn't make a lot of money. Want an example, go figure out why we're going to be short of tetnus for a while.

On the positive side, I wouldn't really expect him to get everything he wants. His own party is talking out against his proposals.

The Last Hope... (2.00 / 1) (#59)
by jd on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 05:01:28 PM EST

Of ever getting off this mud-ball seems to now rest entirely in the hands of amateur rocket enthusiasts. (Isn't that always the way, though? :)

Russia can't, in any real sense, afford to launch a rocket, let alone build one. The ESA has never been interested in anything beyond commercial rocketry. NASA were the ONLY organization capable of launching a rocket on scientific or exploratory missions.

However, the budget cuts pretty much guarantee that NASA is effectively dead. This means that research into efficient drives (such as the ion drive) would be meaningless for them. If they built them, they'd never be able to launch them.

Commercially, there's more profit to be made in pager systems and mobile phones than there is in space exploration. And most of those systems can be more effectively be moved to high-altitude balloons than to satellites. (Balloons are cheaper to build, cheaper to launch, and require less power to transmit to/from.)

The ISS is effectively also dead. Without launchers, you can't get the pieces up there, and with only 6 shuttle launches a year, now, they can't do their regular missions =AND= ISS work.

That means that we've no research space station. Which we need, if we want to do any meaningful work in space. Most money in zero-g is to be made in ultra-pure pharmacuticals, but you can do that in a remote vehicle designed to orbit a few times and then land. You don't need people involved.

So, if you want someone to land on the moon, in your lifetime, you've a better chance with the amateurs than the professionals, cos the professionals are finished.

(Those who like reading over ancient posts might remember that I've predicted this before, a few times, over on Slashdot. Partly in humor, but partly seriously. Looks like the serious side won. :()

The truth about Bush's NASA (none / 0) (#61)
by see on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 11:00:40 PM EST

Spending is merely being re-allocated within NASA; the space agency as a whole is facing no cuts. Indeed, Bush's budget is the first one in the last seven years that actually stops NASA's budget from being cut by inflation.

So the X-33 is getting killed. It was a major boondoggle. In 1991 the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization began the DC-X program, a 1/3-scale prototype SSTO. Two years and a mere $60 million later, it flew eleven times, including twice in one day. NASA's X-33 project, a 2/3 scale prototype sucessor to the DC-X, has spent $912 million and six years, and has yet to have a successful flight.

Sure, the Pluto-Kupier express is being killed. Anybody remember that we don't have any RTGs right now? If you have a source for them, please speak up.

Yes, the space station is being cut back. We could have had a complete one already, but Al Gore personally nixed a fast-and-inexpensive plan in 1993 in favor of one requiring multiple shuttle launches. There are far better space projects to spend money on than an overbudget overcomplicated zero-G chemistry lab.

So, does anybody have anything sensible to say?

NASA is still working on space shuttle successors. (none / 0) (#66)
by meldroc on Sun Mar 04, 2001 at 01:15:03 PM EST

NASA is going to spend ~$245 million on its Space Launch Initiative program this year with the goal of developing a cheaper, more reliable space shuttle successor, and they may spend much more than that next year. They've just decided that the next space shuttle will not be X-33/VentureStar. The fuel tank problems on X-33 simply made it too much of a gamble. Hopefully they'll go with something a little more conservative technology-wise and try again. There are some good parts of X-33 that should be recycled - the linear aerospike engines appeared to make great progress for example.

I actually think the budget measures this year are actually reasonable. Keep the space station, but remove some of the expensive fluff, keep working on new launch vehicles, but kill X-33 (I wish they didn't kill X-34, but oh well...), make sure the Space Shuttle doesn't eat all of NASA's money. NASA will take a very small budget loss this year - the numbers are 2% bigger than last year, but I suspect that won't outrun inflation.

[ Parent ]

"Houston, We Have A Problem, And It's In Washington!" | 66 comments (49 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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