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[P]
The US should give up on the ISS.

By claudius in Op-Ed
Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:41:29 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

The recent debacle with Dennis Tito and the Russian program's apparent cavalier attitude regarding their obligations as a major partner of the International Space Station (ISS) has underscored the need for a modification to the agreement regarding the responsibilities of the partners in the ISS. Irresponsible unilateral actions on the part of one of the major partners to grab some mad cash and tweak the noses of the U.S., Canada, and the European partners suggests that the U.S. should terminate its involvement with the ISS as soon as possible. The quicker we can cut our losses and pull out of this mismanaged boondoggle, the better.


As of yesterday, financier Dennis Tito is living his dream of spaceflight, but at what cost? Tensions among the major partners in the ISS are at an all-time high over Russia's unilateral decision to launch a tourist into space at a cost primarily to U.S. taxpayers. How many tens of billions of of tax revenue should go towards constructing this new Club Med destination in low Earth orbit? Can the Russian space program, whose delays in producing critical components of the ISS in part because it wished to keep Mir up as long as possible, in any way justify further delaying the ISS in order to take a mere $20 million from a wealthy investor? Does James Cameron, who brought Titanic to the big screen, have a compelling need to visit the ISS, if only to bring the disaster metaphor full circle?

In considering these questions, I am led to the conclusion that the ISS has no redeeming qualities that can justify its expense, and as a consequence our involvement in the ISS program should terminate as soon as possible. Below I identify and argue against several of the arguments commonly used to support the ISS.

Obligations to our international partners. From the ISS's inception, the United States has been, by far, its biggest supporter. In the interest of nonproliferation (see below), the U.S. pushed for a space station that nobody really wanted at a cost nobody could afford. The other major partner, Russia, is a sink for capital rather than a source. The U.S. has pumped billions of dollars into Russia's space program to make the ISS happen, and has pumped tens of billions of its own money into the development and launch of the ISS. When the situation mandates it, we should be able to reassess our involvement in the program, walking away if necessary. Russia has obligations to the rest of the ISS partners as well, and if they cannot honor their commitments--such as, for example, reasonable timetables for completion of critical modules, using the resources the U.S. has given them for the ISS and not for a dying Mir, or upholding agreed-upon requirements for astronauts)-- then I see no reason why we should be bound to the agreements either. The covenant has been broken, and reports of recent negotiations by James Cameron to follow Tito suggest that this behavior is to be the rule, not the exception.

The ISS as arms control. A little-known aspect of the ISS, rarely mentioned in the rhetoric justifying the program, is how it started out as a means by which to curb the sale of missile technology by the Russians to India. (Estimates of the price offered for the technology at the time were in the $210 to $350 million range). As told by Bryan Burrough in his book Dragonfly, the U.S. government in the early Clinton-Gore administration put together a package whereby we would pay Russia $950 million to be able to put astronauts onto Mir for the Shuttle-Mir mission, and for us to enter into a cooperative space venture following Shuttle-Mir. (Incidentally, the tech-sale deal was known to us as early as 1990, but apparently the (senior) Bush administration didn't have a compelling course of action to take at the time; they chose to pass the political "hot-potato" on to the next administration).

The nonproliferation aspect of the ISS is perhaps its strongest, though least publicized, justification. Indeed, provided the agreements work as planned, our spending on Shuttle-Mir and the ISS provides enhanced nuclear security at a bargain price. If India develops ICBM capability or even just limited-range missile capability, Pakistan is sure to follow suit in what will inevitably destabilize an already tense region. We must keep in mind that the ISS's role in nonproliferation is only as good as the promise it is based upon, however. When Russia has gained sufficiently from the ISS endeavor, there is nothing, save protests from the U.S., to stop them from engaging in a sale of technology with India. They would then gain both from the U.S. investment in their space technology, and, when the time is right, from a sale of technology to India. While I know of no evidence that Russia has broken this agreement, I wonder how long they will see it as being in their best interests. (Some would argue Russia is already testing the waters with technology transfer to Iran). If anything, I see this role of the ISS as being merely a delay of five to ten years of missile technology development in India. Paying many tens of billions of dollars for this short of a delay seems too high a price to me.

Science and technology advances in developing the ISS. Advocates of space research often point to the early space program and the litany of innovations that resulted from directed R&D relating to the space program. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo led to fundamental advances being made in a host of scientific and engineering settings, including materials science, computer design, solid state physics, robotics, and rocket propulsion. However, the ISS is a poor Apollo analogue. The ISS was designed in ever-shrinking budgets, and so "off-the-shelf" solutions to design problems were taken almost exclusively. The ISS has done little to push the state of the art in any facet of technology, and for this reason few technological spin-offs are to be expected from its development. Besides, even if the innovations obtained in development of the ISS were to justify it, then since the space station design phase is over we could save ourselves the unnecessary expense of actually building it.

Science and technology advances discovered in the science module. These are expected to be largely inconsequential. While low earth orbit on the ISS provides very good microgravity under some conditions, decades of shuttle launches, which provide comparable microgravity environments, have resulted in very little research of any significance having been conducted in microgravity. And this isn't for lack of trying--NASA, in years past, has needed literally to beg researchers to come up with experiments to fill the science component of its shuttle missions. If microgravity research were truly a priority, then we should rededicate our efforts toward making a remote-controlled, unmanned research platform. These systems could easily deliver much superior microgravity conditions at a fraction of the cost. There is essentially no real science component to the ISS missions anyhow, as design changes have mandated scaling back the crew to just three astronauts. Nominal requirements for maintenance and upkeep tasks on the ISS require 2.5 astronauts' time--in the third astronaut's half-day of time she is apparently supposed to do tens of billions of dollars' worth of ground-breaking science.

Multi-billion dollar scientific ventures are constructed with specific, concrete experiments in mind and not a "just in case we want to look at this" mentality. Even then, a compelling scientific research need is rarely enough, as the expected science from the high-cost facility must balance the science dollars it displaces. (Until recently, this hasn't been acutely relevant to the ISS, since the human spaceflight budget was largely separate from the NASA science budget, however with a mandate from the funding agencies to absorb cost overruns "in-house," science missions at NASA have been and will be scrapped to help pay for the ISS). As an extreme example of this, John Glenn's single trip to space under the auspices of doing "research on aging" cost twice the annual budget devoted to aging studies in the USA. With no Mission to Mars in the foreseeable future (except at the video rental), it is unlikely we will find justification for the ISS under the guise of preparing for longer-term missions to other planets either. At this time there is simply no good case that can be made for the ISS on the grounds of the science we would do up there, and any claims otherwise are highly disingenuous.

The ISS as Pork Spending.; The ISS has proven surprisingly resilient in Congress in part because it affects many states and congressional districts. It funnels billions of dollars into the pockets of aerospace corporation stockholders; it perpetuates shuttle launches (and, as a consequence, employs more aerospace workers); and it gives us a feel-good project to filter jobs and revenue to Congresspeople's home states. But projects justified as pork alone have the problem of being valuable only insofar as they keep the money flowing to Congressional districts--the item being bought is seen as having lesser value in and of itself. There is nothing to stop a program from being shut down halfway through construction (e.g., the Superconducting Supercollider) or between design and construction (e.g. the U.S. involvement in the ITER fusion project). In times of tight budgets, pork is sure to be trimmed. Who can deny that the current administration, given its stated commitment to lowering the income tax burden, is eyeing the multi-billion dollar ISS as a way to balance the ledgers?

Simply put, I see no reason why the U.S. should continue with the ISS program as it stands. We should, at the very least, initiate a significant restructuring of both our obligations and those of the other major partner, Russia. We should be cognizant of exactly why we are continuing with the program, and if its merits do not justify the high cost of doing business in space, then we should seek to cut our losses and get out as soon as possible. We've already thrown too much good money after bad.

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Poll
What does "ISS" stand for?
o International Space Station 49%
o Inaccessibility of Space: Status quo 4%
o Improbity, Splendiferous Spendthrifts 1%
o Irresponsible Space-program Stewardship 3%
o Interminable, Sustained Spending 9%
o Inoshiro's Space Spa 32%

Votes: 95
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Dennis Tito
o Internatio nal Space Station (ISS)
o Club Med destination
o James Cameron
o Also by claudius


Display: Sort:
The US should give up on the ISS. | 168 comments (165 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
alternatives? (3.93 / 15) (#2)
by mircrypt on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 02:44:49 PM EST

Admittedly, the US carries a diproprtionate part of the burden for the ISS. Insofar as it is functional as a stop-gap to proliferation...I don't really think that is a key concern of continued US participation in the program. Whether it was or wasn't at the outset is, I suppose, up for debate.

In my view, the ISS, whether or not it provides a feasible platform for new launches into scientific discovery (sorry, no pun intended) serves a good PR role. That it may be pork for congressional districts is true. My question in response would be this...where would you rather that pork went...into space...or into more traditional modalities of district funding reapportionment.

Maybe the US backing of the ISS is misguided, but at the least it serves to fuel continued interest in the space program and extraplanetary scientific research. Yeah the ISS may be a black hole for funding right now, but if it maintains public interest in the space program, doesn't that mitigate the cost somewhat? Just some thoughts...I could be totally off-base, but is seems as though just in keeping up interest in space research, the ISS serves an important purpose.

I suppose the subject of this post should have some relation in the text here, so I'll try it: What alternatives do you think the ISS funding could be used for?
"Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you". - Aldus Huxley -

alternative uses for the funding (4.10 / 10) (#5)
by _Quinn on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 03:49:57 PM EST

   Extremely low-cost access to orbit. In (rough) order of extremity: we know carbon nanotubes care strong enough to build a skyhook (a suspension bridge/elevator to geosynchronous orbit) -- spend a few billion to figure out how to make enough, and long enough tubes to build one. The side benefits would be enourmous, even if the skyhook weren't ever built. Go back to work (or accelerate the existing work, about which I've heard almost nothing) on the spaceplane. Figure out how to build the Delta Clipper, or a similar SSTO, currently languishing because of difficulties in building the fuel tank. (Oddly enough, made of carbon fiber... wonder if carbon nanotube research would help here?)

   And so on. Get into orbit cheaply enough, and all sorts of interesting things can happen.

   Alternatively, research on alternate power and propulsion systems should be accelerated. Bringing back water ice from the asteriod belt (or rings of Saturn, whatever) would enourmously reduce the cost of any further manned space venture. (Water is heavy, and expensive to lift. Cracked water (o2 and h2) makes a fine oxidizer and fuel.) Research into orbital smelting / forging; if they brought a nickel-iron asteroid into earth orbit (or maybe to a lagrange point, for safety), how much of the new space station, lunar base, mission to Mars could be built in orbit? Though their charter may prevent it, it would be cute for NASA to fund itself by finding and bringing back an an asteriod made of, say, platinum.

   How about a way to get the space shuttle's main fuel tank into orbit? It's carried almost all the way up already, and they're (IIRC) bigger than most of the modules being used for the ISS right now.

-_Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
All these shall be yours (none / 0) (#139)
by pflores10 on Thu May 03, 2001 at 10:54:14 AM EST

I believe there are several private companies attempting to do all the things you have described right now.

[ Parent ]
good ideas, but... (none / 0) (#143)
by eofpi on Thu May 03, 2001 at 05:41:53 PM EST

All of these ideas are good and noble, so I shall target them individually.

Skyhook:
Single-walled carbon nanotubes (the strongest and most useful type) are extremely difficult to reliably manufacture. Significant work is being done on carbon nanotubes by the Georgia Institute of Technology's physics department. I recommend you check with them for further information on their research and progress.

Launching a device as massive as a skyhook would be impractical, even to LEO, because nanotubes have approximately the same density as graphite. While graphite is relatively light, its mass on this scale is by no means negligible.


Spaceplane/SSTO:
These two ideas are so closely related that they can be considered essentially the same (actually, the former is a subset of the latter). The ideas are good, except they seem to forget that most of the liftoff mass is the fuel itself, not the cargo or vehicle. For a conventional SSTO vehicle launched like a rocket, the fuel is 91% of the liftoff mass, if liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are used (they are the best known practical fuel, as all other alternatives are too expensive, too energetically weak, and/or too dangerous). The materials and designs that would be required to make SSTO vehicles practical are currently too economically prohibitive to be used.

Spaceplanes are no better off, except they might be able to refuel from tanker planes much like current military jets do, thereby alleviating the need for large amounts of fuel at takeoff, merely a large, mostly empty fuel tank.


That is all I have time for now; I will continue this rant in the near future....

[ Parent ]
85% (4.37 / 8) (#11)
by MeanGene on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:00:49 PM EST

This 85% eerily reminds me of the "3/5 solution" (yes, I know it was actually pushed by the North).

US of A is a darn expensive place to do anything - that's why companies move abroad whenever they can. Just because it takes $100,000 to build some widget for the ISS in the US and only $1,000 to build it in Russia doesn't mean that NASA owns 85% of the station.

[ Parent ]
I don't think it does (3.33 / 3) (#61)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:38:59 PM EST

Yeah the ISS may be a black hole for funding right now, but if it maintains public interest in the space program, doesn't that mitigate the cost somewhat?

I don't think it does, frankly. There are many ways to maintain public support for space science that are much better uses of the money. Consider the Apollo/Skylab program. It was a huge expenditure of money, and almost no American citizen cared. Consider the 1990s. What have been the most publicly supported, successful missions of the decade? Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner rover. That single mission not only returned more science than the entire ISS project to date, but did it on less than 200million dollars.

There are many ways to spend the money that NASA is wasting on STS/ISS that would actually return science and increase public support for science.

[ Parent ]

Why? (3.60 / 15) (#3)
by theboz on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 03:31:55 PM EST

I seem to remember hearing the other day that the expenses of the ISS are mostly paid by the U.S. 85% was the number I heard, which basically means that the taxpayers that fund NASA are paying for 85% of the ISS. That means it is *MY* space station, and I want to go up in it. If I can't, then at least let other citizens that can afford it to go up there.

As much as I hate to say it, if anyone should pull out of the ISS, the U.S. should be the last country to do so. You seem to argue against some of the scientific values that can come from this, which is typical politics trying to put a dollar value on science. We don't know how much money will come from the ISS, maybe none. But knowledge will be gained and if you seek to remove the U.S. from that research, then you simply want to push us further back into the dark ages.

We need to go further into space. We can exploit the unpopulated planets like Mars and get something out of it. Perhaps we can one day find a means of interstellar travel, but not if we look at things from the politician's point of view, as you are doing.

Stuff.

Science on the ISS. (3.83 / 6) (#8)
by claudius on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 04:21:19 PM EST

You seem to argue against some of the scientific values that can come from this, which is typical politics trying to put a dollar value on science.

Quite the contrary. I think that if one is to perceive the space station as a scientific endeavor, then one inevitably has to ask questions of what science is to be done and why we are doing it. The idea that "Any dollar spent on science is a dollar well spent" is a disserves to both science and the taxpayer. When dollars are tight one must budget, one must set priorities. Science needs funding in order to get done, and funding means justifying your research to funding agencies. The more money you want, the greater the justification must be, and the greater the payoffs. You must have specific research objectives to accomplish en route to conducting the work. You must demonstrate you have the capacity to do the work, and that you can accomplish the task at hand with the resources you are asking for. Perhaps I'm being more critical than you would like, but these are the facts of life for scientists everywhere. To point to the space station and call it "science" as a way to garner public support means that in the end, when 50 billion has been spent and the Congresspeople ask "So what science did we gain from the ISS?" it will be scientific research that is perceived as having failed, and not simply the management of this specific project.

Sit sometime on a grant review board; you'll quickly realize there is no shortage of proposals that deserve funding. Finite resources requires prioritizing the research and yes, putting a dollar value on science. Ask the folks at JPL if they are so in favor of the ISS that they are willing to watch their projects get scuttled. Ask the astronomy community how eager they are for astronomy science to be moved from the National Science Foundation to NASA (where it can then be sapped for another 1/4 of a shuttle launch). I doubt you will find many scientists coming out in favor of the dubious science mission of the ISS.

[ Parent ]
On target (3.50 / 2) (#59)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:31:45 PM EST

I doubt you will find many scientists coming out in favor of the dubious science mission of the ISS.

This is more on target than you might realize. I remember hearing a program on NPR last year (probably Talk of the Nation) a program on the costs to science of the ISS program. There was not ONE national scientific association that had come out in favor of the ISS program, but there had been over 150 associations that had taken a position that the ISS was causing serious damage to US science programs due to the funding drain. Unfortunately, I can't find the program listed on the NPR website, but I'll keep digging.

In short, if you ask most working scientists, they are not in favor of the ISS, specifically because the return on investment WILL be so low. If your goal with ISS is scientific return on investment, you are throwing money out the window. And the fact that NASA is having trouble finding scientists who want to send experiments to send up to ISS is a telling point.

[ Parent ]

Sucess is the measure of future funding (1.00 / 1) (#77)
by John Milton on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:03:08 PM EST

How many times have you heard how much Congress spent on a toilet for the space station? Waste is not something that any Senator wants to stick his name on. We may learn a lot of new things from the space station, but most of them aren't going to be that impressive when budget time comes around.

NASA doesn't get a lot of funding, because they have a reputation for being unreasonable. Look how much their proposals for a Mars Mission would cost. Their problem is that there are too many scientist. They look at things in the theoretical perspective. Theoretically we'll learn lots of things from a space station. However, we can learn the same things from space shuttle flights.

The ISS gives the whole space program a reputation of money out the window. If NASA would push for a cheap moonbase, then they would have something to brag about when budgets come up. A base on a Near Earth Asteroid would be even better. It would require less delta v to get there. Also it would allow a near weightless environment.

What will we learn from the ISS that Mir didn't teach us? Then we can watch all those wasted billions fall into the sea. Maybe I'll get a taco.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
Voted +1, but I disagree (4.14 / 14) (#4)
by Wah on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 03:35:33 PM EST

It is a well-written reasoned submission, so you get my vote, but I couldn't disagree more.

Obligations to our international partners. You didn't provide any hard facts about timelines, so I don't see how taking cargo that pays for itself is such a big problem. You also later note that partial gravity experiments are lacking. Perhaps a steady supply of creative guinea pigs, err monkeys, err millionaires, could make good research subjects.

The ISS as arms control. Everyone is going to have missiles, I think this point is kinda moot. I'm not really sure how this was a condemnation.

Science and technology advances in developing the ISS. I don't think you can discount this so easily. Yes, as much money isn't being poured into pure reasearch, but that would just make you want to kill it faster, right? There will be good advances, even if they are only in efficiency. The data we are gathering from space missions might one day very well save the planet, or at least allow us to evacuate. These are calculable risks with incalculable losses, putting a few billions towards possible solutions is wise, IMHO.

Anyway, I support the ISS. I think we'll be able to leverage our excess support in one way or another than will make the endeavor worthwhile in the long run.
--
Some things, bandwidth can't buy. For everything else, there's Real Life | SSP

Fair enough. (3.00 / 4) (#13)
by claudius on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:01:39 PM EST

Re: Paying cargo. Unfortunately in this post-USS Greenville world the cargo needs very special handling, however. (He even needs an escort to go to the restroom). Generally speaking, the astronauts are kept pretty busy up there, and taking out one functional member of the team and laying up a fraction of another member's duties as chaperone cannot help but slow things down. Even if Tito did pay his way, any delays in constructing the ISS translate to cost overruns that all partners need to absorb. It is hardly fair for one partner to decide to force the others to pay for the joyrides. Case in point: as quoted by the NYTimes and CNN two years ago, cost overruns resulting from the two-year delay--part of which was the fault of the U.S. (unimportant for this argument)--on the Russian Service Module are estimated to have run upwards of 5 billion dollars.

[ Parent ]
Now you're just digging :) (4.25 / 4) (#14)
by Wah on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:22:25 PM EST

A couple of new things from your response.

Even if Tito did pay his way, any delays in constructing the ISS translate to cost overruns that all partners need to absorb.

Actually it would seem that Tito is absorbing those costs. Do you (or anyone) have some figures of what it costs to take a person into space? Russians have surely figured out enough about the free market that they would charge him more than it costs.

Case in point: as quoted by the NYTimes and CNN two years ago, cost overruns resulting from the two-year delay--part of which was the fault of the U.S. (unimportant for this argument)--on the Russian Service Module are estimated to have run upwards of 5 billion dollars.

I don't see how it's unimportant that it's our fault there was a delay. Especially if you are using the delay and resulting expense as a reason we should drop our already shoddy (it would seem) support. That doesn't follow in my book.

It's going to be expensive, really expensive. I understand that and support the issue regardless. And no one has even died yet. God forbid, but it has already come close to happening, and is a foregone conclusion. These are risks and expenses that I think are worthwhile, and so do the people who do it. I don't think we should remove the dream of space travel from another generation. It'd be much better if you have 9 year olds growing up with the dream and a realistic chance of visiting another planet, standing on a completely foreign soil, and watching an interplanetary sunset. These are dreams that I think my nation should support, and am happy to have a bit of my taxes go toward.
--
Some things, bandwidth can't buy. For everything else, there's Real Life | SSP
[ Parent ]

further digging (2.20 / 5) (#37)
by jynx on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:07:15 AM EST

Russians have surely figured out enough about the free market that they would charge him more than it costs.

The Russians will certainly charge him more than the cost to the Russions. But there must be additional costs to the other patners.

Of course, he could be paying those as well. Hard to know...

--

[ Parent ]

It ain't necessarily so (3.50 / 4) (#22)
by Erbo on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 09:26:36 PM EST

How long's he going to be up there? A week? I don't think that's going to slow down construction significantly...who knows, he might even be of some assistance. Remember, Tito's been in training for eight months for this flight, making him as well trained as any rookie cosmonaut; he's not going to do something stupid like hit the Module Jettison button, or the Self-Destruct button, or the History Eraser button, by accident...

Not only that, but the main purpose of this flight was to bring up the fresh Soyuz, and you only need two people to fly a Soyuz. Had Tito not paid for his ticket, the third seat would probably have flown empty. (Of course, the Soyuz is bringing a few other things, like some backup software. There's never just one purpose for a space launch.) Since they had the space and the lift capacity to spare, it's just as well that they were able to make some money off the deal.

One piece of Tito trivia that might be contributing to official Washington's dislike of this scheme: His house was used as one of the sets in the movie Wag The Dog. That had to have honked off a few bureaucrats, especially those who were around during the Clinton years (hitting a little too close to home, perhaps?).

Eric
--
Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

Tongue firmly in cheek, please .. no flames! :) (2.95 / 20) (#6)
by kaemaril on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 04:05:20 PM EST

I can see why the USA would be upset with Russia for "Unilateral, irresponsible actions".

...After all, if anyone is gonna be making unilateral, irresponsible actions it should be George Dubbyah, damnit! :)


Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?


Couldn't disagree more. (3.45 / 11) (#7)
by regeya on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 04:07:48 PM EST

I recall getting to view mock-ups of the station thirteen years ago. Thirteen years ago. It's taken until extremely recently to get the darn thing underway. And you know what? I've heard there are rumblings in D.C. for the U.S. to do the very thing you've suggested here: give up on the I.S.S. I've followed the progress of the ISS, and if anyone is to blame for the lackluster performance of the U.S. dealings in the ISS, it's the same groups rumbling for us to cut our losses now. I wouldn't be surprised if parts of the station are held together with duct tape, considering how many times Congress has cut NASA's budget in the last few years. :-)

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

The scientific purpose of ISS (3.85 / 14) (#9)
by bjrubble on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 04:31:45 PM EST

The ISS is a platform for research into long-term space habitation. Without that, we will never be able to go very far away. Just a few days ago an Antarctic researcher had to be daringly flown back to civilization -- even on our own planet, we're painfully dependent on our infrastructure. ISS will lay the foundation for sending people to other planets.

I'm not sure that's worth what we're paying, though. I'm a bit cynical, I think the main reason to stay with ISS is that it keeps money flowing into NASA. The sad fact of bureaucracy is that to get money you have to spend money, and if you can't agree on a good way to spend the money you better spend it poorly. ISS may not be exactly what I want, but it's something, and anytime you're dealing with politics it's better to have something than nothing.

Long-term manned mission to antartica (3.33 / 3) (#52)
by jwb on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:49:53 AM EST

Why don't we launch a long-term manned mission to Antartica? I realize that we have established bases there, but they are dependent on frequent resupply. Antartica could be used for all kinds of research, regarding strong portable structures, energy storage, indoor agriculture, fuel generation, etc. Antartica is cold, barren, alternately too sunny and too dark, and a long, long way from home. But it isn't so far away that failure has to mean the tragic death of dozens of scientists and space farmers. So I say let's send a mission to Antartica.

[ Parent ]
Antarctica too easy (4.00 / 1) (#89)
by bjrubble on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 07:59:34 PM EST

Good telemedicine would probably have allowed that researcher to stay, but if good telemedicine costs a billion dollars then Antarctic research will never justify it. Even the riskiest plane flight is relatively cheap. A shuttle launch, on the other hand, is horrifically expensive.

Also, Antarctica doesn't have the space constraints, temperature variations, radiation, vacuum, or microgravity that space does. Antarctica would give us a few useful pieces (and I'm all for more Antarctic research) but we'd still need a lot more.

[ Parent ]
ISS (3.53 / 13) (#10)
by Anonymous 6522 on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 04:43:36 PM EST

I think that this is a well written article, but I disagree with you +1.

Since all that is left of Mir is a few burnt peices of metal at the bottom of the Pacific, we don't have any place to research the effects of long term weightlessness and how to reduce any harm caused by it. Sure we already know that people's muscles weaken and they lose bone mass, but I would like to see whatever methods we come up to counteract such things tested before we start sending people to Mars.

If Russia insists on sending space tourists, couldn't we just say, "OK, we are paying for 85% of this station, so we want 85% of the money that guy is giving you to do with as we please." This just might make it unprofitable enough for Russia or too expensive for the tourists to go visit the ISS.

ISS/Alpha and Tito (4.22 / 9) (#12)
by Erbo on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:01:26 PM EST

I also had to vote this story up, even though I disagree with it.

One thing that should be pointed out: Dennis Tito has gone through the same training that all Russian cosmonauts go through, plus he does have an engineering background. The only criticism that can really be leveled at him is that he hasn't had any, or much, training on the systems in the American part of Alpha. Still, he's at least as qualified to fly this mission as John Glenn was to fly a Shuttle mission...plus he's footing his own bill. NASA's complaints seem like a bunch of sour grapes at this point. And hey, every dollar Russia can collect from "space tourists" is one less dollar that NASA has to funnel into the Russian space program, right?

My response to this whole affair has been, "Hell, if I had that kind of money to throw around, I'd want to do exactly what he did." My only problem is that I'm too tall to fit in a Soyuz :-). Barring that, I'd support spending even more money on the space program, even if my taxes got raised to do so (or if the "tax cut" that G.W. wants to give me has to be reduced to do so). Sooner or later, the human race needs to get off this rock...

Eric
--
Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

more about Dennis Tito (4.20 / 10) (#26)
by SEAL on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 03:26:56 AM EST

The only criticism that can really be leveled at him is that he hasn't had any, or much, training on the systems in the American part of Alpha.

Actually that's not even a criticism you can really put on him. Dennis Tito was a NASA engineer before he went on to make millions as an investment banker. He may not be totally up to speed with the current NASA bureaucracy, but I think he's got a better background than the press gives him credit for.

- SEAL

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.
[ Parent ]

NASA engineer (3.00 / 2) (#71)
by dr k on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 03:52:02 PM EST

From the consistently vague way the press describes Tito's "NASA experience" I'm thinking he was more like a NASA intern:

"Here Tito, put these little tags on all these rocks. They're from the moon. <wink>"
Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Current hardware... (3.00 / 1) (#74)
by Erbo on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 04:23:53 PM EST

When Dennis Tito was a NASA engineer, Unity and Destiny weren't even on the drawing board. That, I think, is what NASA is referring to. They'd have preferred that he delay his trip six months or so to get some training on their simulators for those modules. (Perhaps they were also trying to buy some more time to pressure Russia into not taking him up in the first place.)

However, from all accounts, he appears to be doing OK as of right now. He's a little space-sick, but no more so than many other astronauts. (Think of the scene in Apollo 13 where Fred Haise upchucks, and Jim Lovell reassures him by telling him of Frank Borman's problems with nausea on an earlier flight.)

Damn, I envy the guy.

Eric
--
Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

Side related question. (3.25 / 8) (#15)
by Wiglaf on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:34:16 PM EST

IF we can make cement out of the moon's soil plus any of the other benefits of making a moon base, why did we go with a space station? There is no protection from orbiting debris and you never here of a moon base having to worry about being deorbited. Anyways, I was wondering if someone could explain to me why choose a spae station instead of a moonbase.

NASA stonewalling (4.46 / 13) (#19)
by sigwinch on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 06:44:58 PM EST

Why no lunar missions? You might also ask "Why no SSTO (single-stage to orbit) launch vehicles?" Because it would cut into Shuttle funding, and the Reformed Orthodox Shuttlists within NASA will fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening. At an administrative level, today's NASA combines the worst of academic decadence (empire building and avoidance of novelty) with the worst of political pork barrelling (graft and intrigue).

I think they fought against Tito for the same reason. When the public thinks of space travel, NASA wants them to think of the steady voice of Mission Control at Houston, and their cadre of exhaustively trained astronauts. It blows their monopoly out of the sky if somebody can just walk up to a ticket counter and buy a trip into space. If people started to see space travel as just another kind of travel, albeit expensive, NASA would no longer be the wunderkind that everybody dotes on. Businessmen might start thinking dangerous thoughts like "If one man can make a special trip for $20M, then 100 men can make ordinary trips for $1M," and NASA can't bear to let that happen.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Why not MoonBase Alpha? (4.28 / 7) (#24)
by titivillus on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 10:59:43 PM EST

Well, the Moon is like rural Arizona - there's not much there but rocks, and while it might be fun to visit there once and see the amazing collection of rocks, it takes a lot more effort to do than it really is worth. If we're talking about going to Mars, or some other gravity well, we can take it in a couple steps: send the stuff in space, build it in space, and send it to Mars. Building it in microgravity makes a lot of it much simpler, as it doesn't have to be able to take off from Moon gravity, nor does it have to carry stress like a machine that operates under gravity.

Also, if the goal is going to Mars, and the goal is going to Mars, it is good to have some idea what long time habitations in microgravity do to the mind and body. The moon is fractional gravity but not microgravity and it doesn't teach us those lessons.



[ Parent ]
Oh ok. (3.00 / 1) (#118)
by Wiglaf on Tue May 01, 2001 at 09:47:12 PM EST

It just always seemed that a staging area with unlimited real-estate and a ready supply of water and minerals would be a better choice. Oh well thanks for breaking down the issues.

[ Parent ]
Some thoughts... (4.08 / 12) (#16)
by infraoctarine on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:44:11 PM EST

I've read many pieces about how Russia is mismanaging their ISS obligations the last couple of years. Personally, I'm amazed they are still launching rockets into space. The last decade has not been good for Russia, with a major part of the economy taken over by the mafia, a civil war, and political instability.

Despite this, I hope that the ISS project can go on. Cancelling the project would mean that mankind is retreating from space. It is hard to make the argument for a space station instead of spending the money on hospitals or schools; but I still think we should reserve some money for these kind of high-flying :) projects. The world would be a lot less interresting if we didn't...

By the way, if the US part of funding really is 85% (as someone mentioned) then I'm wondering why the heck is the EU not interrested. As a tax-paying european, I would like more of my money being spent on the ISS!

I don't (3.16 / 6) (#18)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 06:13:34 PM EST

Speaking as a fellow tax-paying European, I have to say I'm glad we have nothing to do with the almighty flying groundnut fiasco that is the ISS. It has no noticable scientific value, and no value for ongoing space missions.

I'd much rather have my Euros spent on something that was actually going to do some good.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
ESA module (3.00 / 3) (#41)
by esonik on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:34:22 AM EST

I have to disappoint you: there will be an ESA scientific module on ISS, as well as a Japanese Module.

[ Parent ]
No it doesn't (3.33 / 3) (#58)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:16:49 PM EST

Cancelling the project would mean that mankind is retreating from space.

Cancelling the project would NOT mean that mankind is retreating from space. What it WOULD mean is that the money currently being poorly spent on space could be redirected to projects that would yield scientifically and technologically valuable results that ISS is currently making impossible, such as:

  • more research into reducing launch costs
  • Planetary exploration missions that have been killed for lack of funding could be refunded (more moon, Mars, and Pluto missions)
  • more money could be spent on deep space science (neutrino astrophysics, hubble's successor, an advanced gamma ray observatory, etc.)
  • more money could be spent on solar science
  • money could be allocated to near space asteroid and comet searches that are currently woefully underfunded from a cost/benefit analysis perspective (a recent science panel report out of the UK has noted that a planetary killer comet or asteroid that is uncaught will kill the equivalent of 10000 people every year)
And those are just the programs I can think of off the top of my head that have died or are underfunded today because of the big budget sucker.

[ Parent ]
Good points (3.50 / 2) (#101)
by infraoctarine on Tue May 01, 2001 at 06:19:28 AM EST

Cancelling the project would NOT mean that mankind is retreating from space. What it WOULD mean is that the money currently being poorly spent on space could be redirected to projects that would yield scientifically and technologically valuable results that ISS is currently making impossible

You have a very good point; the ISS is a budget sucker, and other projects will suffer.

However, without a space station, there is nowhere to do research on how to create an environment suitable for living longer periods of time in space (which would be needed for manned missions to Mars for example). Mir could be used to study, for instance, long-term effects of weightlessness on humans and plants. But as we all know, the pieces of Mir are now resting on the bottom of the Pacific ocean.

Maybe we should just give up on manned spaceflight for the time being; perhaps there is no point in doing it, I dunno...

[ Parent ]
Don't give up, but be smarter (3.66 / 3) (#112)
by krlynch on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:52:21 PM EST

Maybe we should just give up on manned spaceflight for the time being; perhaps there is no point in doing it, I dunno...

While I'm currently opposed to a budget hungry, unlikely-to-be-return-investment spacestation program like ISS, and I think most of the money spent on the Shuttle program is being wasted, I'm NOT in favor of giving up on manned spaceflight. There are a number of things that ONLY manned flights can do, currently: repair and maintenance of orbiting equipment (the Hubble repair and maintenance missions are spectacular recent successes of the manned spaceflight program), exploration of other bodies being just two.

However, many, if not most, of the ISS/STS experimental program can be done either for less on earth, or is better/more cheaply done by unmanned launch vehicles. One example is the LAUNCH of Hubble: the major disadvantage of Hubble is that the device was size constrained because it had to fit into the Shuttle cargo bay. That was just stupid. It could have and probably should have been larger, and should have been launched by an unmanned, larger payload rocket.

And the ISS is a similar waste of resources: there is no compelling reason to build it at this time, nothing that it will return over its lifetime that couldn't be learned for less money in other ways, except possibly for the long term health effects of weightlessness....which only matters is you have a reason to be in space for long terms in the first place. The only one I can think of is to maintain an orbitting station and interplanetary travel. If the former is the main reason, the logic seems kind of circular, if the latter, why bother, since the launch costs with current technology will prohibit any reasonable mission from going forward.....and ISS is sucking money from programs designed to reduce launch costs, as I mentioned before. I would vastly prefer to see the ISS budget going elsewhere, in particular to reducing the cost-to-orbit, making a FUTURE station more affordable and useful.

To sum up: manned spaceflight not bad, but use it only where there isn't a better, cheaper alternative available. But when it is necessary, it should be used without reservation.

[ Parent ]

Put him to work! (2.40 / 5) (#20)
by AndyL on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 07:43:47 PM EST

ISS is a work in progress. Even if he did pay his way there, why can't he help put it together? (And if he wasn't trained for this, why not?)

Besides, what else if there to do up there? Watch DVDs?

-Andy

maybe he does (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by esonik on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:37:07 AM EST

Do you _know_ that he isn't doing any work? I hardly believe that he won't help at least with loading/unloading.

[ Parent ]
Then there's no problem. (3.50 / 2) (#94)
by AndyL on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:10:40 PM EST

Well, if he is doing work, I don't understand why people are making such a fuss about it.

-Andy

[ Parent ]

That's the Right Question!!! (none / 0) (#133)
by ryancooley on Thu May 03, 2001 at 12:44:56 AM EST

The obly reason any fuss is being made is because people were convinced that our multimillions dollar space station was going to further science, not to pay for a multimillion dollar club med.

Mind you I have not yet formed an opinion on this, but that's the reasoning behind the objection. It's essentially like opening a public library with tax dollars and then charging a fee to 'borrow' the books. We spend the money, but we don't get back the profits, or interest on our cash (which we assumed would be going to educate the less-fortunate, as well as ourselves).

I hope that cleared things up.

[ Parent ]
on a sidenote.. (none / 0) (#154)
by esonik on Sat May 05, 2001 at 10:50:17 AM EST

It's essentially like opening a public library with tax dollars and then charging a fee to 'borrow' the books.

Guess what happened in my home town!

[ Parent ]

Really? (none / 0) (#157)
by ryancooley on Mon May 07, 2001 at 09:06:46 AM EST

That really surprises me. I don't know where you live, but here something like that would be followed with months of protests, and probably a minor riot or two. Democracy only works when the people are willing to fight for what they want.

[ Parent ]
Hmm... (none / 0) (#161)
by AndyL on Tue May 08, 2001 at 11:15:35 AM EST

Around here the library will occasonaly buy several copys of popular new releases and they'll put most of them in circulation, but they'll keep a few as 'rental' books but that's diferent. That's responding to unusual demand.

A Public Library where all (or most) of the books are rental is crazy.

-Andy

[ Parent ]

Who cares how they pick 'em? (none / 0) (#155)
by AndyL on Sun May 06, 2001 at 01:51:37 AM EST

If he is doing the work that anyone else would be doing up there, why should we care how the Russian select their cosmonauts?

If they want to select them on the basis of who pays the most money, well good for them! They've learned capitalism well!

-Andy

[ Parent ]

No (none / 0) (#156)
by ryancooley on Mon May 07, 2001 at 09:05:01 AM EST

The USA spent tons of money to build that station. We are inturn paying for each person that goes up there with tax dollars. It is costing us money for him to be up there. That means that it's US tax dollars going straight to Russia. I've explained it as simply as I can, if you don't understand, you might want to come back in 10 years and try again.

[ Parent ]
Think. (none / 0) (#160)
by AndyL on Tue May 08, 2001 at 11:09:56 AM EST

Russia is going to send a cosmonaut anyway. If this guy is just as good as their other cosmonaut, why shouldn't he get to go?

I can't seem to tell if he's doing work up there or if he's just freeloading, I've read both from diferent sources. But if he is doing work, and is trained to be up there, what's the problem?

There are lots of people who want to go, and very few openings. I don't think a large fee is the way to narrow it down, but if that's the way Russia wants to fill their free slots(taking the opertunity away from hardworking, but poor, russians) then that's their own look-out.

-Andy

[ Parent ]

I've already explained it (none / 0) (#167)
by ryancooley on Fri May 11, 2001 at 06:09:27 PM EST

I;ve explained this already very thoroughly, but you don't understand, obviously. When you get it, come back and post again.

[ Parent ]
Many comments (4.48 / 37) (#21)
by sigwinch on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 07:45:32 PM EST

Unilateral, irresponsible actions on the part of one of the major partners to grab some mad cash and tweak the noses of the U.S., Canada, and the European partners suggests that the U.S. should terminate its involvement with the ISS as soon as possible.
How times have changed! Once upon a time, a kid from Missouri could dream of one day traveling to the Moon, or maybe even to Mars. These days, the former Red Menace is selling the only LEO tickets to be had. No wonder NASA's wigging out over Tito's trip.
The quicker we can cut our losses and pull out of this mismanaged boondoggle, the better.
NASA is in the business of spending money for the hell of it. (And it's fine for a country to have some projects like that.) In that environment, cancellation just means that a new project will be started and mismanaged. If Russia rubs Congress' nose in it enough, they'll start to take a good, hard look at how NASA is running.
Tensions among the major partners in the ISS are at an all-time high over Russia's unilateral decision to launch a tourist into space at a cost primarily to U.S. taxpayers.
Assume the marginal resources to support Tito amount to 1000 pounds. Assume a marginal mission cost of $10,000 per pound (real cost is probably cheaper). That's an expenditure of $10M on a revenue of $20M, or a 100% profit. As long as Tito doesn't go out of his way to make a nuisance of himself, and the personnel work harder to make up for the lost available labor, it'll still be a profit.

That's right, a NASA-related mission is entering the dangerous territory of actually paying its own way on purely materialistic grounds. Nothing like this has happened since they banned commercial payloads from the Shuttle! No wonder the NASA appropriations managers are shitting bricks.

The covenant has been broken, and reports of recent negotiations by James Cameron to follow Tito suggest that this behavior is to be the rule, not the exception.
Oh *shit*. A *movie maker*. He might come back from his trip a prophet and convince the American people that the stars are their birthright. People might actually want their tax dollars spent on viable launch systems instead of the ultra-expensive Shuttle. No wonder NASA politicos are shitting bricks.
If India develops ICBM capability or even just limited-range missile capability, Pakistan is sure to follow suit in what will inevitably destabilize an already tense region.
Even worse, Mexico is rumored to be dealing with India for it's vaunted TRUCK technology, allowing a nuke to be delivered to Pakistan by a technique known as "driving". Seriously, why does India need ICBMs when they can hand-carry the nuke anywhere they want, or at worst resort to airplanes/cruise missiles.
The ISS has done little to push the state of the art in any facet of technology, ...
Except for irrelevant technologies like long-term life support, free-fall agriculture, space-compatible energy storage, and so forth. Neil Armstrong did everything in space that we'll ever need done.
If microgravity research were truly a priority, ...
If it were a priority, scientists would be fighting for access like they are at European synchrotrons.
Nominal requirements for maintenance and upkeep tasks on the ISS require 2.5 astronauts' time--in the third astronaut's half-day of time she is apparently supposed to do tens of billions of dollars' worth of ground-breaking science.
12 hours/day is plenty of time to get pregant and see what free-fall does to fetal development. Not that NASA gives a flying fuck <grin> about actual spacefaring...
Multi-billion dollar scientific ventures are constructed with specific, concrete experiments in mind and not a "just in case we want to look at this" mentality.
Exactly. Charles Darwin *knew* there had to be interesting finches *somewhere*. He didn't just sail off to the far side of the then-accessible universe just for the hell of it.
There is nothing to stop a program from being shut down halfway through construction (e.g., the Superconducting Supercollider) ...
The SSC died because it was an R&D project being run as a construction project. Now the ISS is in danger because it's a construction project being run as an R&D project. Ironic.

(BTW, claudius, nice article, +1 front page, although I disagree with it. The sarcasm above is directed at NASA, not at you.)

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.

Actually (2.25 / 4) (#28)
by Miniluv on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:27:38 AM EST

10M net profit on 20M gross payment is 50% net profit, not 100%. The only way you can make 100% net profit is if it didn't cost anything in the first place.

Applied Solipsism worked for me.
[ Parent ]
I guess you could say that... (3.00 / 2) (#39)
by bunsen on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:18:45 AM EST

But I thought it was more along the lines of a $10m investment on a launch vehicle and associated costs getting a $20m price results in $10m profit, so the profit is 100% of the investment. That's the usual sense of percentage profit I see used.

---
Do you want your possessions identified? [ynq] (n)
[ Parent ]
Hmmm... (1.00 / 1) (#91)
by Miniluv on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:26:33 PM EST

Well, it all depends on whether you're calculating net profit, net margin, gross profit or gross margin. A little digging reveals the following definitions of each term:
gross profit: net sales minus the cost of goods and services sold

gross margin: Gross profit divided by sales, expressed as a percentage

net profit: the excess of revenues over outlays in a given period of time

net margin: Net profit divided by net revenues, expressed as a percentage. also called net profit margin

So essentially you were operating on gross terms, whereas I was thinking net. Either way, saying 100% is, in my mind, rather misleading as it implies that 100% of revenue was profit, when in fact only 50% was actual profit that can be taken as such.

Applied Solipsism worked for me.
[ Parent ]
ICBMs - why? (2.60 / 5) (#29)
by Afty on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:08:20 AM EST

If India develops ICBM capability or even just limited-range missile capability, Pakistan is sure to follow suit in what will inevitably destabilize an already tense region.

Even worse, Mexico is rumored to be dealing with India for it's vaunted TRUCK technology, allowing a nuke to be delivered to Pakistan by a technique known as "driving". Seriously, why does India need ICBMs when they can hand-carry the nuke anywhere they want, or at worst resort to airplanes/cruise missiles.


Hmm, this is somewhat flawed logic. For one thing, any nuclear weapon capable of delivering a significant blast is easily detectable via satellite unless kept inside exceedingly efficient containers. This is not feasible in a TRUCK based system.

In addition, nuclear ICBMs are mainly used for deterrent. It's real easy to launch 30 nukes at the push of a button in retaliation for the attack your adversary just launched. It is not that easy to get some people to drive 30 trucks from your military installations into the enemy country. Especially when there are nukes falling on their heads in 20 minutes - think you can get out of the range of the blast in 20 mins?

Ultimately, a large amount of incredibly deadly weaponry, capable of rapid insurgence into enemy territory is a good thing when rational human beings are in control.

It is for this reason that we hope military and political leaders are, and remain, rational beings.

[ Parent ]
not sure why you think this (4.00 / 4) (#32)
by el_guapo on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 08:01:53 AM EST

"any nuclear weapon capable of delivering a significant blast is easily detectable via satellite" mirvs are small - and would be a bitch to detect by satellite even if it was in the trunk of my car. come to think of it, i don't see how a satellite would detect it at all. unless you're aware of some trechnology that my nuke-trained brain hasn't been exposed to, i have no idea why you think this. (my favorite "nuke-myth" is detecting them by their radiation leakage....)
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Missiles (2.50 / 2) (#63)
by ucblockhead on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:04:20 PM EST

On the other hand, the sort of missile needed to deliver a nuke from India to Pakistan is quite literally sixty year old technology (V-2s, circa 1944). Remember that the SCUDs Iraq launched could carry nukes, and remember that India is far more technologically competent than Iraq.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Big nukes (3.50 / 2) (#72)
by sigwinch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 04:08:57 PM EST

It is not that easy to get some people to drive 30 trucks from your military installations into the enemy country. Especially when there are nukes falling on their heads in 20 minutes - think you can get out of the range of the blast in 20 mins?
I was thinking more along the lines of a single giant, multi-stage, fission-triggered fusion bomb. By "giant", I mean as much lithium-deuteride (or whatever fusion bombs use) as a big truck can carry. You'd want a minimum yield of a couple hundred gigatons. Cover the whole thing with 1 cm cobalt plates to maximize the fallout. If available, ignite it on soil/rock having a high proportion of heavy metals, again to improve the fallout.

Prelocate it near the enemy border, upwind if you can arrange for it, and when attacked, drive it as far as possible into enemy territory and set it off. It doesn't take dozens of MIRVs to get deterrence, just a few suitably large weapons. The reason the superpowers use ICBMs is to be able to conquer the enemey rather than merely annhilate them.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

but.... (2.00 / 1) (#83)
by delmoi on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:39:37 PM EST

what about the drivers?
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Drivers (3.00 / 2) (#86)
by sigwinch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:17:58 PM EST

At this point, their homes are about to be or already have been nuked and they will probably die from the fallout in any event. They get revenge.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Detection (none / 0) (#120)
by Afty on Wed May 02, 2001 at 07:25:00 AM EST

This kind of attack is extremely easy to stop, kill the people in/near the truck with a nearby blast. The most effective arsenal is the one that can't be easily neutralised.

[ Parent ]
Nice pun. (nt) (1.50 / 2) (#34)
by Dace on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:26:56 AM EST

nt.
---
"When I was a kid computers were giant walk-in wardrobes served by a priesthood with punch cards."
- Arthur C. Clarke
[ Parent ]
I thought... (4.09 / 11) (#25)
by scriptkiddie on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:30:48 AM EST

I was fairly certain that the various countries in ISS get a certain number of time slots based on their participation. I read somewhere that Canada spent about US$1 billion, so they get to send up two astronauts a year....if the Russians want to sell some of their slots to private citizens, that may be ethically questionable, but at least the US isn't paying for it.

Nearly right (3.83 / 6) (#27)
by Vulch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 04:35:10 AM EST

According to the original agreements that lead to the use of Soyuz as the station lifeboat, the Russians have absolute control over the crews of the swap out flights. They are outside the normal expedition crew slot allocation system.

From the Salyut and Mir days they've even got a handful of pilots trained to fly the Soyuz single handed, so they could sell two tourist seats a flight. Being slightly serious though, there's nothing to stop ESA or either of the Japanese agencies buying a seat, or in the case of Europe, two seats as a number of ESA crew are trained as Soyuz flight engineers. Come to think of it, I think one of the french is trained as a return commander, so put him in the docking simulators for a while and they could sell all three seats. :-)

[ Parent ]

I don't know (4.00 / 7) (#31)
by Ceebs on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 07:36:44 AM EST

I was always told that Americans had no sense of irony, but when I see complaints about a man from the land of the free buying a ride in space being dismissed as 'ethically questionable' I think they may be right.
What's the problem with having a private citizen up there, Might he spot evidence that global warming is really happening, and no one would be able to lean on him to shut him up.

[ Parent ]
ISS, Russia, US and 85% (3.76 / 13) (#30)
by Yarick on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 07:27:51 AM EST

Hi everybody ! Well, to make things clear from the ground up - I'm from Russia. Moreover, I'm proud being Russian (you thought US flags hanging everywhere are your invention ? You're wrong.) And, on the topic - well, if you don't like ISS, you think it's not worth US$<NNN>bn - then sell it. Sell it to Russia. We can pay your price. Moreover, I think, we WILL buy the ISS. Russia is extremly rich with resources, both natural (gems, gold/platinum/pallady/whatever- else-you-would-ask, gas/oil/carbon/uranium/smtn ...) and artifical (scientists/artists/ whatever). Lots of people here think Mir's sinkin' was a mistake, and they surely will pay for our new space station. Please put your price tag on one of ISS' solar batteries, and we will give you your precious dollars, so average John The Taxpayer would have his money back in social funding, free beer/whiskey/whatever (BTW, genuine Russian vodka is far better than Scotch whiskey, England gin, Mexican tequila or whatever you will compare to... Speaking from experience...) . Think of it. With your strongly grounded and money-hungry experience this will be quite a bargain. We will have knowledge and space tourism, you will have your 85%. (BTW again, our experience is invaluable, and surely will return our investment). After all, we sold you Alaska, when we were in need for money. If you're THAT desperate for your tax-payed $$$'s - than sell us an ISS. And stay grounded

Inventing everything? (2.60 / 5) (#35)
by Eccles on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:52:05 AM EST

(you thought US flags hanging everywhere are your invention ? You're wrong.)

You're claiming Russia invented the US flag?

--Boggled in America

[ Parent ]

US flag invention (3.50 / 4) (#40)
by Yarick on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:22:04 AM EST

Nope, every nation selects(or invents) it's own symbol of glory and proudness. But we had two-headed eagle ('cause Russia looks into both Europe and Asia) greeted and honoured both in our Motherland and foreign countries way before Sally Don't-Remember-Her-Surname hand-sewed first "Stars and Stripes". BTW, you have STARS on your flag... Do you only notice protective stripes on your credit cards and $100 banknotes ? Sorry, didn't want to harm/offend anybody...

[ Parent ]
US flag invention (2.50 / 2) (#50)
by Eccles on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:27:10 AM EST

Sorry, didn't want to harm/offend anybody...

My response was meant as a joke/smart-alek remark. No offense taken.

[ Parent ]

Sally.. (2.00 / 1) (#82)
by delmoi on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:36:42 PM EST

Sally Don't-Remember-Her-Surname hand-sewed first "Stars and Stripes".

That would be Sally Ride.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Sally Ride? (none / 0) (#152)
by EpsilonZero on Fri May 04, 2001 at 01:48:03 PM EST

Uhh... not that this is important or anything, but didn't Betsy Ross sew the first American flag (or so the story goes)? I think Sally Ride was the first woman in space or something.

[ Parent ]
what?! (1.00 / 1) (#98)
by Requiem on Tue May 01, 2001 at 12:45:05 AM EST

Nothing is better than a good gin.

Sorry.

[ Parent ]
Pay our price? (3.00 / 2) (#110)
by skinsfan44 on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:24:22 PM EST

<We can pay your price> Bah, go wait in a line for a loaf of bread.

[ Parent ]
RE: Pay our price? (none / 0) (#124)
by Yarick on Wed May 02, 2001 at 11:14:51 AM EST

Well, you know, there also bears freely walking on our streets ... Please, please, don't trust old lies. We're living in some ways far far better then you're (Russia vs USA). Well, if somebody wants to be rich here, he can do it. Almost like in USA. Middle class has almost the same life level as yours. Really, come here and see for yourself.

[ Parent ]
Won't happen. (3.00 / 1) (#117)
by roystgnr on Tue May 01, 2001 at 08:36:25 PM EST

If you're THAT desperate for your tax-payed $$$'s - than sell us an ISS.

You wouldn't want it. We'd have to sell it to you for a price approximating the grossly outrageous sum we've paid for American contractors to design, redesign, and finally build a few scraps of hardware.

It costs $10 million for Russia to send a Soyuz with three people and cargo to ISS. The Space Shuttle is more than twice as capable, but (depending on whose numbers you believe) between 15 and 100 times more expensive. Other price ratios are similar.

[ Parent ]

RE: Won't happen (none / 0) (#123)
by Yarick on Wed May 02, 2001 at 11:09:36 AM EST

Well, Russian Federal Bank has $30bn in currency and gold/platinum (from monthly business reports). It's almost like cash, i.e easily available :) So, you think it would be too hard for us to find needed money ? International estimates of ISS' cost are between tens and hundreds of $$$bn, which is not THAT large, talking in country views. So...

[ Parent ]
there is no justification... (3.85 / 14) (#33)
by mveloso on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:18:27 AM EST

There is no justification for the manned space program at all! What benefits are there to having people wander around in space, really? The only one is marketing - it gets NASA's logo out there in the public eye every few months.

It also keeps the equipment at the various control centers working. How much would it cost to mothball/reactivate that stuff if there was nothing going on? I'd guess the cost of maintaining the infrastructure is less than the cost to mothball/reactivate it. Also, Texas and Florida have powerful senators, guaranteeing the space program a long life.

Indeed, NASA may have set an interesting funding precedent by sending a Senator into space. Would -you- vote against the NASA budget if that put you on the STS blacklist?

Realistically speaking, there's no real justification for being in space at all. The reasons, if there are any, are strategic, and thus not subject to cost-benefit analysis. I suspect the main reason we're part of the ISS is so we don't lose our space expertise.

As for Tito, more power to him and the Russian space program! Finally, a government agency adopts a pay-as-you-go system, and the bitter irony is it's a Russian agency! Hah! Those NASA folks are trembling in their boots at the gall of the Russians. Imagine, commercialization of the space program! What's next, sending senators into space?

Shortsighted (4.50 / 4) (#66)
by dennis on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:26:28 PM EST

Realistically speaking, there's no real justification for being in space at all.

Jeez, that's about the most shortsigted comment I've seen since "there's only a market for maybe five computers in the world."

Lessee...a few thousand asteroids that pass close by Earth. Some of them are basically mountains of stainless steel, others are packed with the elements you need to live out there...millions more asteroids farther out...comets give you all the water you need...the Moon is a nice close place to put heavy industry, energy is abundant, no biosphere to mess up, and very easy to shoot things back to earth and glide them home...and of course an entire second planet just up the road.

And all we really need to take advantage of all that is cheap launch capability, in private hands. There's a proven solution to attaining that. In the early days of air travel, the U.S. government offered money to anyone who could ship bags of sand by air. With a guaranteed market, the airline industry kicked off, and the cost to the government was minimal. About 15 years ago the L5 Society advocated a similar program for space, but nobody paid attention.

Whether we should keep NASA for anything besides exploration is another question.

[ Parent ]

re: shortsighted? (none / 0) (#162)
by mveloso on Tue May 08, 2001 at 06:24:51 PM EST

<
Jeez, that's about the most shortsigted comment I've seen since "there's only a market for maybe five computers in the world."
>

Well at the time that was said, that was correct. Future events generated more demand.

In any case, the problem is from a cost justification point of view there's nothing worth getting in space. How much cheaper is it to rip metal out of the ground than to get it in space? Right now, there's no contest...it's not worth it given any kind of time horizon.

Strategically, the only reasons to be in space are politico-military: by having our own launch capability and infrastructure, we're not dependent on the Chinese, Russians, or French to throw our stuff into the sky. There is no cost/benefit analysis to this equation.

Whether we need cheap launch capability is another question...but until someone actually brings home the bacon in space, it's the land of pie in the sky dreams. Think of this - the first million-ton asteroid of pure platinum you get will cause the market for platinum on earth to collapse.

[ Parent ]
The long view (none / 0) (#166)
by dennis on Fri May 11, 2001 at 09:25:13 AM EST

Well at the time that was said, that was correct. Future events generated more demand.

You speak of this as if the events were external to the industry. They weren't--the events that changed things were simply the industry's own improvements to the technology.

Same with space. You can look at our current capabilities, the rocketry equivalents of building-sized mainframes, and say there's hardly any market because it's all so expensive. Or, you can go to work developing microprocessors, because you know that once you do, the market is enormous.

the first million-ton asteroid of pure platinum you get will cause the market for platinum on earth to collapse

This argument could apply to any development of new resources. So the price of platinum collapses. Great! That's bad for all the other platinum sellers, but the people who sold all that extra platinum are still going to make a pile of money, and the rest of us get to buy dirt-cheap platinum from then on. That's a net increase in the wealth of society. Something similar happened with aluminum--it used to be extremely expensive, somebody figured out how to make it cheap, anyone who depended on selling it dear got hosed but now we use aluminum everywhere.

[ Parent ]

cool... (3.00 / 2) (#69)
by Danse on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 02:48:49 PM EST

What's next, sending senators into space?

That would be great! Can we send them all up there? And leave them there? Please?




An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
Veto - I disagree (3.84 / 13) (#36)
by Highlander on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:06:36 AM EST

There is a lot to gain from space travel in the long run.

Doing space travel is something that must be done by the people of Earth. One remote day, the sun which earth circles around will go *blast* and kill the entire population. Other cosmic disasters can make it happen earlier.

The money argument is not a good one; Instead of sending the money into orbit, where one day it will be useful, do we really want to spend the money on dot.com.millionaires instead ? Or on licensing our Windows OS and all our shareware ? Or do we want to spend it on making everyone on Earth living in luxury, pushing the population beyond 10 billion, to 20 billion ? 20 billion people who earn their living working for dot.coms and money management facilities. A brave new world indeed.

Working with Russia on something together is definitely better than working "together" on nuclear war. This cooperation might break the anti-american stance. The US attitude of planning war everywhere isn't very sympathetic, unless you feel you are in the same team.

I believe it is true that science advances are inconsequential. There definitely should be research done on recycling systems, which will allow voyaging to mars, and on the production of something in space. Eventually, I believe the space program should strive to gather resources from moon, the asteroids and mars, instead of the costly launch from earth.



Moderation in moderation is a good thing.

The space race for the lifeboats (3.33 / 6) (#60)
by LQ on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:38:29 PM EST

Doing space travel is something that must be done by the people of Earth. One remote day, the sun which earth circles around will go *blast* and kill the entire population. Other cosmic disasters can make it happen earlier.

Do you really think our planet will be habitable in a thousand years? Never mind the billions until our star dies. There is a space race to abandon the planet but we do not have sufficient resources to put a significant population into space.

[ Parent ]

Thousand years ? Yes, I believe that .. . (2.66 / 3) (#67)
by Highlander on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:55:39 PM EST

Yes, I think it will be habitable in thousand years. I don't know about, say 5000 years.

However, if Brazil continues to burn down the rain forest like it does, without giving it places to regrow, we might end up on a planet like mars. Or maybe a climate alternating between glaciers and mars.

How much does an acre of Brazil forest cost if you would buy it now ? Numbers anyone ?

I think even a population of 16 that is send into space on a lifeboat is significant. I guess you would want to send several lifeboats, like 4. The number to sustain a decent technology is much higher I guess, but I think it is still a small number, like 10.000. T'is much like the story of atlantis.

Maybe this assumes that there is no competition among the settlers - a gnu style, or free information ethics might reduce the overhead needed by competition.

Moderation in moderation is a good thing.
[ Parent ]

okay... (4.00 / 3) (#80)
by delmoi on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:30:18 PM EST

However, if Brazil continues to burn down the rain forest like it does, without giving it places to regrow, we might end up on a planet like mars. Or maybe a climate alternating between glaciers and mars.

Like mars? you mean most of the gasses are going to leave the surface of the planet if there arn't enough trees? Uh... Yeh...


--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Actually... (1.66 / 3) (#102)
by davidmb on Tue May 01, 2001 at 06:49:43 AM EST

Perhaps like Mars in the sense of being a barren desert planet.

Then again, once upon a time there were a lot more gases in the Mars atmosphere. If the atmosphere is sufficiently damaged by pollution, gases will start escaping from the planet.
־‮־
[ Parent ]
Barren deserts... (none / 0) (#125)
by inpHilltr8r on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:07:49 PM EST

You mean like Los Angeles?



[ Parent ]
NASA's undeclared war on the russian space program (4.05 / 18) (#38)
by cretin on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:16:20 AM EST

I cannot believe that a site that claims to discuss "technology...from the trenches" can miss the obvious angle here. It's been blatantly clear since the Mir de-orbiting that NASA is mounting a cynical smear campaign against russian space. Think about this: Two years after the US announced the plans to build ISS, Mir's first module was in orbit, making a mockery of NASA's claims to supremacy in the space race. Ten years on, ISS was still on the ground.

This was obviously more than NASA's pride could bear. Despite Russia's proven record of maintaining a safe presence in orbit, NASA launched a campaign to convince the world that Mir was a danger, when it was anything but. One can only chuckle ironically at the fact that most of the parts for ISS are being built by Russia, since NASA lacks the know-how and experience to engage in these projects.

This saga of Russian triumph versus hurt pride at NASA dates back to Sputnik, the first man-made object in space, and Gargarin, the first man in space. Aside from planting a flag on the moon, what has NASA really achieved in space that Russia had not already done? Those who wonder why NASA loses funding need look no further than that question. Add to this, NASA's recent history of woeful and expensive space accidents, such as the loss of the Mars probe, and it's clear why NASA is striking out at their old rival. What cost the US taxpayer more? Loss of the Mars probe, or a Russian space mission funded privately, and in accordance with Russia's portion of the ISS project?

NASA's recent purchase of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for use in the Atlas 5 rocket proves once again that NASA cannot come through with the goods, and has to come begging to Russia for their superior rocket technology. Additionally, the deep space one probe's use of Russian ion drive technology signals that NASA has lost the propulsion technology battle in the high power and low power arenas. Russian rocketry and spacecraft are without a doubt the wave of the future, providing cheap and effective launch vehicles and efficient spacecraft for the new millenium.

This brings me to my final point. NASA ruled the world of commercial space launches for years, before the iron curtain came down. Finally, with a stronger competitor in the ring, NASA decides that fair play is unnecessary, and resorts to cheap tactics like name-calling. Russia's launch of the world's first space tourist signals the dawn of a new age of Russian commercialism in space. If NASA can't take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen.

"Truth in Labelling" - with thanks to Steve B.

Let a tiny bit of reality shine through (3.00 / 5) (#56)
by weirdling on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:11:58 PM EST

Let's see: Mir was a wreck; it had fungus growing all through it. It was constantly breaking down. It almost killed those in it countless times.
As to Mir proving Russian superiority, while it did *stay* in space, every shuttle launch brought up a larger work space than Mir had.
Now, don't get me wrong; Russia has had plenty of success, but, please, they are no saints and neither is NASA, but my point is that you are just a tad quick to insist that NASA is merely trying to hurt the Russian space effort ouf of anger, which is just silly. The US went to the moon, which you downplay, and the Russian space agency isn't doing long-range probes, which explains how come they don't have disasters with them.
That NASA would use a Russian booster is a testament to Russian booster design, which has always been cheaper than US booster design due to the fact that almost all US boosters are converted missiles.
That NASA is a bloated pig that wastes money with unbelievable efficiency can't be denied, but I doubt any national space agency is much better.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
efficiency (4.00 / 2) (#79)
by delmoi on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:27:38 PM EST

Let's see: Mir was a wreck; it had fungus growing all through it. It was constantly breaking down. It almost killed those in it countless times.

Yeh, but it was kept in space something like 5 or 6 years after it's originally planned mission was over. Complaining that Mir went down when it did is like complaining that your windows 98 box only gets 5 or 6 months of uptime.

That NASA is a bloated pig that wastes money with unbelievable efficiency can't be denied, but I doubt any national space agency is much better.

Why not? Because no one could possibly do it better then the US of A? Of course, an effective space program in a country with a practically non-functional government is kind of hard to buy; I don't see how you could say an efficient space program is impossibility... Didn't the China just send a guy into space?
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
China (3.00 / 1) (#115)
by mikael_j on Tue May 01, 2001 at 03:49:51 PM EST

Didn't the China just send a guy into space?
I don't think so, but I do think they did an unmanned launch of the "Long march" rocket, which will eventually be used to send astronauts into space...

/Mikael Jacobson
We give a bad name to the internet in general. - Rusty
[ Parent ]
yeah, the US has done nothing. (none / 0) (#129)
by chopper on Wed May 02, 2001 at 04:15:37 PM EST

Aside from planting a flag on the moon, what has NASA really achieved in space that Russia had not already done?

oh, i don't know, let's see, NASA has sent space probes which explored the outer planets, providing the first clear detailed pictures of the outer parts of our solar system and which still communicate with us today, put up probes which bring to light the inner structure of our sun, put into orbit 2 telescopes which have shown us more detail about the universe and its structure than hundreds of years of land-based telescopy have provided...

i could go on if you wish.

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish
[ Parent ]

Mars and Russia (none / 0) (#149)
by icer on Thu May 03, 2001 at 11:06:03 PM EST

You cite the US failure of a recent Mars mission. Yet you neglect to metion that Russia has yet to successfully put anything on Mars.

[ Parent ]
BS (3.33 / 12) (#42)
by ikillyou on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:37:04 AM EST

Dennis Tito going to space is the best thing to happen to space travel in 30 years. NASA has forgetten what the promise of space was all about - the promise to bring the ordinary man and woman to the stars.

Instead, NASA has become yet another bureacratic organisation. Space, NASA tells us, is the realm of "experts", geriatric senators and meaningless experiment after experiment. Reject this bullshit!

Ordinary? (3.12 / 8) (#48)
by FlightTest on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:15:30 AM EST

Dennis Tito going to space is the best thing to happen to space travel in 30 years. NASA has forgetten what the promise of space was all about - the promise to bring the ordinary man and woman to the stars.

I must be living in the wrong neighborhood. Someone with the resources to throw away $20 mil on a joy ride into space hardly counts as "the ordinary man". I certainly don't see that cost coming down anytime soon (ohh, say, in the next 100 years or so).

In fact, several commentators, not just NASA, have postulated that this is a bad thing for the exact OPPOSITE reason; Kids will see that it takes $20 mil to get yourself into space, decide they'll never have that kind of money, and lose interest in space. How willing are these kids going to be to fund space exploration when they grow up to be taxpayers and they have it in their mind that space is a sandbox for the rich?



Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
[ Parent ]
Closer (4.00 / 1) (#126)
by inpHilltr8r on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:14:54 PM EST

> Someone with the resources to throw away $20 mil on a joy ride into space hardly counts as "the ordinary man".

I think I speak for most of the planet when I say that you or I have significantly more chance of accumulating the $20 million for a ticket, than becoming an astronaut through the 'proper' channels.

Dammit, I want my trip to Flosten Paradise! Or at least the chance to win one...


[ Parent ]
You are correct. (none / 0) (#131)
by FlightTest on Wed May 02, 2001 at 05:13:33 PM EST

I think I speak for most of the planet when I say that you or I have significantly more chance of accumulating the $20 million for a ticket, than becoming an astronaut through the 'proper' channels.

You're right, although I think most of the planet would also agree their chances of achieving either are pretty damn slim. However, that wasn't my point. My point was about the support of the space program, regardless of whether or not the individual thought they would ever be able to participate directly. I support the space program, and I'm very against Mr. Tito's joyride, even though I *know* they only way I'd ever get a ride into space would be to cough up the $20 mil.

I think people are more willing to support the space program when they think the people who are involved are there to serve a purpose at least for their country, if not for "the greater good". I think people will come to resent the cost of the space program if they preceive that their tax dollars are being used to finance some rich dude's fling. Shit will really hit the fan if it's preceived that "science" is taking a back seat to "tourism" for the rich.

I'm being very careful to talk about preception here, not what may actually be happening, because people often make decisions based on perception, without bothering to find the facts. It may very well be that Mr. Tito's $20 mil will genuinely help the Russians meet their obligations to the ISS. But if the public perception is that it really cost more, and therefore they are indirectly paying for his joyride, and that his joyride is taking funds away from science, then support for the space program will falter.



Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
[ Parent ]
Perception (none / 0) (#148)
by inpHilltr8r on Thu May 03, 2001 at 09:45:59 PM EST

> if the public perception is that [...] they are indirectly paying for his joyride, and that his joyride is taking funds away from science, then support for the space program will falter.

However, if the public perception is that Tito is personally increasing the overall funding for the ISS, then why would they object if he get's a ride out of it?

Besides, looks like James Camerons going up next, and taking a custom Sony camera, which will at last mean we get some well-directed footage, which I'm sure the public that gives a rats ass about space (as opposed to the public that resents any form of government spending) will love.

Dammit, NASA should be building a hotel wing on the ISS, and paying for it with precisely this sort of manouver. Who would've thought it, the US out-capitalism'd by Russia.

[ Parent ]
Science progresses quite well, thank you (4.37 / 8) (#44)
by hardburn on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:42:31 AM EST

. . . have resulted in very little research of any significance having been conducted in microgravity.

Wrong. Let me give you one example:

There is a physics experiment (IIRC, it's called the "Milkan Experiment") which involves floating a charged sphere between two charged plates, the purpase being to measure the strength of a single charge. To get very precise numbers for this experiment, you need a very good sphere.

The problem is that it is very hard to make a perfect sphere in a relitively high gravity place like earth, but fairly easy to do in microgravity. Thus, they can make the spheres in orbit and then send them back down to researchers on earth to do the experiment (the experiment itself requires noticable gravity).

Also note that you can't have a space telescope (Hubble) without a space program (duh). Are you to say the Hubble hasn't helped us learn more about the universe around us?

it is unlikely we will find justification for the ISS under the guise of preparing for longer-term missions to other planets either.

Actualy, the ISS gives the US shuttle the possibilty of refuling in orbit, thus having enough fuel to go (and come back) to the moon. Likely, this would be acomplished with some sort of launch vehicle out of the shuttle bay, as the shuttle itself can't land without a runway.


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


Can't say that I agree completely... (3.66 / 3) (#88)
by Dr.Dubious DDQ on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:54:07 PM EST

There is a physics experiment (IIRC, it's called the "Milkan Experiment") which involves floating a charged sphere between two charged plates, the purpase being to measure the strength of a single charge.

My gut feeling is that this is somehow fundamentally useful information, but I can't consciously think of an actual practical USE for this information. Is it worth the money being spent?
At any rate - I tend to agree with the article. The space program is very useful and worthy, but the ISS, specifically, isn't particularly. (Is there any reason this experiment couldn't be done on the shuttle?)

Also note that you can't have a space telescope (Hubble) without a space program (duh). Are you to say the Hubble hasn't helped us learn more about the universe around us?

This is also the point of the original article. The Hubble telescope WAS a good use of NASA's budget, but the ISS, arguably, isn't. How many more "Hubbles" could we have built for the time and money we've sunk into the ISS?

Actualy, the ISS gives the US shuttle the possibilty of refuling in orbit

Uh...and we get the fuel up there how? Though I imagine they could take up a little extra fuel on each shuttle trip to the ISS and offload it to the station each time, the expense of all those trips would add up pretty fast. I suspect it'd be cheaper to just build another "dedicated moon launch vehicle" than to try to ferry a great deal of extra fuel up to the station.

Just a few random thoughts. Personally, I think they should go back to large numbers of unmanned probes and experiments, rather than a few expensive manned projects. I think the return on the investment would be much greater at the moment.


"Given the pace of technology, I propose we leave math to the machines and go play outside." -- Calvin
[ Parent ]
The space program and science (none / 0) (#122)
by hardburn on Wed May 02, 2001 at 10:20:21 AM EST

At any rate - I tend to agree with the article. The space program is very useful and worthy, but the ISS, specifically, isn't particularly.

From my standpoint, the article came off as being against the whole concept of space exploration. Perhaps this wasn't what the author intended, but thats how I took it.

My gut feeling is that this is somehow fundamentally useful information, but I can't consciously think of an actual practical USE for this information.

It most certianly is fundamentally useful. In any case, there are entire branches of science (the "pure research" areas) that encourage making discoveries that have no practical use what-so-ever. Millions of dollars of government and corperate money go into them each year. This is because things which don't appear to be useful now turn out to be extremely fundamental later on.

Oh, and you can't have a TV or computer monitor without knowing how much a given charge can hold, which was the whole point of the experiment.

Uh...and we get the fuel up there how?

There are unmanned rockets going up all the time. The Russians developed an automated probe specificly for sending up supplies to Mir (and I think they'll be using something similar for ISS). Why not pack a few with fuel?


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


[ Parent ]
But is the ISS necessary for this? (none / 0) (#132)
by Dr.Dubious DDQ on Wed May 02, 2001 at 07:55:08 PM EST

It most certianly is fundamentally useful.[...]Oh, and you can't have a TV or computer monitor without knowing how much a given charge can hold, which was the whole point of the experiment.

I'm looking at a computer monitor right now. I think it was built before somebody suggested re-doing the Millikan Experiment on the ISS (which was the core of my point - is a few more decimal points on the estimate worth the huge cost of having built and now maintaining the ISS in order to re-do the experiment there?)

I can understand the usefulness, over all, of "scientific fishing" - but can it be done better and cheaper than working with the ISS? (You pretty much NEED an expensive particle accelerator if you're trying to discover the "Pineapple upside-down quark" or whatever, but you don't NEED the ISS, specifically, to re-do the Millikan experiment in microgravity...)

There are unmanned rockets going up all the time. The Russians developed an automated probe specificly for sending up supplies to Mir (and I think they'll be using something similar for ISS). Why not pack a few with fuel?

Hmmm...Not a bad idea. My oh-so-scientific gut-feeling is that it might be kind of silly when you're going to have to launch the vehicle itself from the ground as well...but on the other hand, if the ISS has manufacturing facilities, we could always build a dedicated "ISS-Moon Shuttlecraft" which would stay in "space" the whole time (never having to land anywhere might make the design easier)...hmmmm....anybody have any idea what it would cost to set up the ISS to build and support such a thing? Might it be worth it?


"Given the pace of technology, I propose we leave math to the machines and go play outside." -- Calvin
[ Parent ]
forgetting something (none / 0) (#140)
by hardburn on Thu May 03, 2001 at 10:59:39 AM EST

. . . worth the huge cost of having built and now maintaining the ISS in order to re-do the experiment there?

You're forgetting something: Science often trys to reach for things that have no practical value (or so it seems). This is because such things often have quite a bit of practical value later on (and also because there are people like me who believe in seeking knowledge for it's own sake).

The Millkin experiment was just an example of one thing the space program has done to advance science. The idea was to refute the author's statement that the shuttle program has done little to advance science. It was not a suggestion that it should be redone on the ISS.

Personaly, I think we need a big push twards a big goal like happend with the Applo program. Nobody expected that NASA could make it to the moon within 10 years time, but they managed it. Another goal like that could really do wonders for the space program.


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while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


[ Parent ]
i think its useful. (none / 0) (#128)
by chopper on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:56:52 PM EST

There is a physics experiment (IIRC, it's called the "Milkan Experiment") which involves floating a charged sphere between two charged plates, the purpase being to measure the strength of a single charge.

My gut feeling is that this is somehow fundamentally useful information, but I can't consciously think of an actual practical USE for this information. Is it worth the money being spent?

if you're talking about the Millikan experiment, then yes, it is immensly useful. the Millikan experiment is aimed at determining the fundamental electrical charge. while subsequent experiments have agreed with Millikan's original determination of the charge of an electron, it would be very nice to do a much more precise measurement to make sure.

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish
[ Parent ]

One more point (4.00 / 7) (#45)
by bunsen on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:46:45 AM EST

The only problem I have that hasn't already been mentioned is with the bit about researching long-term spaceflight. The article claims that such research is useless due to the lack of planned manned missions to Mars or anywhere similarly distant.

This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, either way the decision goes. If we decide to give up on the space station, there will be no manned interplanetary missions, because we don't know how to keep people healthy in space that long. If we continue to support the space station, then such interplanetary expiditions become much more probable. Admittedly, there are still plenty of other obstacles to such missions (Convincing people that they're worth the cost, for example. Sounds familiar somehow...).

If I have any say in the matter (theoretically I do, since I did send that form to the IRS a few weeks ago), I think that continued commitment to human presence in orbit is worth a fairly big chunk of my tax dollars. Call me a sappy idealist, but I see an important piece of humanity's future circling the globe every hour and a half.

---
Do you want your possessions identified? [ynq] (n)

A small issue of semantics. (3.25 / 4) (#70)
by claudius on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 02:50:54 PM EST

The article claims that such research is useless due to the lack of planned manned missions to Mars or anywhere similarly distant.

What I meant in the original article (but didn't make very clear--for that I apologize) is not that the research is useless, but rather that because we have no long-term, acute need for the research, the science alone cannot justify the price tag of the ISS. If we had a specific, follow-on mission planned, or even if we had the intent to undertake such a mission, then the science basis for the ISS would be more solid. Cost estimates compiled during the former Pres. Bush administration for missions to Mars ran upwards of a trillion $US. As long as this is the economic reality in which we are to operate, it is hard to envision when in the future we will be able to make such a trip. (While Zubrin's "live off the land" ideas seem outrageously optimistic for most I know who have analyzed them, he at least acknowledges the important economic realities of space travel).

[ Parent ]
Correction (2.66 / 3) (#46)
by hardburn on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:47:14 AM EST

It's the "Millikan Experiment", and you can try out a simulated Java applet of it along with a quick description here.


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


Ugg! (2.00 / 2) (#47)
by hardburn on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:49:32 AM EST

That was supposed to be a reply to my own posta little farther down. Hit the wrong button for replying or something. Sorry.


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


[ Parent ]
The Space Program is ESSENTIAL! (3.95 / 20) (#49)
by jd on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:22:09 AM EST

The International Space Station, Space Mirrors, etc, are NOT.

Plans to put large mirrors in space to provide lighting are likely to wreck ecological disaster on a massive scale.

The International Space Station is a ghastly mistake, opted for by politicians who preferred glamour over useful space research & development.

(For chrissakes, NASA has one of the smallest budgets of any of the US-run agencies. It's being given chicken-feed. And they expect a goose that lays a golden egg. Wrong species!)

IMHO, the US Government should do one of two things: Either give NASA the money it needs to do REAL work (and send half those managers packing, in the process!), OR scrap NASA completely & give the money to John Carmack (of ID fame) or some other -serious- amateur rocket researcher.

IMHO, the latter option would not only be cheaper, it's actually more likely to get results. NASA has become too corporate, too managerial, too Dilbertesque, to EVER achieve the sorts of success it is famous for.

NASA -COULD NOT- launch a rocket to the moon, today. It doesn't have the coordination, the capability or the technical skills. Nor could it launch another Pioneer 10. That probe has achieved a level of success that could legitamately be compared with any of the Wonders of the Ancient World.

(Most modern computers have an uptime in days, sometimes weeks. Especially ones running Microsoft OS'. Pioneer's onboard computer has an uptime in DECADES and is only having problems now because the battery died of old age and the ectoplasm from its ghost isn't standard.)

The space tourism thing is a political stunt, more than anything. It's an attempt to maintain the one-upmanship that has persisted throughout the space race. Having said that, I believe that that makes it MORE dangerous, not less. It's a challange to the US, and the current leadership is just too volatile. Playing with matches is never safe. Throwing matches at hydrogen/oxygen mixtures is suicidal.

And this is what scares me, so much. The ISS has a high probability of a catastrophic accident within its working life. If pushed, I can easily see short-cuts being taken, and hazardous decisions being made, resulting in that probability reaching 1.00 very, very, very quickly.

For those who say that NASA, today, would never make that kind of trivial (yet fatal) mistake, I would point to the endless list of inperial/metric problems they have. I would point to the DS-1 probe, which used a drive which failed every single one of its tests on Earth, and which drained its resources to critical levels just to bring back online.

For those who say that the Government has too much respect for NASA to be trivial, I'd point to the Blended-Wing passenger aircraft (cancelled), the X-33 & X-34 (cancelled), the Mars mission (cancelled), the Pluto mission (cancelled), the ISO 9000 standards (most centers "pass" only because they redefined the standard to fit what they already did), etc, ad nausium.

In short, the situation is a MESS! And the ISS is only a symptom of that mess. It is not the fault of the engineers and designers that the level of communication is nil, and the level of politics & back-stabbing is sky-high.

Will =somebody= in Government, PLEASE, stop the rot! We need the industry, but we don't need the farce. Turn NASA into an organization worthy of respect, or hand all space research (& monies) over to someone who CAN do the job.

ISO 9000 (4.66 / 3) (#97)
by sigwinch on Tue May 01, 2001 at 12:00:05 AM EST

... the ISO 9000 standards (most centers "pass" only because they redefined the standard to fit what they already did), etc, ad nausium.
Maybe I'm confusing my ISO standards, but I thought that was the whole point: to formalize your work processes on paper. This is better than the "instant ISO 9000 compliance" alternative, where a consultant drops 10000 pages of his favorite documentation on you, you promise to follow it, and you're declared compliant.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

ISO 9000 (3.00 / 1) (#105)
by Mitheral on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:16:27 AM EST

That is exactly right. Most people think that ISO 9000 certification means that your certified proccesses are somehow correct or the best practice. All it really means is that you have documented what you are doing to a specific degree. Those proccesses if followed may result in your company going to hell in a hand basket but gosh darn you'll know exactly how you are getting there!

[ Parent ]
ISO 9000 (none / 0) (#165)
by collar on Wed May 09, 2001 at 01:08:44 PM EST

This is better than the "instant ISO 9000 compliance" alternative, where a consultant drops 10000 pages of his favorite documentation on you, you promise to follow it, and you're declared compliant.

That's all well and good until the ISO 9000 auditors come (which is a required step to certification) and quiz your stuff, who reply "ISO Whatnow? We have a quality manual?" and you don't get certification


.sig?
[ Parent ]
From Babylon 5, about if B5 is worth the cost. (4.10 / 10) (#51)
by Mephron on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:28:49 AM EST

"Is it worth it? Should we just pull back, forget the whole thing as a bad idea and take care of our own problems at home?"

"No. We have to stay here and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophenes .. and all of this .. all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars."

That's why the ISS is important. Because someday, the sun will go out, and that's the way the world ends. And all we have ever done and ever been, and All That There Is will be gone. We owe it to our past to go into our future.

Yes, but... (3.50 / 6) (#54)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:54:17 AM EST

Yes, the sun will go out some day.... in about 5 BILLION years, give or take a few million. If your only real argument for the ISS boondoggle is that the sun will go out and we will need to find a way off the planet, then kill the damn thing. We're much more likely to be wiped out by a comet or asteroid collision (and planetary killers happen every sixty MILLION years or so), or a global disease pandemic (which have raged through the human race every few centuries or so), or a global war. These are REAL concerns that could much better use the sixty BILLION dollars that have been spent on direct ISS costs (which does not count the huge additional expenditure of the supporting STS program costs) than worrying about the sun going out.... I'm not opposed to the space program, just huge boondoggles that waste vaste quantities of money that would (and could easily!) be spent on other, real scientific programs in space.

[ Parent ]

So tell me... (4.57 / 7) (#65)
by Mephron on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:23:30 PM EST

Where are we going to KEEP these experiments? Send up the shuttle for a month for a long-term experiment? Put it up in a small container and hope there's no problems until the shuttle comes to get it, or that the shuttle doesn't have a delay?

A space habitiat of this nature is useful because of the ability to handle things for the long term. Someone else pointed out the old 'can't go to space long term because we don't know what happens to the human body'/'don't know what happens to the body long term in space because we don't go there' circular argument. That's just one of them.

So you reject my high-minded argument that eventually, the world as we know it will end and all that Humanity has meant will be lost. Try this one:

We've got an entire solar system of wonders out there. On the pure exploitation level, we have the asteroid belt for metals and the gas planets for hydrocarbons,. On that sort of level, isn't a reasonably permanent manned station that can be used as a jumping-off point a good thing to have? Sure, obtaining those things could be 50 years down the line, but if we put off the space station 10 years, that's 60 years down the line. Add in things that possibly can only be manufactured in space - perfect ball bearings, just as an example - and having a manufacturing wing up there sounds like a good idea.

At least to me.

[ Parent ]
Please think about this some more (3.85 / 7) (#81)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:35:51 PM EST

Sure, the things you mention might someday be possible, and someday I might even agree with you. Considering the costs, however, I don't think that right now (or in the next ten years even) that a project like ISS makes any sense. It is too expensive to get people into orbit right now. It takes too much space and energy to keep them alive. And it is hideously expensive to get them home in one piece. That's why I and many other people have argued in this piece that NASA has its priorities screwed up. Spend the money first on figuring out how to get into orbit cheaply. That is the only possible way your ball bearing (indeed, any type of manufacturing) factory in orbit will ever work. There is no conceivable benefit to making ball bearings in orbit, given the current costs. There is no terrestrial application where it makes any sense. Why do I say this with such conviction? Because no company does it now. It just costs too much; if it didn't, don't you think SOMEONE would be doing it? The almighty buck would prevail.

Ditto for mining the moon, the asteroid belt, and the gas giants. Ditto for living on the moon. Ditto for interplanetary travel. It just can't be done for reasonable cost yet. And the ISS will get us no closer to any of those goals. THAT is why I think it is a huge waste of time and money. If THOSE things are really your goals, you should be agreeing with me, because ISS is the number one program sucking funds from research into making THOSE THINGS fiscally possible.

Just take this example: It is projected that putting a few people on Mars with current technology would cost between 200 BILLION and 2 TRILLION dollars. If we started now. And that is only if you want a "reasonable" chance of them getting home. If you want to be "pretty sure" that they get home ALIVE it will cost more. There is no way that Congress will pay for that. No f**king way.

The dominant cost is, of course, launch costs. About 10,000 bucks a pound, assuming you have no infrastructure to produce (which of course would only add to the costs above). And to launch such a huge mission, we would have to build more infrastructure. A lot of it. To get there, you have to pay to get the equipment off the ground, and land on Mars in one piece, and take off again. And you have to take everything -- all your food, fuel, equipment, emergency supplies, spare parts, everything -- with you from a standing start on the Earth. And nothing that doesn't have spare parts can break down. Nothing. This is not something that can be done today. And at the conclusion of the ISS project, what will we have that will permit this to be done? Almost nothing (I concede that we MIGHT learn something about what makes people lose physical conditioning while in microgravity...but we already know how to build a craft that supplies an artificial form of gravity, so that really isn't as big a problem as NASA makes it out to be. It is really only a problem because NASA couldn't afford to build a craft large enough with any conceivable budgeted expenditure).

But assume we spend the money we are wasting on ISS to fund research that allows us to reduce launch costs, build stronger and lighter materials, develop better life support systems, and study the interactions of crew members who are confined to a restricted area over long periods of time. All of these are things that "might" be possible to do on ISS. But these things DO NOT have to be done in orbit. So, why not do them on the ground, now, where it is relatively cheap to do them, rather than in orbit, where it costs millions of dollars a day to build operate and support the necessary infrastructure. There is precious little of this research that must be done on a horrifically expensive orbitting debris target.

Lest you think otherwise that I disagree with your intentions, let me say that I am fully in support of the space program, the continuation of space research, a permanent orbiting station, and colonization of the planets. But, I think that the way it is currently being persued via STS/ISS when better, cheaper alternatives exist that in the long run will lead to these goals being realized faster and safer, is not only stupid and wasteful, almost criminally moronic. After all, NASA's mission should be to get the most out of every dollar it is getting, and right now I think that NASA is very nearly doing the exact opposite of that.

[ Parent ]

Its all about risks... (4.60 / 5) (#87)
by Sanfam on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:20:51 PM EST

You seem pretty sure that nothing will ever possibly come out of the ISS. I think that is the primary fault in your arument. The problem with these kinds of things is that they are risky. In one situation, you may get nothing at all, but in another situation, you may do so much more than could be imagined. Now, you speak of the high costs of sending materials to orbit, but what might come out of such a station is a new propulsion system, or a new method of making fuel that would lower the loaded weight of the shuttle. Hell, it could even allow for a cure for cancer to be developed. It really cannot be seen what will happen, making it a huge risk, but risk is what is required to do these things, and if we had not taken these strides in the past, we would not have much of what we have today. I say we take the chance and do this while we can. If it fails, it fails, and we learn a lesson from it. --Sanfam

[ Parent ]
The risk not taken... (none / 0) (#111)
by krlynch on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:39:56 PM EST

but risk is what is required to do these things,

I agree that risks need to be taken in pursuing scientific results. I can see how you might think I disagreed with risk taking from what I wrote before. I don't. Risks are necessary to make progress.

However, you have to measure the risk of failure (ie the cost, whether financial, reputational, etc) against the possible returns. I agree that you can't measure either of these things perfectly (you can't measure the risk completely ahead of time, and if you already knew everything there was to know about what was going to come out of the endeavor, you wouldn't need to do it!). BUT, you can make a pretty good estimate when you know what you are talking about and have background in the field. You have to compare the probable returns (not just the possible returns!) of a risky endeavor with the probably costs, as well as (and here is what I think my central point is! :-) all other ways of approaching the same problem.

In other words, you have to consider what your goals are, articulate them carefully and fully (which hasn't been done for ISS), find the different ways to achieve those goals (which HAS been done by ISS, if not by NASA by others), and compare the costs and risks associated with each approach, and choose the most cost effective path to those goals. That is the crux of the problem in my mind with ISS. For (almost) every single goal that can be articulated for ISS, the experts in that subfield will tell you that there is a cheaper alternative for doing the same research on the ground that has a MUCH higher probability of success.

And that's the problem. We MIGHT discover a cure for cancer on the ISS, but the odds are much more in favor of doing so on the ground in NIH and academic labs, and with a substantially reduced cost. The problem is that ISS sucks money from other worthy goals within NASA, SLOWING overall scientific progress, because there is such a fantastically miniscule probability of anything relevant coming from the station. And for the very few things that can ONLY be done on a space station, the need for those things is almost exclusively for future space travel that can't actually be accomplished now (such as a mission to Mars). As an example, I give again the effects of weightlessness on the human body. Yes, this will be very very important if we ever send anyone to Mars, but the probability that any relevant information will come out of this research that will be useful on earth is remote and miniscule. The idea that it will be useful for geriatric research is noble, but the same research can be done terrestrially with the same money, and WITHOUT the tremendous overhead of launch costs.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that with ISS, NASA has an expensive solution to problems that don't exist or can be solved faster/better/cheaper/sooner on earth, while simultaneously sucking funds from programs that have a better chance of returning on the investment. If we had unlimited funds or it was probable that ISS would give us something useful, I'd be the first in line to support it. But since we have finite resources, we have to be careful to spend them where we get the biggest bang for the buck...and ISS isn't it.

Despite the fact that we disagree, thanks for the discussion...it's really helped me articulate (although poorly :-) my position and made me think more about the opposing ideals.

[ Parent ]

Here's the problem (none / 0) (#147)
by kmon on Thu May 03, 2001 at 08:35:27 PM EST

Sure, the things you mention might someday be possible, and someday I might even agree with you. Considering the costs, however, I don't think that right now (or in the next ten years even) that a project like ISS makes any sense. It is too expensive to get people into orbit right now.

The problem is this: 10 years ago, people said what you're saying now. 10 years from now, people will be saying what you say now. The same goes for 20, 30, 40 and 50 (and so on) years from now. If we don't step up the the plate and do it, it will never happen. The research won't be done, because it costs too much, and it will continue to cost too much because the research will not have been done. 32 years ago we went to the moon. Then we stopped.

In 1969, it cost each American citizen about $1 to send a man to the moon. As for launch costs, it just goes to show that we shouldn't have scrapped the x33. But it just costs too much to lower launch costs. In my opinion, a concerted effort by NASA would have been the best way to lower launch costs, but I believe that Lockheed-Martin is continuing with somwething like the x33 design to be used in private craft, so maybe you're right. The almighty dollar may prevail. Somehow, though, I doubt it.
ad hoc, ad hominem, ad infinitum!
[ Parent ]
Sinclair's "Buddy Holly" Speech (3.00 / 2) (#99)
by DonWallace on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:25:43 AM EST

Any faithful follower of the B5 story arc knows that the time range for the sun's extinction stated in this quote from the episode Infection does not conform to the current understanding of the sun's lifetime. The "million years" upper range is said to be explained in one of the B5 novels as the result of sabotage of the earth's sun by the Minbari... An inspiring speech, but rooted in fiction. As far as "real science" is concerned, supernova or red dwarf phases are billions of years away.

[ Parent ]
Yes, but... (4.50 / 2) (#100)
by magney on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:58:18 AM EST

...in the B5 storyline, humanity already has the technological capacity to colonize elsewhere than the Sol system - we just need the resources and will. In the real world and present day, we have no jumpgates, no jump drives, and no good reason to believe such things can exist. The five-billion-year deadline we face in the real world is, at this present moment, almost as pressing as the million-year one humanity faces in the B5 universe.

Do I look like I speak for my employer?
[ Parent ]

The point's still valid. (3.00 / 1) (#108)
by Phil Gregory on Tue May 01, 2001 at 12:31:59 PM EST

In the Babylon 5 universe, the sun did die sooner than expected, and it was probably because of some sort of sabotage. That was in Sinclair's future, however, and his statement stands unaffected by any later events. Eventually, the sun will die, whether it be in a million years of 5 billion. Perhaps the Earth will be rendered uninhabitable well before that. We could pollute it or damage the ecosystem beyond repair. An asteroid could sneak up on us and wipe out most of the life on Earth. We don't know what the future holds. All we know is that eventually, maybe later than sooner, maybe not, we won't be able to survive on Earth any more. At that point, we will have to either be able to live elsewhere or die out.

For that reason, we need to work now on getting ourselves off this rock. Now may be all we have.



--Phil (Sometimes fiction is just another way of looking at real life.)
355/113 -- Not the famous irrational number PI, but an incredible simulation!
[ Parent ]
To quote another SF author (none / 0) (#127)
by questor on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:27:43 PM EST

The earth is too small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in. -- Robert A. Heinlein, as quoted in Niven and Pournelle's
    Lucifer's Hammer


[ Parent ]
Point, but... (none / 0) (#146)
by viqsi on Thu May 03, 2001 at 07:35:16 PM EST

Your hard drive is most likely guaranteed to remain operational for a good long time, yes? But there's still always the chance of abrupt failure, or maybe the computer falls over and shocks the hard drive, or some other potential catastrophe that destroys all your data.

That's why you do regular backups, yes?

Why not have a spare option for our living environment just in case something happens such that the Earth becomes uninhabitable to us? It doesn't have to be a man-made castastrophe either - remember that oxygen used to be essentially a poison.


-- Of course, I don't know how interesting any of this really is, but now you've got it in your brain cells so you're stuck with it. --Gary Larson
[ Parent ]
Drivel (2.53 / 15) (#53)
by mortaous on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 11:52:52 AM EST

This was written by an American school kid, I hope. This is the sort of bs that makes most people sigh and shake their heads.
<br>
When will Americans grow up, join the rest of the world, and stop waving those stupid flags?
<br>
ISS is not just about getting several tonnes of metal into orbit. Its about what goes on on the ground, its about international relations. Something that the US fails at at very possible turn. Why cant u guys play nice?
<br>
Dennis Tito can only be good for space exploration. Why? Because everyone is talking about it, every news site has an article on it.
-- Existence is Futile
Re:Drivel (3.85 / 7) (#55)
by Ratnik on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:08:21 PM EST

< When will Americans grow up, join the rest of the world, and stop waving those stupid flags?

When the rest of you do.

< Why cant u guys play nice?

We own the ball :) </p>

[ Parent ]
Re:Drivel (4.00 / 2) (#95)
by camadas on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:12:03 PM EST

We own the ball :)
You think you own the ball, the field, the players and the TV transmission rights.

[ Parent ]
RE:Drivel (4.14 / 7) (#64)
by PlutoniumHigh on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:19:04 PM EST

When will Americans grow up, join the rest of the world, and stop waving those stupid flags?

Just because one person writes a biased article on how bad the ISS is, don't write off all Americans. Not everyone agrees with this opinion piece. I for one don't agree that it should be scrapped, but I do understand that the US is issuing a lot of manpower and money into this project. With the ammount resouces involved, it it is simple enough to say some will like the project and others won't. Can you say that the entire populations of Russia, Japan and Canada all support the ISS project unequivocally?

ISS is not just about getting several tonnes of metal into orbit. Its about what goes on on the ground, its about international relations. Something that the US fails at at very possible turn. Why cant u guys play nice?

I totally agree with you. Scientific experements matter little when it comes to the ISS. I think it is more of an experement to see if different cultures can work together on one international project and do it well. But, once again you attempt to blame all of the failings on the US. How fair is that? Like I stated above, the US has a greater ammout of resources involved in the ISS. It would be worse to look at this project and not have any objections to it.

Dennis Tito can only be good for space exploration. Why? Because everyone is talking about it, every news site has an article on it.

I agree with the decision that allowed Tito to travel to the ISS. It shows that space exploration has the possiblity to be open to the general public of the world in the future. It also renews public interest in space programs. It can be nothing but good PR as long as everything goes well.

[ Parent ]
When will Americans grow up (2.71 / 7) (#73)
by funwithmazers on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 04:11:36 PM EST

When you realize that "u" is spelled you. Good job, troll.

[ Parent ]
Inferiority complex? (2.00 / 6) (#92)
by Knight on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:28:05 PM EST

I'm just sick of all the penis envy that people from other countries have for the US. Granted, it's probably just a vocal minority, but give it up. If you have a problem with something the US is doing, grow a backbone and do something about it. Whining on weblogs isn't going to get you anywhere as long as your political leaders are pandering to everything the US wishes. America is a screwed up place, to be sure, but our standard of living is the highest in the world, and as long as we are comfortable, there is no motive for change. We are what we are, and whining about it is so much futility. If you don't like our role in international politics, replace us. Just stop your goddamn crying every time the US does something you don't like.

[ Parent ]
Highest standard of living in the world? (3.80 / 5) (#103)
by deaddrunk on Tue May 01, 2001 at 08:25:05 AM EST

When 45 million of you don't have access to basic healthcare. Sure you've got more billionaires than everyone else, but you've also got more people living in poverty than any other country in the first world.

I doubt Americans are comfortable with their political system, given that a large percentage didn't even bother to vote. They are probably convinced that nothing changes whether you vote Democrat or Republican and exercised their right accordingly. Feel free to correct me if my analysis of your political system is wrong in any way.



[ Parent ]
Where you are wrong. (3.00 / 2) (#116)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue May 01, 2001 at 07:47:21 PM EST

Since you invited:
They are probably convinced that nothing changes whether you vote Democrat or Republican and exercised their right accordingly.
No one is convinced that nothing changes. Plenty of stuff changes, a good deal of it for the worse some for the better. It is just that the ratio (as percieved by the public at large) is about the same regardless of which half of the Dempublicans one votes for. Perhaps that is what you meant.


[ Parent ]
Nothing changes (2.00 / 1) (#121)
by deaddrunk on Wed May 02, 2001 at 07:45:52 AM EST

In the sense that it will still be the cozying up to corporations, tax cuts for the rich and blaming the poor for being poor.

[ Parent ]
Isn't that Kuait? (5.00 / 1) (#138)
by pflores10 on Thu May 03, 2001 at 10:52:25 AM EST

I thought Kuait had the highest standard of living in the world, certainly not the US.

[ Parent ]
U.S. Voted Out of U.N. Human Rights Group (none / 0) (#145)
by VogonPoet on Thu May 03, 2001 at 07:31:04 PM EST

Regarding your comment, "If you don't like our role in international politics, replace us!". Well it seems like your 'advice' is actualy starting to be taken seriously! Take a look at this Asociated Press news article : U.S. Voted Out of U.N. Human Rights Group

[ Parent ]
Good point (none / 0) (#163)
by Knight on Tue May 08, 2001 at 06:48:06 PM EST

This happened after I made the comment, but you make a great point. I'm a US citizen, but maybe the US shouldn't be on that panel. I'm a bit concerned about the reasons that it was voted off the panel, as it appears that the countries that did so are even worse than the US with regard to human rights, but we'll see. I think it's more interesting that the US was voted off of the Drug panel, as we have the worst drug policy in the Western world. It's about time that some other countries stood up against draconian substance policy.

[ Parent ]
Really, it's just Russia (3.40 / 5) (#96)
by Vann on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:31:39 PM EST

I want the ISS to succeed. I want there to be civilians in space, too. But, Russia crossed the line on this one. Continually asking for more funding from NASA is one thing, since it is directly applicable to getting this thing finished sooner. However, when Russia decides, against the will of not just the US, but of Canada and the ESA as well, to put a civilian in orbit, it upsets me. This is about international relations. This is about cooperation. Russia is failing on both accounts, not the US, Canada, or Europe.
____________
Sex is tedious all year except on Arbor Day. -- Rusty
[ Parent ]
huh? (none / 0) (#168)
by rgrow on Sun May 13, 2001 at 03:46:13 AM EST

In what way are we not playing nice here? I don't know the details, but I think it's safe to assume that we're paying for the largest share of the ISS. And the Europeans and Russians are getting to use it. The rest of the world seems to think that the U.S. is a cash cow which owes them something. What has the rest of the world ever done for us? American taxpayers fund the majority of the U.N., which probably does us and our interests more harm than good. We sacrificed huge amounts of money and our own young people to extricate Europe from two disastrous wars which we had nothing to do with. We fund the defense of half the world and make all the two-bit bullies play nice. Yet we are vilified on all sides. We give, and we give, and we give, and we get nothing in return but spit in the face. What if we actually reverted to "isolationism", built defenses for our own borders, and minded our own business, letting the uncivilized beasts in the rest of the world enslave and murder each other while we went about our business of creating things to trade with one another. How would the world feel then? The simple fact is, apart from oil, you need us more than we need you. How about you say thanks for all we've done for you?

[ Parent ]
Can't we just finish one big-ticket project? (4.45 / 11) (#57)
by weirdling on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 12:16:05 PM EST

Arguments like these led to the closing of the super-collider, which could have been a huge boon to the scientific community. I'd just like to see the US finish one big-ticket science project no matter how mismanaged, because the thing is worth *something*, although its worth is not now known. Try to justify a super-collider to your average person and you know what I mean.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
I think you've missed one (4.05 / 17) (#62)
by krlynch on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 01:01:16 PM EST

I think one of the major reasons for killing ISS is that no one, from NASA on down, can actually point to a clearly articulated list of scientific/technical/political/public relations goals that a priori justifies the existence of the program. There are many lists of things that might/can be done with ISS, but no list of goals that were written down ahead of time, that have guided the program, and that, when the program ends, can be turned to to answer the question: "Did we achieve what we set out to achieve?" Programs are supposed to justify themselves by how they are meeting the goals set out for them BEFORE they are funded, not whether you can find goals that the program might be meeting or might meet later.

I think this is an important point that should be explored some more: what is the point of the ISS? Is it an employment program? Is it corporate welfare? Is it science? Is it an excuse to give NASA a reason for being? Is it to garner public support for space funding? Is it some or all of the above? Is it meeting, or does it have the chance of meeting any of those goals in the future?

I like to compare the ISS mess to the way other organizations go about funding projects. Why was the SSC killed? Because it wasn't meeting the goals it set out to meet ahead of time with the money that was requested. It balloned out of control, and died a mercifully quick death. And I'm a particle physicist who supported its death.

Think about the B2 bomber program. This is an example of an ISS like boondoggle. The Air Force doesn't want it, because it costs too much, taking money away from other programs they consider more important, and with the fall of the Soviet Union, it has no mission to fulfill that can't be done better and more cheaply by other systems. Yet it keeps getting funded by Congress because it employs people in certain important districts. Does that justify spending the money? I don't think so.

Think about the downsizing of the military, and how the Army and Marine Corp fared. The decision was made at the end of the Cold War that the armed forces of the US no longer needed to be as large as they were, and the DOD was instructed to figure out how to cut the forces to smaller levels that could still perform the missions required by the National Command Authorities. A list of needs and missions was drawn up, and then the DOD went about determining how those missions could best be performed. And as a result, the Army, Air Force and Navy were substantially cut, while the Marine Corp came through almost unscathed. A list of goals was determined and the outcome was determined by those goals, not the other way around.

There are many similar examples, and they all come down to this: "Is the program fulfilling a set of goals, or is the program in search of a set of goals to fulfill?" And I think from what I've read, heard, and seen, the ISS certainly falls into the latter category. And those programs are, in my opinion, the ones that are unjustifiable.

Can't help it... (2.19 / 26) (#68)
by chewie on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 02:24:10 PM EST

Perhaps a bit off topic from this article, but on a related vein: I just can't place a whole lot of faith in an organization that uses Windows as it's operating system of choice. Uptime on a Windows machine is laughable. Everyone in the IT world knows that if you want a server, you install a UNIX-like operating system. You install an operating system that can be run headless (without a video card). You install an operating system that does its job and nothing else.

The Windows line of OS'es are so bloated with unnecessary code and software that it's amazing that it even runs with what little stability it does have.

I seriously think that organization who decides to "standardize" on Windows is being run by a management team that doesn't know how to take advantage of its technical staff. It's being run by a management team that sees the marketing and advertisement that M$ puts outs and bites on it, hook, line, and sinker.

I'm sorely disappointed in NASA for this mistake.


assert(expired(knowledge)); /* core dump */
Ugh (4.57 / 7) (#78)
by delmoi on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:07:05 PM EST

These guys aren't serving for an 90,000 node WAN up there, just a small workgroup server. Windows NT4 or 2k would work just fine, and have a comparable uptime with a Linux box. I mean, it's not like the controller logic for the space-station itself is running windows, just the data-collection machines.

Uptime on a Windows machine is laughable

Yeh, maybe if you're running windows 3.1 or 9x. But their not. I can't believe such a bigoted, uneducated post got modded so high.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Bigoted, yes. Uneducated, no. (1.25 / 4) (#114)
by chewie on Tue May 01, 2001 at 03:43:53 PM EST

Oh, I'm the first to admin that I'm an OS bigot. Anyone who knows me knows the disdain I have for anything Micro$oft. Being a bigot, however, does not automatically qualify me as uneducated. Statements such as yours have only one purpose, to elicit a reflexive defense of ones' credentials.

I will indulge your challenge. I've had my fair share of experience in administrating, supporting, and using Windoze machines. My biased comment comes from years of headaches and disappointments in production environments. If I cannot find acceptable performance of a Windoze solution in the years that I used it, I don't see how we can expect NASA to see any better.

A reminder to you, this is an opinion forum. People have opinions. Opinions are subjective to the point of view by the person making them. IMHO, if I get rated high for my comment, the obviously other people agree with my opinion.

Regardless, thanks for your constructive (?) input.


assert(expired(knowledge)); /* core dump */
[ Parent ]
BS (3.00 / 1) (#141)
by knick on Thu May 03, 2001 at 11:04:20 AM EST

If I cannot find acceptable performance of a Windoze solution in the years that I used it, I don't see how we can expect NASA to see any better.

If I can't do it, nobody can.

Boy oh boy, you really made your case for being an expert there.

--knick
-- sig's are for sissies --
[ Parent ]

Sloppy (2.33 / 3) (#109)
by skinsfan44 on Tue May 01, 2001 at 01:17:44 PM EST

You might feel more comfortable at Slashdot... where Microsoft bashing with little basis is appreciated and encouraged.

[ Parent ]
Get a life. [nt] (4.00 / 1) (#151)
by Randlaeufer on Fri May 04, 2001 at 12:58:42 PM EST

[nt]

[ Parent ]
Overreacting just a tad.. (none / 0) (#164)
by collar on Wed May 09, 2001 at 12:55:10 PM EST

They aren't using windows for any of the vitally important systems. It's not Win ME is responsible for co-ordinating re-entry ;) If they used windows for any of the important systems, I could see the problem (hell, if they used a standard version of linux I would be worried too).

Windows is being used as a desktop OS for the astronauts and they probably have an NT file server as well. Contrary to MS bashers standard flame material, an NT file server with standard hardware that is well set up is more than stable for a file serving application.

They run a few MS products, MS gives them some money in exchange, sounds like a decent deal to me.


.sig?
[ Parent ]
Can you put a price on the future? (3.66 / 6) (#75)
by pflores10 on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 04:42:47 PM EST

Recent events in the US financial markets have proven one thing extreamly well: Nobody can tell the future. What is the point of limiting our collective options? What is the point of taking away one more symbol of our ability to dream about what smaller minded men (and women) consider 'impossible'? I say, for every 10 'average' people who don't see any purpose for us being in space, there is at least 1 exceptional person who can't see any reason for us NOT to be there, and indeed, could not concieve of a reason for us not to continue to press forward. When progress stops,(technological, social, or otherwise) all of us suffer, for it limits the options for our future abilitys. For the rest, I can only say, people need role models and heros to inspire them, to bring out the very best in all of us!. It may not be the 'governments' job to produce them, or pay them, but is it the will of the people that we support them? I think yes! Why else do we invent heros on a regular basis in Hollywood? So much the better if they are real!

Wow! (3.50 / 2) (#130)
by ubu on Wed May 02, 2001 at 04:26:08 PM EST

When you put it that way, I guess we can justify just about any amount of money. I say we double taxes INSTANTLY to support the ISS. You just can't put a price on the future.

Oh, wait, I just thought of something: you can put a price on government's tendency to spend your money on its future...

Ubu


--
As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Chuckle (none / 0) (#136)
by pflores10 on Thu May 03, 2001 at 10:46:37 AM EST

Well, you can justify a lot. Hopefully, your justifictions are tempered with something that is definitly misnamed these days: Common Sense.

[ Parent ]
ba ha ha. (1.90 / 11) (#76)
by xmutex on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:01:54 PM EST

you said "mismanaged boondoggle". how long did you spend on that one phrase? man, lame.

bullet the blue sky

Money. (3.16 / 6) (#84)
by nickco on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:08:54 PM EST

Yes, how dare the government of the U.S. spend the taxpayer's hard earned dollar on things like sending men to space. Why, there's not enough weapons of mass destruction! We need more bombs that can crack the earth's crust!

Excuse me, I'd much rather see the ability to travel to space opened up to anyone that can afford it.<br<br> I like how the writer implies that the government gives a damn what the common citizen thinks. No, they are too busy taking away our freedom to care.

BULL; many many things being learned in micro-g (4.72 / 11) (#85)
by refulgence on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:10:22 PM EST

As a former intern with the National Center for Microgravity Research at NASA Glenn, I can say that there is no lack of scientists dying to put their experiment into a sustained micro-g environment. Research in this area has the potential to develop cleaner-burning fuels and studies in capillary action and heat transfer, some of which could potentially be used to cool microprocessors. There has also been an enormous (and recent) breakthrough in cataract and potentially alzheimer's detection discovered through micro-g protein aglomeration. Here is an article I wrote on the subject.

Luke


______________________________________________
"Disgust is the appropriate response to most situations."  JennyHolzer
An interesting article... (none / 0) (#134)
by claudius on Thu May 03, 2001 at 02:01:36 AM EST

...though, with all due respect, it falls far short of being a convincing endorsement for microgravity research on ISS/Alpha. Just because one scientist involved in microgravity research has applied a technique he uses in microgravity research to an unrelated field doesn't mean that the developments couldn't have occurred equally well without microgravity research. Who's to know whether a few extra research dollars spent on cataract research wouldn't have resulted in the same results at a much cheaper cost. (Justifying the ISS based on these results means one could just as easily argue for a $50 billion budget for cataract research in order to impact microgravity research).

Frankly, I'm tired of hearing the phrase "research in this field has the potential for..." attached to programs that suck dry programs where phrases such as "research in this field will lead to...." apply. (As a professional scientist at one of the U.S. laboratories I've had ample opportunity to observe firsthand this happening). We've had decades of high quality microgravity with STS, and I challenge you to find any field of science that has seen significant advances as a result of the STS microgravity environment. By this, I mean research that could not have occurred more cheaply and easily without such a facility. (Long-term affects of zero-G on biological systems is the one field I can anticipate, however, as I mentioned in the article, with no compelling follow-up mission I do not see how this research alone can possiblly justify the expense of the ISS). NASA, under the current administration, is operating in a zero-sum game. All ISS cost overruns have been mandated to be handled "in-house." As a consequence, every $1B shuttle launch means that a handfull of unmanned research efforts will be scrapped, and alternative, cheap launch capabilities will be marginalized. If we choose to ignore economics when evaluating science projects, then we'll be forever constrained to look at color glossy prints of missions that will never be launched because the budget simply cannot accommodate such missions. The rest of the world cares about the economics of programs such as the ISS, since it's their paychecks that ultimately foot the bill. Pie-in-the-sky dreaming about space colonization while igornig fiscal realities is a far cry from coming up with a coherent plan to get us there.

As commented in other threads, If we want accessible space travel, then we must start with cheap launch capability. Without this, humans can expect no long-term presence in space beyond low earth orbit. With this, all other programs, such as evaluating long-term affects on biological systems in microgravity, become not only economically feasible, but also compelling, in that they lead naturally to the attainable goal of human space travel outside LEO. Get us up there for $100 a kilo, and we'll be colonizing the solar system within 30 years. Keep the cost at $20k / kilo, and any missions we launch will be little more than "flag planting" photo-ops.

[ Parent ]
Overreaction in the extreme (3.33 / 6) (#90)
by rjf on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 08:04:32 PM EST

No. That is an overreaction, completely. Tito trained many, many hours. He is more than qualified to deal with most of the possible scenario's aboard the station. To say that the US should terminate involvement with the ISS is pretty silly. It's not a big deal, but as usual the press has seized upon this story to make a big deal out of nothing. The hard science and space opportunity ISS affords the US and partner nations far, far outweighs the temporary presence of a civilian (again, who is quite well trained and qualified to be there). rjf&

yeah, who started this nonsense anyway ? (4.11 / 9) (#93)
by camadas on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 10:05:45 PM EST

Who was the first to do a publicity stunt sending a former astronaut to space again just to add interest to space program ?

Karma (3.62 / 8) (#104)
by davidmb on Tue May 01, 2001 at 08:39:33 AM EST

Since the US refuses to play with the rest of the world on environmental issues (esp. Kyoto), they should at least be doing most of the work on how we actually leave this planet once they screw it up. 85% of the ISS budget sounds about right.
־‮־
missile proliferation (a subcontinental view) (4.00 / 6) (#106)
by fockewulf on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:23:24 AM EST

a couple of things from an indian perspective..
russia was to transfer technology for cyrogenic engines and not ICBMs. since the cryogenic engine fuelling takes two days to complete, it's no use for a missile. iirc the two competing companied were glavkosmos of erstwhile ussr and general dynamics. since ISRO (which is the indian equivalent of NASA) chose glavkosmos, the bush (sr) administration cited MTCR and put pressure on russia to cancel the sale. eventually the sale was reduced to transfer of 3 engines and no technology.
after the successful launch of the geostationary vehicle recently and ongoing development at ISRO, india may not need to buy the engine technology.

the second point being both india and pakistan already posses intermediate range ballistic missiles and both have fairly advanced missile development programs. in fact it is known that china transferred missile technology to pakistan, but we don't hear of any sanctions or mention of MTCR.

as far as tenseness in the region goes, there's occasional sabre rattling from both the sides and is usually resolved without any serious repercussions apart from the odd border skirmish which is regrettable.


it has been said before, but i think why ISS should continue is, though we might not go to Mars, we could think of space colonies of some sort in the future and this could provide the necessary data. i could be way off track but
what's the point if we don't dream !!!

just my 0.02$


Tourists vs Scientists (4.00 / 7) (#107)
by moscow on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:29:50 AM EST

NASA's actions here are a beautiful example of the tension between scientists and tourists, which is most well known in Antarcica. The similarities between NASA's arguments and those common in the US Antarctiv Research Program are remarkable.
  • This is a place for science - which is extended to mean "only for science" and thereby only for scientists.
  • Money that could be spent on science (scientists) is being "wasted" on people who have no good reason to be there.
  • It's "not safe" for anyone who isn't properly trained.
If I was a professional scientist with access to Antarctica or space I'd be perfectly happy to employ those arguments to secure my splendid isolation from daytrippers and fools. However, as I'm more likely to become a millionare than to publish a paper on astrophysics, I have to hope that we can find a compromise which lets at least some of us get out there for an amateur's look around. The budgets of governmental space organisations (NASA, ESA etc) are dependent - at least to some extent - on the goodwill of their populace. If their activities increase the chances for us as individuals to get into space they will have more support than when they are "merely" working for the future of the race.

Your points (none / 0) (#135)
by Peeteriz on Thu May 03, 2001 at 06:25:16 AM EST

"Money that could be spent on science (scientists) is being "wasted" " - Money is geing gained, not wasted. Allowing Tito on board was enough to finance 2 launches to ISS.

"It's "not safe" for anyone who isn't properly trained" - Tito has completed the full training/testing that 'ordinary' Russian astronauts have, and did it pretty well. If anybody knows about training for a space station, it would be Russia.

Tito flying there benefits the ISS, as Russia's space program would probably delay ISS' comnpletion a lot without this money.


[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#137)
by pflores10 on Thu May 03, 2001 at 10:50:13 AM EST

So basicly, you agree with everything he said...

[ Parent ]
agreement (none / 0) (#144)
by khallow on Thu May 03, 2001 at 06:14:48 PM EST

So basicly, you agree with everything he said...

But in a most vigorous way! Reminds me of the good old days. :)


Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Chuckle (none / 0) (#150)
by pflores10 on Fri May 04, 2001 at 11:35:37 AM EST

Oh, VIOLENT Agreement! I have those types of 'discussions' all the time :>

[ Parent ]
Can you say "horse shit?" (4.54 / 11) (#113)
by trhurler on Tue May 01, 2001 at 02:38:35 PM EST

I thought you could.

Dennis Tito is as safe up there as those "professionals." The cost to have him there is fairly minimal. He just gave the Russians an extra 14% of their annual space budget; his payment covered the mission he flew on and another just like it.

There are two reasons NASA objected. First off, the minor one: Tito's presence does slow down construction work a bit. However, it is already well ahead of schedule, not counting the Russians' two year delay due to lack of funding(think about that one for a moment,) so this isn't a big deal.

The BIG reason, though, is professional arrogance. "We're badasses, and we're the only ones who can do this, and no mere mortal can come into OUR realm!" Well, guess what? That's a load of ferret feces. The fact is, the ISS, which NASA likes to describe as the world's most complex and expensive construction site, is designed such that a crew of clever high school kids could man it, if absolutely necessary. Certainly, adding Dennis Tito to a mix of professionals for a week isn't going to hurt anything, and it greatly enhances Russia's space program's financial viability - which should be reason enough to do it without any other arguments being raised, given previous problems that financial situation has caused.

The Russians should start taking tourists on each and every six-month Soyez launch, but they should agree to split the profits. The profits are the payment minus ten million dollars. They should be split among the major partners to defray costs and alleviate budget overruns. One week lost every six months, even if it were a total loss, which it is far from, is no big deal compared to the benefits in finance and, more importantly, PR. Scientists cannot expect the public to fund their work forever without anything coming of it for anyone but a few Air Force colonels. All that really stands in the way is scientific arrogance and bureaucratic turf warriors. Screw that crap. Send more tourists!

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

what?! (3.00 / 5) (#119)
by Prophet themusicgod1 on Tue May 01, 2001 at 09:53:10 PM EST

did you just suggest that we dont need more knowlege and technological advances...however inconcequencial?! we wilL ALWAYS need mroe knowlege and more technological advances nomatter what bizarre lenghts we have to go to accomplish them! this could lead to a greater revolution than you could ever achieve on earth! not to mention this is another step before making a permenent space station as seen in such movies as 2001: A space oddeasey(sp?)...which i think is one of the most important goals in humankind's current range!! we are going to need an in space docking, repair, medical center eventually, and this is likely going to lead to this! why is it that you cannot imagine the MANY benifits of the ISS ? arg!
"I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
good post, but some important points (4.00 / 2) (#142)
by pavonis on Thu May 03, 2001 at 03:38:01 PM EST

This was in general well-put, if somewhat exaggerated. Some notes:

It is something of an exaggeration to suggest that Russia 'violated covenant' in sending Dennis Tito up. Neither the ISS project nor NASA had established any protocol about safety, training or purpose-related rules regarding what any member nation could do with its seats; NASA has been invited, repeatedly, to establish rules if it so desires. They have to date declined, though there is word that they are now considering such protocols, even as they make as-yet unsubstantiated accusations at Tito. NASA refused Tito training, though with the exception of NASA sims he has undergone as much training as some of NASA's own, previous space tourists.

As far as Russia's use of American resources, you've been buying a little too much coming out of NASA PAO. These claims were all quite vague and have never really been substantiated on any important point. While neither RASA nor NASA have been marvels of diplomatic conduct, Russia's real break with 'the covenant' has come because they simply no longer have the money and the organizational wherewithal to go ahead with a project this size. This is less a question of blame, then, than of ways of coping with a problem.

But the Russian contributions to the station are now largely done! At this point our ability to penalize them or renegotiate deals is quite limited; most of their work is complete or near-completion. The only major elements they have left to send in the near-term are the Science Power Platform, and some docking connectors, both of which are to my knowledge under control. In 2005 the first Russian lab module is supposed to go up- but on that timescale, there's a great deal more uncertainty about the station than just Russia's contribution.

Budget cuts back home already have NASA bailing out of as many parts of the station as possible. Congress said last session, in essence, that there would be no more money for budget overruns on major NASA programs. In the ISS context, the US Hab module has been cut, leaving us with a 3-person crew unless some kind of patch is found (NASA is trying to sell the Italians on the project right now.) We may also lose the crew return vehicle, depending on whether any alternative considered safe can be worked out, and a lot of more minor points that contribute to the long-term economic-ness and utility of the space station are, at least for now, on the scrap heap. Not to mention NASA doesn't know what they're going to do with the shuttle; I am very skeptical that we have 20 more years of shuttle lifetime ahead of us, but the X-33 debacle is entirely down the tubes. There's not a hell of a lot left to cut back unless the program is scrapped entirely.

What NASA should do is privatize out as many station functions as possible, set a minimum level of acceptable functionality, spend whatever they need to to get to that level as quickly as possible, and then bail from the remaining elements. The program was a mistake from the get-go, but dropping out now would spoil NASA's credibility with every foreign agency, most aerospace contractors, Congress, and US citizens, and leave them liable to lawsuits from the first two.

The problem with ISS, both as 'technology-research-on-the-ground' and 'science-research-in-space', is that it was a poorly focused program from the beginning. NASA is an enormous organization with a huge number of goals, an astounding amount of beaureacracy, and (as you said) a lot of political footballs getting grabbed. It can only be really successful if managed quite carefully. NASA projects should fall into two groups.

One is small technology research programs, funded as simple R&D on the ground, which when they reach the point of flight-readiness, get minimally-expensive and well-isolated test flights. The various technologies tested on Deep Space 1 were a terrific example. All moved from being pipe dreams, to being flight-ready, in a relatively smooth fashion (at least in their recent history; I'm not talking about aborted attempts at ion drives in the sixties.) (Whether any probes will now use those technologies is a separate rant.)

The other is extremely goal-focused, ambitious, large programs. Apollo, of course, is the model here. For a program like Apollo, you pick a goal which is ambitious but attainable, which will stretch the limits of technology you know how to do, but not include too many things that you have no idea how to do; it should be a goal that's important in itself, or at least breaks new ground. (Apollo was probably not such a good choice of goal in that respect, being rather footprints-and-flag oriented. But at least it was a specific goal we were committed to for our own, political reasons.)

Then you build it. You build it using the most conservative technologies that will get you to the goal; you don't attach the burden of developing extra stuff to your mission, which is quite hard enough already. If you want to develop that stuff, see project-type-one.

The classic example of not following these rules for a big project is X-33. Better known examples are ISS and the Shuttle. We'll take ISS. What was its goal? Well, put a station in orbit. But that's not such a good goal; it doesn't represent a dramatically new capability, it doesn't in itself extend or simplify what we can do in space. 'Ah', you say, 'but we learn about x and y and z in doing it.' This is true. But we would learn about those things in the course of pursuing a goal that we could make a more honest commitment to; learning about them, alone, clearly doesn't account for $60 billion. 'Well, but we want to research this and that and the other.' But these should be researched, either incidentally as a happy byproduct of a major goal, or in individual small research programs. 'But it's good for Russian arms control'. It is indeed- and even an obsessive like myself will concede that that's more important, at least in the short-term, than our work in space- but look what happens.

We don't design to a goal; we design to a set of specifications. And we have twenty different groups pulling different ways on the specifications. Congressment wanting things in their districts. Scientists from a dozen fields with conflicting requirements. Engineers with a clever new device we can install, for just a little bit more. A shuttle team and astronaut cadre that (for all my respect for them) are inclined to use as many launches as they possibly can. Diplomats who want to send money to the russians. Senators who don't want to send money to the Russians. Public-affairs people who are trying very hard to sell a program to the public that looks like 'Mir 2'. The list could go on almost indefinitely.

So you end up redesigning the station annually- this station has been redesigned something like seventeen times since 1981- and the money and the schedule will slip every time. Trying to satisfy all of these things, you develop an incredibly complicated critical path for constructing the thing- step two is delayed because of a hold on shuttle launches. Step three is delayed because Kahzakstan doesn't want launches on their territory. Step four is delayed because of a budget cut to pay for a tax cut. Step five is delayed because the Russians haven't finished a part. Step six is delayed because we had a problem with interfacing with the redesign for step four... We end up with a station that's doubled its budget well before completion, that will be finished so far behind schedule that the spaceworthiness of some of the older parts will be in real question, and that has tied up the entire human-flight side of NASA for fifteen years- without advancing anything enough to justify that. It's a program grown entirely out of control.

We're talking here about managing one of the largest efforts ever made by mankind, without knowing what it is we hope to get at the end of it. It just won't work. My recommendations for NASA's possible next goals:

Reduce launch costs by a factor of at least fifty.

Moon colony.

Mars exploration with permanent infrastructure development.

A space station with a single and definite goal- a large port for interplanetary missions, or a modular permanent colony, or a manufacturing research plant. None of these would look much like the current station...

End of rant, for now.



ISS has great potential for capitalist countries (none / 0) (#153)
by aprosumerKuro5hin on Fri May 04, 2001 at 04:52:35 PM EST

The United States has a slight technological lead over other countries and we use technology to great effect in our economy.

The ISS is a way for the United States to extend it's technological lead in the near future and in the not so far future when the colonization of Mars begins. Since the US could not afford to build ISS alone (too expensive) the best solution was to invite other technological countries to join in the effort.

Now that the ISS is built, the 5 controlling countries can now choose to keep rogue countries "out" of the ISS, thus denying them any technological benefits: for example chemical advances, metallurgic advances, biological advances, etc.

Those rogue countries would then be forced to buy "trickle down" technology created in the ISS, from the countries that currently control the ISS such as the US, England, Canada, Russia, and Japan.

The interesting moment comes when Mars colonization begins. The ISS will become the only "portal" to Mars. Imagine the licensing fees and taxi fees as the US, England, Canada, Russia, and Japan begin to charge and regulate who gets to use the ISS to go to Mars.

The ISS is simply a technology incubator that benefits its creators and a tollboth/gateway to Mars. The United States would have missed a prime capitalist opportunity if it had not pushed for the creation of the ISS. For the United States to back out of the ISS would be impractical.

India's missile capabilities (none / 0) (#158)
by SiLiCoN eYeS on Mon May 07, 2001 at 02:47:58 PM EST

Being an Indian, I'm offended by the derogatory manner in which you refer to my country. India already has an advanced missile development program? See this link to find out more.

Also, India recently joined a select group of 5 or 6 countries in the world by launching a GSLV satellite on its own, just a couple of weeks back.

Don't forget NASA's real purpose... (3.00 / 1) (#159)
by Dr. Zowie on Mon May 07, 2001 at 06:16:39 PM EST

I'm always surprised that more people don't realize this. NASA's purpose has more to do with limiting access to space, than building access to space.

``Huh?'' you ask?

Well, if everyone had access to space, then anyone (rich enough) could put anything he wanted (within limits) anywhere on the surface of our planet (no limits) in 45 minutes. The classic example is that you don't want, say, Libya to be able to drop a load of TNT onto the White House for the equivalent cost of a 747. But (some people) also don't want South American drug dealers, for example, to be able to deliver cocaine ballistically.

By providing high profile, exceedingly expensive and tightly controlled access to space, NASA prevents people from developing their own programs -- they fill that economic and sociological niche. Furthermore, by being very visibly expensive, NASA prevents the public from realizing just how cheap space travel could become in the real, honest-to-God future that will soon be the present (and not merely the fairyland future where we all drive flying cars).

Don't get me wrong: the individuals within the organization are committed and working toward their own, more laudable goals. But if NASA's purpose really were guaranteeing access to space, wouldn't they have reacted differently to Tito's trip? To the U.S. government, space tourism should be like the White Queen's jam: always tomorrow, never today.

The existence of many corporations trying to build SSTOs and Bush's current militarization of space are not coincidence -- the latter is a direct response to the former. Space technology will proliferate, and soon, despite the successful delaying tactics that have been so masterfully adopted by our executive branch over the past three decades.

The US should give up on the ISS. | 168 comments (165 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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