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    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    From 2010 to 2014, the United States, for the first time since we've been going there, will not be able to put a human being in space. Chances are the Constellation Program, our next step in heading into orbit and beyond, will take longer than this, with most realistic estimates thinking between 2015 and 2020. It's looking like China, India, and Russia will all have men on the moon before us; dangerous considering that we're rapidly approaching the point where lunar colonization is a likely possibility, and under the current rules, whoever gets there first gets dibs on the best colony sites.

    If you're familiar with the program, our newest space craft resembles the Apollo command pod. Despite NASA claiming that this craft (The Orion) will be our vehicle to Mars, many astronauts and independent engineers and astronomers are skeptical. Right now, the most serious estimates for manned arrival on Mars (if things continue as they are) put the US landing a human there around 2045.

    The Space Shuttle was supposed to be retired years ago. When built, it cost too much money, and keeping the things flying requires literally buckets of money.

    So my question is this; What should NASA do to fix itself? Should we do anything? There's a strong murmur in the scientific community that it should be allowed to die, and to let private companies and firms take the lead in space flight. Thoughts, Opinions?
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    NASA should not be allowed to "fix itself" - neither should it be allowed to die. And corporations in space is a nightmare waiting to happen.

    I seriously doubt either Russia, China or India will make it to the moon before NASA, much less Mars.

    My dad used to work in the defense industry (kind of). His company also made cash registers and microwave ovens, in addition to gyroscopes and such. For every "new" microwave oven put on the market, they had the next six generations ready to go, either in various stages of R&D or ready to be manufactured. I can't see NASA putting all their money into the Flying Brick. The Orion, I don't know about so I can't comment.

    The main problem with space exploration is twofold - we're not Doing It Right and we're barely Doing It At All. We need new propulsion systems and we need to increase our capability once we're Up There. Only way to do that is to Get Up There. Thrown in the ocean to learn how to swim. Yes, the death rate will be appallingly high but ... complaining about the death rate won't get us Up There.
  1.  (5884.3)
    If you're familiar with the program, our newest space craft resembles the Apollo command pod.

    That's because it's a mature technology with a consensus behind it that it should not have been killed off in favour of the Shuttle.
    • CommentAuthorRedwynd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    I'll immediately own up to being amazingly uninformed about space travel and the like, but I still like the idea of a space "elevator". Would it be incredibly expensive? Sure. But how much money has been shitted away on the Space Shuttle to date? And once its built, it would be the equivalent of building a car factory: the infrastructure is expensive, but once its there the product is cheap.

    Though, logistically, I can't help but imagine that its incredibly far off.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    The USA retired the SR-71 Blackbird without a successor in place.

    The USA is retiring the Space Shuttle without a successor in place.

    One of the Space Shuttles was intended to be for dedicated military use, before the loss of the Challenger led to it being used as a replacement in the main fleet.

    The USA's 'Black' military budget is still the 5th largest military budget in the world.

    Plugging the gaps has never been a matter of cost. There are almost certainly fallback plans and/or 'Black' replacements. This sort of theorising isn't really just for whacked out conspiracy theorists now. The figures seem to show it's affordable, and there've been enough black aircraft (eg F117B, Bird of Prey) and spacecraft (Misty) de-classified or leaked to mean we shouldn't be surprised if there's still a US manned spaceflight capability operating in other roles, and also there if needed, ready to be declassified, if a trip to the ISS were to be necessary.
    • CommentAuthorE0157H7
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    @Redwynd - It is. The logistics of building something like a magnetically propelled space elevator are mind-boggling. For example, think about thermal expansion. What would be the range of expansion and contraction with something that large? Think about the length versus the width and try to figure out what kind of engineering would be required. If you're talking about a "gun" instead, that fires capsules or small craft into space, how would they be guided with enough precision to not be lost on a regular basis?
  2.  (5884.7)
    It's proposed that a space elevator lifter would move at 200 km/h, I think mostly to avoid putting weird stresses on the ribbon. Unfortunately, at that speed, you spend a couple of days in the Van Allen radiation belts. Which kills you. To shield a lifter against the Van Allen regions for half a week at a time, at current tech levels the lifter would have to weigh more than a hundred tons, unloaded. Which very likely renders it uneconomical.

    And, of course, even if the lifter were used for cargo only, that cargo would emerge irretrievably irradiated.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    As far as cargo delivery, I think some type of mass driver system may be required. This has several problems, obviously; how to stop the cargo without destroying it, length and cost to power, etc. But I don't think these are insurmountable obstacles; just difficult.

    The most important issue with the history of space flight is shifting focus from the exploration factor to the economic one. Don't get me wrong, I am a firm supporter in exploration for its own sake. The problem is, most people simply aren't. Putting an effective cost-spin on space flight would help it massively. Congress and independent firms are way more likely to support a space program if they can get immediate-ish, tangible benefits from it.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Gerald Bull had a Super-Gun that theoretically could've reached orbit. Unfortunately, the Mossad (likely) assassinated him.
    (Could've been ANYONE, I suppose. But Bull was talking to iraq and Saddam and well, Israel couldn't take the chance ...)
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Just saw the Simpsons where Homer becomes an astronaut - Tom Brokaw, reporting on the mission - "To test the effects of weightlessness on tiny screws. This could have literally millions of applications, from watch-making to watch repair."
    • CommentAuthorRedwynd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    @E0157H7 - I imagine they are, but I really can't think of any other way to create a sustainable space-launching capabilities. As peak oil approaches (regardless of timing - it is a finite resource), conventional rocket fuel will no longer be available, so barring another power source, space flight dies.

    I agree with you on the "gun" idea, though investigating it might be worth a look. I would not be so much worried about targeting (they could aim a spacecraft to orbit Saturn three time then fly off 20 years ago, after all), I'd be more concerned with inertia, if we're talking about manned flight. Launching machinery with the kind of force to get it from zero to six miles up is fine, but human bodies are not designed to withstand that kind of force. To keep the G-forces down, we've been forced to use multi-stage rocketry, which consumes a LOT more fuel.

    On thermal expansion, and my engineering is weak, but would it not be possible to construct an elevator out of more than one material, each suited to its operating environment?
  3.  (5884.12)
    From 2010 to 2014, the United States, for the first time since we've been going there, will not be able to put a human being in space.

    Just to nitpick: between the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 75 and the launch of the first Space Shuttle in 81 NASA also didn't have the ability to put a human in space. It's not some new and unique situation ,and this time there is the hope of hitching a ride with the Russians to the ISS and that commercial manned operations may, although probably won't, start operating.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    And, of course, even if the lifter were used for cargo only, that cargo would emerge irretrievably irradiated.

    That just means we send up cargo that can be irradiated without anyone caring. Like investment bankers.

    The other two current problems with the elevator idea are cost and politics. Currently we can just barely manufacture the materials needed, and only in tiny amounts at huge prices. And where do you put the damn thing that someone won't fly a plane into it?

    The really big gun idea is feasible, except you'd have to manufacture satellites capable of withstanding dozens or hundreds of Gs acceleration. And you'd never be able to put a person in one of them. Unless you wanted investment banker jelly.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Oh, I'm not sure (I don't think, anyway) that manned space flight from earth VIA Mass Driver, Magnetic Accelerator Cannon, or similar is possible; The projectile is leaving the gun at the end of the "barrel" at top speed; I don't think a human being could survive the forces involved, but durable cargo, such as heavy machinery, foodstuffs, and fuel probably could.

    Once up there a moon colony could be ideal. The moon's soil can hypotheticall be used as a nearly-limitless resource, and through the proper application of technology can be turned into fuel, glass and fiberglass (good for repairs and solar panels), oxygen (by breaking down the soil's constituent parts), and possibly much more. Escape Velocity is much lower on the moon than from earth, requiring less power (and thus fuel) for jumps into deep space, Mars, Ceres, etc.
  4.  (5884.15)
    The space elevator's "shaft" could be described like a string on a musical instrument. They're worried about damage caused by oscillation generated by the lift. They're working on models to kill that oscillation, which I'd imagine the mechanism would be somewhat like those used to steady skyscrapers from swaying. But that's only one problem in quite a few more, I'd imagine...
    • CommentAuthorcraig
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    If the Chinese or Russian space agencies succeed on establishing a primo base on the moon, they'll be doing so with established space travel methods, which means fucking expensive. The Apollo project cost NASA $25 billion 1969 dollars, and that was just putting a pod on the moon and taking it away again. I can't imagine the cost of building and supporting a base on the moon (even one near ice which could aid in its own support) using effectively the same technologies. So even if those space agencies establish bases, I can't see how they could be supportable over the long term.

    That said, I think the biggest problem NASA has faced is lack of real competition. I'm not a free-market cheerleader or anything but when any corporation or government has a monopoly on anything there's not real incentive to develop new technologies. How will corporations in space be a nightmare? It's a big fucking place. And the last time the Russians were of comparable spacefaring ability, we were so motivated we put a buddies on the moon.

    So maybe a few years of NASA not being able to send anyone into space while watching the Taiko and Cosmonauts have a big space party is just what it needs to get its shit together.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009

    But to be fair, after Apollo the first space race was pretty much over. And we still had Apollo and Gemini craft available if needed. Now we're on the threshold of the next space race, and it's not just the US and Russia; China and India are rapidly approaching our capabilities and the EU and Australia are (as I understand it) well on their way to working on strong, independent manned-flight programs. We're retiring our only serious independent means of getting into orbit in the first five minutes of the game!
    • CommentAuthorRyan C
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    I really don't think we'll get far for cheap unless we use the seemingly unlimited resource of human life. How many ships were sunk and explorers killed to find and colonize the "New World"? We need to take chances and try new things. I'm sure there are thousands of people who would take the chance. Human need to explore and ingenuity in a pinch is really what brought us this far anyway, right?
  5.  (5884.19)
    If the Chinese or Russian space agencies succeed on establishing a primo base on the moon, they'll be doing so with established space travel methods, which means fucking expensive.

    China. These things are a hell of a lot easier to do in a mixed economy.
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009 edited
    Plasma Rockets

    So, what's the story on the plasma rockets that were being developed in '07??

    Are they still in the works?

    "The engine works by stripping electrons from hydrogen atoms and accelerating the resulting plasma in an electric field. Expelling the plasma out of the back of the engine generates thrust. The technique is known as Variable Specific-Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) technology, and was conceived in the 1970s."