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    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    At first i took heart when I heard this; I thought it might be Obama, who, up until now has said little about NASA other than wanting to cut its budget, trying to rebuild the program. Then I realized it's probably just an excuse to cut their budget farther. But maybe not. I am a cynical ass, after all...

    Obama's increasing funding.

    U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed a funding boost for NASA that provides more support for Earth sciences missions and aviation, while keeping the agency's three space shuttles on target for a 2010 retirement.

    NASA would receive $18.7 billion for the 2010 fiscal year under the budget proposal released by the White House on Thursday. That would be an increase from the $17.2 billion NASA received in 2008 and represents an overall boost of more than $2.4 billion for the space agency when coupled with the additional $1 billion it received in the recent economic stimulus bill.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Someone asked about plasma drives.

    These are like ion drives. Really low thrust, but the "exhaust" move really fast so you get a lot more Newton's Third Law bang for your buck out of each piece of mass you're ejecting. More velocity change per gallon.

    Unlike chemical rockets, the energy needed to make that reaction mass move isn't built into the fuel. You need an external energy source; solar cells or an atomic reactor.

    Plasma and ion drives are good for two things:

    Station keeping / attitude adjustment on satellites which are expected to be around for a while.

    Making a probe with a multiyear mission get where it's going a bit faster.

    I'm glad Warren brought up the Van Allan belt thing, because it makes it easier to bring up the downside of using plasma or ion drives on a manned ship. You spend so much time getting up to speed to achieve escape velocity to (Mars, Mercury, Jupiter) that your crew spends a lot more time than necessary exposed to radiation and the risk of flares.

    Now, if your staffed ship has an atomic reactor anyway, to run a fancy life support system, you might tack on a ion drive as a supplement to chemical rockets (or a fission rocket?). High-thrust low-efficiency to get you quickly to escape velocity and into an orbit leading to you destination, ion drive to add just a bit of velocity to get there a little faster. Plus you can use the low-thrust drive for station keeping or moving between orbits at your destination.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    @ Radian: FUCK YEAH!

    Tech and SF geeks like to blame NASA for not putting enough people and Shiny Stuff into space. But NASA is full of tech and SF geeks who want to put stuff we've never even dreamed of into space. The US government allowed NASA to decay into a bureaucratic mess because the US public doesn't really care about space flight. They think it's kinda cool in a vague Star Trek/neat pictures of Earth way, but they're not interested enough in it to really put any money or political resources into it.

    The Indians and Chinese are interested in space, and that might kick-start US interest again, but for now the people of the US are worried about their jobs vanishing, their 401Ks going up in smoke, and their homes' being foreclosed on.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009 edited
    People talk about Russia or China going to the moon.

    Actually I suspect it's more likely to be Russia and China. The Chinese have the money, the Russians have a bunch of the required technology and they've co-operated in the recent past on big military projects.

    Not to sound all idealistic but I'd like to see all the major space powers undertake a joint mission to establish a moon base.

    As far as the technical side goes: the key is to reduce the amount of stuff you have to lift out of the Earth's gravity well. There are a couple of missions to asteroids being planned. We need to develop automated systems to extract usable metals and gases from the asteroids and from the moon and then ship them back to Earth orbit.
    • CommentAuthorhank
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    I'd love to see them actually launch that big ass Energia Vulkan-Hercules that was supposed to be their heavy lifter. That is Rocketry Porn in pure distilled form.
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009 edited
    There's a book by Robert Zubrin called Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, that is actually quite depressing overall in that he attempts a rigorous evaluation of the profit potential of anything within reasonable near term reach in space and more or less finds that there is literally nothing within reach that can offset the huge cost of launching people and material out of Earth's gravity well. Zip. Nada.

    Orbital research labs can generate profit if run cheaply enough - which the IIS absolutely isn't. Even still, profit from innovative research is hard to predict and can't be relied on to justify the space program financially. It also doesn't give it much direction, as almost anything we might do as far as zero-g research labs go can just be done in Earth Orbit, and doesn't require moonbases or Mars colonies.

    As far as material resources go, there is nothing. If we at some point develop Nuclear Fusion as a power generation strategy (not for launching things, just as generators to run our Earth based power grids), sifting lunar soil for Helium 3 to use as fusion fuel back on earth could conceivably be profitable, even if we presume no advances in launch capability from today, but this resource is not worth gathering without the fusion based energy grid. Who knows when or if such a thing will ever come to be.

    Otherwise, anything within conceivable reach would cost so much to get to and bring back that is just isn't worth reaching out for it.

    I think the main problem with NASA is that it is an organization with a budget but no profit and no imperative. There is absolutely no near term value of any substantial kind in launching human beings. The value during the Apollo era, as people have noted above, was as a demonstration of technological superiority. Sure everyone could do a hold-hands-around-the-world moment of awe at the exploratory prowess of mankind, but that is absolutely not what opened the floodgates of government money that got us there. It was fear of the Soviets and desire to claim the ultimate high ground. Once it was claimed, we more or less realized we didn't really need it to beat the Soviets, and the money floodgates closed.

    Since then, NASA has floundered because there is no fear driving it, no clear desire ahead of it, no imaginable goal that can bring a big enough benefit near term to protect any of its projects from budgetary axes. It doesn't even know which projects to pursue. The Moon again? Mars? Space Station? There is no immediately compelling reason to favor any of those over the other, because there is no profit in any of them.

    Now, most of us on this board would list things like long term species survival, ancillary technological advances, and new vistas for the human spirit to triumph in as profitable, each in their own ways, but those are simply not the sorts of profits that mean anything to a government with a 4 to 8 year attention span. And even we space exploration enthusiasts probably couldn't reach a lasting consensus on what the priority should be. I say skip both any further space stations and the moon altogether and go straight for Mars. Some want space stations and a moonbase as stepping stones to stuff further out. I think those things would be distracting wastes of time. We'd argue around in circles about it because there is no external necessity to any of it to weight the scales toward any particular opinion.

    It's depressing as hell, but it is also very, very hard to make a pragmatic argument for human space exploration. That's what's wrong with NASA.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    But you can spin nearly anything. I work in academia; some of the budget proposals that I've seen, if looked at with any kind of common sense, are beyond ridiculous, and yet they succeed in getting massive amounts of money thrown at people simply through some easy political spin.

    And I don't even think spin is necessarily needed here. There are a lot of reports floating around that an unmanned mining operation on a near-earth asteroid could be quite profitable, especially as local resources run out.
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Unmanned, though. I think NASA's main problem is that a manned mission can't be justified by profit or immediately compelling external necessity. If it had either of those, it could pick a goal and fight for it. Without either of those, it can't even pick a goal, let alone effectively fight (or spin) for cash.
  1.  (5884.69)
    re: De-irradiating the Van Allen belts: I don't think there's actually much risk if the radiation were suddenly not there anymore. Unless that astronomy class I took years ago was lying to me, the radiation itself is just crap from the Sun that's gotten stuck in Earth's magnetic field. I think the risk with something like HiVOLT is that you're sticking a giant ass magnetically charged array into the middle of the magnetic field, and you might disrupt it in bad ways (hole in the ozone is bad. Hole in the Earth's magnetic field is catastrophic). Also what the hell happens if rather than redirecting all the particle radiation back out into space, it instead sprays it all down to Earth?
  2.  (5884.70)
    Hole in Earth's magnetic field?! Tell me you made that notion up and there's no basis for it. Please. <:(
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    I worked for NASA from 1984 to 86 and 87-88. One of the reasons I still hate Reagan and his ilk is how disposable he viewed us 'professional scientists' and the capable people that ran the shuttle then. I ran the Automated Management Information Center at HQ Space Division up to two launches before STS-51-L when the contractor scientists, engineers and civilian managers were highhandedly told that they lost their positions to lowest bid untested replacements. And guess what? They blew up the shuttle thanks to the powers behind Reagan wanting their PR "teacher in space" now!

    We can get robots to do the hard jobs. We can toss them up there using a mass driver cheap enough. A 'space hook' that goes from sea-level to LEO makes no sense ... but a hook that's at a 60 mile up geostationary point 12 times a day is doable with 1980s technology (and we can certainly balloon up to that height cheaply). And a space elevator is doable on both Luna and Mars.

    Cranky Sparky wants his flying car now!
  3.  (5884.72)
    @Val: Well, yeah. I'm just spitballing absolute worst case disaster movie of the week side effects for sticking giant supercharged electromagnets into a heavily irradiated section of an already carefully balanced naturally occurring magnetic field.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    Woo! I was hoping we'd have a NASA person floating about!
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009
    I can talk about the NASA stuff but not the Air Force stuff.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009

    You will now be more closely followed on teh twitter. Space Nerds! unite!
  4.  (5884.76)
    Sparky's been holdin' out on us! What did you did with NASA, if you don't mind me asking?
    • CommentAuthorpoor_boy
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2009 edited
    Oddbill posted:
    <blockquote>It's depressing as hell, but it is also very, very hard to make a pragmatic argument for human space exploration. That's what's wrong with NASA.</blockquote>
    I agree with the above (edited for space, apologies if I accidentally took it out of context). There are three ways that this can go.

    <strong>One:</strong> There's nothing out there. In which case, why bother?

    <strong>Two:</strong> There are minds out there that are far more advanced than we are. In which case, we don't need to go looking for them because they're probably hiding from us. So we need to demonstrate to them that we can be trusted. Develop ourselves as a species (no, i did <em>not </em>say race). Show them that we can overcome our warlike tendencies and all that cliche sci-fi shit.

    We need to figure out how to persuade them to come find us. That is, if they're even out there.

    <strong>Three:</strong> Extraterrestrial life is a lot dumber than we are. I hate to even think about us being the smartest ones out here, but this could be the case. No need seeking that out. We can barely take care of our own as it is.
    • CommentTimeMay 19th 2009
    What's wrong with NASA? Terrorists don't have a space programme.
    • CommentAuthorpoor_boy
    • CommentTimeMay 19th 2009 edited
    ^ Yeah, well, the terrorists can't find the aliens either.

    It's not like they landed a spaceship in NYC or anything. Just sayin'.
    • CommentTimeMay 19th 2009
    My group prepped powerpoint-like slide presentations for JPL, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop and the rocket scientists at NASA at the Los Angeles Air Force Station later Base. It was an old Northrop office (I think a Star Trek episode was filmed there - the one with the flying sunny side up eggs). We also made sure that the Generals had their Cuban cigars and brandy. When I came back after a stint of UNIX teaching Hell in D.C. and snarking H. Ross Perot, I was asked once by Feynman about the number of slides we had regarding the O-rings. They had me then do requests for 'exotic' computer hardware.