NASA

From the editorial pages

Monday’s New York Times published an editorial on NASA’s budget windfall, calling it “a budgetary coup in a year when most federal programs were ratcheted back to make room for the costly war in Iraq and to alleviate huge deficits.” The editorial does warn, though, that the agency will have to find money to pay for the increasing costs of shuttle return-to-flight activities and a robotic Hubble mission, requiring it to make “wise choices” in other programs to find the additional money. The Times’ suggestion:

NASA should look very hard at terminating its two costliest programs, the International Space Station, now orbiting in a partially built state overhead, and the shuttle fleet that is being resuscitated to carry parts and astronauts up to the station. Those two programs eat up much of the NASA budget for little real gain.

As the editorial also notes, “The one thing that has become apparent since President Bush proposed putting astronauts on the Moon and Mars is that no such plan can gain momentum until the station-shuttle complex is shut down.”

Meanwhile, another Times, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, also takes aim at NASA in an editorial Saturday. Like their counterparts in New York, the St. Pete Times is somewhat skeptical of NASA’s plans:

Americans may be mesmerized by the prospect of reaching new frontiers in space, but the nation has hardly had a debate about NASA’s mission and the associated costs. O’Keefe has a role to play as the agency’s cheerleader, especially in the wake of the shuttle disasters. But his larger responsibility is to guide the nation as it sets both creative and fiscal priorities.

The editorial concludes that “the administration, Congress and the scientific community need to weigh more thoroughly how the president’s plan would serve science and affect other domestic priorities.”

19 comments to From the editorial pages

  • The St. Pete Times continues to labor under the delusion that the reason we have a space program is for science and science alone.

  • Philip Littrell

    Good comment, Rand.

    If NASA did science only, it would be a science agency, not a space agency. We’ve already got a science agency: NSF.

    People at NASA need to use the words “settlement” and “colonization” more often. They always use the ambiguous and awkward phrase “permanent presence in space” and no one knows what they’re talking about.

  • Philip Littrell

    About the New York Times editorial:

    There is already a date for retirement of the space shuttle: 2010.

    MSNBC has a good overview:
    “Retirement of the current U.S. space shuttle fleet is a matter of when, not if.
    Specifically, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board has directed NASA to not continue the shuttle program beyond 2010 without a thorough requalification of its aging hardware. Such an effort would be enormously expensive and difficult, if possible at all. The factories where the shuttles were built no longer exist, for example.”

  • Phillip: The point isn’t that there’s a retirement date, but that there’ll be no public momentum until we have actually exited those programs. The fact that the expensive Shuttle and Station programs will remain after Bush leaves office makes the plan vulnerable, and puts its necessary long-term prospects in doubt.

    It would be very easy after 2008 to scuttle this plan and continue on the Shuttle/Station route. Even now, look how it’s being funded: as back-door pork for Tom DeLay, with O’Keefe given unusual authority to redirect funds to the effort.

    Why not negotiate now to reduce the Station scope, close down the Shuttle program, and move out on VSE? Or do people recognize how easily the monies could be redirected out of NASA once that’s done?

  • Bill White

    The orbiter should never fly again! Period.

    Give the ISS to the Russians & EU and mollify our partners by bringing them along to the Moon.

  • Bill White

    Rand writes:

    The St. Pete Times continues to labor under the delusion that the reason we have a space program is for science and science alone.

    The debate America has not yet had is =WHY= we have a space program at all. Rick Tumlinson’s categories are terrific on this point.

    (1) Sagan-auts: Space is for science. Look but no touch! Take only pictures, leave only footprints;

    (2) von Braun-ians: Ve vill subdue space for national glory, great nations do great things. Civilians need not apply.

    (3) O’Neillians: Expand the biosphere.

    The “tipping point” for category (3) will be the first successful live birth of child who’s conception and gestation was entirely out there.

    = = =

    America has neither debated nor reached resolution as to which of these categories (or blend of categories) should be our objective.

  • Bill White

    Correction. Ground the orbiter AFTER it goes and fixes Hubble. ;-)

  • mrearl

    Slowly but surely it sems that NASA is changing it’s way of thinking. One thing NASA needs to come to terms with is offloading some or its more routine tasks to the private sector. For example, ISS resupply. Why spend a billion bucks or more on a shuttle flight when all that’s needed is to send some suppies and science palets? Unmanned transfer vehicals can do the job. No need for NASA to design the thing, put out an RFP for a transfer vehical with X capabilities to be launched X times per year with X amount of notice. Return capabilities can be added later.

  • mrearl

    Any one going to the NASA Capability Roadmap Workshop Tues Nov. 29th? I’ll be there. I want to see how serious NASA is about getting outside input.

  • Philip Littrell

    “(1) Sagan-auts: Space is for science. Look but no touch! Take only pictures, leave only footprints”

    This should not be named after Carl Sagan. How about “Parks” (after Bob Park).

    Sagan promoted unmanned science most of his career, but he wrote a book on space colonization (Pale Blue Dot) and supported manned missions to Mars. Sagan’s Planetary Society and some of his former students (Mars rover scientist Steven Squyres) support manned missions to the planets.

    Read this Space Review article on Carl Sagan.

  • Dogsbd

    Yes, Sagan was a lifelong proponent of unmanned exploration but it seems he did undergo some amount of “conversion” later in life. That later part isn’t widely known.

  • Robert G. Oler

    People at NASA need to use the words “settlement” and “colonization” more often.

    Posted by Philip Littrell at November 29, 2004 08:41 AM

  • Philip Littrell

    Many technological developments have been laughed at when first proposed — the airplane, the rocket, a man on the moon — and space settlement will probably be among them.

  • Brent Ziarnick

    Why isn’t there a 4th type of space enthusiast for the space industrialists? I guess those interested in space to mine the moon and build orbital factories for money are most closely associated with O’Neillans. How about Randolphans, named for Bova’s space mogul in Privateers or Empire Builders? Maybe Bovans. Maybe Lewis-ians for John Lewis’ work on space resources in Mining the Sky and others?

    Are there any other industrialists out there?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Many technological developments have been laughed at when first proposed — the airplane, the rocket, a man on the moon — and space settlement will probably be among them.

    Posted by Philip Littrell at November 30, 2004 01:25 AM

  • Arthur Smith

    Lots of people effectively retire to cruise ships – I believe it’s in the 10′s of thousands at any given time. Most sailors work on the oceans pretty much full time, as do those who staff cruise ships and related vessels.

    But retiring to the Moon would have two advantages over retiring to a cruise ship: low gravity, and no seasickness.

  • Philip Littrell

    Robert,

    I agree that space settlement is not exclusively a technology problem.

    However I don’t think people are the limiting factor. The limiting factors are technology, economics and some politics.

  • Robert G. Oler

    But retiring to the Moon would have two advantages over retiring to a cruise ship: low gravity, and no seasickness.

    Posted by Arthur Smith at November 30, 2004 05:07 PM

  • Leonard C Robinson

    Greetings, Captain Oler!

    As we know, not all who went West stayed. Some returned to the East, broke and busted, while others remained West and settled it. “The cowards never started and the weak died on the way.”

    Case in point, Skipper: The Oregon Trail and the settlement of California. Also, I add the settlement of Texas.

    We forget, Skipper, that the Western Migration was not only Anglo. The Iberian Emigration to Latin America in the 16th & 17th Centuries is forgotten in our Anglo textbooks. Our Roman friends can show us the evangelization of Latin America (not always peaceful), culminating with Dioceses and Archdioceses in the Latin American countries. I fully expect the election of a Cardinal from Latin America to the Chair of St. Peter and the Bishopric of Rome, this century, and the election of a Cardinal from Lagrangia in the 22nd.

    “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.”