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Polls on shuttle and exploration

A CBS News poll released yesterday suggests that the public is more skeptical about the future of the shuttle program than ever before. The poll of 1,222 adults, conducted from July 29 to August 2, found than 59% thought the shuttle is worth continuing, down from 75% just after the Columbia accident; support was also in the 70–80% range in polls in 1999 and 1986. NASA’s “job rating” is also the lowest in five polls going back to 1993: 55% rated NASA’s job performance as “excellent” or “good”; previous polls had excellent/good levels of 57–70%.

However, another poll by Rasmussen Reports is a little more optimistic about the long-term prospects of space exploration. That poll, of 1,000 adults on July 27–28, found that two-thirds of them thought having a manned spaceflight program is “very important” or “somewhat important”. In addition, 71% thought it was very or somewhat likely that humans would be back on the Moon within the next 25 years, and 55% thought humans would be on Mars in the same period. (Respondents were a little more pessimistic about the long-long-term, though: only 41% thought it was very or somewhat likely that there would be “human colonies” on other planets in the next century.)

What does all this mean? First, there are the usual caveats about polls, which (as noted here last month) can yield diverging results because either the public has weakly-held, inconsistent positions on space issues or because of careful crafting of the survey instrument. However, if polls hold true, and the public is interested in long-term exploration of the Moon and Mars, but is less supportive of the shuttle, will we start to see a greater push for the early retirement of the shuttle before 2010?

67 comments to Polls on shuttle and exploration

  • Dfens

    Notice the biggest drop in support was among Republicans.

    I don’t think, in retrospect, the shuttle was ever a good idea, but what the heck, no one bats 1000. What bothers me is how we’ve been saddled with this hunk of junk for 25 years. It has taken on a life of its own. What happened to the days when we rolled out new fighter jets and rockets every few years?

  • I think the poll reveals how fickle Americans are. Most have no clue how complex and difficult spaceflight is, especially when astronauts are the payload. When things go exceptionally well, Americans are for it 100%. When things aren’t going that well, support plummets. What is stupid is that the Discovery mission is, indeed, quite successful. We have learned a considerable amount on this flight.

    The Space Transportation System is not a “hunk of junk” at all, though I suppose it’s easy for a lay person to say something like that. It is, however, an X-plane, though it has not been treated as such. NASA has gotten into the business of flight operations, which it should never have done. The agency realizes this now, though it seems the SRB-CEV and Shuttle derived heavy lifter will be operated by NASA (and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has provided good reasons for this), at least initially.

    We have learned much from the Shuttle program – operational dos and don’ts, management modes, technical issues, etc. We have also learned much from ISS – fundamentals of in space construction, management of the system, international relationships, etc. We have not, however, received anything like what we were promised from either system. Shuttle costs about $450 million per launch, and the ISS is hardly more than a fancy outpost akin to Shackleton’s shack.

    But we’re learning. And we’ll get there.

    We would have been much better off had the president put forth an economic development plan for space instead of another myopic vision based on the Apollo program. At least that would have been a strategy of investment pursued by any American willing to participate, instead of yet another debacle in waiting because the government can’t do anything efficiently with our money.

  • I think the fact that we’re doing polls about a piece of hardware suggests that someone has finally realized that NASA isn’t going to put us in space because its job is to win votes. You poll things that are political. For everything else you look at sales figures…

  • billg

    The Shuttle has been around for so long that it is the only American crewed spacecraft many adults have ever known. They might easily see the Shuttle — design, configuration, warts and all — as the only way to put people in space. They’re likely to assume all space exploration will be based on the Shuttle or on new vehicles built on the same model. (And, incorrectly, will see the VSE designs as throwbacks.) Shuttle problems, combined with the current histrionics of much press coverage of the Discovery mission and the lay public’s unavoidable lack of knowledge in this area, will inevitably color their responses.

  • billg

    Michael, the space program has always been political. And, it always will be. All government activity has a political dimension. Nothing wrong with that.

    Much that needs to be done won’t be done by the market. The market only does the profitable. I’m not willing to forego what needs to be done in space just because no one can make money doing it.

  • And, incorrectly, will see the VSE designs as throwbacks.

    What would be “incorrect” about that view? In what significant way are they not throwbacks?

  • Bill,
    For those things that qualify as “Much that needs to be done won’t be done by the market” wouldn’t it make sense to figure out a way to make it so the market would want to do it as opposed to our current model of assuming the government must do the whole thing?

  • Phil Smith,

    Thanks for your dose of reality. At least until your last paragraph (and I’m not sure there), I agree with every word you say. The Shuttle / Station projects are neither a complete disaster or a full success, but, like all things in the real world, somewhere in the middle. We’ve learned a tremendous amount, and it is likely that if we do set down on the Lunar or Martian (or an asteroidal) surface within my life time, Shuttle- and Station-derived hardware will be a significant part of whatever vehicle emerges.

    All that said, it is clearly time to move on. We’ve learned everything we can from the Shuttle program. The Station needs to become as independent of that project as possible, as soon as possible.

    – Donald

  • Dfens

    From the point of view that you are going to learn something from doing anything, I would agree that shuttle has been a learning experience. That doesn’t make it a success, although, neither does it make it a total failure. It did not deliver the payload capacity it was supposed to provide and because of that has limited manned space flight to low Earth orbit for 25 years. Neither of those aspects of shuttle could be called a success. It provided a capability to do on-orbit experimentation and observation, both of which can be more effectively done on a space station, yet its limited lifting capability and long turn around time has dragged out space station assembly to over a decade. Its half billion launch costs have done their share in making station costs what they are too, although NASA mismanagement has done more. In my opinion, a 25 year old “X plane” is a boondoggle by any stretch of the imagination. It seems to me a growing protion of the American public is out in front of the rocket scientists on this one, but then they are paying the bills, not collecting the checks.

  • I have to credit Jeff for acknowledging that the public might have weakly held, inconsistent positions on space exploration. It certainly does. As I said, it is the reason that the polls are so sensitive to phrasing. Although maybe “nebulous” is a better description than “weakly held”.

    It’s not just the public. President Bush also has nebulous, inconsistent positions on space exploration. (Maybe that makes him a faithful representative of the electorate?) The VSE shows it: Finishing what NASA started is not consistent with moving on. His appointments also show it: Appointing Sean O’Keefe is not consistent with appointing Michael Griffin (as Keith Cowing has noticed).

  • Regarding retiring the Shuttle now. I did a bit of research last night.

    According to Boeing’s Web site, a Delta-IV Heavy can lift 21,892 kg. to the Space Station’s orbit with a five meter faring. Lockheed Martin’s Web site says the heaviest Atlas can launch 20,520 kg. to “LEO”.

    According to ESA’s Web site, the columbus module without payload is 10,300 kg. In the configuration to be launched by the Shuttle, it’s 12,000 kg. The largest diameter is 4.477 meters.

    According to the Japanese Space Agency’s Web site, the Kibo has a dry weight of 15.9 tons with a size of 4.4 X 4.2 X 11.2 meters. The exposed facility has a dry weight of 4 tons and a size of 5.0 X 4.0 X 5.6 meters.

    These modules were designed to be mounted horizontally in the Shuttle payload bay, but to be launched vertically, so they must be able to handle verticle loads.

    I’m sure that the loads on an EELV are higher than those in the Shuttle, and I’m sure there is a lot this non-engineer has not thought of. However, unless I’ve dropped a decimal or mixed up my Imperial vs. metric measures (which I refuse to feel guilty about any more!), it looks to be like launching the international modules on EELVs could, at least in theory, be done.

    Comments are welcome.

    – Donald

  • Dfens: Have you ever noticed that when the plan really falls apart, you can always call it a learning experience? Like when you get a terrible sunburn, or when you start a business and it tanks. So yes, the space shuttle is a “learning experience”. So is the space station. You’ll see, come 2010, we will have “learned” even more.

    But hey, I don’t mean to be Mr. Negative about all space activities. Google Maps is beautiful. It’s an outstanding achievement of humanity. Let’s see more of that!

  • Well, Greg, I like Google maps too, but is that really all you want to get out of spaceflight? I want to go to Mars and the other planets, or at least let our children do so if they so desire.

    By all means, play in your Google maps; I’m aiming for something a little bit bigger. I may well fall short, but at least I’ll have tried.

    – Donald

  • No Donald, that’s not all. There are other successes in space too: GPS, WMAP, the Mars probes, Cassini, and many others. The point is to objectively and empirically identify the winners and the losers. That way you can hope to reward success and punish failure, and not vice versa.

  • How come Apollo is not in your list of successes?

    – Donald

  • Donald: Because the Cold War is over. As Kennedy privately explained to his advisors, the overriding purpose of Apollo was political and symbolic victory over the Soviet Union. In every other respect, Apollo was either a Pyrrhic success or an outright failure.

  • Donald,

    I do agree it’s time to move on – you are certainly right about that. Not only should NASA pursue a CEV using the SRB for launch, but it should also use Shuttle-derived hardware wherever possible (though the agency won’t be able to do so in a cost effective manner, I’m sure). Further, we should concurrently develop those technologies needed for an aerospacecraft (or RLV).

    However, NASA itself must be scuttled in order to do this right. I think NASA should be split in two, with one organization dealing with aeronautical RDT&E and the other dealing with astronautical RDT&E. All science and research missions should go to the National Academies. When either organization needs launch services, arrange this through a commercial vendor. Initially, obviously, these commercial launch providers will need substantial assistance from the government to get started. Assistance can come in the form of zero taxes, subsidies, and less government intervention (FAA/USAF paperwork, overly restrictive policies, etc).

    Sending humans to Mars is not something I consider smart right now. That is definitely more bite than we can chew. Focusing on the Earth-Moon system for human spaceflight is more than enough during this first stage of migration. Our robotic probes can be dispatched throughout the Solar System with greater efficiency and greater returns anyway. Mars isn’t going anywhere… We’ll probably have a human landing on Mars late in the century.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg:”President Bush also has nebulous, inconsistent positions on space exploration.”

    The first president since JFK to actually create and more importantly actually support, defend and even work to FUND a real space policy and he’s “nebulous and inconsistent”?

    Kuperberg: “Finishing what NASA started is not consistent with moving on.”

    You have argued this ad nauseum. It makes perfect sense to finish or at least make a good attempt at finishing a project we have international obligations in before moving on to something else. It makes sense diplomatically and it makes sense financially to not abandon a project we’ve already invested 100 billion in when we are finally to a point that we might be able to see at least a small return on that investment.

    Kuperberg: “Appointing Sean O’Keefe is not consistent with appointing Michael Griffin (as Keith Cowing has noticed).”

    O’Keefe was a bean counter and that is exactly what NASA needed at the time of his appointment. Griffin is a visionary and that is now what NASA needs to lead in achieving the goals of the VSE. Seems to me Bush has consistently appointed the type of Administrator NASA has needed at any given time.

  • Greg,

    Since the Apollo program was indeed a political move, it was not a failure at all. Indeed, I’ve heard one Apollo astronaut describe himself as a Cold Warrior. In terms of exploration, Apollos 11-17 represent the Roanoke of the Solar System. Jamestown is yet to come, and its success depends on the private, public and communal sectors, not one or the other.

    We should be careful when describing an overly complex process involving many people over long periods of time as failures. Much good comes from seemingly useless circumstances (even the horror of World War I). I am even willing to accept my own advice for this Iraq debacle, but that’s another blog.

  • Greg, you have a very weird view of “successs.”

    Technologically, Apollo was a tremendous success. It was also far more of a scientific success than is generally acknowledged today. To this date, the absolute cratering record, on which all the relative cratering records in the Solar System are based, dates from Apollo. The cost per unit sample returned was probably not that different from the Soviet automated probes. It returned beautiful hand-shot photographic works of art that forever changed our view of the world. In what way is Apollo a failure?

    If you are refering to its lack of future, than many on your list of successes are also “failures.” We won’t be going back to Saturn any time soon, either. Does that make Cassini a failure? The rovers are not going to return an absolute cratering record for Mars: does that make them a failure?

    Any way you care to measure it — technological success, learning-to-build-in-space success, learning-extended-survival-in-space success, or even scientific success — we will not know whether the Space Station is a “failure” for a generation or more.

    – Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Apollo was an unqualified success; it achieved what it was intended to and then some. The only failure involved in Apollo was a failure of will, the will to take the next step and exploit the ability we had created for ourselves rather than retreating and resting on our laurels.

  • Phil, I don’t disagree with you regarding concentrating on the moon first. I don’t see that as inconsistant with viewing Mars as an ultimate goal.

    – Donald

  • Phil: Whether America really needed Apollo to win the Cold War is debatable. But let’s accept it on those terms. Times have changed. Without the now-historical Cold War, Apollo would have been an utter failure. So it is a big mistake to emulate it.

    You should not be reluctant to denounce quagmires, white elephants, and fiascos. Even if some good comes out of some of them, more good would have come out of not doing them. And you touch upon an important analogy: The space station is to space exploration as the war in Iraq is to the war on terrorism. The war on terrorism is logical, in principle. The war in Iraq is a colossal “learning experience”.

    Cecil: I agree that O’Keefe is a bean counter and that Griffin is a visionary. So it is ironic (and inconsistent) that Bush called on O’Keefe for his vision (the VSE) and now calls on Griffin to count beans. To see what the VSE will probably come to as a result, you should envision a hill of beans.

  • Greg, anyone who thinks Apollo was an “utter failure” at anything but winning the Cold War, without any further qualification, is not worth debating. I give up.

    – Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg “So it is ironic (and inconsistent) that Bush called on O’Keefe for his vision (the VSE)”

    I find it ironic that a math professor can’t read a calander. The VSE did not exist when O’Keefe was appointed thus Bush could not have appointed him to lead something that had not even been thought of.

  • Greg,

    I would never say the Apollo program was necessary to winning the Cold War. Winning the Cold War took the efforts of millions of people doing millions of things over the course of 40 years. Plus, the Soviet Union was a ticking time bomb anyway.

    China sees this and has made efforts to prevent an implosion. It remains to be seen if they will ultimately be successful.

    I’m also a believer that “failure” is more easily attached to things individuals or small groups do. It is harder to place such a lable on mass movements, major complex events, and so forth.

    Donald – As far as Mars is concerned, I agree that using it as an ultimate goal is healthy, but only in terms of a nebulous one. The Earth-Moon system requires more detailed work. We are definitely in agreement there.

  • Cecil: As Seitzen and Cowing amply documented, O’Keefe was indeed one of the main architects of the VSE.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg: “As Seitzen and Cowing amply documented, O’Keefe was indeed one of the main architects of the VSE.”

    Yes he was. But what you claim to be ironic above is that Bush called on O’Keefe the bean counter specifically to create the VSE. That was not the case, O’Keefe the bean counter was called on to get NASA’s financial house in order and he just happened to be there when the VSE came to be. So there is nothing ironic in Bush appointing O’Keefe to head VSE since that is not what he appointed him to do.

  • William Berger

    “As Seitzen and Cowing amply documented, O’Keefe was indeed one of the main architects of the VSE.”

    How did they “document” this? I didn’t see any footnotes in that book, and it relied primarily upon unnamed sources. The book was crafted to praise O’Keefe, not to be an objective documentation of anything.

  • Phil: Are Apollo 11 through Apollo 17 the Roanoke of space, or are they the L’Anse aux Meadows of space?

    William: I’ll grant you that about Cowing and Seitzen. But on this point their story has the ring of truth. For one thing, the VSE speech was unveiled together with an enthusiastic report by O’Keefe.

  • skeptical reader

    As Seitzen and Cowing amply documented, O’Keefe was indeed one of the main architects of the VSE.

    Um, yeah, whatever. But Cowing is hardly an unbiased, ethically-pure source.

  • Dfens

    I don’t see why Apollo was a failure. It achieved all of its objectives and then some. The failure to improve on Apollo, is not a failure of Apollo.

    I find it ironic that so many today think so poorly of Apollo. You seem to think that just because the program didn’t continue on for decades, it failed. People didn’t think like that then. We were much more confident then. There was never a doubt we couldn’t and wouldn’t do better. There was no need or desire to stay with one rocket for decades to come.

    Just the opposite. We knew we could do better. Enough Saturn rockets were built to do what was planned, then everyone who worked designing and building them moved on to design and build other things. Even when the shuttle was first launched, no one even remotely thought it would last for a quarter Century.

    This is what bothers me about the rise of the Almighty Program. Shuttle would not have been a big failure, in fact, it probably would have been regarded by history as a modest success if it had been put on a stick 10 or 15 years ago. Instead it has been allowed to far outlive its usefulness. Its program office has obliterated all competition as its one overriding goal has ceased to be the exploration of space, and has squandered all of its considerable resources on existence for the sake of existence.

    How did we let this happen? How did an INDUSTRY that won the cold war, and once stood so far above all others, sink so low?

  • Paul Dietz

    I would not term Apollo a failure either. As Dfens noted, it achieved its stated goal. Whether that goal was necessary or wise, and whether what happened to Apollo afterwards was prudent, are different questions. I would not call these failures, if they are failures, failures of Apollo, but rather larger failures os policy making.

    Shuttle, on the other hand, is itself a clear failure, since it came nowhere close to meeting its stated objectives. Whether the goal of the shuttle was also bad (thereby indicting the policy behind shuttle) is another question. I’d lean in the direction of stating that it was also to blame, earnest assurances from the peanut gallery that we can have reusable launchers for a billion dollars notwithstanding.

  • Bob

    Then under Paul Dietz’s description of failure and success, the ISS is a failure, unless it is completely finished as originally planned and we get the scientific research time on it that was originally planned for.

  • I never quite said that Apollo was a failure either. My position was that it was a symbolic and political success of the Cold War.

    What I said was that it would have been a failure if not for that overriding purpose. What I meant, more precisely, is that it would have been a Pyrrhic success. I.e., a success so costly as to be tantamount to failure.

    I don’t think that this should be a controversial point. It isn’t that Apollo was cancelled prematurely. Once the astronauts had visited the moon a few times, the project was clearly getting boring on the scale of its cost. That’s why it was cancelled.

  • Dfens

    I suppose it is the term “pyrrhic success” that I would take issue with. How could you consider it that? Did we lose the will to go to either space or the Moon? Obviously not. Apollo was considered to be excessively expensive relative to what was thought some easily achievable cost goals. Any thinking person was certain reusability was the answer hence the shuttle. As it turned out, cost went up while payload capacity and reliability went down. Even given the failure of shuttle to achieve its goals, we know we can do better, because we did with Apollo, and we know what not to do in the future, because we have with shuttle.

    The one lesson I don’t believe we have learned is the need to move on. Certainly the follow-on to the shuttle will be no better than Saturn V, even if it is better than what we have now. If it lasts two or three decades, it could be the final nail in the coffin instead of resuscitation.

  • billg

    Rand, I’m not arguing that those designs represent much of an advance, but they don’t need to. Neither are they a throwback just because the pieces are stacked on top of each other and remind people of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. If you want to go somewhere and current technology will get you there, I see no reason to wait.

  • billg

    Michael:

    >>For those things that qualify as “Much that needs to be done won’t be done by the market” wouldn’t it make sense to figure out a way to make it so the market would want to do it as opposed to our current model of assuming the government must do the whole thing?

    No, why should we? The market will want to do something if it believes it is profitable. If there’s money to be made taking people to the Moon and Mars, then the market will do it. The fact that NASA may do it first, or simultaneously, or not at all, has no bearing on the profitability of the exercise.

    Nor do I assume the government must do the “whole thing”. If the private sector demonstrates the means to take on some component of the VSE, NASA ought to consider it. The private sector hasn’t demonstrated much crewed flight capability yet. Presumably, it will in the future. In the end, however I really have no preference who does what, except that neither side should put off exercising their capabilities while they wait for the other to play catch up.

    I know some folks would rather NASA get out of the loop altogether, turning into some kind of funding sugardaddy. That’s a fair position to take, but it isn’t my position.

  • billg

    Greg:

    >>There are other successes in space too: GPS, WMAP, the Mars probes, Cassini, and many others. The point is to objectively and empirically identify the winners and the losers. That way you can hope to reward success and punish failure

    You appear to be taking an Earth-centric view of exploiting space. That’s shortsighted. The real beneficiaries of human space travel will be the people who live off Earth, just as the real beneficiaries of European colonization of the Americas were the colonists, not the people who stayed behind. Benefits will accrue to those people, too, (like you and Google Maps) but only as side effects and happenstance.

  • billg

    Greg:

    >>Apollo was either a Pyrrhic success or an outright failure.

    Geez, that makes no sense at all. How can a program that repeatedly accompished its goal be considered a failure? Apollo is one of the few things the human race has done in my lifetime that merits my pride. The only thing that failed was the political will to keep going.

  • billg

    Donald:

    >>Without the now-historical Cold War, Apollo would have been an utter failure. So it is a big mistake to emulate it.

    I’m not sure I agree with either of those sentences. But, for the sake of discussion, why would it be a “big mistake”? Apollo worked.

  • Dfens: How would Apollo have been a Pyrrhic victory, apart from its symbolic value in the Cold War? There should be a limit to your desire for anything. The Apollo program cost $135 billion in current dollars (according to Wikipedia). Without the Cold War to justify it, it would have just been too much.

  • Billg, those were Greg’s words, not mine, and I do not agree with them. As I argued above, I think that by any “objective” measure, including science, Apollo was a raging success. The only thing we don’t want to emulate about Apollo was the failure to go on.

    I think we need to get a small base or two on Earth’s moon and / or an asteroid as quick-and-dirty as we can, using as much existing technology as possible. Then, we can use the supply chains as markets for the SpaceX’s of this world to develop the beginnings of commerce and trade, hopefully lowering costs enough to make it sustainable.

    That’s the way it’s worked in the past, and I don’t see any reason for things to be different today.

    – Donald

  • $135 billion = 8.44 X 16 = NASA’s current budget over less than a decade, or half of NASA’s budget over two decades. I don’t think most of us would be terribly unhappy if the initial goals of the VSE actually got accomplished over the next two decades. So, what’s so unaffordable about that?

    – Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Donald: “$135 billion = 8.44 X 16 = NASA’s current budget over less than a decade, or half of NASA’s budget over two decades. I don’t think most of us would be terribly unhappy if the initial goals of the VSE actually got accomplished over the next two decades. So, what’s so unaffordable about that?”

    THANK YOU SIR!

    Those figures were starting to buzz about my head as I read Mr. Kuperberg ranting on about how costly Apollo was. Obviously a math professor can do (and most likely has done) the math to be able to reach the conclusion you and I have Donald, but for some reason he can’t admit or won’t accept the conclusion. Just as when he recently posted a chart which clearly showed (to anyone who did the math) that the average NASA budget from agency creation until the last moon landing was only 13 billion but then claimed instead that the chart showed an Apollo era budget of twice what it is now!

  • Donald: Your comparison is apples and oranges. Apollo was one narrow objective, to put men on the moon, with a price tag of $135 billion in current dollars. The VSE is a grab bag of objectives lumped together as one “vision”. Its least realistic parts are backloaded; its most realistic parts are a variation of the status quo at NASA.

    So if your question is whether everything that NASA does today is worth half of its budget, my answer is yes, give or take. If your question is whether the sky castles slated in the VSE for 2025 are affordable, who is to say what they will be or what they will cost?

  • billg

    Donald, apologies for confusing those posts. I agree with you, but remain to be convinced that we can rely on the market as early as you argue, or in all cases.

  • billg

    How is going to the moon and then to Mars, thereby building a technological basis for additional exploration, a “grab bag” of objectives? Seems pretty concise to me: First, go here, then go there.

    You really ought to start substantiating your assertions, you know.

  • Cecil, you are very welcome. Glad to be of service [grin!].

    I believe that Greg’s problem, and to at least some degree ours, is that this is essentially a religious argument. Both sides have preconceived notions of the answer, and all of us are picking and choosing the facts we need to back up our opinions. I happen to think that Greg’s world view is dead wrong, and that he’s a little more blatant about cooking the factual books, but I can’t really prove it any more than he can prove that we are wrong. As I’ve said before, our children will know whose “vision” comes closer to reality. Even if everything goes as well as it possibly could, I probably never will.

    Greg, I believe the VSE actually had a fairly specific set of goals: Complete the Space Station, develop and build the Crew Transfer Vehicle, a series of lunar missions with the CSV and other vehicles TBD, and initial development of the CSV toward a Mars spacecraft. Apples and apples to you. . . .

    – Donald

  • Dfens

    Greg, my head can be pretty thick at times, but I’m still not seeing your point regarding Apollo. Yes, the cost of the program was too high. That was well recognized at the time, but it was acceptable because it became a point of national pride in the race against the USSR. Once that was over, there was some down time before the shuttle program started, and Apollo did end with a couple of rockets to spare, which was crazy.

    Even so, in my opinion anyway, the national pride evident when the shuttle first launched demonstrated that the will to explore space was still alive and well in the US, even without the space race. The malaise of space exploration since then, again, in my opinion, has been due to the failure of shuttle to meet its technical objectives.

    I think too many have been willing to saddle the US taxpayer with the blame for what was really the fault of the technical community and NASA. Its taken the taxpayer a while to figure that out, but it appears they are starting to catch on.

  • Billg. I will never argue that the market can do everything. Even if I am one-hundred percent right, the government has to build those initial bases to create the market.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    A ‘pyhrric success’ would presumably be a program that met its stated goals, but for which the cost was too high relative to the benefit of achieving those goals.

    BTW, to answer Bob’s earlier comment, I consider the ISS to be a failure of both execution and policy. It won’t deliver the scientific research time it was intended to, and that time wasn’t worth the cost anyway. But at least it created a lot of meaningless motion in the workforce.

  • The Terminator

    Apollo 11 was a historic success. But the moment the vision was complete, with Neil Strongarm and Buzz Lightyear returning safely, a new vision was needed. The failure of Apollo NASA was a failure of Apollo leadership – no Apollo leaders stepped forward to give a new vision…just wait Presidential for orders.

    Without vision, democracy turns to congressional turf battles.

    If there was a failure of NASA Apollo leadership to step forward after Strongarm and Lightyear returned, it was even moreso after Apollo 13.

    The US Gov’t media office (I forget the exact name) reported more people worldwide watched the splashdown of Apollo 13 than the Apollo 11 landing. NASA failed to realize that Apollo 13 was a success, and failed to understand why. NASA told congress they failed, but Senator Curtis kept telling NASA no, it was a success. So much for the valued customer opinion.

    The success of Apollo 13 was the design, which is the failure of the Shuttle.

    The CAIB identified 8 missed opportunities regarding Columbia, but the Apollo 13 review board identified 11! So much for all of the exacting and thorough reviews the Apollo non-leaders bragged about in the Challenger inquisition. It is hard to think NASA has not improved just a bit over the years, but the same Apollo 13 failed review opportunities still linger.

    When vehicle A failed in Apollo 13, a complete, redundant back-up lunar module lifeboat saved them. That design and design only lesson was not learned, and not applied to attempting to have the equivalent independent redundancy in the shuttle or next vehicle to and from LEO. Instead of improving upon the Apollo design robustness and launch escape system (LES), the only chance of an Apollo 13 success independent redundancy was taken away. Failure was declared by Apollo Arrogante to not be a stock market option, and Greenspan right stuff irrational exuberance set in. What a shock it must have been, and still is, to see the market change. So as the automakers stepped forward with the airbag, NASA took a leap step backward – regarding the only criteria for “success” as documented by Apollo 13.

    No bucks, no Buck Rogers. No emphasis on crew survival first and foremost, no need for humans in space. Bring on the robots. Move over, inept humans: Let the machines take over!!!

  • Donald: I say toe-may-toe, you say toe-mah-toe.

    You said: Yes, the cost of [Apollo] was too high. That was well recognized at the time, but it was acceptable because it became a point of national pride in the race against the USSR.

    While I said that Apollo “was a symbolic and political success of the Cold War”; without the Cold War, “it would have been a Pyrrhic success.”

    You said: …the VSE actually [has] a fairly specific set of goals. And you proceeded to name four of them, leaving out several others (unmanned exploration of the moon and Mars, also the “beyond” part) that are clearly in the plan.

    Whereas I said that “the VSE is a grab bag of objectives lumped together as one ‘vision’.”
    I think that six or seven separate objectives can fairly be called a grab bag.

    So in both cases, you and I stand on exactly the same facts. The only difference is in their interpretation.

  • Bob

    I think Greg has a good point about Apollo possibly being a phyric victory. What would have happened had we not have Apollo? The demand to go to the moon was there.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg: “The only difference is in their interpretation.”

    No the difference is Donald tries to be factual while you make no attempt to. Donalds definition of “specific set of goals” is a factual description on the VSE, your “grab bag” is a derogatory term indicating an unorganized jumble of missions thrown together with no forethought. You make intellectually dishonest assessments and declarations about everything you disagree with and then just expect everyone to take those as fact.

  • Dfens

    I think you are all espousing the conventional wisdom with regard to Apollo, but realistically how could it have been that? Did we stop going to the Moon because we didn’t want to any more, or was it because to assemble even a minimal mission like Apollo, it would have taken 7 shuttle launches at half a billion each to assemble the hardware in LEO? I see no point in assigning the failures of shuttle to Apollo. Apollo was successful. Shuttle was a failure compounded by its longevity.

  • William Berger

    Greg Kuperberg: “But on this point their story has the ring of truth. For one thing, the VSE speech was unveiled together with an enthusiastic report by O’Keefe.”

    Huh? How does the fact that NASA released a (slim) report on the Vision _after_ the Bush speech indicate that O’Keefe had substantial input into the policy in the first place?

    First of all, you do realize that O’Keefe did not write that report, right?

    Second, it is well known in Washington that for years O’Keefe stated that he was more interested in developing technologies than in picking a destination. Then, when the White House started discussing a destination, NASA (i.e. O’Keefe) chose Mars. They lost on this account and the White House picked the Moon instead.

    Finally, it is no surprise that NASA released a report after the Bush speech that further fleshed out the plans. After all, this is what agencies _do_.

  • William,

    I have to say that the degree of O’Keefe’s involvement in formulating the VSE is not a central point for me. What really matters is the way that Bush and O’Keefe explained it and backed it. It’s clear enough that O’Keefe strongly associated himself with the VSE, and that the Griffin VSE is significantly different from the O’Keefe VSE.

    Even so, I am not convinced of your position. It is not just the O’Keefe report released in February (which may have been ghost-written, as you suggest). O’Keefe also had an extended Q&A session on the day of the Bush speech. This session already had the famous sand chart that was the gist of the later report. I agree that it doesn’t prove substantial input, but it certainly was meant to suggest it.

    It is possible that O’Keefe’s real interest was in technology development rather than actual missions. That would be consistent with his enthusiasm for bureaucracy, his record of cancelling missions, and his own resignation before RTF. It is also possible that O’Keefe picked Mars when pressed, although in the Cowing-Sietzen version, White House planners picked the moon, then Bush and Cheney tacked on Mars and beyond. Do you have a reference for these things that you say were well-known in Washington?

    Anyway I’m not in a position to dispute either the journalism of Cowing and Sietzen (although their judgment is a fair target), or your opposite claims.

  • William Berger

    “It is not just the O’Keefe report released in February (which may have been ghost-written, as you suggest).”

    Why do you call it “the O’Keefe report” when it was issued by NASA and undoubtedly vetted by the OMB?

    “O’Keefe also had an extended Q&A session on the day of the Bush speech. This session already had the famous sand chart that was the gist of the later report.”

    So? You were arguing “input” which means “before the decision was made.” I would also argue that “input” implies that he had substantial influence, because everybody can offer suggestions, but what is important is what actually gets INTO the policy.

    Just because the Administrator talked about and defended the policy AFTER it was unveiled proves nothing.

    “I agree that it doesn’t prove substantial input, but it certainly was meant to suggest it.”

    No, it does not “suggest” anything about O’Keefe’s earlier influence, just that O’Keefe was told to explain and defend the policy that Bush unveiled. O’Keefe worked for Bush. He played Good Soldier until he did not get promoted and took a much better paying job in academia.

  • I was calling it the O’Keefe report because the “Dear Reader” letter on page 3 is its closest approximation to a byline. But maybe it is better to call it the anonymous NASA report.

  • Bob

    Cecil Trotter writes: “I find it ironic that a math professor can’t read a calander.”

    and Cecil Trotter also writes: “No the difference is Donald tries to be factual while you make no attempt to…..You make intellectually dishonest assessments and declarations about everything you disagree with and then just expect everyone to take those as fact.”

    No, the real difference is that Greg makes a good attempt to respectfully verbalize his interpretation of the facts while you resort to sly personal insults over and over. I’ve noticed that Greg (and a number of other posters) stay above these personal attacks while you consistently snoop down to it.

    Just because Greg disagrees with your beloved and adored president, doesn’t mean he deserves your insults, nor does it mean he is insulting you.

  • Cecil Trotter

    “Just because Greg disagrees…”

    No, he distorts and lies. Donald Robertson also disagrees with Bush on many things yet he and I can have a reasonable debate about that disagreement. The difference is that Donald does not resort to distortions and lies, as does Kuberberg.

  • sirrus

    I think without the rush program that the Apollo ultimately was, the X-15 program would have continued with incremental tests and upgrades, and we’d have a fully reusable inexpensive (comparatively) LEO transport in the 80′s. Even Von Braun advocated LEO assembly, EOR staging, LEO and L point stations with artificial gravity, Mars ship assembly in LEO, and “slow but sure” progress — the antithesis of the Apollo. The Apollo was really more of a stumbling block in the US space program, IMHO. A necessary political gamble. We wouldn’t have lost the space race anyway. (the soviets wouldn’t have reached the Moon anyway, they only put up a half-assed, underfunded attempt *in response* to the Apollo)

    Even if now NASA could afford with its budget re-enactment of Apollo flights, so what? A couple of tax-subsidized astronauts jumping around and on the Moon for a couple of days, twice a year? Why? Longetivity of the program was not a consideration then, why would it be now with the same layout?

  • Paul Dietz

    I find it unlikely that X-15 would have led to LEO transport in this incremental timeline. X-15 provided data on low-hypersonic flight; it was not a prototype for an orbital spacecraft.

    What would have driven the space program was the demand of the military (and commerce) for satellite launches. So we’d have had expendables. Without Apollo to create a large entrenched manned spaceflight bureaucracy, I suspect we wouldn’t have had much manned spaceflight at all — it’s not as if there’s been a large non-NASA customer base clamoring for it at those costs.

  • Edward Wright

    > X-15 provided data on low-hypersonic flight; it was not a prototype for an orbital spacecraft.

    Check X-15B, X-15/Navaho, and Project 7969.

    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/x15b.htm
    http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/navhox15.htm
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/prot7969.htm

    > What would have driven the space program was the demand of the military (and commerce) for
    > satellite launches. So we’d have had expendables.

    Not necessarily. Reusable Atlas was proposed as the launcher for AT&T’s Telstars, before Kennedy nationalized the communication satellite industry.

    > Without Apollo to create a large entrenched manned spaceflight bureaucracy, I suspect we
    > wouldn’t have had much manned spaceflight at all — it’s not as if there’s been a large non-NASA
    > customer base clamoring for it at those costs.

    You’re overlooking Mercury, X-15, DynaSoar, HL-20, M2, Reusable Atlas, and X-24.

    The assumption that manned spaceflight has to have “those costs” came largely out of Apollo.

  • “OPEN LETTER TO NASA AND OTHER SPACE AGENCIES OR CORPORATIONS”
    Greetings,
    I have been very excited about the emerging details of NASA’s future plans for space travel, bases and the recent $28 million contracts to Lockheed Martin and a Northrop Grumman-Boeing to develop plans for the CEV’s. I believe your agency is short changed on your budget by congress because they are so Economy centric.

    I believe that if NASA were to put together a couple of strategically targeted Ad Campaigns on how national and international space enthusiasts can contribute a modest amount of money (And receive a Medal or Coin souvenir) to a budgetary overflow fund for those cases where you just have to go a little over budget to get it right. This could in my modest estimation add %5-%15 to your yearly budget. I know the viewers of the Sci Fi, Science, Discovery, and other similar channels would be a great test bed for the idea.

    Secondly, I understand that the heavy-lift cargo transport rockets are going to have to be one of the more expensive projects because there really aren’t any alternatives. Recently the very talented group of Scientists and Engineers that won the X Prize came up with some ingenious re-entry techniques that I think NASA should be open to exploring for fleets of inexpensive Space Planes that can be used for Scientific, Rescue, and even Military applications. Some of the manned flight in the 2010 era will be cheaper, safer and more efficient because of good old Capitalism. These companies are looking to make money and loose as little as possible.

    and Lastly, as I mentioned previously, there is a real interest by arm chair scientists and space buffs to feel more involved in space exploration than just paying their taxes. Some of the groups such as the Mars Society and others have been spending a lot of privately raised money on real hard science. Why not work together in developing space base technology in some situations?
    I appreciate you taking the time to listen to the ideas of a computer geek (by profession), student pilot and space buff (by hobby),

    Thank you,
    Corey Goode
    Dallas, Texas