Congress, NASA, White House

Reacting to the budget proposal

Granted, there’s not much in that FY10 NASA budget summary released yesterday, but there’s just enough—both the topline budget number and the statements that commit the agency to retiring the shuttle in 2010 and returning humans to the Moon by 2020—to warrant a variety of reactions from the space community. Some highlights:

In a brief statement, acting NASA administrator Chris Scolese calls the proposal “fiscally responsible and reflects the administration’s desire for a robust and innovative agency”. The budget also gets a thumbs-up from the Coalition for Space Exploration, calling it a “vote of confidence for NASA by the President” and hoping that future budget specifics “address some of the fiscal challenges that NASA faces in future years.” Similarly, the Aerospace Industries Association expresses its support for NASA and other aviation and defense budget proposals. “In this remarkably difficult economic atmosphere, we are encouraged to see a budget proposal that recognizes the importance of our national security and invests in space and aviation priorities,” AIA president and CEO Marion Blakey said in the statement.

Not everyone is happy, though. “The budget proposal for NASA represents a disappointingly small step in the right direction,” said Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham in a statement. “Combined with the lingering absence of a NASA administrator, we are missing a golden opportunity to lead and inspire at a time when leadership and inspiration are crucial.”

Former NASA official Chris Shank, speaking with Space News [subscription required], is pleased with the near-term budget but has reservations about the future. Buried in a chart in the summary tables section of the budget outline [page 18 of the PDF document] is that the administration is projecting flat budgets for NASA after FY10: $18.6 billion in fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, and $18.9 billion in 2014. “More money sooner is always better for program and project planning, but in 2012 to 2013, the consequence of that flatlined budget translates into $1 billion less than was previously planned.” he said, referring to Bush Administration outyear projections that had NASA’s budget growing at 2.4 percent a year.

In Florida, the apparent decision not to extend the life of the shuttle didn’t go over well with some. “We cannot fly the shuttle forever, but conducting shuttle launches on an arbitrary deadline is unsafe and unnecessary,” Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center, told Florida Today. She said that the administration also “must provide additional resources to minimize the gap between the shuttle program and Constellation in order to protect jobs at Kennedy Space Center and throughout Central Florida”. However, in a statement provided to the paper, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) was happy to see the administration endorse existing plans to return to the Moon and “to extend the shuttle if needed to complete work on the International Space Station”, a claim not necessarily supported by the language in the budget summary.

The budget proposal also gets words of encouragement from Alabama’s senators: both Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions said they were “encouraged” by the size of the proposed budget. However, the Huntsville Times article curiously claims that “NASA will receive $1.4 billion extra next fiscal year for a variety of lunar missions”, although there is no breakout yet of how the $18.7 billion would be spent.

And what about the lack of specific references to Ares or Orion in the budget document? John Logsdon tells New Scientist not to read too much into that just yet. “I wouldn’t interpret the absence of the words ‘Constellation’, ‘Ares’, and ‘Orion’ one way or another. That’s really up to the new management team, when it gets there.”

Finally, this dispatch from the Department of Wishful Thinking, not about the FY10 budget but the stimulus bill passed earlier this month: a Deseret News article about whether any of that stimulus money will go to the Ares 1 development. “NASA has received $400 billion specifically earmarked for the space shuttle replacement. But it is not clear yet if any of those funds will be available to ATK for its portion of Ares.” [emphasis added, of course; the actual amount is $400 million]. Presumably for $400 billion you could get one heck of a “shuttle replacement”. Maybe.

60 comments to Reacting to the budget proposal

  • Alan Ladwig

    I must disagree with my friend Eliott’s assessment that the NASA budget represents a “disappointingly small step.” With a $1 billion increase, plus another $1 billion from the stimulus package, I would say the Administration is making good on its campaign commitments for NASA and has signaled support for a balanced aeronautics and space program. Considering the budget challenges that the Administration faces and the need to allocate funds among the many worthy national priorities the space community has much reason to be encouraged. While the out-years are less certain, all the more reason for our community to focus on the job at hand and demonstrate that the budget increase represents money well spent.

    I also do not share Eliott’s concern about the “lingering absence” of a new Administrator. The Administration made a sincere effort to name a new Administrator prior to the inauguration. However, due to push back from certain elements of the community, the nomination did not occur. Due to the circumstances surrounding nominations of other Cabinet members the White House personnel team had to refocus their attention on higher priority positions and the vetting process for all Senate-confirmed positions has intensified. Nonetheless, the selection process for the NASA Administrator continues and I believe a new leader will be named well before the seven to eight month time period that has been the case with previous administrations.

    In the meantime, Chris Scolese is doing a superior job as NASA’s Acting Administrator and has the support of a dedicated senior management team at Headquarters and the Centers. Chris has routine access to, and is engaged in, ongoing communication with senior leadership at the White House responsible for space issues. and has been active in sharing information and receiving suggestions from members of Congress. Contrary to media reports that we are an agency “adrift,” NASA is moving forward to implement the policies of the Obama Administration and the direction mandated by Congressional authorization.

  • red

    I’d say NASA’s still in an “approaching train wreck” type of budget situation. It’s true there are some NASA funding increases in the stimulus package, omnibus bill, and Administration 2010 proposal. However, the Administration and Congress have more ambitious plans for NASA’s Aeronautics, Earth Science, and Education areas.

    The Administration proposal keeps NASA on track to retire the Shuttle, avoiding adding another big train to the pile-up. However, with the 2020 Moon goal still in place, and NASA still working on the same systems it was under Bush and Griffin to achieve that goal, the big decision still looms. If we keep the $105B+ ESAS architecture with all of its chances of budget overruns, schedule delays, and so on, we have more ambitious goals in the areas I mentioned above, and we have expensive Science missions like the Mars Sample Return and Europa orbiter, then NASA’s budget is going to continually be under great strain, and many valuable smaller missions/programs will be cancelled or not see the light of day.

    The big elephant in the room is ESAS. By itself, it’s just a government rocket program. Just expensively getting a handful of astronauts to the Moon again with a little more payload than Apollo is, by itself, pointless. Unfortunately, ESAS as it’s currently being done is close to being “by itself”. There’s little commercial participation in the transportation system (refueling, commercial substitutes for ESAS components, independent, cost-effective lunar transport systems, etc). The same is true for surface operations. The lunar orbit and surface robotics plan for science, ISRU and similar demos, etc, so far is way too small. There is little “shared cost” in the current plan (in the sense of, say, ISS COTS cargo costs being shared by other business for the COTS rockets and spacecraft). Without this kind of more diverse “ecosystem”, the ESAS effort is just an expensive government show-off program that isn’t close to being worth the missions and programs that could have been funded instead.

    The big open question is will the Administration and Congress make a switch from the current exploration plan to either make it worth funding, or to make it cheaper so other more important things can be funded … or both? The solution is probably going to have to involve much greater commercial, other private, and international participation in the exploration program. However, there are countless forms that could take – exploration transportation systems, lunar robotics and other surface systems of all sorts, lunar satellites, space infrastructure, non-Ares ISS crew transport to take off budget pressure, commercial participation in the Aeronautics/Earth Science/Education areas to take off budget pressure there, etc.

  • sc220

    red says it well. The big unknown in all this is to what extent the new Administration, through the new NASA Administrator, will look “under the hood” and adjust the current plan. I sincerely hope that this occurs and involves the perspectives of more than just NASA and its currently funded minions. People representing a national and even international perspective need to be engaged to weigh in and determine what course we chart for exploration in the future.

    The current science program is well on-track. However, it needs to be re-examined within its current limitations and the opportunities offered by more direct crew involvement. More importantly, human exploration must be reexamined within the context of new robotic capabilities, the need for meaningful scientific return and realistic cost constraints.

  • ,em>More importantly, human exploration must be reexamined within the context of new robotic capabilities, the need for meaningful scientific return and realistic cost constraints.

    Human spaceflight is not about science. As long as we continue to delude ourselves that it is, we will continue to get flawed policy.

  • SpaceMan

    Human spaceflight is not about science

    Once again Mr. Simberg speaks out of the wrong end of his alimentary canal. Has he ever done anything else ? Apparently not.

    Your time has passed. Move on & spend your time learning about reality instead of enhancing your self delusion.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Sorry SpaceMan, but I agree with Rand

    Human spaceflight is not about space science, by and large ( I won’t say it has nothing to do with science). I would argue that we don’t really have a definite reason that has been articulated and agreed upon for why we do human spaceflight. We have heard the “inspiration” argument, and exploration (although I have yet to see a definition of that), but neither have really established a clear, measurable reason for humans in space.

    I personally would submit the idea of space development, space commerce, and ultimately, space colonization, is the justification for humans in space, but thats just me.

  • I would continue to argue that the only real science that has been done in space exploration has been done by human missions (e.g., the detailed geologic surveys and absolute dating achieved by Apollo and some of the biology on the various orbital stations we’ve launched). We’ve done a lot of great quick-look reconnaissance with robots, but every time we’ve tried to automate experimental science, it’s failed (e.g., Viking, which while a technical success, utterly failed to answer the questions it was built to answer because of unanticipated features of the soil; Phoenix, which was a partial failure because of other unanticipated features of the soil that an astronaut could easily have worked around, et cetera).

    Experimental science needs people. Quick look reconnaissance does not necessarily need people. If we want to avoid wasting vast sums on future Vikings and Phoenixes that fail scientifically, this is a distinction we need start making.

    – Donald

  • Doug Lassiter

    Not only is human space flight not about science, but it sometimes tries to be, principally because it really isn’t about much else. There are good reasons to believe that human space flight could help advance science, but robotic autonomy and telepresence make hands-on involvement by humans considerably less enabling than it used to be.

    There are two clear reasons for human space flight, though it is interesting that the 2010 budget summary doesn’t even suggest either of them. One is the “moving out” argument, that civilization eventually needs to find ways off the Earth. That might be the priority of a civilization, but it can’t be the priority of a federal budget. Another is “soft power”, and the chest beating that human space flight allows a nation to do. There is some perception of national value in that. I suppose a third might be that our aerospace industries need support, and human space flight is a convenient way to throw them bones.

    I completely agree that as long as we continue to delude ourselves that human space flight is about science, we will continue to get flawed policy, but add that we would also thereby avoid asking the hard questions about what human space flight is really for. One can’t expect rational policy about human space flight unless we’ve done the latter.

  • Doug: robotic autonomy and telepresence make hands-on involvement by humans considerably less enabling than it used to be.

    Well, Doug, we keep being promised that robots and tel presence will replace the need for humans, but robots that try to do what humans do well (e.g., getting an unknown type of icy dirt into partially open test tubes) continue to fail. We can’t even automate the docking of spacecraft in Earth orbit with compete reliability — something that is practically designed for automation — but we’re going to spend five to ten billion dollars attempting a one-shot Mars Sample Return that requires reliable automated docking in Mars’ orbit, among many other difficult-to-automate tasks? Dream on. . . .

    – Donald

  • Scott

    There are many here who apparently did not watch Star Trek as a child, or personally witness the Apollo landings. I agree that not all of it is tangible but the bottom line is Man must explore, Man must continue to reach and do things that have not been done……there are not even words for all of the reasons for manned space flight.

    I am always shocked when I hear some of the arguments against human exploration…..it is like some people are born with out the essence that makes us human beings.

  • Doug Lassiter

    We can’t even automate the docking of spacecraft in Earth orbit with compete reliability

    I’ll save you some dreaming. Progress has been doing docking without human involvement quite capably for years. (Yes, occasionally the autonomous nav system has to be overridden, but not very often.) The ESA ATV did as well, and did so quite handily. Ah, *we* can’t do it. Yes, I’m afraid you’re right with regard to ISS, though Orbital Express did it quite nicely elsewhere. What kind of completeness are you looking for?

    I am always shocked when I hear some of the arguments against human exploration

    As I am always shocked when proponents of human space exploration can’t cite a credible motivation for doing it, and even are conveniently at a loss for words in expressing it! My comments should not be interpreted as an argument against human space flight. I believe in human space flight (and I’m a devoted Trekkie, and personally witnessed the Apollo landings), but it pains me that our advocacy of it has not been entirely successful. Why has it not been? Because the justification for it for it has been heretofore pretty hand-waving. “Loss of words” doesn’t sell exploration, BTW. That “Man must explore, Man must continue to reach and do things that have not been done” is true, but it’s hardly unique to human space flight. Besides, I don’t accept the idea that riding rockets has anything to do with an essence that makes us human beings … and I don’t think you do either.

  • Doug, to justify $5 billion to 10 billion on a one-shot mission, you’d better have a lot better reliability than demonstrated by Progress to date. Your other examples were one-shots themselves, so far, and by themselves do not demonstrate reliability, especially since you conveniently ignore or belittle the many recent failures. If you’re going to spend that kind of money on a one-shot mission, I want a very complete prior history indeed, e.g., no failures at all for the rest of the Space Station program. Until then, you’re far better off saving your money in the near term, spending ten times that over a longer period of time sending pilots and geologists, and having the potential of actually getting scientific results comparable to those obtained by Apollo.

    There are plenty of justifications for human spaceflight, and the best ones are in fact scientific. However, most scientists with an ideology and financial stake in the way we do things now, either declare them “non-science” (e.g., microgravity agricultural experiments or studies of the reaction of organisms and physical processes to the microgravity environment that, after all, dominates the universe), or define clearly human-dependent missions as automated ones (e.g., Hubble), or make the absurd claims that they achieved “no science” (e.g., Apollo). The more honest ones at least claim that the science achieved was not worth the cost, but it is far from clear that any amount of automation funding could have achieved the detailed geological results returned by Apollo — which, however you want to cut it, still form the fundamental body of ground-truth data used for most solar system science to this date. And, that was achieved by an infrastructure that was hardly optimized for science. . . .

    – Donald

  • Major Tom

    “Doug, to justify $5 billion to 10 billion on a one-shot mission, you’d better have a lot better reliability than demonstrated by Progress to date. Your other examples were one-shots themselves, so far, and by themselves do not demonstrate reliability, especially since you conveniently ignore or belittle the many recent failures. If you’re going to spend that kind of money on a one-shot mission, I want a very complete prior history indeed, e.g., no failures at all for the rest of the Space Station program. Until then, you’re far better off saving your money in the near term, spending ten times that over a longer period of time sending pilots and geologists, and having the potential of actually getting scientific results comparable to those obtained by Apollo.”

    There’s no logic to this argument. We can’t complain about potentially wasting multiple billions of dollars on a robotic mission that fails a rendezvous on the one hand, when a human mission to the same target will cost hundreds of billions of dollars (at least) and involve many more rendezvous events with chances for failure. Makes no sense. If taking risks on the former is bad, then taking risks on the latter is terrible.

    No doubt that humans in space can do lots of good science. But given the enormous absolute dollar amounts involved in human space flight and huge relative cost advantage of robotic missions, Mr. Simberg and others in this thread are right — human space flight cannot be justified based on science alone.

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    Apollo is a horrible example of human space flight advancing science. Sure, it did advance lunar science very significantly, and that’s great, but it cost nearly $150 billion in current year dollars. $150 billion! (Oh, and it’s going to cost of order that to go back and try to do some more …) No, sorry, it didn’t advance lunar science THAT significantly. For $150B, you know how many modern teleoperated if not autonomous rovers we could put up there? OMG. We’re talking fleets. Covering the Moon.

    Space science is enormously important and, I truly believe, as a national challenge, human space flight is too. But please don’t try to artificially bond the two together just because they are both important. There are some interesting ideas about using humans to build, service, and maintain scientific facilities in space, and it remains to be seen if doing it with humans is actually cost effective. But be aware that Constellation WON”T DO IT. Constellation is being designed to go to the Moon, and ESMD doesn’t want to be bothered with any thing else.

    Accusations of “ideology” and “non-science” are unfounded. The science community wants science performance/dollar, and quite frankly, human space flight has never provided that. If science performance/dollar is ideology, then more power to it. I will accept the fact that if science performance/dollar is not the proper metric, then sure, get astronauts doing heroics for national pride, and science on the side.

    Let’s not get into a humans versus robots argument. That’s just blather. They are both important, but for different things. For humans, science is not one of those things.

    (Umm, what do microgravity agricultural experiments have to do with human spaceflight?)

  • Scott

    I think the same arguments on both sides happen over and over and in a way become pointless……The most compelling case for exploration is the one that has a result that you can not predict. Was the discovery of America a destination? no it was an accident while exploring for something else. Everyone is smart enough to know and understand the importance of not only the trip but the lessons learned along the way. We are destined to live on other planets one day. We have to learn how to make the trip….something robots will never be able to show us.

  • richardb

    Mr. Simberg is like a bleacher bum at Yankee Stadium, always the authority, even when making no sense.

    Manned missions make sense because the country insists on having them. Other countries are finding their own rationales as well. In the US, evidently lots of people have put up serious deposits to fly Virgin to the edge of space. People will go into space whether the anti-manned mission Luddites wish it or not. Heck even Obama believes the Luddites are wrong.

  • Scott

    btw….if we had discovered life on the moon….or some new energy source or some mineral that ended up being a cure for cancer, would the 150 billion had been worth it then? 300 billion? 1 trillion?

    You never know what you are going to get….sometimes you do well and sometimes you get nothing……It is all part of human exploration….in my mind there is really no valid argument against that….you can only quote me statitics and probabilities against something that we really know nothing about.

  • Doug Lassiter

    If we discovered a new energy source on Earth, would it be worth $150B, or $1T? Sure! Maybe. What does the Moon have to do with it? You don’t build policy on “If’s”. You don’t build policy on “you never know what you’re going to get’s”. By the way, Columbus’ voyage was SURELY not funded because Queen Isabella said, “Hey Chris, go out and … find good stuff.” That historical analogy is bogus. Serendipity is something that is attached to rationale. It isn’t rationale by itself.

    Actually, there are lots of good reasons why we *won’t* find a new energy source on the Moon. So where do you come off with a blue-sky idea like that? Is there a proposition you want to test, or is this a fishing expedition? That’s not how science works, and it’s not how responsible resource prospecting works. Get a fleet of rovers up there, and at least do your fishing economically.

    OK, we’re “destined” to live on other planets someday. I’m not sure who inflicted that destiny on us, but I’m willing to bite. Unfortunately, the Moon is not a great place to live, and Mars is very far away. It’s possible that we, as a civilization, are just not ready to make the steps that would have to be taken.

  • red

    Donald: “I would continue to argue that the only real science that has been done in space exploration has been done by human missions.”

    Since we’re talking about the NASA budget, it might be useful to look at the NASA robotic science areas (rather than just space exploration). Earth observation missions obviously have a human ground truth component of the type that Donald stresses, so by his criteria they’re covered there. Astronomy missions that study objects outside the solar system, whether you call them surveying or science, are the best we can do – we aren’t getting astronauts there any time soon. Check. The same goes for solar science missions. Check. Science related to biology is generally already done with astronauts, although that could change with options like DragonLab. (And how much of the ISS science is done using telecommunications from Earth?) Check. That just leaves us with planetary science missions, and specifically the subset of planetary science missions where there’s a reasonable chance of astronauts being involved any time soon, where we can have the type of on-the-spot geologist type of science Donald advocates replacing robotics. So … this whole robots vs. astronauts debate, when framed in the in-situ geologist way, is really only over a small part of NASA’s budget – maybe in the ballpark of $1B(?) per year involves robotic missions that astronauts could get to. Even there, I’m not convinced robots couldn’t do a better job than Donald suggests. For example, for the Moon, modern robotics combined with quick telepresence from Earth could give some impressive results. We just haven’t seen it tried yet.

    I think use of astronauts for Hubble-style servicing and telepresence has a lot of potential for overcoming the humans vs. robots debate. sc220 made what I thought was a good case, including cost, prospects for success, commercial benefits, and science benefits, for such an effort at another site a while ago.

    Since it appears the Moon is still the next destination for astronauts, though, I’d suggest that NASA make a much greater effort than it is now in lunar robotics to prepare for the astronauts in various ways (site survey, ISRU demos, other engineering demos, science [get the science community interested and on your side], site setup, etc). See the recent proposal from Astrobotic for an example.

  • sc220

    Donald: “I would continue to argue that the only real science that has been done in space exploration has been done by human missions.”

    This statement is nonsense. Tell this to the several thousand PhDs and space “scientists” who graduated using data from space probes and telescopes. In fact, it’s quite insulting to say that only humans in-situ can perform any meaningful scientific investigation. Donald, you need to realize that scientific investigation has advanced far beyond the need that people need to stick their hands on everything they investigate.

  • Manned missions make sense because the country insists on having them.

    I find this an amusingly ironic illogical non-sequitur in response to my comment, coming from someone who a sentence earlier accused me of making no sense.

    And I would note that, as predicted, the discussion has uselessly devolved back down to whether men or machines do better science, when manned spaceflight isn’t primarily about science.

  • Major Tom

    “Donald: “I would continue to argue that the only real science that has been done in space exploration has been done by human missions.”

    This statement is nonsense. Tell this to the several thousand PhDs and space “scientists” who graduated using data from space probes and telescopes. In fact, it’s quite insulting to say that only humans in-situ can perform any meaningful scientific investigation. Donald, you need to realize that scientific investigation has advanced far beyond the need that people need to stick their hands on everything they investigate.”

    It’s more than nonsense — it’s just plain ignorant and goofy. An in-space human presence has no relevance to most space science observations. It’s silly to claim that human missions have performed the only real space science when human senses can’t see 99.9999% of the electromagnetic spectrum, can’t detect space radiation or magnetic fields at all, can’t identify molecular composition except at the grossest level, and can’t make any of the hundreds of other measurements that underpin the process of discovery (in any scientific discipline).

    That doesn’t mean that an in-space human presence can’t benefit some scientific observations and experiments. But that’s a very far cry from the claim that the only “real science” involves humans in situ.

    One would never say that the discovery of a new deep sea species using a camera on a remotely controlled submarine isn’t “real science” because human divers weren’t on site. Same goes for remote, robotic, and telescopic science platforms in space.

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    Since it appears the Moon is still the next destination for astronauts, though, I’d suggest that NASA make a much greater effort than it is now in lunar robotics to prepare for the astronauts in various ways

    Very sensible. It would be through such efforts that we would have a clearer view of exactly what we need humans for. I believe we will find such things, and the case for humans on the Moon would actually be enhanced.

    Donald, you need to realize that scientific investigation has advanced far beyond the need that people need to stick their hands on everything they investigate.

    More to the point, we’ve advanced well beyond the need to be located where we’re handling things. As any physician who has done complicated telerobotic surgery knows very well.

    as predicted, the discussion has uselessly devolved back down to whether men or machines do better science, when manned spaceflight isn’t primarily about science.

    No, it has devolved to an intelligent discussion of what I feel you were correct in stating, but what you tossed off without compelling argument. BTW, there was no prediction that I ever saw.

    Human space exploration isn’t science, but science should not hesitate to carefully consider the special opportunities that human space flight (especially beyond LEO) might offer. That has not been done properly. One might hope that the new administration will give some emphasis to doing that. Sad to say, there are no pointers to any such consideration in the new budget summary.

  • richardb

    Mr Simberg, to spell it out for you. In the US, for over 40 years the USG and American people have supported manned missions.
    Now it’s possible that some of those people aren’t as smart as you. But its definitely the case that many see things a little better than you do.

  • Mr Simberg, to spell it out for you. In the US, for over 40 years the USG and American people have supported manned missions.

    Which has absolutely nothing to do with science (or, for that matter, whether or not it “makes sense”), so once again, we have an idiotic non sequitur in response to my comment.

  • Just to be helpful, here’s a novel idea, “richardb.”

    Why don’t you actually read what I write, and then attempt to respond to that, rather than some unfounded fantasy of what you would have preferred to imagine that I wrote? The standard way to attempt to demonstrate that you have done this, over the years on Usenet and in blog comments (as I’ve done in this thread), is to actually quote what the other person wrote, and write an actual response to it.

    I’m not sure, and in fact skeptical of the notion, that you’re capable of it, but how about at least giving it a try?

  • Scott

    well anyway….were going to the moon by 2020. I win, case closed :)

  • Doug Lassiter

    were going to the Moon by 2020″

    Heh. For lack of an apostrophe, you hit the nail on the head. But I admire your enthusiasm.

  • Scott

    :) thanks Doug….never a spell checker around when you need one lol

  • [...] is a brief but vociferous debate about the value of human spaceflight over at Space Politics, under a discussion of the new NASA proposed budget.  An often expressed [...]

  • richardb

    Mr. Simberg, the legend in your mind will never grow unless you learn to write with some wit, clarity and humility. Traits you currently lack.

  • Human space exploration is not about science, or even exploration for that matter. These things are a consequence – a side effect – of having humans in space. In fact, science and exploration are a consequence of humans being just about anywhere, including the bottom of the ocean or in caves dozens of kilometers below the surface. Humans will make observations (either directly or through remote probes), form hypotheses, test them, and then find a way to exploit the results somehow. That’s what humans do.

    The question on everyone’s mind is “Why?” Why do we go to all of these extreme places (in person and with probes)? The answer is quite simple: niche exploitation and expansion. It’s a biological imperative. We do what biological organisms have always done: expand to fill an available niche, exploit resources where possible, and then search for new niches to fill. In every biological population, there are individuals or groups which make it their purpose to accomplish each of these tasks. Humans are particularly adept at this and are doing so at an unprecedented rate.

    What makes humans so special is that they are the first species capable of expanding the biosphere beyond the surface of the Earth. Humans alone are capable of taking this simple biological imperative out into the universe; exploiting the resources found there, remaking the environment to sustain themselves, and always pressing forward. It is for this purpose that the robotic probes are made and sent out in advance; and that robotic machines are being created to assist humans in hostile environments. It is also for this reason that we cannot send robotic probes alone.

  • Scott

    Just a random thought as we wrap things up here, I think it is interesting to wonder how far we would have advanced in space over the last 40 years if tight budgets had not played such a major role. For example lets say that the space race had continued at least up to when the cold war ended…do you think we would have colonys on mars already? I sometimes think it would be wonderful to take politics out of space exploration, perhaps a non discretionary budget with built in general increases. But not only is that not realistic it also seems to be the least productive because we Americans thrive on competition and tend to do our best work in the fave of adversity. Part of me sorta hopes a new space race with china will emerge, It is definitely a way to light the fire under the general public to gain support for future Mars missions. Just a thought :) I enjoyed your comments Eric, and I agree. Robots make great tools, but they can not replace being there.

  • Senior Scientist

    Human spaceflight is not about science.

    human space flight cannot be justified based on science alone.

    as long as we continue to delude ourselves that human space flight is about science

    It is all part of human exploration

    You people all have extremely limited, narrow and close minded opinions on what science is and how it works. Learing to live in space is science. Science clearly indicates that our civilization has little if any basis in science. Science clearly indicates that it wouldn’t take much to bring it to its knees, and that the science of ‘living in space’ (hint : Earth is in space) is the ONLY manner in which the gross deficiencies of our modern civilization may be mitigated, reverse and rectified.

    It’s all about science, and the science of living in space is at the top of the list, because otherwise, in the very near future, there will be no scientists.

    Not only are Americans delusional about their place in the universe, humans are just about the most delusional intelligent species ever.

    The current science program is well on-track

    Laughable, at best.

  • Mr. Simberg, the legend in your mind will never grow unless you learn to write with some wit, clarity and humility. Traits you currently lack.

    And once again, demonstrating your inability to respond to anything I’ve actually written, you resort to unfounded insults.

  • Scott

    It is real easy to be reeled in by trolls, especially on a subject you care deeply about. Silence can be golden :)

  • [...] discussion at Space Politics got me thinking about the scientific value of human spaceflight.  Although there are many reasons [...]

  • Doug Lassiter

    I can’t resist responding to some of the latter significant posts, some of which are marginally intelligible …

    Science clearly indicates that our civilization has little if any basis in science.

    humans are just about the most delusional intelligent species ever

    But moving beyond those, um, remarkable observations, we get a more conventional thought …

    Human space exploration is not about science, or even exploration for that matter. These things are a consequence – a side effect – of having humans in space. In fact, science and exploration are a consequence of humans being just about anywhere, including the bottom of the ocean or in caves dozens of kilometers below the surface. Humans will make observations (either directly or through remote probes), form hypotheses, test them, and then find a way to exploit the results somehow.

    One has to think hard about what humans beings physically in space (as in, helmets, suits, etc.) offer compared to being virtually in space (as in, hand-on -joystick in Pasadena). Human intelligence, creativity, and insight is brought to space exploration in both cases, though not necessarily quite in the same way. I’m amused that, when we talk in schools about Spirit and Opportunity, and ask the kids “so, where are the explorers?”, they don’t miss a beat. The explorers are the ones controlling the robots, they say, and even the engineers who built and launched them. Such telerobotics, in fact, put humans “just about anywhere”, and the capabilities are increasing very rapidly. Oceanic scientists, BTW, have largely stepped away from human submersibles in favor of such telerobotics operated from the support ship.

    Robots make great tools, but they can not replace being there.

    Because, in many respects, they already put us there.

    OK, sure, that’s from a perspective of science productivity. Putting human flesh in space does have other kinds of return, but it’s a little harder to quantify. We need to have better ways to express that return. Certainly as distances get larger, telepresence is less effective, and having “feet on the ground” has stronger science value as well.

    Again, I’m trying to pull the discussion away from the “humans versus robots” rut that the space community seems to keep falling into, but perhaps without much success. There are reasons to put humans in space, but you need to be really careful to get those reasons right, especially with modern technology. I very much hope that the new administration, as it develops its own vision for space exploration, will think hard about that.

  • Doug: For $150B, you know how many modern teleoperated if not autonomous rovers we could put up there? OMG. We’re talking fleets.

    Really? The last time I looked the LRO was approaching a billion dollars in total costs. It is a safe bet that landers that could do any geology at all would cost at least as much. So, you are down to some 150 automated missions, at best. More importantly, you are comparing the marginal costs of automated missions with the total cost of developing and flying a series of human missions. The marginal cost of even an ESAS mission is estimated at “only” some $2 billion. That is, for four times the marginal cost of flying the LRO on already existing launch vehicles and using adaptations of existing spacecraft designs, you could fly one human mission once development is paid for. Are you really prepared to argue that the LRO would achieve one-forth the science of an updated Apollo-class mission putting geologists on the moon?

    The financial benefits of automation are not anywhere nearly as black-and-white as advocates of robotics make out.

    – Donald

  • Doug: The science community wants science performance/dollar, and quite frankly, human space flight has never provided that.

    If that were the measure, we would not do any spaceflight, human or automated. We could get a lot more science a lot cheaper by ignoring astronomy and doing other science.

    – Donald

  • Major Tom: One would never say that the discovery of a new deep sea species using a camera on a remotely controlled submarine isn’t “real science” because human divers weren’t on site. Same goes for remote, robotic, and telescopic science platforms in space.

    Hang on a minute. The discovery of the species with a camera is fine, but you’re not going to learn much about its biology until you bring to the surface and study it in a lab. You also need to spend lots of time in the native environment observing its everyday life. Hands-on, experimental science, especially when dealing with geology, is vastly undervalued in today’s scientific world.

    – Donald

  • [...] Reacting to the budget proposal – Space Politics [...]

  • TANSTAAFL

    Donald,

    I think even you know that you overstated your point. Do us all a favor and acknowledge it.

    There is very valuable space science that does not include human presence.

    Or do you disagree with the Swedes when they gave the Nobel Prize to the investigators of COBE?

    - TAANSTAFL

  • Scott

    Hey, I thought I ended this thread yesterday :)

  • Genuine Mind

    Hey, I thought I ended this thread yesterday

    Is that conservative re tar d humor? I thought you were genuinely interested in space, but only a complete corn holer would say something that stupid on a space forum, and then append it with a smiley. Just to refresh your crippled conservative mind, the subject is ‘Reactions to the proposed NASA budget’.

  • Anne Spudis

    “Genuine Mind” wrote: <>

    I guess you’re the one that Dwayne A. Day missed.

    ……”Although there are plenty of conservative/libertarian pro-space enthusiasts vocally advocating some kind of manifest destiny, conquest-of-space philosophy, there is very little liberal pro-space activism. That’s not to say that there are no liberal space enthusiasts, only that they don’t infuse their politics into their space advocacy, and they certainly are not as strident as the libertarians.”….

    The green green grass of Earth

  • Progressive Thinker

    I guess you’re the one that Dwayne A. Day missed.

    It’s so nice that the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads show up on this esteemed space forum to relay to us the unsupported unscientific opinions of others, since they have no original thoughts of their own. You must understand that I am a scientist and a progressive thinker, thus I can only speak for myself.

    Therefore I choose to ask questions.

    The question I am asking myself and others, is why should any ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’ or ‘American’ support the ill conceived, incompetantly executed, unaffordable, and indeed already demonstrably failed moon program, of a president who has the kind of lawyer with opinions of someone like John Yoo. So please tell us about Bill and Monica, Ms. Spudis.

    Heckava job.

    I am an American with honor and integrity, not a dittohead.

  • Tanstaafl: Granted, I overstate my point. However, the default position, that automated spaceflight can answer all scientific questions if only they got all the money that is now “wasted” on human spaceflight, is even more extreme, yet considered mainsteam. I get very frustrated that thinking people who call themselves scientists can actually believe that (or that, for example, we could possibly have an “end to physics” before we’ve physically explored some representative sample of the Universe) and so, yes, I overstate my case.

    I once heard a robotics expert at NASA Ames (whose name, unfortunately, I’ve lost track of) state that “No robot in any of our lifetimes will find a fossil on Mars except by purest accident,” and went on to list all the tasks required to find and recognize a fossil on a terrestrial desert where fossils are known to exist — so even some robotics experts are prepared to acknowledge the limits of what robots and teleoperation can do. Unfortunately, that kind of honesty or sense of reality among the automation crowd is rare in the extreme.

    – Donald

  • However, the default position, that automated spaceflight can answer all scientific questions if only they got all the money that is now “wasted” on human spaceflight, is even more extreme, yet considered mainstream.

    And of course, it’s completely unrealistic. Space science will never get the amount of money that human spaceflight does, absent human spaceflight because…(where did I hear this before…? Oh, yeah) human spaceflight is not about science, and never has been.

  • scott

    I just find it amusing but kind of sad that even on a forum like this people resort to personal attacks. It just seems like some subjects should be immune to that kind of garbage.

  • I just find it amusing but kind of sad that even on a forum like this people resort to personal attacks.

    People are people, regardless of the topic.

  • Scott

    yeah I know Rand, but it just seems out of place. I expect it some places…ie mac vs pc users etc but things like space exploration, physics etc it seems should be different. I guess I am thinking intelligent people would not stoop to that level.
    I hope you know what I mean.

  • Space Garbage

    some subjects should be immune to that kind of garbage.

    Do you think space itself should be immune to your garbage?

    Let me clue you in. It’s not.

    I guess I am thinking intelligent people would not stoop to that level.

    You think it’s better to either not talk about your problems, or deny them?

    Let me clue you in. It’s not.

  • Scott

    I think you missed the point. I am all for a good argument. This is really
    a web phenomenon, most people would never get down in the dirt like
    they do if it were not so anonymous. What I am really referring to might be
    more akin to respect for others opinions than intelligence or maybe a little bit of both. It may boil down to something as simple as to the way you were raised. Anyway when I am reading a discussion and someone starts attacking another personally instead of defending their views with facts, I quickly move on…Just felt like I needed to say something this time because it surprised me to see it here.

  • most people would never get down in the dirt like
    they do if it were not so anonymous.

    The creature may be using pseudonyms, but it’s the well-known space troll Thomas Elifritz.

  • Inyerface

    I am all for a good argument.

    Anyway when I am reading a discussion and someone starts attacking another personally instead of defending their views with facts,

    If you were just reading this discussion, that would be fine, but you were participating in this discussion with the comment ‘I thought I ended this discussion’. In the America of this present administration, comments like that will no longer go unchallenged. Get used to it.

    well-known space troll Thomas Elifritz.

    Let’s talk about the opinions of John Yoo then.

    You are the most pathetic excuse of an American I have ever encountered.

  • Anne Spudis

    Where is the “troll” Whisperer?

  • Jeff Foust

    A reminder to please be civil in your comments. If you’re unable to do that, please don’t post here. (That goes especially for you, Mr. Elifritz.)

  • Dave

    Jeff – is there any way you can block those with a history of uncivil language on this site? It’s really getting in the way of intelligent discourse and learning new things. Thanks.

  • Jeff Foust

    Dave: unfortunately some people go to great lengths to cloak their identities, which make such filtering difficult. Short of moderating all comments or disabling comments entirely, my suggestion is to ignore the trolls; without attention they’ll go away.

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