Congress, NASA, Other

Space telescopes, supercolliders, and the perils of big science

Pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge has become increasingly expensive. In astronomy, that has meant larger telescopes, both on the ground and in space (in addition to increasingly complex planetary probes). In particle physics, it involves a series of larger and more powerful accelerators. However, one Nobel laureate fears that governments’ willingness to fund such ventures may have reached its limit.

Speaking on the topic of “Big Science in Crisis” at the American Astronomical Society conference Monday night in Austin, Texas, Steven Weinberg said he was pessimistic that governments would fund the next step in particle accelerators beyond Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), regardless of the scientific case for it. “It’s going to be a very hard sell, and it may be impossible to get the next accelerator built,” he said.

That pessimism, he said, stems from his experience two decades ago with the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a large particle accelerator that was already under construction near Dallas when Congress canceled it in 1993. The project, he said, got an “undeserved reputation” for cost overruns and, with a limited constituency for the program within Congress, was vulnerable to being cut.

“Whatever else it is, a large scientific lab is a public works project,” Weinberg said. “It, therefore, will always get enthusiastic support from local politicians, as it [the SSC] did in Texas, and hostility, or at best apathy, form other legislators from other parts of the country.” Weinberg admitted later in his talk that the project compounded its problems by initially relying too much on a single political patron, then Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX), who was forced to resign in 1989 because of a scandal, as well as not doing enough outreach to other members of the House (which led the later effort to cancel the SSC.)

Those issues, along with competition for funding elsewhere in science (another issue that hurt the SSC), remain today. “All of these problems are going to come up again when we go to our governments for the next big accelerator,” he said.

Weinberg says there are similar problems with the future of astronomy, in particular with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). “Its history is somewhat reminiscent of the SSC,” he said. “It’s facing accusations of overspending, but the problem again is that at the funding levels being requested, it’s being stretched out to the point where it’s getting more and more expensive.” Like the SSC, the JWST has a strong Congressional patron, in this case in the form of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), “but you can’t really rely on it too much.”

Weinberg, who has long been a strident critic of human spaceflight, also brought that up in his talk. “All of the great discoveries that have made such great progress in cosmology in particular have been from unmanned observatories,” he said. “The International Space Station was sold as a scientific laboratory, but nothing interesting has come from it.” He did say the ISS now has “one real science experiment” on the ISS, in the form of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, but that experiment largely runs autonomously from the activities of the station’s crew. He also blamed the ISS in part for the SSC’s demise, as the Clinton Administration elected to advocate for the station’s continuation in Congress, but not the SSC, when both were threatened with cancellation in 1993.

Although Weinberg didn’t menton it, his description of scientific labs as public works projects could also apply to human spaceflight activities: they too have largely local support, with a few key patrons in Congress primarily from districts and states with NASA facilities, while the rest of Congress tends to be apathetic, at best. Interestingly, after his talk Weinberg could be seen chatting with NASA’s new associate administrator for science, John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut best known for his work on several Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions; perhaps he sought to remind him that human spaceflight and astronomy can coexist and even work together.

Weinberg didn’t offer specific solutions to the problems facing big astronomy and physics projects beyond an overall increase in government spending that would provide more funds for those projects without putting them into competition with infrastructure, education, and other priorities. “We mustn’t get into a conflict between science and these many needs of our society. For one thing, we’ll lose,” he said.

Without some kind of change that makes governments more willing to fund big science projects, he concluded, “we may see in the next decade or so an end to the search for the laws of nature which will not be resumed again in our own lifetimes.”

114 comments to Space telescopes, supercolliders, and the perils of big science

  • If the case for heavy lift today is weak, then how stands the case for HEP and Big Astronomy right here, right now?

  • amightywind

    The record is clear. Democrats kill big science so they can fund social programs with a larger political payoff. Professor Weinberg is quite right. Big science new starts will be rare in the coming decade. That doesn’t include, ISS however.That funding black hole spins round and round, but it is anything but big science. I’m not sure what it is. It’s like an expensive international summer camp. We could do a lot of big science if we cancelled it.

  • NASA Fan

    Does anyone know if Steven Weinberg talk has been posted somewhaer?

  • @amightywind:

    The record is clear. Democrats kill big science so they can fund social programs with a larger political payoff.

    Considering Big Science is a slush fund for folks not likely to be hard up for work, this is a rare, if conditional, case of wisdom exhibited by the Left.

  • MrEarl

    I like this quote about the JWST:
    “It’s facing accusations of overspending, but the problem again is that at the funding levels being requested….”
    So it’s not way over budget, congress just won’t give it a blank check. lol

  • Dave Huntsman

    Things with SSC and ISS were a bit more nuanced than Weinberg asserts. International participation in SSC – or the lack of it – was also a major factor. In fact, I was ensconced as a Japan Society Fellow in Tokyo at the time Japan was discussing participation in both SSC and whether to continue with ISS/Freedom, and I was directly involved in the internal discussions. Japan elected not to try to save SSC by jumping in sooner rather than later, but rather to see if the US was serious enough about it first to continue it on its own. It wasn’t.

    It is true that the broken American political system plays its part. NASA plays that game by spreading things like ISS/Freedom among most Centers and even more states; SSC support was confined to one state. A solution in the future that spreads the accelerator’s wealth farther afield would seem to be in order. In addition, more work beforehand to cement not only international participation, but also international contributions, is in order; something only attacked when it was too late with SSC.

    Weinberg is only partially correct on selling ISS; it was sold for science only at one point – by Augustine – and Augustine was wrong. Reagan certainly didn’t start it for science, for example. Nor did I join it as head of System Engineering for science, but for our ability to learn and demonstrate large structures in space as part of a big international coalition.

    And by maintaining there is only one science experiment he’s showing his own bias and limitations; even now before it is fully utilized there is much science going on – only one major astrophysics experiment, all the rest being in other sciences, whether it be combustion science, fluid science, biological science, etc. The man is so narrow minded he is not someone you’d like to have on a committee.

  • NASA Fan

    Prof Weinberg is dead on. NASA can forget flagship/big science probably forever. They eat up a much larger percent of the sponsoring divisionss budget these days than in years of yore; and since the sponsoring divisions budget have slowly been eroded over the years, and other mission costs are also climbing, it is ckear the flagship paradigm is dead.

  • Coastal Ron

    Without some kind of change that makes governments more willing to fund big science projects, he [Weinberg] concluded, “we may see in the next decade or so an end to the search for the laws of nature which will not be resumed again in our own lifetimes.”

    Congress has been willing to fund science programs, but that willingness takes a hit every time the programs come back and say they need more money. Part of the solution therefore is for future programs to become more competent at staying on budget, not to ask for more money.

    I also don’t believe that average mission costs have to keep spiraling upwards. Sometimes difficult times like these force people to reconsider their assumptions about what is possible, and how to do it. Just like all entrepreneurs, they may need to discover/invent new ways of solving their problems, which means lower cost ways of collecting the same science.

    However it’s the leadership of these science programs that need to make sure they are making sound decisions up front, since once you’ve locked yourself into specific hardware & software it’s hard to make big reductions in cost later on (JWST is a good example). From that standpoint, maybe Congress should be evaluating a programs management when they consider funding a program as well as the science it proposes to return?

  • pr

    “NASA plays that game by spreading things like ISS/Freedom among most Centers and even more states; SSC support was confined to one state.”

    My idea on this that will never happen is to force the place that gets the benefits to pay a larger share of the operating cost, in recognition of their disproportionate benefits. Suppose NASA sent the State of Florida 20% of the bill for running the Kennedy Space Center. What do you suppose the legislature would do?

    “Nor did I join it as head of System Engineering for science, but for our ability to learn and demonstrate large structures in space as part of a big international coalition.”

    Maybe so, but that strikes me as self-righteous masturbation at someone else’s expense. Let’s learn how to build something big and expensive and useless to demonstrate how to build something big and expensive and useless. The experiments that are being done on ISS are only worthwhile not for their own merit, but as demonstrations of what can be done on ISS.

    By the way, I joined Space Station as an entry level puke when it was only supposed to cost $8 billion. I quit when I figured out that the cost estimates were fabulous fabrications despite the fact that its scientific mission had been thoroughly gutted.

    Which brings the bigger question: how much gets done in space because it’s worthwhile in it’s own right, and how much gets done because there’s a dedicated pot of money for doing things in space? And by worthwhile I mean the value exceeds the cost, even if value is defined very generously. There are many things that fall into the former category, but I’m hard pressed to put anything involving crews into the latter.

    Also keep in mind that cost is people. Smart, motivated people who could be doing something else more useful.

    Let’s play a little thought experiment. Offer a scientist 100 megabucks. He can A) spend it on the Space Station on an ISS experiment and associated transportation costs, or B) on anything else useful. How many would take option A?

    And, FWIW, I think you can ask the same question about particle accelerators. The price has gone well beyond the point where and knowledge that comes out could ever justify the cost. Countries want to say “mine’s bigger,” just like drunks in bars.

  • Why aren’t we assembling the JWST at the Space Station? It’s a rhetorical question, but I think an important one. The next Next Generation Space Telescope, if assembled and serviced by astronauts from Orion, would not require so much of the extreme reliability and expensive automation required for the JWST. It still would not be cheap, but it would probably be cheaper and the chances of success would be far higher.

    – Donald

  • Dave Huntsman wrote:

    And by maintaining there is only one science experiment he’s showing his own bias and limitations; even now before it is fully utilized there is much science going on – only one major astrophysics experiment, all the rest being in other sciences, whether it be combustion science, fluid science, biological science, etc. The man is so narrow minded he is not someone you’d like to have on a committee.

    —-end of quote————————-

    Dave, that is something that more and more people are noticing about too many scientists and engineers in general. Some people are also saying that the big science and engineering projects run by narrow minded, rigid scientists and engineers are failing to really produce real advances. Some people are now calling the STEM problem a STEAM problem. What does the A stand for? The Arts. It seems that scientists and engineers with an arts side are considerably more productive in their major fields than those who are not. In case people are wondering, I began my adult life by getting a degree in physics. My photographic art — an important hobby of mine — draws significant attention in the art world. Oh — for most of my career I worked in IT. Now I am looking for work as a generalist. We might be making a comeback.

  • amightywind

    Nor did I join it as head of System Engineering for science, but for our ability to learn and demonstrate large structures in space as part of a big international coalition.

    This may be one of most appalling comments I have ever read on this forum.

    And by maintaining there is only one science experiment he’s showing his own bias and limitations

    Bias maybe. Limitations? He is one of the world’s most brilliant theoretical physicists. Like many of us, it is hard for him to call rats running on a wheel in zero g ‘science’.

  • Dave Huntsman

    I won’t apologize for being motivated by the desire to figure out how to build and assemble large structures in space; and to learn how to effectively build large international coalitions to do so. I’m surprised at the opposition to that here.

  • amightywind: This may be one of most appalling comments I have ever read on this forum.

    Huh? Even in the unlikely event that something like a “cure for cancer” (which cannot exist, per se) is discovered on the ISS, the simple act of successfully building it will prove to be its most important result, in much the way that simply proving you could send a human to the moon was one of the most important engineering results to come out of Apollo. The first submarines were useless, built only to prove that it could be done — yet decades later they led to vehicles with a great deal of military and industrial use.

    The ISS was a management disaster — only abject failure could have made it worse — and should have looked a lot more like Mir. However, by learning how to build large structures in space you enable all sorts of things, from the small-launcher-and-fuel-depots model for exploration, to truly large telescopes, solar power satellites, and large interplanetary spacecraft assembled in orbit. Today, it is providing real-world practical experience on day-to-day operations in orbit, everything from local traffic control in the station’s vicinity to fluids management. Likewise, at least for the moment, the ISS is providing the initial market allowing commercial space transportation to get its start. I would guess that, in the distant future, Mir and the ISS will be seen as more significant steps than Apollo’s quick dashes to the moon and back.

    As for science, plant growth experiments — it took a decade or more for the Russians on Mir to learn how to successfully grow plants in microgravity — are essential to any spacefaring future involving humans on site. There are thousands of process experiments being conducted on the ISS — e.g., tankage slosh control — most of which will probably lead nowhere, but a few of which could incrementally improve spacecraft design and exploration strategy.

    The ISS is far, far too expensive — but don’t let that fact blind you to its uses. If Space X succeeds, the existance of the ISS as a market will be a major part of the reason.

    – Donald

  • @Robertson:

    Why aren’t we assembling the JWST at the Space Station ?

    Because it’s only 6 tons.

  • @Huntsman:

    Nor did I join it as head of System Engineering for science, but for our ability to learn and demonstrate large structures in space as part of a big international coalition.

    So $150 billion later, what did you learn?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    In my viewpoint some of the best comments on this forum, particularly the one I have listed.

    I would however say this.

    “Steven Weinberg said he was pessimistic that governments would fund the next step in particle accelerators beyond Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), regardless of the scientific case for it. “It’s going to be a very hard sell, and it may be impossible to get the next accelerator built,” he said.”

    generally I think that he is wrong, if he is associating the hard sale with the notion that it is for science.

    The hard sell is that almost none of the large projects anymore (at least in human spaceflight…and large flagship programs as well as the SCSC) have any clue as to how to budget the program and come up with realistic cost estimates.

    ISS was presented to the country as an 8 billion dollar effort back in 84…and I think that they could have built “some” space station for 8 billion…but even a 20 year old knew that there was no chance that NASA was going to build any of the stations that were being pushed (dual keel, power tower) for anywhere close to that. All designs required things being done which had never been done before and for which there could be no real solid cost estimate based on that fact alone.

    Then you get into the problems you raised…ie multi center and finally multi nation…and the cost just went out the roof.

    I dont know why the SCSC went out of control. Decades ago on the Compuserve Space Forum Mark Ruckman (anyone know where he is?) who had some expertise in the effort did a pretty good job explaining why…and I ran it through a friend of mine who was Chief of Staff to the Senior Texas Senator at the time…and my friend agreed with it…

    But in reality the thing was probably just to darn big to have any real serious cost estimates.

    But all that aside. Large projects get into trouble when 1) they dont meet time or cost estimates, 2) they are constantly descoping and 3) they dont have a wide enough political base to see them through…EXCEPT 3 is not really needed if 1 and 2 are well in hand.

    That is the simple fact that most of the folks who are bemoaning the lack of future “flagship” programs or who are blowing away for massive human spaceflight efforts to “somewhere” need to remember. f

    If one can keep cost and schedule within reason…then political support stays. If you cant you need a very very wide base to keep it going.

    See what happens if the new Mars Rover goes splat…RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    This may be one of most appalling comments I have ever read on this forum.

    Actually the implication of your comment is what’s appalling, not what Dave Huntsman said.

    You appear to be like many who don’t realize the world around them, how it’s made and how is works. Without being able to assemble things in space we will be relegated to MPCV-sized transportation, throw-away designs, and be limited in how far we can go.

    That was OK in the 60′s when all we wanted to do was flags & footprint type missions, but if we ever want to expand out into space we need to become competent and skilled builders in space. We will need more people like Dave Huntsman, not less.

  • Well said, Coastal Ron. Way too many years ago, when construction of the ISS was just getting under way, I started an article on ISS construction with the following. I still stand by it.

    Building the Space Station represents a unique point in human history. Even as it is finally getting under way, few people — supporters and opponents alike — realize just how big and potentially important the project really is, or how difficult building it will be.

    Learning to assemble large and complex structures in the microgravity of space is fully comparable to humanity’s invention of large-scale construction in stone. That is believed to have been developed by the Egyptian physician and architect Imhotep, who built the Step Pyramid at Saqqara almost five-thousand years ago.

    It is no accident that Imhotep is one of the oldest names of a person who was not a king that survives in history. Once you have learned to build with stone, instead of mud brick, you can construct large and permanent structures outside of the desert, in the wetter climates that dominate Earth’s surface. In building the Space Station, humanity is learning nothing less than how to build large and permanent structures in the microgravity environment that dominates the Universe.

  • DCSCA

    “The (SSC) project, [Weinberg] said, got an “undeserved reputation” for cost overruns…” Rubbish. It was mismanaged and ballooned into a bloated waste of American tax dollars and one was eventualy built in Europe so the ‘science’ didn’t suffer.

  • amightywind

    You appear to be like many who don’t realize the world around them, how it’s made and how is works.

    Hubble servicing gave us comparable experience, and the work actually had value. You are confused about the concept of investment, I think. There is some value to having a space station, but the $100 billion cost of the ISS and $3 billion we spend on it annually are grotesquely out of line with what it does. I want to upchuck every time I see another NASA TV interview with the dullards on board. Why don’t we scuttle the ISS, take the $3 billion saved and properly fund a modest Bigelow station. Then we could use the excess $billions to do something else worth while.

    See what happens if the new Mars Rover goes splat…RGO

    There will be hell to pay, and it was so unnecessary. The root problem is that the Mars exploration architecture is being managed by committee. I hope for the best, but know better.

    Over the holidays I learned of the recent passing of Ron Greeley. He was a wonderful scientist and person.

  • DCSCA

    “See what happens if the new Mars Rover goes splat…RGO”

    Yep. These ‘probes’ were supposed to be getting cheaper and this one clearly is proof otherwise.

  • Coastal Ron

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Building the Space Station represents a unique point in human history. Even as it is finally getting under way, few people — supporters and opponents alike — realize just how big and potentially important the project really is, or how difficult building it will be.

    I certainly see it that way. While not perfect by any means, it has been a prototype for us to use for confirming what works or doesn’t work.

    If we wanted to replicate it, I have no doubt that we could do it for a fraction of the original cost, which would certainly be a good measure of success.

    - – – – – – – – – – -
    amightywind wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Hubble servicing gave us comparable experience, and the work actually had value.

    Not even close to comparable – 11mt Hubble vs the 450mt ISS. The Hubble was valuable in validating that we could do in-space assembly and fine detail work, but the ISS proved we could do it on a large scale.

    And let’s keep in mind that instead of spending money on repairing Hubble, we could have set up an assembly line to build replacements for far less than the cost of each Shuttle flight. We went out of our way to use Hubble as a testing ground for manual repairs.

    Why don’t we scuttle the ISS, take the $3 billion saved and properly fund a modest Bigelow station.

    I think Bigelow stations will have an important part in our expansion out into space, but the current family of Bigelow modules are not designed for supporting the amount of equipment that the ISS currently houses.

    What your comments really reveals is the disposable culture that still grips parts of NASA. We’re never going to be able to afford to expand out into space if you keep throwing things away as soon as they get built, and the taxpayer won’t believe you when you say “no really, this time we’ll use it for it’s intended life”.

  • amightywind said:

    Like many of us, it is hard for him to call rats running on a wheel in zero g ‘science’.

    —–end of quote————–

    One very real problem we face as a species is learning how to live in microgravity — if it is possible. Astronauts who spend six months on ISS take years to get back to their normal state of health because of things like loss of bone mass, etc. It might not be possible for humans to live in space for long durations. That problem has enormous implications for the future.

  • amightywind

    We’re never going to be able to afford to expand out into space if you keep throwing things away as soon as they get built

    Sure, that is regrettable. The alternative is throwing good money after bad for appearance sake. ISS is so egregious drastic measures are required. Approach it like an investor, because you are.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 1:34 pm
    “Why aren’t we assembling the JWST at the Space Station? It’s a rhetorical question, but I think an important one. The next Next Generation Space Telescope, if assembled and serviced by astronauts from Orion, would not require so much of the extreme reliability and expensive automation required for the JWST. It still would not be cheap, but it would probably be cheaper and the chances of success would be far higher.”

    Circum-ISS contamination and low-orbit debris, g-loads getting out of LEO (which the current architecture of JWST can’t endure, at least with chemical propulsion), and the expense of human rating everything. Those are the main reasons. But assembly at EM L1, either by humans or telerobotically, would at least obviate the first two.

  • Coastal Ron: We’re never going to be able to afford to expand out into space if you keep throwing things away as soon as they get built, and the taxpayer won’t believe you when you say “no really, this time we’ll use it for its intended life”.

    Amen to that. We should take a lesson from the Russians and their Soyuz. There is no reason we shouldn’t be designing and using rockets for the ages. It is not as if the technology for expendable rockets is improving much, or is likely to.

    Regarding the ISS, for better or worse, infrastructure tends to have a permanence and self-justification all its own. The ISS has constituencies, now, with real money tied up in its continuance, throughout the world. Recall that it is a “national lab.” It is easy to laugh at that, but it was done by a political constituency who wanted to ensure its permanence. Witness the extreme resistance to shutting down the Shuttle program — it took two deadly accidents and clear evidence of how fragile and expensive the system was, and even then it was hard. Look at how hard the Russians fought to keep Mir going.

    Individual modules of the ISS will wear out and either be sidelined or replaced, or maybe reused for another purpose (even the Americans are talking about doing that!). But, the ISS is more than the sum of its parts. I consider all of this good news because the ISS is the only large market for commercial space transportation for at least the next few years, so its falling into the ocean would not be good for a human future in the Solar System. And, once SpaceX, et al, start flying there, it will have still another constituency, and likely a powerful one.

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I would not be surprised to see something recognizably directly descended from the ISS still in orbit the day I die, which, hopefully, still be several decades from now.

    – Donald

  • Aberwys

    Congressional committment issues!

  • @Coastal Ron:

    I certainly see it that way. While not perfect by any means, it has been a prototype for us to use for confirming what works or doesn’t work.

    Really? And what exactly was “confirmed” not to work by this $100 billion “prototype?”

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Sure, that is regrettable.

    Stupid is more like it. How do you explain to the taxpayers that you’ve decided to throw away a 20-year life-span space station just after it becomes operational? Why would they ever believe you will manage their space investments any better in the future?

    Approach it like an investor, because you are.

    I seem to realize that more than you.

    As an investor, you don’t realize gains or loses until you sell, which in this case would be A) Loss – dumping the ISS in the ocean or selling it to China, or B) Gain – maximize it’s usefulness for our next step into space, and even use some of it’s hardware for that effort.

    Look, I readily admit that the ISS is a grand experiment, but those that don’t like it can only point to it’s price tag as it’s major detriment, and that has already been paid for. So from here on out, the best way forward is to maximize it’s use, whether as a whole or in it’s components.

  • @Robertson:

    But, the ISS is more than the sum of its parts.

    Is that so? In what way?

    Circum-ISS contamination and low-orbit debris, g-loads getting out of LEO (which the current architecture of JWST can’t endure, at least with chemical propulsion), and the expense of human rating everything. Those are the main reasons.

    Not even close. Those reasons aside, why would you lift JWST in pieces when the whole thing assembled requires a single launch?

  • @Coastal Ron:

    Stupid is more like it. How do you explain to the taxpayers that you’ve decided to throw away a 20-year life-span space station just after it becomes operational?

    Probably the same way you tell them you’re ditching Constellation: it costs billions per year to support, they get nothing out of it, and that you’ve got something better to replace it for the same dollar.

    Why would they ever believe you will manage their space investments any better in the future?

    They took the end of the Shuttle program pretty well. Don’t worry about the taxpayer so much. He’s not as interested in this as you think.

  • Prez Cannady: why would you lift JWST in pieces when the whole thing assembled requires a single launch?

    The JWST is _not_ launched assembled. It’s launched like an orgami, and has to unfold and fit together with incredible precision all by itself. This includes the mirrors, the sun and Earth shade, and various masts. Go to the Web site and watch the deployment animation, and then try to convince yourself that this is going to work.

    Most likely it will — we Americans are good at this sort of thing — but it probably would have been no more expensive to have an astronaut stretch the shade, unfold the mounts, and insert the mirrors. More importantly, the chances of success would have been higher, and the chances of recovery from failure would have been far higher. In my opinion, the smartest decision NASA has made in recent memory was to mount an Orion docking port on the JWST — if it hasn’t been reversed since — so that there is at least the possibility of repair if (when) something goes wrong, either during deployment or operations. Even on todays schedules, it seems possible that Orion will be flying during the JWST’s life and vice versa.

    Donald

  • Coastal Ron

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Really? And what exactly was “confirmed” not to work by this $100 billion “prototype?”

    So far? Now that it’s just recently been completed?

    Not much apparently – Urine Processing Assembly had problems, Solar Array Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) bearing failure, control moment gyroscope failures – stuff like that. Those would be minor hardware failures, which are good examples of what we need to learn about if we’re going to be building longer lasting & better space hardware.

    Nothing major so far apparently, but the ISS is still young.

  • SpaceMan

    This may be one of most appalling comments I have ever read on this forum says AMightyFetidWind

    Guess you never read your own postings.

    The medical knowledge we gain from our experience with the ISS will alone, over the long run, be worth far more than our investment. Any one that thinks otherwise isn’t paying attention or is deceiving themselves. Others have already mentioned some other fields of human endeavor that will benefit. And then there will be unknown unknowns that become knowns.

  • Coastal Ron

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Probably the same way you tell them you’re ditching Constellation

    Constellation never came close to becoming operational, and hadn’t spent a major percentage of it’s budget. Apples and oranges.

    They took the end of the Shuttle program pretty well.

    Most yes. Some no. However that was after being operational for 30 years, so people do get attached. If Congress had been doing it’s oversight function correctly the Shuttle program may not have lasted past year twenty (we could have built the ISS without it).

    And yes, I would hope that Congress keeps tabs on the ISS too, since I don’t want it to turn into a perpetual budget-consumption program like the Shuttle was. But again, it’s still early in the life of the ISS, and more time needs to pass to get a full understanding of how it’s doing. So far I think it’s doing OK.

  • And, in the end, Constellation was not ditched. It has come back from the dead in the form of a virtually identical giant rocket and Orion — which were the useful parts of Constellation (Ares-1 was always a complete waste of money; the last thing the world needed was yet another expensive medium-class expendable rocket). The SLS has a more flexible (and therefore better) booster design than the Ares 5, and the most expensive possible main engines (as opposed to the RS-68s used on the Delta-IV and the Ares 5) – a mistake, as I argued in Space News a while back. But, for all practical purposes, SLS = Ares-5. For better or worse, Constellation proves my point.

  • @Coastal Ron:

    Constellation never came close to becoming operational, and hadn’t spent a major percentage of it’s budget. Apples and oranges.

    Your “operational” space station is a the difference between a 10 hr work week and a 35 hr work week. It also merits probably less than an hour or so thought from the average American each year. Oranges and oranges.

    Most yes. Some no.

    “Some” in this sense doesn’t amount to a hill of beans politically.

    And yes, I would hope that Congress keeps tabs on the ISS too, since I don’t want it to turn into a perpetual budget-consumption program like the Shuttle was.

    Deorbit it now, then.

    But again, it’s still early in the life of the ISS, and more time needs to pass to get a full understanding of how it’s doing. So far I think it’s doing OK.

    Doing okay at what?

  • Jeff Foust wrote:

    Pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge has become increasingly expensive.

    Stupidity, e.g. denial of evolution and climate change, is costing us a lot more.

  • Weinberg, who has long been a strident critic of human spaceflight, also brought that up in his talk. “All of the great discoveries that have made such great progress in cosmology in particular have been from unmanned observatories,” he said. “The International Space Station was sold as a scientific laboratory, but nothing interesting has come from it.”

    Yeah, let’s ignore those potential vaccines for salmonella and MRSA, the research into starving to death cancer tumors, and all the rest of the potential disease cures currently being researched. So what if it’s only been fully operational for six months.

    Never mind that heavyweights like Boeing are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial crew and the Bigelow space station because they know microgravity is the next Gold Rush. Forget all that. Weinberg knows better because he’s never had anything to do with it. Medical science isn’t his field, therefore it should be ignored and all the money should only go to what he personally likes.

    What a jerk.

  • Greg Smirnoff

    Dave Huntsman is correct. The original goals and ideas behind ISS was not science at all.

    Reagan approved it based on potential economic/industrialization benefits. The US Lab module was not even a significant or critical element. Most NASA people looked at it as a prototype for a spacecraft to take us to Mars.

    The problem is that many of the NASA managers don’t have a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it. After a short time a lot of the management started parroting lines like “its for world class science” and they forgot what it was really for. A lot of those managers are in place today.

    Similarly, the organizations and people start developing their own reasons for being and their organizations never get consolidated or eliminated or replaced and the people never get moved to new functions even after their original functions have long been completed. Shuttle was like that-it was supposed to get cheaper to operate over time, with USA coming in to take over ‘commercial’ operation, but NASA would never relinquish control and USA just saw Shuttle as a cash cow.

    ISS is at exactly this stage now; actually has been for years. The design was done decades ago. The hardware development and manufacture finished ten years ago and longer, and the assembly ops largely finished five years ago. The organization should have been reduced down to some minimum level of sustaining ops, maintenance, logistics. and yet there are just as many organizations, just as many people and just as large a budget as there has been right from the start. Which means NASA cannot afford to do anything else.

  • Coastal Ron

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    And, in the end, Constellation was not ditched. It has come back from the dead in the form of a virtually identical giant rocket and Orion — which were the useful parts of Constellation…

    Constellation was not a rocket program, it was a program to return us to the Moon that supposedly needed new rockets in order to get it’s exploration hardware there.

    From that standpoint, Constellation is dead (i.e. no more Moon program). However some are still under the impression that we need a new mega rocket in order to go exploring – we don’t.

    The MPCV, while probably an OK design for Orion’s original mission to the Moon (i.e. Griffin’s “Apollo on steroids”), is too general to solve any real exploration or transportation needs – it’s too small to live in, it’s too expensive by virtue of being single-use, and other than being an expensive lifeboat it doesn’t solve any defined transportation need. Lockheed Martin did a great job salvaging the program, but it’s destined to have a short life if NASA gets the Nautilus-X program going.

    The SLS has a more flexible (and therefore better) booster design than the Ares 5…

    Many of us would argue that though someday we may need a rocket that can carry payloads far larger than existing rockets, we’re not there yet. And we would also argue that the U.S. aerospace industry could take care of NASA’s needs when that future need arises, so why should NASA build and operate their own rocket?

    Based on that, it’s hard to be excited about any SLS feature.

  • FRED CINK

    FermiLab is closed, the SCSC was never finished and Europe/Cern is now the leader of High Energy Particle Physics on the planet. Strike One. Shuttle is retired, we have to beg a ride with the Russians and instead of progressing forward we are returning to ”60s tech launchers. Strike Two. The last RTG just departed for Mars and we’re not even capable of producing another for a decade or more. Strike Three. Paranal is now the largest, most capable observatory on the planet, and we aren’t even talking about something better. (I wonder if the TPF mission will ever launch) Strike Four. America an empire/civilization in decline??? NAAWWW. we got our welfare programs that will solve ALL the worlds problems. Just ask US.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I think that you and Weinberg are correct actually.

    ISS will never accomplish much as long as it is stuck inside the structure that built it…those people are simply not competent in general and not competent in how to allow various game changing experiments.

    The paperwork to fly anything is stupefying. Robert

  • Stupidity, e.g. denial of evolution and climate change

    One of these things is not like the other.

    (Hint: the climate has been changing since time immemorial).

    Just because Jon Huntsman doesn’t understand science doesn’t mean that you don’t have to.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 8:31 pm
    “Weinberg, who has long been a strident critic of human spaceflight, also brought that up in his talk. “All of the great discoveries that have made such great progress in cosmology in particular have been from unmanned observatories,” he said. “The International Space Station was sold as a scientific laboratory, but nothing interesting has come from it.”

    Yeah, let’s ignore those potential vaccines for salmonella and MRSA, the research into starving to death cancer tumors, and all the rest of the potential disease cures currently being researched. So what if it’s only been fully operational for six months.”

    Seems like a harsh criticism. Weinberg is talking about what ISS has actually done and not about its potential (whatever he believes that potential is). ISS promises a lot, but has done rather little in developing real medically relevant discoveries. You used the word “potential” twice in talking about what ISS has done. He didn’t use it once. ISS is a triumph of proven engineering and management. Re science, it has a lot yet to prove.

    Microgravity may be the next gold rush, but the investors you name don’t see it as a gold rush for science.

  • Rand Simberg wrote:

    Just because Jon Huntsman doesn’t understand science doesn’t mean that you don’t have to.

    Rand, with all due respect …

    I used to enjoy reading your insights. But you have lowered yourself with your incessantly snide and demeaning potshots. The current dangers posed by climate change are undeniable by anyone who respects science. You don’t appear to have respect for anyone other than yourself.

    It’s become old, and now I scroll by your posts just as I do the trolls on this forum. Why? Because of the delight you take in demeaning people.

    This is probably the last time I will respond to one of your posts. What a shame.

  • amightywind

    Astronauts who spend six months on ISS take years to get back to their normal state of health because of things like loss of bone mass…

    This is the perpetual defense of ISS, and it is lame. We’ve known about bone loss in zero g for over 40 years. The problem doesn’t require any further study, it requires mitigation. Von Braun proposed a spinning space station 60 years ago, and we are still spending billions ‘studying’ the problem. ISS is obsolete by design.

    Stupidity, e.g. denial of evolution and climate change, is costing us a lot more.

    The political tainting of climate science is one of the great frauds of all time. It is okay to ponder the decay of the proton or the constancy of the speed of light, but question the predictions of some climate scientist’s computer model and you are a heretic. 5 years ago the world was paying attention. It isn’t anymore.

  • Jeff Foust

    Discussion of climate science and policy is off-topic here, folks. Thanks for your cooperation.

  • Not much news here – the colossal debt burdens that are destroying the EU and soon to hobble the US have been a train wreck long in the making, and will continue to eat away at the support for programs such as the ones mentioned in the original essay.

    http://spacecynic.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/blog-interrupted/

    also, note the comments in this blog post from 2008 – so many predictions (shuttle will be extended, VSE will continue, etc) that of course never came to pass…

  • “also, note the comments in this blog post from 2008 – so many predictions (shuttle will be extended, VSE will continue, etc) that of course never came to pass…”
    That was indeed true of a number of people who commented here. Others of us were predicting Ares I would never fly, which did indeed come to pass.

  • MrEarl

    The ISS has contributed a lot to science already, just not the science that Weinberg is interested in.
    The design, construction and assembly of the ISS contributed greatly to engineering. The fact that the ISS is still in orbit we gain knowledge in operations, maintenance and materials reactions to a zero G, near vacuum environment. Experiments are taking place on the ISS that study the effect of zero G on the biology of plants, animals and humans.
    The ISS has and continues to perform valuable science, but not in the “science” that Weinberg either finds important or interesting. He also believes the fantasy that funds eliminated from one project, the ISS, will automatically flow to the projects he finds interesting.
    Since the ISS has international support as shown by various studies to extend its useful life, he would be better served by looking for ways to leverage this asset for the science he dose find interesting.

  • Sandholtz

    Boozier wrote :”VSE will continue, etc) that of course never came to pass…”
    …. were predicting Ares I would never fly, which did indeed come to pass

    I’d say that as of this writing, in 2012, its still too early to see what will happen with the Vision. I am hopeful the next Presidenbt will get it back on track and end the madness that is Orion and SLS.

    Ares 1 never flew. A Shuttle SRB, significantly modified, including having its name modified to “Ares 1X”, was what flew. We already knew that once it ignited it was going somewhere. That was never a question. What did it prove? Shuttle SRB’s once ignited will go somewhere.

  • @MrEarl:

    The ISS has contributed a lot to science already, just not the science that Weinberg is interested in.

    Really, what?

    The design, construction and assembly of the ISS contributed greatly to engineering.

    What contributions would those be?

    The fact that the ISS is still in orbit we gain knowledge in operations, maintenance and materials reactions to a zero G, near vacuum environment.

    Not sure what “knowledge in operations” means, whatever on-orbit “discoveries” in maintenance (as opposed to procedures devised thoughtfully right here on Earth) occurred as happenstance and would’ve been encountered doing any number of cheaper, more productive things, and, setting aside ultra-high vacuum chambers, man had been getting familiar with the near vacuum environment for forty years before ISS started construction.

    Experiments are taking place on the ISS that study the effect of zero G on the biology of plants, animals and humans.

    Seriously, what is the expected value of biological and medical research conducted in trials that cost hundreds of millions of dollar each to perform? This isn’t a problem simply with the ISS, but Big Science in general. It simply costs too much to reliably produce useful results; all the while draining resources from efforts that will likely bring costs down to a productively manageable degree.

    The ISS has and continues to perform valuable science…

    Your arguments are eerily similar to those raised in defense of cursive handwriting.

  • @Boozer:

    That was indeed true of a number of people who commented here. Others of us were predicting Ares I would never fly, which did indeed come to pass.

    Not terribly impressive, since two years into Constellation’s development it was public knowledge that delivery dates were slipping by three years and more and at least one Democratic candidate was talking about axing the effort entirely.

  • Ferris Valyln

    Part of the problem is that we try to justify human spaceflight through the science paradigm, and that always hurts the cause of human spaceflight.

    I really would’ve like to ask Dr. Weinberg if he would cancel K-12 Education funding to fund science, since that is comparable of funding for different priorities

  • Robert G. Oler

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Not terribly impressive, since two years into Constellation’s development it was public knowledge that delivery dates were slipping by three years and more and at least one Democratic candidate was talking about axing the effort entirely.>>

    I predicted it HERE as soon as the stupid design was announced…it has been clear for sometime that NASA is unable to do anything on time and on budget or even close to time or close to budget.

    The Ares “scheme” was just another Shuttle C effort and those are doomed…the people at NASA are not capable of doing anything on time or on budget. Go look at the shuttle orbiter toilet system RGO

  • @Sandholtz
    “Ares 1 never flew. A Shuttle SRB, significantly modified, including having its name modified to “Ares 1X”, was what flew. We already knew that once it ignited it was going somewhere. That was never a question. What did it prove? Shuttle SRB’s once ignited will go somewhere.”
    That’s what I meant. You misinterpreted what I wrote.

  • DCSCA

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Seems like a harsh criticism.

    Not really, given its $100+ billion what with volumes of data from Sayluts, Skylab, and MIR missions to pour over. It has been nothing more than, as the late Deke Slayton labeled it- an 25 year aerospace WPA project.

  • @Oler:

    I predicted it HERE as soon as the stupid design was announced…

    I sincerely doubt that.

  • John Malkin

    FRED CINK wrote @ January 10th, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    FermiLab is closed.

    No it’s not! At least google before you post.

    http://www.fnal.gov/

    Building SCC in Texas was purely political, if they built it in Illinois at Fermilab, it would have been completed for less money since they already had a lot of the infrastructure. SCC and SLS are similar in that politics were more important than results. We wasted so much money on something that was never built.

    Interesting reading on SCC (http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=5546&type=0). A PDF link at the bottom of the page.

    Ferris Valyln wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Part of the problem is that we try to justify human spaceflight through the science paradigm, and that always hurts the cause of human spaceflight.

    I agree with this 100%. The only science justified to be done in space by Humans is science related to Humans living and working in space but even than a lot could be done by precursor robotic missions like robotic rovers the size of Curiosity doing mining and raw resource processing experiments on the moon (doesn’t require SLS).

  • John Malkin: The only science justified to be done in space by Humans is science related to Humans living and working in space

    Wrong. Robots have a very, very long way to go before they can compete with human geologists. Apollo astronauts — even the untrained ones — were remarkably efficient survey geologists, and it would almost certainly have been cheaper to continue flying the already-paid-for Apollo project than to attempt to automate the same or comparable surface science. Likewise, no foreseeable robot is likely to find a fossil on Mars except stumbling over it by purest chance.

    For example, the Mars rovers have spent several billion dollars showing that there was probably liquid water on Mars at some undetermined date in the past. That is a major accomplishment, but it is also a long way from the kind of precisely dated stratigraphy over wide areas that Apollo was able to accomplish.

    Donald

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Von Braun proposed a spinning space station 60 years ago, and we are still spending billions ‘studying’ the problem. ISS is obsolete by design.

    I haven’t seen any evidence that anyone at NASA is seriously “studying” a rotating space station, so I think you’re making that up. All of our space technology is oriented towards zero-G environments.

    I do look forward to the day we do build rotating space stations, as I think that will help us not only expand out into space but also help us maintain a permanent presence at low G locations like the Moon (used for R&R without needing to return to Earth).

    However the mechanics of a rotating 1G/partial-G space station dictate a far larger structure than the ISS currently is. Building a rotating space station that duplicates the function of the ISS would have cost far more than the ISS, which means it probably would have never been built (yes, I know your feelings on this). The ISS was the right size for the mission, and the right technology level for what we can do today.

    If you want a 1G environment, you need something like a 1,400 ft diameter “wheel” for your rotating space station. You can do your own calculations here. Less gravity would require a smaller diameter, or slower spin (less angular velocity contributing to dizziness).

    Reusable hardware like space stations is a worthy direction for NASA to be pursuing. That and reusable spaceships like the Nautilus-X proposal is what we should be spending our money on instead of the disposable hardware represented by the SLS and MPCV. But I guess disposable hardware requires more jobs for Congress to crow about…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    There are archives you should check them. I was extremely unpopular here because of that prediction. I predicted when it would come completely off the rails as well…I was also quite sure that there was no WMD in Iraq…but thats another story

    It is not hard to predict where things are going particularly with NASA…just look at who is assigned where and you can easily see the clusterfracks coming.

    History is instructive along these lines. NASA has tried to do Shuttle C for decades spent tens of billions now…and gotten one lousy test flight.

    again you are wrong RGO

  • Doug Lassiter

    Re “harsh criticism” of Weinberg

    DCSCA wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
    “Not really, given its $100+ billion what with volumes of data from Sayluts, Skylab, and MIR missions to pour over. It has been nothing more than, as the late Deke Slayton labeled it- an 25 year aerospace WPA project.”

    No, the criticism I labeled as harsh was about Weinberg’s denial that ISS has done (I mean DONE, not “potentially” done) useful science. Weinberg is right. Unarguably. Well, maybe except for human factor-type science.

    What it HAS done, and done in spades, is taught us how to build big things in space, live in space for extended periods of time, and do mammoth engineering projects cooperatively with other nations. That’s great and important stuff. Nope, Salyuts, Skylab, and Mir didn’t come close to teaching us those things.

    That all being said, ISS has certainly also been a 25-year WPA project. But it has been more than that, and it’s just silly to say that’s all it has been.

    The point that accomplishment in space is measureable exclusively with a science metric is Weinberg’s fallacy. He just can’t see beyond that, which is unfortunate, especially for a smart guy like him. The problem is that a better metric has never been convincingly articulated.

  • Coastal Ron wrote:

    I do look forward to the day we do build rotating space stations, as I think that will help us not only expand out into space but also help us maintain a permanent presence at low G locations like the Moon (used for R&R without needing to return to Earth).

    A whole lot of astronauts and ISS staffers have pointed out to me that the specific reason we *don’t* rotation a space station is that we lose the one thing that makes LEO so attractive — microgravity.

    We might want some sort of rotational vehicle like Nautilus-X for a deep space mission, but certainly not for scientific research, much less the production of pharmaceuticals and industrial materials that will begin once Bigelow is operational.

  • DCSCA

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Suspect MIR provided a good platform for on-orbit assembly. And it certainly proved to be very robust. Believe Skylab had more habitable volume than the ISS, no? And the volumes of life-science data from ISS predecessors are still being combed through. Still, you do have a point regarding ISS on orbit assembly methodology for a complex that size as elements were designed on the ground around the world then had to fit together above it on orbit, having never touched before. But given the experience and returns from its predecessors, it really has not proven to be worth the $100 billion investment- particularly from a science perspective, which is the veil- or fig leaf- used to justify it. It’s been little more than a quarter-century make-work project for the aerospace industry. Nobody knows what they’re doing up there and nothing significant has been returned to justify the expense so far.

  • DCSCA

    Do sense it’s a little unfair to point to higher profile, ‘big science’ as something unique in the realm of goernment cost overrruns. Its just that taxpayers have come to expect it with most down-to-earth government endeavors these days- from waging war to minting pennies. We may just expect a higher level of exactitude from those managing programs in the science community.

  • SpaceMan

    Nobody knows what they’re doing up there

    Absurd.

    There are hundreds of people, at least, that know what is being done “up there”. Maybe you should do some research. NASA provides a video feed five days per week that shows what is being done, maybe you should watch it once in a while.

  • Coastal Ron

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    We might want some sort of rotational vehicle like Nautilus-X for a deep space mission, but certainly not for scientific research, much less the production of pharmaceuticals and industrial materials that will begin once Bigelow is operational.

    Microgravity has it’s uses, but even though we can survive in zero-G for a short time, we’ll need some sort of 1G refuge when we go away from Earth, or when transporting back to Earth for recovery from zero-G becomes too expensive or logistically difficult.

    Because of the size and mass we’re talking about for a 1G vehicle, I think it will be a long time until we can build such vessels. We have to start somewhere though…

  • Doug Lassiter

    DCSCA wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 8:27 pm
    :”Suspect MIR provided a good platform for on-orbit assembly. And it certainly proved to be very robust.”

    ISS has proven to be quite robust as well, and thanks to the fact that the U.S. wasn’t a collaborator on Mir we (the U.S.) didn’t learn any on-orbit assembly from Mir. Mir was indeed a good platform for on-orbit assembly, but was hardly used to the extent that ISS was. The Russians didn’t abandon Mir and switch over to ISS because they knew everything they needed to know about on-orbit assembly from Mir.

    “Believe Skylab had more habitable volume than the ISS, no?”
    No. Skylab pressurized volume was smaller than Mir, and Mir was less than half that of ISS. Skylab didn’t have its habitable volume because of assembly. It had it because of the launch vehicle. Skylab was pretty irrelevant to on-orbit assembly. What we learned from it was precisely extended human operations in microgravity.

    “And the volumes of life-science data from ISS predecessors are still being combed through.”

    Yep. That’s where the word “potential” comes from, for science productivity of ISS. I prefer not to count my chickens before they hatch.

    “But given the experience and returns from its predecessors, it really has not proven to be worth the $100 billion investment.”

    That is, in fact, what the argument is about. It certainly hasn’t been worth $100B to science yet. It may or may not have been worth $100B to proving and exercising engineering capabilities. I too am inclined to believe that what we learned about on-orbit assembly from ISS, and also long duration human space flight, we might have been learned much more inexpensively in other ways.

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 6:54 pm
    “Wrong. Robots have a very, very long way to go before they can compete with human geologists.”

    That’s an old tired saw that is increasingly stale. For autonomous robots, yes, a human offers a lot more capability. But there is a lot of attention these days being given to telepresence, from astronauts near enough to the robots, at Lagrange points or LLO for the Moon, and in Mars orbit, perhaps on Phobos or Deimos, for Mars. Doing that, with very low communication latency, you can basically put human awareness and even dexterity on the surface. Probably higher quality dexterity than from a human in a space suit, and with vision that has much higher spectral quality and resolution. Actually, comm time delays from Moon to Earth aren’t even all that bad.

    Yes, we didn’t have such technologies in the Apollo era. We do now, and they are used routinely for military and commercial applications.

  • Byeman

    “Not really, given its $100+ billion what with volumes of data from Sayluts, Skylab, and MIR missions to pour over.”

    DCSCA is wrong as usual. It was found that the Russians didn’t keep good records and the cosmonauts frequently violated protocol negating most of the medical experiments.

  • Fred Cink

    Mr Malkin, you are technically correct, “FERMILAB” IS still open and sifting through OLD DATA and researching on the margins. I should have said THE TEVATRON was shut down and is no longer operating. I’m sure there will be last gasp funding there for decades, like buzzards picking clean a corpse, but the torch of cutting edge science has been allowed to be snuffed out. Your link was to info 22 years old. A bit telling possibly? Now, how about addressing the MAIN POINT being made. This country’s elected officials and “leadership” do little more than pander to an ever expanding welfare class that is sucking the lifeblood out of our society. We have been seeing the results for decades already and only now is the nation debt too big to ignore. NOT because of a few paltry % spent on science and technology, but because of wanting to “spread the wealth around a little bit.” Our headlong rush to socialism will be our demise.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Fred Cink wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    This country’s elected officials and “leadership” do little more than pander to an ever expanding welfare class that is sucking the lifeblood out of our society. >>

    SLS and a lot of the military industrial complex spending…as well as the various wars we have going on…are pretty good examples of what you speak of.

    SLS is a welfare pander. It has no mission, its design was shaped by keeping the “stakeholders” employed, its cost are immaterial…it just goes on…yet it garners support from the “Keep the Moon from the Chinese” group, the “American exceptional” idiots and the “we are number 1″ folks…

    Can you explain why? RGO

  • John Malkin

    Donald F. Robertson wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 6:54 pm
    John Malkin: The only science justified to be done in space by Humans is science related to Humans living and working in space

    Wrong. Robots have a very, very long way to go before they can compete with human geologists

    I agree Robots don’t have the same capabilities as Humans by far and I have real knowledge of robotic systems. I have said the same on this forum. Unfortunately you are trying to justify to the choir. Congress especially the Appropriations committee do not see science as being a reason to spend money. Call any of your local congressional members or go to a march storm event. Yes they will nod their head in agreement but they are not going to fund HSF to get a geologist anywhere soon. Currently human spaceflight is expensive, we don’t even know the true cost of the SLS. The only human related spaceflight that has a published cost is the unmanned orbital test by Lockheed which isn’t even using SLS. Until we can reduce the cost of spaceflight, robots are the only hardware actually flying BEO.

    BTW We didn’t go to the moon for science, it was strategic chest beating proposition. Science just hitch along for the ride. Not unlike ISS formally known as Freedom which was a response to the Challenger disaster. And yet there are some that want to dump it into Pacific instead of utilizing it for science. Of course the fact that we don’t own half of ISS doesn’t seem to matter to them.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Byeman wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 10:21 pm
    “It was found that the Russians didn’t keep good records and the cosmonauts frequently violated protocol negating most of the medical experiments.”

    Let me add that this is the organization that built Phobos-Grunt, and can hardly manage to ever get a successful Mars mission. This is who we want to learn about technologies from that would eventually get us to Mars? Their partnership with us on ISS was invited largely as a diplomatic handshake, and not on the basis of any technology transfer need by us.

    I’ll also strongly agree that human space flight, as it is postured now at least, is most certainly not driven by science. Many human space flight proponents find that hard to accept. Weinberg accepts that, but can’t see any other value. Not entirely his fault. The human space flight community has done a very poor job articulating exactly what it is for. Chest-beating? Sure, fine. But why are we beating chests?

  • Robert G. Oler

    John Malkin wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 10:46 am

    If it cost 10 times a person to keep people in space that it cost to keep people at the South Pole…there would be no issues with people in space RGO

  • Vladislaw

    “A whole lot of astronauts and ISS staffers have pointed out to me that the specific reason we *don’t* rotation a space station is that we lose the one thing that makes LEO so attractive — microgravity.”

    Because access to LEO has always been problem because of the NASA monopoly and no competitive pressure to lower prices, actually the opposite and entrepreneurs not having free access to the taxpayer funded shuttles there has never been a high enough population in LEO to create specialized demand.

    The planet, basically, has only had one functioning space station at a time and those have never been commercial stations but pork stations. Once we have commercial access to LEO and higher population living long term in LEO we will start to see more specialized platforms. Just like there are different kinds of hotels and resorts, labs, manufacturing plants, you will see that happening in LEO.

    Rotating stations will service different clients than labs and that will be different then clients that do manufacturing. Even inside those catagories there will specialization as we learn more in LEO, some material science manufacturing will require different states of gravity for different materials.

    We are barely scratching the surface of what will be happening in LEO over the next century. We are approaching the tipping point though were government is finally getting out of the way and the door is opening on capital markets moving off world and NASA investments will be minor compared to the commercial investments.

  • @Stephen C. Smith
    “A whole lot of astronauts and ISS staffers have pointed out to me that the specific reason we *don’t* rotation a space station is that we lose the one thing that makes LEO so attractive — microgravity.”

    It’s not totally an “either/or” situation. The center hub of a rotating station would still have microgravity. It might actually be a better experimental environment in some ways because you would have varying degrees of microgravity within the hub depending on how far away you placed your experiment from the geometric center of the hub.

  • @Lassiter:

    It may or may not have been worth $100B to proving and exercising engineering capabilities. I too am inclined to believe that what we learned about on-orbit assembly from ISS, and also long duration human space flight, we might have been learned much more inexpensively in other ways.

    Nickle to the first person to identify a single technical breakthrough achieved through the assembling the ISS. Doesn’t even have to be one with any utility beyond ISS assembly and operations.

  • DCSCA

    Byeman wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 10:21 pm
    =yawn= Record keeping? This from an agency can’t keep track of important things like the lunar samples it doles out, chases down ex-astronauts for cameras and checklists they’ve had in their cellars from 40 years ago and lost the master tapes on the first moonwalk. The Russians have a fairly continuous base line of nearly 51 years of data on HSF. NASA has glaring gaps.

  • DCSCA

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Yes, Skylab was smaller- but not by that much and if you compare habitable volume per crew member, in fact, the ISS is a little smaller when fully crewed. And then there’s the costs. Cost of Skylab- $10 billion in (2010 dollars) for two orbital workshops with 10,000 cubic feet of habitable volume in each and fully crewed w/3 (the second operational Skylab, which never flew, is on display in the Smithsonian NASM as you know). Cost of ISS- $100+billion, with 13,200-15,000 cubic feet of habitable volume and fully crewed w/6.

    So the ISS is ten times the cost of two Skylabs, doubled the crew capacity, but is roughly 1.5 times the size of Skylab in habitable volume and plotted against a full crew conmpliment, is in fact, a little smaller per/crew member.

    So the question remains- is the ISS worth the ROI? The science returned so far, says no. The assembly techniques refined- that remains open depending on what the next step may be. And, of course, any American who gives the ISS a fleeting thought on this January 12 would have to wonder what they accomplished up there today – or what they did at all today, that’s any different – or new. New compared to what was returned from the Salyuts, years on MIR, the three Skylab missions or on extended Spacelab missions aboard the shuttle.

    “ISS has proven to be quite robust as well…”

    That’s debatable. Of course, you can compare the metrics and parameters on man hours spent on maintenence versus time devoted to science conducted against time on orbit between the two vehicles/programs- or even with MIR- but it’s probably a safe bet that even if you factor in Skylab’s initial ‘repair’ work by the crews after launch, the ISS crews do more housekeeping/maintenence per man hour on the ISS than they did on Skylab. Of course, it’s physically larger with more components and systems. But really, it all comes back to the science returned as that’s been the fig-leafed justification for funding it. And as elements of the ISS have been operating for a decade, albeit in varying capacities as it was fully assembled, we have yet to see any science returned to justify the cost. And bear in mind, just a few years ago NASA planning had pencilled in deep sixing it by 2015/16. The ISS presents a lot of drag in the atmosphere of the Age of Austerity.

  • DCSCA

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 11:39 am

    “Let me add that this is the organization that built Phobos-Grunt, and can hardly manage to ever get a successful Mars mission.”

    Uh, the U.S. has a 13 out of 20 success rate for Martian missions- that’s about 65%. So crowing about a 65% success rate- that is– 15% over the worldwide success rate of just 50% for probes sent out to Mars by various nations on Earth- including the Soviet/Russian efforts– is notning to brag about, especially to taxpayers footing the bill in the Age of Austerity. And in most American schools and universities, getting 65% on your efforts grades you a borderline D/F.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    “Uh, the U.S. has a 13 out of 20 success rate for Martian missions- that’s about 65%. So crowing about a 65% success rate- that is– 15% over the worldwide success rate of just 50% for probes sent out to Mars by various nations on Earth-”

    UH no.

    The US has had some failures, some due to outright incompetence…but all but one lander has succeeded, the Soviets/Russia have had success in landers in exactly 1 probe and thats only if you give it an A for effort with about 10 seconds worth of data. No other nation has soft or hard landed successfully on Mars and indeed if one measures the science data from Mariner 4 (3 didnt work because of a shroud issue) to the latest orbiter or lander…it mostly has USA stamped on it. In fact I think that only the Europeans have mastered an orbiter that lived more then a few days once there…

    RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    ” but it’s probably a safe bet that even if you factor in Skylab’s initial ‘repair’ work by the crews after launch, the ISS crews do more housekeeping/maintenence per man hour on the ISS than they did on Skylab. ”

    I bet thats accurate. sigh RGO

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Postscript- again, look it up. Not all Mars missions were/are landing efforts:

    ” Of 38 launches from Earth in an attempt to reach the planet, only 19 have succeeded. As of November 2011; a success rate of 50%. Twelve of the missions included attempts to land on the surface, but only seven transmitted data after landing. The majority of the failed missions occurred in the early years of space exploration and were part of the Soviet and later Russian Mars probe program that suffered several technical difficulties, other than the largely successful Venera program for the exploration of Venus. Modern missions have an improved success rate; however, the challenge, complexity and length of the missions make it inevitable that failures will occur.

    The U.S. NASA Mars exploration program has had a somewhat better record of success in Mars exploration, achieving success in 13 out of 20 missions launched (a 65% success rate), and succeeding in six out of seven (an 86% success rate) lander missions.: =sigh=

    source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploration_of_Mars

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Yes, Skylab was smaller- but not by that much and if you compare habitable volume per crew member…

    That’s a meaningless metric. Skylab’s extra room was because it was built from leftover S-IVB, not because that was the desired or perfect space station diameter. Except for imitating hamsters, it was otherwise wasted space.

    Of course, you can compare the metrics and parameters on man hours spent on maintenence versus time devoted to science conducted against time on orbit between the two vehicles/programs

    Another meaningless metric. Since none of them were designed for the same tasks, making direct comparisons is more relevant for trivia purposes than educational.

    Regarding maintenance, you and others make comments that imply the ISS should somehow operate maintenance-free. That because of it’s design, cost, or maybe even it’s zodiac sign (hard to tell what you consider relevant), that a 990,000 lb vessel shouldn’t need anyone to do anything to make it work or keep it working. People that believe that are ignorant of how complex vehicles work.

  • pathfinder_01

    Skylab is a pretty primitive space station. For instance Skylab did not recycle water. On the plus side you don’t have those systems to worry about. On the minus side it is very limiting in terms of crew size and mission duration. The water needs of the ISS would require a space shuttle launch every month without recycling.

    Skylab did not receive resupply again limiting crew size and duration. There was only 20 days worth of supply left on the station should a 4th mission been launched and that amount was only due to the previous crews being frugal. Without resupply a space station will have a very limited lifespan.

    Skylab’s oxygen was in the form of canisters, heavy, dangerous. ISS main oxygen systems(both Russian and American) generate from water safer to transport, safer to store, serves double purpose(Russian recycling pulls the water out of air to turn to oxygen, American recycling Attemps to turn all water back to something drinkable or can be used for oxygen). ISS does have canisters of oxygen that can be refilled, but only for back up and spacewalking.

    Skylab did have regenerative CO2 and H2O removal, but it simply dumped them overboard. ISS recycling turns C02 and Hydrogen into methane recovering water. In other words ISS life support is a bit more closed.

    Basically Skylab was loaded with enough supplies for three, three month, three person crews at launch. It is like comparing the housekeeping a camping trip needs to the house keeping a permant building needs.

    The issues the ISS’s life support systems (and some other systems) is that they have turned out to be more labor intensive than expected. Better to find this out in LEO than on a Mar’s craft’s maiden voyage. They also proved a tad less reliable, but again better to find that out in LEO where you have resupply every other month or so than at Mars where resupply must be planned years in advance or the moon where resupply is going to be so expensive it may be very infrequent.

  • pathfinder_01

    Anyway other important things found out during ISS construction. The hard drives which had been space tested (they were on satellites before the ISS) proved unreliable and broke and had to be replaced with solid state devices. Light bulbs likewise blew out faster than expected. The problems the plagued the ISS in its early days would have doomed a mars crew and I can see a lunar base esp. a US only one being abandoned early with the kinds of problems the ISS had. Having back up life support systems (US and Russian) that totally don’t share parts has proved to be a very useful thing. The ISS is where one learns to live in space long term not conduct short visits like Shuttle or Apollo.

    Now there are downsides to such a system (US and Russian water systems are incompatible due to different microbacides) which means you can’t put US water or Russian water in either space suit or other systems(fine to drink).

  • Rhyolite

    “we may see in the next decade or so an end to the search for the laws of nature which will not be resumed again in our own lifetimes.”

    Telescope size plateaued in the 40s and didn’t start growing again until the 90s when new technology brought down the real cost. The same may be happening with acelerateors.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ January 12th, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Statistics alone are interesting but without context they often prove whatever you want to use them to prove…and Mars stats are that way.

    From memory. The US Has had 1 lander, 3 orbiters and one flyby fail. one of the orbiters and 1 of the flybys were essentially launch failures (OK we can debate that about Mariner 3 but 8 went boom.)

    The Russians/Soviets have had not a single successful lander if that term means returning meaningful data. There are I think two that did more then fail in route or burn up…ie they landed under control but none sent back any serious data. One might have been successful had their not been a dust storm which probably did some damage to it…but still for whatever reason no data.

    Russian/Soviet Mars orbiter/flybys have done little better. there is some data from one of the orbiters particularly pictures of Phobos, but they are barely better then what Mariner 9 did decades earlier and far less then what Voyager’s orbiters did later.

    Two orbiters and 1 lander were lost essentially due to incompetence.

    Aside from that the Europeans have put one vehicle in Martian orbit that is still working…but otherwise it is completely a US show. If you want to talk landers it is a total US show.

    US vehicles are consistently long lived Soviet/Russian probes not so much. Most likely if Mariner IV could get refueled for orientation purposes…its electronics would work.

    It will be entertaining to see how the Mars lander en route now does. ON a complexity level it more then matches Phobos Grunt…Phobos Soil was most likely dead on launch…where the complexity comes in our lander is in the method of landing…See how it all works out.

    But US efforts at Mars are in any level outstanding…and compared to everyone else fracken phenomenal RGO

  • DCSCA

    @pathfinder_01 wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 4:20 am

    ‘Primative’ is a relative term. Bear in mind space officials back in the late 70s wanted to save it for future use- possibly w/shuttle-, develop a consumable resupply/refurbishment system of sorts in tendem which, though costly for its time, would not have been prohibited, and extend its use. But by today’s standards it was a ‘starter house’ to be sure. There was the other Skylab as well but there was a ‘shortage’ of Saturns to loft it, so to speak. THe telesciope was operable as well. If memory serves, it was the telemetry systems which were outdated- Gemini era- and ground-based communicators had trouble directing commands to it toward the end. But the delays w/shuttle development and evaporating budgets ended any hope of getting a boost up to it, which was the primary problem at the time, before it fell back to Earth and pelted Australia w/debris.

    “It is like comparing the housekeeping a camping trip needs to the house keeping a permant building needs.”

    Not really. Today, the ISS, like MIR, requires maintenence and regular re-supply missions to keep it operating and as we saw only recently, missing one causes both scheduling problems and a constriction of on-orbit operations. It doesn’t take much to disrupt its operative timeline. Point is, what did they accomplish on the ISS yesterday… or today… to justify the $100+ billion expense. The citizenry paying the freight have no idea.

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    “That’s a meaningless metric.” No- especially if you’re one of the crew who has to spend six months there. Facts are stubborn things.

    “Regarding maintenance, you and others make comments that imply the ISS should somehow operate maintenance-free.”

    No, only you have stated that absolute– which is absurd. But the basic maintenence time spent by current crews on orbit should be on a downward curve- certainly less than on, say, MIR toward its end. Point is, they’re supposed to be there conducting ‘science’ not fixing leaky plumbing. And it has been on orbit for a decade, albeit in smaller configurations during assembly. A decade up there and what science has been returned remains in question. Spending significant or equal amounts of time on maintenence aboard a ‘state-of-the-art’ space station rather than on conducting- or monitoring- science experiments after a decade on orbit is not a cost-effective use of personnel aboard a $100+ billion complex. And the question remains open- what did they accomplish up there yesterday– or today- to justify the $100+ billion expense. What ‘science’ was conducted- what new was learned. To the folks paying for it, he the only ‘news’ reported this week was some goofy time lapse photo of it in transit across the moon taken from the ground and a report it dodging a softball-sized piece of old space debris. Not much science there. The people who pay the freight- with 41cents of every dollar borrowed- have no idea what they’re doing up there to justify the expense in the Age of Austerity. .

  • DCSCA

    @SpaceMan wrote @ January 11th, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    No, it’s not. ‘hundreds of people’ aren’t paying the $100+billion bill for the ISS in the Age of austerity and the overwhelming 311 million citizens of the United States have no idea what they’re doing up there and no idea what was accomplished, yesterday… or today. And it’s certainly not up to them to ‘do some research’ to find out- that’s a pretty arrogant attitude to project to the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the ‘big science’ program and pay ‘a few hundred space scientists’ salaries. Bite the hand that feeds you… isn’t wise in this era. Little wonder Americans are turning away from space activities and science projects of scale with that kind of attitude displayed.

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    So what you’re saying, in short, is your posting was inaccurate.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    the overwhelming 311 million citizens of the United States have no idea what they’re doing up there and no idea what was accomplished, yesterday… or today.

    Sounds about right, and par for the course for the vast number of things the government spends money on. Even the Apollo missions, the most hyped and watched events of their time, had missions that where the public had no clue what they were doing.

    And it’s certainly not up to them to ‘do some research’ to find out

    Let’s remember that the entire NASA agency is only 0.5% of the total national budget. It’s pretty small, and to a vast amount of citizens they really don’t care what NASA is doing.

    Regardless of that low level of interest, you’re saying that news outlets should be forced to update the public on every government program, NASA included? Or are you implying that only NASA updates need to go out, since NASA is “special”? Or are you saying that NASA should spend more money on social media to “get the word out” that someone exercised on the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. yesterday? What? What do you suggest, and how will it be paid for?

    Citizens don’t want government program updates forced down their throats and clogging their email in-baskets. If they want ISS updates, then simple internet searches will take them to the right NASA sources for what’s happening with the crews and what’s happening science-wise.

    See how easy that was for you to get updated? It’s a modern world – get up to speed.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    But the basic maintenence time spent by current crews on orbit should be on a downward curve

    Who says it isn’t? Tell us what you think the maintenance hours have been since the ISS opened for business? Or are you arguing a theoretical situation here?

    …certainly less than on, say, MIR toward its end.

    Why would the MIR occupants have done any long-term maintenance when they knew they were going to be splashing it soon? You’re not using very good logic on this point.

    Point is, they’re supposed to be there conducting ‘science’ not fixing leaky plumbing.

    So who fixes things when they break? You’re advocating that equipment should be left broken until, what? A maintenance crew comes up? When will that happen?

    In any case, what you’re saying ignores reality. For instance, you walk into a store and see everything working, so your assumption is that nothing needs maintenance. What you don’t see, or likely just don’t notice, are the army of people that run around fixing daily problems and doing scheduled maintenance. I have a neighbor that is the Director of Facilities for a large number of department stores, and he has permanent staff at each store to keep things working on a daily basis. And retail stores are mature designs, not first generation hardware like the ISS.

    It’s no different for the ISS, where they get new hardware and software that needs to be installed for new experiments or new capabilities, and someone has to fix what breaks. If the ISS staff doesn’t do it, who will?

    There will always be a need for daily maintenance on a space station.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    So what you’re saying, in short, is your posting was inaccurate.>>

    No. RGO

  • DCSCA

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    “you’re saying that news outlets should be forced to update the public…” =yawn= Perculiar. In fact, reportage of public affairs is an element of broadcast license renewal approval but of course if they have nothing ‘new’ to report- be it video or text- just goes back to how little- if anything at all– new is being accoumplished up there in the first place.

    “… to a vast amount of citizens they really don’t care what NASA is doing.” Really.. now you speak for ‘the vast amount of citizens’ as well… who knew. Of course, the costs are always of innterest, particularly these days in the Age of Austerity. You’re at ease spending other people’s money, aren’t you. “Even the Apollo missions, the most hyped and watched events of their time, had missions that where the public had no clue what they were doing.” <- Inaccurate… and silly, particularly compared to shuttle and ISS operations.

    "Citizens don’t want government program updates .. " Hmmm, which explains national focus on the debt, the waste and expenditures by government and all things economic this election cycle, as with previous cycles, the rise of the Tea Party, etc., as we progress deeper into the Age of Austerity. You're just crankin' to crank.

    "long-term maintenance…" <- Long term? Where is the qualifier 'long term' mentioned any place but in your own comments. What you’re saying ignores reality…. Truly, indeed.

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Of course not… except it was.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    In fact, reportage of public affairs is an element of broadcast license renewal approval

    Broadcast licenses are to be renewed if the station meets the “public interest, convenience, or necessity” – content, such as % of space related news, is not mandated.

    just goes back to how little- if anything at all– new is being accoumplished up there in the first place.

    Interest is in the eye of the beholder. The Dept. of the Interior gets the same amount of budget as NASA does – which one is in the news more?

    And what exactly is supposed to be news worthy?

    USA Today – “ISS Astronauts Perform Five Experiments Today
    Fox News – “ISS Astronauts Finish Two Experiments

    Why should normal everyday work be newsworthy? If anything I would think we’re trying to make space routine and NOT newsworthy – you know, like no deaths or exploding rockets. Not all news is good.

    Inaccurate [regarding the attention paid on later Apollo missions]… and silly, particularly compared to shuttle and ISS operations.

    You’ve made it clear that you are an Apollo enthusiast (to put it mildly), but in my experience the vast amount of Americans don’t share your enthusiasm. I do ask people about their thoughts on our space program, and most people I talk to don’t follow it, or just know what they run across in the news. I see that as pretty typical – do you? Does everybody you know follow the space program?

    Long term? Where is the qualifier ‘long term’ mentioned any place but in your own comments.

    Ever owned an expensive piece of machinery that needs regular maintenance? Typically it will be a combination of short-term and long-term maintenance.

    Now, if you’re planning on discontinuing the use of a piece of equipment, you wouldn’t perform the same level of maintenance – no long-term maintenance that wasn’t absolutely needed. Same if you’re shutting down a facility – you stop doing maintenance that won’t be needed. They would have done the same with MIR, knowing that they didn’t have to keep it going for much longer. Is this news to you?

    Do you know how much maintenance they did on MIR by year? I ask because you seem to think they did less than what the ISS is experiencing…

  • Vladislaw

    DCSCA wrote @ January 13th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    “the overwhelming 311 million citizens of the United States have no idea what they’re doing up there and no idea what was accomplished, yesterday… or today.”

    Name a lab in the United States, any lab, federally funded, state or locally funded, or a privately funded lab … ANY lab… where the general population of the United States knows what is going on there? Hell even a high school lab .. unless you are a lab nerd … no one pays attention until some fruit of the labor done in the lab finally pays off and portends a new product on the market.

  • pathfinder_01

    “space officials back in the late 70s wanted to save it for future use- possibly w/shuttle-, develop a consumable resupply/refurbishment system of sorts in tendem which, though costly for its time, would not have been prohibited, and extend its use. But by today’s standards it was a ‘starter house’ to be sure. There was the other Skylab as well but there was a ‘shortage’ of Saturns to loft it, so to speak. THe telesciope was operable as well. If memory serves, it was the telemetry systems which were outdated- Gemini era- and ground-based communicators had trouble directing commands to it toward the end. But the delays w/shuttle development and evaporating budgets ended any hope of getting a boost up to it, which was the primary problem at the time, before it fell back to Earth and pelted Australia w/debris.”

    Skylab was originally meant to be disposable. The plan was to launch Skylab B, but budget did not allow plus the lack of Apollo hardware did not help. Anyway in terms of cost to operate per day Skylab is more expensive than the ISS. Skylab used a ship to relay signals back to earth as well as more ground stations. Today we use TDRS and a commercial station could possibly use commercial satellites this saves a lot of money on people on the ground. Tiagon 1 is going to use just one satellite. These are ways in which the cost of going into space today is a bit lower.

    Anyway turning Skylab into something more permanent was going to require one heck of an upgrade and frankly it would have needed the Shuttle to do so. The reason they didn’t design for permanence the first time around was because they were unsure of how long systems would work and how well. The systems you need for long term presence in space (regenerative life-support ect…) are rather different from the systems you use for short trips (Apollo/Shuttle).

    Anyway Skylab and Salyut 1 were first generation space stations and in some ways China’s Taigon 1 is one. With them many things were learned. In the case of Skylab its layout was not good in terms of space sickness. People need an up and a down even if in space there is no up and down. If you will notice how the ISS has things arranged differently to reduce space sickness (the corridor like design). Skylab’s large open spaces could cause astronauts to be stranded in between (again ISS design fixes that). It was found that sound did not conduct well in space with Skylab (and I will bet this has had an effect on the layout of what gets done where). It was found that having an engine on your space station is a must have (Skylab decided against it due to cost and complexity).

    Even in designing Skylab much was found. For instance the Apollo foods were so bad tasting/bland that they were found to be a problem. When engineers were forced to eat the stuff for a week they rebelled! You might tolerate the stuff for a short trip to the moon, but you sure wouldn’t eat it for weeks or months.

    Skylab had a much expanded menu. Even in terms of feeding a crew Apollo/Shuttle food is rather different from Skylab/ISS food. With fuels cells you have a nice source of hot water but space stations really can’t use fuel cells for power(i.e. not practical). With space station you have more canned items and fewer dehydrated items due to the limited water supply.

  • pathfinder_01

    Also one thing the ISS has over Skylab, the ISS rack system. It allows you to install new equipment\experiments or rearrange current equipment in the non Russian parts of the station. There is even the possibility to upgrade the life support equipment with something less labor intensive.

    Also the ISS nanoracks program promise to increase the amount of science being done by making the ISS more accessible to commercial and having standardized equipment onboard.

    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news/asd/2011/04/07/03.xml&headline=null&next=0

    http://nanoracks.com/manifest/

    Another problem with Skylab B was that it was identical to Skylab. No new science would have been learned by launching it (just more of the same experiments). In that way the ISS is more upgradable than Skylab.
    Unfortunately the only craft that can launch standard sized racks now that the shuttle is gone is the HTV but the Nanorack equipment can be carried by just about any spacecraft.

  • DCSCA

    pathfinder_01 wrote @ January 14th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    “Skylab was originally meant to be disposable.”

    That’s a given. Both Skylabs were. All these LEO space platforms have limited lifetimes. Doesn’t mean the base line missions aren’t capable of being modified to extend their life and usage. Voyager was at it sailed along. So to the Rovers. That’s a good thing. If memory serves, the ‘space tug’ was planned for deploy from shuttle to boost Skylab but events, delays and budget evaporation doomed the planning. But circumstances and budgets changed a great deal between Skylab’s inception and when it was abandoned on orbit.

    @Vladislaw wrote @ January 14th, 2012 at 10:17 am

    LOL High school labs aren’t staffed by six students at a price tag of $100+ billion and have a high profile 300 miles up requiring to buy rides from other lands to axccess them. And most Americans who attended high school have passed through a lab and had a class or two and have some hands on experience of what goes on for the expense involved– bunson burmers and test tubes and 500 X microscopes certainly is not costing local school boards $100 billion. The ISS, not so much. And you ask any American what’s going on at a government/university funded nuclear lab they’ll say nuclear work- certainly staffed with more than six people and its costs are under constant budgetary scrutiny as well- not to mention national security. And, of coruse, private research labs are just that- private R&D which ithe ISS is not.

  • Coastal Ron

    pathfinder_01 wrote @ January 14th, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Unfortunately the only craft that can launch standard sized racks now that the shuttle is gone is the HTV but the Nanorack equipment can be carried by just about any spacecraft.

    The ATV, which is based on the Shuttle MPLM that used to carry up International Standard Payload Racks (ISPR), uses the Russian docking system, and that only has an 80cm diameter hatch. The ISPR’s are wider than that.

    The JAXA HTV uses the common berthing mechanism (CBM), which has a large enough opening to pass the ISPR’s. The Cygnus and Dragon cargo vehicles also use the CBM, so theoretically they could carry ISPR’s too if needed. However there are still five more HTV flights through 2016, so likely JAXA has this covered for now. We’ll see what happens after 2016.

  • Vladislaw

    The ISS cost 50 billion or 3.8 billion per year over the course of 13 years. The shuttle transportation system we utilized to put the parts up cost another 50 billlion.

    Sorry the American public does not track 3.8 billion spent for a lab each year out of a 3.5 trillion a year federal budget.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 15th, 2012 at 12:16 am

    All these LEO space platforms have limited lifetimes. Doesn’t mean the base line missions aren’t capable of being modified to extend their life and usage.

    Skylab wasn’t designed to be upgraded in orbit. Mir and the ISS were.

    Voyager was at it sailed along. So to the Rovers.

    Software upgrades for robotic vehicles. Not exactly relevant to human tended space stations.

    But circumstances and budgets changed a great deal between Skylab’s inception and when it was abandoned on orbit.

    Yes they did. Funny how you were OK with spending borrowed money back then, but not now.

    Also, notice how the plans at that time were for not going back to the Moon. They were focused on setting up operations in LEO – refurbishing Skylab into a permanently staffed space station, getting the Shuttle going for LEO-only missions. Even back then, after basking in the glory of Apollo, NASA had essentially said “One & Done”, with the one being one program (Apollo) to the Moon.

    High school labs aren’t staffed by six students

    You’re either daft or avoiding the subject. Probably both… ;-)

    How often do you see press releases talking about what’s happening with federally funded labs? NASA has a TV channel where you can see what’s happening on the ISS – does the DOE have a TV channel for it’s 16 National Laboratories? As usual, you are imagining problems that don’t exist.

  • @Coastal Ron:

    NASA has a TV channel where you can see what’s happening on the ISS – does the DOE have a TV channel for it’s 16 National Laboratories?

    This is a useful line item why?

  • Coastal Ron

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 16th, 2012 at 6:24 am

    This is a useful line item why?

    Go back and read the discussion to see my answer in context.

    However that brings up a good question – how much government transparency do you want?

    Do you want our government spending part of your tax dollars to provide internet close access to what the rest of your tax dollars are being spent on?

  • DCSCA

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ January 15th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    “Skylab wasn’t designed to be upgraded in orbit.” Duh. Point is, post ASTP, as budgets evaporated and shuttle was in development, the engineers and planners began to retink using what they had and to make the best of it- both for HSF and robotics. A smart engineering and managerial mind set overdue to be revisited today vy the space community- hence Dr. Kraft’s advocacy to make the best use of existing assets. You’re just craning to crank. Move on.

  • DCSCA

    “NASA has a TV channel where you can see what’s happening on the ISS – does the DOE have a TV channel for it’s 16 National Laboratories?”

    NASASelect, as it’s known, was initiated for NASA use- engineering etc., and intra-center communication and commerical networks picked up the feed to save $. Who needs a camera crew and TV correspondent at KSC when you can green screen him/her and use the feed for cable coverage and radio feeds. But for the general public. its not public access channel on most cable systems- ferreting it out on the web is ‘work’ and a bit esoteric for J.Q. Public in general- , chiefly because cable systems do not make any $ from it- whereas carrying a HSN channel does provide cable systems a % of each sale. Even CSPAN has to battle for channel space. -sigh- You’re just cranking to crank.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ January 17th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    NASASelect, as it’s known

    No, NASA TV, which is for the public. I get it through my cable provider, but it is also available over the web on NASA’s website.

    ferreting it out on the web is ‘work’ and a bit esoteric for J.Q. Public in general

    Oh, now you are speaking for 312,866,709 U.S. citizens? ;-)

    Yes, I can see how it would be hard for YOU to find. Go to NASA.gov and click on the “NASA TV” link. Whew, that was hard.

    Again, you have failed to show that NASA doesn’t provide information to those that want it. But keep in mind that NASA being 0.5% of the national budget is also a reflection of how little the public cares about us doing things in space.

    The vast majority of people will get their space updates from their regular news outlets. I know I say two separate space related articles yesterday on the Msnbc.com website, both related to spacecraft. Crawl out of your basement and look around – maybe you’ll see something besides your shadow…

  • @Coastal Ron:

    Go back and read the discussion to see my answer in context.

    No need. The question stands.

    However that brings up a good question – how much government transparency do you want?

    How does NASA TV contribute anything whatsoever to government transparency?

  • Coastal Ron

    Prez Cannady wrote @ January 21st, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    How does NASA TV contribute anything whatsoever to government transparency?

    Have you ever seen it?

    In what way doesn’t it?

    What would good government transparency be for you?

  • Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

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