A Return to Space?


By Robert Farrow

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: NASA counted down to the launch of space shuttle Discovery on Saturday, hoping to fly a crucial mission and knowing that failure could ground the shuttle fleet permanently and leave the Space Station unfinished. Discovery was scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:49 p.m. EDT on a voyage to the space station that will test repairs to the shuttle’s troublesome fuel tank, which triggered the destruction of shuttle Columbia and the deaths of seven astronauts in 2003. the link is here

The Space Program should be something all Americans would be proud of. However, I am always surprised by the number of Americans that are hostile to our manned space program. Not surprisingly, the media also has become critical. I wonder if this is part of the same mentality that is responsible for the resentment that we are the only remaining superpower.

Questions orbit around future of NASA

By Traci Watson,

If all goes well this weekend, space shuttle Discovery and its crew will shoot into orbit, where the seven astronauts will plainly see landmarks back on Earth.The future of the nation’s space program isn’t as clear.

Gone are the days when NASA, in the 1960s, won the space race with a single-minded focus on getting a man to the moon. Today, NASA juggles competing demands — from proving it can fly the shuttle accident-free and retiring it in 2010 to completing the expensive International Space Station laboratory to developing new vehicles for space exploration.

The agency’s ability to manage them successfully will determine the future of its manned spaceflight program and whether the United States will return to the moon and fly to Mars. “My nightmare scenario is that we just slowly phase out human spaceflight,” says Roger Launius, head of the National Air and Space Museum’s space history division. “We’ve got some serious issues to wrestle with.”Americans’ support for NASA remains strong. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last weekend found that 57% said the agency does a good or excellent job. One-third of respondents said NASA’s budget should be cut or eliminated.

As the federal deficit grows, it may be difficult to find the $104 billion it will cost to send Americans back to the moon, say Launius and Marco Caceres of the Teal Group, an aerospace analysis firm. Caceres warns NASA’s competing priorities may have consequences, especially if corners are cut. The nation “is giving NASA all this difficult, visionary stuff to do but … not giving them the resources to do it,” he says. “Eventually it catches up with you and you have an accident.” NASA spokesman Dean Acosta says the agency plans to move ahead, using whatever Congress allocates. NASA’s $16.7 billion budget has been essentially flat for 15 years. NASA officials are “very comfortable that we have in place a plan that can accomplish the (moon program) with the funding we have,” he says.

A look at the four parts of NASA’s human spaceflight program:

Space shuttle: Lame duck

After the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard, President Bush ordered the space agency to retire the nation’s three remaining shuttles by 2010. By then it will be nearly impossible to extend the shuttle fleet’s life, because the assembly lines for crucial parts will have closed, says William Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s space operations division.Before they retire, the shuttles are slated to make 16 flights to finish building the space station, including the one expected to launch Saturday. Only the shuttle is brawny enough to carry the station’s pieces into orbit. A 17th flight, to fix the decaying Hubble Space Telescope, is possible. Shuttle program chief Wayne Hale recently estimated there’s a roughly 1-in-100 chance that a shuttle flight will end in catastrophe. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin does not rule out the possibility that the shuttle will have another accident before it retires. If “we were to lose another vehicle, I will tell you right now that I would be moving to figure out a way to shut the (shuttle) program down,” Griffin said recently. Hale and Griffin insist the shuttle will fly often enough to complete the space station. That would require four flights a year. Others are dubious. “For that to happen requires everything to go extremely well,” says Moshe Farjoun, an associate professor at York University in Toronto who co-edited a book about the Columbia disaster. “Each flight is a moment of truth for NASA.”

Space station questions

The space station, an orbiting laboratory that circles the Earth every 90 minutes, still needs solar panels, structural girders and several laboratories. Each piece to be installed has to work perfectly before the next piece is added, Gerstenmaier says, and the complexity means the unfinished half will be more difficult to build. “How you … pull that all together will be very, very challenging,” he says, adding the construction schedule has enough slack to address problems. The shuttle’s upcoming retirement forced NASA to cancel 10 flights that would have carried spare parts and equipment for experiments to the station. Gerstenmaier says some of that cargo will fly to the station on other vehicles being developed. Experiments that might have helped reveal how humans could stay healthy on a Mars mission have been cut, too, says James Pawelczyk, a Pennsylvania State University scientist who flew on the shuttle in 1998. Griffin said in March that NASA’s long-term role in the space station, which will cost the 16 nations building it roughly $100 million, is “a matter of speculation.” “We don’t know … what the (station) will become, whether it will be used properly or whether it will have been a huge waste,” says Vincent Sabathier of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former official of France’s space agency.

Constellation’s budget squeeze

Last fall, NASA unveiled with great fanfare details of what it dubbed Project Constellation, the spaceship and the two rockets it would build to carry Americans back to the moon. “Apollo on steroids,” Griffin called it.
Less than a year later, NASA has decided to shrink the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the ship that would carry the astronauts, because of cost and weight. It will carry four people to the moon, but the crew will be more cramped because the interior will be two-thirds the size engineers had envisioned.Nor will it be done as quickly as NASA had hoped. When Griffin unveiled the plan, he said he hoped the vehicle would be ready in 2012 to ferry astronauts to the space station. Scott Horowitz, head of NASA’s exploration division, says the ship won’t be running regularly until 2014. The agency’s engineers aim to develop the necessary technology by 2010, but “right now our budget supports a 2014 capability,” Horowitz says. That means that unless more money materializes, NASA faces four years when it won’t have its own spacecraft for manned flight. It hopes to rely instead on vehicles built by private industry, though Jerry Grey, director of science and technology policy for the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, says it’s unclear whether such vehicles will materialize. NASA will also buy seats on Russian spaceships through 2012. In its proposed budget for 2007, NASA has cut science spending to support its new mission.”Constellation is a size 14 foot in a size 8 shoe,” says Howard McCurdy of American University in Washington. “It’s just really hard to squeeze it in and make it work.”

Murky plans for moon, Mars

Bush’s proposal to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually on to Mars has drawn cheers from space historians, former astronauts and members of Congress for looking beyond low Earth orbit. The only specific detail in the plan Bush announced in 2004 is a deadline: The return to the moon will be no later than 2020, the president said. That schedule worries Grey, otherwise a fan of Bush’s plan.Working toward a tight deadline, “you tend to overstress both systems and people in order to meet that, and it’s not necessary,” he says. “What’s the hurry?” NASA has not revealed where on the moon astronauts will go, how long they’ll stay or what they’ll do. Griffin said last year that such specifics will have to wait until other nations decide to join NASA in exploring the lunar surface, because NASA is sinking all its funds into developing the means to get there. “We will not, by ourselves, be able to conduct the robust program of lunar surface exploration and exploitation that (the moon) merits,” Griffin said.The agency has announced no plans at all for the four- to six-month voyage to Mars, though the new spacecraft are being designed to make the trip. Griffin has said work on such a foray would take place in the 2020s.Even the most pessimistic space experts say America is unlikely to abandon a program as popular and prestigious as human space exploration. But few are putting the odds on a bright future.”I want to see (NASA) succeed,” says Launius of the Air and Space Museum. “I’m just very concerned” that it can’t.
the link is here.

Actually, I am critical of the Shuttle program too, simply for it’s cost per pound to orbit ratio, but I am very pro-Space. And I think those that are not are selling America’s future short. And this is my argument why:

The Case for Space…..

“The earth is a cradle of reason, but one cannot live in a cradle for ever.” Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Around 600 Years ago a nation was on it’s path to dominate the world. It was called the Ming Dynasty. In almost every category it’s navy was superior to the nations of the West. Had the past been a bit different, the East might have been the power center of the world, enveloping the globe with it’s religion and it’s culture. The Emperor of the Mings, Yun Lo, enjoyed a fleet of over two hundred ships, all much larger then those of the West, and encouraged great voyages of exploration. The Mings quickly discovered Africa and would have soon sailed around it to make contact with Europe when the exploration money dried up. Political opponents of Lo decided the money would be better spent on irrigation projects, and the fleet was abandoned. A few years later, the Portugese rounded Africa, and with no one in their way, they kept going. One hundred years later the Portugese sized a small Chinese island which began the domination of China by the West. Soon after that the dominion of the waters passed to the British, who built an empire from which the Sun never set until the 20th century.

Like Seafaring, spacefaring has very marginal returns in early voyages. They were also very costly, in material as well as lives. Even the voyage duration are similar- trips to Mars is about as long as Magellan’s first voyage around the world. It is the same for us as well. In the beginning, most of the early American settlements were failures, a drain on the mother country’s resources more then anything else. But as the history of both Britain and America shows, those countries choose to expand, eventually, though, greatly prospered. And it is difficult to overestimate the importance the impact this expansion has played on our lives. Look at it this way, imagine an undiscovered world, devoid of international markets and global communications. Such is the power of exploration.

Though the price will not be cheap, a Mankind that colonizes space will be immeasurably better off then one that does not. And while trying to do this, discoveries are made that helps people and jobs are created directly and indirectly from a variety of space programs. And if civilization does not expand into space we may become extinct. Extinction by meteorite is not as far fetched an idea as one may think. And our sun’s lifespan is finite. So, in short, we either expand, or die as a species. So why not now?

Finally, I think exploration, whether it is space, the seas, or of knowledge itself, brings out the best in humanity and to deny it would be to deny an essential part of humanity itself. The Universe is full of wonderful things just waiting for us to discover them. And I can think of nothing sadder then to never know what they are.

There will always be projects that need attention at home, but that is no excuse to mortgage humanity’s future. There will always be poor people, and to wait until the poor are fed means we will never leave this planet and will wait for our eventual extinction like a bunch of hairy dinosaurs. Do the Chinese remember that particular irrigation project now? I doubt it? They do know for sure that their size, resources, and population they have not flourished as they might have or made the same impact upon the world as the West has made.

Humanity is notoriously short sighted, a lack of vision that this time may be fatal.