It has cost billions upon billions and it isn't finished yet, but partners in the International Space Station project are already arguing about when it should be shut down, according to AFP reports. The various agencies' positions are as follows: In the red corner (not political statement, just a handy colour) we have NASA, …
Is it worth it?
The question was raised in a story of yours the other day (re. prof. Steven Weinberg). That is, has the space station actually facilitated any science worth the expense.
£2.3bn a year (and that's just NASA's contribution) sounds like an enormous amount of money to spend on something that doesn't actually give much of a return (certainly not $2.3bns-worth). If you multiply this by the number of years the ISS has been running then just think of what else you could do with that kind of budget!
As an aside, I also question why the US (and others) are so interested in going to the moon again. It's a long way away, it's incredibly expensive to send people there and get them back safely, it's not particularly interesting (what more can be learned that has not already been learned from previous trips there), it may be full of mineral wealth but realistically how useful and practical is it to make use of this. Same goes for any less-friendly applications that no-doubt some people have in mind. Basically, it doesn't make any sense at all! Which makes me think there's something I've missed.
The other bazaar thing is that by NASA's own estimates, it will take years and years to plan and build the kit for such a mission. How come, when they managed to do it relatively easily (well, ok, not easily, but you know what I mean) almost 40 years go?
Step in Virgin Galactic
And we've got ourselves a nice little holiday camp. Maybe.
Why not just cut their losses
If this is the way things are going to be, and the ISS is going to turn into an even bigger white elephant with no-one using it or paying for it, why not just cut their losses and de-orbit the thing now.
That way they don't have the rest of the construction costs, they don't have the maintenance costs, and they don't have to maintain the Shuttle fleet either.
Or alternatively they could realise that on a national level, compared to other budget line items the ongoing costs aren't that high, and just get on with using the thing. Exactly what it can be used for isn't really obvious, but I'm sure that can be worked out!
That's proof then
The whole thing was a waste of time and effort and now NASA has acknowledged the fact.
Losing the Plot Gaining Initiatives
"The space agency says lunar bases are the future platforms for manned exploration of our solar system. "
And spoken like a true Space cadet/Lunatic. Rational Thought would consider the Premise Preposterous unless the Virtual Plan is to send Lunatics to the Moon/keep them busy in their Space and Armaments Program.
I wonder where Hollywood stashes the Lunar Landscapes in its Property Portfolios? And why are they always so Bleak rather than Rich in Nature?
That is just so Manic-Depressive as to be Untrue if IT be so. But it does mean that IT is easily Fixed.
Why the moon!
In answer to the post by Rich, the moon represents a key strategic point to get to Mars.
Not too many people are aware that there is a new space race between China and the US to land on Mars by 2040. Obviously a journey on that scale is going to require a ship to carry a lot of fuel, food and water. The amount of supplies required can be significantly reduced if there is no requirement for the ship to break earths gravitational pull. Thus the moon with a much lower gravitational field offers an excellent take off point.
Also it is believed that there is an abundance of Helium 3 on the moon, an excellent fuel source. This would further reduce the need to send fuel from earth to space to start the mission. Also it is planned that Helium 3 will at one point be transported from the Moon to Earth to meet Earth's energy requirement, as it is a highly efficient fuel that produces very low emissions.
Currently there is a race between China and the US to colonise the Moon by 2024. This is to keep in line with the 2040 deadline to hit Mars. Once Mars has been properly explored and colonised it would be expected that this will also become a mining colony. However I don't expect this will be in our lifetime.
The moon as a staging point
They *say* it represents a strategic point to get to Mars. But Earth orbit would be better, surely. Whatever payload you send to the Moon has to reach escape velocity, and for the prestige Missions that US and China are planning, they won't be shipping metal and composite mining and processing plants up to the Moon.
No, the Mars missions will stage from Earth orbit or a Lagrange point.
Helium is no kind of fuel (it might get used as reaction mass in ion engines) at all, as it stands. We don't have working fusion power. Once we *do*, the Moon's collection of He will become a strategic resource, but not before.
Why it takes time to go to the moon
This time round they'll be trying to do it cheaply and safely. Last time round they had a saying - "waste anything but time".
Re: The moon as a staging point
Agreed, Luna is not all that useful at the moment. The most expensive part of any space fight is the first 100km or so: up to low Earth orbit. Having something up there that you can use as a staging point for interplanetary craft/fuel dump/industrial presence would be immensely useful. However, ISS is just a research station. It's the Space Shuttle programme all over again, really: over budget, over time, designed by committee, redesigned a few times halfway through, not properly thought out, not as useful as we thought after all.
Which is a pity.
Towing an asteroid or two to L5 to develop some serious space-based industry, now that would be worthwhile.
There and back again
Why should they be concerned about NASA at all?
With the Indian tiger and the economic strength of the EU they should be able to pick up the slack easily.
May be forgetting
the recent weapons tests of China and others specifically aimed at knocking out satellite capability. I imagine the same would apply to anything in orbit. In relation, I seem to recall that the amount of "space junk" putting orbiting objects at risk is growing quickly. I'm not sure if the ISS is prone to this. Perhaps the moon is at a safer distance from both accident and attack?
There are probably practical reasons for staging there before Mars, however (things don't drift away on you, temperature management could be very easy if you build in the right place w/shade & sun, etc.)
The main thing that bothers me is this has been known forever! Don't you remember the NASA engineers that quit after the 3rd time the planned station had parts lopped off by congress? "Useless... a glorified coatrack" they said (something like that). It appears they were absolutely correct. Penny wise, pound foolish?
Bring on the Moon and Mars bases!!!
I will happily be the first person to get off this planet and live in the moon and martian bases! Anything to get away from all the chavs and bogans down here!
However, i demand that there be an IQ test for anyone wanting to come to the moon or mars - anyone with an IQ equivalent to their shoe size or that of a politician shall be banned! Oh and anyone who believes that any holy book is the "literal truth" will also be banned (but then i guess thats probably covered in the requirement for their IQ to be higher then their shoe size!)...
I think the space station should be kept if:
(a) someone can think of some really good science to do there,
(b) someone can make it into a profitable space hotel, or
(c) it can usefully be used as staging point for moon or further missions.
You know, I would really like it if NASA concentrated on mastering some specific, useful piece of space technology, like how to keep tanks of hydrogen in orbit for several months, or lowering launch costs to LEO, or making a working solar powered electrodynamic tether. But no, we've got to have something the President can look sexy saying, even if will take 20 years and still not really lead anywhere.
ISS was and is a good thing
Actually the ISS has provided numerous benefits in the form of experience and knowledge in the construction and maintenance of space habitats. It certainly wasn't a waste of money, as the experience gained from building and running the ISS can now be put to use in designing Lunar and Martian stations. Bases on the Moon and Mars will need to be supported by orbiting platforms similar to the ISS, for docking interplanetary craft which will in all likelihood be incapable of landing on planetary surfaces.
The ISS should certainly be maintained, if the US want to pull out the rest of the world should pick up the slack and keep going without them. Once a base with mining facilities is built on the Moon, getting materials from there to the ISS will be cheap and easy compared to getting them out of Earth's gravity well. The ISS can then become what it was originally intended to be - a staging platform for interplanetary flights, where vessels not capable of entering an atmosphere can be docked and provisioned for their missions.
Re: The moon as a staging point
If Wikipedia is to be believed, Earth's gravity is 90% as strong as at sea level at the ISS's altitude. In that case, it can't be that useful as a staging area.