back to article Neil Armstrong: US space program 'embarrassing'

The first and last men to walk upon the moon have testified at a Congressional hearing that NASA is a national disgrace. The US space program is "embarrassing and unacceptable," said Neil Armstrong, who on July 21, 1969, first set foot on the surface of the earthly companion that, in his testimony, he referred to as Luna. " …

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  1. SirDigalot

    nice to see

    Statler and Waldorf are still going strong...

    1. Titus Aduxass

      SirDigalot you, sir, are an ignorant fool.

    2. BillG Silver badge
      Go

      Statler and Waldorf

      By Statler and Waldorf, do you mean Obama and Congress?

      PEOPLE MUST BE INSPIRED. I've been in management for over 20 years and in the beginning I thought it was just about telling people what to do. I soon learned that People Must Be Inspired. You want to mobilize a nation, you want to make people proud? PEOPLE MUST BE INSPIRED!

      Why do you think China wants to go to the moon? They want to motivate and inspire their people with the achievement, make them FEEL PROUD

      Statler and Waldorf were losers with no accomplishments that sat on the sidelines.

  2. Christoph Silver badge

    They don't have the money.

    NASA crewed craft tend to be horrendously expensive - the shuttle was a badly compromised design.

    If private spacecraft companies can get working vehicles they should be very much cheaper.

    So why do they want NASA to build more crewed vehicles? And what have they got against Russia, are they still trying to fight the cold war against the Soviet Union?

    Haven't they noticed that the world economy is in a terrible state at the moment?

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      They could have had the money

      Apollo programme total cost around $192 billion, in 2011 dollars. Iraq campaign cost around 757 billion in 2011 dollars, Afghanistan campaign cost around 416 billion. Without going into the whole question of whether they should have been in Iraq in the first place, Iraq was a big government project so let's assume they spent double what they needed to on it: they could have gone to the moon on the cost savings.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Boffin

        @tfb

        You neglected to mention that at it's peak NASA consumed 4.4% of the entire *federal* budget (at the time the US was in Vietnam).

        Today as Administrator Bolden testified NASA takes < 1/2% of the of the federal budget.

        1. Mike Flugennock
          Thumb Up

          uhhmmm... yeah, what they said

          I've commented on similar threads on related artlcles, so I won't waste more space. So, like, yeah... what they said.

          If the US Govt hadn't forked over huge amounts to Wall Streeters and bankers -- upwards of $700b with no strings attached -- and pissed away absurdly huge amounts of cash trying to fight half a dozen wars (which hardly anybody wants) at once, then, yeah; we'd have ourselves a shit-kickin' manned program right now.

          1. Ammaross Danan
            FAIL

            Manned Space Exploration

            Manned space exploration is all well and good, but with focusing primarily on robotic exploration, to be eventually followed by manned exploration, we could do so much more. Robots can withstand Mars, likely Venus (but not for too long), Titan, and a dozen other places, and do so at astoundingly cheaper mission costs, even if they sent TWO of each robot, just in case one failed/blows up/etc. We could do tens of missions simultaneously for the same cost as having an astronaut golf on the moon....

            Once we get a decent set of building bots on Mars putting together a habitat or digging/finding a hole, THEN we can send some 'nauts up to put boot-prints on top of rover tracks. This will likely be the best method of space exploration. We won't even mention how horridly overpriced the monopoly of space launches has been. Elon has shown us that.

    2. Mike Flugennock
      Boffin

      you didn't quite "get" Cernan's remark

      "So why do they want NASA to build more crewed vehicles? And what have they got against Russia, are they still trying to fight the cold war against the Soviet Union?"

      Cernan wasn't necessarily still fighting the Cold War; he was merely pointing out the irony of how, over forty years after establishing space tech leadership and beating the Russians to Luna, we now have to depend on the Russians to ferry our crews to ISS for the foreseeable future.

      Not that I was ever very gung-ho for the whole Cold War thing, nor have a problem with international cooperation in space exploration, but, still... it _is_ pretty goddamn' sad that it's come to that -- the nation that sent the first human expeditions to Luna now couldn't even get its shit together soon enough to have a next-generation manned craft built and at least well along in flight testing before the Shuttle program ended.

      I mean, how long was it between the last Gemini flight and the first Apollo flight? A year, year and a half? Hell, it would've been sooner if not for The Fire -- which, ironically, bought us some time to properly test and improve the Apollo CM -- and, as I recall, the original plan was to have the Block I Apollo CM flying in LEO shakedown missions concurrent with Gemini:

      http://astronautix.com/craft/apolloa.htm

      "... As of the summer of 1961 it was planned that Apollo A boilerplate flights in the earth-orbit configuration would take place in October/December 1963 using Saturn C-1's SA-7 and SA-8. SA-9 and SA-10 would launch 3400 kg capsule-only payloads in February-April 1964 to near parabolic velocities in tests of the capsule's hypersonic aerodynamics and heat shield. These prototype capsules would be equipped with parachutes and be recovered.

      These proving tests would be followed by Apollo A manned earth orbit space laboratory missions in the 1965-1967 period. Manned circumlunar flights would occur at the same time. The booster for such missions was originally intended to be the Saturn C-2. This was changed to the Saturn C-3 in June 1961 when it became clear the Apollo spacecraft would weigh too much for such missions. The C-3 in turn was cancelled in favor of the C-5, and discussion of circumlunar Apollo disappeared by the end of 1962..."

      Granted, it was six years between the last Apollo flight (ASTP joint Soyuz mission) and the first Shuttle launch, but the Shuttle -- despite turning out to be a flying white elephant -- was a huge engineering leap compared to Apollo. Also, iirc, the first Shuttle study contracts were issued while Apollo was still flying -- around 1969 or '70, I think:

      http://astronautix.com/lvs/shuttle.htm

      "...By mid-1969, the ambitious new NASA Administrator, Tom Paine, had proposed an extensive manned space exploration program as the logical follow-on to Apollo. A new, modular, reusable space transportation system would be required to set up bases on the Moon and Mars during the 1970s and 1980s. This system would consist of a reusable space shuttle to low earth orbit space stations and interorbital and interplanetary nuclear and chemical space tugs. The first major goal was a 12-man space station by 1975. NASA awarded $2.9-million study contracts to North American Rockwell and McDonnell-Douglas in July 1969. The space station was to evolve into a 50-man space base by 1980. Additional way-stations to Mars would be deployed in geostationary, lunar and Mars orbit during the 1980s.

      George Mueller headed the space shuttle portion of this effort, which accelerated as the Apollo project grew to a close. NASA awarded four $0.3-million space shuttle / Integral Launch and Re-entry Vehicle ILRV Phase A study contracts to North American Rockwell, McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed and General Dynamics in January 1969. Martin Marietta's bid was rejected, but the company continued to participate using its own funds. The ILRV requirement was for a booster/spacecraft combination with 12-crew / 2.3 - 22.7 metric ton payload capability, a 720 km re-entry cross range, and first flight by 1974. The most important mission was expected to be space station resupply payloads weighing about 11,300 kg. 120 different permutations were investigated by the contractors..."

      So, now, we're talking about going "back to the future", as it were, with a ballistic capsule design for our next-generation crewed vehicle, and with a decade and a half of experience in building ballistic capsule designs to draw on, we're still, like, "d'uhhhhh". I mean, what the hell is up with that?

      Cernan and Armstrong are right; as a spacefaring nation, we're in the goddamn' crapper. We're going to end up being the Portugal of the Space Age. I won't speak for my fellow Yanks here, but I, for one, plan to refrain from making snide cracks about UKSpace.

      .

      (btw, check out some of the early proposed Shuttle variants at the astronautix.com link. You think the Shuttle as-flown design was a stonking clunky beast...?)

      1. Naughtyhorse
        Thumb Down

        establishing space tech leadership

        like fist satellite...

        first living creature in orbit...

        first man in orbit....

        first probe to visit another planet.....

        way to lead the space race.

        1. Mike Flugennock

          re: establishing space tech leadership

          "like first satellite...

          first living creature in orbit...

          first man in orbit....

          first probe to visit another planet.....

          way to lead the space race."

          Six words: ONE. SMALL. STEP. FOR. A. MAN.

          http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/apollo/apollo11/hires/s69_40308.jpg

          Chew on _that_.

          1. Naughtyhorse

            lol

            and of course we are downvoting because of your freedom!

            dolt

        2. json

          what about only nation on this planet who was able to send men on the moon and back? americans needs a big motivator to get things done.. the soviet threat was it 3 decades ago.. unfortunately, global warming and "to go where no man has gone before" does not strike a chord to roughly half of americans.

        3. NomNomNom

          Yeah I remember the fist satellite. punched straight through the atmosphere

  3. hplasm Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Listento these guys.

    They know what they are talking about.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      I beg to differ

      The demise of NASA started long before the current government. In fact Dubia did much more towards its destruction than the current goons.

      So blaming it all on Obama is a bit disingenuous. He has done his fair share, but he stepped on the shoulders of 'giants'".

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        Goes even further back....

        It's a pretty concerted effort. Clinton cut the budget for NASA for several years running in the 90s. Neither Bush did that, but they did cancel projects.

        The decline is largely down to NASA's own incompetence, bad management and bureaucracy.

        1. Goat Jam
          Mushroom

          Why they don't have the money.

          NASA Budget:

          [- ]

          US Military Budget:

          [---------------------------------------------------------------------------------]

          In fact the military graph should go further but I wanted to avoid wordwrapping it, I'm sure you get the point.

          1. perlcat
            Black Helicopters

            It isn't money at all.

            It is a total and absolute lack of leadership, but leaders need ideas to rally people around, so it isn't totally their fault. Leadership's been in short supply since 1963. Nobody said "and then what" to achieving the goal of putting a man on the moon -- and even then, nobody came up with a valid reason *why* we would *keep* people on the moon.

            I look at the entire NASA moon program as a massive monument to JFK with little net effect -- nice that we could do it, but without valid reasons to keep doing it, 'because we can' will only get you so far. Look -- we're still sending satellites up -- we found a lot of uses for them. When we can find uses for a base upon the moon, we'll go there. The current reason IMO that there are no uses for a moon base is simply the cost of leaving the gravity well. Make that cheap, and then we will be taking vacations on Luna, and then Rule 39 will take over...

            I, for one, am looking forward to movies of the Lunar tunnels, even if I will be too old to travel there.

            When lunar travel becomes cheap, interplanetary travel will follow. I think that robotic exploration is also a waste. Their use is an admission that the costs are prohibitive and the safety for humans is marginal. That, right there, is where NASA failed us. Maybe robots will play a role, but few want to look at movies of space travel. The ones that do are already doing it. Robots may help find mineral/chemical wealth -- but without the means to get it down planet, NASA's still pissing in the wind, ought to be shut down, and a new agency organized.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Space is just too far away, and too much money and effort to get to

    I say we leave it all the the BRIC countries, and only use the rockets on the bottom of our thermo-nuclear weapons to slow the fuckers down a bit.

  5. John Savard Silver badge

    Importance

    The question, of course, is: how important is it that the U.S, have greater manned space capabilities than Russia? The U.S. is still a technological leader, but it is possible that manned space activity of the sort which involved the Shuttle and the ISS is not particularly important to the well-being of U.S. citizens, to U.S. national prestige, or U.S. national security.

    Building a colony on the Moon, landing a man on Mars - now, that would be something. But without the reasons that existed in the Cold War, it's not clear if the expense can be accepted.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Let me enlighten you with a quote

      "Cutting the space budget really restores my faith in humanity. It eliminates dreams, goals, and ideals and lets us get straight to the business of hate, debauchery, and self-annihilation." -- Johnny Hart.

      Now-a-days it's not really important except in their own minds. Whether the USoA will remain a technological leader remains to be seen; hordes of Chinese and Indian graduates are itching to get on with doing their thing, while the USoA struggles to maintain relevance and foo Europe struggles to retain teaching levels in higher education. Even if China or India only barely catches up with the western world, there's so many more of them and they're cheaper that they have a real edge on the western world. Losing the drive of the space race certainly doesn't help.

      Going to the moon or mars isn't something I'd go for now. Rather, I'd concentrate on doing what the shuttle was conceived for but never delivered where manned flight did deliver and gave us cheap and quick travel across the globe: Getting us up the well cheaply and easily enough that building something like Freeside(ta) makes sense. After that, going to the moon or mars is going to be that much easier to sell to congress. And in the meantime you'll have a neat little money spinner because everyone'll want to go up to space, now that they can.

      But first, nasa is getting lambasted, and rightly so, for costing an awful lot of money and not bringing home the bacon. In fact people are a bit shocked to realise that it's been that way for quite a while now. Even if there's still quite a lot of space-related exports going on, so far. Part of it is probably still that they had to achieve quite a lot in very little time and never consolidated, nevermind updated. The shuttle plans still aren't metric, for example, and that's a bit of a bummer trying to work together with the 95% of the world that is. Then there's the fact that the shuttle was far more expensive than it should be and there's been precious few attempts at getting it right. There's been some prizes and some promising third party things, but too little, too late from nasa--ie not seriously doing their job. Another part is that they've succumbed to middle management, some of which doesn't even appear to understand science as such at all, and to get rid of that they'll need a good scrubbing.

      The comparison with Russia is (predictable) rhetoric and able handwaving over what was then the most important point ("yeah they have a new name now, so what?"), but retaining technology leadership is something else. If you have it, then lose it, getting it back is indeed going to be that much harder. In that sense, and knowing the psychological impact of failing there, it's not unimportant to the USoA's peace of mind to fix nasa's problems and become "numbah wan" once again.

      Whether the rest of the world needs that is something else entirely again, and I'll not say a thing about it here, now.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Wrong Priorities

        "Going to the moon or mars isn't something I'd go for now. Rather, I'd concentrate on doing what the shuttle was conceived for but never delivered "

        Id just go for a revision of planning, procedures, and all of the controls that stop creative people being creative.

  6. John P
    Alien

    wooo no title

    In an ideal world I would be supporting every word those two men just said, but a large portion of the civilized world is on its way back in to recession. America only barely avoided defaulting on its debt and, even if pumping money in to the space industry would help the US economy, have they got the money to spend in the first place?

    Alien - we won't be seeing any of these any time soon...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You can't put a price on everything

      And space exploration is vital for the future. People claim that the I.T industry is about 15 years behind were it should be thanks to intel and microsoft (I disagree butt hat's a different subject). How far behind are we with space exploration technology because of decades of stagnation and people complaining about the cost rather than looking at the future benefits.

      1. Tom 13

        You can't put a price tag on the most important benefit of manned space exploration:

        It fires the imagination as little else can.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I beg to disagree

      "Alien - we won't be seeing any of these any time soon..."

      Cause, theirs evidence from around the world that NASA know different at the very top of its compartmentalised department.

      They are visiting us, its just a question of when someone stands up and admits it in front of the media.

  7. callmeishmael

    You may have heard it before...

    I'd be interested to see a comparison between NASA's budget, the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, and QEI & II.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Mushroom

      And please,

      add in the RTIs on both types of expenditure too.

      Also: To all the "we can't afford it in these times"; "we need to fix this planet first" whiners, I have this to say: "Six thousand billion dollars". That is how much we - as a global species - are quite happy to blow on warefare each year. We CAN afford to fix it all AND do much much more at the same time and much more to boot. We (in aggregate) simply don't want to.

      1. vincent himpe
        Holmes

        yet...

        you never hear the envionmentalist complain about all the smoke and poisonous gases ( gunsmoke , burnt powder , propellant , fuel) a typical war produces.....

        Maybe we should start using envionmentally friendly and renewable weapons.

        I'd love to see the day where two enemies would yell at each other , come here so i can smack you with this bunch of daisies.

        1. TheOtherHobbbes

          Really?

          If you Google 'Environmental costs of war' you get more than five million hits.

          Your 'never' would seem to be somewhat mis-informed.

          As for daisies - well, yeah, they're obviously not as macho as nukes and poison gas are.

          1. Mayhem
            Joke

            Daisies aren't macho?

            Hayfever is serious business!

  8. Captain DaFt

    Anyone that follows the industry can see that in twenty years, there *will* be a colony in space, and it *won't* be displaying American colors.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Any meaningful use of the word "colony" implies self-sufficiency. That's not going to happen in 20 years. If we turned all our swords into ploughshares and spent the savings on colonising space, it might happen in 50. But we won't, so it won't.

      What you're imagining is something like the ISS, which is about as self-sufficient as leaving someone in a boat in the open ocean. Limited supplies inside and only death awaits outside.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge
    FAIL

    Both of them off their rockers

    Have they not noticed that Congress is the problem? Every time NASA engineers design something, Congress steps in and "redesigns" it. No wonder it's all uber expensive broken crap now.

    I have utmost respect for their accomplishments, but both of them need to head back to the old folks' home.

    1. Tom 13

      Downvoted for tone and disrespect.

      While I concur that Congress is more of the problem than either NASA or the administration, it is difficult to tell of the bean counters when you are asking them for money.

      Furthermore, even IF Congress had provided the money, I'm rather convinced that the middle-management-itis that has set in at NASA would have pissed it away. So given that the least dysfunctional part of the problem was still enough to kill it, we have a rather large problem with our space program on this side of the pond.

  10. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Pork, Prizes and Elf and Safety.

    NASA is just a vehicle for US Representatives to use to deliver Pork to their regions,

    Frankly the best thing they can do with the bulk of the nasa budget it split into Ansari type X-Prizes, then let the Private sector compete to get them. Keep a certain amount for BAU work such as telescope and ground station funding.

    Make the prizes suffuciently big enough there will be VC's falling overthemselves to fund the private companies vieing for those prizes.

    Nasa's annual budget is ~$17bn (2008 figures) thats a lot of money in anyones world.

    Say keep 5bn back - thats enough to accumulate multiple billiions for each prize over the year.

    The next thing they could do is relax the health and safety regime for Space flight. Its meant to be a frontier - let people risk death exploring it and helping the human race move forward.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      @Gordon 10

      "Nasa's annual budget is ~$17bn (2008 figures) thats a lot of money in anyones world."

      This may come as a shock to you but in US govt spending terms it's not.

      It *really* isn't.

      Human space flight, which is the cuckoo which NASA keeps feeding at the expense of nearly everything else (and specifically Shuttle *derived* HSF) is roughly $3Bn of that.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        The fact that it's a drop in the ocean if the US Govt budget is irrelevant - most Govts are hopelessly inefficient.

        The same amount if money given to aggressive startups powered by people with real vision would achieve more faster and cheaper.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          @Gordon 10

          "The fact that it's a drop in the ocean if the US Govt budget is irrelevant - most Govts are hopelessly inefficient."

          True.

          "The same amount if money given to aggressive startups powered by people with real vision would achieve more faster and cheaper."

          Quit possibly. Actually just giving them what what asked for in the Presidents budget request, c850m, rather than the $500m (with c$190m on hold until Congress gets *evidence* NASA has signed SLS contracts) would be a *major* step forward.

          Superficially NASA's and the 2 astronauts, (who I'm starting to think of for some reason as "The Soggy Bottom Boys") are concerned that all *four* of the companies building crew carrying vehicles will *all* fail.

          This includes Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp, both of who have had 1000s of staff engaged in the design and building of space related hardware for *decades*

          It's hard to avoid the idea that this is a jobs protection programme for the various congressional districts involved in SLS..

          1. TheOtherHobbbes

            In fact

            it almost certainly has been all along. The original Mk 1 NASA was a triumph of Keynesian investment.

            Income from spin-off technology kept parts of the US economy humming along nicely for a decade or two - jobs and all.

            Then we had a politics of right-wing media performance and engineering fail, and the original both and plan - engineering innovation AND social benefits - was forgotten, in favour of - well - who knows what, really?

            NASA's unmanned projects continue to be pretty damn successful on the whole. But there was already a serious lack of vision during the 1970s, and the US has pissed away truly incredible sums on its other major corporate welfare program - international war exports.

            That's what happens when the mil-ind corporations own most of your senators.

          2. Tom 13

            That might be their motivation, but discounting it

            simply because you attribute only to greed invites bad karma. When those 1000s of staff are dispersed to the four winds, it is nearly impossible to reform a team that meets or exceeds the capabilities of those you have dispersed.

        2. TheOtherHobbbes

          And...

          most corporations are sharp, incisive, innovative, and forward-thinking?

          It was government 'inefficiency' that made the moon shots happen in the first place.

          The private sector didn't have the balls or the motivation to make it happen on its own.

          "The same amount if money given to aggressive startups powered by people with real vision would achieve more faster and cheaper."

          That wouldn't be government money you're talking about there, by any chance?

          1. LaeMing Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Yes, remember...

            ...the big-end of the private sector is run by the same class of bozos that run the government.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "relax the health and safety regime"

      Wasn't that the motto of the shutttle program, primarily at the insistence of the military?

    3. Tom 13

      Here, here!

      I'd go a step further. NASA does that until a specified level of development is reached, at which point it becomes a space version of the FAA.

  11. Notas Badoff
    Unhappy

    How far can you go tomorrow...

    when the money men cut the budget today, and yesterday, and the day before that.

    The second someone claims anything about "this administration's direction" they show an absence of thought or even recent memory. How much direction/motivation/enthusiasm can you attempt with no money? These fools won't even pay for implementation of the laws they have passed! Congress has _become_ Fox news - empty inflammatory talk, no brains, and no morals.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Liberty?

    Wouldn't they be better off just using Ariane 5 which would appear to deliver more or less the same capability right now?

    1. MD Rackham

      Liberty is (supposed to be) cheaper

      Liberty uses the Ariane 5 upper stage, but the ATK (Shuttle-derived) 5-segment solid-fuel rocket first stage. The solid ATK is much cheaper than the regular liquid-fuel Ariane 5 first stage. Or so they tell us.

      It's really the Ares I with the J-2X upper stage swapped out. Which has to do with where ATK could raise money (by spreading the pork to Europe) as much as any technical merits.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Boffin

        @MD Rackham

        "Liberty uses the Ariane 5 upper stage, "

        No it does not. It uses the Ariane 1st stage with the Vulcain 2 H2/O2 engine.

        "It's really the Ares I with the J-2X upper stage swapped out."

        More or less accurate. With the difference that both the Ariane 1st stage and the Vulcain 2 have *flown*, although the J-2X (possibly the most pointless engine development in recent years) is on the stand.

        Ariane Stage 1 is within about 1 inch in diameter of the ATK SRB so it's a *very* close fit. The joker in the pack is meant to be that no one has ever tried to altitude start a Vulcain 2.

  13. Derk
    Mushroom

    Dark age peasants

    If the attitude of some of the "Contributions" where true through out history. America would not exist, just a bunch of natives hunting buffalo on foot. Just no ambition. Especially that fool on the hill.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Derk

      You mean Bison.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        you can't make a pudding in a buffalo

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Derk

      In the 1960s it was possible to draft the sons of middle class Americans and send them to Vietnam. That's because the US was a nation in those days, not just a place. Now even paying their taxes is seen as too much of a sacrifice by some 'citzens' and conscription is 'economic conscription'. If the US political system can't deliver health reform and replace its aging bridges (before they collapse) it is neither representative or capable of providing responsible government. Without the discipline of the Cold War the US appears to have as much future as the Roman Empire.

      1. Shakje

        And how did sending those sons of middle class Americans off to Vietnam work out? You might call it discipline, I'd call it idiocy that cost a huge number of lives. I don't think there was anything disciplined at all about the decision to put troops in Vietnam.

    3. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Pint

      @Dark, you say it like it's bad thing!

      I have choice, spend all day at a desk running systems to store numbers that mean some people have more and bigger numbers than me or...spend my days hunting, eating, bonking, looking at stunning uninterrupted vistas and smoking all sorts of wierd and wonderful wacky-baccies....tough choice!!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing wrong with going to space . But I'll just wait for Jesus to come. Then I'll go where no man has gone before without spending a dime.

    1. Wombling_Free
      Mushroom

      Apart from being a coward...

      what the Dawkins are doing reading El Reg?

      Isn't there a fairy tale you should be learning by rote?

      Or didn't you know all IP addresses actually represent 666?

      Go home, your credibility is on fire.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        666...

        Actually 616 according to QI

        Kinda disagreed with your comment, but i had assumed the anon coward was taking the piss.

        however it appears not!

        so carry on :-)

    2. Paul_Murphy

      Nothing to see here folks...

      Just another silly american - please don't feed the troll.

      Yes, the lower-case 'a' is deliberate.

      ttfn

    3. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Angel

      I'm sure you'll see many extinct alien civilizations on your way that made the economically sound decision to *not* go out of their planet.

    4. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Pint

      Well mate, according to Andy Hamilton ( see Old Harry's Game ) even the saint's will end up "downstairs" with the rest of us, so I would book that ticket to the fluffy place just yet!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where Were the Voices For the Past Two Decades of Nothingness

    It seems it would be acceptable to all these detractors if the current administration had just continued with the nothingness and lack of direction that was the NASA they inherited.

    The end of the Shuttle program was announced before they took office with no clear direction as to when a replacement would be in place and with no funding in place for a replacement. Yet we heard nothing from anyone then . . now they all are shouting that the Current Administration kills the shuttle program and relegated us to second fiddle in space. Where were their voices when NASA was squandering away our children's future and needed some a kick in some direction. The current administration is not at fault the entire community is . . .

    It would appear that the past three decades to much funds were sunk in the shuttle program with its limited reach and capacity and not enough on truly expanding the science of space exploration. For the amount of our money that goes into it I currently dont mind if they just close NASA and start over from scratch. The private companies seems to be achieving so much wit so little over such a short period.

  16. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    I disagree with the astronauts

    Low earth orbit has been "done to death", and until we get a genuinely cheap way to get into orbit, there isn't much of a point of trying to commercially exploit space. After that, we have to be able to overcome the problems with available drive systems that keep interplanetary travel too dangerous becuase of the long times needed in combination with human physical problems with extended zero-g stays and cosmic ray exposure.

    Until we have that, manned spaceflight or putting some more Americans/Chinese/Indians/whoever on the moon is just going to be a rehash of the Apollo program--we go, we camp for a couple days, we come back with a bag full of rocks and some pictures.

    That's a hell of a way to spend money in this day and age. Better to explore the planets and asteroids with unmanned spacecraft, IDing important resource points as they are found. Then, once we have that cheap access to orbit and fast and heavy (well radiation shielded, large enough to spin and generate good atificial gravity, durable enough to endure micrometeorite strikes) spaceships, then we go out into space to do science and resource development/colonization.

    Apollo had its day and still stands as an inspiration of what we can do if we set our minds to it, but rehashing Apollo either on the moon or much more dangerously on Mars is a bad investment unti you really do have that bus/truck service into orbit.

  17. John Doe 1
    Alien

    Highest of respect for what these gents has accomplished during their career including Dr Armstrong's post-NASA professorship at an university.

    But I think they've misplaced the target of their anger. It is Congress that sets the spending parameters and they have been reluctant to increase NASA funding in turbulent economic times. So NASA could only afford one major programme not two, unfortunately.

    NASA had to make a choice between a rock and a hard place. Either way, no real winners.

    I am sure Mr Obama would have signed a bill into law that specified increased funding for NASA to cover a short-term transitional gap between one programme to another.

    Part of the problem, though, is that nobody has a clearly articulated 'next step' vision. The Augustine Committee was tasked to find the most feasible option that could be affordable and implemented. The news they gave was bleak; no realistic short-term option at present funding levels -- perhaps by 2030s.

    Hope right now is that private industry may be able to step up to fill the gap. SpaceX seems promising and there are others on the horizon. That may be several years away, though.

    Ultimately I think Dr Armstrong and Mr Cernan may want to lobby Congress for increased NASA funding or continue their present life rather than blasting the President and NASA.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      "But I think they've misplaced the target of their anger. It is Congress that sets the spending parameters and they have been reluctant to increase NASA funding in turbulent economic times. So NASA could only afford one major programme not two, unfortunately."

      Not so. They have been keen to increase funding on *their* preferred (as in written into federal law) launch vehicle.

      The Shuttle hardware (and costs) derived BAU, Cost+ SLS.

      "Part of the problem, though, is that nobody has a clearly articulated 'next step' vision. The Augustine Committee was tasked to find the most feasible option that could be affordable and implemented. The news they gave was bleak; no realistic short-term option at present funding levels -- perhaps by 2030s."

      Incorrect. Augstine was looking at Constellation (or CxP) and said it'd never fly *unless* Congress bumped up funding by about 50% to HSF. They suggested *alternatives* in the form of depots and a more incremental approach and pointed out that a bigger laucher in the 75mT class would be needed a *long* way in the future. The Moon was possible without it

      The report basically said Congress needs to put up or shut up. They did neither. They fought Obama at every attempt to shut it down and replaced it with *another* look alike system. This time Administrator Bolden decided to find out the *real* likely costs before they went ahead.

      Looks like (surprise surprise) the Congress *still* has not appropriated enough to get the job done.

  18. vincent himpe

    something to ponder about

    in the 50's we saw the first computers. humongous beasts , vacuum tubes, few ten thousand calculations a second. engineers and scientists can create things faster.

    in the 60's we transistorized them. clock goes up tenfold , we land people on the moon

    in the 70 we integrate them. we get desktop calculators. now we are really cracking.

    in the 80 we get personal computers. now everyone will be able to design complex things with the assitance of these wonderful machines.

    que forward. 2011. The average cellphone has 1000 the computing power of the first vacuum tube machines, features haptoc feedback , 3d high resolution displays, all kinds of instant information access. And what does the human race do with them? THEY PLAY ANGRY BIRDS !

    in other words, the technology has evolved to the point where the human race has devolved... we have fallen behind.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @vincent

      Yeah - that's right. All *everyone* does is play angry birds. No-one does anything else with computers do they? All that cpu power is wasted.

      1. Reverend Brown
        Coat

        Yeah... can't forget all the World of Warcraft going on.

        Mine's the one knee deep in the dead on nightmare mode, no 3d required.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @vincent

      You're so right...

      What's also interesting is to theorize the cause of all this. And my stance on that is "people are lazy", directly linked with "software dictates the hardware".

      In the old days (Commodore 64) you had a whooping 64kbytes of memory. Yes ladies and gentlemen; a tenth of a megabyte (what's that you ask? Well, most part which goes onto a 3.5" floppy disk. "????"... ok, never mind ;-))

      Seriously; C64 provided limitations. And we worked around those limitations to squeeze whatever we could out of the critter. And man did it kick ass !

      But nowadays? People rely on higher level programming languages and take those to the max. But often ignoring the overhead caused from such languages (and yes; C comes close enough to break even).

      But despite that most people that I know who are into programming hardly create their own library collections anymore; they see a problem, check the Internet if an existing solution is available and some of them will actually look into said solution where a lot simply copy and use said solution.

      Even if said solution would only take you a couple of lines of code. Heck; even if said solution could easily be optimized by adding 2 lines of code. But in most cases people don't even wish to bother.

      And I think that is one of the main causes as to why a lot of people can no longer achieve "easy stuff" on hardware which way outpowers that what was once considered to be making said stuff easy in the first place.

    3. Mike Flugennock
      Pint

      re: something to ponder

      "in the 80s we get personal computers. now everyone will be able to design complex things with the assistance of these wonderful machines."

      I heard someplace back in the mid '80s that the processing power in my then-new Mac Plus -- a Motorola 68K running at (iirc) 6Mhz -- was equal to all the computers used to control the Apollo missions -- which, at the time, took up an entire room. Along with my being amazed, it also struck me kind of funny somehow.

      "que forward. 2011. The average cellphone has 1000 the computing power of the first vacuum tube machines, features haptoc feedback , 3d high resolution displays, all kinds of instant information access. And what does the human race do with them? THEY PLAY ANGRY BIRDS!"

      Don't be too disappointed. As I recall, one of Doug Englebart's first demos of a mouse-driven GUI was a game remarkably similar to the 1979 arcade fave Space Wars. Also, in the Computer Club at my old high school in the early '70s, I puttered around a bit with Time-Shared BASIC on old networked HP terminals; the first working program I wrote was a single-player RPG.

      In fact -- stop me if I'm wrong -- but in every generation of computer development, there were games involved somewhere, at some point. Text RPGs and Space Wars and Galaxians and Grid Wars and Crystal Raiders and Castle Wolfenstein and Doom and Quake and Angry Birds didn't code _themselves_, y'know.

      A cold one for the guy who wrote Grid Wars, my favorite Mac game of all time.

      1. The Fuzzy Wotnot

        You can't keep the human race down!

        Porn powered the uptake of home video cameras and players, just like video games kept the tech industry rolling along when there was no war to keep pushing it!

        Playing Angry Birds on your mobile has to be a step up from posting on Facebook/Twitter such nuggets as "I is fabz!" and "Weez gitin wel mashd!".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          facepalm and twitbook

          twitter is for ,well you know , twit's ... (as in the monthy pyhon sketch 'the twit race' )

          That is another thing. Instead of producing useful things , people waste tons of bandwidth , computing and storage to post the color of their 'output' this morning as it was taking a 'porcelain cruise' down the pipe... and nobody cares.

          The human race (as a whole) can no longer keep up with the technological advances. Yes the human race makes these advances but they are made by a very few number of people. The other 99.9% can;t even keep up.

          in the 80's you had the people that couldn't figure out how to set the VCR clock. in the 90's you had people that couldn't add a phone number to their cellphone.. Anything useful they can;t do. anything stupid they can... it's a sad sad day ...

  19. jake Silver badge

    Blaming Obama for the current state of the US space program ...

    Is just as silly as blaming kids currently in College for the Superfund sites that they are studying, in the hopes of figuring out cheaper ways to clean up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @jake

      That SHOULDN'T need saying!

  20. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
    Stop

    Dunno

    Of course, former astronauts are more than a little biased. I think I'd take their assessment of "embarrassing" in preference to complete boondoggle.

    The amount of productive science that could have otherwise been achieved, and useful knowledge gained, with the money that was spent on the moon landing and shuttle programs would have been immense.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Yes,

      They could have bought another few dozen nukes with that money easy!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not about the politics

    It is a tragic setback that NASA is more focused on becoming a "PC" body. In my youth, I worshiped the Astronaut and Cosmonaut corps as gods. Sadly, after several losses of both people and craft, the US government has decided to give in to the pundits and rein in NASA's funding.

    I don't care if I get flamed for this or not, but to me, a nation's space program, albeit frivelous to some, represents the pinnacle of achievement for all of humanity and rightfully so, the source of great national pride for said nation.

    I find it sad (regardless of which moronic administration the decision actually came from) that my country has relagated NASA to a third rate government bureacracy.

    Neil Armstrong has been one of the greatest heros in my life (after my late father), it was the achievements of him and his brothers and sisters, who risked their lives and sacraficed everything, that inspired me to want to persue a career in science.

    You all can rant and rave about how much the US sucks, or for my fellow americans, which political party is the greater of the two evils, but for me, it ain't about the politics, it's just a plain sad day for the whole of humanity.

    I remember the day when Apollo 11's LM landed, and I distinctly remember the entire world stopping for a brief moment in time, to celebrate as a temporarily united civilization. Apparently those days are long gone and will soon be forgotten, as demonstrated by a number of prior posts.

    Flame away. Don't really give a damn.

  22. Esskay
    Facepalm

    Mandrake! The Redcoats are coming!

    "As unimaginable as it seems, we have now come full circle and ceded our leadership role in space back to the same country, albeit with a different name, that spurred our challenge five decades ago."

    see icon.

    Whilst I agree that the US should be doing more to secure funds for it's space program (maybe try not to invade anyone for a few years?) Using "The Russians" as a reason makes the astronauts appear to be out of touch and paranoid. I'm surprised he didn't tell congress they needed to protect their Precious Bodily Fluids as well.

  23. Beachrider

    They were Astronauts of note, but..

    I agree with others here that discontinuing the Shuttle is 10 years overdue. LEO is rife to be commercialized and NASA needs a cheaper way to explore deepspace.

    Science and manufacturing are a much more level playing field than 1966, but that isn't NASA's fault. I don't see why everyone minimizes the massive achievement of the non-manned program, either.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      "LEO is rife to be commercialized"

      Umm, no-one has changed the technology of getting into LEO (or any other orbit, for that matter) for about 50 years, so the economics remain much as they ever were. The only significant changes are that satellites now don't need to weigh as much to do their job and robots are good enough that you don't need to send people. I see nothing to suggest that we are on the brink of some new phase in the exploitation of LEO.

  24. Mike Green
    Mushroom

    Nasa's budget

    18.7 Billion dollars in 2010.

    Military budget for 2010? $685.1 billion

    1. Wombling_Free

      Well, thats the real reason, isn't it?

      Aint no none of dem dere gawd-darn teeersts in sperce! If gawd had gone dun meaned men to go fler in sperce He wulda gone dun smote dem dere teeersts!

    2. bitten
      Thumb Down

      Nasa's budget

      Neil Armstrong is right it is embarassing.

      ESA budget 4 billion dollars. The NASA delivers half a rocket for the price of four.

      1. Tomato42 Silver badge
        FAIL

        Yes, NASA is inefficient. But removing human space flight capability from NASA is throwing out baby with the bathwater. Or do you remove old peacemakers from your grandpa because its old and the new one should arrive next month?

        1. perlcat
          Pirate

          Gampa's old peacemaker is getting upgraded?

          I suppose he'll go with a Beretta then.

          However, to address what you *meant* -- NASA is a lousy agency, so full of bureacracy and internal politics that they could not make a ham sandwich for less than a million dollars. Knock it in the head and bring in talent, not bureaucrats. Throwing more money at NASA just rewards the same level of crap we have become accustomed to. We on the right actually salute Obama for cutting it off. If NASA ever thought they were in a fight for survival, they might actually resort to doing what they were created for.

          The problem with sacred cows is that some bureaucrat will figure out how to milk it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile...

    Space is important because of the technology and spin-off benefits it generates. However I cannot help feel that while our technologically and supposedly enlightened world remains unable to feed people, get medicine to them or even deliver clean water to them, we are sorely missing a trick. Let's continue into space but not lose focus on solving - properly - the more urgent issues at lower altitude.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      Chris 68

      You might like to consider that more people now suffer from *obesity* than starvation on a *global* scale. Free liposuction and convert the resulting fat into something human edible perhaps?

      Actually space is important because of it's ground coverage for communications satellites (the only bit where customers pay something like the *real* costs and make a profit doing so) and a potential place to go and live.

    2. LaeMing Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Keep in mind,

      that almost all the hunger and poor-living on the planet is caused by war. And guess which industry gets allocated 60% of the scientific and technical resources of the species!

      1. jake Silver badge

        @LaeMing

        I think if you travel a bit, you'll find you're incorrect.

        Hunger is caused by a lack of resources to produce food. This is fixable.

        So called "poor" is a manufactured thingie, brought on by "western" concepts of laziness. This is also fixable, but only if you can convince people to ignore advertising and get their fingernails dirty.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @LaeMing

          "I think if you travel a bit, you'll find you're incorrect. Hunger is caused by a lack of resources to produce food. This is fixable."

          Condescending and wrong in the context of the preceding comment. The current situation in the Horn of Africa, to take one example, has come about precisely because of war, not because there isn't enough food to feed people. The sad thing is that such regions continually suffer because of instability and warmongering.

          1. jake Silver badge

            @AC:15:59

            You do know that "resources" include enough land, a steady supply of usable water, and human beings, all of which remain unmolested long enough to produce food, right? Now look up the meaning of the word "fixable". And you call ME condescending?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... entrepreneurs ... lets take a look back in time...

    It seems that NASA has had it's day, that the involvement of governments and government money in space exploration is dwindling, so ...

    Turn back a number of centuries and take a look at the explorers who ventured to the 'new world', a great number of them were backed by private entities, by entrepreneurs.

    Yes, it was as much about discovering (or stealing) wealth as it was about 'because we can' and the Kudos involved for the intrepid explorers - but it was this which drove exploration, discovery.

    Some of these discoverers were not in it for the money, but for the glory - and either they used their own funds, or convinced businessmen to pony up the cash.

    I see the same thing happening with the future of space exploration.

    The likes of the X-Prize are just the beginnings of this.

    It may take a long time, but if there's glory and possibly wealth beyond our wildest dreams, it'll happen. It may be a commercial nightmare scenario where the first men on Mars are sponsored by Coke - but heck, sci-fi writers have explored this route, its' completely viable, if a little distasteful.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      SOME were private...

      ...but the most important expeditions were almost-always state-sponsored. Expeditions were expensive, especially if it fails, so you needed a backer with enough cash to be able to take a gamble...and still be around if he lost, and you can't get much richer than a state treasury. Europe in the 15th century was in a "sea race", if you will: trying to colonize territories holding valuable resources to exploit. The Portuguese expeditions down Africa and eventually around the Horn were all motivated by people like Prince Henry (stood to reason, too; no Mediterranean access, so the only way to go was south). Christopher Columbus's expedition to find the far east via the back door was 2/3rd funded by Spain, who gambled on him because by then Portugal had already secured the Africa route. And once the Spanish realized they had virgin territory, they sent ships galore there: practically all state-sponsored.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Point taken..

        .. I was a bit over enthusiastic about 'private' funding, it did exist, but your quite correct in the fact that entire countries would fund expeditions.

        But it does seem that in modern times, given the hobbling of NASA, the last hope - at least for the foreseeable future - would be privately funded space exploration, or perhaps a combination.

        I guess it's all down to what profits can be made and right now, that's satellites and 'joy rides'

        Any other investment, aimed at, for instance, mining expeditions to asteroids, would be massively long term. Right now, that's not commercially viable.

    2. CyberCod

      Distasteful?

      Government... Corporation... really whats the difference? Just a bunch of lies and money rolled up in a big ball.

    3. boustrephon

      Government Employees

      I think people are making too much of the government - capitalist dichotomy. After all, Columbus was funded by government, albeit with a bonus scheme (grab what you can for yourself).

      Incidentally, I also think that these eminences grises are putting too much blame on the current government. Fighting unfunded wars and handing out un-budgeted tax reductions has to count for something. Not to mention the general willingness of the public to accept high levels of public and private indebtedness, without a thought for the future.

  27. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Great men

    From a gentler time.

    sigh!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      "Great men"

      True in their day.

      "From a gentler time."

      Discounting the ever present sense of a vast foreign block eager to enfold, extend and extinguish Western civilization or destroy it on 4 minutes notice.

      Nostalgia unencumbered by facts is just your preferred deity's way of telling you too many of your brain cells have died for you to recall things accurately.

      1. Winkypop Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Me? My deity?

        Surely you jest.

        I was talking about life as a 7 year old, as I was in 1969.

        Childhood nostalgia knows no bounds.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Meh

    They seem to advocate the SLS

    Which suggests if you ask the wrong question you'll get the wrong answer.

    In their times they have done great things. Two of which should have been to make space flight easier *and* safer.

    I'm not sure how many Americans really want to *watch* space on their TV's.

    But several 100 thousands want to *go* there.

    Which under SLS will *never* happen in their lifetimes.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      "But several 100 thousands want to *go* there. Which under SLS will *never* happen in their lifetimes."

      As long as you are using chemical rockets as your launch system, there's no way "several 100 thousands" are going to get into space. (Probably more like several hundred.)

      The only thing that will change that is some breakthrough in the technology of getting folks up there, which is largely an exercise in giving several hundred megajoules of energy per kilogram to your payload, remotely, without destroying it in the process. It will probably need the help of some physics that we simply don't know yet. Perhaps we should be diverting NASA's manned space budget to Fermilab.

    2. Mike Flugennock

      "watching" space on TV?

      "I'm not sure how many Americans really want to *watch* space on their TV's."

      Well, I won't speak for succeeding generations of Americans, but as someone who has Shepard's Mercury flight as one of his earliest childhood memories (I was 4) and who watched the first human visit to another world (I was 12) and who has seen watched every Gemini and Apollo launch, every Apollo EVA, and nearly every Shuttle launch, landing and associated EVA, and every Soyuz launch to the ISS, I can tell you for sure that I get a big-assed thrill out of watching space on my TV. I know I'll likely never get to go into space myself, so watching it on TV is the next best thing -- especially now that astronauts' EVA gear includes those miniature helmet-cams, so I can get an excellent POV of an EVA as seen by an astronaut working outside on the ISS. That's some awesome shit.

      Luckily, we have a quality DSL pipe to our house, so I can watch the NASA TV stream on my computer, and not have to fight my wife for the remote so I can tune in NASA TV to watch a launch on our "regular" TV.

      It's just a shame that I still have to settle for still images from the MER rovers and the Cassini probe. Thanks to advances in digital imaging, the fotos are gorgeous, but, still, you can't beat actually watching it happen. With any luck, in my lifetime, a Mars rover or other planetary probe will have the bandwidth to send back full-motion video of flybys of the Jovian or Saturnian moons, or of robotic geological field work on Mars.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Boffin

        @Ken Hagan

        As long as you are using chemical rockets as your launch system, there's no way "several 100 thousands" are going to get into space. (Probably more like several hundred.)

        This item covers the maths in detail

        http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/07/space-shuttle-launch-equator-vs-mountains/

        Quick and dirty is the potential energy (mass x height x gravity) + kinetic energy (1/2 x mass x velocity ^2)

        It's less than 32Mj/Kg of payload. You're out by about an order of magnitude.

        When Philip Bono of McDonell Douglas did this in the mid 1960's it was equal to the fuel needed for a round trip jet flight between London and Sydney.

        As to 100 000 passenger movements that is 1/450 of *one* airport in the world (Atlanta Georgia. Admittedly the busiest airport in the world) per year.

        I will note that it is extremely unlikely that would happen in a single year any time soon.

        If you do what you've always done you'll get what you've always got.

  29. jason 7
    Stop

    Its not really about cost.

    It's just political manouvering and maybe the undercurrent of anti-science that pervades the US at the moment.

    People always mention how expensive Apollo was but it wasnt. I bet at the end the Apollo project ended up making money and the US still reaps many financial benefits today from it.

    All that govt money created thousands of jobs, hundreds of businesses, marketable patents and products, science programs, scholarships, blah blah blah. Fantastic stuff, never has such value for public money been given.

    Inverstment in space and science makes money.

    Nowadays here in the UK we dont bat an eyelid at pissing half a billion on empty 999 centres or 11Bn quid on another NHS nothing project.

    Priorities skewed perhaps?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      All good things end eventually...

      ...even exploration. Once you've been to a place a hundred times and back, it becomes rather dull and dreary. Those first trips to the moon and such were exciting because they were novel. But now near-earh-orbit's just part of the neighborhood, and if you want to go much beyond that, you're gonna need some SERIOUS boodle. Plus, it's hostile territory out there, so the risks are higher than before.

    2. Mike Flugennock
      Thumb Up

      re: not really about cost

      "People always mention how expensive Apollo was but it wasnt. I bet at the end the Apollo project ended up making money and the US still reaps many financial benefits today from it."

      For many years, I've worked in peace, anti-militarist and other social-change-type activism, and I've lost track of how many times I've had to straighten out my "comrades" on the true cost of Apollo and the size of the NASA budget as a percentage of overall US budget whenever they piss and moan about how much money we spend on space exploration vs. social programs. (I'm kind of an odd bird that way -- a hippie who's also a hardcore spaceflight geek)

      Even at the peak of its glory days, Apollo's budget percentage was in single digits -- 4%, something like that. NASA's percentage is even less today, and as you rightly point out, a lot of that is likely due to the US legislature being increasingly dominated by creationists, flat-earthers, climate-change denialists and other cranks who are scared shitless of scientific endeavours as they almost always reveal facts that contradict the Bible.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @Mike flugennock

        "(I'm kind of an odd bird that way -- a hippie who's also a hardcore spaceflight geek)"

        I wonder how many times people have thought you're a plant for the FBI? :).

        On a serious note while Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source it does have this article

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

        It makes interesting reading. At it's absolute *peak* (1966) NASA took 4.41% of *all* federal spending at roughly $32Bn in 2007 dollars. Nasa in 2011 is taking a < 0.5% at about $17Bn.

        Inflation really cuts the value of your dollars down to size.

        In federal terms it's small change you'd find down the back of a settee.

        My current favorite. Americans spend $27Bn on getting their pizzas delivered.

        Which sort of puts the current legislatures view of the US space programme in perspective.

        1. Mike Flugennock

          Pizza

          "My current favorite. Americans spend $27Bn on getting their pizzas delivered."

          Jeezus, $27 billion? Shit.

          Sad thing is, it still wouldn't be enough to pay to have Domino's pizza delivered to the Moon.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            @Mike Flugennock

            "Jeezus, $27 billion? Shit."

            Afraid so. The same article mentioned that the army aircon bill for it's assorted tents and buildings came to $40Bn. Which it *could* be argued serves the more valuable purpose of stopping US soldiers dropping from heat exhaustion.

            Weather or not you agree with the size of US forces abroad (especially in the Middle East) is another matter.

            "Sad thing is, it still wouldn't be enough to pay to have Domino's pizza delivered to the Moon."

            Now that's *quite* interesting. There's a private group looking to land a rover on the move from a Falcon 9 and IIRC the landing stage is fairly generic.

            A pizza company *could* arrange to have a small warming box put on another landing stage (perhaps in concert with a supplier of a carbonated beverage. Maker TBC).

            Not so much a "flags and footprints" mission as a "soda and a pie" delivery.

            On the upside a great photo op for both companies involved (naturally the stage will have cameras or a rover with one on board) and a fair sized chunk of cash to Spacex and the landing stage suppliers.

            On the downside the total trivialization of a *massive* engineering achievement.

            Sometimes life is an ethical minefield for the dedicated space activist.

  30. Kharkov
    Megaphone

    Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.

    NASA has proven that it can't lead. To lead it has to put either a science program that's way ahead of what the rest of the world is likely to do - no budget for that - or else build a launcher - like SLS - that is faster, cheaper, better. SLS is set to enter limited commercial service in 2024 and full-scale commercial service in 2032, 10 and 18 years after Falcon Heavy. It's going to cost 100 times more than Falcon Heavy and won't lift any more in 2017 than Falcon Heavy is likely to in 2017.

    So follow. Ooops, can't do that. That would fly in the face of 'American Exceptionalism'. So it'll faff around until the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese and the rest leave it in the dust.

    So get out of the way? How about be left behind while everyone else mines the asteroids, brings back the wealth, develops the technology spin-offs and generally makes a lot of money out of space.

    Poor NASA... It used to be something, once...

  31. Dan Paul
    Boffin

    Space Flight will help transfer Aerospace Industry from War to Peacetime footing

    If we want to keep hundreds of thousands of skilled Aerospace manufacturing jobs off the dole, we need to understand that something has to replace the existing "wartime" economy.

    Manned spaceflight to Mars is exactly the kind of project that would help wean Boeing, Lockheed, Etc off building war machines.

    Next, it is extremely important to recognize that investment in space flight brings huge leaps in technology which continue to positively impact the daily lives of most people. Unfortunately, so does War.

    We have a choice to blow tax money on destructive technology or productive technology.

    Do we need more ways to kill each other or should we invest in ways to get a viable population off planet so the human race won't all be killed when some political cowboy from Texas or Pakistan decides to "Push the Button"?

    The real problem for corporations is not can they make space flight to Mars happen, but rather how to monetize it. If there is no Government support those big corporations won't bother.

    This is where entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have an innovation advantage over the big guys.

    Too bad our elected leaders don't get the majority of their campaign contributions from entrepreneurs!

    1. Mike Flugennock

      They coulda' been a contender

      Y'know, I'm not surprised or disappointed with the idea that your standard-issue US Govt agencies totally suck at leadership. I pretty much expect them to suck at it.

      I am, however, seriously disappointed and saddened to see that NASA can't lead for shit, because I'm old enough to remember a time when they totally kicked ass at leadership. I'm totally rooting for SLS to be built and flown successfully -- not just because of all the exploration possibilities that'd flow from it, but also because I'd get back a teensy bit of the pride I used to have in my country being able to do something momentous that didn't cause the whole goddamn' world to hate our guts. Not that I'm big on all that exceptionalism bullshit, but it _would_ be nice to see this country do something like this that I could point to and say, "fuck, yeah, we did that". I haven't felt that way since Apollo 11.

  32. Brandon 2
    Mushroom

    waste of money...

    I'm all for science for science's sake, but at some point, the engineers must turn it into something useful and marketable. In the last 10 years, what has resulted from the Shuttle program that the millions of tax paying citizens that fund it use on a daily basis? Hopes and dreams? Thank you, but I'll go read a book. There's your answer to, "why the space program is in decline." It's not this administration (as much as I'd like to blame every bad thing on the planet on it), or that administration (that did not inhale, mind you), etc... it's that the risk-benefit analysis sucks.

    Also, 1/70 of the shuttles blows up... you'd have to certifiably insane to get on an airplane if 1/70 of them blew up. There's a fine line between bravery and insanity, and when a program ceases to produce usable results, it leans toward the latter. Was it really worth risking 7 or 8 astronauts' lives to put glasses on a telescope? Or should they have just built another one and measured twice before cutting the mirror?

    Not with my tax money, thank you very much... I'm busy funding a ponzi scheme...

    1. jason 7
      Facepalm

      What do they use on a daily basis?

      Are you a bit out of touch?

      NASA and the shuttle have helped provide worldwide TV and telecoms, Hubble, medical research etc. etc.

      I'm sure the US taxpayers would notice if they suddenly dissapeared.

      The shuttle program made your life better. Just because you didnt get a ride in one, dont think it didnt.

      1. Steven Jones

        Satellites were put into orbit long before the Shuttle. Indeed the Shuttle turned out to be an expensive and unreliable way of putting communication satellites into orbit. Satellite communications would exist if the Shuttle had never been heard of.

        The Hubble is a bit different, of only because of the maintenance tasks. However, even that could have been done with manned rockets. The shuttle has been an expensive mistake and never came remotely near the original ambition of weekly launches.

        The idea that the Shuttle improved anybody's life is a nonsense. It could have been done cheaper using other means.

        Of course it's nothing like the waste of money of the ISS...

  33. henrydddd

    no wonder

    The reason that the space program is lagging is that smart bombs, weapons of war, war, and new tanks are the priority of the US, not space exploration. Sad

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    On the positive side

    With the Indian programme progressing so well when US Astronauts *eventually* return to the Moon they will have no trouble locating pre placed food supplies, with a choice of nans or popadoms.

    I just hope they remember to bring their plastic.

  35. heyrick Silver badge

    Luna?

    It's the "Moon". Luna is just a fancy modern era name from the adjective, derived from Latin, and no doubt popular with the sort of people that want to call the Moon "Luna" to distinguish it from other moons (as if that's ever going to be an issue in most people's discussions) or decide that Pluto is not really a planet (duh, it is a cartoon dog, I thought everybody knew that).

  36. The Grinning Duck
    Linux

    Why can't we just have a global version?

    Share the cost, experience, technology, etc between everyone who wants to play?

    A GASA, if you will.

    I mean, frankly, the last thing we need in space are nations.

  37. plunder

    Engineering

    When the UK killed Black Arrow it started to decline, look at us now.

    No space program = no future in engineering = no future.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      @plunder

      "When the UK killed Black Arrow it started to decline, look at us now.

      No space program = no future in engineering = no future."

      Interesting point. The UK (like France) had *both* nuclear weapons and orbital launch (France achieved orbital launch before the UK).

      South Africa had nuclear weapons but put them beyond use.

      The UK had orbital launch and put it beyond use (as those nice Americans could always be relied upon to launch the satellites blighty might *occasionally* need).

      It's an interesting question which one came out of the deal better off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @plunder

        "The UK had orbital launch and put it beyond use (as those nice Americans could always be relied upon to launch the satellites blighty might *occasionally* need)."

        Britain pulled off one or two tricks with the Americans around nuclear weapons and nuclear technology, but one gets the impression that every subsequent generation of politicians thought they were just as cunning and the Americans just as easily manipulated. Even Thatcher could only pull the strings so hard to get favours.

        Of course, all this is just more documentation of the ridiculous political Britard instinct that says, "We don't need to make or do anything any more: we can buy anything we need!" The upshot is the idolisation of "The City" and the delusion that the rest of the planet needs a nation of middlemen.

        Still, the scientists and engineers did pretty well propping up two orbital launch programmes as inadequately funded and prematurely cancelled government side-projects.

  38. The Grump
    Mushroom

    The Lefty Libs are out in force here...

    Wow. Everyone here would rather spend Nasa's budget on a bankrupt solar panel company and a bunch of lazy drunks who will wizz their welfare money away after a hard days drinking. Nice to see the libs have their priorities in order. Better to roll in misery than reach for the stars. Nice thinkin' there, Odumbo. Meantime, what if the GPS satellites fail ? Who cares ? We have a bridge to nowhere in Alaska to build. Nasa would just blow the money on Mars and stuff.

    Please remember to spay or neuter your liberals. This has been a public service announcement. Thank you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The US has a liberal constitution, originally devised by, well, liberals. You might as well have let King George III keep it if you have a problem with that! Or, indeed left it to the native population.

      Reach for the stars? Are you joking? The kind of pond life who have grabbed the bulk of the nations's wealth over the past 30 years are incapable of *any* sort of vision that reaches beyond them, personally, consuming / owning something. The Apollo Program was, like the Manhattan Project, an all out, no expense spared effort to achieve a goal. This was fighting the Cold War by peaceful means and demonstrating US global predominance in technology and economic power.

      Who would be impressed by the spectacle of a near bankrupt US throwing money at sending men to Mars to do nothing of any practical value?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      For you, Grump,

      the Enlightenment was something that happened to other people. There IS a reason why only 6% of American scientists are Republicans. (Clue: it's not because they envy the smart, educated people in the Tea Party.) Try having a space programme without scientists!

  39. CyberCod

    Well...

    Considering that corporations are richer and more powerful than governments these days, I'd say that they're the ones in the pilot's seat now.

    There has been more innovation in the last five years of the private space industry than in the last 30 years of NASA.

    I have a lot of respect for Mr. Armstrong, but it isn't the same world it used to be.

  40. Hardcastle the ancient

    I think, lads, that it is not just the 'space program' that is embarrassing.

  41. compdoc

    Neil Armstrong is old

    Time for fresh ideas. The space program will be just fine.

  42. Naughtyhorse

    pair of doddery old twats dont like the modern world...

    there's no story here.

    and given the US still has 50million people with no health cover, 7 million people in jail (gaol), a 14 trillion dollar national debt, routinely flouts international law - protecting war criminals, has a political system which by their own measure is intrinsically unfair and massively corrupt, has one of the few governments in the world that kills it's own people out of vengeance, one of the *very* few governments in the world that murders it's own children - out of vengance.

    but this once great old geezer reckons handing the lead in the space race back to the Russians is the thing the nation should be ashamed of.

    do us a favour Neil - Pull your head out of uranus, it's embarassing!

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NASA busget should be cut

    The fundamental problem is that manned space travel with our current technology makes no sense. NASA is saddled with the legacy of a cold war era when spending 4.5% of national spending on a pointless proganda exercise seemed sensible. Romantically I would love space travel to be common place and (relatively) cheap, safe and practical but we are a long way from that at the moment and there is no prospect of changes to that on the horizon.

    The reailty is that manned space flight has contributed almost nothing to the state of technology arguably it has hindered development with research money spent very inefficently.

    NASA could prioritise spending on practical scientific work but this would mean rapid decrease in budget and waning of public support, or it could prioritise very long term reseacrh in lower cost safer launching which would mean even more rapid decrease in budget with no visible results or it could continue it's proganda heritage with the illusion of the shuttle project which promised lower costs and routine space flight but could never deliver.

    It chose the illusion. The power of the original proganda is shown in that almost no one in this debate seems to recognise that cheap practical space flight is well beyond our current technological capabilities. The reality is that he US is wasting lots of money on NASA and the budgets sholul be cut. It should refocus on genuine science based priorities and perhaps long term research on new launch technologies and simply buy launchers from ESA or Russia.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      FAIL

      AC@20:38

      "The fundamental problem is that manned space travel with our current technology makes no sense. "

      Assertion without explanation.

      "NASA is saddled with the legacy of a cold war era when spending 4.5% of national spending on a pointless proganda exercise seemed sensible. Romantically I would love space travel to be common place and (relatively) cheap, safe and practical but we are a long way from that at the moment and there is no prospect of changes to that on the horizon."

      You seem to think the problem is technology. It is not.

      "The reailty is that manned space flight has contributed almost nothing to the state of technology arguably it has hindered development with research money spent very inefficently."

      Assertion without explanation.

      "NASA could prioritise spending on practical scientific work but this would mean rapid decrease in budget and waning of public support, or it could prioritise very long term reseacrh in lower cost safer launching which would mean even more rapid decrease in budget with no visible results or it could continue it's proganda heritage with the illusion of the shuttle project which promised lower costs and routine space flight but could never deliver."

      You're on on *slightly* firmer ground here. Do you know that part of NASA's priorities are set in the Legislatures *Appropriations* act and NASA cannot change them?

      "It chose the illusion. The power of the original proganda is shown in that almost no one in this debate seems to recognise that cheap practical space flight is well beyond our current technological capabilities. "

      Both an assertion without explanation and is flat out wrong. It is not *technology* that keeps flight costs high.

      "The reality is that he US is wasting lots of money on NASA and the budgets sholul be cut."

      Again the *whole* NASA budget is less than is spent in the USA on pizza and loess than half the cost of the aircon on US army bases in the middle east.

      " It should refocus on genuine science based priorities and perhaps long term research on new launch technologies and simply buy launchers from ESA or Russia."

      It's priorities are set by Congress.

      You have no idea of NASA's scale relative to the *big* parts of the US govt, no idea of real reasons why launch costs are high or how to lower them and no idea of why NASA does some of the things it does.

      Posting AC would seem to be the *most* knowledgeable thing about your post.

      For such diligent work please accept my award.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "John Smith 19"

        My post was made because of the succession of posts that seem to have an almost religous believe that widespread space travel even colonisation of space is just around the corner and the only thing holding us back is foolish politicans cutting NASA's budget.

        I posted anonymously because I suspected that contradicting this fanatsy would annoy some of the posters and there was a possibility of a flames. Yours however is the only response.

        You seem to think that assertion without explanation is a defect in an argument. It is not a slonga sthe assertion is clear which from your response it clearly is. What I think your are trying to say is 'assertion without evidence'.

        Actually I think this should be turned around and say where is the evidence that Manned space flight has:

        1. Achieved anything significant scientifically that unmanned could not do cheaper and safer.

        2. Achieved any significant spin off technologies.

        I can think of many great sceintific discoveries in space: The mapping of tthe CBR, X-ray astronomy. All of it done unmanned. Hubble was repaired remotely but at the end of the daya a replacement could simply have been launched.

        The case for spin off is very weak the only two I have ever heard are teflon and minaturisation both are bogus Teflon was invented in 1938 by DupOnt and the computers in Apollow ere not at all what we would consider miniture with discrete core memories etc. The drive for micro-electronnics as we know it was not NASA as can be seen from the fact that it has continued to develop as NASA has declined.

        You say I have know idea why lauch costs are high, well I am asserting that it is because putting large objects in space is difficult technically and intrniscally expensive as evidence there is the fact that no one including lots of countires other than the US has managed in over 50 years of trying to think of a cheap safe way.

        The proportion of the US budget spent on NASA is irrelevant if it is fundamentally wasted by spending on media friendly human space travel rather than cost effective unmanned. I like spedning on science but not on wasting lost of money on fantasies.

        A challenge to everyone who thinks a scientific nirvana of mass human space exploration is around the corner simply held back by foolish politicians - where is the evidence?

  44. Beachrider

    LEO is rife...

    ...not just because the costs have leveled, but the technology for rocket building, tracking and controlling is available in so many places...

    Tooo many people on this website WAAAAY underestimate the difference between LEO flight and deepspace flight, probably because it is still mainly exclusive to the USA and RUS.

    As an American taxpayer, it is OK with me that others have joined the competition. The US does its best work when clear objectives and competition prevail.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gosh and darn it

    The Obama administration and NASA should just read the El Reg comments for their policy ideas!

  46. Ritchie1987
    Mushroom

    What's more embarrassing

    What's more embarrassing, that America doesn't have a space program or that they can't afford one, they probably shouldn't have spent so much money on trying to kill people and blowing things up.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Ritchie1987

      "What's more embarrassing, that America doesn't have a space program or that they can't afford one, they probably shouldn't have spent so much money on trying to kill people and blowing things up."

      America *does* have a human space programme.

      It's a *NASA* owned, managed and staffed human space programme that's having problems.

      That's a different thing.

  47. James Micallef Silver badge
    Meh

    "the US aerospace industry is the number-one contributor to the country's balance of payments, with a $50bn positive trade balance in 2010"

    Not surprising, most of that "aerospace industry" export would be fighter planes, missiles etc. There is actually plenty of money for NASA, even to have kept on working the shuttle or developing an alternative, just divert a fraction of a percent of the pentagon's budget. Of copurse that, in American eyes is "not possible" because spending less than 10 times as much as the next-biggest spender would be "dangerous for national security"

    Riiiiiiight!!

  48. Goffee

    Mars awaits careful landers

    Don't worry about the Russians, China is next up to bat - even India - and there will be little stopping them getting to Mars when they choose to and doing all the road signs in funny languages.

  49. goldcd

    http://xkcd.com/893/

  50. Burch
    Mushroom

    Bully for those guys

    They got to live the dreams of millions, and think that space exploration is more important than real people trying to live decent lives.

    Landing on the moon, as cool as that is, didn't actually propel humanity forward. It was a willy-waving exercise with the Soviets.

    Tell us oh great ones. What did the moon landings give us?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bully for those guys

      "Tell us oh great ones. What did the moon landings give us?"

      Sheesh: trying reading for a change! Straight away, everyone knows that without the need to stick a computer in a small two-person craft aimed at the lunar surface, miniaturisation of the components for digital computing would not have had the same degree of urgency.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Debatable.

        After all, the Integrated Circuit had been around since the late 50's, before Kennedy took office. There was a cost-savings motive for developing it, since you used less materials and could mass-produce more easily. Many of the space program innovations revolved around low-power electronics due to the limited power capacity of the lunar craft, and low-power tech has only become in vogue pretty recently when phones and tablets produced another need for low-power electronics.

  51. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    By the way

    Both speakers were *younger* than the committee chairman.

    I don't think either Congress or the Senate *have* a retirement age. At least one Senator went on till he was a 100.

    "inertia" is not just for physics lectures.

  52. maclovinz

    THIS Administration?

    What the hell?

    Where the hell was he when the last Administration was keeping funding from scientific research on stem cells that can advance humankind, and spending all that money on multiple wars that ruined our possibility for funding anything else, including reducing the possibility of maintaining the shuttle program, or possible missions to Mars.

    In fact, it's THIS Administration that wants a mission to Mars, as, well, we've already BEEN to the moon.

    I respect the hell out of him for what he did....er, ~40 years ago. But, times change....

    Mediocrity my ass, that was before, this is NOW. Sounds like the Republicans got another guy to throw some vitriol around for them as well.

    I mean, the guy isn't exactly a scientist...his career began as a warm body to test different experimental aircraft.....

    (Oh no he ditn't!)

  53. Maty

    'Without the discipline of the Cold War the US appears to have as much future as the Roman Empire.'

    That's pretty optimistic, when you think about it. The Roman state lasted from the foundation c. 750 BC until the fall of Constantinople in AD 1453 - or well over 2000 years. The US gained independence in 1776 and so is 235 years old.

    Even if we take the most pessimistic view, ignore the Byzantine empire and assume the Roman empire only started in 146 BC (after the third Punic War, when it was undoubtedly an empire) and finished in AD 470 that's 616 years.

    Which gives the USA another 381 years to go.

  54. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    A few notes on the Democrat /Republican divide.

    Dem. Apollo at up to 4.4% of federal funding.

    Rep. Shuttle. With $1Bn/yr funding cap.

    Rep. Challenger crash.

    Rep. Space station Alpha started, designed, re-designed, re-re-designed and canceled. There might have been a few more re-designs in there.

    Dem ISS *finally* starts construction.

    Dem. X33

    Rep. Columbia crash

    Rep. VSE with *no* additional funding and 1 public speech.

    Rep. Constellation with *no* funding.

    Rep. X37b.

    Rep. SDIO inc DC-X. Crashed when handed over to NASA.

    Now in politics things started by one administration might only come to fruition in another.

    But a *superficial* list of this stuff suggests Republican administrations don't get much done for space *except* if it's defense related and driven by an organisation with a *need* to have it so they can get stuff done. They may have handed out *more* cost+ contracts and so the amount of cash they've transferred over to the aerospace industry may be more but they've had less *actual* usable systems from the money.

    Just some superficial observations.

    1. maclovinz
      Unhappy

      Look...

      You can't go injecting facts and history into the equation....

      Seriously, just make something up, and people in my country will believe it!

      Sigh....

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