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19 April 2010 @ 11:11 am

A Layman’s View of President Obama’s Space Plan—The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Submitted by bobrall on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 07:31

The President came to town this week. That's a pretty big deal. Whether you support his policies or not, it's not often that we get to have the leader of the free world in our own backyard. He was here to lay out his vision for the future of space exploration in America. That's another pretty big deal...especially since we are the Space Coast.

While I am not directly involved in the wondrous work that takes place just a few miles from my front door that puts astronauts and satellites into space, I am very concerned. Many of my friends, family members and clients earn their living by doing this work. As a long-time resident of Brevard County and a property owner, I am concerned for our future. I'm worried that people I know and care for will soon lose their jobs and may have to leave our area. I'm afraid that our property values, which have fallen dramatically over the last few years, will take yet another major hit.

It's frustrating to me that in today's political environment, the reaction to the President's plan seems to be, like everything else, determined by which side of the political fence you fall on. While trying to learn more about what the plan may actually mean to our area, I mostly learned that Democrats think the plan is a positive step for our country. Republicans think it's a terrible idea. So, what follows is a layman's interpretation of what I heard the President say in his brief visit.

The Good

The President's plan called for an extended life for the International Space Station. Under President Bush's plan, the U.S. was scheduled to start withdrawing from the ISS this year. The new plan extends the life of the station to 2020, or later. I believe that after the billions of dollars spent, and the international cooperation that has occurred, we should stay involved.

The plan also called for a revival of the program to build the Orion crew capsule. Originally part of Project Constellation (along with Ares I and Ares V), which was going to get us back to the moon, Orion was completely withdrawn from the first version of the President's budget proposal in February. Although we won't see the two Ares vehicles, at least Orion is back in the picture...albeit a downsized version. It is expected to create anywhere from 400 to 1000 jobs...right here at KSC.

The Space Coast would remain the Space Coast. The President's plan makes Kennedy Space Center the program headquarters for the $6 billion Commercial Crew Development program. I think this provision provides a two-fer benefit. First, our area would benefit from the jobs needed to create a viable commercial space program. And two, I believe that in the long-term, it will be better for private industry to provide the transportation systems needed for future space exploration.

We could become the "Silicon Valley of Space." Instead of just providing launch services, the plan broadens KSC's role into research and development. This will hopefully lead to the creation of new and better jobs.

The Bad

The time frame of the plan leaves a lot to be desired. While calling for the development of a heavy-lift rocket, there will be no decision on design until 2015. Also, I was a bit surprised to learn that our next stop in space may be an asteroid. After that, Mars. But the plan is to reach the asteroid in the 2020s and we won't get to Mars until the 2030s.

As usual, politics muddy up the picture. Even if President Obama serves a second term, the decision on the heavy-lift rocket will not come until near the end of his administration. And we certainly know that things can, and I'm sure will, change between now and then.

I know that unfulfilled campaign promises probably don't surprise anyone any longer, but the President doesn't seem to be living up to the ones he made while visiting our area prior to his election. He said that "we cannot cede our leadership in space." He derided the previous administration for not giving NASA the support it needed to reach its stated goals and said that by not providing the support "that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010, we're going to have to rely on Russian spacecraft to keep us in orbit." Additionally, he offered to extend the shuttle program, speed up the development of its successor, and make sure that our space industry workers would not lose their jobs because "we cannot afford to lose their expertise." It appears that those statements may have won votes, but will fall into the category of unfulfilled promises.

The Ugly

The most obvious is that we did not get the extension of the shuttle program that we were all hoping for. After three more missions, the program that has done so much over the last 30 years will come to a halt. That means that at least 8000 space shuttle workers will be in danger of losing their jobs. That's ugly.

It's true that the plan calls for a $40 million initiative, led by the White House and several other agencies, to develop a plan for "regional economic growth and job creation." Call me a skeptic, but with the bureaucracy of many different agencies involved, I'm not sure $40 million will have much positive impact for our workers. And the worst part is that the President asked for the plan to be on his desk by August 15th. That doesn't leave us much time or wiggle room. The last shuttle launch is scheduled for September 16th.

And finally, this is just the President's plan. Congress has control of the purse strings. What finally materializes after it goes through the legislative process could, and probably will, look a lot different than what the President proposed to us.

But...could that be a good thing?

18 April 2010 @ 10:40 pm

Well, it's tax time again and I have decided to do mine online this year. As expected, the form was pretty much the PDF file of the paper tax forms. Gamely I went along with it until I saw this

I can't really attach any forms to this form as it is an online form. I don't mind a few idiosyncrasies in the online version of the 1040EZ. Or any other online tax form, really. Sure it's a little funny at times, but so long as the meaning of the question is quite clear, no harm is done. True, having someone edit the document isn't that expensive, but as all expenses incurred by the government are ultimately incurred by the people, I won't mind a few idiosyncrasies in my tax forms if it saves me a few pennies a year.

Speaking of tax day, President Obama made an appearance at the Kennedy Space Center to deliver a speech regarding his new vision for NASA. As far as I can figure, Obama is laying the groundwork for future exploration. Why else do things such as modernize KSC? There would be no reason to unless he was expecting a need for NASA to have the most modern, top of the line launch facility in order to launch the most modern, top of the line rockets. Why else fund in house research and development, such as plasma rocket engines and radiation shielding? There would be no reason to do so unless he was planning on using that research to accomplish grand goals. Why else fund research in universities and colleges? Colorado University I know receives large sums of money to fund research, and I know that it is the same everywhere. Why stimulate the private space market? Unless Obama feels that we have enough experience in low Earth orbit to pass off those tasks to commercial enterprises will a commercial space market even be possible. Only if Obama believes that the next step for NASA is beyond the Moon will he see fit to stimulate private markets. NASA has no need to explore LEO. It must find for itself new targets. Only if Obama planned for a future where America has taken the lead in space exploration would he devote resources to such endeavours as research and development and commercial markets. NASA must assess the knowledge it has already gained and create a situation that enables it to pursue greater goals. This knowledge will come from NASA's research, the research being done at universities, and from the innovations of the private sector.

This is pretty much what NASA has been doing all along. The difference here is, instead of being incidental to the completion of NASA missions, the cultivation of a private sector market for space technologies will be one of the primary goals of NASA. Previous to this, NASA passively stimulated the growth of this market via contracts and grants. NASA, by using increased grants funding and innovative programs, will now actively engage this market to bring it to a state of self-sustainability. Once this is established, NASA can reap the savings that come from the efficiencies of a free market. We know that we can get to LEO. We can do it easily. One agency, by itself, will cost more to run than a whole multitude of companies competing with each other to satisfy the growing demand for space. Having a commercial option for LEO will save NASA money. Once a sustainable commercial market is established, NASA can dedicate itself once again to the endeavours that define who we are as a species: We will go to Mars. We will adapt to space. We will learn how to use it's resources. We will learn of our solar system, and of our galaxy, and of our universe. We will seek to find the secrets of our creation. And we will take that knowledge, and we shall use it to make great the Human race. 

Which falls in line with something else our President said this past Thursday. The agency, indeed the whole country, dedicated itself to getting to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. Kennedy had set for us a goal, and it was a goal we would accomplish. NASA was, for a long time, dedicated to one goal. But those days are over. The ultimate goals of the Administration are not tangible goals. NASA has dedicated itself to exploring the universe. It wishes to create the technology that enables us to make use of the resources to be found in outer space. It hopes to one day give us the possibility of living on other worlds. NASA seeks out the knowledge of the cosmos in order to benefit the Human race. Therefore NASA need not always dedicate itself to a single, tangible goal. We must assess the knowledge we have gained thus far with the goal being: How can this knowledge benefit us here on Earth? And we must do this with an eye towards: How can this benefit us off the Earth? Once we have done so, a concerted national effort towards one singular goal is the right direction for NASA. But for now we must learn from what we have already done.

However, NASA cannot wholly abandon exploration. We must continue to seek out new ways to know and understand our world, our cosmos. Not all ways require a person in space. For that we have telescopes, some on the ground, some floating above our sky. For that we have robotic probes. We must learn how to reach out into space. We must build tools that help us explore space. There is a difference, though, between sending a machine to Mars and sending a human to Mars. One is interesting, one is inspiring. A robot is just a machine, after all. But a person, being there actually experiencing it, that is something else entirely. But for now we can content ourselves with the glory of the heavens as seen through robotic eyes, knowing that one day soon we shall see them with Human eyes. NASA must continue to explore the universe.

It's hard work designing something, especially when something quite like it has been done before. It must be many orders of magnitude harder to create something almost completely unique. The rigors of space require whole new ways of thinking, whole new concepts in design and function. To take the knowledge gained in spaceflight and turn that into even better ways of flying through space will take time. At this point, focusing on research and development is the best course for NASA.  Once we have created brand new technologies we will be ready to dive deeper into the cosmic sea.

On the upside, the technology we do have and will be developing for space will often have applications here on Earth. Finding uses for the knowledge we have gained thus far benefits us all. And it also benefits NASA. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, they say. Sometimes you just need to look at it with fresh eyes, or in a different way. Which is true. Corollary research can sometimes yield surprising insights into your long term research. Something done for fun, just out of curiosity, will sometimes break you out of your old mindset with a problem, allowing you to come back to it with an open mind. By working on bringing space technology to Earth, we will likely learn a lot that can be applied to our long term goals. By fostering a commercial market we will have the opportunity to go to space just for the fun of going to space.* By working the knowledge we have we build a foundation for further exploration.

There is no greater reason that NASA has for making other planets habitable than to save our species. If we live on multiple worlds, than, even if the worst should happen, there will always be someone left alive. There will always be someone who remembers those who have been lost. There will always be someone to keep living. Knowledge and technology are great, but useless if there is no one alive to make use of it. Any exploration of space brings us closer to living in space. Once we can claim being an interplanetary society, we can claim certitude that life will go on. We will have achieved immortality, not as an individual, but as a people. Everything NASA does now should ultimately lead to this point.

Once NASA has spent time working the knowledge gained, once it is finished developing new technology, and once we have a commercial market capable of sustaining LEO work, once all that is accomplished, then NASA can chart a course for the stars.

I rather enjoyed our presidents speech this past Thursday. True, it wasn't quite as stirring as Kennedy's. Nevertheless, it was gripping and profound. I believe that the exploration of space is beneficial to the whole Human species. I believe that learning how to live and work in space will help foster peace throughout the world. I believe that creating a home for ourselves away from Earth is the best way to insure that Humanity lives on. I believe that now is the time for NASA to catch it's breath before plunging deeper into the cosmic sea. I believe that now is the time for the average citizen to enter space. That is why I do not mind funding NASA, even if it costs me a few pennies a year.

*I imagine a large station floating around Earth. It would contain one gigantic spherical room. In the middle of this room would be a massive ball of water, just hanging there. This would be the swimming pool in a fancy hotel.
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Apollo astronauts decry Obama space plans

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 14, 2010 7:57 p.m. EDT

The U.S. shuttle program is ending this year. The U.S. will have to catch a ride with Russia's Soyuz after that.

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration's vision for the future of manned space flight will bump the United States to "second or even third-rate" status as a space-faring nation, the commanders of three U.S. moon missions warned Wednesday.

The letter was signed by the first and last men to walk on the moon -- Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11 and Eugene Cernan from Apollo 17 -- and James Lovell, who commanded the heroic Apollo 13 flight.

"Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity," the letter said. "America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal."

President Obama is scheduled to announce his space plans Thursday during a visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the White House announced. The White House said the five-year strategy involves a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget and additional support for new space technologies.

Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan praised Obama's increase in total funding for space exploration, which includes money for research, the international space station and a heavy-lift rocket. But the astronauts said the decision to cancel the Constellation program for manned space flight "is devastating."

"America's only path to low Earth orbit and the international space station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves," they wrote.

NASA's space shuttle fleet will be retired at the end of this year, leaving the Russian Soyuz capsules as the only avenue into space until commercial ventures are ready to do the job, expected to be years away. Obama's proposal to use commercial transport to reach orbit "cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope," the astronauts said.

Cernan, Lovell and Armstrong said the more than $10 billion spent so far on Constellation -- including the Orion space capsule and the Ares rockets to boost it into space will be wasted by the cancellation "and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded."

NASA's future, as outlined in the White House documents, would include a multibillion-dollar modernization of Kennedy Space Center, expansion of private-sector and commercial space industries, creation of thousands of jobs and eventually human travel to Mars.

But Allard Beutel, news chief at the Kennedy Space Center, told CNN that layoffs at the center will likely reach the 7,000 range with the end of the shuttle and the cancellation of the Constellation program.

The president's plans would shift some funding away from NASA's costly human space flight program to NASA's scientific programs, including robotic missions to other planets.

During a briefing in early April, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden praised the new future being charted for the agency.

"This budget provides an increase to NASA at a time when funding is scarce," Bolden said. "It will enable us to accomplish inspiring exploration, science and (research and development), the kinds of things the agency has been known for throughout its history."

I also submitted this over at ontd_political
12 April 2010 @ 09:58 pm
10 April 2010 @ 05:59 pm

Yuri's Night 2010 IS NOW!

Check out Spacevidcast.com for the live webcast. Also, make #YN2010 trending on Twitter. DO IT.

Video clips at Ustream
05 April 2010 @ 10:20 am

Launch was at 6:21 this morning.

I was asleep. I am so bummed out about that right now, you guys
28 March 2010 @ 09:33 am

$500 million launcher lacks one thing: rocket

Space industry tense over pending demise of Constellation program

By Joel Achenbach
updated 12:23 a.m. ET March 28, 2010

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36070039/ns/technology_and_science-washington_post/

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. - Anyone need a $500 million, 355-foot steel tower for launching rockets into space?

There's one available at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Brand new, never been used.

The mobile launcher has been built for a rocket called the Ares 1. The problem is, there is not yet any such thing as an Ares 1 rocket — and if the Obama administration has its way, there never will be.

Read more...Collapse )
23 March 2010 @ 10:32 am

45 years ago today, 23 March 1965, NASA launched Gemini III with Gus Grissom and John Young, marking America's first 2-man space mission and making Gus Grissom the first person to make multiple space flights. John Young became the first astronaut recruited in NASA's second astronaut class to fly.

The mission lasted for 3 orbits and acted as a shakedown flight of the new Gemini spacecraft.

Gemini III is best remembered as the mission where John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich on board as a joke (which he was totally put up to by Wally Schirra), pissing off flight engineers and doctors and thereby ruining it for all future astronauts to wanted to pull something similar.

22 March 2010 @ 07:17 pm
HEY GUYS. In case you didn't know, I am from Ohio. Also in case you didn't know, Ohio's chief export is aviation pioneers. And I have decided to share this information with you in the form of a bit from this article from Cracked.com.

Ohio is Full of Astronauts

Quick: What's special about Ohio? Nothing? Well, hold on to your ass.

The first two aviators in both Ohioan and American history were Orville and Wilbur Wright, who successfully demonstrated the world's first airplane in 1903. Yeah, it was a piece of shit and it could only fly for 12 seconds, but at least it got them out of Ohio and onto the sandy beaches of North Carolina to test it. Once it landed, aviation was born.

"We will call it the 'Get Out of Ohio Machine.'"

So Ohioans helped mankind take to the skies. So what was the next step?
Well, 59 years later, another Ohioan heard that the U.S. government was shooting people into space. Since this offered him a chance to get further away from Ohio than any aircraft, he replied "Sign my ass up." Unfortunately, the man was dangerously unqualified for the job, but despite lacking the necessary college requirements, NASA figured "what the hell... he's from Ohio" and let him go. On February 20, 1962, he became the first American shot into orbit. His name is John Glenn.

Just look how happy he is! (Not pictured: Ohio)

First in flight, first into orbit, and Ohio was two for two.

Where it Gets Weird:

So the Wright Brothers and John Glenn all came from the same state. Big whoop, right? The odds of that happening are like 1:48 (excluding Hawaii, Alaska, and the rest of the freakin' planet). But then John F. Kennedy vowed to land an American on the Moon by the decade's end and this promise was fulfilled on July 20, 1969 by Neil Armstrong. Want to guess what state Neil Armstrong was from?

Ohio, the "I'm outta here" state.

First in flight, orbit and the moon--Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. And so ends the story of Ohio's great aviation history...

Where it Gets Even Weirder:

Oh, wait, no. The state produced another 22 freaking astronauts along the way. What the fuck? The last one you probably heard of was Jim Lovell. Who's Jim Lovell?

This guy.

Seriously, NASA even has a thing on its website practically apologizing for the fact that a state containing just 3% of America's population so utterly dominates the frontiers of human flight.

So, basically, in case you were wondering: Ohio - fuck yeah.
22 March 2010 @ 03:04 pm
Mike Massimino on Attack of the Show the other day promoting 'Hubble 3D', and being generally amazing.