NASA direction to be reviewed

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Via the Uncertain Principles blog, the NYT reports:
The Obama administration announced Thursday that an independent panel would take a “fresh look” at NASA’s human spaceflight program, a step that could lead to the scuttling of next-generation rockets or an affirmation of the agency’s direction.

The review will be led by Norman Augustine... The panel is to report its findings by the end of August.

Although the Obama administration has made effort to make science central in policy, it has so far struggled with what long-term strategy to take with NASA. It has yet to name a NASA administrator; and during the transition engaged in a http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2008/12/nasa-has-become.html [Broken] with Michael D. Griffin, the Bush Administration's outgoing NASA administrator, over apparent concerns by Griffin that the Obama transition team would not preserve certain Bush-era programs he considered important.
 
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  • #2
russ_watters
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Raise your hand if you expected Bush's plan to go to Mars would survive his presidency by more than a year?

Didn't think so...

Hopefully, we'll see NASA get back on track so it can answer some of those big scientific questions that are still out there, including The Big One. I'd like to see that one answered in my lifetime.
 
  • #3
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Hopefully, we'll see NASA get back on track so it can answer some of those big scientific questions that are still out there, including The Big One. I'd like to see that one answered in my lifetime.

Sorry..
but, What is The Big One?
 
  • #4
mgb_phys
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Sorry..
but, What is The Big One?
What is NASA for?
 
  • #5
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The "big one" is privately funded though.
 
  • #6
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Seems like NASA have yet again not realized that sending people off to the Moon is not a great idea. They did that half a century ago and instead, they should be focusing on new challenges like building more cost effective robots that can be sent off to Titan or Mars. Also, they should probably focus more on projects involving interstellar travel, they stopped most research halfway and never restarted it. I know interstellar travel seems too crazy but so did going to the Moon and the atomic bomb. Cutting down on costs and better designing needs to be a priority, there has already been a failed Mars rover which cost hundreds of millions if not a billion dollars.
 
  • #7
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Raise your hand if you expected Bush's plan to go to Mars would survive his presidency by more than a year?

Didn't think so...

Hopefully, we'll see NASA get back on track so it can answer some of those big scientific questions that are still out there, including The Big One. I'd like to see that one answered in my lifetime.

I was working at a lab (Won't say where) when Bush made this announcement. There were serious meetings about work for sending people to mars. I was a sophmore at the time, and I was rolling my eyes at the fact that these people were taking it seriously! I was like, come on people. Do you really think Bush is going to send someone to mars? He's doing this for publicity points. I was in shock and awe that anyone gave this any serious consideration.
 
  • #8
Seems like NASA have yet again not realized that sending people off to the Moon is not a great idea. They did that half a century ago and instead, they should be focusing on new challenges like building more cost effective robots that can be sent off to Titan or Mars. Also, they should probably focus more on projects involving interstellar travel, they stopped most research halfway and never restarted it. I know interstellar travel seems too crazy but so did going to the Moon and the atomic bomb. Cutting down on costs and better designing needs to be a priority, there has already been a failed Mars rover which cost hundreds of millions if not a billion dollars.

Robotics is being researched by several people outside of NASA. They can collaborate or bring someone (or someteam) in when they need it. I think that more efficient craft should be their priority. Perhaps human habitation in space (or on other bodies) a close second. The moon would seem to be the best location for testing human habitation possibilities. And (don't laugh) I've been considering ideas for a semi hard scifi story and am thinking that using the moon as a launch point may be a good idea if we are capable of finding all or most of the resources we need to fabricate craft from there (something I have been meaning to look into).
 
  • #9
D H
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Raise your hand if you expected Bush's plan to go to Mars would survive his presidency by more than a year?
Bush's plan to go to Mars didn't survive Bush's announcement of Bush's plan.


Hopefully, we'll see NASA get back on track so it can answer some of those big scientific questions that are still out there, including The Big One. I'd like to see that one answered in my lifetime.
The Big One? Can a nation forego human spaceflight and have all that wasted money flow instead to real space science? The answer is a resounding NO. Great Britain already answered this question. Space scientists urged Parliament to ban government funding of any human spaceflight activities 40 some years ago. Parliament obliged. There has been no government funding for anything related to human spaceflight in Great Britain ever since.

There also has been practically no government funding for anything related to space science in Great Britain ever since.


Seems like NASA have yet again not realized that sending people off to the Moon is not a great idea. They did that half a century ago and instead, they should be focusing on new challenges like building more cost effective robots that can be sent off to Titan or Mars.
For what purpose? If we aren't going to eventually send people there, why send robots?

The problem with focusing on space science only is that space science itself is very, very expensive. Which will yield more value to society, sending a 500 million dollar robot to some other planet to perform a narrow set of tasks or funding 15,000 underpaid graduate students to study and advance a very wide range of tasks? Without the justification that we will follow, space science cannot compete with more mundane Earth-based science in terms of bang for the buck, or wow factor.


Also, they should probably focus more on projects involving interstellar travel, they stopped most research halfway and never restarted it. I know interstellar travel seems too crazy but so did going to the Moon and the atomic bomb.
You've been watching too many movies.

Cutting down on costs and better designing needs to be a priority, there has already been a failed Mars rover which cost hundreds of millions if not a billion dollars.
It's not just one. More than half of the missions sent to Mars have failed. Some significant fraction of those failures is attributable to human error. However, a possibly greater part is that we don't know what we're doing. That's what research is: "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research."
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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Sorry..
but, What is The Big One?
Are we alone in the universe?
 
  • #11
Are we alone in the universe?

Wouldn't that be more of a SETI thing?
Unless you just mean discovering some form of life so as to increase the likelihood that life may be more common than we think.
 
  • #13
russ_watters
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Wouldn't that be more of a SETI thing?
SETI probably won't be able to answer it, but we didn't know that when SETI was first started. SETI is based on the assumption that an advanced society emits a lot of radio, but with digital broadcasting, the wattage we are emitting is actually going to drop significantly instead of continuing to rise as we advance. So it doesn't seem likely that we'd get a detectable signal from somewhere else.
Unless you just mean discovering some form of life so as to increase the likelihood that life may be more common than we think.
Well, we may yet discover life elsewhere in our solar system and don't discount the magnitude of that discovery: "more common than we think" is the difference between 'absolutely unique' and 'likely exists around almost every star'.

NASA actually has missions on the drawing board and in various stages of development which would allow us to photograph and do interferometry on earth-sized exoplanets. If we can do that, we'd likely answer the question, at least to the satisfaction of scientists.
 
  • #14
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Fortunately, this review is not going to get into the human spaceflight versus unmanned spaceflight imbroglio. It's goal is to
Office of Science and Technology Policy said:
The "Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans" is to examine ongoing and planned National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) development activities, as well as potential alternatives, and present options for advancing a safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable human space flight program in the years following Space Shuttle retirement. The panel will work closely with NASA and will seek input from Congress, the White House, the public, industry, and international partners as it develops its options. It is to present its results in time to support an Administration decision on the way forward by August 2009.
For more see http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/press_release_files/Holdren letter pdf.pdf and http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/press_release_files/NASA Review.pdf.
 
  • #15
russ_watters
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That quote doesn't imply to me that it won't get into that debate -- and I don't see how they could possibly avoid it.

In essence, the decision to curtail manned spaceflight has already been made and NASA is already moving down a path to partially or completely phase it out, as the near-term replacement for the shuttle can do little more than service the ISS. Any review is going to have to start within that context.
 
  • #16
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You are reading the wrong tea leaves. The decision to curtail human spaceflight has not been made. The decision that has been made is to change from the Shuttle to some other vehicle(s). The purpose of this panel is to determine whether that is Constellation as currently envisioned or something else.
 
  • #17
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You are reading the wrong tea leaves. The decision to curtail human spaceflight has not been made. The decision that has been made is to change from the Shuttle to some other vehicle(s). The purpose of this panel is to determine whether that is Constellation as currently envisioned or something else.
The shuttle had a shelf-life - why was a replacement not put into development 15 or 20 years ago?

Anyway, the programs Bush started, I don't think they were serious because he didn't fund them adequately to actually develop them. The Constellation will surely be cancelled. And the CEM doesn't have much capability beyond going to the ISS and back. And neither could really do the things the Space Shuttle could anyway.
 
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  • #18
Ivan Seeking
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Are we alone in the universe?

It is all but a mathematical certainty that we are not alone in the Universe. I thought the big one meant "Is or was there life on Mars or in this solar system [beyond earth of course]?".

...not to suggest that a positive SETI result would be anything less than monumental. But, like the Drake Equation, that is limited to our Galaxy, isn't it?
 
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  • #19
Ivan Seeking
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This is the NASA mission statement

To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.

To advance human exploration, use, and development of space.

To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.
http://naccenter.arc.nasa.gov/NASAMission.html [Broken]
 
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  • #20
Ivan Seeking
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I would like to see:

1). Expanded near-earth research and development. The need to gain a better understanding of issues like climate change is paramount.

2). Expanded robotic exploration of the solar system. This will further the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence as well as the more abstract fields of interest.

3). Continued development of space systems for high energy experiments and other fundamental physics research.

4). Continued development of exotic propulsion systems - NASA dreamworks
 
  • #21
mgb_phys
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To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.

To advance human exploration, use, and development of space.

To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.
However their spend is about:
$5Bn aerospace (according to a case before WIPO $2.5Bn of this is research into large commercial airliners)
$4Bn Shuttle
$3Bn ISS
$1Bn Technology
$3Bn Other missions

Although if you believe NASA all the money will be spent on basic science as soon as the Shuttle is retired
NASA_budgetFY05.jpg
 
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  • #22
russ_watters
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It is all but a mathematical certainty that we are not alone in the Universe.
It most certainly is not: you cannot construct a trend line with one data point. The Drake equation is an interesting game, but it has little real value at this point.

And even if it was more useful, it would only be an hypothesis - a prediction: you need the evidence before it is as a theory. The Drake equation might be a good reason to ask the question, but it cannot answer the question. Finding actual life is the only way to actually answer the question.

[edit] IIRC, the way you like to interpret the Drake equation is that as long as the probability is *much above* 0, then there must be a lot of life in the universe and since we know it is *above* 0, there must be many out there. But that's not how probability works. With the one data point we have available, the strongest difinitive prediction we can make is that the number of planets with life/intelligent life is at least 1. Ie, if there are some 10^50 stars out there, all we can truly say right now with the available data is that the probability is at least 10^-50.
 
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  • #23
D H
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Although if you believe NASA all the money will be spent on basic science as soon as the Shuttle is retired
NASA_budgetFY05.jpg
The "Exploration Missions" portion of NASA's budget includes sending people to the "Moon, Mars, and beyond".

You guys are reading the wrong tea leaves.
 
  • #24
mgb_phys
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The "Exploration Missions" portion of NASA's budget includes sending people to the "Moon, Mars, and beyond".

So that makes it even worse - Nasa's primary goal (To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.) ie HST, NGST, TPF don't even show up on the graph
 
  • #25
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So that makes it even worse - Nasa's primary goal (To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.) ie HST, NGST, TPF don't even show up on the graph

Kennedy made it popular...but NASA should not be a political tool (or toy). NASA needs a very clear long term plan with sustained funding.
 
  • #26
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So that makes it even worse - Nasa's primary goal (To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.) ie HST, NGST, TPF don't even show up on the graph
Sure they do. They are a part, not the totality, of NASA's Exploration Missions budget. You are implicitly assuming that the human spaceflight aspects of NASA are incapable of advancing understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe. That is not true. The scientific returns from the Apollo missions was immense. Since Apollo, human spaceflight activities have been limited to low-Earth orbit. The scientific return from human spaceflight activities is admittedly less in that environment, but it is not zero. Being stuck in low-Earth orbit also contravenes NASA's goal "to advance human exploration, use, and development of space."

The solution is to once again move people beyond low-Earth orbit. Removing people in space from the picture is not the solution. Some of you here at PF are rabidly anti-human spaceflight. You seem to think we would have a robust, well-funded space science platform if only all that money were not wasted on sending monkeys into space. That is a naive point of view. There is no guarantee Congress would maintain NASA's budget at its current level should Congress decide to strike NASA's human spaceflight goals. There is no guarantee Congress would maintain NASA's non-human spaceflight budget at its current level should Congress decide to strike NASA's human spaceflight goals. Eliminating NASA's human spaceflight endeavors would most likely spell the end of NASA.
 
  • #27
mgb_phys
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You are implicitly assuming that the human spaceflight aspects of NASA are incapable of advancing understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe. That is not true. The scientific returns from the Apollo missions was immense. Since Apollo, human spaceflight activities have been limited to low-Earth orbit.
I remain unconvinced that the ISS contributes any amazing new understanding of the universe and I don't think putting people in orbit around the moon solves that.

Eliminating NASA's human spaceflight endeavors would most likely spell the end of NASA.
True - the interesting and important question is what is NASA for?
Photo-op projects for a President
Provide hidden subsidy to the civil aircraft business
Stop the Army/Airforce fighting over who owns space
Subsidise/hide the costs of military space programs (or double the costs by duplicating military programs)
Keep the pork flowing to Md,Tx and Ca
 
  • #28
Ivan Seeking
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It most certainly is not: you cannot construct a trend line with one data point. The Drake equation is an interesting game, but it has little real value at this point.

And even if it was more useful, it would only be an hypothesis - a prediction: you need the evidence before it is as a theory. The Drake equation might be a good reason to ask the question, but it cannot answer the question. Finding actual life is the only way to actually answer the question.

[edit] IIRC, the way you like to interpret the Drake equation is that as long as the probability is *much above* 0, then there must be a lot of life in the universe and since we know it is *above* 0, there must be many out there. But that's not how probability works. With the one data point we have available, the strongest difinitive prediction we can make is that the number of planets with life/intelligent life is at least 1. Ie, if there are some 10^50 stars out there, all we can truly say right now with the available data is that the probability is at least 10^-50.

While it is true that we can't show a trend line, we can look at our place in the Universe and ask if it is unique. Also, what I have said is that any Drake answer greater than 0 suggests probability 1 for the entire universe.

There is no reason to assume that intelligent life would be emitting strong radio signals for more than a century, so we can't extrapolate based the lack of a detected radio signal either. That is only a test for civilizations emitting strong RF.
 
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  • #29
D H
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I remain unconvinced that the ISS contributes any amazing new understanding of the universe and I don't think putting people in orbit around the moon solves that.
Regarding the first, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/Expedition.html [Broken]. Regarding the second, you are making an appeal to ridicule.

True - the interesting and important question is what is NASA for?
Photo-op projects for a President
Politicians of all ilk use every project of any significance they helped fund or administer for photo ops. Heck, they use the stuff their fought against (and lost). for photo ops.

Provide hidden subsidy to the civil aircraft business
Stop the Army/Airforce fighting over who owns space
Whether these statements true or not is irrelevant because these statements are irrelevant and off-topic to this thread.

Subsidise/hide the costs of military space programs (or double the costs by duplicating military programs)
Also off-topic, but ludicrous. NASA's budget is a pittance compared to that of the DOD.

Keep the pork flowing to Md,Tx and Ca
To take a rather jaundiced view, from a politician's perspective, whether a project keeps the pork flowing is the ultimate test of almost every federal program.
 
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  • #30
russ_watters
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Also, what I have said is that any Drake answer greater than 0 suggests probability 1 for the entire universe.
I'm not sure what you mean by that - the Drake equation's design purpose is to predict the number of civilizations we can communicate with. Dropping terms, you could use it to predict the number of star systems with intelligent life, the number with life, etc. Under no formulation I can think of would a probability be 1 - that would suggest that every star in the sky has life we can communicate with, intelligent life, or life (etc.), depending on the formulation. We do have enough data to place some upper limits on those probabilities and they are far below 1 based on the proportion of stars capable of supporting planets and the number of star systems that have "hot Jupiters" and thus could not possibly support life-bearing terrestrial planets.

Or are you just saying that any probability greater than 0 implies that there must be life/intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy/universe? How is that different than what I described in my previous post? Basically, you're assuming an answer to the question based on careless rounding.
There is no reason to assume that intelligent life would be emitting strong radio signals for more than a century, so we can't extrapolate based the lack of a detected radio signal either. That is only a test for civilizations emitting strong RF.
Agreed - I was only saying that I think SETI will fail, not that failure implies that there are no other civilizations out there.
 

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