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NASA's future

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Main Question or Discussion Point

So I'm confused. I understand that the Shuttle Program is coming to an end, which was expected. I'm a high schooler who really wants to become an astronaut, (I know, I'm silly) but I'm not exactly understanding what Obama has done to NASA, so could someone please elaborate? Are the Ares I and V ships still supposed to be built, and will NASA continue to send men into space? Also, if the Shuttle Program has ended, how will the people on the ISS continue to work and get food?

I'm actually not too worried about NASA shutting down because I'm only 16, so in 20 years I'm guessing NASA will be back to normal and maned space flight will still exist in the US?

Thanks for all your effort :smile:
Fuz
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
1,654
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You have a much better chance of becoming a professional athlete than becoming an astronaut. They like to keep it that way. NASA is not the NASA of the 1960s. If you want to become an "astronaut," look to the private sector to provide that service in the next decade. Space tourism and its demand will grow the industry.
 
  • #3
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Obama exhibited retardation as he cancelled the Constellation program: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constellation_program, after 5 years of work and billions of dollars spent on the program. NASA and their partners in congress have been intelligent enough to salvage the Orion CEV: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(spacecraft), which can be launched not only on the proposed Ares I & V (which have been cancelled), but on many private sector re-hash rockets such as the proposed Liberty rocket: http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n1102/08liberty/.

I have strong doubts that there will be a manned space program in the next twenty years and am strongly thinking that NASA will move away from having the worlds best manned space program to the worlds best unmanned space program while the manned aspects are handled with private companies (SpaceX, etc.) partnered with space agencies that have governments who care about manned space exploration such as Russia.

I would attempt to not shoot for being an astronaut and just settle with an engineer/physicist, because those are hard enough to achieve. While an astronaut requires on top of that being a certain height, mass, psychological state, etc. and there is an extremely picky selection process. DO NOT base your career upon becoming an astronaut but if after many degrees you apply and get in that's great. Just follow what you love to do and your life will work out if you try hard enough at it.

Currently the only manned way to get into space is with a US Space Shuttle or a Russian Soyuz rocket, as the space shuttle retires there will certainly be a gap in manned space flight coming from the United States. No one is sure how to fill it, and I doubt that it will ever be filled (although I hope it is).
 
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  • #4
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No one is sure how to fill it? SpaceX seems pretty competent so far. Personally, I think this is a better move for space exploration. Yeah NASA's great, but there's a lot of overhead for everything and bureaucracy is never a good thing when you're trying to get things done. Smaller astro firms under contract seem to be more efficient. Hell, it works for the Defense industry..
 
  • #5
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No one is sure how to fill it? SpaceX seems pretty competent so far. Personally, I think this is a better move for space exploration. Yeah NASA's great, but there's a lot of overhead for everything and bureaucracy is never a good thing when you're trying to get things done. Smaller astro firms under contract seem to be more efficient. Hell, it works for the Defense industry..
You hit the nail on the head. NASA has become an inefficient, cumbersome government bureaucracy ripe with diversity/inclusion and affirmative action. NASA should have followed the model that DOD did. SpaceX/Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic are leading the way. We also have no reason to go back to the Moon, unless we can do it at low-cost. We have to work on new propulsion systems that get us to LEO much more cheaply as well as across the globe.
 
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Yes, in the long-term I believe the answer is with the private sector... but I am talking about within the, "gap" period which will span in the US at least 2012-2016 as there are no other manned rockets available in the United States. The Falcon 9 is still being tested for capability to fly to the ISS, it will be years before Dragon carries Astronauts.
 
  • #7
AlephZero
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The US admistration was only "retarded" in cancelling Constellation, in the sense that it should have been cancelled before it started wasting any serious money. The fact that you have already flushed billions of dollars down the pan isn't a good reason for doing more of the same.

If NASA had been a commerical (or even a commercially-minded) organization, it would have got its act together again after the Shuttle disaster within a year or two at most, or else it would have been taken over another organization and/or broken up. What it actually did was sit like a rabbit in a headlight beam, and eventually came up with a plan saying "let's do the same as we did last time, except this time it will take a lot longer and cost a lot more money".

IMO, on a 20 year time scale NASA is heading for being a bunch of underpaid government bureaucrats who don't have the skills to move to more challenging and financially rewarding work elsewhere, trying to pretend they is still regulating and/or controlling the US commercial aerospace industry, and being ignored as much as possible by the rest of the world.

If you really want to get into manned space exploration (as opposed to being a glorified airline pilot for a commercial space company), my advice would be start learning Mandarin and Hindi.
 
  • #8
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While I agree with the rest of your post, the Chinese and Indians are not going to do manned space exploration. It costs too much and they know it's useless right now.

NASA could be productive and get serious about doing R&D and landing on an asteroid or sending a human to Mars, but it would require transforming it into an entirely different agency than what it has become.
 
  • #9
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Where exactly is all the insight coming from? Do any of you actually work at NASA and have intimate knowledge of what is going on there? Or is this all just your opinion of the situation?

Answering some of the original questions:
The ISS will be supplied by the Russians. The US will pay to the Russians to ferry supplies and astronauts until they have their LEO launch system in place.
 
  • #10
Andy Resnick
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So I'm confused. I understand that the Shuttle Program is coming to an end, which was expected. I'm a high schooler who really wants to become an astronaut, (I know, I'm silly) but I'm not exactly understanding what Obama has done to NASA, so could someone please elaborate? Are the Ares I and V ships still supposed to be built, and will NASA continue to send men into space? Also, if the Shuttle Program has ended, how will the people on the ISS continue to work and get food?

I'm actually not too worried about NASA shutting down because I'm only 16, so in 20 years I'm guessing NASA will be back to normal and maned space flight will still exist in the US?

Thanks for all your effort :smile:
Fuz
NASA now has to depend on the Russians (of course, the US is paying the Russians to maintain the capacity) to get humans into orbit. There are no viable launch vehicle programs now; NASA managed to completely wreck the Constellation program due to lack of leadership and vision. We shouldn't blame the President for canceling a project that was billions of dollars over-budget and a decade behind schedule.

The future of human spaceflight is bleak, period. NASA may or may not exist in 10 years: I can see most of the critical functions NASA performs (launch capability) being transferred back to the Air Force- the US still needs to get satellites up.

Given the budget situation, the lack of a clear mission, and the lack of enthusiasm to support NASA (other than home-state politicos), the future of NASA is not good. An early indication about the future of NASA will be the James Webb telescope: the replacement for Hubble is over-budget, behind schedule, high risk, and critically important.
 
  • #11
1,654
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Where exactly is all the insight coming from? Do any of you actually work at NASA and have intimate knowledge of what is going on there? Or is this all just your opinion of the situation?

Answering some of the original questions:
The ISS will be supplied by the Russians. The US will pay to the Russians to ferry supplies and astronauts until they have their LEO launch system in place.
Friend of mine works at JSC.
 
  • #12
Fuz
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So if NASA wont be sending men into space in 20 years, will SpaceX be the main/biggest space exploration program? Is SpaceX a really legitimate program and does it have a future?
 
  • #13
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Fuz, it is hard to tell. My guess is that the definition of astronaut will change dramatically. If there is a serious commercial space presence in the future, I don't think the government can keep a stranglehold on the astronaut business. My guess is that the requirements will not change much. Why? There will still not be that many openings and likely be a very healthy amount of competition.
 
  • #14
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So if NASA wont be sending men into space in 20 years, will SpaceX be the main/biggest space exploration program? Is SpaceX a really legitimate program and does it have a future?
Why do you want to get into space so much? When you work half your life away to become an astronaut and then get told it's not going to work your dreams and hopes will be crushed. I'm not saying this will definitely happen but if it does you're screwed. The difference between an astronaut and a physicist is that if you give it your all then you can definitely become a physicist but it just doesn't work that way for an astronaut because so many factors are beyond your control.

Well I guess at least have a back up plan you don't mind doing.
 
  • #15
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While I agree with the rest of your post, the Chinese and Indians are not going to do manned space exploration. It costs too much and they know it's useless right now.
Chinese are good at keeping costs down. Also, manned space exploration is very useful in waving the flag, getting people interested in science, and keeping high-technology industries going.
 
  • #16
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Obama exhibited retardation as he cancelled the Constellation program: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constellation_program, after 5 years of work and billions of dollars spent on the program.
The problem was that after billions of dollars spent, they weren't anywhere close to setting up a viable program to get to the moon.

While an astronaut requires on top of that being a certain height, mass, psychological state, etc. and there is an extremely picky selection process.
It does now, but if you can get space tourism going, you can remove a lot of these limitations.
 
  • #17
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Where exactly is all the insight coming from? Do any of you actually work at NASA and have intimate knowledge of what is going on there? Or is this all just your opinion of the situation?
I know people that work there, and I've seen it up close. It's not pretty.
 
  • #18
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Why do you want to get into space so much?
Because it's there.

When you work half your life away to become an astronaut and then get told it's not going to work your dreams and hopes will be crushed.
But in the process of trying to do something, you'll likely get something done that's better than being a couch potato. Personally, my career goal is to be a starship captain. Not going to happen, but then they problem is how close that I can get given current technology.

The difference between an astronaut and a physicist is that if you give it your all then you can definitely become a physicist but it just doesn't work that way for an astronaut because so many factors are beyond your control.
Ummmmm....... No.
 
  • #19
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The future of human spaceflight is bleak, period.
The future of *human* spaceflight is quite bright. Russia has a very good program. China has a program plan that looks decent, and India is planning to join the space club during the next decade.

Now the future of *US* manned spaceflight..... Well, that's another story, but the US just needs to get a good kick in the rear end.

Given the budget situation, the lack of a clear mission, and the lack of enthusiasm to support NASA (other than home-state politicos), the future of NASA is not good.
Also US != NASA. There are some very interesting private ventures coming out of the US. Also once you start having Chinese flags planted on various parts of the solar system, I think you'll have some enthusiasm.
 
  • #20
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So if NASA wont be sending men into space in 20 years, will SpaceX be the main/biggest space exploration program?
Without NASA, the biggest manned exploration program will be the Russians followed by the Chinese. SpaceX looks really promising.

Is SpaceX a really legitimate program and does it have a future?
Yes.
 
  • #21
Fuz
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Without NASA, the biggest manned exploration program will be the Russians followed by the Chinese. SpaceX looks really promising.

...

Yes.
Thanks for your awesome replys :smile: So how exactly does SpaceX compare to NASA or other programs? What is their goal? Sending people to the moon or ISS or even past that?
 
  • #22
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They are a business, so you have to think of it from their perspective. They probably won't care about getting to the Moon, for instance, until we can develop technology to mine materials from the moon and easily/cheaply transport them back. Having orbiting research stations like the ISS, on the other hand, may be worth their time and of course other institutions (read: the government) will be interested in those endeavors.

The problem is always money, but sometimes that's a good thing (and in this case, I think it was really good that it turned out to be that way).
 
  • #23
Andy Resnick
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Where exactly is all the insight coming from? Do any of you actually work at NASA and have intimate knowledge of what is going on there? Or is this all just your opinion of the situation?
I used to- some of my stuff is currently on orbit. I still keep in touch with the team I worked with
 
  • #24
Andy Resnick
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The future of *human* spaceflight is quite bright. Russia has a very good program. China has a program plan that looks decent, and India is planning to join the space club during the next decade.
Who pays Russia's bills?

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2010/04/06/nasa-pay-russians-56-million-seat-soyuz-rides/

China and India do not have any meaningful launch capability. Whether or not they develop one, I can't say. But for the next 10 years, I can safely say only the Russians can provide routine access to orbit for people.
 
  • #25
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Who pays Russia's bills?

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2010/04/06/nasa-pay-russians-56-million-seat-soyuz-rides/

China and India do not have any meaningful launch capability. Whether or not they develop one, I can't say. But for the next 10 years, I can safely say only the Russians can provide routine access to orbit for people.
Exactly!

The future of *human* spaceflight is quite bright. Russia has a very good program. China has a program plan that looks decent, and India is planning to join the space club during the next decade.
From an insiders point of view, the stories I have heard from the old timers about the Russian program are insane. Re-entry going horribly wrong and cosmonauts starving to death after re-entry because they landed so far away. Cosmonauts getting eaten by wolves. I don't personally believe the eaten by wolves part, but the other stories seem less ridiculous. Either way, I wouldn't label Russia as the model to follow. Their infrastructure looks very good right now, because NASA did not have the foresight and funding to replace the shuttle without a lapse in LEO coverage.

One of the two biggest problems with NASA right now, in my opinion, is a lack of tolerance for risk. This is pushed on them by a public that simultaneously does not understand a lot about spaceflight and expects wonders. Don't screw up, but you better discover something awesome all the time. The old saying, "Well, if we can put a man on the Moon, we can do X" doesn't hold anymore. Right now, we CAN'T put a man on the moon.

The second big problem I see is you have long term plans that are subject to change at the whim of politics. Whether that is a new President or a new Congress. In addition, you have politicians who fight any change in the space program because it might affect jobs in their state. My research group is in the midst of reporting a roadmap for research with emphasis on 5, 10 and 20 years out. How are you supposed to decide how and where to allocate funding and research effort, when we are still operating under a continuing resolution (this means we don't have a new budget - but have to do all the new stuff with old funding levels).

Specifically regarding manned spaceflights future at NASA - I am somewhat more optimistic than most people here. But my optimism comes from a very cynical place. Precisely, as long as Texas and Florida have a combined 67 electoral votes, about a quarter of the number needed elect a president, I don't see major changes in NASA's funding scheme.
 

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