# NASA's future

Fuz
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?

Fuz

Shackleford
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.

Caramon
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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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..

Shackleford
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.

Caramon
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.

Homework Helper
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.

Shackleford
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.

Norman
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.

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?

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.

Shackleford
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.

Fuz
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?

Norman
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.

Fizex
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.

twofish-quant
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.

twofish-quant
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.

twofish-quant
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.

twofish-quant
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.

twofish-quant
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.

twofish-quant
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.

Fuz
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 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?

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).

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

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.

Norman
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.

Staff Emeritus
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.
Most of those private ventures receive most of their funding from NASA or DoD, and that includes SpaceX. Bigelow doesn't rely on government funding, but they are using the (defunded) TransHab as the basis for their to-be-built space hotel. Virgin Galactic doesn't take government funding either, but Virgin Galactic is only building suborbital vehicles.

The problem isn't so much NASA per se. The problem is that NASA is a government agency that is micromanaged and underfunded by a very fickle Congress and the President. Constellation didn't go very far because it never was funded at the needed level. It doesn't help that NASA overpromises and underdelivers.

One reason NASA (or parts of it) is turning to commercial space is because doing so is one way to escape the meddling by legislature and the administration. Commercial space efforts don't want the expensive marching armies that congresscritters are wont to maintain, and they don't care that multiple congresscritters insist that NASA use the overly expensive technologies developed in their congressional districts. This freedom from extraneous meddling means that these commercial efforts are free to get the job done.

Shackleford
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.

Don't forget you're talking about a Communist country. Their dynamics are a bit different than ours and other free countries. I don't think they care about getting their citizens interested in STEM. They can keep the cost down because they can virtually pay whatever they want for their parts, materials, services, etc. Right?

Exactly!

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.

Some preliminary results are here:

http://www.nasawatch.com/

There's some promising aspects: Webb and Orion are funded, but the discussion I'd pay money to sit in on is the one that deals with the following scenario-

We have astronauts onboard ISS and no shuttle to bring them back. Russia says something like "Did we say $56M per seat on Soyuz? We meant$56B!" How much is the life of an astronaut worth?

twofish-quant
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.

It happened....

http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/voskhod.html

We were only too aware that the taiga where we had landed was the habitat of bears and wolves. It was spring, the mating season, when both animals are at their most aggressive. We had only one pistol aboard our spacecraft, but we had plenty of ammunition.

Either way, I wouldn't label Russia as the model to follow.

One of the big problems that the US space program has is not invented here. The Russians have figured out how to do manned space flight, and where they do something that makes sense, there's no reason not to copy them. The fact that Russia underwent a massive economic collapse and *still* is able and willing to send people into space says that money is not the problem.

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.

And a lot of this was due to bad planning. The public ended up believing that space flight was safe because in order for the shuttle to make economic sense, shuttle flights had to be routine. Without routine flights, the shuttle would not be profitable. Once it was obvious that space flight was dangerous, then everything fell apart.

You can probably get more public support for manned spaceflight by making it clear who insanely dangerous it is.

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.

That's why it helps to have an "enemy."

People remember Kennedy's speech.....

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

What's interesting is that no one quotes the rest of the speech......

Let it be clear-and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make-let if be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action-a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62 -- an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

(...)

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

---------------

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.

The trouble is that the funding levels that NASA has are clearly insufficient to get us back to the moon or to Mars. I don't see major changes in NASA's funding scheme, but I do see that we are likely to end up with the "walking dead" or the "Amtrak syndrome" in which we can't cut things because of political process, but there isn't enough money to make it work.

Caramon
NASA has really been a sitting duck for the past 10 years. There has been little to no national inspiration for public interest in the space program and the materialistic general public cares far more about their latest celebrity whatever than actually achieving something as a country. I would argue there are three main failures within the United States space program today and some apply to all space programs around the world. It's unfortunate that so much astronautical expertise from the space shuttle era has been lost in the recent lay offs of thousands of workers while the managers of the supervisors receive large salaries.

1) Lack of a Goal

There has been essentially no serious interest from those who have the opportunity to implement new programs and develop new launch vehicles and space habitats to seriously consider a mars program. We have simply been wallowing in Earth Orbit for the past 20 achieving little more than scientific and engineering curiosities that may be potentially useful some time in the future when we actually decide to do something useful. Until then, they seem to be happy with not looking beyond launching satellites and having interviews from the space stations learning about zero gravity health effects. Clearly I am giving a cynical caricature here, but there is an underlying problem that is of a serious nature. If NASA is to actually pull ahead of the rest of the world in space flight and secure the United States as a "great nation" as it once used to be considered, it must pour funding into the space program and lower safety restrictions and either build a moon base, send missions to mars, or likewise. Not in 20 years when the budget and administration will change, but within a 10 year time span that holds everyone accountable to achieving a goal.

2) Lack of International Co-operation

If the United States wants to trash its attitude of nationalistic fervor, which it should, true international co-operation needs to be made. I'm not talking about the pseudo-international-relationships that have occurred on the Apollo-Soyuz missions and the, "Oh we'll have an Israeli person on the space shuttle" missions; I'm talking about genuine international programs where different groups and agencies handle different aspects of the mission. For example, NASA could handle the crew vehicle (Orion anyone?), ESA could handle the rocket, etc. Too bad NASA, and the United States in general, is simply too arrogant to approach another "lesser" space agency for such co-operation, although it is constantly masquerading as doing so.

3) Lack of Motivation

It seems that the lackadaisical attitude of congress towards NASA and the, "fiscally conservative" presidents that funnel the majority of the national revenue towards Defense and Homeland Security rather than something actually useful, have resulted in a detachment from the goals established after the Apollo program. If we played our cards right we could have a nearly self-sustainable research base on the moon right now where the major export is PhD thesis', similar to Antarctica, but bad administrative decisions in the executive and legislative branches of Government have impeded this progression.

I'm afraid that Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17, when he left the moon, was incorrect when he stated, "As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record — that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow."

It has been long into the future, and will be far longer into the foreseeable future where no moon base will be built and no interplanetary missions will take place. As I see it, this is a step in the wrong direction towards the extinction of the human race.

-Caramon

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twofish-quant
Don't forget you're talking about a Communist country. Their dynamics are a bit different than ours and other free countries.

It's more similar than you would expect.

I don't think they care about getting their citizens interested in STEM. They can keep the cost down because they can virtually pay whatever they want for their parts, materials, services, etc. Right?

No they can't. The problem with this is economic calculation. If you have three ways of doing something, the thing that causes you to do something that is most efficient is cost, and if you force non-market prices, then things get very much out of balance. For example, if the cost of gold is $1 and the cost of steel is$500, then you'll design rockets and cans out of gold, and when you actually try to get 100 tons of gold, you'll run into big, big problems.

Both China and Russia are market economies with prices on most goods and services set by the market.

Shackleford
Clearly insufficient? NASA is clearly inefficient. The technology available today is far more advanced than that available in 1969. There's no good reason why NASA could not have successfully completed a modern-day trip to the Moon. NASA is poorly managed at best.

Shackleford
...."fiscally conservative" presidents that funnel the majority of the national revenue towards Defense and Homeland Security rather than something actually useful....

Right. Because Defense and National Security aren't actually useful.

Caramon
I would argue that the overinflated portions of the budget that Defense and National Security get are not useful. The United States does not need to have military bases around the world or still be fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one is attacking the United States. 9/11 was a one-time thing.

In the long-term, NASA is the government agency to be funded as once the door is opened to an actual base on another planet, then it will stay open.

The technology is advanced, but perhaps not as much as you may think- certainly, there has been no major advance in the fuel/source of energy needed to lift things into orbit. Propulsion today is essentially the same as the 1960's. While computer technology has somewhat advanced, the need for radiation-hardened components means the computers used are a lot less functional than the Dell computer you can buy for $1000- and never mind the *software* requirements.... NASA doesn't do Windoze. Then there's the whole problem with astronauts- they need to eat and poop fairly regularly. That hasn't changed since 1969, and the technology to deal with that hasn't changed much, either. It's easy to blame NASA management, but for all their problems they must, in the end, respond to the demands of Congress, who provide sustenance. Getting Congress to support a$100+ B project that does not do anything to keep us safe from the commies/JMFs/cancer/etc.. is a tough sell. Unfortunately, space exploration is not a priority for the voting public, and there isn't a charismatic leader around right now who can change that.