Author Topic: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?  (Read 17563 times)

Offline Analyst

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #40 on: 11/27/2009 08:11 PM »
1) When enough partners agree the program is bad, they will cancel it. Why do you assume the programs are and have to be bad? Define bad.

Utility of HSF is a big issue: Sure the programs don't give a big utility. One more reason to share the costs to have them, like other research not giving an instant ROI.

2) I don't care about semantics: Venture capital, capital from the founder (you could name him venture capitalist too). Problem is: For business sizes needed for orbital HSF (or large passenger aircraft) you don't get enough private recources together because of the large risk. Individual people and even groups of people are too risk averse. This is reality. Enter the government. (I am not talking about the risk of spaceflight, but the risk for investors of getting their money plus interest. Different things, although there are interconnections.)

3) I did. Because absolute size matters, and the risk accociated with the needed absolute size matters. You can ignore reality. But this is how it works. And reality for 40 years does show it.

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« Last Edit: 11/27/2009 08:15 PM by Analyst »

Offline khallow

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #41 on: 11/27/2009 08:53 PM »
1) When enough partners agree the program is bad, they will cancel it. Why do you assume the programs are and have to be bad? Define bad.

A bad program is a program that would have ended if it were a purely national or private effort. I think it's very disingenuous to claim that international agreement is needed when all that is being sought is decision lock-in. It's too bad that political decisions tend to be a bit capricious and ephemeral. But where's the benefit in locking in capricious and ephemeral decisions?

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2) I don't care about semantics: Venture capital, capital from the founder (you could name him venture capitalist too). Problem is: For business sizes needed for orbital HSF (or large passenger aircraft) you don't get enough private recources together because of the large risk. Individual people and even groups of people are too risk averse. This is reality. Enter the government. (I am not talking about the risk of spaceflight, but the risk for investors of getting their money plus interest. Different things, although there are interconnections.)

I made that point because you didn't and still don't seem to understand. It matters where the capital comes from and is not just a matter of semantics. Venture capital tends to be risk adverse. Founder based capital tends to be among the most aggressive private forms of funding a business or project because the founder has to answer to no one but themselves until they run out of money or get paying customers.

Second, an unmentioned aspect of private approaches is that they tend not to be monolithic, but incremental in development. Private enterprise isn't going to do a vast program in one go, but they don't need to.

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3) I did. Because absolute size matters, and the risk accociated with the needed absolute size matters. You can ignore reality. But this is how it works. And reality for 40 years does show it.

Huh, perhaps you shouldn't ignore reality either. SpaceX has demonstrated that you don't need to be big to develop multiple new rocket engines and launch vehicles. Scaled Composite has shown you don't have to be big to develop a manned RLV. Armadillo and Masten show you don't have to be big to develop landing vehicles for the Moon or Mars.

Just because a few fat rent-seekers don't (and perhaps can't) do business that way doesn't in itself prove that you need to be "big" in order to do interesting and useful things in space.
Karl Hallowell

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #42 on: 11/28/2009 07:41 AM »
1) You are on very dangerous ground now. Cassini, ISS and Shuttle (after Columbia) would have been canceled it they were a purely national or private efforts. CxP will be virtually canceled and with it probably the whole VSE. By your definition all these are bad programs. I strongly disagree. Btw. all these programs would have never been started in the first place were they private. And this brings us to another major point: There being no return for investors, no or not enough utility. Which is interconnected with 2): Investors are not only risk averse for high sums (which are needed here), the higher the more. But they also want a prospect for profit sometime in their lifetime.

2) Venture capital by definition is not risk averse. And maybe a founder is even less risk averse. Both does not help you with the size issue you like to ignore. Risk aversion grows with the money at stake, and you don't get the amount of money you need for big aerospace projects because the higher the input needed the larger the risk aversion. And still no prospect for profit (short of govenment involvement, which you don't want).

3) SpaceX only did reach orbit with government involvement, and its future depends even more on the government. All the others are not even in the same league, so not worth talking about. They have shown no orbital capability of any kind, let alone Moon, Mars etc.  And SS1 was a high flying aircraft, reaching Mach3, three times and never again. This is reality. Everything else is dreaming.

I stop this now because I have made my points and I am in danger of repeating myself.

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Offline hop

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #43 on: 11/28/2009 10:04 AM »
1) You are on very dangerous ground now. Cassini, ISS and Shuttle (after Columbia) would have been canceled it they were a purely national or private efforts.
You seem to be making a completely unwarranted leap from a correct statement that "no international cooperation means no X" to an incorrect "no international cooperation means there would have been nothing in place of X"

If the US hadn't done ISS, chances are it would have done something  in manned spaceflight. Even if it started less ambitious, it might have  left them in a more favorable situation than they are in now. Or at least, after a Columbia like accident, they would have been able to fully commit to something new. NASA went to the moon by themselves (admittedly under different circumstances) Both NASA and the Soviets built and operated space stations by themselves. Both flew numerous ground breaking unmanned probes. Clearly, international partnerships are not a requirement to do interesting things in space.

Without ESA partnership, Cassini as we know it might not have flown, but NASA would not have stopped flying flagship missions.

I do fully agree that private enterprise will not do most these things NASA (and partners) currently do, because there is no profitable reason to do so. I also agree that joint ventures can be beneficial, but I wouldn't view making it harder to kill white elephants as one of those benefits.

Offline Analyst

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #44 on: 11/28/2009 11:00 AM »
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1) Without ESA partnership, Cassini as we know it might not have flown,
2) but NASA would not have stopped flying flagship missions.

1) Not might. It would have been canceled. Just like CRAF. Period. Sorry, but this has been the reality back in 1992/1993. Same for ISS.

2) It did stop. Or do you know of a flagship mission after Cassini I haven't heard about? MSL is still way below the flagship level, the Mars program gets truely international starting 2016, JWST is truely international, and the Europa orbiter - which too is international - gets pushed into the future as fast as time goes.

Define white elephant and name international programs where it applies.

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« Last Edit: 11/28/2009 11:01 AM by Analyst »

Offline tesh90

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #45 on: 11/28/2009 12:02 PM »
"Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?"

No.  Why would it?  Why would it be directed to do so?  What is the gain?  The only reason to go would be for a flags, footprints and photo-ops - which was needed at one point but not anymore.

One could say "for the science" but I fear that all "scientific" missions could be more cost effectively and conveniently be conducted using robitic missions.  So why bother going?

One could say many things, "for exploration", "for the sake of going", "for the glory", and so on but in the end there is no good convient, sellable or pressing reason to go.

One could say, correctly in my opinion, that we need to fly this nest to build others - to make sure humans are sufficielty spread out to avoid a wipe out from natural or man made disasters.  This cannot be sold to any company or country and no individual could accomplish it.

I'll stop "pussyfooting" around.  As long as the term money comes into the equation, this is not a convient, sellable or desirable. 

Offline MichaelF

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #46 on: 11/28/2009 01:16 PM »
But I think the private sector will likely be the first to return to the moon because they are not as risk adverse.

Sorry, what?

Offline khallow

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #47 on: 11/28/2009 02:27 PM »
Quote
1) Without ESA partnership, Cassini as we know it might not have flown,
2) but NASA would not have stopped flying flagship missions.

1) Not might. It would have been canceled. Just like CRAF. Period. Sorry, but this has been the reality back in 1992/1993. Same for ISS.

2) It did stop. Or do you know of a flagship mission after Cassini I haven't heard about? MSL is still way below the flagship level, the Mars program gets truely international starting 2016, JWST is truely international, and the Europa orbiter - which too is international - gets pushed into the future as fast as time goes.

Define white elephant and name international programs where it applies.

You've been doing a good job so far. Namely, you've listed a number of programs that cost so much that they can't endure on their merits: the ISS, Shuttle (basically the entire manned space program since Apollo, including Apollo), perhaps Cassini (I doubt your claim that it would have been canceled, but if so, it's a white elephant candidate). The very idea of one-off, extremely expensive "flagship missions" is a white elephant: the great observatories like Hubble, the billion dollar probes, etc. I personally am glad NASA got away from those and built something more useful.

The problem here is that international entanglements are a poor substitute for a useful project. As I see it, the same problems that appear in national projects, particularly the problem of "will", will manifest in some expensive way in international projects. The ISS seems a good example of this. My view is that we saw the ten or more year delay in its finish due to problems of political will. It wasn't that important that it got finished on time because the most important of the ISS partners, the US and Russia never really cared.
« Last Edit: 11/28/2009 02:27 PM by khallow »
Karl Hallowell

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #48 on: 11/28/2009 03:34 PM »
The problem (it is better called a feature) with many modern research programs is, you can't do them in a laboratory with an assistant anymore. You need large, expensive and very sophisticated apparatures and instruments, with very tight tolerances etc. You need massive computer power and lots of human brains (literally) to understand even small parts of the topic.

This is true for nuclear medicine research, fusion research, elementary particle research, solar system probes, in particular the ones going into the outer solar system, space telescopes, HSF (although we can debate the science here) and many other things. Soon it will also be true for large ground based telescopes in the 30-42m class, which are approching 1 billion Euros a piece.

Because of these price tags and the risk such projects are done one at a time and mostly in international cooperation. These are often multi decade long projects. You can't devide them and built three small LHC's, just to avoid having a white elephant by your definition. You can't devide Cassini into six Discovery class probes and sent them to Saturn. You need basic infrastructure which can't be devided. Same for HST: six 60cm HST's won't be as helpful as one with a 2.4m mirror.

In summary: You do these projects in the only way they can be done - big - or you don't do them at all. They are not useful once scaled down more than a few percent. Cassini with only a 75% budget gets you a probe to Saturn, but no instruments and no people to do the science. And trust me, Cassini has been very close to cancellation, and only having an obligation with ESA did save it in the end.

You are glad NASA got away from these large programs and built something more useful. I wonder what this is.

a) It implies smaller ones are more useful, which is clearly wrong. These big projects give the most science bang for the buck. One day stunts like Deep Impact or the recent lunar impact cost 10 to 20 percent of one big project. But their return is hardly above the noise, and not 10 or 20 percent. When Cassini is done, it will have explored the Saturnian system for 13 years, visited countless moon countless times, being in space for 20 years, and the project itself lasts more than 30 years. Similar for Voyager, Shuttle, ISS, etc.
b) And it also implies projects listed above simply can't be done anymore.

You see these projects as not useful, or worthless, and international cooperation prevents cancellation. I see these project as worthy, and international cooperation is the only way to secure the funding, share the risks, keep the commitment, and all this over decades. Again: You eighter do it this way or you give up these big projects. And I repeat: You can't replace them with smaller ones, you can't scale them down in a meaningful way.

I still don't understand what is wrong with having white elephants, e.g. big research programs?

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Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #49 on: 11/28/2009 05:00 PM »
I still don't understand what is wrong with having white elephants, e.g. big research programs?

There's nothing wrong with them.  It is just that they fit into the category that khallow objects to.  He didn't realise that until he became invested in his argument so, although they are actually useful, he must now decry them.
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Offline dad2059

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #50 on: 11/28/2009 09:40 PM »
The problem (it is better called a feature) with many modern research programs is, you can't do them in a laboratory with an assistant anymore. You need large, expensive and very sophisticated apparatures and instruments, with very tight tolerances etc. You need massive computer power and lots of human brains (literally) to understand even small parts of the topic.

This is true for nuclear medicine research, fusion research, elementary particle research, solar system probes, in particular the ones going into the outer solar system, space telescopes, HSF (although we can debate the science here) and many other things. Soon it will also be true for large ground based telescopes in the 30-42m class, which are approching 1 billion Euros a piece.

Because of these price tags and the risk such projects are done one at a time and mostly in international cooperation. These are often multi decade long projects. You can't devide them and built three small LHC's, just to avoid having a white elephant by your definition. You can't devide Cassini into six Discovery class probes and sent them to Saturn. You need basic infrastructure which can't be devided. Same for HST: six 60cm HST's won't be as helpful as one with a 2.4m mirror.

In summary: You do these projects in the only way they can be done - big - or you don't do them at all. They are not useful once scaled down more than a few percent. Cassini with only a 75% budget gets you a probe to Saturn, but no instruments and no people to do the science. And trust me, Cassini has been very close to cancellation, and only having an obligation with ESA did save it in the end.

You are glad NASA got away from these large programs and built something more useful. I wonder what this is.

a) It implies smaller ones are more useful, which is clearly wrong. These big projects give the most science bang for the buck. One day stunts like Deep Impact or the recent lunar impact cost 10 to 20 percent of one big project. But their return is hardly above the noise, and not 10 or 20 percent. When Cassini is done, it will have explored the Saturnian system for 13 years, visited countless moon countless times, being in space for 20 years, and the project itself lasts more than 30 years. Similar for Voyager, Shuttle, ISS, etc.
b) And it also implies projects listed above simply can't be done anymore.

You see these projects as not useful, or worthless, and international cooperation prevents cancellation. I see these project as worthy, and international cooperation is the only way to secure the funding, share the risks, keep the commitment, and all this over decades. Again: You eighter do it this way or you give up these big projects. And I repeat: You can't replace them with smaller ones, you can't scale them down in a meaningful way.

I still don't understand what is wrong with having white elephants, e.g. big research programs?

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"White Elephant" programs are okay when there's money around, sure.

I'm all for that, good science could be done once in a while that way.

What would you suggest when the money faucet is only dripping?

As for NASA returning humans to the Moon, it doesn't look too hopeful at the moment...
NASA needs some good ol' fashioned 'singularity tech'

Offline hop

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #51 on: 11/28/2009 10:31 PM »
I still don't understand what is wrong with having white elephants, e.g. big research programs?
Big research program is not at all the same thing as a white elephant. A white elephant is grandiose, awe inspiring, possibly useful, but ultimately an expense that is not justified on it's merits. I would say this description fits ISS perfectly, but the value of scientific activities is subjective, so this is something reasonable people can disagree on. Nonetheless, I think the history clearly shows that the motivation for ISS has not been "this is clearly the best science value for the money, lets get together and do it."

I would not consider Cassini a white elephant. If you accept that learning about the Saturn system is a worthwhile goal (which again is subjective) it appears to be an effective way of accomplishing that goal. At the same time, the Saturn system could have been explored in other ways.

For the very largest projects, international cooperation is a good way of dealing with the cost. But it very clearly does have drawbacks, and isn't the only way that large scale scientific projects can be done.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #52 on: 11/29/2009 01:44 AM »
"Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?"
No.  Why would it?  Why would it be directed to do so?  What is the gain? 

Look around, and then look up.  The Earth's population has doubled since man last walked on the Moon.  It will double again at least before they return.

The Moon is a planet, one-half of a double-planet system.  It is a planet only three days distant, a planet full of resources and possibilities.  Humans are going to go, to the Moon, again, to stay.  Of this there is no doubt whatsoever. 

Unfortunately, it appears that President Obama isn't going to let the U.S., or NASA, participate in that endeavor.  I suspect we'll officially hear the disastrous news within a couple of weeks. 

Beware of small thinkers.

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #53 on: 11/29/2009 02:03 AM »

Beware of small thinkers.

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That's right. Give me Mars in ~2030.  :)
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Offline tesh90

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #54 on: 11/29/2009 11:42 AM »
The Moon is a planet, one-half of a double-planet system.  It is a planet only three days distant, a planet full of resources and possibilities.  Humans are going to go, to the Moon, again, to stay.  Of this there is no doubt whatsoever. 

 - Ed Kyle


I agree with the sentiment of that statement.  I believe that the only way we could achieve that goal would be if everyone was on the same page.  How would you go about getting that?  Right now, more people are interested in what colour shoes celeb. X. is wearing than with the sentiment in  your statement.  I just cannot see how or when the sentiment if your post would come to pass.  Derfinitely not in my life time and not in the life time of anyone that will be born in the next 100 years - hell maybe not even in the life time of someone born in 500 years from now.

Offline ChrisSpaceCH

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #55 on: 11/29/2009 12:00 PM »
Look around, and then look up.  The Earth's population has doubled since man last walked on the Moon.  It will double again at least before they return.

I hope not. According to the UN, Earth's population will level off at around 9 billion towards 2050 and go down thereafter. 12 billion would certainly result in the end of human civilization, probably even 9 billion will stretch Earth's ressources to the breaking-point (one can argue that the current nearly 7 billion is already far too much).

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Unfortunately, it appears that President Obama isn't going to let the U.S., or NASA, participate in that endeavor.  I suspect we'll officially hear the disastrous news within a couple of weeks. 

Oh yes. I'm betting on this, too, much as I hate to admit it. I wouldn't be surprised if the descision to gut NASA has already been taken and they are just waiting for the best moment to annouce it (like after another major boo-boo by NASA management)

Offline saturnsky

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #56 on: 11/29/2009 01:08 PM »
I agree with the pessimistic feelings about the Obama Administration....I think the hopes to land an American expedition on the Moon are over...Short sighted leadership with no clear goals....

Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #57 on: 11/29/2009 01:38 PM »
Short sighted leadership with no clear goals....

I think that the problem isn't with leadership or goals.  They've got that in spades.  What is lacking is a dose of realism.  NASA really seems to think that whatever bill they present for their wonder-rocket(s) will be paid in full and advance without question.  NASA has never bothered to plan shuttle replacement under a budget.  The EELV phase 1 and DIRECT plans both do so, which is their advantage.

I had to grin when one of the Augustine panel members said that the agency has to be willing to sacrifice capability because of cost.  That is one thing that the 'orthodox' CxP plan does not do.  It assumes that the only priority is to maximise capability on paper and that budget and engineering issues can be handwaved away later.
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Offline spinkao

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #58 on: 11/29/2009 02:34 PM »
I agree with the sentiment of that statement.  I believe that the only way we could achieve that goal would be if everyone was on the same page.  How would you go about getting that?  Right now, more people are interested in what colour shoes celeb. X. is wearing than with the sentiment in  your statement.  I just cannot see how or when the sentiment if your post would come to pass.  Derfinitely not in my life time and not in the life time of anyone that will be born in the next 100 years - hell maybe not even in the life time of someone born in 500 years from now.

I don't think so. People in the 1920's were firmly convinced that a Moon sortie is hundreds of years away, if ever. It actually happened in their lifetime. You can never know what will happen, even in the relatively near future. The things may (or may not) change much quicker than anticipated. And especially now, when the technology is basically there and it is "only" a matter of will.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur Charles Clarke

Online robertross

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Re: Will NASA actually return mankind to the moon?
« Reply #59 on: 11/29/2009 02:39 PM »

I think that the problem isn't with leadership or goals.  They've got that in spades.  What is lacking is a dose of realism.  NASA really seems to think that whatever bill they present for their wonder-rocket(s) will be paid in full and advance without question.  NASA has never bothered to plan shuttle replacement under a budget.  The EELV phase 1 and DIRECT plans both do so, which is their advantage.

I had to grin when one of the Augustine panel members said that the agency has to be willing to sacrifice capability because of cost.  That is one thing that the 'orthodox' CxP plan does not do.  It assumes that the only priority is to maximise capability on paper and that budget and engineering issues can be handwaved away later.

So very true, sadly.
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