View Full Version : The Future of U.S. "Manned" Spaceflight

Don Sevendy
2003-Jul-16, 11:16 PM
I think we need a serious discussion about the future of the U.S. space program--specifically, the justification for spending billions to "explore" low-earth-orbit. I have nothing new or profound to add to this debate, other than to say that, as someone who remembers the 60's not as a decade of war and social upheaval, but rather as a time of exploration and optimism, I am greatly disappointed with the current Shuttle/ISS space edifice.

As commentator on another site pointed out, losing astronauts is not the problem--there will always be plenty of volunteers. What is in short supply is money and--for the foreseeable future--vehicles. There is also a distinct lack of leadership--everyone seems to be either a fan or a cheerleader; where is the "coach" who, in addition to a rousing speech in time of crisis (think Reagan post-Challanger), has the unique competence to guide a troubled program? Whoever is put in charge (I'm thinking of the last two NASA administrators) seems to get swallowed whole by the Shuttle program.

For starters, I think that we should kill the Space Station NOW. Buy off our partners, if necessary; cheer on the Chinese, Indians, French, whatever; and concentrate on unmanned missions, astronomical observatories, etc.

Surely someone out there violently disagrees with me--let's hear from you!

2003-Jul-17, 01:58 AM
I don't there are many people who are going to argue with you. I think we all feel in our heart that there could be way better ways to spend the money on the exploration of space.

But I think a better question is, why isn't it being better spent? If you walked around the halls of NASA and privately asked engineers, administrators, etc, if they felt the money was being well spent, I bet they'd say no, and probably have suggestions for better ways to do it.

I think the problem lies in the scale and momentum of NASA. It's obligated to keep doing things the way they've always been done to ensure people are employed, government officials are kept happy, and aerospace partners are kept out of bankruptcy.

Large single organizations often have difficulties, and what we need right now are more nimble enterprises: like the companies competing for the X-prize. Can you imagine what some of these companies could achieve with some of NASA's resources?

So, I wouldn't get that concerned about whether NASA is going to change, etc. There's enough enthusiasm out there, for people to eventually figure out a way into space. And once someone makes a profit from it, you'll see a stampede into the skies.

Be patient, get involved with any number of space societies and channel your enthusiasm for space exploration into organizations making a difference.

2003-Jul-17, 04:19 AM
I agree that everyone's either a fan or a cheerleader... but I don't think we should just concentrate on unmanned (ie, robotic) missions. That would be like admitting defeat, like saying it's too dangerous. The argument for manned missions to the Moon was always quite plain: you can send a robot there, you can even get it to bring back samples, but can you teach it geology? Can you teach it to recognise certain rocks that might prove or disprove a theory?

Sending probes to the Moon and Mars is fine - they're relatively cheap and no one can deny the outstanding successes we've had, especially when you look further afield to the gas giants. Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo all performed way beyond their designer's expectations and Cassini will no doubt do the same next year.

But where's the spirit? There's plenty of thrills and challenges, even in unmanned exploration and the human spirit thrives on both - but all of that would have been for nothing if mankind does not follow in the footsteps of those robotic pioneers.

Imagine if it were possible to have sent an unmanned sailing ship across the atlantic, 300 years ago. It comes back with some amazing images of the Americas, along with some fascinating - and sometimes puzzling - facts about those distant shores.

What if we had just sent another ship there?


2003-Jul-17, 09:55 AM
I agree with Dips.

If manned missions were stopped the likelyhood of them starting up again drops off to nothingness in my opinion. The possibility of doing something wild and amazing, like going to Mars, still exists while a manned space program is running. Without it though no one would dare think it.

Jack Schmitt was on Apollo 17 - the last moon mission. He was a geologist and sent to do something specific: see what the moon was made of. A robot could have been sent to do that but as it turned out Schmitt brought his "knowledge" and "experience" to the fore and saw other interesting things that a robot couldn't have and as such we all now (potentially) know more about the moon.

The reason for exploration has always been measured in terms of human needs and goals. Robots can't experience something and translate it so that other humans feel like they've been there to in a manner. A robot has been to mars ... humans went to the moon.

Unmanned mission are similar (only similar) to someone sending you a postcard from their holiday. On the post card you see a picture of beautiful beaches or snow capped mountains or whatever ... but it just isn't real.

Don Sevendy
2003-Jul-17, 01:17 PM
1)X-Prize: Sounds like fun--experimental aircraft are being built in garages around the country, but what do they really accomplish as far as the general advance of aviation? The X-Prize craft are all toys, and none have any hope of being "orbitable", let alone "Mars-able".

2) Unmanned Missions: From the start of the Space Age, there have been voices in the science community opposing the danger and massive expenditure involved in sending people into space. I think that the last half-century has largely proven them to be correct. I do support manned lunar and Martian exploration if we can keep the price down to "Apollo" levels, but that's not how we're spending our money now, is it?

3)Space Interest Groups: I am a member of the Planetary Society, and I encourage others to support them, but they have wandered a bit from their orginal manned-flight skepticism for political reasons (East-West detente--remember that?), and now have a rather "gray" link with new-age junkie, Joe Firmage.

4)Restarting a Mannned Program--Why would it be difficult to restart a manned space program? How long did it take the Soviets to start the first one? Three years? The launch infrastructure would be maintained for un-manned usage, as would tracking and navigation expertise. In fact, I think it would be a good idea to clear out most of the "manned" infrastructure, which what is sucking up most of the cash right now.

Look, I remember the "old" days: I remember the first moon landing; I even remember the Sheppard and Glenn flights--great stuff all! But what is there to look forward to now--will the shuttle occupants survive the flight?

Give me (and the tax payers) a break!

2003-Jul-17, 01:26 PM
I don't want manned space flight just for a man in space. We need specific targets and reasons. Yes, I support a return to the Moon, An exploration of Mars, NEAR, etc. I support repair missions with the shuttle. But I don't care for the publicity flights with the shuttle.

2003-Jul-17, 01:34 PM
In the beginning there was the impetus supplied by it never having been done before. Eveything was new and both sides had a common goal: beat the other guy.

RE-starting a manned space program would not be done so happily and quickly for something that by many would be seen as a failed venture. It's not failed it's just a little stagnant. Not good, but a lot easier to recover from than not having any infrastructure in place at all!

2003-Jul-17, 04:01 PM
Instead of spending the money to be "the first" to do this or go here, maybe humans should focus on how to do it safely.

It all falls back on the "instant gratification" or notority. Society is so hell bent on being or doing it first that we should just throw the money into a fire. Remember the Kennedy era? Back then when Russia went to space, that administration could focus on nothing more then doing it bigger and better. The motivation was not an interest in space so much as outdoing the russians.

I understand that we must learn from experience, but where do we draw the line? Is the line drawn when we ignorantly loose hundreds in space/flight accidents, or would America not make an even larger impression to be the first to slow down, spend the money on research, and research and research, and then doing it with pizzaz & success.

Its just like the Columbia accident. If we werent in such a rush to be #1, a simple test like they did AFTER 7 deaths may have not only saved 7 lives, but gave us bragging rights for doing it better and safer then any one else. Sure we may have lost a few years of space flight by doing research longer, but the way we do it now, we are loosing lives instead of time.

Bill AH
2003-Jul-17, 09:09 PM
This appears to be a topic with a very dynamic opinion base. It does get frustrating seeing some of the waste in the space program (I can only speak for the US program), but as Fraser said patience is needed. Anytime an organization becomes as large as the US space program it takes a long time to make big changes. One of the problems I believe right now is not just the politics involved, but the space agency and prime contractors are very top heavy with management. You know the saying, "Too many cooks...". This ties directly with the 'better' decision making that was mentioned.

As far as the X-Prize I don't think 'toys' is the right word. Sure they may not be 'orbitable' or 'mars-able', but they are a start. With 23 teams currently participating who knows what innovation may be right on their fingertips. A lot of the greatest discoveries over the course of science have been made 'in the garage'. Even at the start of the space program, the early rockets didn't and couldn't go straight to the moon. Give it time and let's see what happens.

Manned space flight should be maintained in my opinion because of many of the reasons given by other members. It would be hard to get going again and unless there was a short duration hold on manned flights, the infrastructure would be lost and certainly not maintained. The shuttle pads are not designed for unmanned launches and likely would not gain the funding to do so. Many of the unmanned launch pads have rusted away because the were no longer needed for a particular rocket. Being smarter in what we send folks into space to do is what is needed. I would love to see a manned lunar station as a preliminary testing ground for a future Mars mission. There are many differences between the two, but it's close to home and much of the technology could be tested there.

Unfortunately space exploration is not high on everyones agenda and while sites and forums like this are great and help boost space support, I suspect we are a minority compared to those that would have the money spent differently. Unfortunately also, at least for now, the political arena mest remain a part of space.

Don Sevendy
2003-Jul-18, 02:42 AM
Other than to provoke a response, my referal to X-Prize vehicles as "toys" simply conveys the what I see as the motive of their sponsers: to win the bragging rights that go with the prize. Does modifying a V-2 to carry people advance the state-of-the-art? Or putting a rocket in the tail of a Sabre Jet? Even Rutan, brilliant engineer that he is, seems to be limited to one tune--plastic composites; is this really the future of interplanetary spacecraft? Does it solve the orbital re-entry
problem? Do you know how you trim the wings on a plastic plane like the Vari-Eze? You hang a weight on one wing, and leave it out in the sun!

The X-Prize is often compared favorably to the prizes which were instrumental to advancing the state-of-the-art in aviation early last century. Unfortunately, the goal of the X-Prize is to recapitulate the very first step into space taken four decades ago! Still, it sounds like fun, and good luck to them; but I doubt that there's any profit in any of it.

As far as shuttle infrastructure is concerned: so what if crumbles into rust? Of what military, scientific or commercial value is the shuttle? Does it launch spy or communications satellites? No. Resupply lunar expeditions? No again. Make critical astronomical observations beyond the capability of unmanned instruments? Well what about the Hubble refurbishment missions, weren't they a success? Yes, but they were also stunts--new telescopes could have been launched for the cost of the repair misssions (note: rant--don't ask me to prove this, but each mission costs what, $0.5bil? That a lot of telescope!), and the new Webb telescope will be be well out of the reach of our low-earth-orbit space pioneers.

DAVE RENEKE C/o Port Macq. Obser
2003-Jul-19, 12:41 AM

Eugene Cernan was, figuratively, the last person to leave the moon over 30 years ago.

This is an intereting comment which I use in our astronomy talks at our observatory, and one which makes people asses the difference:...it goes like this:


Can you imagine how it would feel to be one of only 12 people in history to stand on another world and look at the earth in the distance? The feelings conveyed by Cernan can only be translated by a human being..no machine could ever do that!


Graet forum guys and gals....keep getting involved!


2003-Jul-19, 06:36 PM
Someone earlier said we should kill the space station, and I do violently disagree with that. We won't go to Mars or anywhere else until we figure out how to avoid the bone loss that comes with long-term weightlessness, and right now the ISS is our best bet to figure that out. Besides, I think the ISS is a great endeavor. Where else can you find the international cooperation that is happening with the space station. I don't understand why there are many people who condemn it. My only problem with the space station is that we should have built it years ago.

As for getting more funding for space exploration, Neil Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium said awhile ago that we basically have the technology to do anything we say we want to do, but major space projects won’t happen without sufficient economic, egotistic or militaristic reasons to redirect the resources of the nation towards that project. As we have seen, without an overarching goal (such as beating the Soviet Union to the moon) the space program lacks direction and adequate economic means.

Don Sevendy
2003-Jul-19, 07:21 PM
If we really want to go to Mars, it would be preferable to generate artificial gravity by spinning the craft, rather than spend more billions trying to defeat human biology. The Russians and Americans have spent 40 years studying the body's adaptation to zero-G, with no significant progress on the problem. Living and working in Zero-G are stunts, like much else in the current program; the negatives outweigh the pluses, and it should be avoided, not studied endlessly.

By the way, the space station was built years ago--once by the Americans (Skylab), and twice by the Russians (Salyut and Mir). What will the ISS accomplish that the others couldn't?

Circling enlessly a half-day's drive from the surface of the earth is not space exploration.

But enough negativity--How about a semi-permanent international lunar base? It's reasonably close by, energetically not too difficult to get to, and of moderate scientific interest...

Any volunteers?

2003-Jul-19, 07:42 PM
Include a lunar telescope and you've got yourself a deal.

jeanne v.
2003-Jul-19, 09:55 PM
yes, you could always get "volunteers" to fly in space...i would be first in line if accepted for the next flight. yes, i'm sure the engineers, scientists, etc would all have better ideas how to spend NASA's money (really ours!) sorting out the jumble of layers upon layers of administration to weed out repetition must occur. allowing the "grunts" to speak their piece w/o reprimand of sorts will take time. the current NASA "culture" will not just go away to allow these changes to take place instantaneously. i just hope NASA finds a way to reintroduce safety as a number 1 priority, and keeps pure science as the number 2 priority. all while the different sections communicate openly. (Ha!! not asking too much!) once pure science is rated as a high priority, i feel common sense will take over to decide what should and shouldn't be "manned".
but then again, my experience (as a scientist myself) is there are alot of scientists out there that lack the "common sense gene"!!!

2003-Jul-22, 10:27 PM
Unfortunately, I think that the only way to advance into space at an increased rate of scientific developement will be to get big business into it in some form or another (space cruises, motels in space, mining the moon for better construction materials, etc.) and get the government out of it. The X-prize is one way to start to privatize space exploration, but they don't have the financial backing. I could be wrong. What do you think?

Don Sevendy
2003-Jul-23, 09:54 PM
Personally, I am encouraged by the imminent entry of China into the race. I don't mean to be cynical, but they certainly are able do produce things cheaply, and that's what's needed right now. It's almost a little sad to say this, but they may, in the long term, prove to be a better partner than Russia.

As far as getting big business involved in the space program--it already is! Note that when they are spending their own money, business sticks to unmanned activities--that's where there's profit to be made in communications and imaging satellites. Only when it's taxpayers' money do they get involved in the "manned" program, and that's on the receiving side.

A simple lesson in economics, yes?

2003-Jul-24, 01:00 AM
I agree with Don re the Chinese. My hope is that they won't be a better partner than the Russians but rather they'll be a better competitor in the Space Race (what there is of it)

I think I said this in my earlier post... but this is what the US needs. Europe is just concerned with launching satellites and that's fine, they're very good at it - but every so often the US will start spouting on about exploring the final frontier and what happens? Nothing.

Who's willing to bet $10 that the Chinese will start looking further afield than Earth orbit? Who's willing to bet the Chinese will be the first back to the Moon? Good luck to them, I say, especially if that's what's needed to get the US to return to manned exploration again.


2003-Jul-24, 01:20 AM
Another red moon. I poersonally have no problem with that. The question I have is: Is China more likely to "claim" the moon for itself than is the US? Any thoughts on this. They've already spoken about setting up a permanent base on the moon.

2003-Jul-25, 03:55 AM
That's an interesting question and of course the world is not the same as it was 40 years ago when the Russians were aiming for the Moon.

I'm not sure. I think it would be a very gutsy move because I believe there's some sort of international agreement which says no nation can lay claim to space (unlike, for example, airspace) - the question is, does this apply to the Moon? Would the Chinese risk upsetting the international community by claiming it for themselves? Can you imagine what the US would say (and do) in responce, given that they landed there first?


Bill AH
2003-Jul-25, 11:16 PM
I wonder if the moon wouldn't be shared more like the continent of Antartica where reseachers from all over the world have their own little corner and no one seems to be too worried over their neighbors.

2003-Jul-26, 02:57 AM
Exactly Bill - and I'm sure the reason for that is the same: by agreement, no single country is allowed to claim the terriotory as their own.

God, if only the world were like that all over!


2003-Jul-26, 11:16 PM
We can see no borders from space. That's the way it should be.

I agree that the best thing would be that the moon is used as a scientific base and for the shared wealth (knowledge and otherwise) of Earth. That's not to say that it would happen that way. Until very recently China (due to their communism) have been very much on the outer. They're very secretive (eg, only telling people after the fact about launches etc, and not being allowed to discuss politics - to which they have signs up in China as warning) and I wonder how this would affect their "claim". It would make for very interesting times.

2003-Aug-12, 01:17 AM
A little late to this discussion, but there is an outer space treaty. It says that all exploration and use of the moon and other celestial bodies will be for the good of all mankind. Check it out at:


And what do you know? The signers are the evil USA and USSR and UK.

2003-Aug-13, 05:26 PM
If nobody owns space, then people won't really have a reason to head out there. Although it would be great for people to explore for exploration's sake, people mainly do things to enrich themselves. They came to North America to escape persecution and make a better life. Land was settled (or stolen) because the people believed they would own whereever they went.

If we're going to mine asteroids, the mining companies need to believe that they're allowed to do it. That it's okay for them to head into space, find an asteroid and mine it for minerals. If colonists are going to head to Mars, it's got to be "okay" for them to build their homes in the Martian desert.

2003-Sep-12, 05:02 AM
Well, pardon my barging in but I think that a point needs to be brought up.

The reason that there is not major space exploration, is because there is no profit to be had beyond earth orbit at the moment. At the moment, it is easier and cheaper to mine and produce metals and whatnot here on earth. The real thing holding us back from mass exploration of space. If they could make a profit it would be completely different. There would be barges moving back and forth between the earth and the asteroid mines every day, every hour maybe.

And, the reason that it is incredibly difficult to to turn a profit is because it costs about 200 dollars a pound to put something into orbit. That means it would cost about $41000 dollars to put me in orbit. That is something that is just really tough.

So, in my opinion a new technology needs to be developed before we can really begin developing space to the extent that we have industrial and residential installations.

2003-Sep-13, 12:24 AM
The only reason the United States reached the Moon in the 1960's was not because of scientific exploration, but because of the will to beat the Russians. What NASA accomplished between 1961 and 1969 is absolutely awe-inspiring.

There are no longer any political reasons to venture beyond the Earth's orbit, and that is the major problem with manned exploration today. The problem lies not within NASA, but within the US Government. It has never been about science and exploration, it has been about politics (at least from a manned spaceflight point of view). As I think somebody has already pointed out, competition is the best thing for the US Space programme. The technology is avaliable (for example) to get to Mars . . . what is lacking is the will to get there. Perhaps in part to the risk of Human life, but more likely because there is no one to beat!

I'd agree with the ISS being pointless and a waist of time, personally, I think it would better if (as someone has already suggested) a permnant international base was set up on the Moon. Also, a manned mission to a Near Earth Asteroid or comet would also be of interest. I understand a manned mission to Comet Halley is planned for the year 2061. Why should we wait for Halley, plenty of comets pass through our solar system and near the Earth.

2003-Sep-13, 01:15 AM
Before we can set up a permanant base on the moon, we need to further research bone-loss in 0-G. The ISS is very important. Not only that, but its standing proof that 16 countries can work together. The ISS will be key in many very important scientific experiments, such as effects of weightlessness, diseases, abosrbing calcium in 0-G, growing plants in space, or on a foreign celestial body, ect. Plus, NASA threw away the machines to build the Saturn-V the only rocket capable of taking us to the moon.

Dave Mitsky
2003-Sep-14, 04:03 PM
I agree with what Don has to say. The STS for the most part has been a disaster both figuratively and literally for manned space flight. The ISS will cost over 10 times its originally projected expense, will be detrimental to future robotic missions, and will be far less capable than most people realize (see http://www.spaceprojects.com/iss/ , http://www.house.gov/science/park_4-9.html , http://www.agiweb.org/agi/legis105/spacstat.html and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1723119.stm for instance).

The plan that planetary geologist Paul Spudis (see http://www.space.com/opinionscolumns/opini...dis_000320.html (http://www.space.com/opinionscolumns/opinions/spudis_000320.html) ), author of the excellent book _The Once and Future Moon_, proposes for a functional lunar colony in the June 2003 issue of Astronomy makes a lot of sense to me. At least it would give the ISS a valid reason for existing.

IMO,until we have a real and realizable goal for manned space exploration the billions spent in LEO will be largely wasted as aerospace industry corporate welfare.

Dave Mitsky

2003-Sep-15, 06:15 AM
Deep Eye,

The ISS project is a waste of time and resources in my opinion. It has already taken over a decade to get underway, this due to political differences etc. between the 16 countries concerned. What the ISS is supposed to accomplish, could have been accomplished with far smaller projects and over a much shorter period of time, for a lesser price (probably both Human life and money for that matter) . . .

That's my opinion on the matter anyway, some of you will disagree . . .

2003-Sep-16, 01:33 AM
I completely agree with Paul Spudis' approach. Shuffling things in and out of low-orbit is the best way to throw away billions of dollars without achieving a single thing. A permanent base on the Moon will be the foundation for a first real settlement where people will move without thinking about returning to Earth. The off-worlders are already here, they're just waiting for a ticket with less than 7 zeros and a place with the minimal living conditions to build their own society. The Moon is the only reasonable solution. Zero G will force any human, after some years, to live permanently in space while the transition from low to high gravity shouldn't pose as many problems. Given the fact that the Moon is just a couple light-seconds away, the new colonists would still be connected to the global community, maintain real-time link with their friends and families and enjoy all the benefits of the Internet and the entertainment industry. The technology is mostly here, the people are more than ready, the choice they make would be difficult but not irreversible... the only thing we need is to get rid of the ludicrous Outer Space Treaty (should we find something valuable up there, everybody would realize anyway that it's not worth the paper it's written on) and face the property/exploitation issue once and for all. That would surely give all world governments something to think about when they make their budgets. A quart of national pride, a quart of greed, a quart of fear of losing a place in a possible bonanza, mix it with special interests, generous donations from aerospace and mining consortiums, add just a touch of New Frontier rhetoric and... voilà, a new space race! Simple, isn't it?!

2005-Apr-09, 08:07 PM
I think we need a serious discussion about the future of the U.S. space program--specifically, the justification for spending billions to "explore" low-earth-orbit. I have nothing new or profound to add to this debate, other than to say that, as someone who remembers the 60's not as a decade of war and social upheaval, but rather as a time of exploration and optimism, I am greatly disappointed with the current Shuttle/ISS space edifice.

As commentator on another site pointed out, losing astronauts is not the problem--there will always be plenty of volunteers. What is in short supply is money and--for the foreseeable future--vehicles. There is also a distinct lack of leadership--everyone seems to be either a fan or a cheerleader; where is the "coach" who, in addition to a rousing speech in time of crisis (think Reagan post-Challanger), has the unique competence to guide a troubled program? Whoever is put in charge (I'm thinking of the last two NASA administrators) seems to get swallowed whole by the Shuttle program.

For starters, I think that we should kill the Space Station NOW. Buy off our partners, if necessary; cheer on the Chinese, Indians, French, whatever; and concentrate on unmanned missions, astronomical observatories, etc.

Surely someone out there violently disagrees with me--let's hear from you! And it seems that, for the past two years, nothing has yet changed...but it'll happen!

2005-Apr-09, 10:33 PM
Technologist Jerry Pournelle believes that NASA is the problem, not the solution. He believes that space can be opened up quite simply:

> The simplest way to engage private industry and the cheapest is to
> announce a series of prizes to be paid when things are accomplished.
> $5 billion for the first company that sends the same ship to circular
> orbit of at last 100 miles with 5,000 pounds of payload 12 times in 4
> months.
> $20 billion for the first company to put 31 Americans on the Moon and
> keep them all alive and well there for 3 years and a day.
> Nothing to be paid until the goals are accomplished.

2005-Apr-09, 11:08 PM
Technologist Jerry Pournelle believes that NASA is the problem, not the solution

:D :D That's good company. :D :D

31 Americans

Non-optimal gene pool.

BTW, your avatar strongly resembles my friend Michael Victor, as he appeared 25 years ago. Are you perhaps related? Steve

2005-Apr-10, 01:50 AM
Originally posted by wstevenbrown@Apr 9 2005, 11:08 PM
BTW, your avatar strongly resembles my friend Michael Victor, as he appeared 25 years ago. Are you perhaps related?
I don't think so. I've never heard of Michael Victor, and my name is Winchell Chung. Sorry.

John L
2005-Apr-10, 02:47 AM
Does my avatar resemble anyone you know? :P

2005-Apr-10, 03:07 AM

2005-Apr-10, 03:45 AM
Does my avatar resemble anyone you know?

Yes, JohnL. (With apologies in advance) My brother-in-law from Tasmania.

Winchell-- It's OK to be you, but I could wish to hear from Michael again-- he's good people, too. Best regards-- Steve