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Space 1999 (+16)

Argh. Okay, Bush Jr.'s space exploration plan is an issue I'm torn on.

On the one hand, the Science Fiction fan part of me reallllly likes the idea of NASA getting back into manned space missions to the moon and Mars.

On the other hand, this is mighty expensive, considering that we're already $500 Billion in the hole for last year, and likely the same for the near future. Our success rate getting probes (much less people) to Mars is... err... marginal. This feels like an Apollo 13 waiting to happen, without the happy ending.

Countering those arguments, though, is that the increase in deficit to fund this, is admittedly only about 0.5%, and just because something is dangerous doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

I just look at NASA's handling of the shuttle disasters, though, and see an agency that gets paralyzed when anything goes wrong involving manned missions. Sadly, people do sometimes die when they are exploring a new frontier. That shouldn't stop the exploration.

Sometimes I wonder if it'd be more time and cost effective if the government just put up a $10 Billion award for the first establishment of a long-term Mars base by a private company. The cost could be amortized over a number of years, even, as it's not a quick thing to do.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 14th, 2004 07:59 pm (UTC)
Space-based resources.
Corporation missions to the moon.. yay, it's a ball of unremarkable dust. Maybe a patent or two could be made, nothing major. Mars, on the other hand, could have some nifty resources. If say, precious metals or commodity was found there, companies would be more apt to go there if just to exploit it.

Unfortunately, this isn't anywhere close to cost-effective. The moon is actually better to launch from (no atmosphere, so you can use mass drivers), but even then the only place you could cost-effectively deliver resources to is near-earth space. For earth-bound consumers, it's cheaper to move stuff around on the surface of the earth than to do orbital bombardment and scrape up the resulting ore.

Mars can only effectively deliver to consumers on Mars.

Towing a near-earth orbit asteroid into a stationkeeping orbit would bring lots and lots of metal ore or water or hydrocarbons (depending on asteroid type) into near-earth space, but that's only cost-effective if your market _needs_ several billion tonnes of ore, in space.

In short, you have expensive startup costs to serve a market that doesn't exist. If space resources were near-term useful, we'd have been after them 40 years ago.

[ObDisclaimer - I think space and space mining are _cool_, and hope they're explored. I just don't think there's any economic incentive to do so.]

Jan. 14th, 2004 08:03 pm (UTC)
I think the fastest, most effective way to colonize space would be to put it in the hands of the private sector and take it out of government.

Or give the government a reason to do so. There's no question of public _or_ private sectors having the ability - it's an incentive problem.

Having Bush whip up patriotism and then get into a space-race pissing contest with China could be just the kick in the pants the public sector space program needs.

I've seen enough private-sector mismanagement to be skeptical of it being intrinsically better suited to driving space exploration than the public sector - especially as there's little to no direct payoff for doing so. Both public and private sectors have an operational window within which they work well, and both tend to stagnate and grow wasteful once self-perpetuation becomes the dominant motivation.
Jan. 15th, 2004 07:37 am (UTC)
Actually, I think the thing that's made NASA so ineffective in terms of money management is that they haven't had anyone set any specific goals for them since the moon missions. People who have no idea what to do when they show up to their jobs are listless, grow bored, lack the creativity they'd otherwise evince if prodded, and are generally non-productive.

People who have been given a charter and a challenge, on the other hand, are creative, productive and can do remarkable things with little money. Having a purpose handed down from on high is a Big Deal. You see it even in Corporate.
Jan. 28th, 2004 05:04 pm (UTC)
NASA becomes paralyzed because the first thing that happens when there is a loss of life (or even an unmanned probe) is Congress gets together two committees, one for each house, and proceeds to beat NASA over the head with rhetoric designed to appeal to the masses who, for some reason, fail to understand the inherent danger of strapping yourself to about 3.5 million pounds of fuel and oxidizer.

Regarding the cost of the proposed missions over the next five years, I attended a very interesting lecture by a historian from the National Air & Space Museum. He pointed out that, as a percentage of GDP, NASA and its predecessor NACA both have historically received about 0.5% of the GDP. The current funding level is about 0.25% of the GDP. So, just to bring the budget up to historical levels, NASA's budget would need to be doubled from $15B to $20B. In that perspective, adding $200M per year is nothing. Also, if you notice, the funding increases are 5% per year for four consecutive years and then 1%, a value that represents a decrease in real dollars in year five of Mr. Bush's proposal.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )