Friday, January 9, 2004

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A hard sell

So the Bush administration is planning on going back to the moon, and then to Mars. When this was floated as a trial balloon last month, I wrote the following:

Given the fact that the current administration is racking up domestic spending obligations faster than Britney Spears racks up magazine covers, there is the minor question of cost....

The economic [rationale] rests on the innovations that would result from such a program. However, there are other, more cost-effective ways to do this instead going to Mars -- hell, just doubling government funds for basic research would probably achieve greater gains at lower costs....

I'd like to see a mission to Mars. I'd just like to see a lot of other things happen first.

Reading the Washington Post's description of the decision-making process, I'm even less sanguine:

The sources said Bush aides also view the initiative as a huge jobs program, and one that will stimulate business in the many parts of the country where space and military contractors are located.

"This is a boon for business and a boon for Texas," one official said, referring to the state where Bush was governor and the location of the Johnson Space Center, which is the home of mission control and the nerve center for human space flight.

The decision was controversial within the White House, with some aides arguing that it would make more sense to focus immediately on Mars, since humans have already landed on the moon and a Mars mission would build cleanly on the success of Spirit, the U.S. rover that landed safely on Mars last weekend. Bush himself settled the divisions, according to the sources, working from options that had been narrowed down by his senior adviser, Karl Rove.

One presidential adviser, who asked not to be identified, said, after discussing the initiative with administration officials, that the idea is "crazy" and mocked it as the "mission to Pluto."

"It costs a lot of money and we don't have money," the official said. "This is destructive of any sort of budget restraint." The official added that the initiative makes any rhetoric by Bush about fiscal restraint "look like a feint."

The fact that Rove -- and not Andy Card -- presented the policy options makes my blood run cold. [You saying that good policies are irreconcilable with good politics?--ed. No -- I'm saying that this is not a fiscally sane policy and appears to be ginned up entirely for political purposes]

UPDATE: Rand Simberg has more (link via Instapundit).

ANOTHER UPDATE: Gregg Easterbrook makes an amusing point about cost:

Spirit, the rover that just landed there, weighs half a ton. Spirit cost $410 million to build and place on Mars--and it's about the size of a refrigerator, and does not come back. Mars-mission proponents want to send something to the Red Planet the size of an office building, and bring it back.


posted by Dan on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM




Comments:

Why are you surprised? John DiIulio said this years ago.

Policy = Politics with this administration. It can be good policy or bad policy, but it is only at the intersection of policy and political advantage that this administration acts.

But I also don't think it is 100% politics. I think they look for places they can coincide, but only look there.

posted by: bob mcmanus on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I can't remember the source, but somebody quoted Clinton as complaining during his administration that "they had all become Eisenhower Republicans."

Well, W and his group have all become "JFK democrats." And the thing to remember was that,while JFK handled his major foreign policy crisis well, he was not a particularly effective president. (It was Johnson who made sure all the Civil Rights and Medicare and food stamp laws got passed.)

Well, there is one exception to the JFK analogy. Can anyone imagine W saying: "Ask not what your country cand do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Blast, I wish I could find some way to believe that a vote for either Dean or Clark would be something other than an irresponsible act.

posted by: appalled moderate on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I say this without reading the other comments, yet... Your questions of cost are well taken.

Yet, while it makes a more impresive argument, numbers wise, the total cost isn't really the issue.

The real issue is the differential of costs between the newly stated goals, and the costs of keeping the 'international space station'running. Bush has proposed ending that particular farce.

There's also the issue of the shuttle fleet being 20 years old and in serous need of retirement. Do we really propose replacing those vehicles, or at even greater cost, keep them, so we can continue to study the sexual habits of rodents in zero gee for another 20 years?

Eliminating those two money pits will lend rather nicely to the more constructive effort of actual space exploration, and Bush apparenly is considering both of these measures.

posted by: Bithead on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



“Reading the Washington Post's description of the decision-making process, I'm even less sanguine...”

First of all, Dan Drezner should take anything printed in the Washington Post with a huge grain of salt. This may seem rash but I think that we will be able to handle the costs of going to the moon. Our economy is only going to get stronger. There are simply goals that must be pursued. John F. Kennedy was right to push legislation to fund the original space program---and George W. Bush is right to do likewise in 2004. I’m sure that back in 1960 some people were upset by the price tag: “What about the poor people? Don’t we have other matters to worry about?” Such folks will always find an excuse not to go into space. Nah, this is worth the investment.

posted by: David Thomson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I don't understand how many responsible people can just sail along, blase, about the finanical irresponsibility of this administration. OF course this is a political move. It's a particularly brilliant one at that. After all, this IS a Kennedyesque move, and "optimistic" - so if the Democratic candidate blasts this, it looks as if the guy is a sourpuss and "negative" - which of course validates the OTHER Rove spin, that the Democrats are negative.

Of course, this is all monumentally cynical - and monumentally irresponsible - consider the recent IMF announcements.

posted by: JC on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I just found this article by Charles Krauthammer only moments after my last post (Gosh, we great minds think alike!):

“The cost of the Mars Polar Lander was $165 million. In an $8 trillion economy, that is a laughable sum. "Waterworld" cost more. The new Bellagio hotel in Vegas could buy eight Polar Landers with $80 million left over for a bit of gambling. To put it in terms of competing space outlays, $165 million is less than half the cost of a shuttle launch. For the price of a single shuttle mission (launch, flight time, landing, and overhead) we could have sent two Mars Polar Landers and gotten $70 million back in change.

Planetary exploration is so hamstrung financially that the Polar Lander--which NASA last week officially declared dead--sent no telemetry during its final descent onto the planet. That was to save money. We'll never know what went wrong. Adding a black box, something to send simple signals to tell us what happened, would have cost $5 million. Five million! That doesn't buy one minute of air time on the Super Bowl.”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/204pkfxj.asp?pg=2

posted by: David Thomson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



If they dropped the new drug entitlements it might be affordable, but thats not going to happen because Bush needs that to get reelected come November. This whole space exploration announcement is probably intended to make him look 'optimistic' and 'forward-thinking' before the election.

Maybe he actually does want to see more genuine space exploration, but he's not going to give up the entitlements and benefits that the voting public want in order to make it happen.

Bithead - If the international space station gets shut down, what will they do with it, just leave it in orbit? Or would they disassemble it so that it wont break up and fall to earth?

posted by: sam on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



David - Krauthammer's talking about costs relative to the overall size of the USA economy when he should be talking about the costs relative to the Federal budget.

That $165 million dollars for the Polar Lander, is that the cost of building the lander itself? Or does it include the cost of launching it, ground crews, mission staff etc?

posted by: sam on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



The economic [rationale] rests on the innovations that would result from such a program. However, there are other, more cost-effective ways to do this instead going to Mars -- hell, just doubling government funds for basic research would probably achieve greater gains at lower costs.

There's another point to going to space that seems not to be mentioned often. That is simply to exploit space as an end in itself. There are a lot of resources out there, and it's a great dumping ground for things like nuclear waste.

Of course, exploiting space in this manner is a very long-term goal, and funding near-term manned missions is probably not the most cost-effective route to that long-term goal. At this stage of the game, we are probably better off just funding undirected basic research in areas such as proteomics, nanotechnology, fusion energy, etc.

posted by: Anon on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



“If they dropped the new drug entitlements it might be affordable, but thats not going to happen because Bush needs that to get reelected come November. “

Wow, does this mean that you most certainly will not be voting for the Democrat Presidential candidate in 2004? I truly find these attacks on Bush’s spending proposals hysterically funny. Does any sane person believe that the Democrats would spend less on drug entitlements and other welfare programs?

posted by: David Thomson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



The issue here is not the absolute cost of the program, which is not going to be a great sum relative to the rest of our economy. It is not even the relative return (which maybe huge). But the issue is how many other committments we have and our government's inability to choose to generate enough revenues to pay for these committments.

Would proposing a mission to Mars and the Moon sound as good politically to Karl Rove if the next sentence read, "and to pay for it we are going to..." There are many ways to end that sentence, including "cut funds for education and health services", "eliminate tax breaks to corporations", or even "raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans". None of which are appealing to Karl Rove's poltical calculations. And I don't blame him, but that is why the country needs to be run by someone concerned with something other than the political future of his boss.

I am likely to be voting for whoever the Democrats put against Bush because I think that person is more likely to at least tell us how we are going to pay for our committments, rather than just leaving it to the next President and the next generation (which will probably during my peak earning years).

posted by: Rich on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Probably an irrelevant question, but as a small point of order, Why are we going back to the Moon?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



"Probably an irrelevant question, but as a small point of order, Why are we going back to the Moon?"

Can't let them commies take over space can we?

posted by: j Swift on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



“I am likely to be voting for whoever the Democrats put against Bush because I think that person is more likely to at least tell us how we are going to pay for our committments...”

Are you auditioning to be a stand up comic? The Democrats of 2004 don’t have any interest in cutting government spending. It’s laughable that anyone tries to pretend otherwise. Are you truly interested in encouraging America’s economic vitality? If so, you must firmly oppose all protectionist measures. This is the key issue for our era. Even President Bush has occasionally given in to the protectionists. The Democrats are far worse and now for all practical purposes completely committed to hindering the brutal, but necessary efforts, of the gods of creative destruction. The heck with this nonsense concerning balancing the budget. This is a secondary concern. The real crisis is the threat of protectionism.

posted by: David Thomson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



David, is there any depth you wont sink to blindly defend this Administration? Lets look at hard numbers and compare the last Democratic Administration with this one:

Bush, Non-Defense Discretionary Spending = 28% increase

Clinton, Non Defense Discretionary Spending = .7% DECREASE

Bush, Total Spending = 22% increase

Clinton, Total Spending = 3.5%

So you can live in a fantasy world and keep regurgitating the "liberal tax and spend" meme or look at recent history. With Republicans controlling both the legislative and executive branches, Republicans have far outspent Democrats on non-defense programs--and these numbers do not even include the new Medicare. A little bit of intellectual honesty would be welcome from you.

posted by: vee on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



For those who think this is just a pr thing and has no chance of really passing, I would remind you that

A) Rumsfeld is famous for thinking about space militarization, and was open about discussing it in the months before 9/11

B) Although the pork and jobs would go everywhere, one of Nasa's representatives in Congress, from Houston, is Tom DeLay.

posted by: bob mcmanus on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



David:

I do not believe you can ignore the fiscal damage caused by the odd coupling of Reganesque tax-cuts, and Nixonesque spending habits that is this administration's fiscal policy. Would the democrats be worse? Probably worse on spending, somewhat mitigated by sounder tax policies in the long run. But, it's hardly a good thing that the GOP -- once a party that believed in at least trying to control spending -- now logrolls and dispenses pork in a way that should make Teddy Kennedy and Bobby Byrd proud. It begins to look like W doesn't really care how big or bloated government gets, or how bad the deficit gets. You really should be concerned about this,because someday we all get to pay for all this,either through taxes or inflation.

Does this get ME voting for the Democrats? No. I agree with you that their protectionism and foreign policy would be a worse disaster than the current incumbent's mess. But does it get me thinking favorably of Hillary in 2008? I am afraid (actually, very afraid) that it does.

posted by: appalled moderate on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



David,

Again, the deficit is not nonsense. I urge you to read the latest by Robert Rubin, and the latest statement by the IMF. A long-term deficit has real, unfavorable effects on economic growth -as well as the real possibility of crisis (which can be easily avoided). It isn't "nonsense" being concerned with balancing the budget. This LACK of concern by the Republicans is perhaps why over the last 30 years, Democratic administratons have been so much more responsible in this regard. Ths is irrefutable fact.

posted by: JC on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



“David, is there any depth you wont sink to blindly defend this Administration? Lets look at hard numbers and compare the last Democratic Administration with this one...”

“I urge you to read the latest by Robert Rubin...”

Why are you talking about the last Democrat administration? That’s so five minutes ago. The Bill Clinton of 1992 wouldn’t stand a chance in 2004. Robert Rubin and he are perceived as Bush Lite! Who in hell do you think they are talking about when some Democrats are accused of being mealy mouth Republicans?

“I do not believe you can ignore the fiscal damage caused by the odd coupling of Reganesque tax-cuts, and Nixonesque spending habits that is this administration's fiscal policy.”

I actually agree with you. The Bush administration is indeed guilty of vote bribing---and deserves to be severely criticized. I’m still appalled, for instance, by the bribe he gave the farmers. Still, THIS IS A SECONDARY ISSUE! Our main focus must be on the threat of protectionism This is so much more critical than balancing the budget. This is the central question: Will we allow our economy to create---and destroy jobs---as deemed necessary by the gods of creative destruction?

posted by: David Thomson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



i thought he had already been there.....

posted by: jason on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



DT,

As someone who practices science (published papers), and has been a long-time fan of the space-program warts and all ... let me say this Mars program as conceived is a terrible idea. I thought so when the idea was floated under Clinton as well for the record so this isn't an anti-Bush thing.

A manned space program is inevitably much more expensive and dangerous than a probe by at least a factor of 10. Putting a satellite into space or a probe into the solar system is trivial compared to the challenges of a manned mission. In addition, Mars is allot further out. It could easily take a year, maybe years, depending on how they do it just to get there. Then there's coming back.

Plus there are the risks. Anyone remember Challenger? This is much harder than a shuttle launch. What we're talking about is a quantum leap in technology. To safely go to Mars with humans onboard would require a shift comparable to going from a WWII experimental jet to the Shuttle. Yes this is a noble idea, but if we do it quick we risk a 50-50 failure rate. That's the failure rate for unmanned probes sent to Mars. And that's just unmanned probes which are much less complicated, costly, and vulenable than a manned mission. If we take a long time to do it right, costs balloon - we're talking about a generational project here. Something for the grand-kids to ooo... and ahhh... over.

Right now, it is at best unrealistic as concoted.

posted by: Oldman on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



"This LACK of concern by the Republicans is perhaps why over the last 30 years, Democratic administratons have been so much more responsible in this regard. Ths is irrefutable fact."

Only if you limit the Democratic administrations to those with a Republican controlled Congress.:)

If the Mars mission brings cancellation of the Space Station and shuttle, it would pay for itself handsomely. They will never (as a practical calculation) get a mannned Mars mission put together. If they spend the next 25 years doing unmanned preliminary missions, we will eventually figure out that men are not necessary. The principle reason for manned space flight is public interest and always has been. The moon mission was different because it was possible and the time was doable. That proved we could do it. I would say that another century will pass before men visit another planet. By that time robotics will be so good that they will be passengers.

posted by: Mike K on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Follow on comments:

Sam:

"Bithead - If the international space station gets shut down, what will they do with it, just leave it in orbit? Or would they disassemble it so that it wont break up and fall to earth? "

TBD, though one possible solution is to simply have it break orbit, I suppose. Not sure what would be involved, not having researched that point.

David:
"Wow, does this mean that you most certainly will not be voting for the Democrat Presidential candidate in 2004? I truly find these attacks on Bush’s spending proposals hysterically funny. Does any sane person believe that the Democrats would spend less on drug entitlements and other welfare programs? "

Yeah, no kidding.

And come to think on it, now, I don't recall many Democrats being too concerned with JFK's wanting to go to the moon, do you? Look at the benefits we got from that.

What we've learned from the last number of years is a rather simple lesson... exploration of space only nets us benefits here on earth when we're actually doing discovery work. Benefits of the space platform are limited. We only REALLY benefit when we're pushing the limits of our exploraiton ability. The dramatic gains had by our exploration, diminished, as our goals became less dramatic.

Oldman points out his fear that this is a quantum leap in technology. Well, so, too, was our leap to the moon. And it was that technological leap that got us the returns. And the risks? Weren't the risks just as high, or higher? Should we should ahve let such fears rule the day back in the 60's, when the moon was set as a goal?

posted by: Bithead on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Don't you people realize what am important step this is for Bush's science team?

They only discovered global warming last year, and now they are already to go to Mars.

When the Dems discovered global warming, they were still focused on putting satellites in space.

This clearly indicates that Bush now understands science and is embracing it. Good for him. I can only hope that after the year 2020, he'll have time to discover evolution.

posted by: NonPundit on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Bithead,

What returns did we get from the Apollo program? The question of course is whether or not we could have gotten better returns had we just invested that money directly into basic research.

posted by: Anon on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Where would we be without Tang and velcro?

On a more serious note, Oldman has a point, how many probes have we lost in the last five years on unmanned missions to mars? A bunch. Maybe we should get chucking big peices of metal right before we put people inside them.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Dear Bithead,

I am in physics and have been a long-time pro-space-program supporter - waste and warts and all. However, you clearly have no idea of the technical challenges involved. Current technology means a manned space journey to Mars would be the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with the astronaut's lives.

As for not fearing the challenge, I celebrate the manned mission to the moon as much as anyone. However, it should be remembered that we went there and then we stopped coming back. The unheralded story why was that mission analysts realized that several close calls meant that continuing a manned moon mission would mean unacceptable rates of catastrophic failure.

In other words, we got lucky.

As much as a successful mission to mars would be celebrated, a failed one would be seen as a serious setback to the credibility of space-expansion. Think of the post-Challenger and post-Columbia questions. Doing it with even the degree of saftey afforded the shuttles would mean decades of R&D - as going to the moon required in its day. Doing it now would be an un-warrented and unacceptable mission risk. No credible and objective scientist that I know of would agree to oversee such a project, though no doubt they'll dig up somebody to roll the dice.

You clearly have no idea how far Mars is away or how dangerous space can be.

posted by: Oldman on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Mars is a distraction.

The Moon is the true goal.

posted by: MattJ on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Mars is/should not be the goal, in and of itself - the explotation of resources should.

I think it's safe to assume that there is probably a planets worth of minerals available there.

But Oldamn is correct here, way to over-reaching for starters.

Safe human transit to given locations always being a good start to endeavors - regardless of destination. The moon , then, is the obvious next step. Let's get a lunar colony right, for say, 20 consecutive years before we start worrying about Mars and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, keep sending the probes. Honda. for instance, can offer NASDA it's ASIMO.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Product Improvement:

Mars is/should not be the goal, in and of itself - the explotation of resources should.

I think it's safe to assume that there is probably a planets worth of minerals available there.

But 'Oldman'(and others) are correct here: way too over-reaching for starters.

Safe human transit to given locations always being a good start to endeavors - regardless of destination. The moon , then, is the obvious next step. Let's get a lunar colony right, for say, 20 consecutive years before we start worrying about Mars and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, keep sending the probes. Honda, for instance, can offer NASDA it's ASIMO.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Everybody relax. I am not thrilled by the administration's spending policies, but I am a lot less concerned by them than are those Democrats who never worried about the deficit until the 2000 election, at which point they all took the plege and joined the green eyeshade party.

I agree that sending men in the direction of Mars is beyond our current technology and would be the equivalent of torturing them to death on national television. Furthermore I also agree that our space travel resources should be used for robotic exploration of the planets.

But I am not worried. Why? because the whole project is not even to the preliminary engineering phase yet. That will take years. Needing money for the project will be a good excuse to de-orbit the ISS (the abandoned shopping mall in the sky) and shut-down/replace the Shuttle.

Given the amount of time needed to do the first bit of planning for this project:

"I could die, the dog could die, the tsar could die or the dog could learn how to talk."

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Jeez. I can think of various reasons you might want to cancel medicare or the drug program or what-have-you. But cancelling health care in favor of setting up a Moon Base or a Mars mission? I thought Republicans were in favor of efficient allocation of resources. Maybe y'all have been reading to much Robert Heinlein. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel...

posted by: p mac on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



This is free PR for the Bush Administration--nothing more. Are they honest about the desire to do this? Possibly. Can they? No. Others have mentioned the technical obstacles. Beyond the leap in reliability that would be necessary to convey a spaceship with a living human safely to the Martian surface, such a ship would have to then be capable of taking off and achieving escape velocity (Mars has approximately one-third of Earth's gravity, and more than twice that of the Moon) and covering the entire intervening distance again.

To suppose that such a thing could be accomplished during the Bush Administration is preposterous, even if they get re-elected to another four years. At best we could hope for a program which lays out some of the fundamental advances that will lead us into the next decade. This is a sexy-sounding proclamation that costs Bush nothing. It will not be funded. It will amount to nothing.

A truly progressive vision would be for Bush to call for aggressive development of a new Space Shuttle--a much simpler, safer and more streamlined design to accomplish the straightforward tasks of ferrying human beings and materials to and from the surface of the Earth. The 20-year old Shuttles are among the most complex machines ever created, because they were expected to be able to do anything and everything--they are the vehicular equivalent of those Swiss Army Knives you see which weigh a pound and half and have everything except a fold-out Tricorder.

This would be a foundation upon which to build every following space effort.

posted by: Catsy on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



appalled moderate: just what level of incompetence will it take for you to agree that a vote for Clark or Dean would not be irresponsible? Seriously. What would it take?

posted by: masaccio on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Gads, folks, wouldn't an informed opinion be more useful?

Cost: NASA's total budget right now is only $15 billion. The total Federal budget is about @ trillion. That about 0.75 percent of the federal budget; doubling it would be a rounding error. So let's not panic about "how expensive" it is. (Cf. $22 billion for Iraq reconstruction -- and doubling NASA's budget is rather more than Bush is really talking about.)

Cost benefit: we're talking about perhaps as much as $15 billion a year; the return is two whole worlds. If the long-term aspects of the investment bother you (why? It's proportionally less than the government investment in the railroads in the 19th century, and much the same time scale) then consider just the commercial launch market right now. Loral is doing about $1 billion a year in revenues on satellites and satellite services, and it's not like satellites have stopped going up. We're talking about making an investment that would reduce launch costs -- necessarily; we've got to get much cheaper, better heavy lift for any of this to work -- that's only fifteen times the current net revenues from one such company.

(Yes, yes, this isn't a complete cost-benefit study or anything like it; I'm pointing out that we're talking about relatively small change in the current budget and perfectly reasonable commercial scales of investment.)

Risks: Yes, people could die. People will die. Not to be callous, but so what? We lost more people in one helicopter crash in Iraq than have died in the history of space flight. It's a shame. It's a bummer. But somehow we're managing to cope.

Why not robots? The Shuttle program actually demonstrated this neatly not many years ago. The Shuttle was up to do repairs on a satellite and they were unable to grab it with the manipulator arm. The astronauts finally dealt with the problem by ... reaching over and grabbing it. Humans are the universal tool: we can do things that no one thought of needing. If we'd had a human on Mars in 1976, the question of whether there is life there would have been solved. As it was, we sent Viking, and brilliant as it was, the three life-detection experiments netted out to "Gee, we don't really know." The easy answer to the results was "yes"; the results weren't enough, though, and it was possible to interpret them as a "no". With people on site, you can say "hey, let's try this."

Finally, though, the real reason to go is because that's what people do. The way we are treating the Solar System now is like mailing an Instamatic to cousin Francoise and claiming we'd "seen Paris" when the pictures come back.

posted by: Charlie on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



MattJ- I'm with you. Almost. This is a distraction. So is The Moon.
Must be something on the plate that's a little offensive. Like that stinking cabbage. Or is it that over-cooked broccoli? No doubt about it, we need some relief here. And so what's for dessert? Mars bars please...

posted by: calmo on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]




What amazes me is this:

With two wars, unknown thousands of rounds of ordnance, and an expensive, "doesn't actually have to work" missile defense program, you'd think the aerospace people would have received enough pork from Bush.

Guess not.

There's good old Republican fiscal responsibility for ya.

posted by: Jon H on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Sorry, charlie, but the reason to view the President's vision with skepticism is precisely that a large increase in the NASA budget would be in addition to many other large spending increases. The difference between this idea and some of Bush's other bold visions (e.g. No Child Left Behind) is that there is no other source of funding than the federal government for space exploration; you can't fake it by passing the costs of your vision on to other levels of government.

As far as political impact is concerned, we're not talking about anything major here. The public isn't going to get excited about a vague plan to put a few people on Mars within 20 years, and it's hard to see what changes in the NASA budget could be made this year that would generate much enthusiasm even among potential beneficiaries of space programs spending. No, a more important reason for Bush making this proposal at this time is that where terrorism and tax cuts are not involved he does not have that much else to say.

posted by: Zathras on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



The real question remains: Who gets the Mars reconstruction contracts?

posted by: Scott Forbes on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



What did we gain by the Apollo program?
We learned more about technology... and not just space traveling technology, than we had in any other venture in history. Consider computer technology. Has it occurred to you that if not for the space progam and it's need for computing power, our computer technology would not be at nearly the level it is today?

A partial list of the benefits of it can be seen at http://www.ethicalatheist.com/docs/benefits_of_space_program.html

All because we pressed for what seemed a fools errand... going to the moon, which we knew contained no life, and had no practical purpose for many years.

posted by: Bithead on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



This idea is all politics. It's not meant to make sense, but it will do two things: 1) it's meant to attract some on-the-fence voters. There are plenty of older Americans who remember Apollo fondly, and plenty of Americans who don't know/care that people on Mars is WAY out there and sending people back to the moon is an other-worldly waste; there's a certain percentage of people who just like the idea. And the smarter people know Bush is full of it. 2) It raises the bar, or at least tries to. There is no risk to Bush here cause there is no way, not matter what happens, that this project fails within the next 10 years. It's like the CEO who announces huge new initiatives, reaps huge paydays and retires before anyone knows how things pan out.

In the end, I think Bush is incredibly smart but depressingly cynical for doing this. The net gain is assured, the sale is likely to be made -- but I'm quesy about what he's promising. And this is one more of those things where you h ave to decide is he REALLY proposing this or is he merely proposing this so some people THINK he's really proposing this. It's Nixonian, but Bush is executing much, much better.

Oh yeah -- please no one response with the "if you think Democrats will do better you're an idiot" post. I am not saying that, not at all. I am leery of Bush. But I am not yet even considering any Democratic contenders.

posted by: MikeB on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Zithras, the problem is that your reasoning can be applied to any spending increase, or in fact any spending whatsoever -- anything that's spent is in addition to all the other spending. In this context, I have to admit I'm not one of those people who panics about the deficit, as I've seen a bigger deficit (in terms of proportion of GDP) go away unexpectedly in the course of a few years; in fact, I've seen a deficit appear and disappear twice in my lifetime so far. But in this case, I think a good case could be made that the overall effect on the economy, and on tax receipts, has been net positive -- the growth of the economy as a side effect of the NASA expenditures has been great enough that the net revenue has exceeded the expenditures. If so, the we ought to be throwing as much money at NASA as we can manage.

Now, as to implementation that's something else. I'm not at all convinced NASA as constituted can do real exploration, because I'm not sure that it can escape from its gold-plated past. I'd like to see something done like tax credits or competitive grants for more cost-effective spacelift, so that the reward structure is better oriented to cheap spacelift. (As it stands, the Way to Success in NASA, as any government organizatin, is to be as cost-inefficient as you can get away with, because that makes your budget bigger, which makes you more important.)

posted by: Charlie on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Sending people to Mars is neither outside the reach of current technology nor outside the reach of our budget. It's outside our current political will, that's all, and that includes the will to tell NASA to follow a plan that doesn't get them all sorts of juicy R&D money for blue-sky programs.

Dr. Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan puts total program costs within Bill Gates' reach. The problem is that it doesn't fit into business as usual at NASA, which claims they need hundreds of billions of dollars and many years of research into fanciful new propulsion technologies to get anywhere. They can't fathom that it's actually possible to send people to Mars quickly and for an extended period of time with Apollo-era technology, much less for a few tens of billions of dollars over the program's lifetime.

Anyone debating mission costs must first research Mars Direct to be properly well-informed.

posted by: Chris Hanson on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Chris, if that's the plan, then what's the deal with the idea of getting to Mars via a permanent Moon Base?

posted by: p mac on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



The deficit did not magically disappear the last time around. It went away because the economy grew at an incredible pace, and Bush Senior and Clinton made sure that the government took a piece of that growth by passing some tax increases. If anyone thinks that Bush version 2.0 is going to increase taxes than I have a bridge to sell you (version 3.0, post re-election might, I have no idea what the political calculus will be in that administration).

Of course the deficit could also be decreased by spending cuts, and while I think that is marginally more likely to happen in a Republican than Democratic adminstration I don't see it as too likely in either case.

What I find most interesting about the space program is that it seems to create a legacy for a President. When people talk about going to the moon they always give the credit to JFK, even though it was two Presidents later that we actually reached the moon. With all the mis-adventures and national emergencies during Bush's administration is there a chance this is just his attempt to form some kind of legacy? I wouldn't be surprised.

posted by: Rich on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I am hearing a number of contradictory things regards this space initiative.

There is talk of what amounts to a small manned orbiting laboratory for the moon, perhaps a permanent lunar ground base and a manned mission to Mars.

The funding choices I am hearing about speak to a gutting of the Science, aviation and all other non-shuttle space station budgets, plus all non-station shuttle operations. This would create a $3 billion funding wedge that would also have a plus up from a general five percent a year.

The main purpose for this $3 billion funding wedge seems to be for the purchase of Delta IV and improved Atlas rockets (discount anything you hear involving the Ariane 5) and do R&D/production of new manned vehicles and other infrastructure to go on top of them.

Given the increased capabilities of the American “expendable launch vehicle-heavy,” a human space capsule and cargo/equipment container rendezvous approach could do a useful manned program to the Moon and Mars. Salvo launching 12 or so of these vehicles at the “few weeks every 26 month” Mars launch window, using a Zubrin style live off the land architecture might work. It also looks like NASA’s “space station life boat” is evolving into an Apollo style command module that will replace the Shuttle.

There are also plans mooted of abandoning both the Shuttle and station by 2013 with the Shuttle fleet itself going out of service some time between 2008 and 2013. They are real fuzzy on when the Shuttle is going to be shut down.

The general politics of this look to be as follows:

Blue state NASA centers (and perhaps Glenn in Ohio) are going to get a military style Base closing and realignment commission “transformation.” NASA centers and NASA launcher contractors in Alabama, Colorado and Texas are going to get that realignment freed money.

The Shuttle will keep flying, because it employees 10,000 Red-State Floridians, until the next Shuttle disaster. Then the Shuttle Fleet will cease flying and the surviving Shuttles will be sent to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The new capsule for the Moon/Mars program will save the NASA manned space flight mission when the Shuttle

I expect we will see a manned Lunar fly by using a Delta IV or Atlas delivered space vehicle before Bush leaves office. NASA will execute that well and speedily because it’s organizational survival depends on it.

We are also going to see a lot of concrete poured in Florida for more Delta IV and Atlas launch pads so NASA and its contractors can pull off this salvo launching concept.

These additional launch pads and launcher purchases will also pave the way for placing any orbital missile defenses the American military plans.

posted by: Trent Telenko on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



It's the timing of this thing that gets me. It just seems shallow and reaching. Sure the Mars lander is a great story for us space geeks, but trying to piggyback on it's momentum with rather hollow initiative rhetoric just comes across as disingenous. I think we have more than enough "direction" at the moment. Given budget constraints what we are really missing is the nuts and bolts planning and funding for someting specific. Less salesmanship please.

posted by: Waffle on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



I would like to point out that a recent Popular Science article made the point that, in the short term, (unmanned) asteroid exploration and mining would be easier and more profitable.

posted by: David V on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Many of the comments here which are critical of a future manned mission to Mars fail to note that what is proposed is a long series of research, development and prototype projects. Any actual mission sending humans to Mars is at least a decade and probably 2 decades in the future. But to get there, or any other interesting place in space, will require a fair amount of engineering refinement and space experience we lack right now.

The space station is, so far as I can tell, a classic case of the lowest common denominator. It cannot serve the need for a working prototype environment. A base on the moon can.

I would not be so quick as some here are to discount the economic, technical and social benefits of such a program. Remember: Silicon Valley and all that it launched for the world began when Stanford's electrical engineering department was led by a senior ex-MIT professor who also worked for DOD's MIT Lincoln Labs. DOD and the space program together developed many of the core technologies we use every day, from the Internet and UNIX (which had its roots in the MULTICS project funded by DARPA) to integrated circuit chips to cell phones (spread spectrum radio transmission, originated for military use because it's harder to jam).

The result was 20 years or so of spinoff technical jobs for baby boomers such as myself, at good wages and in some cases with equity positions in resulting companies. Many of those technologies have become commodities and the related services are less technically demanding, which is one reason that many 'technical' white collar jobs are being outsourced to places like India.

It's probably time for the cycle to begin again. But breakthrough technologies seldom spring up from nowhere - they are usually developed as a result of sustained work on big challenges. I can think of at least 4 or 5 major areas of technology that need such a breakthrough and which would be central to a push to Mars. That's one major reason I support this idea, although as always the devil is in the details.

Robin Burk
Author, UNIX Unleashed (eds 2, 3), TCP/IP Blueprints etc.

posted by: rkb on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Dear RKB,

If this is an economic modernization effort about creating a new economy, there really is going to be additional funding, and there's the commitment to see it through then I'm all for it. However most of the doubts about doing this center around whether or not Bush is being disingenious about his proclaimed intentions. Hmmm... where might we have gotten that notion from one wonders?

posted by: Oldman on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



You guys are so naive. We need a 600 ship space fleet to fight the chingers.

posted by: Bill on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Dear Bill,

LOL. What a hoot. Actually, Easterbrook underestimates the numbers. While I may be a NASA fan, since when were they known for coming in under budget AND doing it right? $600 billion is the low-end estimate since we haven't factored in waste and ineptness yet. So we're talking about a trillion dollar spending program, which even as a space-exploration advocate I can't really support with ALLOT more convincing. Even spread over 20 years ... we got allot of things coming down on the fiscal calender before them and we can't outgrow all of them no matter how low we knock down taxes... ;-)

posted by: Oldman on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



NASA has been a bureaucracy for a long time. But the program I'm hearing about seems to envision 30 years of smaller efforts to prototype and polish various technologies, along the way. Many of those will be done by high tech startups and university spinoffs, which is where the engine of invention tends to be when there is a defined or emerging market.

Yes, NASA and the big 2 or 3 aerospace primes will probably end up with the final deployments, unless new primes emerge as a result of commercializing some breakthrough. That's what created Intel, of course, and it's not entirely impossible we'll see similar companies emerge for space. But even if we don't, I know from personal experience it is possible for a small co. to push the technical envelope and then have Rockwell, Lockheed Martin etc. adopt those technologies into the overall solution.

Don't assume this will be a one-size-fits-all program like the shuttle was.

And, don't forget the potential defense applications as well. Some of what I know about NASA's bureaucracy is the result of conversations with my spouse, who was Ops director for the first classified DOD payload to be launched via the Shuttle. USAF wasn't overwhelmed by NASA's approach to some things. This time around, there will be other constituencies who might offer alternatives.

I plan to put my energy into working to encourage that. The best way to co-opt NASA is to create facts on the ground/in space that become the path of least resistance for them. Right now I'm planning to start a much-postponed PhD, with research into certain software techniques that might prove useful on long voyages, as well as in other application domains entirely (including Wall Street ).

posted by: rkb on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Masaccio:

Actually, one of the things it would take for me to consider a vote for Dean or Clark is a demonstration that they are not EQUALLY OR MORE incompetent. On spending issues, it seems that Dean wants to spend MORE. (His tax stance, at least, is fairly rational.) On foreign policy, Dean seems to have Bush's talent for speaking first and asking questions about it later. It all begs the question -- from the competence standpoint -- how is Dean better?

Clark, if anything, is worse. He generalizes everything from his Kosovo/Serbia experience. (Read his speeches.)He thinks he can promise absolute security from the Osama's of the world. And honestly -- do you really believe a guy who led a small but successful war who is from the same state, scholarship program, and strategic inclination as our former president is competent in the arts of government, if he manages to get early retired from his job?

So, the question for me Masaccio, is not really about Bush's failings, but the failings of his likely opposition.

(If Gephardt gets in, it might be a different set of facts. Gephardt's life-long devotion to protectionism, however, may be a deal breaker for me.)

posted by: appalled moderate on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



Trent Telenko :
>(Bush's Lunar/Martian mission investments)
>will also pave the way for placing any orbital
>missile defenses the American military plans.

I would suspect the SDI project is the real point, and the Moon/Mars stuff is window-dressing. Getting lots of launch capacity is vital to sat-phones, better GPS, the "Teledesic" style "internet-in-the-ksy" and a host of other applications with immediate military utility and mid-term civil/Wall Street payoff. But McGraw, Gates, Motorola/Microsoft etc have not -- yet -- been persuaded that the year-to-year revenue streams are there. Too, if the main thrust over the next decade was purely DoD, there would be a perception that it would be chopped when times got tight or the security levels back down to "green". But with a longer-term committment to Mars, a lot of the intermediate steps -- Atlas launch pads and what not -- taken toward that goal disguise the on-going effort to keep the U.S. alone and supreme in LEO, cis-lunar space, and, for the next few decades at least, beyond.

posted by: Pouncer on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]



$600 billion to $1 trillion--Is spending that kind of money irresponsible? It depends on what you are spending it on. I mean, sure, there might be some spin-off technologies and some astrobiology, but at the end ofthe day, all you reall have is a flag planting ceremony.

But say the goal spending that same money on, say, building a constellation of solar power satellites. We would almost certainly get a similar magnitude of benefits from spin-off technology, and at the end of the day we'd have a new, non-polluting energy source.

Yeah, at current launch and technology prices, solar power satellites are still not cost competitive with fossil fuels. But a Mars landing certainly isn't cost competitive with a robotic sample-return mission, or robotic rovers, or just about anything you can think of. If you are spending the money anyway, why not get something useful out of it?

posted by: jlw on 01.09.04 at 11:03 AM [permalink]






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