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NASA executive quits weeks after appointment to lead 2024 moon landing plan (reuters.com)
176 points by Rooster61 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 243 comments

We have so much of so good off-the-shelf technology, that technically the only thing seriously missing is the lunar lander. Practically all components today are better or significantly better than in 1960-s - engines, materials, control systems, electrical power, spacesuits, radios.

However, the crucial difference is the risk tolerance, and here we have much higher requirements than we had, and that is what adds months and years to development and billions to costs. Some lunar lander could be created in time - we have variety of technologies, and people working on similar things. But to have it reliable so we'd be happy to send humans to the surface in 5 years - that requires a crash program with significant budget right now.

Commercial lunar landers are fully part of the lunar exploration / habitation plan. I sincerely doubt NASA will be building a custom lander any time soon. What may get funded is novel rover types or instrument payloads on the commercial space taxi industry (which everyone I know is quite enthusiastic about, by the way). The vast majority of space launch, lift, transport, etc tech is mostly commercially made, ranging from pure COTS to custom-built. The emerging space-lift / space-logistics industry may make NASA missions significantly more cost effective.

What today is better than the Saturn V? That thing could put something like 3x the mass into lunar orbit than the Falcon Heavy.

Saturn V flew about twice a year. I think it's easier today to get Falcon Heavy to fly 6 times a year, matching total payload, or to fly even more frequently. We have about 20 launches of Falcon 9, with 20+ tons payload each, which totals to 400+ tons annual - which is more than Saturn V carried per year.

Yeah this. There are two things that work in our favor, one is that Falcon Heavy can (in theory) launch more quickly. And second, the mass needed to achieve a similar capability is greatly reduced due to materials technology.

The only missing piece is that it would be nice to use cryogenic fuels but these outgas over time so long duration is not a thing. Solving the on-orbit refueling puzzle would make this sort of endeavor pretty straight forward from a planning standpoint.

That requires orbital construction. Also that imposes very severe constraints on size and shape of those pieces. This is not technology that we have demonstrated in a meaningful way.

For example the stage of the Apollo mission that took it from Earth orbit to a trajectory that would intercept the Moon was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-IVB, which nearly twice the maximum payload of the Falcon Heavy. Do you really want to trust this step to a rocket that has to be assembled and fueled in space?

That's not for lack of trying by those of us in the space robotics community...

There's a chicken and egg problem at work here. The robotics technology to do orbital construction exists, and in fact has existed for a couple of decades now. Nobody wants to fly it because the older technology - which amounts to “spend lots of money to fit your payload in a single rocket fairing” - has worked so far. The James Web Space Telescope will have a 6.5 meter primary optic. It will require something like 70 separate deployments in order to deploy the primary optic and the sunshield.

At some point, custom designing hundreds of deployment mechanisms for every single mission becomes both more expensive and higher risk than just flying a damned robot arm. As does “just build a bigger rocket”.

FYI, robotic refueling on orbit has been demonstrated a couple of times (Orbital Express and RRM).

> That requires orbital construction.

Do you know how many times two objects were successfully docked in space? And how many times they did that automatically?

> Also that imposes very severe constraints on size and shape of those pieces.

Objection to "very severe". You can have your standard fairing size full, with diameter about 5 meters and length of 15 meters or so. That's quite comparable to 6.6 meters diameter of Saturn-V payloads, is more than LEM without legs. What shape constraints you have in mind?

> This is not technology that we have demonstrated in a meaningful way.

We didn't demonstrate orbital docking technology?

> nearly twice the maximum payload of the Falcon Heavy.

But it was launched with one rocket altogether. Nobody prevents us from launching the booster stage separately and dock it with spacecraft on LEO. More, nobody prevents us from sending analog of Apollo spacecraft and LEM to the moon separately - with their own booster each. Those variants were considered in 1960-s and rejected purely on the basis of time to develop the technology - something which we have today well developed.

> Do you really want to trust this step to a rocket that has to be assembled and fueled in space?

Let me remind you that Gemini and Atlas-Agena stage docked and changed orbits in mid-1960-s, confirming that it at least can be done with then-current technology. Today ISS has a history of pushes by Shuttle, of refuels with Progress and ATV ships and I'm not sure what prevents using similar - though not identical - approach with translunar injections.

The component that I laid out is larger in both diameter and length than the standard fairing size you list.

You are right that it would be possible to send the Apollo spacecraft and LEM to the Moon separately, to join there, but the Apollo spacecraft is 2/3 of that mass. The rocket to do the Apollo spacecraft by itself exceeds the specs that we can launch on Falcon Heavy.

It would be more doable to build a multi-stage rocket in space and fire that. So one launch for Apollo+LEM, 2 launches for 2 booster stages. Put the three together and off you go. Of course this requires designing a new rocket, designed to be carried into space, to dock robotically, and then launch. Which is doable. But also isn't current tech.

If we're going to build a new rocket ANYWAYS for this mission, I think it makes more sense to cross fingers and wait for SpaceX's SuperHeavy + Starship configuration.

Update: While looking for current news on that, I found that SpaceX building SuperHeavy rockets in two locations. And I found that, today, they reported raising a billion dollars in funding for their development efforts. Which I submitted as a news article because I think that it is of interest separately from the NASA discussion.

We're in the area of discussion known to some as "Lego bricks for return to the Moon". Some discussions - with pictures :) - are here - http://novosti-kosmonavtiki.ru/forum/forum9/topic1499/ .

I agree that we don't have some components to take "off the shelf" - lunar module being the primary example. But "to put a payload on a rocket which never flew on this rocket" is not the "not current tech" - and since we have docking components, including robotic docking, existing elsewhere, I would argue that it won't require any significant time (like 5 years) to get ready.

The point is that we don't need to build rockets to go to the Moon - we have them already. We currently don't have lunar module - and we'll need to create that. Also we didn't do some specific integration of existing technologies - space boosters, docking etc. - but making that is way easier than making a new rocket.

> The component that I laid out is larger in both diameter and length than the standard fairing size you list.

It's not necessary to re-create 3rd stage of Saturn-V to fly to the Moon. Today there are better ways - using the existing launchers.

”Put the three together and off you go.”

…if all goes well. If you have to pause countdown of a rocket to check some part, it is “less ideal” if that rocket is in space.

Also, if you have to cancel countdown to try again at a later date, how do you get unstable fuel such as liquid oxygen out? Venting it may seem easy, but it changes the rocket’s trajectory. Even more problematic: how do you get new fuel in, so that you can retry a launch?

> Do you really want to trust this step to a rocket that has to be assembled and fueled in space?

Yes. Isn’t that the next logical step to developing space—the ability to build structures in orbit?

That aside I wouldn’t object to building a Saturn V either.

> Yes. Isn’t that the next logical step to developing space—the ability to build structures in orbit?

I think you're totally right about this. If we want to really get going on living in space or even just doing certain manufacturing processes in space, it seems like we're going to need to start building real structures in orbit rather than fitting everything into a launch or two.

My guess is that, if it doesn't happen now, we'll start doing construction in orbit if/when we start mining the Moon or asteroids. Not having to haul equipment up Earth's gravity well and producing fuel in situ seems like it will allow small launches on reusable "tugs" to become the most efficient means of getting things into space.

Would you still need as heavy a lunar interceptor as the S-IVB? The Wikipedia page for it indicates that the S-IVB's engine was burned twice, once for the final push to achieve LEO and one for translunar injection. It was done this way so that the S-IB and S-V could share a common interface to the command & lunar modues for LEO flight tests. The Falcon Heavy goes straight to LEO; presumably you'd build a custom launch vehicle for TLI and landing and not need the portion of the S-IVB's propellant used to get to LEO.

BFR will launch (at least suborbital flights) later this year (if things go to schedule...). It's orbital variant will have about twice the liftoff thrust of the Saturn V.

Through NASA's Lunar CATALYST program [1] there are three companies contracted for lunar lander dev: Astrobotic, Masten, and Moon Express [2].

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/lunarcatalyst

[2] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-extends-agreements-to-adva...

Don't miss the $45.5 million awarded to 11 companies last week for prototype work under the NextSTEP program:


The difference is that NASA has devolved into a pork operation where most of its money is bound up in hopeless projects protected by important congress members. Smart mission driven planning is impossible.

Its not risk tolerance, its managment.

What about Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander?

I'm really unsure about what to think of Blue Origin in general. They've been around for a good long while now, and all they seem to be doing is making big promises about New Glenn and living in orbit while only showing little tidbits of progress on small scale projects.

Bezos has a good track record of making things work, so I'd bet that he'll get there in the end.

Good point, although I do wonder what will happen to them if SpaceX gets Starship working before they can get New Glenn flying/reusable/cheap... would Bezos just keep pouring money in?

That's a paper project specifically created to get funding from NASA.

NASA requested $1.4B in increase

for comparison, Military budget increased from $586B in 2015 to $713B in 2019

NASA got a 1.6 billion USD increase. Around the same time it was announced that Wellington City (the third largest city in New Zealand, also the capital) had been given the equivalent of 4.5 billion USD for a revamped public transportation system. As far as public spending goes the two couldn't be more different. Yet it really did put into perspective the futility of NASA's situation, at least for me.

Or they just asked for (and presumably will get) an additional $15 B of subsidies for farmers to compensate for the trade war. Nothing against farmers, but if it is so easy to do that, why not fund NASA a bit?

To be fair, the banks got over 400+ billion in TARP money plus over 4 Trillion in newly printed Fed Reserve dollars to buy literally "toxic assets," synthetic mortgage-backed securities, and government debt purchased off their books to shore them up after they negligently destroyed themselves(1). Fundamental, necessary banking services which they are subsidized to perform are not rocket science, either. This was subsidizing risk-taking. This transfer of wealth to Wall St is by far the most egregious heist in the history of humanity.


You cant compare money created by the Fed to money spent by the government. Thats just a surefire way to musunderstand everything. Tax payers to not have to pay interest on that money.

You are right about tarp however, that was idiotic and totally unneeded.

I am not sure that is true in terms of monetary policy. When the Fed "creates" money, is it really that different then the government "creating" money by selling bonds? That is, if you assume the government backs the Fed which most people do. Certainly the Fed creating money adds to the ratio of debt to GDP, and raises interest rates on government debt. But I am no expert so correct me.

Well TARP was needed but there should have been systems in place to prevent it being needed (not allowing firms to grow to "too big to fail")

The firms have been big enough to control who is appointed to supervise (and bail out, when necessary) them for a long time. Nothing that happened in 2007-10 was going to change that. All the promises were bullshit, because that's all they possibly could have been.

Money doesn't get its value from the Fed. It gets its value from what economists call real goods and services. If nobody was willing to exchange their work product for our money, it would be virtually worthless. So when the Fed electronically debits and credits their account with newly created money and a new purchase of a toxic asset, they're necessarily stealing someone else's (everyone else's, really) work product, in real terms.

You should really actually learn how monetary economics work. Its 100% incorrect to claim that every newly created $ is stealing somebodies work.

Lol I have formal training in this subject.

Is English a language you rarely use?

Yeah I am not against the farmers or the banks. I'd just like to see some love for space exploration.

This reminds me that scarcity is the central problem of economice, but in modern politics people seem to pretend it doesn't exist.

It was the refutation to end all refutations that the reason we don't do $IMPORTANT_THING is "we can't afford it". Almost any utopian goal you can imagine is achievable with that budget. Switch the entire power infrastructure to solar? Easy. Food, houses for everyone? Petty cash. University education for all? Well within the budget.

Essentially, it amounts to socialism for huge corporations, but not for little humans. "Too big to fail" for them - "too poor to survive" for us.

You're wrong on two fronts.

First, you're ignoring the basic difference between expenditure and investment. When the government spends a dollar on healthcare, that may be an "investment" in an abstract sense, but the government is not directly getting that money back. In budgetary terms, it's expenditure.

That is not true for the financial bailouts. There, the government didn't just spend money, it got assets in return. With respect to TARP, the government got most of that $400 billion back. It made a nominal profit, and adjusted for inflation maybe you can book it as a $24 billion loss: https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/01/overselling-tarp-myth....

With respect to quantitative easing, what you're referring to is the Fed's SOMA operations. The Fed bought $3.5 trillion in assets (securities and treasuries--i.e. the right to be repaid money in the future). It is getting that money back as those assets mature. Right now, the Fed has about a $67 billion unrealized loss on those assets: https://seekingalpha.com/article/4225750-deterioration-fed-b.... That means the fair market value of the assets is $67 billion less than the Fed's purchase price.

So the actual cost of those programs is the $24 billion and $67 billion losses, not the $400 billion and $4 trillion it cost to purchase those assets. To put those numbers into perspective, the government has a portfolio of $1.5 trillion in student loans. Losses on that portfolio will cost the government $180 billion over the next decade: https://www.forbes.com/sites/prestoncooper2/2017/08/04/why-g....

Second, you dramatically underestimate the cost of those social welfare programs. If we scaled up our welfare system to Swedish levels, that would cost an additional $2.2 trillion more per year.[2] That is five times the upfront cost of TARP ($400 billion), and 100 times the actual cost of TARP ($24 billion). Welfare is expensive. Even if universal healthcare reduces our healthcare spending to German or French levels, we're talking 10-12% of GDP, or $2.3 trillion: https://data.oecd.org/healthres/health-spending.htm. Unlike the financial bailouts, that's (1) money you have to spend every year, not just once-in-a-generation; and (2) money you're not getting back.

Put it another way. Together, all levels of government already spend about $7.4 trillion per year. $400 billion--what the government spent on a once-in-a-generation bailout, was just 6% of what it spends every year. $24 billion--the actual long-term cost of TARP, is just 0.3% of government's yearly expenditures.

[1] Real-world example. Say in 2008 my parents house was worth $500k. The housing market collapses, and suddenly my parents need to sell their house. If they put it on the market, it would go at fire sale, say $200k. I bail them out, buying it for $450k. What was my cost of bailing them out? It wasn't $450k. It was $450k minus whatever I can ultimately sell the asset for. Say the market never recovers and I sell the house for $400k, 20% below the peak. The "bail out" cost me $50k, not $450k.

[2] Swedish government spending is 49% of GDP, versus 38% of GDP in the U.S. https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-spending.htm. That 11% of GDP difference amounts to about $2.2 trillion.

>It is getting that money back as those assets mature.

The Fed printed trillions in new money and pumped it into asset classes, mainly the housing market, through a middleman--Wall St.

Even if you ignore everything wrong there and just say "they eventually got some of their money back" like you did, it still matters that they printed (ie effectively stole in real terms) 4 trillion dollars that they didn't own.

If you or I went out and printed US currency and bought securities with them--we'd go to jail. They wouldn't care that we made money on our investments.

Most of the profits from QE appear to have gone to Wall St (1), whom made 650M from it.

If the Fed is going to print trillions, at least buy healthcare or space exploration with it. Stop this circle jerk nonsense with Wall St.


> Even if you ignore everything wrong there and just say "they eventually got some of their money back" like you did, it still matters that they printed (ie effectively stole in real terms) 4 trillion dollars that they didn't own.

Printing money might be bad policy, but how is it stealing? The U.S. has the sovereign (and Constitutional) right to create money. (Also, the Fed's job is literally to create money to meet economic targets. SOMA was unprecedented not because the government "printed money" but because it bought an asset class it previously did not buy--securities.)

> If the Fed is going to print trillions, at least buy healthcare or space exploration with it. Stop this circle jerk nonsense with Wall St.

This is again ignoring the fundamental difference between printing money for consumption, and printing money to buy assets. If the fed prints money to buy healthcare or space exploration, it doesn't get that money back. If it prints money to buy assets, it gets almost all of that money back.

This is not an esoteric or meaningless distinction. The federal government originated $1.4 trillion in student loans since 2009. Would you call that a $1.4-trillion "free college" program? Of course not. People have to pay the money back, and the government will get most of their money back. The actual cost will be about $180 billion. By contrast, the government had spent that $1.4 trillion on healthcare or space exploration, it would have actually cost $1.4 trillion.

You can argue about the merits of bailing out Wall Street. But what you can't argue about is what it actually cost the government about $100 billion, not $4 trillion.

Seems to me like it depends on what happens to the money after it comes back, if indeed it does so. If the government "un-prints" the money, destroying it, then indeed it was merely a loan from everyone that holds dollars, and not outright theft. But if that money goes back into some kind of general fund, then it doesn't matter what happened in between.

Also, I wouldn't say it's clear that healthcare or space exploration aren't assets, even in the strict financial sense you mean. What's the expected taxable value of a citizen? If you invest less than that on keeping them alive, then their life is an appreciating financial asset. Similar logic applies to space programs, if the space capacity you fail to build out ends up being something you buy from another country (as in the case of US astronauts riding to the ISS on Soyuz). And of course this is the shallowest of analyses - there are substantial additional hidden (financial) costs to letting your citizens die, or being dependent on foreign powers for space infrastructure.

The thing I find puzzling, and possibly telling, is that conventional wisdom tells us inflation ought to have spiked after the 2008 bailout. Instead it plummeted, indeed briefly became deflation. This tells us that money became very scarce. Why, after so much money was printed and handed out? Because it all went to the banks, and they essentially pocketed it and didn't lend it out. So what exactly was the purpose of doing that?

>The U.S. has the sovereign (and Constitutional) right to create money.

The right is actually with congress to have the power to do this. The Fed doesn't have any constitutional authority to do this.

Money gets its value from real goods and services. So when someone prints new money it steals that value from those who created it. The Fed likes to claim they create value, but they are just money changers.

If that's the case, Congress could simply have voted to prevent Treasury or the Fed from doing it. By not doing so, it consented.

Would you say that about every othe injustice, instance of cronyism, unconstitutionality or civil rights breach?

I would say that about most instances in which people claim an administration has overstepped in its use of authority delegated to it by Congress. The people you should be mad at in these situations is Congress.

Brilliant as you are Rayiner, I can't help noticing a certain Panglossian trend in your exegeses.

>First, you're ignoring the basic difference between expenditure and investment. When the government spends a dollar on healthcare, that may be an "investment" in an abstract sense, but the government is not directly getting that money back. In budgetary terms, it's expenditure

What does healthcare do for people of working age? It allows us to work more and more effectively, to make more money and either consume fewer subsides or to pay more taxes.

Good healthcare means more and more effective workers.

The government cannot book the projected increased tax revenues from a healthier populace as an asset that offsets the money it paid to provide healthcare. The government can book a mortgage-backed security it purchased as an asset that offsets the purchase price of the asset.

Now, I think that universal healthcare certainly provides benefits that make it worthwhile, just as the bailout provided financial stability benefits that made it worthwhile. But those things are in the benefits column. I'm talking about how much an accountant would say that a government program cost.

> The government cannot book the projected increased tax revenues from a healthier populace as an asset that offsets the money it paid to provide healthcare.

From an MMT perspective, the government (any one using it's own fiat currency) creates and destroys money rather than spending and receiving it, even if it pretends otherwise in an outdated effort to ape a commodity-/representational-money system.

So, viewed that way, it really has no need for such an asset.

> Now, it is true that money spent on universal healthcare isn't being lit on fire--the government and the people gain some benefit from it. But that's in the benefit column, not the cost column.

In the cost column is a reduction in private healthcare costs exceeding the I crease in public expenditures, as shown in every analysis (including ones from hostile sources), so if the government raised taxes so as to leave private taxpayers in the same position as they would be in with status quo policy, net government outflow would be reduced without any adverse impact on taxpayers.

> From an MMT perspective, the government (any one using it's own fiat currency) creates and destroys money rather than spending and receiving it, even if it pretends otherwise in an outdated effort to ape a commodity-/representational-money system.

Even under that view, you can still see a difference. Spending $1 trillion in healthcare requires the government to create $1 trillion permanently. Spending it to purchase mortgage backed securities that are eventually sold or mature requires creating that $1 trillion only temporarily (while the asset is held).

So, I mostly agree on the costs of the '08 bailout, there's a lot of cases where problems of too much leverage become easy to solve if you have enough reserves, and my understanding was that the fundamental problem of '08 was too much leverage causing a downward spiral where everyone was forced to sell into that spiral. The private sector solution would have been to let that spiral go down much, much further before recovery; that would have caused a lot more pain and misery (and if we compare to past panics, probably wouldn't have made the resulting economy that much healthier) - The government is in a unique position because it credibly has infinite reserves and therefore can set a price floor (I mean, houses fundamentally have real value. People can live in them. but leverage can force the private sector to dramatically undervalue those real assets due to a lack of liquidity.)

Buffett's investment during the time were an example of what the private sector can do (and my opinion, as a shareholder of brk.b, who is otherwise not a finance expert, is that the man wasn't nearly greedy enough when others were fearful, but even berkshire doesn't have unlimited reserves.)

I think the big mistake of '08 was 'bailout with insufficient regulation' - if the government does need to do a bailout, that bailout should come with rules to prevent that sort of thing from happening again, and I think that there wasn't enough of that rule making after the '08 crisis.

I was just making a more general statement about the role of government in response to what I thought you were implying by pointing out the differences between how an investment in a failing company (that then doesn't fail because of your money) is accounted for differently than an investment in another person's health or education, even if the latter may net more.

In general I think the government should mostly stick with things that the private sector can't do well. The private sector is really bad at investing in things like healthcare and education for the poor that make people go from being net consumers to net producers. Government should largely focus on the things that government can do effectively but that the private sector can't do effectively. Usually this means providing services to the indigent and providing regulation (not direct ownership) of markets. But there are obviously exceptions, and I agree that '08 was one of those, it was a market failure that was big enough that the private sector couldn't really handle it, and I think direct interference was a net positive, even if I think the government could have done a much better job of it.

TARP didn't cost anything. From Wikipedia[0]:

"On December 19, 2014, the U.S. Treasury sold its remaining holdings of Ally Financial, essentially ending the program. TARP recovered funds totalling $441.7 billion from $426.4 billion invested, earning a $15.3 billion profit or an annualized rate of return of 0.6% and perhaps a loss when adjusted for inflation"

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troubled_Asset_Relief_Program

The tremendous moral hazard generated by risk-proofing the FIRE industry's bad practices w/r/t fraud-laden risk measures, CDOs, and CDSs caused orders of magnitude greater losses to ordinary Americans than the one time $15.3B windfall to the treasury. Better that the govt had cut $40K checks to every taxpayer than saved the banks' shareholders.

You're not wrong, but all of that is a moral or unquantifiable point.

And it doesn't change the fact that TARP didn't cost any real money.

Why is TARP the only program we judge with ROI?

Investment into NASA or infrastructure or education also has a return on investment, but anytime TARP is mentioned in comparison someone will bring up its ROI.

I know the answer is that the ROI for TARP is so much easier to quantify, but I still want to make the distinction that it's not unique for a government program.

> Why is TARP the only program we judge with ROI?

Seriously. The ROI of solving the homeless and mental health crisis to the point where most of them can get back to work and become tax paying citizens is probably pretty good too.

There's not a lot of evidence that homelessness and mental health welfare will generate net positive tax revenue. Ever met someone on anti-psychotics? They go through the rest of their life barely able to grasp new concepts with a drug specifically designed to mute that part of their brain, alongside the side effects on their relatively short-lived organs being poisoned by the same drug cocktail.

> Ever met someone on anti-psychotics?

Yes, I meet very many people who take a variety of anti-psychotic meds.

> They go through the rest of their life barely able to grasp new concepts with a drug specifically designed to mute that part of their brain,

This describes a few of them, but not most of them.

Those needing anti-psychotics are a small subset of the population I mentioned.

I guess when you pump 4 trillion dollars and a federal guarantee of "we wont let these assets fail" into "toxic assets" then they become worth something.

> TARP didn't cost anything

This assumes zero value of having the Treasury backstop a business. There is always a cost associated with making an investment (which TARP was). In a sense, the entire discipline of pricing risk is based on calculating this cost.

Whether or not the chosen risk eventually paid off is a different question than the whether the risk had a cost to begin with.

* - I was a proponent of TARP as one of the better risks on the table.

and perhaps a loss when adjusted for inflation... I've seen some spectacularly detailed comments on this from other hn users, specifically in regards to the inequity of QE. If anyone more knowledgeable could comment, I would appreciate it.

They made back money, but less than they would have if they had just parked it in regular bonds. It's not an absolute loss of moneyt--it's a loss relative to what they would have done if they hadn't invested in TARP.

If TARP was such a great deal why did the government have to do it? Why didn't private investors jump in and support the banks?

If highways are such a great deal, why does the government have to fund them?

If national defense is such a great deal, why does the government have to fund it?

If FDIC insurance is such a great deal, why does the government have to fund it?

Why does the government have to do anything? Why don't private investors jump in and do everything?

The answer is: because there are certain things that are only a great deal if they are done by everyone all at once. Left to individual players, sometimes the incentives align like running from a bear--I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun one other person.

This is why we have government at all. Humanity was not handed a government, we invented it to solve problems that could not solved by piecemeal individual action.

And for TARP, a reminder that it came after Lehman failed and money markets broke the buck. The first House vote on TARP failed. It was adopted at the last minute, only as it became clear that it was necessary.

I accept that national defense is not a profit center, neither are highways. But they are good for everybody so it's ok that the taxpayer pays for them. The same may be true for TARP but I don't like to hear that TARP made profit because it didn't. Since 2008 we had huge deficits, banks got a backstop for free, the fed had to take on a lot of assets it normally should't have to, interest rates are very low. These all have a price.

TARP was not a benign thing but instead we should make sure this never happens again.

Highways are absolutely a profit center. The Fed spends ~$50 billion/year on highways and gets ~20% of the entire productivity of the nation in return. ($4 trillion on $20 trillion GDP)

If the entire highway system increases GDP at least $250 billion (1.25% of GDP) then highways are profitable.

There do exist a lot of private roads. If govt did not build them for free, there would obviously be a lot more of them.

But the government didn’t build them for free. We collectively paid to build them, and now they more than pay for themselves. Roads are arguably the greatest investment the American taxpayer has ever made.

Building pubic-use roads without government planning, permitting, and eminent domain is frankly not going to scale, aside from the nightmare of how all the different owners of these roads would go about rent-seeking.

"National defense" is such a poor example that it throws everything you've said into doubt. It is not a great deal to spend more than every other nation on earth combined, just to murder lots of people in other parts of the world. Those murders are of negative value to decent Americans.

I'm talking about government spending on national defense in general, not the current U.S. budget specifically.

The rest of us are talking about USA spending during the time that NASA has existed.

America should reduce corn subsidies. Corn works its way into the American food ecosystem in many ways to the detriment of the Americans' health. It is highly inflammatory by itself and it is processed into compounds which also modulate inflammation in other ways. See high fructose corn syrup and its inflammatory pathways. Processed corn products are a multi pronged attack on Americans' health. End corn subsidies.

I'm not aware of anything specific to HFCS and inflammation that doesn't apply to any other fructose source. It's cheap sugar. Sugar is bad for you.

I think that's the point. By ending corn subsidies, we'd raise the price of sugar.

Sugar prices in the states are double what everyone else on Earth pays due to perverse protectionism funded by the taxpayer. So many of my American friends never believe this either but it's true. Same with corn which is very much related.


Marginally, yeah. But spinning that as "corn is toxic" is a bit much. Corn is perfectly fine as a food and a feed.

[citation needed]

Not that I dispute what you say, but I don't buy it hook-line-and-sinker.

Not to mention befouling our fuel supply with engine-destroying and (energy-equivalent) expensive ethanol.

Maybe NASA should just ask for farm subsidies to grow corn on the moon?

Or, could they get Lockheed-Martin to build a moon-based F-35?

I, for one, support this goal of awesome space jets. Wake me when I can play Starlord.

I wonder if there were a viable commercial motive if NASA would suddenly get a ton of funding. For example, let's say platinum was discovered on the moon in large quantities.. would the money suddenly appear?

The price would collapse from excessive supply before the mining costs could be recouped.

Though there are companies seriously considering mining asteroids, they're supposedly cheaper than the Moon because they have no appreciable gravity.

Mining asteroids will be crucial for space economy, but there's little point in shipping mined resources downwell. What makes sense is to move manufacturing of space-related hardware and possibly of things benefiting from fabrication in microgravity up there, and then use asteroids and the Moon as resource base for building things in space, and mostly for space.

No. Even if it were pure platinum that required no refinement it would still be more expensive to return it to earth than to mine and refine earth platinum.

Sounds like a Cave Johnson initiative.

If you only consider the near future, food and food security is more important than space.

If you consider long-term, we should be pouring everything we have into figuring out space colonization and travel, but I also just want to live in The Culture already, so I'm biased.

If you consider mid-term we should pour everything into de-carbonizing the economy.

Not to be pessimistic but all signs are pointing towards the world economy expanding emissions and fossil fuel usage.

It sometimes annoys me I was born too early to live in a possible culture like society.

Then I realise I'm happy to have been born at all, getting to appreciate the universe for 39 years (next Thursday) was a good deal.

being a newly born atheist/agnostic (ex-mormon), I have to say I never felt as spiritual and in 'awe' of the galaxy as I do post-belief-in-god, as I see it life is a miracle, to be able to be here, in this time of technology, to have a family that I adore two little babies that make me feel lucky every day.

To experience daily beautiful music like Queen, it's truly amazing what we have and if it is all random how much more beautiful is it that this all came from chaos? Maybe our chaos that is politics/divisions might work itself out into something more beautiful as we lift ourselves up and move into the universe. It's inevitable that life on earth will end someday, entropy and all. I'm hoping mankind doesn't. I'm hoping we figure out how to get past the great filter if we haven't already. I sure as hell hope we get past climate change, as that could be the filter and it's ever looming, even on my own children's heads.

The Culture would be an awesome place to live. Banks demonstrated that utopian visions needn't all be disguised dystopias, didn't he? Happy birthday.

Let me be the lone voice of dissent fervently hoping that mankind (at least in any form I can envision us) does not leave our solar system.

Why do we need to "colonize space?" Show me mankind living peacefully and within its means on our enormous rock, and then I'll get excited about us spreading elsewhere.

Until then, I get the uneasy feeling that what we really want to do is shit our own bed, and instead of cleaning it up, simply spread out and start shitting in other beds.


Jeebus, I'm cranky!

Space colonization does not allow us to shit our beds. Lifting things off Earth is too expensive to move our whole civilization. On the other hand, successful colonization of hostile environments like space or other planets requires great improvements in sustainability. Space ships and domed cities are too small to fuck around with the ecosystem for hundreds of years before you kill yourself.

You could assume the pessimistic vision in which we never start "living peacefully and within its means" (and barring large-scale changes in our biological makeup and/or totalitarian governments you can't imagine, it seems likely simply from game-theoretical considerations). But even in that pessimistic vision, we should colonize space. Why? Because in that vision, we're going to shit our bed anyway, and there's a whole universe of wooden planks and feathers waiting to be turned into more beds.

Seriously, it's not like there's some intrinsic worth in all these rocks spinning around fusion reactors. To the best that we can tell, there aren't any other sapient beings around who could claim we're infringing on their sense of beauty. It's just us, the only ones possessing the spark of giving meaning to things, and a lot of dead rocks waiting to be used.

Personally, I don't think we'll stop fighting and doing stupid things, but I feel it's entirely possible that - assuming we survive the next few decades as a technological civilization - we will fix up this planet. And space habitation could be very helpful in this in multiple ways - beamed energy, geoengineering, moving some kinds of manufacturing to orbit, experience in managing ecosystems gained on running closed-loop habitats, etc.

Manifest Destiny, 20xx Edition.

Nah. It's the belief that we shouldn't venture out because we're not perfect that's kind of Inverted Manifest Destiny - the belief that universe is divine and we need to be worthy to partake in it.

I'm with you. I'm not convinced it will happen because we can't get our shit together on Earth. We're screwing this planet up, and I'm not convinced we'll ever even have the opportunity to screw up another one before some sort of massive extinction-level event of our species.

That being said, read The Night's Dawn trilogy. The undercurrent of those books is that we settled many planets specifically due to social/racial differences that we couldn't settle on Earth, but that aren't such a problem in space. It's an interesting take on the whole mess.

I'm with you on that's probably how it'll happen, but IF we're the only intelligent life in the galaxy, I also don't want to see the miracle that it is intelligence snuffed out, I have HOPE that as we evolve, equality will rise, if we become space faring maybe scientists will become the leaders as well, and will lead by intelligence and not greed and deception. After we get to a post-scarcity society -- assuming nobody 'wants' for anything and the ai robots do most of the menial tasks I like to think that all our great grandchildren will be scientists and the only thing left for mankind to do is research and explore.

Edit/to add: Maybe we'll be star trek and NOT firefly/star wars?

I'd love to be a Special Circumstances member aboard one of the Interesting Times Gang Ships. They always find the fund problems.

They could fund nasa at DOD levels and not risk hyper inflation nor any other ills. They could probably be coaxed into helping employ more rural communities too. (Ref: modern monetary theory)

The subsidies are entirely a political decision in an attempt to soften the pain of the tariffs. The farmers would much rather be selling their crops than accepting handouts.

Because farm subsidies are a very subtle form of vote buying but launching space ships isn't as effective in garnering votes.

Think of it as an elaberate system of bribes payed to interest groups in order to buy votes.

Because NASA hasn’t produced anything useful in decades?

Because NASA has had no funding to do so? Even still that's probably not true. I don't have the sources in front of me, but I know most of modern climate monitoring is done with recent NASA innovation.

Wrong. NASA funding now is high as it was during avg. appollo years.

NASA now does more different things but in terms of human spaceflight they have basically totally mismanaged it for 60 years.

> Wrong. NASA funding now is high as it was during avg. appollo years.

That's not a true statement, unless you're talking about non-adjusted nominal dollars (that while technically true, is somewhat misleading). In inflation adjusted terms, the current budget is less than half of what it was during the Apollo years. Expressed as a percent of the federal budget, current funding is 1/8th of what it was at its max, though that's largely a function of the growth of non-discretionary federal spending.


> NASA funding now as high as it was during avg. appollo [sic] years.

Well that’s easy to fact check... so how do you figure? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

NASA's budget peaked in 1964–66, when it consumed roughly 4% of federal spending. The agency was building up to the first Moon landing; the Apollo program involved more than 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 employees of industrial and university contractors.[18]

In March 1966, NASA officials told Congress that the 1959–72 "run-out cost" of the Apollo program would be an estimated $22.718 billion. The total cost turned out to be between $20 and $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (about $136 billion in 2007 dollars).[19]

The costs of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rockets came to about $83 billion in 2005 dollars. Apollo spacecraft cost $28 billion, including the command and service module, $17 billion; lunar module, $11 billion; and launch vehicles (Saturn I, Saturn IB, Saturn V cost about $46 billion in 2005 dollars).[20]

Where do you get your weather forecasts from, sheep entrails?

If NASA produces nothing else, it can still fund parking spaces for the highly skilled individuals that cannot afford to self-fund their skills upkeep during the long interval between the megaprojects that may require expertise from their niche.

An economy that lives paycheck-to-paycheck will eventually lose the skills that it does not pay for every two weeks.

Also, if you need to educate 1000 people to hire the best 100, those other 900 still need decent jobs, otherwise students may choose to be educated into skills with better payoffs.

Inspiration? I found the Space Shuttle to be pretty inspiring.

For the current military budget we could probably build O'Neill cylinders in Lunar orbit and start a terraforming project on Mars.

(Of course don't get me started about what we could do on Earth for this money.)

We are just very clever tool using animals, not yet a truly intelligent species. I don't think we'll truly be "intelligent" until our intelligence is able to overcome both our evolutionary legacy and game theoretic effects that emerge in our economies and societies. A true intelligence would be the master of these things. We are slaves to them.

If we had the technology to build O'Neill cylinders, I can't imagine why we'd want to bother terraforming Mars. Mars is pretty crappy by comparison: the gravity is too low, it's cold and kinda far from the Sun (and from Earth, compared to Lunar orbit), and it's questionable what kind of resources are there which we don't have easier access to on the Moon or nearby asteroids. Most of the interest in it just seems to be nothing more than nostalgia for planet-based living.

Also, I think you'd want to build your O'Neill cylinders in one of the Langrangian positions between Earth and Moon, not Lunar orbit.

A truly intelligent species would actually be working substantively on these projects, instead of merely talking about them.

A truly intelligent species would be working on not killing its own planet, instead of figuring out space habitation.

The ROI on the former is many orders of magnitude better.

A truly intelligent species would be doing both.

Also an extinction level event happening on this planet is a certainty, so it's actually an infinite order of magnitude better to figure out how to live in space than to only focus on saving the earth.

But again, a truly intelligent species would do both.

Exactly. A truly intelligent species doesn't put all its eggs in one basket. Plus, a truly intelligent species knows that expansion (in population) is good for the survival of the species and civilization, and the way to get more resources and space is to go to space and acquire resources there and also learn to live there.

The dinosaurs are a good example of a group of species that weren't far-sighted enough to invest in a serious space exploration and settlement program.

> The dinosaurs are a good example of a group of species that weren't far-sighted enough to invest in a serious space exploration and settlement program.

If we knew that a cretaceous extinction event will happen five, fifty, or five hundred years from now, it'll be orders of magnitude easier for civilization to survive on Earth, then it will be for it to survive in space.

If dinosaurs had opposable thumbs, and technology, they would have been better off bunkering down. No matter how uninhabitable some freak civilization-ending event would leave the Earth, it would still be more habitable then anywhere else in the Solar system.

With the correct technology, that's not true: it's perfectly possible to build very nice habitats in space with O'Neill cylinders, but you need a lot of technology and space-based infrastructure to make that happen. A truly intelligent species would be working hard on that problem, because the technologies needed to make big O'Neill cylinders would also have many, many other uses. A stupid species, on the other hand, would dedicate its most intelligent members to figuring out how to advertise to each other more effectively and sell each other useless crap.

It's also quite possible to do multiple things at once when you have a civilization with many members. So as I said before, a truly intelligent species would not put all its eggs in one basket. They'd work on figuring out how to colonize space at the same time as figuring out how to deflect asteroids and also handle asteroid impacts if they did happen.

> A truly intelligent species would be doing both.

When you have limited resources, you deal with a problem that's going to affect half the population of the planet in the next 20 years, as opposed to dealing with a much harder problem that might affect the entire population of the planet in a once-per-fifty-million-years lottery.

We are currently putting all of our eggs in one basket, because climate change will kill modern civilization much faster then we can move the entirety of modern civilization into a <even less hospitable off-planet environment>.

This isn't true at all. A somewhat-intelligent species with limited resources would indeed work no dealing with such a problem. However, a stupid species would simply ignore the problem, which is exactly what we're doing.

Do you live in an off-the-grid nuclear bunker, or a home? Do you wear a bulletproof vest, and a motorcycle helmet when driving a car, or walking on a sidewalk? Do you hoard decades worth of food?

An 'intelligent' person would do all of those things - because, after all, nuclear war can start any moment, our roads and sidewalks are dangerous places, and you never know where your next meal is going to come from.

Worrying about planet-ending disasters, and establishing civilization in space is much like doing any of the things I've listed. It's not intelligent - it's a non-cost-efficient response to incredibly unlikely occurrences. Especially when there are incredibly likely occurrences, that we'd be much better off preparing for, instead.

These are bad comparisons. There are too many people on Earth now for us to acquire all our resources here without a large environmental cost, which even without a killer asteroid is going to bite us in the ass. There's endless resources in space, so logically we should be building the technology and capability to go there and harvest them. A by-product of that is also being able to live there and have an insurance policy just in case there's a planet-ending disaster.

In short, planet-ending disasters are not the only reason to develop these capabilities, and it's shortsighted and stupid to continue to destroy our environment here without taking advantage of all the resources and opportunities outside our gravity well.

The economic cost of extracting Earth resources + environmental restoration/remediation is many orders of magnitude lower then the cost of extracting space resources, and will remain many orders of magnitude lower for any realistic projections of the future.

If we cared about this sort of thing, we would be doing it now, as opposed to sitting on our hands, waiting for magical space unicorns to be invented.

Well, the Military will soon include the Space Force[0][1], so let's see how the funding of space-related activity goes in the next couple years.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Space_Force

[1] https://www.military.com/space-force

I suspect more and more funding will go to the Space Force and less and less will go to NASA. Looking at the budgets, it's clear that the military has far more pull in washington than NASA. Seems like whatever the military wants, it gets. While NASA has to beg, plead and grovel for every crumb.

And if SpaceX, Blue Origin and the private sector become viable players in space, then NASA might be shut down or absorbed into Space Force.

With China, EU, Japan, India, etc getting involved in space exploration, it's inevitable that space is going to be a new frontier of militarization and privatization. Space Force and the private sector are natural players in this new arena. Not sure where NASA fits in this picture.

The majority of NASA's missions are instrument-driven science missions designed to answer questions about space (ex: JWST). Neither SpaceX or Blue origin has displayed serious interest in replacing this function of NASA. They are mainly engineering organizations, and while they are effective at doing what they do, they are organizationally not pursuing models that research fundamental astrophysics, heliophysics, or earth science.

No, it's closer to $70B, over the 9-year lifetime of the Artemis project. The "$1.6B" this article talks about was a "down payment".

Great way to visualize the size of the military budget in comparison to other programs: https://us.wikibudgets.org/w/united-states-budget-2016

Looks like the latest year they have for 2016, but still useful.

Yeah but Russia hitting us with hypersonic weapons and China sabotaging us with electronic warfare or North Korea nuking us is a far greater possiblity that may occur than aliens invading. That is why our money is pumped there.

But at least Will Smith is still around in case the aliens invade, so i feel safer......

Come on, you know that "potential damage to US * likelihood of occurring" is not how funds get allocated. If that were true, they'd have ended our dependence on many foreign markets (especially oil), solved global warming (or at least built a great seawall), and headed off a bunch of social issues that threaten the stability and cohesion of the US.

Follow the money.

Maybe they can hitch a ride on that ridiculous new "Space Force"?

And why is it ridiculous exactly?

Where do you think the next frontier is? Do you think that humanity, which has warred with itself for its entire existence, is going to stop warring with itself when it’s living in space? If so, I have a wall to sell you.

Do you not want the US to have a military presence up there?

Do you want the US to take a backseat while China and Russia build out their own military capabilities in space?

You’re like a person in the 1400s laughing at a country for building a navy.

The Air Force already does the job that the Space Force is supposed to do. Creating another military branch would duplicate a lot of administrative functions and not be very cost effective, IMHO.

> "If established, it would be organized as a military service branch within the Department of the Air Force, one of the three military departments within the Department of Defense." [1]

So yes, any new military service branch is going to have overhead. But the Air Force already provides the structure and overhead for the space initiatives

The Space Force is more about formalizing (and potentially funding) this branch of the AF separately from the main budget of the AF. There will still be a little additional overhead, but not really like you're implying.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Space_Force

Another perspective— that "little bit of overhead" for starting up the Space Force is almost as large as NASA's annual budget. At least that's if you believe the budget numbers from Heather Wilson (outgoing secretary of the Air Force). Unfortunately, I doubt that standing up a new military service is something that the government would actually be able to accomplish without going over budget.

If so, I have a wall to sell you.

Ha ha, only a rube would believe in a grift like a wall, the smart set are over here with the guy running the Wall scam to finance his real 'insider' project, the 'Space Force' which is totally legitimate and not at all a procurement bonanza. Sure there's a treaty about the non-militarization of space but let's ignore that and pretend it's already obsolete, while we also pretend that the air force hasn't been handling our Sekrit Space Stuff just fine for decades.

Instead of getting into a new weapons race I would prefer more effort into negotiating an international agreement to not weaponize space. The stance of the US in the past few years seemed to be to produce more weapons than anybody else and not negotiate.

Space Force may have a funny name, but with the new threat of predator satellites it seems that orbit may be a legit theater of battle.

If anything, creating a 'space force' will ratchet up the number of 'predatory' satelites. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy..

How do you suggest avoiding it? Let other countries take that space while the US holds their head high with the moral high ground? That's not a winning strat IMO.

The problem is the aggressive language implied in terms like "space force" rather than the capabilities involved. Develop them in secret, store/shelve them until they are truly needed (hopefully never) and never talk about them because that would give others bad ideas.

Who cares? Any country that has space war abilities is a country that fighting a war against would nearly end humanity regardless.

By negotiating arms control treaties.

I'm all for this, but says if Burkina Faso today demands the US to enter agreement not to weaponize the space, do you think the US would feel the need to respond? how about after Burkina Faso has successfully demonstrated its satellite shoot-down capability?

Why must a country possess the capability to shoot down satellites in order to demand that other countries stop doing it? If Burkina Faso pays ESA to put something in space for them, they probably don't want some hot-shot US commander in chief waking up on the wrong side of twitter and deciding to blast it out of orbit. That seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to demand others not use any capabilities they possess for shooting down satellites, even if Burkina Faso does not possess the ability.

And making it very difficult for incompetent heads of state to arbitrarily pull out of them.

Even better, we need to build a wall on the moon.

What I'm hearing is if Mexico could land a man on the moon the US would be there tomorrow.

I feel really shitty that we're watching our future generations get outright robbed of living a good life.


You might want to read a little history of the presidents for real examples of dictator-like behavior, from Democrats and Republicans.

Idealizing Duterte, Kim Jong Un, and the leaders of Russia and Saudia Arabia and creating concentration camps for kids while shitting all over our friendly democratic leaders from UK, France, Canada seems like a good start at becoming a dicator. What makes other presidents more dictatorial, I'd like to know.

That's one view through the leftist lens, but at least you ended your comment with an appropriate question.

What is the "leftist lens" here? Salvadorans [0] and Guatemalans [1] want to know why their citizen has died while in USA custody under curious conditions. When USA citizens die under custody of North Korea [2], or when USA citizens die under state actions orchestrated by the USA [3], we are upset and wonder what has happened; is that an inappropriate response here? It is confusing and dismaying that we are not getting a clear insight and understanding into how the USA government is managing its camps on the southern border [4].

[0] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/migrant-children-death-a-10-yea...

[1] https://thehill.com/latino/444584-guatemalan-teen-dies-in-bo...

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-northkorea-detainee-i...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Teruggi

[4] https://thehill.com/homenews/house/445167-gop-votes-to-strik...

Your "for comparison" figures do not seem true:


The military budget buys you global dominance and never having to bend domestic policy to account for what anyone else thinks. What has NASA bought us?

I think space is cool. I have a degree in aerospace engineering because of that. But if you look at space exploration in terms of ROI it has sucked.

Better question: what WILL it buy us?

Things like asteroid mining, colonization. Worth trillions. No, we don't have a convenient number for what asteroid mining is worth - a better unit would be 'civilizations'?

It even could bring space dominance if that's important.

> What has NASA bought us?

I'll leave this here:


Highlights -

- Water purification

- Land mine removal

- Freeze drying technology

- Fire resistant reinforcement

- Solar power

- Satellite phones


All having significant military applications, as well as public benefit.

I'd also argue SMT technology; while things were moving in that direction before then, it seems like the Apollo program really kicked it in high gear with the need for the compact AGC:


I'd have to think that SMT was available prior to the AGC development, but I don't think it was as widely used commercially (maybe more for the military and avionics?).

DARPA was also apart of the development of GPS...

GPS is kind of a stretch

Prestige. Admiration. Beating the USSR even after their stronger start.

All the positive aspects of America's place in the world's consciousness rest on our achievements and leadership in technology, education, and exploration. In other words, NASA.

We have a lot of black marks on our reputation, too. If we keep neglecting our proudest achievement, that's all we'll have left.

The Apollo program ran for 12 years and ended with six successful missions.

Here we are half a century later, with wildly more advanced technology, a bunch of ready-to-fly rockets to choose from, and they need another ten years for a single mission? What “organizational changes” are necessary that cost billions?

The Apollo program was also much better funded and they had attracted the intellectual elite of a generation. In our generation, that elite is figuring out how to make people click on ads.


most of the elite are. Some of the elite are still at NASA, thank you very much.

I didn't mean it that way, sorry. People at NASA are still extraordinarily smart. The number of those smart people is different. NASA right now has approx direct 17k employees and approx 60k contractors. Back in the times of the Apollo program, there were 36k direct employees at NASA with > 350k contractors.

See Figure 1-4 in this PDF: https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012v1.pdf#page=15

Also, it seems to me that NASA is involved in far more programs right now than it was back in the times of the Apollo program. Which isn't a bad thing in itself, but of course each program itself has smaller scope.


This is partially because we outsource so much work, but yes, we simply do not have the budget to get anyone and everyone we'd want. The A-for-administration is becoming a more important role in shipping tax dollars to R&D and C-for-cots.

They are involved in far more programs than they were during the Apollo era. I'd much rather see NASA stay involved in these other areas (e.g. planetary sciences/exploration) than throw everything into a manned mission to the moon to 'make merica great again' a la 1960s style.

I agree with the fact that we are spreading bucks over more planets. I'd love to see a concerted incestment in a consistent strategic direction with a tangible milestone.

But at the same time, there's lots of exciting stuff going on.

A polite critique: Six successful missions which landed, yes. I'd argue 10 successful missions in total. Excluding Apollo 1 and 13, there were four additional missions which were never tasked with landing on The Moon; I would argue that those can be considered successful as well.

[Edit]: Changed "with landing" to "with landing on The Moon"

For reference, here's what each mission did:

Apollo 1: Burned on the launchpad, killing Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

Apollo 4-6: unmanned missions

Apollo 7: Flew in Earth orbit and tested the command module (the lunar module wasn't ready yet).

Apollo 8: Orbited the moon, further testing the command module and scoping out a potential landing spot.

Apollo 9: Flew in Earth orbit, testing rendezvous between the lunar module and command module.

Apollo 10: Dress rehearsal of the moon landing, except they didn't land. Came withing 50k feet of the surface.

Apollo 11: The first moon landing. Only went outside for less than 3 hours. Landed 4 miles away from the target.

Apollo 12: Second moon landing. Two 4 hour walks outside. Landed very close to the target.

Apollo 13: Oxygen tank exploded in command module on the way to the moon. Used the lunar module as a lifeboat, slingshotting around the moon before returning to Earth.

Apollo 14: Apollo 13, but successful. Did two 8 hour walks.

Apollo 15: Upgraded lunar module that could carry the rover and additional supplies, and new suits that they could take off inside the lunar module (previous missions only took off the helmet and gloves). Three 8 hour stints outside, venturing tens of miles away from the lander, including up the side of a mountain. Focus of the mission was entirely on science and collecting samples.

Apollo 16-17: Apollo 15, but at different places and more extreme.


I'm almost finished listening to "A Man on the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin that tells the story of each mission. Highly recommended.

Thank you, for both the reference material and for the "A Man on the Moon" recommendation.

I think I read somewhere that we actually lost the technology to build the Saturn V; the fab tools, the blueprints, and the skilled labor isn’t there anymore. It’s like Damascus steel or Roman concrete or Greek fire. We may have to reinvent it.

It would be very difficult to build a new Saturn V just because any product of any complexity is inherently embedded in the economic ecosystem it came from. If the plans specify a #5 Widget and nobody has made a #5 Widget in the past 30 years, then you’re kind of stuck even if the vastly superior #8 Widget is currently available in any hardware store.

What you say is true but it’s not correct to frame is as a step backwards as is often done. The Saturn V would be hard to build today because technology has moved forward a great deal.

This is an important distinction because it means that building a new rocket with the capabilities of the Saturn V is still very much possible. SLS and Super Heavy are two rockets in active development that will exceed the Saturn V. SLS is taking forever but that’s just a matter of not putting resources into it. It’s expensive, but Saturn V was too. Super Heavy is a little more speculative but it looks promising and its capabilities will blow Saturn V’s out of the water if it actually flies, and for far less money.


The Constellation program cost $12B between 2005-2009 [1] and includes Ares V, an earlier version of SLS (but also Orion and Ares I). SLS under the current name (without Orion) has cost $14B 2011-2018 [2]. No idea about 2009-2011. It will cost several billion per year until it is cancelled.

It uses existing (flown in space) shuttle engines, shuttle main tank tooling, 5 segment version of shuttle's 4 segment boosters (also 15 years in development), etc. It requires no new technology and it is not trying to be better than anything. It has all the money it wants. They even took money away from commercial crew to pay SLS, a few years ago, which made commercial crew late which forced them to pay more to the Russians.

The problem with SLS is that it is designed to burn money. It is not designed to fly, to achieve a mission of any kind. It is optimized to cost as much as possible, because its success is defined as "raised average wage in my congressional district for as long as possible" by the people who ordered it done.

1 - http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/2016/20160801-hor...

2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Launch_System#Funding_hi...

Where does that $50 billion figure come from? I found a NASA report from last year that says $11.9 billion. That’s an average of somewhat less than $2 billion/year so far. In contrast, the Saturn V took about five years from start to first flight, and development cost something like $6-9 billion/year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if SLS ended up costing more in the end, precisely because spending is lower. A project with less funding that drags on forever costs more than one with better funding that’s finishes quickly.

I edited to remove that number and add links.

Had it been designed by engineers with budget or deadline in mind, we could have debated methodologies. But it was designed by congress with exact hardware to use mandated by them, with no ability by engineers to change it to lower costs.

Also, of course, "cost plus" contracting means that an engineer that suggests an idea to lower costs is thrown out of the room by management.

See Dr. Dan Rasky from NASA, top expert on heat shields, explain from inside: https://youtu.be/g3gzwMJWa5w?t=679

Also, most talks by Dr. Robert Zubrin (author of Case for Mars) explain that the human spaceflight part of NASA is nuts.

> that’s just a matter of not putting resources into it.

And Boeing consistently missing deadlines they agreed to. But that's a matter of them being in the business of milking taxpayers not a matter of technology.

To be honest I don’t know enough about this, but my understanding was that both the Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy have the ability to execute a moon mission, plus the Boeing SLS is already in development. Is there a need to start from scratch?

No one had proposed starting from scratch and building new Saturn V's. That would be totally impractical. But none of those new rockets have actually demonstrated the ability to lift enough payload for a manned lunar mission. They might be able to do so eventually but years of development work remain.

Maybe if you're willing to do multiple launches and Earth-orbit rendezvous. Neither the Falcon Heavy nor the Delta IV Heavy matches the payload of the Saturn V: https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/06/technology/future/biggest-r...

Smaller risk in multiple respective baskets?

There's a lot more complexity in this project and less relative budget. There's also not the same level of pressure aid space race happening.

I don't know much about nations, politics, or space, so forgive me if this is a stupid question: Is it possible that it'd be more time and cost effective to contract SpaceX to do the construction?

Absolutly. The problem is the money is tied up in pet projects that are a waste but can be realocated because the are protected by congress members.

Well, for one, there's no more apollo program to build onto? So, such a pipeline should be restarted?

Ten years is about the timeline to expect commercial launches / lifts to the moon. I suspect to be cost effective, NASA is synchronizing with commercial partners and standardizing mission architectures to ensure a long line of lunar missions. (source: Working on a related problem).

From the NASA Page: "CLPS contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts with a cumulative maximum contract value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years."

So there's your new apollo program. 10 years and billions of investment, but with commercial taxis rather than NASA-built.

While I'm on the subject of NASA + Commercial partners. Imagine you had to build your own car to get to work every day, and suddenly a taxi service starts up. Would you use the taxi instead? That's the analogy for SpaceX, Blue origin, etc. Most programs are about science and human exploration, which involve significantly more than rocket and faring technologies. Moving beyond those expensive development projects can only make NASA-led initiatives more cost effective. It's how it has to be nowadays.

Our computers are a thousand times faster but our steel isn't a thousand times stronger and our rocket fuel doesn't have a thousand times the specific impulse. As far as cost and ultimate physical mission limitations go, we're very much still living in the same neighborhood as 1970.

Advances in ground computers do not translate to space computers. Most space-qualified processors are still on the order of tens to hundreds of MHz.

I currently work on a space science satellite launched in 2015 for NASA and our flight processor is 40 MHz.


Current space-rated FPGAs are like 10-15 years out of date compared to what the newest stuff can do. People are starting to take more risk with launching commercial parts in LEO but no one is seriously going to rely on anything but Level 1 parts for expensive, long-term missions.

Yup, and we are still violently blowing up a controlled bomb to exit the earths gravity.

It has been close to 8 years since the United States launched crew on one of her own launch vehicles. Currently, we have no man rated launch vehicle and have to rely on the Russians to launch people to the ISS.

Spaceflight is altogether more complex than you think.

makes you wonder if it really ...

The kind that requires you to /actually/ land a man on the moon.

Down vote all you want, its true. Otherwise, the only legit excuse is "politics". Least we forget Kennedy was long deady by the time 1969 rolled around - doesn't get much more political than that.

Or much more fake.

Sounds like it is simply that "if we'e not going to do / fund the thing there's not much for me to lead here" kinda situation.

But why was he escorted out of the building. Unusual for a leadership position?

Probably protocol. Many NASA sites are co-located on USAF bases or have the same 'legality/rules' if they have military projects on them. I wouldn't read too much into it until more is known.

This article from a couple months ago has some info on the new "Moon to Mars" mission directorate NASA wanted to establish, separate from the existing operations-focused Human Exploration & Operations Directorate. As the original submitter's article mentions, the proposal was rejected by lawmakers: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/budget/2019/03/new-mission-di...

> “What we’re talking about is creating a new mission directorate at NASA,” Bridenstine said during the March 27 hearing. “And it’s focused on development activities that are very large in scale. And that mission directorate, we would call it Moon to Mars Mission Directorate, because it’s going to be focused on getting to the moon and using those capabilities to go on to Mars. So on the management side we’re trying to separate operations from development so that we can get a better mix of the right people in the right places to accomplish these objectives.”

> The problem, Bridenstine said, is that the current division between operations and development is muddled. Operations refers to the actual missions: Flying to and resupplying the International Space Station, for example. Development refers to the design and implementation of never-before-used technologies.

Let's not forget we planned on returning by 2020... in 2004:


Haha that's a great URL. God save us from that.

"I see... WMDs... and banks that are... too big to fail."

During the Apollo era the NASA budget was about 10X what it is now as a percentage of the federal budget [0]. Given the budget is a fraction of what it was back then, compounded with the fact all of the people who lead during that era are now retired, the NASA request doesn't seem unreasonable.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA#/media/File:NAS...

This is a strange way compare NASA's budget size over time. It mostly reflects the out of control growth of entitlement spending, which was only 20% of the budget in the 1960s and is half of the budget now (https://www.usgovernmentdebt.us/entitlement_spending).

According to your source, at it's peak during Apollo, NASA's budget was only twice what it is now in constant dollars. In constant dollars NASA's budget is basically the same as it was when it was operating a fleet of space shuttles in the 80's and 90's, but NASA isn't operating any now. Where does the money really go?

Going to the moon again, making a permanent moon base, manned missions to mars, and other manned missions get proposed in every administration to make some headlines and excitement but ultimately in every case, they fail in funding, or politically, and they all quietly disappear and are forgotten.

Because it’s a dumb idea, but everyone is in denial about how dumb it is, so just lying about future plans is the best solution for everyone.

Genuinely curious, in what way do you think it's a dumb idea? The whole "let's go to space" thing in general? Or just the way we're going about it?

Most of the resources in manned space flight are devoted to not killing the astronauts. Just sending robots is way cheaper and you can do a ton more projects for the same amount of money. Landing a robot on a comet is way more interesting than the 130th trip to a space station that’s only 200 miles away from earth (a person can bicycle that far in a day). And going to Mars is impossible for less than hundreds of billions of dollars, if it’s possible at all.

Sending people into space was a stunt, like climbing to the top of Everest. Having done it a few times there’s no point in doing it again. People say, oh you learn so much from it, but that would be true for trying to live on the bottom of the ocean or in treehouses or whatever. Romantic nonsense is fine but manned spacedlight is expensive and requires a ton of talented engineering that could be better used elsewhere.

It may or may not be a dumb idea, but it is certainly lacking in imagination. I am all for doing more science, but going to the moon? again? and what did we learn the first time? (apart from how awesome we are at doing stuff.)

It was weird though there was a big announcement video on YouTube about the lunar mission and no one even bothered to comment.

It seems to me that space proponents need to study other tricky-to-justify programs for lessons. Just do whatever the F-35 people did.

I wish that the main thrust (so to speak) was towards permanent off-planet settlement and economies rather than merely having a human grab the soil samples.

Also, it would be nice to see a more results-oriented attitude rather than have the whole deal watered down with politics. Of course, you could probably say that about the US military.

I think it's hard for a civilian agency to use the defence sectors tricks. NASA could probably get a lot of people behind building a giant laser on the moon to "strike the enemy", but it's hard to see how they could get much support from the science community for such a project.

Au contraire. Just scatter around the components of the project into various Congressional districts. Build large facilities in places with political horsepower and name them after important people. Gemini/Apollo is fraught with this.

Personally, I doubt that the science community would be behind manned space travel in any case. It's more marketed to the engineering and military world. I wouldn't doubt that internal NASA competition over limited dollars shows astronomers and planet scientists smothering the manned efforts in it's crib now and again.

Laser interferometry for astronomy. Just spec the lasers out so that they're useful for science, but can double as a weapon in a pinch.

> I wish that the main thrust (so to speak) was towards permanent off-planet settlement and economies rather than merely having a human grab the soil samples.

Totally agree with you on that. I think the current situation has to do with how political space has become, especially in the US. If missions are being used as popularity boosts on a per administration basis, it makes way more sense to propose something small and relatively feasible on short time scales like a glorified sample return mission as opposed to something that requires real, long term investment like colonization.

And this is why getting private industry into space is what matters.

$1.6 billion is a tiny fraction of what we spend on things that will have basically 0 impact on the longterm outcome of our species. But since it doesn't get votes or feed special interests, it's left unfunded. Of course even if it was funded, it might well get cut. For instance one reason Nixon stripped down the space program was literally because he didn't like JFK and didn't want JFK's legacy overshadowing his own. [1]

Bezos, for instance, wanting to spend the majority of his wealth creating a private space industry can be seen as capricious, but I think this is myopic. Some time, ideally not all that far from now, space will have revolutionized every single aspect of our society. It provides endless lands for colonizing, endless mineral resources for harvesting, and an infinite frontier to reach ever deeper into. If we only moved forward once everything else was sound and stable, we'd never move forward.

[1] - http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/jason-callahan/20...

"A new life awaits you in the Off-World colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!" (Blade Runner)

Certainly would be useful to diversify the efforts. That way one political hiccup in one swamp town can't pause progress for decades.

A bit of an exaggeration to argue the space industry is "unfunded", when the government spends double AMZN's net income on NASA every year even now. $1.6bn is one small step for government, one giant leap for the private sector.

> And this is why getting private industry into space is what matters.

Really? that's an interesting conclusion to jump to. Maybe it would be easier to properly run the government than try to make companies that pretend to do the job of nation states?

Bezos is doing what he's doing precisely because he has the money to do it and not be beholden to profit motives. Saying "we should get private companies involved in space" comes with a HUGE asterix of "as long as they aren't beholden to profit motives".

And yes, spaceX is a thing but they're never going to turn a profit. The whole thing is a for profit company in name only.

At one point international trade was the job of nation states. I don't think it's outrageous to imagine that some large scale endeavors require enormous upfront capital and organization, but eventually become cheap enough to move to the private sector.

I agree, i thought of the old trade companies in England that were basically responsible for spreading the british empire. I still can't but think this is somehow different.

> Maybe it would be easier to properly run the government

One generation doesn't seem to be able to run government more properly than its preceding generation, so it's probably impossible to do better than we are doing.

Previous generations have done lots better; what you're seeing is the end result of a few decades of the "starve the beast" project, working its way into governments from local to the federal level.

There's now one mainstream party that wants the government to run properly, serve the people, etc., and one mainstream party that runs explicitly under the slogan of "the government isn't the solution, the government is the problem," and claims that any use of government resources for a social benefit is "socialism."

Please don't buy into the idea that government, by its nature, is dysfunctional--please look at other countries around the world to see that it is possible to have a non-corrupt, beneficent government entity that improves life for its citizens.

That's just not what we have in the US.

>Please don't buy into the idea that government, by its nature, is dysfunctional--please look at other countries around the world to see that it is possible to have a non-corrupt, beneficent government entity that improves life for its citizens.

No, it's not possible, in the US. Outside the US, yes, as you've pointed out, but it's just not possible here; there's too many internal problems to make it possible. It's like saying it's possible to have a non-corrupt, beneficient government in Afghanistan; no, it really isn't, not for many generations. The social problems there prevent it.

You have a very unrealistic image of governmental history. As mentioned a big part of the reason Nixon decided to can the space program was because he literally did not like JFK. That was in 1972. If you want to go back further in history we had a vice president and secretary of the treasury literally engage in a duel to the death over their disputes. In particular the man on the $10 bill was killed by vice president of the man on the nickel. That was in 1804. If you'd like to go in between those we dates were busy killing each other off in a Civil War.

Even looking at the present, I think many are not aware of what's happening in Europe. Systems from Scandinavia's welfare state to the UK's NHS are in increasingly bad shape with things looking to only become worse. It's a mixture of increasing migration, an aging population, in the case of healthcare systems populations becoming generally less healthful, and increasing ideological fracturing of society. These are all issues that the US has has been an unfortunate leader on. The solidity of these systems will be illustrated over the next decade or two. Suffice to say, places like Sweden are already a good distance from the country you may think you are idealizing, and a few decades from now it will likely be even further away from that ideal. The point of this is that you need to compare apples to apples. If you're still idealizing Europe in a couple of decades, I'll concede the point - but I doubt you will be.

>In particular the man on the $20 bill was killed by vice president of the man on the nickel. That was in 1804.

What the heck are you talking about? Andrew Jackson died in 1845 of old age. Jackson killed some guy in 1806 in a duel, and apparently had a hot temper and challenged others to duels, but he himself died at the old age of 78.

Edit: you're thinking of the Hamilton-Burr duel, where Alexander Hamilton (who's on the $10 bill, not 20) was killed in 1804 by Aaron Burr, VP for Jefferson.

Indeed, my mistake on the $10 vs $20. Edited that in my post now. I did not even know that Jackson also killed somebody in a duel. Quite interesting!

You could also say man on the $10 was killed by the VP of the man on the $2.

"Sirangelo was escorted out of NASA’s headquarters in Washington on Wednesday after his resignation" does not sound like a resignation to me.

> Sirangelo’s ouster was sealed by increasing skepticism that 2024 was a realistic deadline for moon landings

This. Trump wanted a return to the Moon by the end of his second term, but it's just not possible. NASA doesn't even have a human launch vehicle capable of low-earth orbit (LEO) at the moment. It will in a few years, but getting to the Moon is significantly harder than LEO and getting people back from the Moon is 10x harder still. And we no longer have an existential cold war with Russia to motivate us.

"back on the moon by 2024" This entirely smells of Trump wanting to stroke his own ego and get credit for a moon landing.

It was was actually Pence's idea. Pence was visiting NASA and Bridenstine mentioned to Pence that getting into moon by 2024 was possible. Pence just added the new policy goal into his speech on the spot and it became the official policy of the Government.


>In Space Policy Directive-1, the President directed NASA to create a lunar exploration plan. But as of today, more than 15 months later, we still don’t have a plan in place. But Administrator Bridenstine told me, five minutes ago, we now have a plan to return to the moon. (Applause.)

... little later

>And I’m here, on the President’s behalf, to tell the men and women of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the American people that, at the direction of the President of the United States, it is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the Moon within the next five years. (Applause.)

Of course, this does not mean anything. WH is not committing any work towards that goal and probably don't know how. They just said it, requested money and left it there hanging. NASA has funding for Moon mission in 2028. The extra money to get there faster is nowhere to find.

This is wrong. Accelerating a return to the moon came from Trump. Please see:


Some have speculated that the NASA (acting) Administrator at the time, Robert Lightfoot, was replaced with Bridenstine because the latter would back a fast return to the moon.

The the article you link to has nothing about going to the moon.

I'm sure Pence and Trump have never had a conversation where Trump said he wanted a moon landing to happen during his time in office. /eyeroll/

It's also the year he would become a lame duck if he gets reelected. Very low risk thing pay lip service to for him.

I doubt it's his idea though, nor of any of his cabinet. Just a convenient thing for him to latch on to politically.

I believe your response is emblematic of the budgetary responses from the democratically controlled HOR: To hell with what the people want and need, "If Trump wants it, it must be bad".

Manned space flight is a dumb idea and no amount of nerd fantasies will change that. Just send robots instead.

We did send robots to the moon before we sent people. But no robot could do what those people who landed on the moon did, let alone bring back hundreds of pounds of selected moon rocks. And it wasn't just for the science; putting humans on the moon was a goal in itself, one put in motion by Kennedy in his challenge to the nation to do it "before the decade is out".

Should we put humans on the moon (or Mars) today? I don't know, but I don't think it's a dumb idea. Impractical maybe, but still a laudable goal.

>But no robot could do what those people who landed on the moon did, let alone bring back hundreds of pounds of selected moon rocks

Can you elaborate? Robots in 1969 perhaps couldn't, but bringing back rocks seems well within the abilities of present robotics.

People landed on the moon and returned in 1969. No robot could do that—we didn't have the tech.

Even now it would be a tall order. The moon walkers didn't just scoop up a random bunch of rocks, they selected specific rocks that were chosen to prove or prove the geologists' hypotheses, drilled 10 foot core tubes, chipped pieces off large boulders, climbed mountains and steep hills, and set up complex, long-running experiments that would continue broadcasting to earth. Heck, they even sent a geologist to the moon, because a trained scientist can recognise what a human with a fixed camera cannot.

I would bet that a pair of humans could do in a week what all of the Mars landers put together have done to date (apart from land on opposite sides of the globe). Don't discount human intelligence, ingenuity, and physical ability. Robots are great for assembly line work, but not exploring unknown territory.

I forget where it was, but I once saw a quote that essentially said that "a geologist on Mars with a hammer could learn more in one day than we've learned from every robotic mission we've sent, combined"

I think the basic truth in that statement is relatively easy to demonstrate. Each rover we send to Mars moves only a few tens of kilometers over its lifetime, and, though the science each one sends back is amazing, there's a limit to what we can learn without sending up some humans to do things in person. Robotic missions are limited to the exact configurations of their tools and where their propulsion can safely get them; humans are much more mobile and way better at improvising.

Repeating this won't make it true. Robots are very useful, manned space flight is too because robots don't have general intelligence. Figuring out that or telepresence may be more effective than just posting the same opinion over and over.

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