Bush budget whacks space station plans, modules

March 1, 2001 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Bush budget whacks space station plans, modules
Apparently the White House feels that the current project will exceed budget by quite a bit, so NASA is 'scaling back' plans for Alpha.
posted by daver (10 comments total)
Everything is coming to pass as expected...it will get much worse before it gets better, too.
posted by rushmc at 2:33 PM on March 1, 2001

It's not a big surprise. Put it this way: the current project is already tremendously over budget, and this after a spanking by Congress where they begged mercy, and got it, but only if they were extremely strict about budget controls. They weren't. As a result the next budget is bigger, but 1% smaller after inflation.

The Hab project has been in limbo for well over a year. NASA wanted an advanced "balloon" module called TransHab, but even though it would be enormous by comparison, and a demonstration of technology useful to future Mars missions, it was just a little bit more expensive.

Meanwhile Dan Goldin is desperately hoping to retain his job as administrator (he's been there since Bush the elder!), and an austerity budget like this is his best chance to ingratiate himself with the new administration.

What will this mean? First, a greater reliance on Russia. (Ironically, this is exactly what Congress originally sought to avoid.) As things are Russia is not meeting its promises for Progress supply vehicles and is barely able to keep up with building the Soyuz crew capsules. So far that hasn't been a problem: the logistics have been transferred to Shuttle flights. But if Russia's economy falters again, they may not be able to deliver at all. Second, assured crew return for a six-person crew will have to be accomplished with two Soyuz craft rather than a single large CRV. See problem one. Third, without a six-person capacity, and that will be pushed off even later, the European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts will get fewer chances at fewer slots.

The station has already been scaled back considerably in terms of expectations for the Russian side. Now it's our turn. Even so, the work that has been done isn't entirely wasted; these programs could be revived at a later time. Congress is also historically more supportive of the space program than the White House, due to the pork aspects, and they may find it in their hearts to throw NASA a bone, say, the CRV plus Node 3 Hab. The mission requirements could also be met by reviving the extended-duration shuttle project. An enhanced orbiter mated to Station, say for a month. And we shouldn't forget that everything completed so far will almost certainly be launched, including the entire solar array and the Columbus and Kibo labs. 80% of a space station is better than 0% of a space station, after all. Hey, it isn't even done, and it's bigger than Mir already.

The saddest part is that once again ultra-expensive human spaceflight squeezes out very-inexpensive planetary exploration, in terms of Pluto-Kuiper Express and the long-term closed-loop experiments.
posted by dhartung at 3:13 PM on March 1, 2001

Cost of a Mars mission: too many dollars.

Cost of the international space station: um, tighten the belt.

Unproven missile defence system, contravening every treaty under the sun: priceless.
posted by holgate at 4:04 PM on March 1, 2001

It's sad that they've killed the Pluto and Solar Probes, too. I'm bumming.
posted by Aaaugh! at 4:54 PM on March 1, 2001

Huge tax sellout to the rich kills science. Oh goody!

Note that Bush is killing back earth science observation too. After all we have to sell out the environment to big corporations don't we?
posted by Mr. skullhead at 7:01 PM on March 1, 2001

And according to space.com, they've successfully killed our only chance for a cheap, reusable single stage to orbit rocket -- the X-33.

We'll be riding on that streamlined brick -- I mean, the shuttle, until 2100. Pathetic.

I expect all of these decisions to be reversed, of course, when China lands men on the moon. Go China!
posted by Kikkoman at 8:28 PM on March 1, 2001

And to think Clarke envisioned moon bases, space hotels, and Pan Am orbiters by this year.

Go, human race! :P
posted by brownpau at 8:38 PM on March 1, 2001

Go human race?! I'm still trying to get rid of these vestigial gills.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:00 PM on March 1, 2001

Yeah, it's unfortunate they killed the X-33. They would have done better to completely kill ISS first. What NASA and the world need is cheap, reliable earth-to-orbit transport. The shuttle was the first step in providing that, but it's far too expensive. Now that we've learned some things about this kind of transportation we should be able to do a better job. Once launch costs are down, we'll be able to save billions on projects like the space station or Mars and Moon missions that will most likely be launched form a space station rather than from Earth.

What NASA ought to do is continue funding research into key technologies related to reusable space vehicles and find a way to get several companies competing to build the best vehicle. They did that with the X-33, but didn't let the bidders go far enough with their prototypes.

Once you get space transportation cheap enough, private industry will start investing in that area and things will get even cheaper and better. Until then, government investment is key.
posted by daveadams at 12:03 PM on March 2, 2001

Dave, what you're asking for is called the Space Launch Initiative -- and its funding continues under the revised budget.

Do not confuse X-33 and X-34 with cheap access to space. Those programs were instead development initiatives for major aerospace contractors to vie for a next-generation space shuttle multi-billion-dollar corporate welfare program that lasts for decades. X-33 was already deemed a technical and political failure by anybody independent from NASA management or LockMart. Everybody knew that it would never lead to a new vehicle, anyway, since we have Shuttle, and will for years to come -- and Congress has been burnt many times -- notably by Shuttle itself -- with the "spend $billions now to save $billions and $billions later" promise.

SLI is targeted at cheap access to space and an open economic approach, rather than a massive-government-program approach.

No tears shed here for X-33. The SSTO (single stage to orbit) form will remain a dream for now; the technical challenges are just too great. RLV designs that start from scratch, whether two-stage or stage-and-a-half designs, will have a shot at reducing launch costs. But the initiative has to come from industry designing for commercial requirements, not government largesse, which has turned out heavily compromised and impossibly expensive.

It's not my usual politics, but in terms of space policy, I've become a complete libertarian.
posted by dhartung at 12:56 PM on March 2, 2001

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