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The Engineer
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Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 1:23 PM

I was reading an article about Hubble Telescope receiving an upgrade this summer and it started me thinking about NASA and what I considered its biggest successes. Then I wondered what some of you thought, so I below I've listed my top twenty NASA missions. To be manageable, I've listed programs, not individual missions (Voyager Program rather than Voyager 1, or Voyager 2, etc.)

20. Cosmic Background Explorer
19. Magellan
18. Gemini
17. Sky Lab
16. Galileo
15. Space Shuttle Program
14. Deep Impact
13. Compton Gamma Ray
12. Mars Global Surveyor
11. Mars Pathfinder
10. Spitzer Space Telescope
9. Cassini–Huygens
8. Pioneer Program
7. Viking Program
6. Chandra X-Ray Observatory
5. Mariner Program
4. Apollo Program
3. Voyager Program
2. Hubble Space Telescope
1. Mercury Program

Current Mission that I'm excited about but couldn't add to the list because it hasn't happened yet: New Horizons ; Messenger ; Juno ; Neptune Orbiter

(here's the story that got me thinking in the first place: http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20080123/sc_space/awholenewviewhubbleoverhaultoboosttelescopesreach )

Just a quick explanation of my top 5. I went with the Mercury Program as my number one because it was such an important step (first manned flight). Hubble was second because I feel that no other mission has advanced our understanding of the universe as much as Hubble. The Voyager program was my third highest ranked program because it gave us so much more information regarding our solar system and continues to provide exciting information as 1 and 2 approach interstellar space. Apollo was fourth simply because of the significance of sending someone to another world and having them return safely, very cool. Finally for the fifth I choose the Mariner program for all the information it provided regarding the solar system.

Of all the future missions planned, including what I believe to be an ill advised manned mission to mars, I'm most excited about New Horizons which will go to Pluto. There is so much we don't know about that planet* and I think its long past time we found out.

*For those of you who don't know me, I don't recognize the International Astronomical Union as an organization. They're more like a "dwarf organization" or a "Organization like Committee", therefore I don't recognize their not recognizing Pluto as a planet.

I'm very interested in what you guys and gals think. What's your top 5? Or favorite mission or program? It doesn't have to be one of the biggies (like Apollo), just whatever captured your imagination. For that matter, was the Apollo Program overrated? I mean, its generally held as the greatest accomplishment NASA ever achieved, but was it? I still think Hubble is better.

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#1

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 2:11 PM

I would squeeze the Mars Rovers into the top ten, and bump Mercury down. Mercury was great, but it was really catching up with the Soviets. And I might move the shuttle up - since it's the most complicated and advanced flying machine ever created. Skylab - meh. I'd put Apollo as #1 - that was something that transcended mere science.

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The Engineer
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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 3:02 PM

Yes, but what did we really gain from the shuttle program? They seem to be more trouble than they're worth, though that is just my opinion that may be distorted by my ignorance of the costs involved of non reusable space craft as compared to reusable craft. Just because something is complicated doesn't make it good, actually it's usually the opposite.

You Wrote: "transcended mere science" - I know what you're getting at but I'm not buying it. Christopher Columbus arriving in the new world transcended exploration, but I'm pretty sure if you asked the Spanish, it was when the galleys came back filled with gold that were considered most successful voyages to the new world.

"mere science"- This phrase gets to me every time. There is nothing "mere" about science.

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:05 PM

"it was when the galleys came back filled with gold that were considered most successful voyages to the new world."

I think not. 99.99% of the Spanish people did not get any gold. Just like the returning Moon rocks. They were treasures to only the few and privileged.

However, for the ordinary citizen having bragging rights to being the one nation that is at the tip of the spear - priceless!

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#10
In reply to #6

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:52 PM

99.99%? Interesting statistic, where did you get that one? ;)

You make a valid point. Much of the wealth no doubt was used to wage war against England, France, and whatever Protestants they were invading at the time. Still, what I was trying to say, was as someone who was born after the moon landings, the most inspirational things for me to come out of NASA were the hubble images. They really blew me away.

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#14
In reply to #10

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 8:15 PM

That's because you are smarter than the average bear. Oh, that was probably before your time. ;-)

Hubble gave us self awareness to a level we had only dreamed of. So, I can see your point very well.

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#56
In reply to #14

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 4:46 PM

Hello Yogi!

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#8
In reply to #3

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:27 PM

"Yes, but what did we really gain from the shuttle program?"

Well among other things the Hubble telescope. Several times. When it was put into space, when the temporary repairs were made, when the permenant repairs were made, and any future repairs/enhancements.

Baby steps are important too. They may not be flashy, but they are the first steps in the proverbial "journey of a 1000 miles".

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:48 PM

Why couldn't those repairs have been done with more traditional rockets and payloads? I understand that Hubble and other satellites need maintenance, but do we really save money or time by making the shuttles reusable? I'm not qualified to answer. If anyone is, I wouldn't mind the data.

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#2

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 2:20 PM

I like your top 5. I can see it the same way.

I like the idea of a "manned" Martian mission for two reasons.

One, it has the power to grab people's minds and imagination (particularly children, who are our future) and instill a sense of unity, wonder, pride, and excitement that no other adventure could. The first landing on the Moon made an incredible impression on me when I was just a child. Machines can not do what a human footprint can on a foreign soil to our imaginations. Yes, I am a romantic, but that is an important side to our humanity.

Two, it will force us to push technology beyond the sleepy boundaries we have now. Again, look at the manned Moon mission. We owe so much to NASA for the technologies they pioneered and have become part of our everyday lives. New technologies are desperately needed to help us over our environmental and social issues of today and tomorrow.

Finally, I think that not only can the USA gain national pride, but the world can gain pride as a whole by achieving something that has been lurking in the dreams of humanity for so long. We are on the doorstep of a grand and new adventure into the real beyond our own Earth. The remarkable thing about this journey, is that it is both a journey outward to the stars as much as it is inward into ourselves.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 3:14 PM

AH,

It's a nice thought, but I don't feel that way about a manned mission to mars. The only things that would have me absolutely glued to the updates would be a probe sent to another solar system.

When did we stop shooting for the stars and settled for the planets? Nothing about a mission to Mars seems heroic to me, even though I know that there would be many heroes involved. The last generation took that step with the man on the moon. What difference is a few more miles? Why is that supposed to inspire me.

But to go to another solar system and to see pictures and data of another sun, possible other planets, that would be awesome. That would give goosebumps and inspire people. I just feel like are wheels are stuck in the mud.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 3:58 PM

Interesting perspective. Might that be because of your engineering and scientific background?

How are ordinary people inspired by the accomplishments of NASA? What are the memorable points of the space program for the majority of people? I would bet that for most of the people who were alive to see it, it would be the lunar landing.

At a close second would be Star Trek. If you were born after 1965 it would be Star Trek.

Next might be the Shuttle disasters or the pictures from Hubble. These are tangible events that people can relate to.

Remember Apollo 13? Remember the movie? In both cases ordinary people were intimately connected to the event and the astronauts inside that capsule. I think the reason was because we also felt that it was part of ourselves there, in that crippled spaceship fighting and hoping for a safe return.

The movie also tells us something about ourselves. This was a movie where everyone knew the ending before they entered the theater. We knew it was going to be a happy ending, yet when the movie ended the audience cheered and clapped at the end. Why?

I think for those of us that have a deeper understanding of the space program the science that it brings is the jewel. For the uninitiated it is the exploration and its accomplishment that they relate most to. Nothing speaks louder then when we send ourselves as ambassadors to some place we have never been before. It has been that way as long as we have had recorded history. It's who we are.

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#11
In reply to #5

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:59 PM

AH,

We've got to stop this Scientists vs. Ordinary People thing that's been going on in the world. When I have a traffic ticket and get a lawyer to get me out of it, I don't expect him to entertain me. I don't demand a fiery opening statement that captures my imagination. I just want results, get my ticket reduced please. The same with going to the doctor. Imagine how terrifying a trip to the doctor would be if it played out like one of those medical dramas where everyone is yelling "stat" and tripping over each other. I just want to feel better, I don't need to be entertained (and I never am).

When we scientists discover the origin of the force of gravity and the engineers exploit that knowledge to make flying cars, the people will take notice, trust me. But when we start making junk science like we've made junk food for the masses, nobody wins. Have you seen whats on TV lately? Are these really the imaginations we want to cater to?

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#15
In reply to #11

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 8:30 PM

Well, I don't own a TV, so I have no idea what is on there. Too scary to even think about.

Still, do not forget who pays the salary when it comes to government funding or sponsored programs like NASA. It doesn't necessitate that the masses are stupid, just ignorant. If you expect tax dollars to pay for these programs people want to know there is something tangible coming from their contributions.

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#18
In reply to #15

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:02 AM

You Wrote "If you expect tax dollars to pay for these programs people want to know there is something tangible coming from their contributions."

I agree, but the tangible thing they need to understand is the result, not the method. The argument for a manned mission to mars is all the stuff we'll learn on the way, I doubt that catches their imagination like going to another solar system.

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#20
In reply to #18

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 6:38 AM

You are right! However, we are still taking baby steps.

The extrasolar mission would be one of some fanfare at the launch, but forgotten the next month because of the decades it would take to reach the target. Then there would be excitement (if it succeeded) or disgust (if it failed).

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#23
In reply to #20

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 11:20 AM

I disagree that it would have to take decades. If we could get to .25 c then we would get there in 16 years.

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#26
In reply to #23

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 1:34 PM

Are you talking average speed or final velocity?

If you are in your car and at a stop light, then accelerate to 25 mph, then apply the brakes again to stop at the next light 1/10 mile away, your time to destination is not 1/250th of an hour, but longer due to the time it takes to get up to 25 mph and back down to zero.

The best candidates for interstellar drives take a long time to reach cruising speed. Then if you intend to slow down to park in orbit about your target system, you have to reverse thrusters and begin the deceleration phase of the flight. I would guess there would be a strong urge to not want to decelerate (cost and time budgets), but simply pass by the system and keep going onto the next.

Still, there is a much longer transit time for the mission.

Even if your average speed is .25C, which I think is going to be hard to get, you still have a 4-year journey for the data to be relayed to Earth (unless we use subspace ;-) ). That makes the mission effectively a 20-year mission, not 16.

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#29
In reply to #26

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 2:42 PM

You Wrote "Even if your average speed is .25C, which I think is going to be hard to get, you still have a 4-year journey for the data to be relayed to Earth (unless we use subspace ;-) ). That makes the mission effectively a 20-year mission, not 16."

You're acting like 10 years of analysing the data found in interstellar wind would be useless. That information alone would be worth the trip and would begin within a year or two. There could also be some data collected on the Kuiper belt objects, not to mention the stuff we don't know about. The point is, we will be going to places we've never been, getting data we've never had.

And as for my .25 c, it was just a rough estimate. There are relativistic effects, Solar System Escape velocity, orbital manuevering, etc to consider. I was only trying to demonstrate that what people instinctually call "impossible" is simply difficult.

As for communications, obviously we'll have to use some clever programing so that the probe is autonomous to a point, however it will take 4 years for the data to get back to us, at least, that's true, but only the data from the other solar system, not the other stuff in between.

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#37
In reply to #29

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:26 PM

"You're acting like 10 years of analysing the data found in interstellar wind would be useless."

How do you draw that conclusion?

I am simply pointing out that there are some issues with the statement you first proposed with going to another solar system. I am not disagreeing with the scientific merits of that mission. It would be an amazing feat, but it still is a very long-term project. There is probably 10 to 15 years of planning and development and another 20 years before we get to the jewel. And you are correct that there would be value from data along the way. It is an exciting prospect.

However, my real point all along has been that we live in a changing society and congressional funding objects. It is hard to keep congress focused on 2-year plans, let alone 30 years.

The unfortunate reality is that we still need to balance dog and pony shows with hard science. You and everyone else can argue that the dog and pony shows are a waste of resources and funding, but without them there would be no funding at all. So we have to accept the good with the bad.

I can clearly see your side of the story here from and engineer/scientist point of view, but I also feel there is a broader side to the picture where most people are not engineers and scientists. They have a different perspective and if we fail to grasp an understanding of it, then it truly does degrade to an us against them mentality, which is exactly what you said you despised.

Anyway, I think we have beaten that point to death. How about this proposal? What do you say to creating a new thread discussing the technologies and ramifications of creating an extrasolar mission? I think that would be interesting to do.

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#41
In reply to #37

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:41 PM

You Wrote: "Anyway, I think we have beaten that point to death. How about this proposal? What do you say to creating a new thread discussing the technologies and ramifications of creating an extrasolar mission? I think that would be interesting to do."

Agreed, I'll set it up.

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#48
In reply to #41

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 7:23 PM

Great!

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 4:22 PM

The idea that going to the Mars is simply a longer version of going to the moon is just not correct. There are very large technical hurdles to leap before we can go to Mars. We have to develop ways to mitigate extreme radiation, weightlessness, renewable food supplies, propulsion, building habitats, processing raw materials in situ - we don't have the technology to do any of this stuff today.

Going to Mars will require a technological effort beyond what it took to do Apollo, adding greatly to our technical and scientific knowledge - who knows what the benefits might be.

I agree that unmanned probes are the best way to learn about other planets and stars. But unmanned missions really only expand our knowledge of these other places. Although the knowledge we reap is vast and valuable, it doesn't really push us ahead in so any other areas of technology like Apollo did, and like a Mars mission would.

Hubble and the Mars Rovers are perfect examples. The scientific data they've collected is wonderful, but we didn't have to create anything new, technically, to accomplish them.

I guarantee you that if we had a man on Mars or the moon, and he had a CR4 blog, it would get millions of hits everyday.

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#12
In reply to #7

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 5:05 PM

Look, I'm not saying that going to Mars wouldn't take a lot of effort, I'm sure it will. I'm saying what's the point? So we get people on Mars, big deal. I don't care. Now if you tell me so and so is landing on an unexplored planet in a nearby solar system, then I start to tear up, that's moving.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/23/2008 5:12 PM

The road to Vulcan starts on the earth, then goes through the moon, Mars, and Titan.

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#19
In reply to #13

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:09 AM

There's thousands (at least) of asteroids after Mars, why not check each and every one of them. That way we can never get anywhere and never do anything and there's absolutely no risk of failure.

Imagine if after rediscovering america, the Europeans displayed the delibrate pace we are in space exploration. Do you think crossing the Pacific seemed remotely possible back then? Yet when I suggest a trip 4 light years away it seems like science fiction to you. Why? Have you thought about it. Have you considered if there is a means to achieve thrust of .25 c. That would mean a trip of 16 years, more than reasonable to capture the imagination of the world. Surely us high and mighty engineers, if we took the time, could come up with a method of achieving such speeds with the resources we have. Think what we could learn about interstellar space, relativity, etc. Is it really such a bad idea, or should we just trust the old people who tell us that we should stick to Mars and believe them when they try to tell us its a good idea? A generation that's stuck in the past of the moon landings? I think the "practicality" on display here is nothing more than laziness. It could be done.

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#21
In reply to #19

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 6:44 AM

Well, a thrust of .25C would take a bit longer than 16 years considering much of the trip would be accelerating and decelerating.

However, your point is valid and the science tantalizing. I think that you will see the effort made in your lifetime, but I don't know if I will.

The space program moves disappointingly slow, but that is the reality of the world. There are many who believe it worthless altogether. It is a constant battle to win hearts and minds.

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#25
In reply to #21

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 11:40 AM

You Wrote: "Well, a thrust of .25C would take a bit longer than 16 years considering much of the trip would be accelerating and decelerating."

Now your talking, but have you done the math? For instance if you have an acceleration of 2 g's, how long would it take to get to .3 c?

Roughly 600 days of thrust and not counting escape velocity from our solar system (which I don't have time at the moment to look up. (I left out relativistic effects too which should still be relatively small at .3 c). Yikes. Hey, I never said it would be easy. But there is a difference between easy and possible and this is most definitely possible.

You Wrote: "The space program moves disappointingly slow, but that is the reality of the world. There are many who believe it worthless altogether. It is a constant battle to win hearts and minds."

Sad but true. The problem is that when you try to cater to everyone, no ones really happy. True innovation (how much am I starting to hate that word now) requires aggressive moves. Think Hannibal crossing the Alps or Alexander building the causeway to Tyre. The first thing people said was "that's impossible" followed by "oh my god their burning our cities". I guess my point is that if NASA is going to do something special, its going to have to take real risks.

Just to be clear, I'm suggesting a probe to another solar system, not a manned mission.

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#28
In reply to #25

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 1:40 PM

Ah! Makes sense. However, what kind of propulsion would generate 2g of acceleration for nearly 2 years!

Obviously, nothing we have today, but given what we know possible with physics, what kind of impulse drive could do that?

As I just mentioned a few minutes ago, you need to factor the time for the data to be transmitted back to Earth, which adds 4 years onto the mission. So 20 years before we see results.

By the way - great discussion!

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#32
In reply to #28

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:16 PM

AH,

Agreed, I'm enjoying this discussion as well. Please note that I made a terrible error in my calculations earlier. At 2g acceleration, it would take 60 days, not 600 days to reach .3 c. My bad.

Yes, regarding the thrust, I figure we'd have to go with a sustained nuclear reaction. Now I'm making the argument that the propulsion system can be assembled in space so that escape velocity from Earth isn't necessary. Also lets assume the acceleration occurs for half the trip. Let's also say we're going to Proxima Centauri (4.22 light years away). This doesn't have to be the case. Other stars that may be within range include:

Barnard's Star (5.9 LY)
Wolf 359 (7.7 LY)
Lalande 21185 (8.21 LY)
Sirius (8.6 LY)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closest_stars

To calculate a nice constant acceleration, keep in mind:

g=9.8 m/s2
1 Year = 31556926 seconds

Vfinal = Vi + at (I'm assuming initial velocity = 0 for simplicity)

so

How long would it take to reach .5 c with .5 g acceleration?

.5 c = 0 + (.5g)t
t ~ 1 Year

So would a nuclear fission based probe be able to sustain .5 g acceleration for 1 year (we won't worry about slowing down right now)

I'll look around and see what could produce this sort of thrust for that amount of time.

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#22
In reply to #19

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 10:21 AM

I think you should read your history again. Columbus didn't just wake one day and decide to go find the Indies. There were many earlier voyages - the exploration of the coasts of Africa for instance, and much development of ships before he had the technology and scientific knowledge to make the trip.

It's the same with space travel. We have the technology to get back to the moon. We haven't yet developed the technology to stay there. Going to Mars is an order of magnitude more difficult than going to the moon. The next order of magnitude gets us to Jupiter or Saturn. 5 or 10 more orders of magnitude and you can go to another star. You can sit and dream all you want - I'm building space ships.

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#24
In reply to #22

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 11:21 AM

Yes, thanks for the history lesson that everyone knows.

It's been almost 40 years since we have gone to the moon. By the time we get to Mars, 60 years will have passed. I'm not impressed.

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#27
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Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 1:35 PM

Nor I!!!

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#31
In reply to #27

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:09 PM

I'm sorry we can't impress you. All we can do is what the current administration tells us to do. Elect a government that wants us to go to Alpha Centauri and and we'll do that.

(Don't forget to fund your mandate.)

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#33
In reply to #31

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:34 PM

Bhankii,

You Wrote "I'm sorry we can't impress you."

Who the heck made you NASA? As Scientists and Engineers, we're all in this together. And I'm sorry I'm not going to sit here, hold your hand, and assure you at a mission to Mars is a great idea when it isn't. Emperor has no clothes and all that, unless of course you actually believe I'm the only one who feels this way about a mission to Mars.

On your second point regarding funding the mandate, if you were just pointing out that the President suggested a trip to Mars but didn't provide any money to do it. In that case I hear you loud and clear and agree but if you are somehow suggestion a probe to another solar system would be prohibitively expensive, I disagree and welcome you to join in the discussion of how it might be achieved cheaply.

Consider this, if your first reaction to the suggestion that sending a probe to another star was incredulity, yet upon further review turns out to be practical, isn't that exactly the sort of thing NASA needs?

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#35
In reply to #33

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:10 PM

I only refer to myself as NASA because that's what's on my pay stub. And I guess I missed the post where I was incredulous of sending a probe to another star. What I am incredulous of is the idea that going to the moon, Mars and the rest of the solar system is somehow not worthy of the effort.


I have zero problem with sending any probe anywhere. Sending probes is easy. Let's fund any one of the NASA advanced propulsion ideas that have been cut over the past two decades and go for it. I'm for sending as many probes to as many places as often as we can.

My point is simply that, for manned missions, an incremental approach is necessary. You go back to the moon and build a base and learn to live in a relatively safe place that's just a couple of weeks from home. You learn to process materials into oxygen, water and fuel. You use that knowledge to travel to Mars and build a base there, and so on - that's how you spread man's presence through the solar system.

And my other point is simply that manned exploration advances technology more than unmanned exploration does - because it requires development in so many more areas, while unmanned exploration has a higher pure science payoff - because it's just about gathering information - and that can be done on the cheap.

The idea that going to Mars is somehow a second class goal is crazy to me. Let's take your own example. If the next step after Columbus was Magellan, no one would have discovered and conquered the Aztecs and Incas and stolen all their gold, and exploration would have fizzled out - because neither Columbus nor Magellan discovered anything of great interest to their patrons. If no one had made that boring trip to Jamestown (been there, done that) there would have been no America, no end to monarchy, no rock and roll, nothing.

I'm for all exploration, anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

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#39
In reply to #35

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:33 PM

What exactly will we be exploring on Mars? What do we hope to find? We've sent rovers, satelities, probes. Why isn't every shuttle trip hailed as a manned mission to low orbit?

There is no exploration here, just going through the motions. It's like that contest of the first men to ride a hot air balloon around the world, nobody cared. I'm sure there were a ton of technical innovations due to that project, but doing something just for the sake of doing it isn't inspiring, and if you don't understand that, then that's why you don't understand where I'm coming from.

Let me ask you, honestly, would you rather send a man to Mars, or a probe to Alpha Proxima?

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#42
In reply to #39

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:51 PM

Every shuttle trip is hailed as a manned mission to LEO. There is great fanfare here at JSC at every launch and every touchdown. That's because we know what a difficult and dangerous thing it is to do.

Personally, I would rather send a man to Mars than a probe to Alpha Promixa, just as I'd rather climb a local hill than look at pictures of the Himalayas. But, I can't understand why you don't want to let me do both.

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#43
In reply to #42

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:56 PM

I give up. Rather than debate this issue which we are never going to agree on, how about we team up. I would value your input on hypothetically how interstellar travel could be done and what could be gained. I've started a new thread, take a look and throw in your analysis of what approach could be taken.

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#46
In reply to #39

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 5:40 PM

There is no contest. The autonomous probe to Proxima Centauri and 2 or 3 others, hands down.

The autonomous operation was already tried carefully in a recent approach to a comet. The high specific impulse ion drives prove to be very useful and reliable. The isotope power stack is bulletproof power source for many years, but not enough to supply the drives. Beyond that, the nuclear stack was tried and surely would work, but for the brouhaha and kneejerk reaction. I dimly remember, the power was high, the specific impulse over 10times higher than chemical. They are not heavy, as most shielding is not needed in space. 0.1c is nothing to sneeze at to really to go to places. Having read for a long time with an eye toward this, Pournelle, Niven, Forward etc. it is amazing who they had as sources for their writings.

Further out is the laser driven two stage craft. The concept is straightforward, but the magnitude is daunting. The most intriguing is still the Bussard concept. Picking up fuel along the way, producing fusion without storing the starting material aboard. Good for 0.8c? Even for local traffic: a couple weeks to Mars and back, a few more to Jupiter and back. Instead, they are planning how many years and how many ten billion dollars just to Mars right now?

Compared to any of these manned flight to neighbours are oh so pedestrian.

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#50
In reply to #19

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 11:04 PM

Roger, I do not think laziness is the issue. A vast majority of humanity, unfortunately, has no interest in something that does not give immediate gratification. Nor are they interested in learning or growing outside their "comfort zone". And they especially are not willing to pay for the effort to learn what is necessary to accomplish these goals.

As for "settling" for Mars, if you believe the current buzz, Mars could be a new home for humanity, with several hundred years (400 years the last estimate I saw for mere oxygen masks on the surface) for terraforming.

Venus is actually a better choice. It could be habitable in roughly 150 years.

As for interstellar travel, humanity could be building a colony on Alpha Centuri A2 twenty years from now. Please read the thread "Warp Drive Coming?"

As for space exploration, it is essential for human survival, I quote Arthur C. Clarke, "If we fail the Challenge of Space, we will have turned our backs upon the yet untrodden heights that Humanity may reach and will retrace our steps back to the shores of the primeval seas."

It is either continue to advance, or be run over by nature, there is no standing still.

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#57
In reply to #4

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 4:55 PM

I think we cannot even walk yet, why try to jump? There is soooo much we don't know yet about our own doorstep, that should be the driving force.

To think we need to do something because of it's attractive image for some part of the worlds population seems so unscientific to me. To hell with them, we need to learn.

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#16

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 12:38 AM

The list is fine as it is. Some personal preferences here and there, but that's it. I am glad you left out the new manned missions, as they strike me as theatrics and monumental waste of money. I read closely, what the magnificent Apollo did cost in missed opportunities, and much more so the space shuttle. That is clearly the result of muddled thinking. Stuff need a lift by some rough and ready truck. People are more delicate, but need a much smaller, and much less expensive lift.

The Mars rovers are prime example. Designed for a few weeks use, they are still roaming. Huge bang for the bucks. No heroics, no soap opera, nobody died. I do not need to bodily go to Mars, infect it with my bodily bacteria and make a general nuisance. A good telepresence will do for my entertainment just fine, thank you. Bigger, better rovers are in design, good.

There are a few programs I would like to see deployed. One is a multi mirror optical telescope flying in formation. Next is a second one to create an interferometer, where the mirrors are in the leadig and lagging Trojan for example. The same with radio dishes. With such a long baseline planets should be visible for many ligthyears. Resolution many magnitudes over Hubble. Visiting and setting down rover on an asteroid. Same for a comet. What about outer planets? The smaller ones, like Ceres? None of these requires my bodily presence with bloated budgets that sucks out the oxygen from anything around it. Romanticism is too expensive at that price.

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#17

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 1:39 AM

During war time, science and technological research flourish with an almost boundless budgets. Many peace time spin offs come from wartime research (microwave, radar, communications to name bu a few)

In peace time sciences and Technological research is starved of funds unless one can show a net profit from intellectual property and business opportunities.

In peace time NASA does scientific and technological reseach with genrous budgets like in war time, but the work in general is for peaceful purposes.

Although NASA is focussed on space research, its work has given mankind many spinoffs in health and every day technologcal advances. To me these are wonderful achievements, and are as valuable to mankind as advancing pure astronomical and cosmological knowledge.

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#30
In reply to #17

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 2:53 PM

The company I work for has in the past worked with NASA to improve our products. The NASA Space Act of 1958, as well as the following amending acts passed by our lovely Congress mandate that NASA must be proactive in licensing it's technology to companies. Since the taxpayer's are funding NASA, they should get something out of it more than just "ooh look what we sent to the moon!" We get better technologies, commericalized by American companies (or foreign companies with a significant American presence), thus we have more jobs, etc. Perhaps the ranking of the missions should be framed in terms of what technologies came about.

Why was it so important to go to the moon in the 1960s? Because going to moon meant a vast investment in scientific and technological research - but JFK had to frame it is something more interesting than "let's all become nerds!" The problem at the time was we were afraid of the Soviets, and JFK needed to mobilize the population to go into science and tech to "defeat" the Soviets. He did it with the framework of going to the moon.

fyi: www.nasasolutions.com - its under construction right now but it has good info..

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#34
In reply to #30

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 3:35 PM

Great, so NASA isn't about exploring anymore, its about R&D. That's like spending all your time studying the dictionary so that you can be a good writer. That may sound good on the marketing brochure, but it doesn't work in real life. Keep on drinking the kool-aid though.

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#36
In reply to #34

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:17 PM

Life is research and development. Everything we do adds to our accumulated experience, and has the potential to changes the way we do things in future.

Some people and some countries are proactive in accelerating themselves into new experiences.

America and NASA are a good example and should be proud of their achievements, and I am surprised to read such a cynical remark.

NASA has something for everyone. Exploration, technical improvements, health improvements etc etc. One day Roger, you may benefit from one of the many health R&D activities of NASA, or maybe as an engineer, the next problem you solve will have NASA content in the solution.

Those who contribute seriously in CR4 also are adding and sharing knowledge in the hope that what they learn may be helpful to themselves and others.

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#38
In reply to #36

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:28 PM

Lleros, Is that Melbourne USA or "Down Under"?

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#45
In reply to #38

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 5:36 PM

Melbourne "Down Under"

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#40
In reply to #36

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 4:39 PM

What are you talking about?

I'm not bashing NASA, what I'm saying is that a manned mission to Mars is a waste of resources that I would rather see spent on a probe to Alpha Proxima. I'm arguing that it will fail to capture the imagination of people because its not really exploration, its just being sold that way. I was the one celebrating the accomplishments with this list and I was the one who hailed Hubble as a giant success, so don't mischaracterise my opinions with hyperbole.

Seriously people, like it or not, I'm speaking from the heart here, and if some of you believe I'm the only one who feels this way, well, good luck with that.

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#44
In reply to #34

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 5:08 PM

Oooook....so here's the thing: I've been to NASA sites, I worked on a project going up on one of the shuttles this year, my company has a space act agreement with NASA for one of our products, and I've worked with other companies that also have space act agreements with them. I may only be 25, but I've personally seen the "kool-aid" you are referring to.

NASA is very much about exploring, it's the central ideal behind its mission. But there has to be more than just pure curiosity behind its work, otherwise not only would the government not fund it, but it wouldn't be as relevant to our lives as it is. Pure curiosity is very important, because we don't know what we can discover until we've been curious about it. Some projects lead to nothing, some to many things. Are the projects that lead to nothing completely worthless? Of course not. We didn't know what we will get until we have tried. But for the projects that do lead to something, the question is where do we go from there? NASA works with companies to commercialize the technologies that come out from its projects, because it is funded by taxpayers it benefits taxpayers. Simply put that is an important part of their work.

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#47
In reply to #44

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 6:54 PM

Tell me something Rita, why would I make a top 20 list of NASA Programs and rank Hubble #1 if I believed that NASA was only about R&D. I was responding to another comment.

My argument is simple. All I'm saying is that I think a manned mission to Mars isn't really exploration, its marketing. An example of a real mission that would capture peoples imagination would be sending a probe at near light speeds to another solar system nearby.

None of that depends on how old you are, where you work, etc because it is simply how I feel. I also feel that I'm not the only person who feels this way.

The argument that keeps getting thrown in my face is how much we would learn on such a mission. Yes, I agree we would learn a lot. You learn a lot any time we try something new, but that doesn't mean it makes doing the thing worth it. For instance, we could send a human to each and every moon, planet, asteroid, comet in this solar system and call it "exploration", but would it really be? When does it just become us being afraid of taking the next logical step so instead we take tiny baby steps instead so that we don't risk failure. Call it managing risk, but when you manage risk, you're managing reward as well. In my opinion.

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#49
In reply to #47

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/24/2008 8:08 PM

I concur fully. Please read my note #46, that got somehow misplaced.

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#51

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/25/2008 9:36 AM

The original intent of this thread was to praise NASA, now people think I hate NASA, I'm not sure how it happened but for the record I don't. NASA means a lot to me, and as someone who cares about it I have strong opinions on it, but only because I want to see it succeed spectacularly. It feels like I can't criticize NASA at all. I have to either love it entirely, or hate it, and that doesn't make any sense to me.

I'm kind of unhappy where this thread went but I have no one to blame but myself. Going back to the original intent, how would any of you rank the programs listed in importance?

As I said in the beginning, I'm a big fan of Hubble from all the stuff we learned from it, not to mention that it has had all kinds of trouble but NASA has impressively over come each and every issue (starting with the lens trouble). Voyagers 1 and 2 captured my imagination when I was young and reading anything I could on the other planets (composition, atmosphere, size, rotation, etc.)

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#52
In reply to #51

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/25/2008 10:28 AM

I don't think you were hateful of NASA, you just had a different opinion of what NASA's objectives should be than some other people.

What's wrong with that?

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#53
In reply to #51

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/25/2008 7:28 PM

Roger, I do not hate NASA nor love it. NASA has done the best it could considering the lack of interest from the public and elected officials. I am not even disappointed in the progress made with the little funds it has.

What infuriates me are the short sighted fools who think that the money invested in the future of the human race "could be better spent here"!

What those people don't realize is that a vast majority of our medical, scientific, meteorological, metallurgical and quite a few other advances came directly from the "race to the moon".

Think of what is possible from the race to Mars? We will not be racing another Government but we will be racing time. How soon before another ELE (extinction level event) occurs? Funding several wars and Government programs for people who have no desire to improve themselves could easily have paid for a permanent presence on the moon and at least an advance base on Mars. Perhaps even the terraforming of Venus. Who knows. At this rate we might not get the opportunity.

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#54
In reply to #53

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 1:18 AM

The point I've been trying to make is there is no "race for mars". It's a completely contrived political idea.

Are we so far gone that we're not going to fight for that next great step? We're like the Romans, hugging the Mediterranean and calling it the world. If we're ever going to make real progress, the first step is to stop lying to ourselves. The truth is, we've stopped trying. NASA, god bless it, is working miracles with what little they've got. What they managed to do with Hubble, Chandra, etc. is deliver on a low budget.

Yet their budget gets smaller and smaller and smaller (relative to inflation). What NASA is doing now is trying to market itself and is losing its soul through attrition. I know NASA feels like it has no choice because the politicians are circling like vultures, but the problem is they are trying to convince the politicians. That will never work. What they need to do is ignore the politicians and appeal to the hearts of Americans so that it becomes politically costly to attack NASA. I refuse to believe that the only thing Americans care about anymore is Reality TV. I think America is starving for something that NASA could provide if they would just think bigger.

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#55
In reply to #54

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 2:07 AM

Dear Roger, I could not agree more, The politicians are doing what ever they think will get them elected. If that means cutting the money for projects that will truly benefit all of humanity so that they can say that money will go to some ridiculous pork barrel project then they will do it.

I think we as scientists and engineers should take it upon ourselves do what ever is necessary. To the pit with the politicians. I for one am working on a new project that just may take that power out of their hands. We shall see.

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#58
In reply to #54

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 5:01 PM

Dear Roger, If the Romans did not know the Mediterranean inside out, do you really think they would have had a hope in hell to conquer the rest of Europe? Of course not, they were too clever.

If you want to venture out with a mind to get an advantage, you better know your home turf. What is the point of all that "exploration" if you have no point of reference?

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#62
In reply to #58

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/27/2008 3:16 PM

Case,

You made my argument. Check your history, the Romans didn't conquer Europe. They stopped at the Rhine, and it was those nations, the goths, the vandals, etc. that ultimately destroyed them.

When Caesar conquered the Gauls it was said it couldn't be done. 100,000s of Gauls fell to tens of thousands of Romans. Today we take this for granted as the inevitable expansion of the Roman empire, but at the time it was considered foolish.

The beginning of the decline of the Roman empire was when they stopped expanding. Now I'm not saying we need to go to another solar system for military reasons, but I do think there will be a decline in scientific progress if we start circling the wagons and stop pushing ourselves.

How many probes, rovers, people to Mars is enough for us to take the next step? Caution, in moderation is wise, but like anything else, in excess it's harmful.

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#63
In reply to #62

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/27/2008 5:01 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the main point of your reply. We never were far apart on that one I believe. Unfortunately they have a limited budget and these things will be decided upon by popular vote rather than scientific merit.

With regards to the Romans, I think it is the same with the Germans that they spread themselves too thinly too far.

Besides the downfall of the Romans was really their decadence and the decay started within their society first, if not only there. I am no historian either but I think it is a bad analogy in this instance.

To summarise I think we agree on that we NEED to venture further out to learn. I hope we could also agree that we need to learn more about our doorstep before we could possibly benefit from this properly. This does not rule either one out, the money would do that for us.

Changing the subject slightly, would you sign up for one of those ventures? 15 years ago I would have, now I think too much about my family but I know it is still a big second place. Just a little teaser

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#64
In reply to #63

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/28/2008 10:59 AM

Your Wrote "Besides the downfall of the Romans was really their decadence and the decay started within their society first, if not only there. I am no historian either but I think it is a bad analogy in this instance."

That is precisely my point and my analogy. What we are dealing with is the decay of our scientific system. I'm not saying its on the verge of collapse, it's far from that, but we have gotten a bit decadent, haven't we? I mean, when you go to a conference and 1/3 of the papers are on Carbon Nanotubes, isn't that a red flag?

Your assumption is that a trip to another solar system would be much more expensive than their current projects ( I base this on your statement "Unfortunately they have a limited budget and these things will be decided upon by popular vote rather than scientific merit."), but it is my belief (which I believe is logical when you think of it) that a probe to another solar sytem would in fact be cheaper than a manned mission to Mars.

I believe the problem isn't with resources or physical obsticals but in fact our mental predisposition. It is assumed its impossible or expense so nobody bothers to check if that's the reality.

Regarding your last question "would you sign up for one of those ventures?" I'm assuming you mean a trip to the Moon or Mars. I don't know. Let me put it this way, if something went wrong and I died on the way to the moon, there is no way I would think "well, I'm going to die but it was worth it". Still, I doubt I would turn down the chance to go to the Moon or Mars. For the record though, I'd rather go somewhere in the solar system we haven't been like some other moon or planet.

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#65
In reply to #64

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/28/2008 12:57 PM

I think the decay of our system, as you put it, is not a result of our choices as to what to put our research efforts in but because of the pressures from society in general. Everything gets dumbed down due to those pesky doo gooders and their eternal moaning of "rights", "safety" and the risk of litigation or other persecution / prosecution.

What I meant with the popular vote is going to decide what will happen next is maybe less to do with money than with what the peoples perspective is of what "might be beneficial" to them. Space exploration is on a very low flame for most and that is unfortunate. Maybe we should address this point as well as it seems to affect all layers of engineering. In this light I would have thought that maybe a trip to Mars would be easier to scrape together than an expedition by unmanned probe to some star nobody has heard of. If they, NASA, need the peoples vote behind them, it could well be that this kind of consideration is going to make the difference.

I think though, that no matter what the cost of each is individually, it will come into the whole thing as a choice provider because the governments of this world will have to keep some cash aside for their war efforts. Shame that this is the truth.

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The Engineer
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#66
In reply to #65

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/28/2008 1:23 PM

You Wrote "I think though, that no matter what the cost of each is individually, it will come into the whole thing as a choice provider because the governments of this world will have to keep some cash aside for their war efforts. Shame that this is the truth"

Too True.

The U.S. has spent $400 billion on this Iraq war so far. That's over 20 years of funding for NASA.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/business/17leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

http://zfacts.com/p/447.html

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#67
In reply to #66

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/28/2008 1:50 PM

I knew the war effort would far outstrip any money spent on science and technology but I did not realise it was this unbalanced.

These figures do not make much sense to me I am afraid, where do new satelites fit in? I see no room here for the hubble repair or the new planned James Webb to only name one. What catagory would that be in?

The Hubble repair is estimated at £428 million including launch (pounds sterling that is almost double in Dollars). Planned for August 2008.

Messenger Mercury flyby costed £204 million including launch. Started 2004 and planned for rendez vous in 2011.

Lunar reconnaisance orbitter cost £38 million exluding launch. Planned for October 08

Phoenix lands on Mars May 2008. Cost £200 million including launch.

Glast launches February 08. Cost is £330 million including launch.

Solar dynamics Obs launches August 2008. Cost £58 million excluding launch.

IBEX (interstallar boundary explorer) launch June 08. cost £64 million including launch.

Add all these up and you get not much room in the figures above to fit them in anywhere.

I do not understand how this table works to be honest.

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The Engineer
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#68
In reply to #67

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/28/2008 6:36 PM

The table is in terms of millions of dollars. Add six zeros to all those numbers and you have the cost.

The total budget for Fiscal Year 2007 (FY 2007) is denoted as 16,792.30 which means $16,792,300,000 ($16 Billion)

Hopefully the table makes more sense now.

Still, with a war costing $400 Billion total and NASA budget under $20 Billion, that's 20 years of NASA this war could have paid for, at least.

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#59

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/26/2008 5:12 PM

Where is the James Webb Telescope in all of this?

If we are talking about progress, we should look forward and not hang around in past triumphs and tribulations.

As for probes to some far far away star, I think we can learn as much on the spot from our own little space here with telescopes such as Hubble and JWT than could be possible from years and years of travel by a probe. Better spend the money on learning how to transport people through space without killing them. Some day that could become a lifesaver.

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#60
In reply to #59

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/27/2008 2:42 AM

I disagree. Just as we learned a ton by studying solar winds, so too could we learn a ton studying interstellar winds (which originate in the core of the galaxy). Once we got past the mental hurdle of leaving our solar system, and if you look into it, it does turn out just to be a mental hurdle, then all kinds of possibilities open up to us.

I'm saying this is the only thing NASA should do, I think the space telescopes are great and should be improved, but I do think we, as scientists, need to sit ourselves down and acknowledge that we seem to be afraid to take the next step. Those other stars aren't as far away as we like to pretend.

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#61
In reply to #60

Re: Ranking NASA Programs and Missions

01/27/2008 5:51 AM

I think you forgot a little word "not" in your statement but if I read it correctly I have to agree with you on the fact that neither view should limit the other as we will need both in the end.

All I am saying is that we need to learn to walk before running and then jumping. As long as shuttles blow up and we almost loose other astronauts, we miss an entire planet with a probe and we mistake our own probe for a near earth object, I think we have quite some way to go yet before the door to the rest of our universe should be bolted open.

Errors will always be made but some of these are just downright embarrassing. Some caused by elementary faults in our own social structure down on earth. We need to clean up big-time before this becomes a smooth operation that has the biggest chance of success that is mathematically feasible. This can only be done through experience and that means engaging more in what we know so-far.

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