Transterrestrial Musings

Defend Free Speech!

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type 4.0
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« Who's Bitter? | Main | Feel-Good Disaster »


In the comments section of a post public support for the space program over at Space Politics, a twenty something asks a damed good question:

Those who support the current lunar program often forget the opportunity costs. There are better ways to spend the same money on developing space. I'm 24 - with the current Constellation program plan, I'll be in my mid 30s by the time we get back to the moon. If we operate the system for a decade or two after that, as is likely, all I can expect in my career is to see 4 people land on the moon twice a year. That is not exciting - nor is it worth the money. Maybe by the time I retire we'll be looking at another "next generation system".

What's the point of any of this for someone my age?

Well, it's been more than a couple decades since I was twenty something, but it seems like there's even less point for someone my age. Why in the world does Mike Griffin think that anyone, other than those getting a paycheck from it, are going to be inspired by such a trivial goals?

Of course, as usual, we heard the typical chorus of "space is hard, and it will take a long time, and you're doing it for your grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, or great-great-great...grandchildren."

But it doesn't have to be this way. There was nothing inevitable about ESAS, and it isn't written in granite that government space programs must do the least possible with the greatest amount of money, and the money invested provide such a poor return in either output or future capability on which to build. It is likely that this will be the case, but it's not inevitable. As I've said many times, we won't have a sensible government space program until space (that is, actual progress in space, not jobs in certain districts) becomes politically important. The last time that occurred was in the 1960s, and even then, it wasn't politically important to have sustainable progress--only a specific space achievement (and that only because it had almost arbitrarily become a technological gladiatorial arena).

Anyway, Jon Goff followed up with a good comment, and then a blog post on the subject:

If our current approach to space development was actually putting in place the technology and infrastructure needed to make our civilization a spacefaring one, I'd be a lot more willing to support it. Wise investments in the future are a good thing, but NASA's current approach is not a wise investment in the future. It's aging hipsters trying to relive the glory days of their youth at my generation's expense.

Patience is only a virtue when you're headed in the right direction and doing the right thing. If Constellation was truly (as Marburger put it) making future operations cheaper, safer, and more capable, then I'd be all for patiently seeing it out.

While Constellation might possibly put some people on the moon, it won't actually put us any closer to routine, affordable, and sustainable exploration and development. I have no problem with a long hard road, just so long as its the right one.

Unfortunately, it comes back to the fact that we never have had that serious national debate about space, and why we have a space program, that we so badly need (and despite his wishy-washy words now, I doubt that it will happen in an Obama administration, either). As the Chesire Cat said, if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.


0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Impatience.

TrackBack URL for this entry:


ken anthony wrote:

People are now finally putting their own money into it. All they really need is for the government to stay out the damned way. It's clear that NASA has no goal or perhaps so many that it amounts to the same thing.

It's time for smaller government, but I see us trending to other way.

Have we any control left?

I was ten when we landed on the moon. It's disgusting that we haven't gone farther in all these years.

Paul Spudis wrote:

If Constellation was truly (as Marburger put it) making future operations cheaper, safer, and more capable, then I'd be all for patiently seeing it out.

Marburger never endorsed the current architecture in his speech (click HERE to read it). If anything, he was re-making the point that the intent of the VSE was to create new spacefaring capability, not to spend government money at a rate below some arbitrarily set level. NASA has never gotten this point and I doubt that they ever will.

Jonathan wrote:

I don't know much about space issues much less follow them closely, but even I can see that today's NASA is mainly about bureaucratic self-perpetuation. I watched part of the recent 60 Minutes piece on Mars and it was a joke (no surprise). If they interviewed any critics or people involved in private space development I missed it. NASA's plan, even presented in the best light, seems so cautious, complex and drawn out that it's difficult to imagine it succeeding. Where are the focused vision and animal spirits needed to pursue such a plan for years despite the inevitable surprises and setbacks? (Obvious answer: In the private sector. But 60 Minutes won't go there.) The NASA scheme has "endless boondoggle" written all over it.

Jonathan Goff wrote:

That's a fair point. Making manned space into an financially important and profitable part of our country's (and civilization's) economic sphere should be the long-term goal. The problem with NASA is one of not knowing how to truly define value--or with the feedback mechanisms between them and Congress not being based on real value to the public.


Leave a comment

Note: The comment system is functional, but timing out when returning a response page. If you have submitted a comment, DON'T RESUBMIT IT IF/WHEN IT HANGS UP AND GIVES YOU A "500" PAGE. Simply click your browser "Back" button to the post page, and then refresh to see your comment.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on April 20, 2008 9:09 AM.

Who's Bitter? was the previous entry in this blog.

Feel-Good Disaster is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.1