Thursday, September 08, 2011

Washington Fears Costs Of Manned Space Travel

A Wall Street Journal article seems to indicate the White House is balking at the proposed $25 billion price tag NASA has put on the development of a heavy lift rocket and subsequent manned spacecraft.

This hardly seems a surprise. If ever there was a time for opponents of manned space travel to pounce, it is right now. This moment in history is going to make or break the U.S. space program.

Space travel is expensive. It is also risky. This combination of risk and cost make it seem like something we should put off until we are better able to afford both. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work like that.

If human history has taught us anything it is that the more the challenging the times we live in, the more likely the need for us to embrace a paradigm shift.

Despite the billions of dollars we have invested in the manned space travel and the International Space Station we have reaped literally trillions of dollars in benefits. From the thousands of people employed in the space industry; scientific and medical developments, new products and manufacturing techniques have left us much better off than we would have been without it.

There simply is no excuse for the United States to consider cutting funds for space technology and development at the same moment they are embracing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and Big Business.

In his article, "White House Experiences Sticker Shock Over NASA's Plans", Wall Street Journal reporter Andy Pasztor breaks the issue down by the numbers:

Based on priorities already adopted by Congress—then adjusting for projected inflation and accelerated development efforts—the document indicates it could cost as much as $57 billion to deploy and use the proposed systems through 2025. Upgrading launch facilities and building additional spacecraft to allow astronauts to land on the moon or an asteroid, the document indicates, could boost the total to $62.5 billion

None of the scenarios envision manned flight on the new rocket before the end of 2017.

At the same time, outsiders have criticized the reliability of NASA's budget projections. An independent analysis prepared this summer by the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton found some of NASA's projections overly optimistic and said they were based on "unjustified, sometimes substantial, assumed future cost savings." The report, which was sought by White House officials, concluded that NASA's numbers aren't reliable enough to support detailed, long-term project planning.

Others have criticized NASA's strategy, mandated by Congress, to base the heavy-lift rocket's design as much as possible on elements of the space shuttle fleet, which was retired in July. Reliance on such engines, related hardware and often cost-plus contracts stretching back to the shuttle's heyday are major reasons for the new booster's anticipated hefty price tag, according to Jeff Greason, a leader of the Commercial Space Flight Federation, a trade group that represents backers of commercial-space projects."When you do that, you get shuttle costs."

Click here to read the entire article.

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