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November 17, 2008

Will "Change" hit the space program?

Posted: 02:09 PM ET

As the shuttle Endeavour pursues its expansion and re-supply mission to the International Space Station, the political world still turns nearly 200 miles below. Will a President Barack Obama and a fractured economy spell change for NASA and space exploration?

The space shuttle Endeavour blasts off successfully Friday night.

The agency's $17 billion annual budget - about a third of which goes to fund the shuttle and other space missions  - may be under scrutiny, along with everything else, in our new financial climate.

On the campaign trail this year, Obama said, "We cannot cede our leadership in space.  That's why I'm going to close the gap, ensure our space program doesn't suffer when the shuttle goes out of service."

But skeptics raise multiple questions, starting with the fact that the president-elect made that statement in the heat of a tight campaign and in NASA's Florida backyard. It wouldn't be the first time that a president abandoned a lofty promise to reach for the stars.  In his 2004 State of the Union speech, President Bush announced an ambitious effort for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.   But the money never came through, and it's rarely been mentioned since.

With the shuttle slated for retirement in 2010, how long will it take to get the replacement vehicle ready?  Many think the 2015 deadline for the Orion craft and its Ares rocket is too rosy.

Can we afford it?  NASA's budget is only about two-thirds of one percent of the Federal budget, but is it high enough on our national priority list?

And just what are we getting back for our dollars?  Is the science we're getting from the Shuttle and the ISS going to pay for itself?

Proponents say it would be shortsighted to ditch our science and exploration efforts because America can't afford to fall farther behind in tech and science literacy.

To be sure, NASA's had its triumphs and tribulations in recent years.  On the down side, there's been uncertainty over the shuttle, the Columbia disaster, a couple of failed Mars missions, the earth-bound controversy over political censorship of the agency's climate scientists and NASA's first successful launch into the tabloid world with last year's bizarre astronaut love-triangle story.  

NASA's victories, however, are unmistakable:  The Hubble Space Telescope has led what's now routinely called "The Golden Age of Astronomy;" the Mars Rovers' unexpected five years of service; and groundbreaking research in space, on land, and in the oceans.

So let's hear from you:  What should the Obama Administration do?  Has NASA earned our continued support?  Does the mission need to be corrected?  Or should we put the money elsewhere?

Watch CNN's Situation Room Monday at 5 p.m. ET for a report from Miles O'Brien on Obama and the future of space policy.

And you can read the Obama campaign's space policy here.

- Peter Dykstra, Executive Producer, CNN Science, Technology, and Weather

Filed under: NASA • Space

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Jim   November 17th, 2008 11:31 pm ET

It would be foolish of us to not reach for the stars. It is in fact where our future lies. Our very existence depends on finding ways to live on other planets. The first step was made when a young president made a commitment to go to the moon and back. I think this president should challenge us to go back to the moon and stay.

Scott   November 17th, 2008 11:31 pm ET

My three year old daughter, standing in the Central Florida schoolyard where her mother works, saw her first shuttle launch a few nights ago. She came home and burst though my office door screaming, "The Space Shuttle! I saw the Space Shuttle, Daddy! It was going off and these two things came off it!" The next morning, as footage of the launch was replayed over and over, she ran from the breakfast table to the TV to watch each time.

In ten years of teaching, I've found that nothing quite catches the imagination of young children like America's space program. In my fifth grade class, I teach about space vehicles, we examine the history of space flight, and we always launch model rockets. The children not only learn a great deal about history, but also connect math and science to the work that we do in this study. Recently, I crossed paths with a student I had as a fifth grader back in the 2000-2001 school year, and he told me that he had enrolled as an engineering major at a local university. He said that it was our rocket launch that sent him in that direction.

Can our children afford to not have rockets lifting off from the Florida coastline for five or more years? Are we willing to let their inspiration come from Spongebob Squarepants instead of from the promise of space exploration?

Ryan Gilbert   November 17th, 2008 11:49 pm ET

Cut back Space funding? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Exploration of any kind has always reaped benefits, but none more so then space. Space exploration is like an old friend who travels the world on dangerous and obscure adventures. You get cryptic and exciting messages of what he has encountered during his journey so far, which leaves you desperately enthralled for his next transmission. Each update brings joy, surprise, disappointment, shock, the full spectrum of the emotional wheel. Upon his return, he fills our imaginations with amazing discoveries, pictures of alien worlds, and stories that hollywood would love to dream up. He brings back wonderful gifts for everyone in the family, and helps dad pay the bills by being able to market and sell what he did for all the world to enjoy. He risks everything on every journey, and they're unique in every way. I get to reap all of these benefits without having to donate one iota of my time or any risk to my self. My only cost is a tiny percentage of my income, and a little bit of my attention. I spend more on movies and their accoutrements in a year, and rarely leave feeling as satisfied. My only wish is that more of my income went to space exploration, so we could all enjoy these missions more and more.

Andy   November 17th, 2008 11:51 pm ET

Full steam ahead to space. Good for President Elect Obama for showing us that in these difficult times, it is worth continuing to inspire the nation by striving for the heavens.

Al   November 18th, 2008 12:07 am ET

Wow 17 Billion dollars a year for Nasa? that doesn't really seem like alot, Seeing how the current president is spending 10 billion dollars a month in Iraq, I think President-Elect Obama should follow through on his promise to get the troops out of Iraq than re-alocate that 10 billion a month to Nasa and get this manned mission to mars going. Dont get me wrong here I'm not suggesting that he spends all that extra war money on Nasa but a decent chunk of it sure would help the space program out with plenty of money to go around elsewhere too.

John   November 18th, 2008 12:10 am ET

2/3s of one%? Our NASA program is appalling underfunded! The replacement vehicle for the Shuttle is just one example of too little too late. A part from the science and the jobs created directly, this nation has benefitted enormously from the commerical spin-offs in the 10s of thousands over the years and decades. The economy and tax revenues from these spin-offs is worth hundreds of Billions of dollars. I can not think of anything more harmful to our country and our nation's prestiage than an underfunded NASA.

John Shelnutt   November 18th, 2008 12:25 am ET

I love it when people say "If we can go to the moon, why can't we 'blank'? The fact is we haven't been able to go to the moon for a very long time, and soon we won't even be able to get into orbit. We will have to rely on the good graces of the Russians and Chinese who own most of our debt. May Japan and soon India will be able help our us poor beggars.

b kooistra   November 18th, 2008 12:25 am ET

How can we NOT afford to keep reaching outward? The money spent of NASA is just a tiny drop in the national budget. In 2008 dollars, the amount spent on the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programs is a far smaller portion of our GNP than it was in the early 1960s. What we get from NASA is returned ten-fold.

I agree on pulling the plug on the international space station, without further multi-national cooperation and financing for the venture.

But with China and India's space aspirations, we can't afford to sit back and not even attempt to retain our space leadership goal. Our whole way of life in the US is dependent upon satellite communications; without the benefits these bring, and an effective way to deliver and service these crafts, we put our economy at risk.

The possibilities of leadership in space energy exploration must not be ceded to foreign countries, either, whether it be harvesting helium on the moon to power the earth or a possible "virtual power line" to space from massive solar energy farms.

We need to keep investing in space exploration.

Craig   November 18th, 2008 12:28 am ET

The carrying capacity of the Earth is only about 3B people with a western lifestyle. With global warming that could go down. Capitalism, at some point, will need new areas to expand into or it will begin to die. All of the human species exists only on this planet.

The answer to all these issues is for humanity to move into the solar system.

But one of NASA's goals is to perpetuate it's existence. This squeezes out real commercial space companies. NASA is not working toward making space available to all, they are blocking the road to space that the commercial space companies are trying to build. We need to let NASA do science and transfer NASA's knowledge and construction budget to commercial space companies. Then humanity will begin to move into space.

John   November 18th, 2008 12:34 am ET

Your article failed to mention one of NASA's great successes: the Mission to the Planet Earth. In all the talk of Mars and the Moon, we forget that NASA has done an outstanding job of increasing our understanding our home planet, the Earth. Earth observations from space are critical to our understanding of our rapidly changing planet.

John Gielisch   November 18th, 2008 12:56 am ET

When I watched Niel Armstrong step on the moon, it was a profound moment for us all. All the science fiction shows and stories came to a point with this small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. I really thought we were on the move and would be on some of the other planets by now. My children might have seen the first interstellar flights. Unfortunately the will and drive to make it happen is not there. We let short sighted policies and ideals cripple our long term future. We allow those in power to use a natural cycle of the planet to control and tax us under the guise of global warming, among other things. Look out there!! See the images captured by the great telescopes. See galaxies so numerous they cannot be counted. We can make it happen, and benefit us all in the process. The application and wonder of space exploration, as well as other scientific disciplines, has always benefited mankind as a whole. Learn, work, be educated and move forward. Otherwise we might as well be sitting in our stink in a cave without the drive to improve ourselves. Our future is in our hands and there is a whole universe to explore. All we have to do is go for it. Please don't let this dream, or our progress die. Whether by NASA or commercial enterprises, there is no limit out there.

William B. Rose-Heim   November 18th, 2008 1:18 am ET

Continue and even expand federal government support for development of space-related science and exploration.

The most important return on investment is not the discovery of new habitats, new data to describe natural history, new technology or exploitable resources. It is the way we are helping to collaborate well with people from different cultures, world views, and aspirations, building bridges to a future human culture that will continually become more global than national.

This arena is a good place to invest economic stimulus capital, providing good jobs and increasing the likelihood of quicker advances in solar energy technology.

Ronaldo   November 18th, 2008 1:33 am ET

Trash NASA. It's just a waste of money. Ever tasted that "Astronaut Ice Cream"? Tastes like styrofoam. And TANG almost rotted out my teeth. Plus, if there are Aliens out there, they're just gonna kick our asses anyway... Why let 'em know we're here?

Daniel Reed   November 18th, 2008 2:35 am ET

Everyone in America, I said EVERYONE, has encountered technology originally developed at NASA.

Whether you walk into your home, drive your car, visit your doctor or hospital, or indulge in recreation, you will likely encounter a product that is the result of technology first developed by NASA.

Industry calls thes products "spin-offs" They have taken a concept developed by NASA and applied it to commercial products. There are tens of thousands of them.

We have Digital Imaging, A Breast Biopsy System, the Artificial Heart, Kidney Dialysis, Water Purification machines and Cordless Power Tools, to name just a few.

Increase spending for NASA ,I say. Besides, I don't want to wait for our new stuff to come from China, do you?

Jeff C (Phoenix, AZ)   November 18th, 2008 3:17 am ET

I sent an email to Mr. Obama last week regarding NASA and our future "vision" for space. I will summarize my opinion here: We have already been to the Moon and we have explored Mars with robots. Neither the Moon or Mars are good candidates for long-term human settlement because we are not biologically equipped to live on those worlds. Within five or ten years, we will have knowledge of nearby Earth-like exoplanets – planets similar to our Earth that orbit nearby stars. The next logical step would be to send an unmanned probe to explore these planets. While we will have this knowledge, we will not have the capability to send a probe. We should be investing in new, interstellar propulsion technologies now that will enable us to reach nearby stars. 100 years from now, humans could be making the NEXT giant leap for mankind by leaving this solar system and becoming a multi-planetary species.

nick   November 18th, 2008 5:04 am ET

I believe that we need NASA. Technology is a vital component to America's success and we can't get further behind than we already are.

alpal   November 18th, 2008 5:07 am ET

If the USA doesn't put more money into space exploration it will
stand as a symbol of it's downfall.
China, India,Russia or Japan will be the first to have a moon base & the USA will be a second rate player.

Richard Owens   November 18th, 2008 5:32 am ET

Earth's population continues to grow as does the hunger of that population for more goods and services. Where will the resources come from to answer those wants? Stripping this planet to satisfy our appetite will only destroy what is obviously the most beautiful and only inhabitable planet we have. We must expand into the solar system. We must send humans because even well designed machines fail and require maintenance. Realtime decisions often require human understanding. NASA makes mistakes but makes it a point to learn, improve and move on. Keep NASA well funded and go out and fix something that is broke.

Victor Campbell   November 18th, 2008 6:53 am ET

NASA's current budget should be sustained.

NASA programs have provided inspiration to countless young people to enter the science field. I believe its mission of exploration is necessary for the human spirit. We live on a small planet in the midst of a vast ocean. Understanding that ocean of stars, planets, and other phenomena is both a worthy goal in and of itself, as well as an important part of our existence within its community.

Mark Staller   November 18th, 2008 7:42 am ET

Absolutely keep NASA well funded. Thats such a no brainer.
NASA's mission is one that we as a country can point to and say" This is what we can do". No other country can come close to what we have achieved in space, and not just human exploration. Robotic exploration of other planets, remote sensing of our own planet, has given us new a deeperknowledge of Earth and it's neighborhood. How many other countries can match that? It's a source of pride and it also attracts talent from around to world. The direct and intangible benefits FAR FAR outweigh the cost. We spend more on pizza in this country than we do on NASA's budget.

Russo   November 18th, 2008 7:57 am ET

A beautiful, elegant discussion.

To cut funding would be a tragedy...

James Short   November 18th, 2008 8:11 am ET

Shall America explore space out of fear? Fear of falling behind? It was so from the beginning and remains so to this day. How about a new justification? I wouldn't give NASA a nickle with a chain on it until they make a business or moral case for the 'investment'. I'm not afraid of being behind in space. It is worse to be behind in health care here on earth.

Lochmon   November 18th, 2008 8:15 am ET

China, Japan and India are entering the "space age" in a big way, with plans to travel to and establish bases on the moon. Richard Bransom and other entrepreneurs are getting close to a long-time dream of private corporations venturing into space. We already know there are many industrial processes that are only possible in microgravity, with many others potentially improved in orbit conditions.

The current shuttle mission to the ISS is for habitat upgrades that are intended to double the permanent occupancy of the station. When this becomes a continuous trend, with more people permanently in space in each successive year, we will see the excitement of this program appear again in young people of this and every country - with, hopefully, a renewed interest in the sciences and engineering skills our country needs in every field of endeavor.

Let's do what we have to to keep this nation's space program strong, and even expanding. The money to do it with should come from the defense budget... after all, the Defense Department has historically been NASA's biggest customer.

Steve T in NY   November 18th, 2008 8:55 am ET

I think President Obama should actually increase NASA's budget so that the Orion capsule and rockets can be put into service sooner. To allow our dominance in space to slip away at a crucial time in history is something I think should not be allowed to happen. The Chinese will put a man on the moon by 2018 or 19 from what we've been told. NASA needs to get us back there sooner. We also need to develop a permanent presence on the moon, as a precursor to going to Mars and beyond. America needs to dream again, and stop the cynicism that has plauged us as a nation for the past decade.

"We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they're hard" Thoas words spoken by President Kennedy all those years ago became a rallying cry for America. It called us as a nation to action. Kids went to school, studied science and math, became scientists themselves. It made us dream. We need that again. Even with all our problems, the economy in shambles, we need to dream big again. Even if we doubled NASA's budget it would still only come to 1% of our entire budget. Thats not much money when you consider that we give more out as foreign aid.

Yes, America needs to dream big, not just about getting off foreign oil, but also about being a leader again. Not just a leader when it comes to military power, but a leader in our hopes, our dreams, and that ever present urge to explore. We need to see whats out there, it will benefit us all in the long run.

Craig 2   November 18th, 2008 8:55 am ET

Our race to the moon is the legacy of a political strategy to better the USSR. NASA is one reason why the US continues to be a superpower. The prestige of having a space program cannot be underestimated. We can look to China, India and the EU as examples. While a manned program might cut down on all the possible science being performed, it is in our nature to expand into new frontiers. While we may not learn quite as much about the formation of stars and galaxies, we can definitely learn about how humans interact with and in this new environment both physically and emotionally. NASA, with few exceptions, embodies the best that we can be.

Josh   November 18th, 2008 8:55 am ET

Imagine what we could achieve,find, and learn by exploring other planets instead of occupying other countries. Space can be a great unifier for mankind. We should work with other countries to get man to mars and back on the moon. We should find ways to make space cheap enough for the average man to experience it in some fashion. Putting a man on the moon was one of the brightest moments in this worlds dark history.

One day we will overpopulate the earth and space will have to become home to some.

Richard LeBoeuf - Louisiana   November 18th, 2008 9:13 am ET

Advancing the frontiers of Science must always be at the forefront of America's agenda. There is no other discipline more important to the development of our many technologies which improve the lives of millions. Whether it is pragmatic or not, the exploration of space fires the imagination and inspires us all to reach for the impossible. You just can't put a dollar amount on the practical value of that.

John   November 18th, 2008 9:13 am ET

NASA should focus on and expand it's robotic exploration program. The rovers, the Phoenix program and the satellites have done a wonderful job on Mars, and it is within our capability to both expand our Mars program and launch a similar program on other planets (Venus?).

Our manned space efforts should be scaled back significantly. The ISS is a waste of money and and unacceptable risk for the reward. The shuttle may be required for near-Earth satellite rescue (Hubble), but even this is risky and marginal.

In short, we get a lot more scientific bang for our buck with robots.

Jerry Goldstein   November 18th, 2008 9:19 am ET

Mr. Dykstra,

You wrote: "Is the science we’re getting from the Shuttle and the ISS going to pay for itself?"

I am disappointed that you completely passed over the enormous amount of science that is being done by NASA's unmanned programs, choosing instead to focus on the Shuttle and ISS, the two projects that are probably highest-profile and lowest in science yield.

You also wrote: "NASA’s victories, however, are unmistakable," but you only mention Hubble and Mars Rovers explicitly. What about extremely scientifically successful NASA missions like Cassini (in orbit around Saturn), SOHO and TRACE (space-based solar observatories) and IMAGE (a recent 5-year mission that imaged the near-Earth space environment)? Missions like these are driven and justified PRIMARILY by science, unlike the Shuttle and ISS, which are primarily motivated by human exploration. If you write about NASA science again, I would advise you to dig a little deeper than just the surface. The Shuttle and ISS are just straw men. To really assess the science yield of NASA, you should learn more about the unmanned programs than what is found on the front page of CNN.

Dr. Jerry Goldstein
Southwest Research Institute
San Antonio, Texas

Please pardon the fact that this comment is hastily written. To write it, I am taking time out from a science meeting to support the Cassini mission. Did I mention that Cassini is doing great science?

Thanks Jerry - nice summary. This is a tremendous discussion string, and you've added good points throughout. I think I've asked a worthwhile question, and I'm impressed with your, and many others', answers. PD

Mike Butler   November 18th, 2008 9:23 am ET

Regardless of how you feel about the space program, can you imagine a human society where we give up on the study of space? Astronomy, and the earth/ocean sciences have been of great interest to us for thousands of years. While there are other organizations who study space physics and astronomy, almost all universities rely on funding from NASA. It may seem wise to save some money in the short term, but consider what we would be giving up.

Matt Carney   November 18th, 2008 9:30 am ET

Space exploration and development must be among our top national priorities- right along with ensuring healthcare for all, raising math and science scores among students, and restoring the economy. Our efforts in Space will create jobs, will foster healthy competition with other nations, and will provide us with decades of new technologies to mine. More than this, however, as the world's leading physicist, Stephen Hawking, has warned, if we do not step-up our efforts to explore space, and successfully do so, then within the next 200 years the human race will likely see its own demise. We may not see the survival imperative inherant in space exploration at our current vantage point, but like climate change, we will certainly see it when its too late, if we do not act now.

Brian   November 18th, 2008 9:52 am ET

The fastest way to replace the shuttle for the immediate need would be to manrate the Delta 4 or Atlas 5 rocket. The first American in space, John Glen flew aboard an Atlas. We already have what we need to do the job and save billions in the process. We can also use our existing launch vehicles to resupply the space station. In this day of change and budget cuts this approach is the obvious solution.

golfwidow   November 18th, 2008 10:00 am ET

One of the things we ought to be looking at is the potential for gathering some of the regolith of the moon. It is an almost limitless source of helium-3, an isotope of helium that is rare on earth but produces vast quantities of inexpensive power with little to no radioactive waste. This would be a perfect example of using space travel to pay for itself.

Skip Hamilton   November 18th, 2008 10:06 am ET

If we abandon our efforts in space now we will cut off the science and technology which will lead to colonies on the moon and Mars. I believe that the human race will eventually distroy this planet and we need a place to survive until we can restore planet Earth.

Shawn   November 18th, 2008 10:24 am ET

We just gave 180 Billion to mismanaged bankrupt banks...

Now we are going to make up for some of that by cutting the budget of a bunch of hard working scientists and engineers who innovate and make real change possible?-yeah, that sounds like a good plan *rolling eyes*

John in NC   November 18th, 2008 10:30 am ET

The space program should not be compromised. In fact, it actually does create high-quality jobs for people interested in science and math and stimulates economies of all 50 states. That sounds like a better use of money than to give 700 billion bucks to the people who started this whole economic mess.

R.D.E.   November 18th, 2008 10:34 am ET

I am amazed and gratified at the number of (mostly) well reasoned
comments. That said, I believe the U.S.A. has only two things it can export. Agraculture and technology. To not invest in the future by
expanding research and developement is short sighted and self
defeating. The spin-offs from space research more than justify the

Donny   November 18th, 2008 10:38 am ET

NASA is one program where I feel that my tax dollars are at good work exploring the curiosity of man.

James Dolan   November 18th, 2008 10:40 am ET


Glenn Kweder   November 18th, 2008 10:55 am ET

The space program has been an inspiration to me all of my life. If it wasn't for the bold missions of Apollo, I never would have gone to college to study science and entered the Air Force in hopes of becoming an astronaut. America's youth needs the inspiration that the Space Program can provide to keep us ahead in science and technology.

Onward in the race to the Moon and Mars! China is nipping at our heels!

Glenn Kweder, Old Fields, West Virginia

Brooklyn Boy   November 18th, 2008 11:05 am ET

The Shuttle and ISS are dinosaurs that never came close to fulfiling their respective promises. Now is the time to remold our space efforts. The gap between the Shuttle retirement and the new Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle should be closed by commercial spacecraft. This is a golden opportunity to hand off routine space supply and logistics to commercial operations. That way, NASA could focus on what it does best – exploration. The private space sector would get a huge boost allowing it to create thousands of high paying jobs. NASA, unburdened by operations, could go back to the Moon and send humans to Mars well within its current budgetary constraints.

John   November 18th, 2008 11:08 am ET

I think ultimately the United States should start transitioning from a government run space program to a more private sector free capitalism ......oh wait I forgot we did away with free capitalism and risk when we bailed out Wall Street. Sorry my bad.

Well, carry on with the government controlled society then.

Mark Nicholas   November 18th, 2008 11:09 am ET

We actually need to spend more and move faster. Staying ahead of the rest of the world in space exploration (particularly the Chinese, at the moment) keeps the new technologies in our hands, and ultimately keeps our entire economy ahead of the curve.


Ben   November 18th, 2008 11:30 am ET

The Moon and Mars will never pay us back in dollars, they will do what they've always done, they will inspire future scientists to dream big. There is no pricetag on inspiration, and NASA, more than any scientific body in the history of mankind, has done more to change this world for the better and prepare us for life beyond it. If we take NASA away, our futures are left in the hands of people like Richard Branson, those who may have the best of intentions, but look at Space as just a corporate opportunity.

Jane Montgomery   November 18th, 2008 11:33 am ET

I agree with Chris about the space elevator. Approximate costs of payloads per kilogram with rockets is $11,000. Space elevator payloads could be $200 per kilogram. Rockets to Mars, the moon and exo-planets can be "flung" off the end of the space elevator. Japan is serious about building a space elevator. If they do they will have a HUGE advantage in space.

Rocket Man   November 18th, 2008 10:19 pm ET

This is 1 of the few space blogs I have seen where the positive comments from visionaries outweigh the negative posts by naysayers. As a follow up to my post, I would have to disagree with those who think that Mars is permanently uninhabitable. Yes, I would agree that with forseeable technology it's not possible to terra-form the moon and it may never be due, due to its insufficient gravity to maintain an atmosphere. However, the moon is still a great place to conduct Helium-3 mining and serve as another low-gravity spaceport to launch more distant missions to the solar system.

However, the situation for Mars is much different. Despite that it's much smaller & colder than Earth, Robert Zubrin lays out the case quite well in chapters 8 and 9 for the both the colonization and terra-forming of Mars (The Case For Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must). His basic premises are as follows:

1) We do NOT need to build a $500 billion "Battlestar Gallactica" mega-ship, that NASA first proposed which would be so large it could only be assembled in orbit, in order to send humans to Mars. Instead, his Mars Direct plan (in 1996 dollars) was around $55 to $60 billion to include up to 3 complete human missions including crew and supply vehicles. And these would not be "flag and footprints missions", but long duration voyages of 6 to 9 months travel each way (depending on propulsion systems) and around 1.5 years time on the planet for a total of about 3 years for each mission. Enough time to start building a permanent base and not just collect rocks and perform a few experiments.

2) With the technology that we have can foresee today, Mars is the only viable candidate for terra-forming. Yes, it's uninhabitable today without spacesuits or pressurized enclosures. But Zubrin points out that it's rich with CO2 mostly locked up in dry ice. We have the technologies today (at least in theory) to terra-form Mars, although it would take at least 900 years to fully achieve an atmosphere of sufficient temperature, pressure, and oxygen content for humans to breathe without space suits.

3) To those who have never studied this concept, it does NOT invove bringing huge amounts of oxygen and water from Earth, something that would be too formidable. Instead he proposes inducing global warming on Mars to unlock the frozen water ice and dry ice already on the planet to 1) increase the temperature, 2) increase the atmospheric pressure, and 3) restore liquid water to the planet and eventually breathable oxygen.

4) He proposes to do this not by burning fossil fuels, but by 1) placing huge orbital mirrors in orbit around Mars to amplify sunlight to it, 2) establishing factories on Mars to produce and release non-chlorine based halocarbons to speed up global warming there & build up an ultra-violet ozone shield, and 3) introducing bacteria and algae and eventually more advanced plants that can convert much of the CO2 to oxygen. It would only take decades of this effort before humans could live on Mars with only scuba-gear type masks for breathing, but several centuries to fully oxygenate the atmosphere.

His plan is an ambitious one to say the least and costs spread over several centuries. But it is certainly more realistic than attempting inter-stellar travel by 2100. In some ways Columbus and his crew were much more adventurous than we are now given the relative technologies. In 1492, they had no idea what they would find when they set sail and even if their ship would make landfall before running out of supplies. If N. & S. America had not existed, they likely never would have made it back around to Asia before supplies ran out. There was still debate then that the Earth was flat and their ship might even "fall off" the Earth! We have a much better idea today of what Mars is like before we even set sail. And no-one can deny that given the technology we have now and that is forseeable in the near term, no other planet or moon in the solar system lends itself better to terra-forming than Mars.

rick   November 18th, 2008 10:46 pm ET

It has been said space exploration is a source of pride, the mother of invention, and a drive for mankind. Space should be explored. However, a nation with full bellies and healthy individuals is a source of pride also. A source of reliable alternative energy can be a mother of invention. A drive for mankind can be the reduction of disease keeping cool in the summer warm in the winter and not killing the planet we all live on right now can and should be a drive. Make up your on mind but just don't be sheep and follow the lead blindly of the Carl Sagan's of the world. I am a child of the space age but I'm also a very realistic pragmatist.

TONY G.   November 19th, 2008 8:28 am ET


Rocket Man   November 19th, 2008 12:16 pm ET

Having laid out here Zubrin's plan for Mars, I also agree with Rick that there are a # of immediate issues that must be dealt with first before attempting grandiose dreams in space. Obviously, by terra-forming Mars, I'm talking about projects that humanity might be able to accomplish by the year 3000 over the long term, not something we should start trying tomorrow. However, it would be nice to see the 1st manned landings on Mars in my lifetime. I don't work in the space industry, I have no vested interest, but I'm just an enthusiast for it.

But I'm also a realist. I agree that at least 3 major problems need to receive much more attention first. Not to get too off topic for this blog, but these top 3 problems are probably:

1) Get the economy back on track and pull out of this recession and not slip into a depression. Whether you're for or against it, this will probably have to include a Big 3 bailout. There are other blogs to elaborate on that.

2) Get a handle on the Peak Oil problem by rapidly shifting to electric cars, compressed air cars, zero-emission vehicles, and eventually rolling out hydrogen fuel cells, associated infrastructure, etc.

3) Get a handle on Global Warming here on Earth via the long term switch away from the fossil fuels oil, natural gas, and coal which are all finite and running out in that order. The Earth must move to a sustainable way of life that includes many orders of magnitude more solar, wind, and tide power (tides operate 24/7), unlike solar and wind. Eventually, there will be a play for space-based solar power generation in the future that may operate close to 24/7 w/o the interruption of night, depending on the orbital track of geosynchronous solar satellites.

Yes, some major problems need some immediate attention in the short term in order to reach a long term- in my view Peak Oil chief among them. However, we will never be able to solve every possible problem on Earth first, before venturing out further into space. If the Europeans had tried to solve all the problems in Europe first before sending Columbus over, it's likely we could all still be over there, working on domestic issues, etc.

Franko   November 19th, 2008 12:32 pm ET

Every Human, Ape, OrangeUtan, Dog, Cat, but not flea or mosquito
Needs to "Have a Dream". Virtual reality, to explore the Universe
I agree with that. But MegaSoft will hack and blackscreen, your death
Google profiled Zombie you are,.By advertising, demented creatures,
Living off increasing debth, Please let me escape, if only virtually.

Mario   November 19th, 2008 11:35 pm ET

I think it will need more funding, but not right now because they aren't making any more "giant leap(s) for man kind"...

Franko   November 20th, 2008 1:54 pm ET

Looking at the dark NASA sites; not a happy escape, 6 pack is better

Fire all the, unreality of climate, NASA modellers
Hire game developers of virtual realities
To present, accurately, in an entertaining manner, NASA findings

Terry   November 20th, 2008 2:15 pm ET

As a kid reading Azimov and Heinlein, I never doubted that humankind would explore the planets and other solar systems. I knew that we would establish colonies on the moon, Mars, and sattellites of Jupiter and Saturn. It never occurred to me that those objects would be plain clods of rock and sand with nothing really worth bringing home.

An alternate vision of the space program is that it is a support program for orbiting communication, research, and military gizmos. To most voters, any other purpose for the space program is dreamy scifi nonsense.

Perhaps the best compromise would be to specialize in unmanned vehicles with a lot of artificial intelligence. It would be much cheaper than sending a terrarium filled with people. It would promote a lot of valuable research in AI. If our robots stumbled on something fantastic, then we could figure out how to send people there.

Russ Lee   November 20th, 2008 2:50 pm ET

Space is mankind's future. There will come a day when mankind will have no choice but move from this planet to another. The amount of money being spent now, while sounding staggering, is virtually nothing. Look at mankind's history - where would the world be today if just a few hundred years ago European governments did not support New World exploration. The same came be said for today's space ventures. It is not only desirable we continue to explore space, it is vital to mankind's survival. Our great grandchildren and beyond will undoubtably need a new nest to rest upon.

Andrew   November 21st, 2008 1:29 pm ET

There is controversy over spending $18 billion a year on our future and on tehnology we love (like gps)? yet we're debating giving $25 billion to a company because they forgot how to run itself?

We're smart =/

Barbara Malone   November 24th, 2008 7:09 am ET

Speaking from Houston, home of Mission Control as well as many oil barons, I would far rather see my tax money spent in space for the good of the entire planet than in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Karsen Rumpf   November 24th, 2008 6:20 pm ET

Science is what we have based everything on. How can America afford to recede in this race of science with other countries. We are leaders of the world and should always be leaders. People who have the opportunity to do something as amazing as studying space should persue it with all the support needed.

Paul   November 25th, 2008 11:23 pm ET

I agree with many of the commenters in this section but Jason Rhian perhaps said it the best. The job that NASA does is a sorely welcome relief from the stories of rampant greed and incompetence in the economic sector that threaten the very fabric of our country, and the absolutely childish attention paid to peripheral non-entities like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. This is science at its best and it is unfortunate that such a large proportion of our society is capable of understanding it. The personal issues of one astronaut have nothing to do with the integrity of the program or the quality of its work, which is nothing short of phenomenal. In the many discussions of how to navigate the next 5-7 years, it has been said repeatedly that NASA could shorten the development time of the Orion project with more money, perhaps 2-3 billion dollars per year. So take it away from AIG and give it to NASA. Maybe extend the shuttle program on a curtailed basis until that is done. Focus on repairing Hubble and launching the next generation deep space telescope. Shorten the time to the next moon landing. Don't worry about sending men to Mars at this point-stick to the robotic vehicles and the rest will take care of itself in time. And ask the press to quit living in the past, quit acting like a bunch of ignorant onlookers and spare us the tabloid-level crap. I truly hope that Barack Obama is true to his word about the space program and also that Michael Griffin will remain the director of NASA in his administration. We need a seasoned scientist at the helm, not some (ding-dong) administrator whose only concern is money. There are a few things in the federal government that work well and NASA is at the top of the list. Parenthetically, so is NIH. We are so far ahead of everyone else on the planet in this area, and it provides such enormous scientific spinoff that we cannot even think about not pushing ahead.

Ed   November 27th, 2008 3:38 pm ET

Watch the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". There isn't anything depicted in that movie that could not have been made to happen by the year 2001. We don't have the space program that we all dreamed of back when that film was made because the American people don't want it badly enough. It's time to stop blaming Congress for their budgetary shortsightedness, and recognize that there is a real anti-space sentiment in this country. Most people don't buy the idea that there are tangible economic benefits to space exploration and development, and for them, allocating <1% of the federal budget on NASA is still too much money to invest in our future. Now we're spending many times NASA's budget to bail out an economy that has fallen behind foreign competition, and people still don't see the connection.

Unmanned probes may send back fascinating pictures, but they can't develop the economic potential of space. We need to get serious about establishing permanent human settlements in space. Arguments about whether to return to the Moon or go on to Mars are absurd. This country could easily afford to double, or even triple, our investment in space, and pursue both goals. I hope our new president will have the vision and drive to push for that, but I doubt it. It won't happen until the American people themselves demand it, or until the private sector rebounds from the current crisis and does it themselves.

Dimmer   November 29th, 2008 5:40 pm ET

I'm sure NASA could use a good all-round examination of it's staff and processes (any sizable organization tends to build management structures and hierarchies that provide little to no benefit) - but this should be done for efficiency reasons, not cost.

We have much bigger targets to look at for broad cost reduction - lets maybe suggest the military budget should be made rewards based (get to the end of some damn wars) rather than a massive money sink.

Franko   November 30th, 2008 4:44 am ET

The theme; KingKong USA, Super Right, defender of humanity
Does not orbit well with the global taxation without representation
A giant advertising billboard, promoting another Toxic Fraud ?
Not well planned, or executed, even bad advertisement ?

corey   November 30th, 2008 10:13 am ET


Old Dave   December 2nd, 2008 1:46 pm ET

It is imperative that an expanded NASA and private companies continue to explore and exploit space and it's resources. We have come so far, learned so much and still we have questions. Space exploration is the very essence of being human. Yes there are problems on this planet; retiring the war efforts would fund solutions to those problems in one swipe. Continuation and expansion of the exploration of the universe is a basic human requirement and the benefits we garner will support us more than any false hope or prophesy will ever do.

Franko   December 4th, 2008 2:47 am ET

NASA drives out the good in US.
Soon, cost Effective India and China will become the space leaders

JOSH WALKER   December 4th, 2008 5:45 pm ET

I Feel that we need to Go back to the Moon and On to the Asteroids and Comets and To Mars and Beyond and I feel that We need to As A Nation We owe it to the Families of the Columbia And Challegner Accdients and To the Men and Women Of the spaceShuttels That went Down . I also Feel That we need to Also Mine and Detect any Asteroid or Comet that May Hit the Earth and Cause the HumanRace To Go Exitnct and I feel that we need to Ask Congress and The Senate to Increase Funding for NASA and for Our Nation To Return to the Moon and on To Mars But after we have Return to the Moon and On to The Asteroids and Comets! Thanks Too all Who have Flown In space!

Scribe   December 6th, 2008 2:25 pm ET

Change should happen. We should be spending more on Space Exploration from the Federal budget. Our future is the stars. Our techonology and science is born from the fire of those stars and we should keep reaching.

Not pulling ignorantly at our shoestrings.

Prometheus gave us fire. Even in dire economic times, people gaze to the stars.

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