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Is NASA On Life Support?


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Posted on Jan 18, 2010 8:14:34 AM PST
Hi Bob!

Thanks for the post. Is NASA even doing R&D on any new propulsion systems?

I rummaged around on technovelgy.com, to see what sci fi writers (past and present) came up with for deep space craft propulsion. Niven had an encased mini-black-hole for propulsion. And someone had an interesting idea of launching-with-lasers, and "launch" is one of the few times when our craft use the most fuel all at one time. But nothing that we have the science and technology to produce right now. (sigh...)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 18, 2010 8:32:53 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 18, 2010 8:33:33 AM PST
M. Helsdon says:
"And someone had an interesting idea of launching-with-lasers, and "launch" is one of the few times when our craft use the most fuel all at one time."

Several approaches have been under study... For instance:

http://pdf.aiaa.org/downloads/1998/1998_1001.pdf?CFID=1326408&CFTOKEN=88988801&

A joint USAF/NASA test.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2010 5:38:54 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 19, 2010 5:40:17 PM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
RE: "Do you have any ideas for a fuel-from-space type of propulsion system, that's more feasible right now than using dark matter?"

Anything would be more feasible right now than using dark matter, seeing that dark matter is still only a theoretical concept; its existence yas not yet been confirmed.

Let's see, the only thing that might be doable right now would, I think, be the solar sail. That, of course, would be limited by the inverse square law of radiated energy to the inner solar system (out to the orbit of Mars, or possibly the inner asteriod belt).
Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_sail

The only other possibility is the Bussard ramjet. For that, one wouild need (a) controlled fusion, (b) very strong and extensive electromagnetic fields, and (c) a large mass (say, a mountain) to act as an ablative shield.
Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramjet

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2010 5:44:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 19, 2010 5:47:49 PM PST
To M. Helsdon:
Great minds think alike! (smile)

Please see my answer to Marilyn Martin's question.

Oh, and by the way, in my humble opinion, the ultimate Bussard ramjet story is Tau Zero by Poul Anderson.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2010 6:52:28 PM PST
To R. A. Lee:
Thanks for the link. You're right about "the government second guessers." However, even without those, I, personally, just don't have the faith in NASA that I used to. One reason might be that their "party line" seems to be antithetical to non-governmental (i.e., commerical, civilian, etc.) uses of space.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2010 7:01:29 PM PST
To RGD:
RE: "...most of whom were more hopeful than stupid."

That's true; I probably read a lot of the same articles and books that you did. (Remember Willie Ley and Chester Bonestell?)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2010 7:14:29 PM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
Check out the novel Rocheworld (a.k.a. The Flight of the Dragonfly), by Robert Forward, who was not only an excellent hard science fiction writer but a prominent research physicist, as well. The novel posits a laser-launched interstellar lightsail spacecraft with a crew of twenty.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2010 7:37:48 AM PST
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Oh, and by the way, in my humble opinion, the ultimate Bussard ramjet story is Tau Zero by Poul Anderson."

SPOILER ALERT

Yes indeed, though I always had doubts, reading Tau Zero, that the ship could survive the extreme conditions of the Big Crunch and the subsequent Big Bang.

Posted on Jan 20, 2010 8:05:51 AM PST
Hi Walter!

Thanks for the book suggestion. And for your fascinating analysis of fuel-from-space types of spacecraft. The Bussard Ramjet seems to be a favorite!

Posted on Jan 20, 2010 12:02:11 PM PST
S. Maura says:
So long as politicians and lobbyist have an impact on its budget, NASA will continue to exist to administer projects which are justified. Gone are the days of expensive public-funded research into complex, but ultimately impractical, projects. Now funds go to Communications satellites, telescopes, military and one more program or another.

You can't argue with a congressman who prefers to create jobs for his/her constituents, nor the constituents who want the jobs. If Raytheon, Lockheed Martin or Boeing is willing to set-up shop in my district, it would be a boom for the local economy. NASA's problem is not its endeavor but it's exclusivity in personnel and vision, which hurt its public standing to the point that it now has to subcontract Mission Support Operations Contracts to Lockheed Martin and others.

Innovation is still being pursued, but by some of these aforementioned private-sector companies whose structure ultimate place balancing, and adding to, the books instead of breaking the bank in favor of what has been dubbed "scientific curiosity". After that both Military and Civil contracts create jobs, ultimately get voters happy and politicians reelected.

We live in a democracy, with mouths to feed and people to please. NASA needed to be more inclusive with the people. But as its last A says, it will end up in Administration, rather than full autonomous existence.

The purpose of NASA, however, has not gone way. The whole thing has just been transformed by outsourcing. Analogous to what AT&T, Airlines and most modern support services have done.

Posted on Jan 20, 2010 12:36:46 PM PST
http://www.itwire.com/content/view/30609/1066/

"The space shuttle Endeavour is being prepared for its next to last mission into space. Only four other NASA missions of its Space Shuttle fleet remain in their STS program - which is scheduled to end in September 2010."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2010 6:36:21 PM PST
RGD says:
Yes, those were indeed wonderful times, when we had great hopes. Some of my favorite early books were Bonestell's space exploration art. and Ley's explanation of space travel. We were hopelessly naive in those years, but we had dreams.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2010 8:35:28 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 23, 2010 4:24:59 PM PST
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "Yes indeed, though I always had doubts, reading Tau Zero, that the ship could survive the extreme conditions of the Big Crunch and the subsequent Big Bang."

You are correct. Well, he did do some arm-waving there, saying that the singularity of the Big Crunch did not really exist, after all, but was merely a mathematical abstraction. I guess that's why they invented literary (or artistic) license.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2010 8:40:22 PM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
RE: "Thanks for the book suggestion."

You're welcome. Enjoy. And when you're finished with that one, try Starfarers, a more ambitious and rigorous novel, also by Poul Anderson.

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 7:26:48 AM PST
http://www.sphere.com/nation/article/nasa-private-industry-duel-over-next-gen-space-shuttles/19326801

OBAMA MULLS OUTSOURCING NASA'S NEXT GEN SHUTTLE (Apparently, there's an on-going arguement, including Congress, over whether the next space shuttle should be built with government money and oversight, or be built by private space industry.)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2010 4:32:47 PM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
RE: "OBAMA MULLS OUTSOURCING NASA'S NEXT GEN SHUTTLE"

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, President Obama has no knowledge or opinions on technological issues whatsoever. I certainly hope that I'm wrong, but if I'm not, then that means that he will be extremely susceptible to briefings and/or persuasion by various neo-Luddite elements within his administration.

Posted on Jan 23, 2010 6:59:45 PM PST
To add insult to injury, NASA had to drop the price for a used space shuttle from $42 Million to less than $29 Million. See-> http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/18/shuttle_sale/

And, the shuttle engines are going "for the cost of transportation and handling".

The economy is hurting everyone, it seems.

Posted on Jan 23, 2010 7:34:09 PM PST
Hi Marilyn,

Yes, NASA is doing engine development. Most significantly, they are working on the J-2X. This is an upgraded version of the J-2 engine used on the 2nd and 3rd stages of the Saturn V Apollo rockets.

Posted on Jan 23, 2010 7:36:06 PM PST
If any of you have a Kindle or Sony e-reader, NASA has released a free e-book on the X-15. I'm going to post it on the Kindle thread, but thought I would include it here also. They plan on additional future books.

Go to http://www.aeronautics.nasa.gov/ebooks/index.htm to download it.

Posted on Jan 24, 2010 9:39:17 AM PST
Hi Walter!

I think the use of Obama's name in the title was just for attention-grabbing. Or to imply that our government is on top of this issue. I too can't recall any statements Obama has made about NASA. Although the current NASA Director was chosen soon after Obama took office, I think.

Hi Bob!

So now we're selling "used" space shuttles? Or at least, their engines? And given that current technology has surpassed both the space shuttle and their engines, and private space companies are designing their own rocket-planes, who's going to buy these outdated shuttles?

Glad to hear that NASA is at least doing R&D on newer engines. Although it doesn't sound like anything radically new, just a baby-step up from what they already have.

Wasn't the X-15 the shuttle-that-wasn't?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2010 10:47:11 AM PST
M. Helsdon says:
"So now we're selling "used" space shuttles? Or at least, their engines? And given that current technology has surpassed both the space shuttle and their engines, and private space companies are designing their own rocket-planes, who's going to buy these outdated shuttles?"

One is promised to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.

"Wasn't the X-15 the shuttle-that-wasn't?"

The X-15s were test aircraft which set speed and altitude records in the 60s, flying 199 test flights. They were never designed as a shuttle but a test bed that provided valuable data for subsequent high speed aircraft and rocket design.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2010 10:52:53 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 24, 2010 10:54:20 AM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
RE: "Although the current NASA Director was chosen soon after Obama took office, I think."

That's true. Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. was nominated to be NASA Administrator by President Obama. He began work on July 17, 2009.
Reference: http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/bolden_bio.html

RE: "Wasn't the X-15 the shuttle-that-wasn't?"

The X-15 was a rocket-powered research aircraft that was normally dropped from a B-52 and flew as high as about 66 miles and as fast as 4,519 mph. During the early '60s, there was some talk of bundling three Titan ICBMs together as a first stage, sticking an intermediate stage on top of that, then sticking an X-15 on top of that. And voila! - instant spaceplane. I don't know why that plan was not adopted. It might have been because such a configuration was deemed to look too "military" and the government wanted the U.S. space program to look "civilian", and therefore "peace loving". At least, that was the party line at the time.
Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_X-15

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2010 11:06:21 AM PST
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"During the early '60s, there was some talk of bundling three Titan ICBMs together as a first stage, sticking an intermediate stage on top of that, then sticking an X-15 on top of that. And voila! - instant spaceplane. I don't know why that plan was not adopted."

Technical: There was the belief that a manned capsule should be completely automated in case the pilot couldn't operate during the rigours of spaceflight and return. As the X-15B required an active pilot instead of someone sitting in a capsule this constraint ruled it out.

Political: NASA was created as a civilian agency and the initial USAF manned space program budget was transferred to it. NASA's lead designer, Max Faget, was part of the team behind the ballistic capsule concept. Project Mercury was born.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2010 2:07:35 PM PST
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "Technical: There was the belief that a manned capsule should be completely automated in case the pilot couldn't operate during the rigours of spaceflight and return. As the X-15B required an active pilot instead of someone sitting in a capsule this constraint ruled it out."

And thus was born the concept of "spam in a can," which the astronauts hated. Eventually they were able to get the Mercury design modified enough to allow the astronaut inside to be able to control the orientation of the capsule with attitude jets - powered by hydrogen peroxide, if I remember correctly.

Posted on Jan 24, 2010 2:09:39 PM PST
Thank you, Walter and MH! Some fascinating information, and answers to my questions.
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Discussion in:  Science Fiction forum
Participants:  99
Total posts:  1309
Initial post:  Sep 19, 2009
Latest post:  Sep 15, 2013

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