Nick Leshi

Nick Leshi
Bronx, New York, United States of America
December 13
Writer, actor, media professional, fan of entertainment, pop culture, and speculative fiction. Contact for more info.


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APRIL 15, 2010 1:24PM

To the Moon and Beyond

Rate: 12 Flag
President Barack Obama's proposed budget for NASA and his plan for the future of America's space program has sparked debate not just with the public but also within the ranks of veteran astronauts.  While some former astronauts, such as Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin, have come out to support the President's initiatives, others have protested the proposals, especially the cutting of the "return to the moon" program.  Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, along with Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell and Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, have objected to the new plan, issuing a joint statement in which they write, "Although some of these proposals have merit, the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating." (To read the complete text of their open letter, click here.)

Obama supports a system of public-and-private flights, postponing NASA's much heralded return to the moon.  The new plan would cut the current program aimed at getting humans back on the moon "by 2020" -- the new proposal might see Americans back on the moon sometime in that decade, but more dependent on the gamble of private entrepreneurial innovations rather than solely on NASA's public-funded plan and its government-supported research and development. A New York Times article on Tuesday reported, based on conversations with an anonymous source from the President's administration, that the plan would target having astronauts "leave Earth orbit in the early 2020s...destined for the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars."

The goal is still to eventually have manned spaceflight within our solar system.  My concern mirrors the fears expressed by Armstrong, Lowell, and Cernan, that without a centralized, public mission, spearheaded by an organization like NASA's fully funded program, we run the risk of not achieving the technical objectives necessary to safely send our astronauts on deep space voyages.  A return to the moon, sooner rather than later, is a vital stepping stone to future missions to asteroids, Mars, and beyond.  While I agree that NASA has had systemic flaws that need to be addressed, and that some private sector contributions and resources would prove beneficial, I am afraid that cutting back on NASA's existing plans and decentralizing the process is a misstep that might have dire consequences for the United States supremacy in aeronautics and space exploration.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy stated during his famous speech that "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...I regard the shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency."

Likewise, President Obama should view his decisions regarding America's space program as a key component of his future legacy. One of the missteps of our space program, in my opinion, was a decision after the Apollo missions to not return to the moon immediately, to not build a lunar station, to not plan for more immediate trips beyond our moon.  I hope the President's current plan is not a further step back from the progress the early space pioneers made.

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Agreed and rated. And I can't resist, I just have to say, "To the moon, Alice!" ;)
The manned space program is a vestige of the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviets. It's greatest value was symbolic, not scientific. Placing men on the moon was a technological achievement. It proved that it could be done. Just as Mallory's ascent of Kilimanjaro proved it could be done. Beyond proving the point, it had no other substantial value.

The ISS is a perfect example. A $100 billion boondoggle. Read the chapter on it in physicist Robert Park's book Voodoo Science.

No major scientific or technological breakthrough emerged from the manned space program. All the major scientific or technological breakthroughs since the '40s came from other targeted research projects: atomic energy, the digital computer, microchips, the laser, the internet, the discovery of DNA, etc.
@Peter Winkler: The manned space program had "no other substantial value?" What a joke!

To name just one technological advance that was the result of the manned program and has "sunstantial value" the the public at large: You are typing on a personal computer; advances to microchip technology were fueled by the need to make computer that would fit in small spaces like manned space flight modules.

A few quickies: Advance to avionics that occurred as a result of the Apollo program increased the safety and reliability of commercial aviation, and advances in telecommunications made during the Apollo flights were the seed to our current wifi-cellular connected world.

Unless you have the gift of prophecy, you have no idea whether a current method or program will yield beneficial technologies in the future. At this point, we have many indications that the ISS could (and already has) made great contributions to the devlopment of certain compounds that can only be engineered in a zero-gravity or low-gravity environment.

A quick study of history demonstrates that whenever we set a high goal and work hard to achieve it, we accomplish a lot of 'smaller' thing along the way. It is a foolish turtle who attempts to move forward with his head tucked into his shell.
Peter: I agree that Kennedy's focus on the space program was based on the Cold War "Space Race" with the Soviet Union, I completely disagree that the American manned space program had no scientific or technological breakthrough. Our current global telecommunications, GPS, and other satellite infrastruction is completely a result of the innovations that stemmed from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s space programs. A lot of the targeted research projects you mention had contributing developments that stemmed from the space program. The Hubble Telescope and other developments would not be possible without some manned space missions. While the International Space Station has its issues and is not my favorite example of our space efforts, scientific experiments being conducted and especially research on the impact of long-term living in zero gravity is vital knowledge for future progress.

Then, you have all the secondary discoveries that stemmed from the manned space missions: Velcro, Tang, etc etc etc. :)
I hope the moon becomes a tourist destination within my lifetime.
While government funded space exploration does have value, I am not sure given our current state of affairs that we should be devoting so much time and money on it.
"A return to the moon, sooner rather than later, is a vital stepping stone to future missions to asteroids, Mars, and beyond."

I agree wholeheartedly, however, the real question for me is "Why are future mission to the asteroids, Mars and beyond important?"

As a science fiction writer, believe me, I am more anxious than anyone to have a vacation home on the Moon, but I do not believe spending the money on it right now is wise. We have serious issues going on on this planet that need to be addressed first. Lets fix our economy before the space program, shall we? Health care, joblessness, poverty, and education - just to name a few - should be much, much higher priorities than putting more people on that rock in our sky.
Luck and Damion, looking beyond earth might seem like a frivolous adventure, but the things we can learn can be vital to our survival as a species and to understanding Earth and our role in the universe.

Even during these difficult times, we shouldn't be tempted to take a step back. Because being timid now will mean that when things get better we'll be woefully behind, and then it will be all the more difficult to "catch up."

Maybe it's a failure of NASA's PR and marketing efforts, but I am completely surpised that people do not see the value of manned space exploration and the importance of research and development that will lead to advancements not just in space travel but in many other seemingly ordinary aspects of our everyday lives here on earth.
Nick: My ordinary life is either A) just fine with our current level of advancement, B) totally screwed up because of all the things I mentioned previously, or [in reality], C) All of the above.

Now, if someone can demonstrate how using my tax dollars to send people to the moon can give my friends jobs, or educate the masses, or fix our global economy, then we'll talk. Until then, I vote for spending our money elsewhere.

I'm not saying the space program is useless, but I do think it should be put on hold for the moment. We've already lost the momentum we built up when Kennedy gave that speech. We've already stepped backwards, so while we're here, let's take a moment to pause, breath, and really think about where we want to head now. Personally, I don't think the Moon should be one of those goals right now.

Of course, if Obama announced tomorrow that the war in the Middle East was over and that all of that money would now be funneled to NASA, I would probably change my tune...
Damion, therein lies the debate! :)

I think investing in the space program (among other things) will definitely lead to more jobs, valuable knowledge near term and long term, and who knows what other peripheral advancements.

Read Armstrong's letter. He makes some convincing points. We have already spent billions of dollars developing the Constellation program, which now is vvirtually wasted money going nowhere.

I reject the notion that supporting manned space missions and making space exploration a priority means that we're abandoning other important issues in our society. As a civilized people, we should have the wherewithal to come together and find solutions to accomplish all of our goals.
When American space exploration is most prudent is when we are better prepared to take on such challenges as it would present us. There is too much at stake here on Earth, particularly in our own backyard. Yet, this cannot be made up for via this mere stoking down of our interests in space. We must unify in one vision toward our own betterment as a species. This would include our finalizing the process toward better study on the ground. When this is better in focus, our students may proceed to give of their best.
Further, it can be a problem to promote the launching of another US rocket without major corporate selfinterest, as that's what the governing body constitutes.
None of us can fund anything without a corporate sponsor, be he in Congress or at the beck and call of others less notable.
Primarily, we are to be concerned with our aged, our young, our infirm and injured. And we must not weaken resolve towards the patient faith we owe them via our good works so long as we intend to be human, not mechanoid.
We are not solvent. The answer is to neither spend where unnecessary for the present, nor to indignify the efforts of those well meaning groups in need of their retirement money, as well as to preserve our interests here so that order is maintained. Then I think we could absolutely--or maybe even ought--to explore the field of time through space travel.
Damion, because my house in Texas is just a few miles from NASA, cutting space programs cuts the value of my house. So there's a direct effect for you. Never mind all the people I know who work there in various capacities.
Yes, as a society we should have the wherewithal, too bad we don't.
The billions of dollars 'wasted' on the Constellation program are nothing compared to the billions of dollars 'wasted' on a war specifically designed to keep my Corolla on the road...
It's not OK, in my book, to spend even more money (that we don't have!) on something that doesn't even get us the results that securing oil reserves in the Middle East does...
Nick -- I have to respectfully disagree. I prefer to see the funding used on high tech projects here on earth including being able to ride on commuter train that wasn't built during the Carter administration.

Either that or tax everyone at 1961 income tax rates to pay for it.
The interesting thing to consider is that the money is still being spent, that President Obama's plan still calls for eventual manned space missions "to the moon and beyond," but like with other expenditures by our government, is the money being spent wisely? Are we hurting the future but thinking too narrowly about the present? The overall budget of NASA I think is not being cut, but their Constellation, Ares, and Orion projects are being cancelled, so the cuts are going in those areas - which means that the manned space mission to the moon as planned by NASA will not happen as hoped for in 2020 and will depend on initiatives and hoped for advanceents from the private sector, which in my opinion is a scary notion. Unlike the space program of the 1960s and 1970s, we had a national objective that went beyond just monetary return on investment. The fruits of our labor by the end of 1969 were enormous, and I think well beyond what could be measured in dollars and cents. Will the same advancements, the same efforts, the same investments, the same progress be made if the private sector cannot immediately visualize a financial bonanza?

How much is too much to spend on the quest for knowledge? As I said before, the goal to originally get humans on the moon led to major developments that we now take for granted in computers, communications, satellite systems, aerodynamics, and various other areas of science and technology. All of which impacts life here on Earth.

Future missions will not just be about bragging rights to be the first to physically touch the soil of Mars, but will surely also impact our understanding of Earth's climate, the origins of life, the possible treatment of diseases, the quest for new resources, the potential to travel and colonize habitable worlds beyond our globe -- all progress that future generations down the long line of millennia to come that will prove invaluable.

If we say "wait" and solve all of societies other problems first, I fear we'll be waiting ad infinitum.
Firestorm, the Hubble telescope, one of NASA great post-Apollo accomplishments, would still be a billion dollar flop if not for the manned space shuttle missions that repaired it in orbit.
More importantly, why aren't we using the moon for storage of the more harmful industrial wastes?
I will have to do some research but if I recall correctly there iis no way the initial huvble glitch could have ben fixed remotely, it was taking blurry pictures and wasn't focusing properly which makes it more than just not as useful as it could be - a telescope that cannot focus and captures blurry images is pretty much useless. It required human hands to fix. Which is my point - sometimes some missions require the human touch, on the spot reasoning, an instinctuual kick of the tires, that robots, unmanned machines, or computer codes just are not fully advanced to do.
@ Nick and all other commenters, I just want to say great back and forth in the comments. Everyone has brought forth intelligent, well thought out remarks and no one has gone down to the snark level that we usually see on OS. I'd rate again just for this if I could!
Personally -- I think we should leave the moon to Itali0 Calvino and let our space-wondering scientists focus on the Higgs Boson and stuff like that. :-). Seems like a more interesting use of brain power to me. :-)
I see your point, Firestorm. I still don' t know if a remote maintenance design would have been able to solve the Hubble telescopes woes.

I think manned spaceflight is a key skill that we should keep mastering, not put on the backburner. Whether it's handson research or the beginnings of colonization it's something that we as a species should do, and we as a nation should feel proud and motivated to be the best. It is disheartening that so many seem to disregard it's merits, including our president who I thought embodied the ideals, hopes and aspirations that manned space missioms are all about. We have already taken steps back since the days of the Apollo missions, this latest setback could be really devastating, to use the word that Armstrong, lowell and
A couple of points.

First, regarding Hubble, for the cost of the manned space program we could have launched a fleet of Hubble Space Telescopes. So the idea that somehow manned spaceflight capabilities "saved" us money is just ridiculous. Hubble cost about $2.5 billion to build. A single Shuttle mission costs over $1 billion just by itself, not including the cost of the orbiter, all the money it takes to keep the manned space program operational (at least another billion a year), and the cost for any replacement parts. Instead of running a manned space program to "fix" and "upgrade" Hubble, it would have been far cheaper to simply build and launch new, better telescopes every decade or so.

Hubble's upcoming replacement, the James Webb Telescope, won't even be parked in orbit, so it couldn't be serviced by manned spacecraft even if we wanted to (unless we spent billions designing, building and launching a craft capable of reaching it, which would be silly - it would be cheaper just to replace it) .

Also, I have to take issue with this statement:


"To name just one technological advance that was the result of the manned program and has "sunstantial value" the the public at large: You are typing on a personal computer; advances to microchip technology were fueled by the need to make computer that would fit in small spaces like manned space flight modules."


Sorry. While the government did spark demand for the kind of integrated circuits which resulted in the invention of the microprocessor, it was the military who did the vast majority of the spending in that regard, and drove most of the research and the demand. ICBMs and other guided weapons, along with the control systems for aircraft (especially the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat) had been pushing advances in electronics for many, many years. And don't neglect all the demand for computing devices from private sector entities like banks, insurance companies and others who handled and manipulated large amounts of data.

The first microprocessors made their debut just after 1970. Intel's 4004 wasn't developed for NASA, but for Japanese calculator manufacturer Busicom. TI's TMS 1000 was invented around the same time, again for use in calculators. And lo and behold, the other "first" microprocessor, General Instrument's single-chip device, was also developed for a calculator.

None of these developments had squat to do with NASA or the enormously-expensive manned spaceflight programs of the 1960s. Apollo was an impressive technological achievement, but there was precious little in the way of practical spin off technology which came from it (especially when you consider the enormous cost of the program - probably in excess of $100 billion in 2010 dollars).
In these times of $trillion deficits, I see no advantage in sending more people into space. Most defense programs are jobs programs; most NASA programs, building space shuttles with seemingly endless delays, are a waste of money. I admit there are many programs that are a waste of money, including farm subsidies and anti smoking campaigns, but I want to focus on this. As an engineer I worked on missile programs, most of which cost tons of money. They were nothing more than a race with the Soviets after Sputnik. It seems America woke up. During the Ronald Reagan presidency we spent tons of money on Star Wars, as we called it. A gigantic waste.

I admit NASA does good work, but I see no point in exploring Mars, Venus, Jupiter or Uranus when we can't even respect the President of the United States. We need to learn to be civilized, and stop coming up with new ways to bomb brown people. Our nation, with its great love for money and power, is a disgrace when it comes to decency. Forget about going into space; we need to clean up schools, teach people to respect each other, and stop the banking industry from taking us for suckers. Space is the last thing we need to worry about. It's closeness that we need to work on.
I don't think that you can 'blame' the space race for the personal computer. Most processors used on space going devices are based on much older technology. I had heard that the space shuttle runs on 8086 based technology which was rather old when the shuttle was first developed.

The main thing that the space program does (besides waste money) is feed the imagination. I often sit and think while looking up at the rather uncommon clear nights here and wonder where the Voyager space craft are and what kinds of things they are and will encounter. I was furious when Bush announced that they would be abandoned for money for a base on the moon. He made it sound like we have a dearth of interplanetary space probes heading for the edge of our solar system. He was an incurious idiot and nothing will change my mind, but that's a different tangent...

I sit and ponder how much of our universe we don't actually know. For all of our intelligence, we are still clueless in large part about what the rest of the universe is doing and why it even exists...

A moon base could come in handy but, like most government projects would probably devolve into a massive government contractor boondoggle money hole. I can imagine Halliburton wanting to build hundreds of acre sized buildings and restaurants and such that no one (gratefully) will ever see...

The ISS isn't a total waste of time either IMO. There is much to be discovered and to assume that it's a total waste of money is ludicrous. It could be turned into a manufacturing research center and also be used for astronomy observations. The real test of having it is going to be to find creative uses for it. Every question answered makes it worth it. Mankind has never had such a capable station in earth orbit.
I think the best argument I'm hearing against the NASA Constellation program is getting enough bang for your buck, that too much money is being spent for little return. While I disagree, I can see your point, and it's a stronger argument than the ones from people who claim that manned space exploration brings absolutely nothing of value, which is an opinion I completely reject.

There is no doubt that our government needs to spend wisely and manage the people's money better. But, as a liberal leaning moderate, I also think that our government should continue to invest in programs like this even if some people moan that they don't want their tax dollars going for putting human on a lifeless rock in space. I have heard the same flawed logic when it comes to funding the arts, for example. "What are we getting out of it? The money could be better spent. It's a waste that gives nothing back, etc." Again, I reject that. I think we do get immense value back, maybe not measurable in dollars and cents, but definitely in other important areas. And it will be a bitter loss if we throw it away.
>The ISS isn't a total waste of time either IMO. There is much to be
>discovered and to assume that it's a total waste of money is

I disagree. As the most expensive object ever constructed by man (the EU estimates the total cost for the ISS will be in excess of $130 billion dollars), the ISS has proven to be a staggering waste of money and resources, just as its early critics asserted it would be. No major breakthroughs or discoveries have been made by the ISS, and it's highly unlikely any will be made since several of the more capable scientific research modules originally planned for the outpost have been canceled due to enormous budget overruns. The ISS boldly sits where Skylab, Mir and the Shuttle itself have all sat before, and contributes virtually nothing to our understanding of the universe.

>It could be turned into a manufacturing research
>center and also be used for astronomy observations.

Actually, the ISS is completely unsuitable for both manufacturing research AND astronomical observations, primarily due to the fact that humans are bouncing around onboard, constantly shaking the station, ruining its microgravity environment and blurring any astronomical observations. Both of these activities could be far better carried out by *unmanned* platforms, which would also have the enormous cost advantage of not having to provide life support systems for humans and would not require constant, expensive resupply from Earth at a cost of over $2,000 *a pound* (the current going rate to send freight into orbit).

By comparison, the highly-successful robotic Cassini mission to Saturn - which has returned a wealth of unique, previously unavailable data and made significant scientific discoveries - only cost a little more than $3 billion. The proposed Europa Jupiter System Mission, which would examine in detail Jupiter's icy moons to determine the nature and composition of any subsurface oceans they possess, would cost the US less than $4 billion, and could well incorporate an ice-penetrating probe to examine Europa's vast subsurface ocean, arguably the most hospitable environment for life in the entire solar system apart from Earth. We would definitely at least get our money's worth in terms of scientific discovery from missions such as this, and they have the potential to make truly momentous discoveries.

Manned spaceflight is a colossal waste of money, and will remain so until we develop far less expensive ways of launching humans into orbit, along with the artificial environments needed to shield astronauts from the deadly radiation and hard vacuum of space, and the enormous quantity of supplies they require to stay alive. As things currenty stand, with launch costs in excess of $2,000 a pound, comparatively lightweight robotic missions - which require no resupply, and can "live" in a hard vacuum, "eating" radiation that would kill a human in seconds - can accomplish far more, at a vastly reduced cost. NASA should be focusing its efforts on these robotic probes, and on lowering the cost of access to space, which would benefit these unmanned missions and potentially make manned missions truly viable someday.
but how can we get to that point of cheap efficient manned deep space flight if we don't learn by doing? Simulations and robot missions will accomplish much, I grant you that, but the true learning will only come from real missions. The early pioneers had to learn as they went, improvising and problemsolving. My fear is the "postponing" manned flights now is basically abandoning manned missions for the long term and then picking it up again won't be that easy and we'l have a long way to go
>but how can we get to that point of cheap efficient manned
>deep space flight if we don't learn by doing?

Shooting people into orbit - which is all we've done since the early '70s, at a total cost of around $200 billion - does absolutely nothing to lower the cost of access to space. It still costs about $2,000 a pound (at a minimum) to get humans or cargo into orbit, a cost that hasn't really changed much in *decades*. Getting them beyond orbit and sustaining them out there for any length of time is an even more ridiculously expensive proposition. Someone - the US, Russia, China, possibly India - may do it again someday as a kind of stunt, but until those launch costs come way, way down there will never be any kind of permanent manned presence in deep space and humans certainly won't be conducting much science there (let alone commerce).

NASA's #1 priority should involve fostering the development of new technologies to radically reduce the cost of reaching orbit. Until that is accomplished, humans are going precisely nowhere in the solar system, because it is simply too outrageously expensive to send them, the artificial environments to protect them, and the supplies needed to sustain them.
We need to dump our resources in to Fusion power, which will likely work on a Helium 3 cycle. H3 in turn is found on the moon and in the asteroid belt. This will be an economic factor driving a new era of space exploration.
Until then, we've got to hitch rides with the ruskies.