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Autor: anton • December 31, 2010 • 2,167 Words (9 Pages) • 807 Views
NASA decline and decadence, a black eye on a proud nation
Space is one of the last frontiers to be conquered by men. Ever since the onset of humanity we have wondered and dreamed what would be to travel amongst the stars. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy, in what became one of the most famous speeches of the twentieth century, proposed going to the moon by the end of a decade. During the time of his speech, the only American who had traveled into space was Alan Shepard, who flew on a fifteen minute suborbital flight. Less than eight years after President Kennedy's speech, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on the moon. Yet when we talk about NASA all people seem to recall are the noted failures of the space agency, and disasters like the Space Shuttles Challenger, Columbia and, more recently the Novak scandal and drunken pilots in space. Has NASA lost its touch? Does NASA no longer have the right stuff as it was so eloquently put in Tom Wolfes book The Right Stuff.
Most recently there have been many new issues and scandal which have come to light , which have rocked the very foundation of the space agency itself. Scandals the likes of the Nowak murder plot, Drunk Astronauts and even sabotage by government contractors. Have caused the nation to loose faith on the famed spaced agency. But these issues are only the top layer of deep and rooted problem. Many of the issues coming to light today are on-going issues of the past. For example during the fiscal year of 2004 NASA had the budget of 15.469 billion dollars, approximately 6.6 billion dollars were requested for the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station (ISS) and its affiliated research program. Sounds like a lot of money, right?, Take into account the cost of launching a Space Shuttle is about 500 million dollars, add to this expense of the payload, maintenance crew, and after flight activities and it will cost the tax payer almost one billion dollars to launch a shuttle with a standard payload and crew. As Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society, observes in his book Entering Space, the high cost of the Space Shuttle is due to the fact that it is designed incorrectly. The parts that not reused is positioned on the bottom of the stack, where it could easily be reused. The reusable portion leaves and reenters the atmosphere, which means it must be hardened to deal with a violent reentry. This increases the cost of both construction and maintenance (29-30).
Many of NASAs problems start before a project even goes to the drawing board. Unlike most bid systems, NASA chooses a contractor before the price is named. Instead of setting a price bar for each contract, NASA finds the company and let it name it price. Then the companies are allowed to add a small percentage above those costs to make a profit (Zubrin 24). This system alone, allows for the mismanagement of funds and the waste of precious money which could be well spent somewhere else. The system also allows contractors to add overhead and extra managers that actually do nothing, other than increasing the cost of the project and therefore the contractor's lines his pocket with tax payers money. All the while NASA endorses projects and then cancels the without due regards to how the money is spent. For example, in 2001, NASA cancelled the X-33 project, a concept design for a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, after investing 912 million dollars (Key X-33 Events in 2001, Para. 4). Other promising projects have been scraped in the same way, the X-34 and the X-37, also concepts for new manned space vehicles.
With all of these problems, one might say that NASA has outlived their usefulness. This is not the case. With the proper direction and reallocation of resources, NASA can again inspire the new generations as it did during the time of President Kennedy. The first project that would improve NASA image would be to resurrect the majority of the X-projects, and eventually replace the current shuttle system with one more cost efficient ground-to-orbit vehicle. When this is proposed, it will be undoubtedly opposed to. Politicians will argue "it will cost to much money to produce a new space system". One set of figures proposed states it will take "ten years and twenty billion dollars to develop a new space plane" While this sounds like a lot of time and money. But if we look at the bigger picture you have to notice, this amount of money is not an absurd amount for NASA. Given that the Shuttle costs one billion dollars per launch, and launches four times each year. So, when one does the math. NASA spends approximately four billion dollars each year on the Shuttle program and it lunches four times each year this equals to sixteen billion dollars each year to launch the shuttle, and yet it will cost twenty billion dollars to the develop a new space plane. When you add everything up, NASA would rather spend 160 billion dollars in ten year of operations instead for wisely spending twenty billon dollars in ten years to develop a cost effective space craft, and advance the exploration of space. Pretty ironic when you come to think of it? Even if administrators say that the Shuttle must fly while the new space plane is under development, eliminating one flight per year would produce the necessary amount of money needed to pay for the development of a new space plane in twenty years. The majority of this time can be spent in acquisitions and research prior to the construction of the new space plane would ever start, and once the new craft is ready, the Shuttle can then be retired. Leaving NASA with a cheaper and more reliable way to get to orbit with the capability to increase the frequency of their launches. This would benefit NASA to ways; one the public will see their hard earned money is put to well use; two, it will allow NASA to modernize and replace their aging fleet, bring themselves to the standards of the twenty first century and concentrate in research and conquest of space. Above all mankind can renew the desire it once had for space exploration
Another project NASA needs to undertake to improve its image is revamping the space station program into one which produces results. The main problem with the ISS is the large cost-to-science ratio. To much time fixing it and not enough time researching. Citing a study done by NASA while designing the station, Zubrin states that the current design was not supported by a blue ribbon panel of scientists and engineers (24). Another thing NASA can use to improve its coast effectiveness would be to design a compact space module system, which can be easily transported in a vast in a larger quantity with less frequent lunches. This plan would allow for more productivity in space with lesser launches and the end result