Thursday, September 08, 2005

Space, the Not-Quite-Yet Frontier


I'm a huge fan of space. I like astronomy, I love astrophysics, and I absolutely adore rocket science and space exploration. There is a steady trickle of people like me, but most of the geek population is closer to what you probably are: idly interested. Sure, space exploration is cool, but not as cool as (your field of choice here).

I'm far from being obsessive about it, but I keep very up-to-date.

Perhaps you've noticed NASA's "comedia incolumitas". NASA's ineptitude has grown to horrifying proportions. At the worst possible time.

In this era, civvy ships make tourist runs into space. NASA doesn't get into space at all. NASA gets $16 billion a year. The entirety of the project that produced SpaceShipOne was less than $40 million, last I checked. And had a payoff of $10 million that reduced that considerably. That was from SCRATCH.

NASA is the least focused, most painfully inept group I know about. Look at this:

In 2004, NASA blew $877 million on "Astronomical Search for Origins". Four BILLION on the space shuttle. Details here.

I've talked to people from NASA. All of them have been emphatically angry with the way NASA squanders money. Estimations seem to range from 90% wasted to 99% wasted. Given the accomplishments of Scaled Composites, that doesn't seem like a high estimate.

Functionally, NASA is useless and growing more useless.

Unfortunately, the commercial industry is barely fledgeling.

Over the next five years, there will be no space exploration.

For the next five years, the only things the public will hear about space is how bad NASA is bunging things up.

That is horrible. NASA is responsible - directly - for the murder of the idea of space exploration.

NASA desperately needs to change it ways. Not over the course of the next five years: NOW. Five years from now, commercial space exploration will hit the mainstream. NASA will then be obsolete. How can they not see this?

If I was in charge of NASA, which I'm not, and probably for very good reason, I would take drastic action. I think I would drop and burn the space station. Having saved six billion dollars, I would spend it on a hype campaign to end all hype campaigns, fueled by the loss of the station. Spend the next two years cleaning house - I want a 50% drop in cost-to-return. Then, spend all that cash in creating a new space launch system.

Can't find a way to improve efficiency? Burn the program. I don't care how "mission critical" it is. A billion dollars on aeronautic technology - totally mission critical. Probably deeply tied to fat corporations and the military. It cannot be saved. Burn it. Stard smaller, seed projects.

Yes, fire people. Yes, lay people off. Yes, cut back. NASA has been eating like a pig, regardless of the way it costs the idea of space travel. Right now, space popularity is pretty close to an all-time low, and NASA needs to turn that around or it will find itself burned to a cinder beneath the thrusters of the commercial space age.

Spend all the money you save on pro-space propaganda. If it's American and over the age of five, it should be able to tell you about how the solar system works. If it hasn't caught the space bug, you need to throw more money at it. Get that money from the horrifying wastes of red tape you call "projects".

Because, you know, NASA will listen to me. I'm the Elvis of project management.

Still, at least I got that off my chest.

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