Friday, November 25, 2005

Scrap the Shuttle

Elsewhere, I've written that the International Space Station should be scrapped because of its high cost and limited scientific value. The station and the shuttle essentially exist to keep each other running, but at extraordinary cost. Now, The Washington Post reports on the shuttle's (or perhaps we should say sinkhole's) budget problems:

A large deficit in NASA's troubled shuttle program threatens to seriously delay and possibly cripple President Bush's space exploration initiative unless the number of planned flights is cut virtually in half or the White House agrees to add billions of dollars to the human spaceflight budget...

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin has said that terminating the shuttle program would be just as expensive as keeping it going. The shuttle routinely consumes more than 30 percent of NASA's budget.

How's that now? I'm guessing that this means that shut-down costs like scrapping vehicles and facilities and transferring workers would cost an amount comparable to the current budget - but that isn't a reason not to do it. I'd rather spend $1 billion to shut down a program today that costs $1 billion a year than to wait until ten years pass and another $10 billion is spent to do it. Delaying the inevitable will cost billions of dollars.

Where [Griffin] has not fared so well, however, is in allaying lawmakers' misgivings about the "gap" in human space travel between the end of the shuttle program in 2010 and the first manned flights of the new exploration vehicle in 2014.

Griffin said earlier this year that NASA now projects that the new spaceship would fly by 2012, with a return to the moon by 2018, but he was unable to satisfy those who want to close the gap completely.

If they want space travel to be exciting and inspiring, the small "gap" would probably be helpful. Congress is probably mostly concerned about protecting pork:

NASA's budget difficulties have also been complicated by having to pay for about $400 million in special projects inserted, mostly by senators, into the agency's 2006 funding...

Scrapping the shuttle was proposed, but didn't make it far enough:

Several sources confirmed that the budget office in the early negotiations proposed stopping shuttle flights altogether. "It sucks money out of the budget, and it's a dead-end program," one source said.

But "that argument's over," another source said. "The political side of the White House said, 'We're keeping it.' If you kill the shuttle right now, it will be heavy lifting for your foreign policy because of the international obligations" around the space station.

That's why we should scrap the station at the same time.

[Cross-Posted at Observant Observations]

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