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Eric Berger at ars Technica looks back at 20 years of NASA activity in space


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Informed perspective from Eric Berger: Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

QUOTE: “The reality is that, because NASA has spent so much time and tens of billions of dollars developing Orion and the SLS rocket, it hasn’t had funds to produce any of the infrastructure really needed for any of these destinations, including landers, power systems, habitats, and more. In doing so, there are difficult decisions to be made, costly systems to design, and risks to be taken. To reach the surface of the Moon, Phobos, or Mars by 2038, NASA will have to be bold...
There are a few disruptive forces that could propel NASA out of this inertial path. One is the private space revolution the agency has helped to facilitate with the commercial crew and cargo programs, as well as other grants and contracts. NASA could derive new energy, cost efficiencies, and ideas if it fully embraces public-private partnerships with SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace, and other companies.”

Many people besides Eric have made this observation recently, but few put it as clearly and succinctly as he does. And we have had multiple hints from NASA boss Bridenstine over the past year that he recognizes how beneficial public-private partnerships can be for NASA.

QUOTE: “China could also force the US government to accelerate NASA’s plans. China probably could go faster if it wanted, but right now the authoritarian country intends to land taikonauts on the lunar surface around 2030. Sustained achievement from China likely would pull some of NASA’s current international partners away to support that effort. Surely, this would prompt some kind of a more urgent response from NASA. (At present NASA “notional” plans to land on the Moon by the end of the 2020s, but given the slow arc of development since 2004, these seem fanciful).”

I think Eric makes a very good point here. I don’t think China gets as much attention as it is due when it comes to the country’s progress in space. Yes, their first space station was very modest in size compared to the ISS and it is no longer in orbit. But in 2020 China plans to launch the first module of a much larger station (still small compared to ISS) and they can build on that foundation. See Chinese large modular space station - Wikipedia

China has announced that it plans to establish a base on the moon and I think they are very serious about it. There recent missions are just the initial steps towards that goal.
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It would be a huge point of national pride for China to accomplish that, just as US national pride was what drove the Apollo program. I expect that over the next decade, as China makes progress towards that goal that the US Congress will become more receptive to allocating funding for a US lunar base.

In the meantime, SpaceX will continue to progress towards a permanent base on Mars, a feat which — when accomplished — will in my opinion completely eclipse anything that happens on the moon.

I hope I live to see it!
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I sure hope SpaceX has a full time lobbyist or three trying to convince NASA and/or Congress that Starship would be cheaper and better than Orion/SLS. Are we missing anything here? Seems that NASA could repurpose a bunch of money towards missions that accomplish something rather than act as a jobs programs, correct? You would think NASA brass would be all for this. Congress is another matter, of course, but that's what bribes, I mean creative deal making, are for.
Seems that NASA could repurpose a bunch of money towards missions that accomplish something rather than act as a jobs programs, correct?
As you note, Congress appropriates NASA funding as it sees fit, and the SLS/Orion program money is likely not transferable. SpaceX lobbying efforts aren’t likely to make much of an impact compared to the lobbying that initiated and has continued the SLS/Orion.
Forgive me I think I’m missing something - how can this be the case: “The reality is that, because NASA has spent so much time and tens of billions of dollars developing Orion and the SLS rocket...” when there was a thread on here some months ago about how SLS was reusing existing engines and designs from the 1960s thru 80s?

How can ULA or Boeing etc take all this money, not invent anything new, and still be targeting Mars in 20 years time???

Talk about $20,000 hammers and $50,000 toilet seats....I think you guys might need to oversee a few more regular fatal beatings of your aerospace/defence contractors.
The simple fact is that when you control the purse strings for NASA you get to control where the money goes. Strangely enough the money goes right into those Senators and Congresspeople's states and districts. It would take a significant readjustment of those branches of government and even pressure from the executive branch to readjust the way NASA is funded. If China does accomplish something big in space that forces a response, it would need to be significant enough to force those Senators and Congresspeople to be willing to cut their own funding. So even though it will be the right thing to do, it's unlikely to happen. SpaceX will have to continue to prove they are the superior program and system and I will expect to continue to see token funds (compared to NASA's budget) being tossed their direction. As we know, there is little doubt that SpaceX will land on the Moon and Mars before any major program funded by NASA does.