[FPSPACE] The persisting $1 trillion myth
kgottschalk at uwc.ac.za
Sat Jun 19 12:44:22 EDT 2004
The only way you will ever debunk that one trillion figure is, if each time it appears, YOU, Dwayne, plus at least four others, bombard each of the newspapers with challenging letters. JimO, Vick, etc. If you can get a celebrity scientist, Bruce Murray or someone, so much the better.
>>> DwayneDay <zirconic1 at earthlink.net> 06/19/04 18:20 PM >>>
The Associated Press seems to be well bent on perpetuating the myth that any moon-Mars exploration plan must cost $1 trillion.
Last week they ran another article containing this number. This time they quoted unnamed "experts" and then Nobel-prize winning physicist Doug Osheroff, who also served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
A colleague of mine attended a talk given by Osheroff on Friday. After the talk, someone asked Osheroff about his $1 trillion quote. Osheroff said that he initially told the reporter that he expected such a project to cost "hundreds of billions," but that the reporter, Ted Bridis, persisted in asking if it would cost up to $1 trillion. Osheroff finally relented and gave the quote below.
Osheroff said that after the story appeared, he got a testy e-mail from NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe about the quote. I do not hold O'Keefe blameless in this, because it took him two weeks to finally respond to the initial AP story back in January with the $1 trillion figure, by which time the number had been repeated endlessly. So if the myth persists, it is partly because NASA has done little to knock it down.
Bridis was not the first AP reporter to use this $1 trillion figure, which was invented out of air as the cost of a manned mission to Mars. However, I suspect that what happened is that when Bridis started writing this story he went to the AP story database and called up previous stories on this subject and saw several AP articles that quoted this figure. He assumed that because other AP reporters had written it, it must be true, and so he decided to put it into this story. This despite the fact that there are other figures out there available with a little more research. Reporters are not usually energetically lazy, but they can often be mentally lazy, failing to rigorously check information. That's clearly why this myth has persisted.
Science - AP
Panel: Reduce NASA Role in Space Launches
By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A White House panel of space experts, wrestling with questions about how to pay for expeditions to the moon and Mars, wants NASA (news - web sites) to give private companies a broader role and a greater share of the financial burden.
The presidential commission will recommend that NASA's role in missions be limited to "areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity," according to a summary of its conclusions obtained by The Associated Press.
Responsibility for manned spaceflight would stay with NASA.
The commission's final report is expected this week. President Bush (news - web sites) has proposed establishing a lunar base within two decades and a manned landing on Mars after 2030.
The president's panel, led by former astronaut Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, describes how to meet Bush's exploration objectives "within reasonable schedules and affordable costs." Its recommendations are aimed at least partly toward easing the burden for taxpayers by increasing commercialization of the nation's space program.
A broader role for private industry in America's space program, however, could re-ignite a simmering debate over astronaut safety in an environment where corporations are driven to reduce costs, generate shareholder profits and meet contractual promises.
The board that investigated the Columbia breakup in 2003 criticized NASA's "substantial transfers of safety responsibility from the government to the private sector" during its greater reliance on private contractors since the mid-1990s.
The White House commission said NASA should allow private companies "to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit." It said it anticipates "reasonable risk ... along with some failures."
Experts said that clearly signals an intention to hand over nearly all space launches except manned missions to private corporations.
"It carves out the launch of astronauts," said George T. Whitesides, head of the National Space Society, a nonprofit group that advocates space exploration. "I'm sure there will be a lot of debate about that over the coming weeks."
The commission will encourage NASA to "aggressively use its contractual authority" to foster new technologies and ideas. It wants NASA to assess current launch technologies, which would be handed over to the private sector.
It also will recommend that Congress offer prize money as incentives for scientists who accomplish space missions or develop helpful technology. Already, the X Prize Foundation is offering a $10 million prize for the first privately financed manned spaceflight.
"This is really reprogramming the country's commitment to civilian space," said John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a member of the panel that investigated the Columbia breakup.
The commission's conclusions could be enormously lucrative for NASA's primary contractor, the United Space Alliance LLC of Houston, a partnership between the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. with more than 10,000 employees who handle most space shuttle duties.
The administration has been sensitive to questions about the enormous cost of Bush's moon-Mars plan. The White House has asked for a $1 billion increase in NASA's budget over five years. It has indicated otherwise that the agency's budget, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget, would see little growth.
Some experts have said President Bush's goals ultimately could cost $1 trillion. A proposal by President Bush's father to fly to Mars withered when its cost estimates approached $450 billion.
"Never let it be said that NASA tends to overestimate the cost of its missions," said Douglas Osheroff, a widely renowned physicist who investigated the Columbia accident. "The cost in present-day dollars ... I think it's going to be one trillion."
The conclusions by the White House commission were first disclosed by www.Space.com, an Internet news site for astronomy and space enthusiasts.
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