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Thread: James Lovell calls the station "white elephant"

  1. #1

    James Lovell calls the station "white elephant"

    http://www.space.com/missionlaunches...walk-wrap.html

    Looks like James Lovell is now amongst the famous critics of the International Space Station. Just like Weinberg, who earlier said that the ISS is an "orbital turkey", Lovell adds to this by saying it's a "white elephant"...

    Err... any comments?

  2. #2
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    He didn't. He said its 'almost' a white elephant, until it can provide returns on investment.

    The ISS is a fine space station. However, NASA and the other partners in the ISS have, all the time it has been up there, lacked the funds and the vision to make good use of a space station.

    Like the shuttle, I think the ISS is perfectly good hardware, that is being derided as useless hardware because nobody has been willing to get the most out of it. Its like having a powerful desktop computer, only ever using it to go on the internet, and then saying its no better than a netbook.

  3. #3
    To be honest, I think that the ISS is a big waste of money. But that doesn't mean at all I'm against it or even don't like it. Just because something is a waste doesn't mean it's bad. Potato chips and Hollywood movies are wastes of resources in a way, but I don't think that efficiency should always be the measure of things. Sometimes it seems we're obsessed with efficiency. The ISS has a sort of visionary impact, whether it's worthwhile money-wise.
    As above, so below

  4. #4
    Like the shuttle, I think the ISS is perfectly good hardware, that is being derided as useless hardware because nobody has been willing to get the most out of it.
    There are parts of the shuttle that are miracles of engineering, or at least were when they were built. However, the shuttle was developed as a method of making space flight cheaper. Instead of it was more expensive than the disposable rockets it was supposed to replace which makes it an epic fail regardless of whatever good qualities it may happen to have. The ISS is earth's 9th crewed space station and I'm not really sure what it does. When you say the most isn't being gotten out of it, what do you think the ISS could be used for?

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    The ISS is a research lab, and there's actually a lot of research going on there, here's a good resource for what experiments are being carried out there. You can level a lot of criticism at a lab and how it's run but if you have any interest in any of the topics under investigation there then you need some kind of lab to do those experiments!
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    The ISS is a research lab, and there's actually a lot of research going on there,
    Research for the sake of research does not make it a productive venture. Specialty crystals only made in space are still more expensive than diamonds.

    Has there been any research done on the ISS that has changed our way of life other than lightening our wallet?

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    Research for the sake of research does not make it a productive venture. Specialty crystals only made in space are still more expensive than diamonds.

    Has there been any research done on the ISS that has changed our way of life other than lightening our wallet?
    Well, there's not really any other place to study the effects of long-term weightlessness, is there? That would seem fairly essential research for any lengthy manned missions to other planets (i.e. Mars).

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Robonaut View Post
    Well, there's not really any other place to study the effects of long-term weightlessness, is there? That would seem fairly essential research for any lengthy manned missions to other planets (i.e. Mars).
    There actually are other places to study this - you can easily simulate the effects when you're in bed. And there are a lot of simulated missions of this type.

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    Well experiments have been done relevant to cancer research and treatment, heart disease, virulence of microbes like salmonella, basic physics of colloids and crystals, improving resistance of materials to space weathering.... but no, if you want me to point to something and say 'this is worth 100 billion dollars' and give you a breakdown of how and why that is true I can't do that. To do that I'd need a time machine to go forward 100 years, put all their discoveries and what they've contributed to and led to into their proper historical context, and then make a judgement on them.

    Its a research lab, not a business. All you can demand of it is that it does as much research as possible, as intelligently as possible, and for as long as possible.
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    Bed rest is a substitute for weightlessness, but there will inevitably be a gap between the effects of bed rest and the effects of weightlessness. If you want to know if you bed rest experiment is producing accurate results on whatever parameter you're measuring you still need to go into space and spend a comparable amount of time there.

    Samkent, I think we're talking at cross purposes here. As far as I know research for the sake of curiosity is a valuable way of spending time. There are many important discoveries in our history that would not have been if it were not for research for the sake of curiosity. People want their curiosity satisfied! ISS as it stands may not be the best way of accomplishing this, but if experiments with space conditions are to be done we need some kind of platform in space. What would you suggest as an alternative? Or have I misunderstood you?
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    ... Has there been any research done on the ISS that has changed our way of life other than lightening our wallet?
    Has there been any research done with the information and rocks brought back by the Apollo missions to the Moon that has changed our lives other than lightening our wallets? I think the answers will be small and trivial, and yet you will find many people who are content that we went, and spent the money and effort to do so.

    If the ISS was going to be profitable, GE and GM would have built it, and left the government out of it.

    We gained understanding in things that will be important for long-duration space missions, and dabbled in things that being in orbit might be good for.
    Forming opinions as we speak

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    Certain aspects of the human experience cannot be reduced to econometrics. The ISS cannot be compared to run-of-the-mill enterprises. It represents a vision, and a necessary step towards the establishment of mankind as a space-faring civilization. It can´t be profitable. It wasn´t designed to be so. It´s not costly nor cheap. It is only necessary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Just because something is a waste doesn't mean it's bad. Potato chips and Hollywood movies are wastes of resources in a way, but I don't think that efficiency should always be the measure of things.
    That's a poor analogy because you can choose not to pay for potato chips and hollywood movies. If you are a US taxpayer, you cannot choose not to pay for the ISS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    That's a poor analogy because you can choose not to pay for potato chips and hollywood movies.
    There are probably much better analogies, but anything where you don't have a choice in paying would probably be too political.

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    It represents a vision, and a necessary step towards the establishment of mankind as a space-faring civilization.
    Space dabbling is about we are capable of. To pretend we are doing great things in orbit is just wrong. For the most part we are just burning through cash and astronauts while going in circles a couple hundred miles up. We have no clue how to sustain ourselves while we are up there. Until we have ways to sustain human life without constant re-supply, manned missions should be reserved for things that require the human touch.

    Just look at what it costs to feed one person up there. If it takes .5 lbs of food per day and it costs $10,000 per lb to launch it, we are talking $5,000 per day.

    I look at most of these experiments as being ‘keep busy’ jobs.

  16. #16
    I remember reading something about chemists and physicists fiddling with the properties of potato batteries in the early 1800s Nobody was able to power steel mills off of that experimentation, but the experimenters were able to discover the properties of electricity which we now, 180 years or so later use in a myriad of ways. To steal a line from an early NASA engineer, "It's like a large chunk of cheese, you've got to start biting somewhere." I've always loved the BBC production Connections. The journeys that James Burke took us on in that show depicted how seemingly insignificant discoveries at one point led to fantastic and unrelated uses even a few short years later. Even discovering that certain preconceptions are untrue advances knowledge. The fact that the Descartes mountains on the moon are not volcanic as previously believed is instructive and enlightening about the limitations of photogeology. The simple act of building the station has advanced our technology here on earth. Does anyone know many carpenters who still limit themselves to cord-powered tools? I don't subscribe to the notion that we can learn the same lessons without the station that we can with it. I'm glad Lovell's quote was extended to "Almost..." I couldn't believe he would have said the other. I'm still surprised. Now to read the article. I probably should have done that before writing this post.
    Last edited by Polyrealastic Observer; 2009-Jul-21 at 04:49 PM. Reason: error in date reference

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    The journeys that James Burke took us on in that show depicted how seemingly insignificant discoveries at one point led to fantastic and unrelated uses even a few short years later.

    Yes but all of those inventors could breathe without .5 billion dollar re-supply ships.

    Those experiments do nothing to inspire us on to exploration.

    The ISS was sold to the public as a STATION not an orbiting aluminum can. Myself, feel let down as to its capabilities. While it may fit the strictest definition of a station, it misses the expectations of the people who have funded it. If I go into any station on Earth I don’t have to packetize my own poo in the restroom.

    Had they concentrated their efforts on how to LIVE and WORK in orbit I would feel I had gotten my monies worth.

    Why didn’t they add a greenhouse module? That way they would have a place to use that “purified” waste water instead of making “questionable” coffee. Plus they would get O2 and some veggies. That’s learning how to live and work in space.

    I feel so let down by the ISS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    If I go into any station on Earth I don’t have to packetize my own poo in the restroom.
    Yep, and any station on Earth doesn't have the issue of microgravity.
    This is an empty statement.
    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    Why didn’t they add a greenhouse module? That way they would have a place to use that “purified” waste water instead of making “questionable” coffee.
    I agree, especially after seeing those hydroponic gardens at Disney in the early 70s.
    But; again, the part you mention about the water is an empty statement. It makes it sound like they don't know what to do with the water.
    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    Plus they would get O2 and some veggies. That’s learning how to live and work in space.
    That's the part I agree with. I'd like to see a little more work toward self-sufficiency.

    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    I feel so let down by the ISS.
    Me too, but it's not just NASA. There's plenty of other countries in on it. But; I think my feelings come from the fact that I never hear any straight forward information coming from it.
    I only hear common news sources and thier fatalistic views, or I hear the other end: Papers with so much technical jargon that I have no clue what thier goal is.

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    I would agree most certainly with the part of the rant involving a greenhouse module, not least because of the engineering challenge in building such a module. However, given what happened to the centrifuge module, it probably would never have gotten off the ground even if it had been completed.

    But yes, having even a token effort to the space station being self-supporting would be valuable. If the goal is ultimately exploration and a LEO station is a proving ground for technology, much like Gemini was a proving ground for exploration technology in its day, you need a way to make food.

    I'll go one further: SHEEP IN SPAAAAACE!!!!

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    Okay I do joke, but then I think of something serious: an aquaculture module. Koichi would have loved it. Fish is a fundamental part of a Japanese diet. You never know. If the fish were particularly delicious from being bred in microgravity, then they could be markets. Of course, you'd need to ship up a lot of water and that stuff is heavy. Or you could use an ammonia solution and grow nitrogen-phosphorous fish like we were talking about on the other thread!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Sometimes it seems we're obsessed with efficiency. The ISS has a sort of visionary impact, whether it's worthwhile money-wise.
    Nicely said.

    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    Research for the sake of research does not make it a productive venture.
    Good. Does everything have to be about the bottom dollar, about "what have you done for me in the last 5 minutes"?

    Even the company I work for (doing commercial R&D) doesn't expect 100% of all our research work to give immediate bottom line benefits. Some of what we do (admittedly a small percentage in industry) is just for the sake of looking at something that's interesting. I can't abide the notion that government labs should be doing commercial, industrial research with immediate practical applications, whether on Earth or in LEO.

    And what happened to the notion of doing science for the sake of science, to learn something new? Have we lost all of our grander notions?
    At night the stars put on a show for free (Carole King)

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    Does everything have to be about the bottom dollar,
    If it’s the publics bottom dollar then the answer is yes!

    And what happened to the notion of doing science for the sake of science,
    At what cost? It will be interesting to see how much the Soviets will charge to lift those experiments to the ISS. How much will the scientists think their experiment is worth, when the lift charge comes out of their own budget? My impression is that we don’t charge, but we do prioritize.

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    Oh wait. There is a greenhouse. The Lada Greenhouse Was thinking something bigger though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    ...At what cost? It will be interesting to see how much the Soviets...
    Hmm, interesting thought. How would all of these arguments change if we were sitting in the past talking about Mir?

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    Wasn’t Mir more about how long a human could stay up as opposed to experiments?

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    Quote Originally Posted by samkent View Post
    Wasn’t Mir more about how long a human could stay up as opposed to experiments?
    Although it did set some duration records, the purpose of Mir was to be a research station.

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    An orbital turkey?? That's GOOD!

    I agree with Lovell. The ISS is not only a "white elephant," it's a piece of JUNK which should be vacated, allowed to deorbit and burn up over the south Pacific!

    Let's get on to Mars!

  28. #28
    Did you learn to fly an F-16 before you learned how to walk, or the other way around?

  29. #29
    It represents a vision, and a necessary step towards the establishment of mankind as a space-faring civilization.
    I see it as a backwards step in the sense that if the money had been spent on scientific research elsewhere we would now be closer to creating a space faring civilization.

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    If we are going to continue to build very expensive space stations only to let them burn up like MIR and the ISS, well.... we can burn a few billion right down here... a lot of usefull ways.
    If you are going to build a station, put it in a usefull orbit to begin with.
    And think about artificial gravity ( modular spin aka 2001) so that people
    can live there. Grow your own, and clean your air/water is a very good idea.
    These are the kind of practical questions people ask. And they pay the bills.
    Throwing away space stations like last year's bicycle because you left it out in the rain over winter ...doesn't inspire confidence.

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