Also, Water Is Wet

When a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft connected with the International Space Station on May 25, 2012, it made history as the first privately-built spacecraft to reach the ISS. The Dragon was the result of a decision 6 years prior—in 2006, NASA made an “unprecedented” investment in SpaceX technology. A new financial analysis shows that the investment has paid off, and the government found one of the true bargains of the 21st century when it invested in SpaceX.

A new research paper by Edgar Zapata, who works at Kennedy Space Center, looks closely at the finances of SpaceX and NASA. “There were indications that commercial space transportation would be a viable option from as far back as the 1980s,” Zapata writes. “When the first components of the ISS were sent into orbit 1998, NASA was focused on “ambitious, large single stage-to-orbit launchers with large price tags to match.”

“…ambitious, large single stage-to-orbit launchers with large price tags to match.” NA$A? You don’t say.

Here is one of the reasons that I continue to hammer NA$A:

Zapata estimates that SpaceX launches cost NASA around $89,000 per kilogram of cargo delivered to the space station. There’s no telling what precisely would have come from a cargo spacecraft developed by NASA, but Zapata estimates that it would be $272,000 per kg.

For future commercial crew missions sending astronauts into space, Zapata estimates that it will cost $405 million for a SpaceX Dragon crew deployment of 4 and $654 million for a Boeing Starliner, which is scheduled for its first flight in 2019. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but Zapata estimates that its only 37 to 39 percent of what it would have cost the government.

Amazing how an entity manages to lower costs when they’re spending their own money, eh?

If the money angle fails to move you, here’s this:

Unlike truly exotic propulsion proposals using antimatter or nuclear fusion, researchers have long considered nuclear fission rockets technologically feasible. Concrete development began with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Project Rover in 1955 — three years before NASA’s founding — and continued with the NERVA rocket prototype, which fired for nearly 2 hours straight during ground tests before budget cuts ended development in 1972.

By then, NASA had already canceled Apollo 18 through 20, as well as Saturn V rocket production. When Mars plans followed suit, the multibillion-dollar NERVA project lost its main purpose, Houts said. The technology saw a brief revival in the late ’80s and early ’90s with the Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (SNTP) program, which also ran out of funding before flight testing.

But now, with interest turning back toward Mars, past research is finding new life in current projects.

NA$A, being a Gummint agency, is subject to the waxing and waning of political fortunes. And for those of you who are slow to catch on, this is a problem. The reasons that exist for getting humanity off-planet don’t care about public opinion or which group of criminals happen to be running DC at any given time.

Even though I think that public support is one of the least important factors here, here’s this:

The article is basically an interview of Andy Weir (The Martian), so don’t bother clicking through if you’re not interested. The point is both the headline and where it was published. Again, the percentage of people that support a given program is pretty irrelevant, after all, when was the last time (or any time, for that matter) you heard about the NA$A budget being a campaign issue?

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