Monday 19 March 2007

Space: Good News, Bad News

Bad News first. From :
The chairman of the U.S. House science committee said Thursday that NASA is headed for "a train wreck" if the space agency isn't better funded to finish building the international space station and develop the next-generation spacecraft.
The White House has cut NASA's five-year budget plan by almost $2.26 billion in the three years since President Bush announced the "Vision for Space Exploration" plan to develop new spacecraft to go back to the moon and then to Mars, said U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. Gordon, chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, spoke at a hearing in Washington on NASA's 2008 budget request.
Lawmakers on the House committee also said the five-year plan in the 2008 budget proposal shortchanges the space station by $924 million and doesn't fund an upgrade in the Deep Space communications network.

In a separate hearing on the other side of the Capitol, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, pledged to try increasing NASA's budget by $1 billion. Mikulski also proposed holding a "space summit" between members of Congress and the White House to set a bipartisan agenda on space.

NASA's proposed budget for 2008 is $17.3 billion, a 3.1 percent increase over what the White House requested for 2007. However, since Congress didn't pass a budget for NASA last year, the 2007 funding level was kept the same as 2006's $16.6 billion, leaving the space agency with an expected $545 million shortfall.
Too many commitments; Too much existing infrastructure that needs upgrading just to maintain existing services; Too little money in the past, and no guarantee of even the requested and arguably insufficient funds in the future.

But this too shall pass. If not the US, China.

Now the good news, in the Long Term : from NASA :
New measurements of Mars' south polar region indicate extensive frozen water. The polar region contains enough frozen water to cover the whole planet in a liquid layer approximately 11 meters (36 feet) deep. A joint NASA-Italian Space Agency instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft provided these data.

This new estimate comes from mapping the thickness of the ice. The Mars Express orbiter's radar instrument has made more than 300 virtual slices through layered deposits covering the pole to map the ice. The radar sees through icy layers to the lower boundary, which is as deep as 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) below the surface

Mars is a fixer-upper, and I doubt whether we will ever be able to live on its surface, unprotected. But under domes, yes, with that amount of water, it's a goer as a long-term colony, even with existing technology. It could be made self-sustaining.

So the talk about millions or billions, or the US or China, that will be trivial detail in a thousand years time. But this news will not. We can live there. We will live there.

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