Obama: This is a ‘Capture the Flag’ Moment for Commercial Spaceflight

Article written: 15 Jul , 2011
Updated: 18 Jan , 2016
by
Video

President Barack Obama called out for pizza today and ending up talking with the crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 on the International Space Station. Well, that was his story anyway, but he did talk with the crews, offering a challenge for commercial space companies, as well as remembering the first flight of cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union – the Apollo-Soyuz test project which launched 36 years ago today — and reiterating the challenge of sending humans to Mars.

The STS-135 crew brought a flag that was flown on STS-1, the first shuttle mission, up to the ISS. “We’ll present the flag to the space station crew and it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from US soil brings US astronauts up to dock with the space station,” STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson told the president.

“And I understand this is going to be sort of like a capture the flag moment for commercial space flight, so good luck to whoever grabs that flag,” Obama said.

“That’s an excellent point sir,” Ferguson replied. “We sure hope to see some of our commercial partners climbing on board really soon. I know there’s a lot of competition out there, there’s a lot of people are fervently working towards this goal to be the first one to send a commercial astronaut into orbit.”

Shortly afterward, the SpaceX Twitter account posted: “SpaceX commencing flag capturing sequence…”

Later Obama acknowledged said that while this mission marks the final flight of the space shuttle program, “it also ushers in a new era exciting new era to push the frontiers of space exploration and human spaceflight. Crew members like you will continue to operate the ISS in the coming years and seek to use it to advance scientific research and technology development. I’ve tasked NASA with an ambitious new mission to develop the systems and the kinds of space technologies that are going to be necessary to conduct exploration beyond Earth and ultimately sending humans to Mars, which is obviously no small feat, but I know we’re going to be up to the task.”

This is the second time within a week Obama has said Mars is the ultimate goal for human spaceflight, (he also mentioned it in a statement following the successful launch of Atlantis last week), which is a slight departure from the flexible path scenario or a mission sending humans to an asteroid that he unveiled over a year ago.

Each partner in the Apollo-Soyuz Test project launched on July 15, 1972, where an Apollo capsule and Soyuz capsule met up and docked together in Earth orbit. It was the first joint U.S./Soviet space flight, and the last manned US space mission until the first Space Shuttle flight in April 1981. “It’s exciting to know that we aren’t just shaking hands 36 years later but are working everyday with partners of other nations to represent humankind coming together in space,” Obama told the crews.

Obama also recognized the people who have worked “countless hours and untold effort making the space shuttle and the International Space Station are a unique part of our history.”

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32 Responses

  1. Ethan Walker says

    “This is the second time within a week Obama has said Mars is the ultimate goal for human spaceflight, which is a slight departure from the flexible path scenario or a mission sending humans to an asteroid that he unveiled over a year ago.”

    How is that a departure? It was always made clear in the flexible path plan that mars was the ultimate goal.

  2. Anonymous says

    Go SpaceX and Bigelow AeroSpace. Make the dream come true!!!

  3. Marcel F. Williams says

    Mars was also the ultimate goal of the Constellation program.

  4. Pete Zeigler says

    Obama is a dream killer. The US space program has never been in worse hands.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      And your basis for that is….?

    • Ethan Walker says

      Perhaps the space program has never been in worse hands, but those hands are not Obama’s but rather those of congress, particularly the republican controlled house intent on slashing manned and unmanned programs while using their influence to vastly inflate the cost of the heavy launch vehicle so as to better enable it to carry pork. Obama has not made NASA a personal priority, but the same can be said of every president since JFK. Yet despite this, the flexible path option he picked is the most direct and realistic path to mars yet adopted by NASA. If it fails, it will do so not because it is a bad plan but because congress refuses to allocate the necessary funds.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      The “flexible path” he adopted was a dream maker, both on account of being realizable which the old “dream” was not, and having flexibility (accommodating more dreams). If it was good politics is arguable.

  5. Well, someone will have to explain to me how to land humans on Mars, where the atmosphere is about 1/100 of what exists on earth, and adding the challenges we cannot address as of today such as artificial gravity that will be required in order to sustain human life for such a long journey.

    See this article as well as the comments:
    http://vintagespace.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/before-this-decade-is-out/#more-780

    Simply put, let’s say humans land on Mars within the next 100 years; and imagine we find proof of past life or an actual existing form of life, then what? Yes it would be a great achievement, yes that would mean something we already expect: life must just exists everywhere in space. But don’t send humans for that task, robots can do the job too.

    • Anonymous says

      I largely agree. If you are going to search for life on Mars, or evidence for past life, or pre-biotic organic chemistry in distant Martian past it makes little sense to send us walking water bags and prokaryotic eco-biozones for bacteria. For every somatic human cell on or in our bodies there are 10 bacterial cells. Astronauts on Mars will spew bacteria everywhere and contaminate results.

      The cost for getting to Mars would be enormous. If you do send astronauts there it might be best that they run robots on the surface with direct tele-presence from the orbiting command spacecraft. At least the landing and return cost is reduced.

      The current news about Vesta is probably a better bet for human colonization. I am not at all certain about the prospect for human presence or civilized existence in space. However asteroids probably make a better bet, where one might be able to set up rotating habitat zone in them. This eliminates the problem of going down and up gravity wells with planets.

      LC

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        For every somatic human cell on or in our bodies there are 10 bacterial cells. Astronauts on Mars will spew bacteria everywhere and contaminate results.

        Hmm…. that’s something to think about the next time when the mother-in-law comes to stay!

      • Since there is probably no such thing as a perfectly sterilized probe, chances are if mars has been contaminated then its already happened… and we are wasting valuable time to slowly study by remote what is probably becoming a non-pristine environment.
        We need scientists on the scene and we need them quickly.

      • Anonymous says

        The contamination of Mars is probably slight up to this time. I doubt that Earth bacteria can make much of a go on Mars. So I doubt the planet has been colonized in a wide spread way. By comparison humans are walking bacteria zones, where we breathe them out, we excrete them and we shed them off with skin flakes. This could create a lot of noise for a program meant to detect Martian life.

        Of course humans are more deft at accomplishing tasks than robots. However, a human bearing program of missions to Mars will cost in the $trillions. There is also a very small fault tolerance. With numerous robotic missions the cost per mission is far less and failure of some minority of these missions does not necessarily kill the general program.

        LC

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I think it is a little, well, a lot actually, unfair to put the problem of Mars in the lap of primarily LEO commercialization of space.

      To go to Mars there are these and other problems (radiation, biosphere closure) that likely needs solving. The optimistic presumption was always that they were to be solved while preparing.

      As for extant or extinct life elsewhere, if it is the goal, as in all science we need to test expectations to progress. Sending robots to discover life is a great gamble.* No robots have ever been used for finding fossils, all field work has been done during extended work by specialists in very varying contexts and with access to diverse analysis.

      Varying contexts is not something you want to put robotic crafts in, not even remote controlled ones. They can do only so much.

      And to address a concern from other comments, while presence of humans may contribute confusing factors all previous work on ecology/fossils have been done among extant life by humans. I can’t see how this will be a major problem.

      ——————
      * What they excel in is constraining possibilities, whether or not life is found. They will increase knowledge.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I think it is a little, well, a lot actually, unfair to put the problem of Mars in the lap of primarily LEO commercialization of space.

      To go to Mars there are these and other problems (radiation, biosphere closure) that likely needs solving. The optimistic presumption was always that they were to be solved while preparing.

      As for extant or extinct life elsewhere, if it is the goal, as in all science we need to test expectations to progress. Sending robots to discover life is a great gamble.* No robots have ever been used for finding fossils, all field work has been done during extended work by specialists in very varying contexts and with access to diverse analysis.

      Varying contexts is not something you want to put robotic crafts in, not even remote controlled ones. They can do only so much.

      And to address a concern from other comments, while presence of humans may contribute confusing factors all previous work on ecology/fossils have been done among extant life by humans. I can’t see how this will be a major problem.

      ——————
      * What they excel in is constraining possibilities, whether or not life is found. They will increase knowledge.

  6. Michael Birman says

    Robots have their place. But the ultimate necessity – if humans wish to survive as a species – is to colonize space. The lesson of the dinosaurs should not be lost on us. If we leave all of the eggs in one basket it is inevitable that a catastrophic event will eliminate our species. Multiple inhabited worlds mean an enhanced chance for human survival. That is, if you think humans merit survival. But that is another issue all together.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      Our biosphere is ~ 4 Gy old. No biosphere extinction event has ever happened.

      But 99.9 % of species has gone extinct. They mainly do so as ecologies and species evolve, not as result of catastrophic events. A mammal species becomes on average ~ 1 My old. Our species is overdue to split into descendants.

      In fact, we are as always rapidly evolving, as research has observed. More so now that population has increased drastically. (Because natural selection becomes more efficient.) Splitting was ongoing with neanderthals and denisovans before they were absorbed into H. sapiens again.

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        A mammal species becomes on average ~ 1 My old. Our species is overdue to split into descendants.

        Eloi and Morlocks?

      • Anonymous says

        The H. neanderthal and H. densivoians were a branching from the anscestors which emerged from H. heidelbergensis. The branching has already happened. Further branching will probably come due to isolation of populations and different selective pressures. This may happen in the wake of the collapse and population bottleneck our species will face in the next century.

        I doubt we can “design evolution” particularly or try to evolve ourselves. I am also certain that if we try to do that we will foul it up completely.

        LC

  7. Michael Birman says

    Robots have their place. But the ultimate necessity – if humans wish to survive as a species – is to colonize space. The lesson of the dinosaurs should not be lost on us. If we leave all of the eggs in one basket it is inevitable that a catastrophic event will eliminate our species. Multiple inhabited worlds mean an enhanced chance for human survival. That is, if you think humans merit survival. But that is another issue all together.

  8. I want your opinion! Check out my 2 minute survey on radiation exposure before you decide to become a space tourist.
    http://edu.surveygizmo.com/s3/553944/Commercial-Space-Travel-Radiation-Survey

  9. James Walczak says

    My question is simple; how is a manned mission to Mars the “ultimate goal”? In my mind, that should simply be one of the next steps with the ultimate goal being that of truly exploring our solar system, the universe around us and one day…when we’re truly ready…perhaps colonization of other worlds.

  10. James Walczak says

    My question is simple; how is a manned mission to Mars the “ultimate goal”? In my mind, that should simply be one of the next steps with the ultimate goal being that of truly exploring our solar system, the universe around us and one day…when we’re truly ready…perhaps colonization of other worlds.

  11. James Walczak says

    My question is simple; how is a manned mission to Mars the “ultimate goal”? In my mind, that should simply be one of the next steps with the ultimate goal being that of truly exploring our solar system, the universe around us and one day…when we’re truly ready…perhaps colonization of other worlds.

  12. James Walczak says

    My question is simple; how is a manned mission to Mars the “ultimate goal”? In my mind, that should simply be one of the next steps with the ultimate goal being that of truly exploring our solar system, the universe around us and one day…when we’re truly ready…perhaps colonization of other worlds.

  13. Anonymous says

    I am somewhat flummoxed by the apparent lack of people who seem not to sense this is a sort of shell game. The privatization of space means a number of things. It means that private space launching companies will become contracting corporations. This will assume several forms, principally as defense contracting, communication satellite service or in the case of space tourism as tickets for the most wealthy. With defense contracting this amounts to the elimination of a civilian space system in the loop. The costs will still be upheld by tax revenues. A similar situation will hold for com-sats. Other applied space programs will have adjustments, such as weather satellites and other applications. Costs will be shifted to the commercial sector, which might mean a heftier bill for having the weather channel. As for space science, this is likely to be a big loser. There will still need to be a civilian system for such programs, and if this is cut back or eliminated. There is no profit motive for detecting non-Gaussian signatures of gravity wave induced B-modes in the CMB. That enlightens us to the nature of the universe, but it is not a profit center. There is a drop off in space science programs coming this decade, and I can be sure that

    When it comes to manned space flight all I can see is a space-Disneyland for the mega-wealthy. If you have the money to throw at some of these joy rides you can get your astronaut wings, and Bigelow offers a sort of orbiting hotel. However, this is not about space exploration or science, even if manned space flight ever was that much involved with science. I think people are dreaming if they think this will put astronauts on Mars.

    After the Apollo program there was a sort of debate over whether space was primarily about instrumentation or man in the loop. The decision was to split the difference. Privatizing space is likely to crimp space science, and convert manned space flight into a sort of ultimate carnival ride industry. I am not sure that I can see this as boding well for the future. In fact this all seems to be a way of shucking space programs off and letting most of it wither away and die.

    LC

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I don’t see a problem with this, nor a shell game. (What is hidden, btw? Isn’t it the current contract system that lacks oversight and admits pork!?)

      This is, I believe, how airplane industry once got under way, uphold by postal services and other contracts. And this is what nations like Sweden routinely do to establish banking, military industry, power infrastructure, telecommunication, et cetera. Work through the state to amass synergy and set needed standards*, and then privatization.

      Privatization both increase market by diversification and free capital by higher efficiency. With more capital and infrastructure in place we should be able to increase space science, not crimp it.

      OT, but carnivals are fun! Anything that makes more merry is fine with me.

      ——————-
      * In later times industry has become proficient of setting standards by their own, so it should no longer be a reason for nationalization/state support of new sectors.

      • Anonymous says

        Of course the free market and the rest are a big ideological deal these days. However, there are a number of things which have to be realized, and the modern myths need to be dispelled. New technologies have always been supported by government research and development. If you look at computers, micro-processors, genetics & cloning, aircraft, and even going far enough back to the railroads these were all promoted as federal programs and federal grants to universities. These ideas of private companies heroically pushing something to fruition all on their own are pure myths. The railroads were all build with federal land grants, loans and subsidies from the start. The other thing which is evident is that such technologies are rolled over to private companies after they have crossed some economic break even point.

        With satellites for commercial purposes the industry may have reached that break even point. With space science it will never reach that point. There is no commercial value in understanding the evolution of galaxies or the physics of type Ia supernova. Pure or basic research will have to be funded federally or through government programs. To privatize that is just a way of letting it die without saying that is the intention. This is what I mean by the shell game. The same goes for manned space flight. Except for joy rides by the wealthy into sub-orbit and the ultra-wealthy to orbiting hotels, there is no economic purpose for sending crews of astronauts to the moon or beyond. There is nothing of any commercial value that can be extracted from these bodies to recover the huge investment in getting there. The space shuttle was a huge dollar sink, and the returns on it were on balance nowhere near the investment costs. Manned space flight is largely not at all close to that break even point. Again the shell game is being played, where privatizing manned space flight means letting it die without stating that as the intention — well except for joy rides into space, which is an inauspicious terminal point for it all.

        There is some future potential for solar power satellites, but right now the infrastructure is lacking and the costs are beyond commercial viability. This might even involve manned maintenance missions. To build the space infrastructure to that point will require several decades of further investment in this technology by noncommercial means.

        An economist name Fukuyama declared in the 1990s that there was an end to history. The odd idea is that the political struggles were now coming to an end, capitalism triumphed over socialism, and further all that we needed to know had been discovered. The future was to be defined entirely by commercial activity. The ideology which is sweeping the US has elements of this idea, where it is popularly thought that all activities should be taken up as markets. In this country social security is in danger of being privatized. I am sure that many of these companies would love to get their hands on that $2.6 trillion in retirement funds, and I bet the intended recipients will see a fraction of what they are supposed to be entitled to. This happened in Chile, where pundits still sing the praises of the Chilean miracle — a miracle imposed by a bastard who killed 100,000 people.

        Don’t believe all of this stuff, and particularly if it comes from the US. This nation is being taken over by people who are personality disordered or sociopaths; the inmates are taking over the asylum.

        This is not to say I think markets and capitalism don’t have their place, but I think it is best to have moderation on this sort of economic activity.

        LC

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        Except for joy rides by the wealthy into sub-orbit and the ultra-wealthy to orbiting hotels, there is no economic purpose for sending crews of astronauts to the moon or beyond.

        In other words, orbiting knocking shops for the rich, eh?

      • Anonymous says

        Heh heh, I suppose there will be the first time two people have sex in orbit. As far as I know that has not happened yet.

        LC

  14. Anonymous says

    I am somewhat flummoxed by the apparent lack of people who seem not to sense this is a sort of shell game. The privatization of space means a number of things. It means that private space launching companies will become contracting corporations. This will assume several forms, principally as defense contracting, communication satellite service or in the case of space tourism as tickets for the most wealthy. With defense contracting this amounts to the elimination of a civilian space system in the loop. The costs will still be upheld by tax revenues. A similar situation will hold for com-sats. Other applied space programs will have adjustments, such as weather satellites and other applications. Costs will be shifted to the commercial sector, which might mean a heftier bill for having the weather channel. As for space science, this is likely to be a big loser. There will still need to be a civilian system for such programs, and if this is cut back or eliminated. There is no profit motive for detecting non-Gaussian signatures of gravity wave induced B-modes in the CMB. That enlightens us to the nature of the universe, but it is not a profit center. There is a drop off in space science programs coming this decade, and I can be sure that

    When it comes to manned space flight all I can see is a space-Disneyland for the mega-wealthy. If you have the money to throw at some of these joy rides you can get your astronaut wings, and Bigelow offers a sort of orbiting hotel. However, this is not about space exploration or science, even if manned space flight ever was that much involved with science. I think people are dreaming if they think this will put astronauts on Mars.

    After the Apollo program there was a sort of debate over whether space was primarily about instrumentation or man in the loop. The decision was to split the difference. Privatizing space is likely to crimp space science, and convert manned space flight into a sort of ultimate carnival ride industry. I am not sure that I can see this as boding well for the future. In fact this all seems to be a way of shucking space programs off and letting most of it wither away and die.

    LC

  15. swakker says

    I think that the new switch into the private sector will do great things for space exploration! I can’t wait to see how things turn out. I wish the astronauts aboard Atlantis the best of luck as they journey home!!

    Tell your friends how you feel about the Atlantis mission with Swakker Shuttle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHrBhtNCvgY

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