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- Anyone who asks "Why isn't NASA as fast now as they were in the 60s?" is foolishly ignorant about space history and politics. The motives for human spaceflight now are completely different from what they were then. The Saturn V and other Apollo hardware was designed and built quickly because they were critical to national security. Soviet Russia was dangerously ahead of the US in space capabilities in 1961, and we were desperate to catch up so we wouldn't get nuked.
- Landing a man on the Moon was the only demonstration hard enough that the US could get there first. To do this, the US government was willing to give NASA over 4% of the federal budget for 3 years and up to 400,000 full-time workers. It was the Manhattan Project of the 60s. After the US won the race to the moon and Russia cancelled its moon rocket, there was no reason for NASA to receive more than 1% of the federal budget. Space exploration doesn't get money - fear of getting nuked does.
- Now, SpaceX is making rapid progress because they're trying to gain market share in the growing commercial launch market. They have mainly one workhorse product that they can continuously improve because they have dozens of launch opportunities per year. NASA is NOT launching commercial satellites. And the SLS should not be compared with commercial rockets.
- It's going to be used to launch the modules and crew to operate the first ever lunar space station. Hardly a 5-ton comm sat. And NASA is doing much more research and exploration with its budget now than they were in the 60s. Planetary probes, space telescopes, and rovers have improved tremendously since the 60s. And NASA is now operating a continuously occupied space station 24/7/365.
- They didn't have to worry about that in the 60s. So only about 20% of NASA's annual budget is available for SLS and Orion, and Congress has kept that development budget flatter than Apollo and Shuttle. This means NASA can't afford to design, build, and test the entire Orion and SLS all at once. It has to be phased out and staggered over 15+ years. But that's not actually a problem because NASA doesn't need SLS and Orion right now. They need them in the mid-2020s, when the ISS will start being phased out.
- What NASA DOES need soon are the Commercial Crew vehicles - the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon 2 - to launch crew to the ISS from US soil. So SLS and Orion are on the back burner while Commercial Crew gets more immediate priority. This is just NASA juggling its multiple missions it didn't have during the 60s with half the budget as well as they can. NASA has dozens of projects to work on, and there is little tolerance for failure. They only build one, and it has to work right for years.
- SpaceX has one main product they're mass producing - the Falcon 9. Dragon is only used by NASA for now. If a satellite operator loses a $50 million communication satellite, it's much easier to replace than a $1 billion NASA probe. So SpaceX can afford to fail fast, and NASA can't. Neither good nor bad - just a consequence of the very different types of work they do.?
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