26 thoughts on “To The Moon”

  1. Often when I read him articles I’m left wondering if Zubrin is already on Mars, in this one I think he gets things 100% right.

  2. I would prefer a profit driven space program. Or more exactly more of a private ideological (provided it is the right one) entrepreneur driven program. Elon Musk is clearly driven by ideology (desire to promote colonization; bring back the “American” frontier so to speak and profit). The trouble with a “purpose” driven program is who decides what the purpose is. John Kennedy? Richard Nixon? Jimmy Carter? Ronald Reagan? Barrack Obama? These men obviously have wildly different ideas as to what said purpose should be which insures that any government run program space program is a football kicked by political whim.

  3. “The situation is truly ironic. With the success of Falcon Heavy, America could be poised right now for a breakthrough into space. The cash available is adequate. What is lacking is intelligent direction. We will never get to Mars if we allow our human-spaceflight program to be run as a random walk.”

    It’s even more ironic than he thinks it is, and the joke’s on Zubrin.

    NASA grew out of NACA. NACA built wind tunnels and tested airfoil designs. NACA’s purpose was to retire risk for private industry. It should have been NASA that demonstrated flyback boosters and reusable rockets and a thousand other technologies. Instead private industry has had to do all the innovation in spaceflight since about 1981.

  4. I am sad to say that I’m about ready to accept that the primary purpose of NASA is simply to spend money in Congressional districts, and maybe something comes out of that spending. Or maybe not.

    1. I accepted it a few years back when JSC had a tech day, and Lockheed Martin had a sign up that read “Orion is built near me” with stars across a diagram of the CONUS. It might as well said, “Congressional pork spread around for all”.

      Behind the sign was a CEV boilerplate mockup used to test the parachutes. Flight hardware technically, but something thrown out the back of an airplane not launched on a rocket. Next to it was the Dragon that had already performed a sub-orbital flight. Both vehicle design work began in 2004, and by this time it was about 2009/10. It wasn’t until 2014 that CEV/Orion accomplished what SpaceX did (even then not nearly as much), and by then Dragon was already docking to ISS.

      1. The first Dragon flown in December 2010 made two orbits and then landed. It was the first privately-built spacecraft to do that.

        I remember commenters at the time saying, “So what? NASA did that 50 years ago with Project Mercury.”

      2. @ Leyland;

        I agree in the main, but have a minor nitpick; with the possible exception of the dragon on CRS 7 the was destroyed on impact in the Atlantic after its launch vehicle failed, no dragon has ever done a suborbital flight. They’ve all been orbital.

        1. Yeah, I wrote via recall and got it wrong. Still, the Dragon sitting there was the one that flew. And to be honest, I’m not sure the CEV parachute test had been performed by that time.

  5. Zubrin always wants to just go, which I generally agree with, but it has to be a rational approach. Where are we going to build a lunar base? At a pole isn’t specific enough. We really need to dial that in. None of the lunar equipment exists yet. Developing it all will be expensive and so will prospecting facilities, which may not be used long term.

    A space station though? Easy and something we can do right now. Its taking a small incremental risk to build out capabilities. Telerobotics within the cognitive horizon is not nothing and it also isn’t the same as autonomous driving. It would support all of the prospecting work needed to select sites for lunar bases. For example, you could have a dozen people doing telerobotics finding prospective landing locations. Later you could have a dozen people supporting three or four astronauts on the lunar surface.

    I favor a base building strategy, so going right now means using a cislunar station. In the long run, Zubrin’s plan could be more expensive, just like WFIRST is going to cost more than $3 billion. It could be that by the time prospecting work is close to done, BFR is flying and then going directly to the Moon makes a lot more sense.

    1. For me, the biggest drawback to the DSG thing is that it uses SLS and it isn’t apparent that a COTS/CCDev like approach would be used. A competition would be great and it could be set up so that the “losers” could still build commercial stations for LEO or even cislunar space if they wanted.

      The same could be said for Zubrin’s plan. It doesn’t look like it expands anyone’s sphere of activity except for NASA. We need to move society into space not just the government if we are to have any significant long term presence off Earth.

    2. The budget is showing that the first DSG (or LOP-G or whatever) element will cost about $2.5B (with a “b”.) We’re looking at low tens of billions by the time the thing is built out and kitted. Hundreds of billions if you include SLS/Orion costs.

      That cost is not worth joysticking rovers without a time delay. There are much more efficient ways to survey lunar resources and sites.

      1. Anything NASA puts on the Moon is going to cost many billions as well, even for prospecting missions. Not sure I would saddle it with SLS/Orion costs either.

        I like the idea of the DSG/LOP-G better than the what is known about it so far. It could be done for cheaper. It is probably better for NASA to wait for BFR rather than developing a bunch of infrastructure that will become obsolete in the not so distant future.

    3. You seem to be defending DSG/LOPG by conflating it with some lunar orbiting station that exists nowhere but inside your head. As designed, DSG/LOPG will accommodate exactly four people, not “a dozen.” It will only support those four for a few days at a time – it is not intended to be continuously occupied. So DSG/LOPG can do precisely none of what you propose. But it will still cost the 10’s of billions to build that Zubrin criticizes. Bob Z. is exactly correct on this issue.

      1. You seem to be defending DSG/LOPG by conflating it with some lunar orbiting station that exists nowhere but inside your head

        I like the idea of the DSG/LOP-G better than the what is known about it so far.

        I’m pretty straight forward about that and always point out there are better ways to do it.

  6. So when I mentioned ISS replacement, I didn’t know about the Lunar Station. And it certainly wasn’t what I meant.

    If NASA wants to just put something in Lunar orbit, I recommend two TDRS type satellites outside the Lunar orbit just ahead and behind the moon to provide comms over the entire surface (the earth covers 1 side already). Then you could run rovers from the Earth’s surface anywhere on the Moon’s surface. You also have infrastructure for future lunar development.

    1. It would be cool to see replacement(s), with NASA acting as a customer. If Beigelow was as cheap as claimed, NASA could even send some business their way while running ISS.

  7. Government should not subsidise solar and wind energy but government does.
    Subsidies of solar and wind energy don’t help the energy markets instead they
    corrupt the energy markets and have not even created a viable solar or wind energy
    markets. All that it has done is waste the wealth of tax payers and increased govt
    Likewise the government corruption related to space related activities, has not been
    NASA should focus on what NASA has been directed to do.
    NASA should explore the Moon.
    Exploring the Moon could include many things. And NASA should limit what it does
    in regards to exploration of the Moon.
    There are a few reasons that NASA should explore the Moon.
    One could say the Moon needs to be explored because the Moon needs further exploration
    in same sense that Earth needs further exploration and Earth currently has further exploration
    on going and it will continue for centuries as it already has continued for centuries.

    One could say NASA should explore the Moon to determine when future lunar exploration could happen.
    In terms of timing, a significant aspect regarding the Moon, is the possibility of the Moon having
    minable water. And minable anything is whether it’s possible to be commercially viable. Or as example
    Solar and wind energy is not commercially viable. Or exploring the Moon to find lunar water which can be
    “mined” if subsidised is meaningless or it’s question of how stupid the government is and answer close to into infinite.
    If the Moon has minable water and investment dollars are spend, lunar rocket fuel produced and sold, then
    one will have further exploration of Moon occurring in the near term.

    Now, what should explore after looking for lunar water at the lunar poles
    is explore Mars- to determine where and if Mars settlement on Mars might be
    An important aspect of NASA Lunar exploration is that NASA be successful- which is
    doing program at low cost and completing quickly so it can start exploring Mars.
    Success of exploring the Moon isn’t that there is minable lunar water, rather it’s
    whether NASA has done an adequate job of looking for it.
    And same applies to Mars.
    The people of NASA could happy if lunar mining occurs and Mars settlement occurs as result of
    their work of exploration. But reality could indicate such things are not viable in the term.

  8. “But reality could indicate such things are not viable in the term”- meant, in the near term.

    Part of whether lunar water could be minable would depend upon the amount of water mined and amount of
    rocket fuel sold. And I would roughly quantify this to be thousands of tons of water per year and such production rate to be reached within 10 years. So could start with 50 and within 5 year be close to 1000 tons per year. And generally this requires exporting lunar rocket fuel or lunar LOX to low lunar orbit- and beyond and elsewhere on lunar surface. And one needs a system of transport and transfer of LOX (and other things).
    And I think NASA needs to develop depots for Lunar and Mars exploration and such systems will be connected
    to viability of lunar mining and Mars settlements.
    I think a large factor regarding Mars settlements could be the discovery of large amounts of water from an underground source. Or a large and easily accessible of underground water would be important in terms of where a town should be located.
    Another factor is means getting low cost electrical power.
    I think one can get better solar energy on Mars as compared the Earth’s surface. And this is due to
    the thin atmosphere of Mars. Or one problem with Earth in regards to solar energy is it’s thicker atmosphere. On earth one has about 6 hours of usable sunlight per day- due to Earth’s thick atmosphere.
    Another factor with Earth is it’s clouds.
    With Mars the sun is less intense but one gets 12 vs 6 hours.
    Or with Mars electrical energy storage is less of a problem.
    Though it could be argued that nuclear energy is a better way to get
    electrical energy.
    At basic level, farming is about harvesting solar energy and there is aspect
    of using “biofuels” and there could be other sources of chemical energy which are naturally
    available on Mars.

      1. I wonder if Elon’s commsats will be designed in such a way as to teach him how to cheaply build a nav/comm array over Mars.

        Does anyone know what the atmospheric drag is over Mars at useful altitudes? Here, each GPS satellite needs tiny updates from ground stations every few hours in order to stay accurate, because of the drag.

        A constellation might be a more useful payload for the first BFS delivery than a landing.

        1. GPS orbits drift from solar radiation pressure and the tidal perturbations, and their onboard clocks drift too. The combination is what drives the navigation-message updates.

          GPS is an old design. With enough satellites, it’s not clear you really need them in well-defined orbits. Just let them drift; also do the clock maintenance autonomously.

          I wonder if Phobos would be a useful navigational reference station, providing ground truth to the network. Easier to get to.

          1. Thanks for the correction; I had assumed that since LEO experiences drag, and even GEO requires stationkeeping, that drag must therefore be the primary component responsible for everything.

            Starlink supposedly uses radio up/down but laser for inter-sat comms. Is there anything about the Martian orbital environment that would significantly differ from Earth’s? Does the lower gravity and far lower lunar interference make orbits more stable? What lessons have been learned from the long-lived orbiters we’ve sent over for the last couple decades?

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