Category Archives: Space Science

Enceladus

Is it the most likely place to look for life in the solar system? I know that Carolyn Porco thinks so. Or at least that it’s a better prospect than Europa. Plus, we haven’t been warned to attempt no landings there.

It’s obviously a lot harder mission than Europa, but it seems like going to Europa to look for life instead of Enceladus is like the guy who went to a different block to look for his lost car keys because the light was better there.

The Planetary Society

Entirely not unexpectedly, they have some terrible suggestions for Trump and NASA:

  1. Maintain the exploration of Mars as the organizing principle for NASA’s human spaceflight program
  2. Direct NASA to plan an executable, affordable path for sending humans to Mars orbit by 2033
  3. Expand NASA’s highly successful science portfolio
  4. Continue to grow and support the commercial space industry
  5. Initiate annual five percent increases to NASA’s budget for five years

The only good one is the fourth. Here are mine:

  1. Make the continuous reduction of the cost of space activities the organizing principle for NASA’s human spaceflight program
  2. Direct NASA to end development of its own launch systems and to start to procure propellant in LEO to enable trips beyond
  3. Expand NASA’s science portfolio with data purchases
  4. Continue to grow and support the commercial space industry
  5. Direct funding from SLS/Orion to support 1-4

Back To The Moon

An Apolloistic interview with Bill Posey. I really hate this sort of thing:

Going to the Moon again would be exciting, but NASA’s already-minuscule budget (a mere $18.5 billion in 2016, compared to $585 billion for the Department of Defense) means that the agency can probably only afford one big dream at a time. Do we go back to the Moon or do we press ahead on visiting Mars? Right now, Mars is winning by a landslide. For the last few years NASA has been focused on its Journey to Mars, with no plans to send people back to the Moon.

“This bill proposes not just a visit to the Moon but a presence on the lunar surface,” Casey Dreier, space policy expert at the Planetary Society, told Motherboard. “This isn’t wrong by any means, but it’s one of those things that if you do this, you just won’t go to Mars for a long time.”

In fact, if we changed course from the Journey to Mars to Journey Back to the Moon, we might not see footprints on Mars in our lifetime. “It would put us back at least a generation,” Dreier said.

a) There is, and should be, no relationship between the NASA budget and the Pentagon (or any other agency’s) budget. Each agency’s budget request has to stand on its own. And b) as usual, note the assumption that we have to choose between one destination or the other. Some people, including the so-called experts, cannot conceive of the possibility of doing both.

Also note the implicit assumption of the next question:

Motherboard: Given NASA’s already underfunded budget, do you think it would be worth abandoning a mission to Mars to go back to the Moon? [Emphasis added]

It’s a matter of prioritization, and we’ve asked NASA to prepare a roadmap of what steps they’re going to take in a timeline given current funding, for increased funding or decreased funding. What steps are you going to take to get to the Moon? They have discovered there are resources on the Moon that they can make fuel out of, you know launching from the Moon, you can see many, many reasons why it’s good to have a Moon base. And that’s part of the process of getting to Mars. It’s been awhile since we’ve been on the Moon and we’ve had some technology to catch up on and practice so those are all important.

And note the omission in the next response:

I’m excited about any private industry that plans on doing any space exploration. One time NASA came up with a series of different ideas, they would touch an asteroid, land on an asteroid, then it changed to a bigger mission and then smaller mission but there was no tie-in to a Mars mission. A lot of the private sector are ready, willing and able to explore and mine asteroids so that we don’t need to do it. Anything that you can find in the phonebook that the private sector is doing, the government doesn’t really need to be doing. Exploring an asteroid is one of those things.

Hey, Bill, did you know that the private sector is interested in mining the moon, too?

And here comes the Apolloism:

Motherboard: Do you have a special memory from working on Apollo 11 that you’d like for the next generation to experience?

What inspired me so much was President Kennedy’s speech from Rice University, that was so inspiring to me when he said we’re going to put a rocket on the Moon. I wanted to go to work on that rocket and have my fingerprints on that rocket that takes men to the Moon. So that was a big inspiration for me and I think returning to the Moon will also re-engage the public’s interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of American students to study engineering and mathematics where we currently lag behind other students in competing nations.

Motherboard: How do you see NASA handling itself as we move forward between finally choosing between going back to the Moon or going straight to Mars?

We’ve spent somewhere between $20-24 billion on what we call “missions to nowhere” and we can’t do that again. The NASA budget is now about one half of one percent [of the GDP]. During the Apollo era it was 4 percent of the GDP, I would love to see it at 1 percent. Neil deGrasse Tyson explained very well one time, space is the only thing that Congress spends money on truly to benefit the next generation, and I think that’s a true statement. I’d like to see congress spend 1 percent, I’d even like to see a constitutional amendment requiring that 1 percent be spent on human space exploration each year so that we will have the survival of our species.

With all respect to Neil Tyson (OK, I don’t have that much) it’s mindless to have an arbitrary percentage of the federal budget for anything, let alone NASA. The only way to determine how much budget NASA should get is to decide what it’s going to do, come up with a set of plans to do that, and estimate the costs. Right now, I’d say that NASA has plenty of money, or would if people like Bill Posey didn’t force it to waste money on a giant rocket and capsule that it doesn’t need, in order for him to revisit his lost youth. The three billion a year that he’s forcing the agency to spend on SLS/Orion would go a long way, perhaps all the way, both a lunar return and a Mars mission in the next decade (with public/private parterships using Commercial Cargo and Crew as a model) if NASA was allowed to spend it instead on things it actually needs to do both those things

To The Moon, Alice!

OK, actually, it’s to the moon, NASA. Bob Zimmerman has some thoughts.

In my opinion, this is a completely unrealistic goal, absent a) considering alternatives to SLS and b) being willing to risk astronauts’ lives. A seventy-ton SLS isn’t going to do that job, and that’s all they’re going to have (at best) by 2020. And putting up sending astronauts to the moon (even just around, and it’s not clear what the value of that is) on its first, or even second flight would be much sportier than Apollo 8 was, back when it was actually important.

FWIW, I also think that the reporter should have talked to someone besides Casey Dreier, The Planetary Society is hardly an unbiased source about human spaceflight.

A Useful Experiment

I’ve been watching this Kickstarter project. I was talking to Jon Morse a couple weeks ago, and he didn’t expect it to succeed. He was right; it only raised a third of the million dollars it sought. But it’s a useful market test for private space exploration. Maybe if they shoot for half that. I do think we’re entering a new era of what I call “normal science,” before the Manhattan Project, the Cold War, and Apollo screwed everything up, and things like the big telescopes (the first high-tech astronomy programs) were funded philanthropically.