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« Is Mars Ours? | Main | Back On The Air »

To The Moon, Alice

Frank Sietzen and Keith Cowing are claiming an exclusive on the administration's new space policy, to be announced next week. Apparently they were waiting to see whether the Mars mission was going to be successful. [update: Keith writes in comments that the timing wasn't related to the Mars landing, but doesn't explain what did drive it.]

The visionary new space plan would be the most ambitious project entrusted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the Apollo moon landings of three decades ago.

Unfortunately, there's no evidence that NASA has been, or can be, reformed sufficiently to entrust it with such a project. I'm not sure what a "CEV" is--they don't explain that--but I'm inferring that it's perhaps a "Crew Excursion Vehicle," which the Orbital Space Plane program will be morphed into. That would explain why the OSP Request For Proposal has been delayed. NASA probably knew that this was coming, and that the requirements just changed, probably necessitating a do over of the recently completed Systems Design Review.

Anyway, if true, I'm disappointed. I was hoping for a vision, rather than a destination, and one that included the American people. This is just picking up where Apollo left off, and that was a very expensive way to go. It seems to continue the philosophy that, as Trix are for kids, space is for NASA astronauts, who the rest of us get to watch on teevee. It also implies that reusable launchers don't make sense, or can't be done, which doesn't help investment prospects for them privately.

If they were going to return to the sixties, it would have been much better if they'd picked up instead where the X-15 left off.

Fortunately, the private sector is doing that, and ultimately, I suspect that NASA isn't going to be very relevant to the opening of space, regardless of this. If nothing else, assuming that it gets approval, such a program might keep them busy enough to at least not get in the way.

[Update at 8:15 PM PST]

Someone over at sci.space.policy points out this worrisome little bit:

Sources said Bush will direct NASA to scale back or scrap all existing programs that do not support the new effort.

Does that mean no more (among other things) robotic exploration of the outer planets?

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 08, 2004 05:16 PM
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Comments

What a horrible mess they describe...

Ariane rockets to the moon in ten years? What??

Finishing the ISS as a foreign jobs program was probably to be expected (until we lose another shuttle.)

"The first manned Mars expeditions would attempt to orbit the red planet in advance of landings -- much as Apollo 8 and 10 orbited the moon but did not land." What exactly is the point of that? A six month journey from a 3 month launch window... I guess we will not be using any of the info we learn (which will be next to nothing with regard to landing) for another 2 years?

If they want to practice landing they can do it on the moon over a weekend.

The one bright light... "Bush will direct NASA to scale back or scrap all existing programs that do not support the new effort."

Posted by ken anthony at January 8, 2004 06:05 PM

"Frank Sietzen and Keith Cowing are claiming an exclusive on the administration's new space policy, to be announced next week. Apparently they were waiting to see whether the Mars mission was going to be successful."

WRONG.

Posted by Keith Cowing at January 8, 2004 06:07 PM

Then what drove the timing?

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 06:09 PM

The cited text indicates that CEV stands for "Crew Exploration Vehicle". But if it is going to be just a winged minishuttle, that's a very lame name for it.

I ditto Rand & Ken's other comments.

Posted by ytrf at January 8, 2004 06:52 PM

The CEV will be a capsule, think Apollo only larger and capable of both earth and lunar orbit. Something like a capsule that can hold up to 6-8 crew and is a metric ton safer than the flying brick called the shutte. The shuttle program itself will be retired after the ISS is finished, the Ariane rockets are a stop-gap until a new launch vehicle is completed. All-in-all, a bold step, regardless of what some think. It's taking NASA and forcing it to return to what it did best, Manned space flight with a purpose. The days of truck-drivers in space is ending. This is NASAs chance to redeem themselves and do what they do best.

Posted by Vis at January 8, 2004 06:58 PM

OK, on closer reading, "CEV" is a catch-all name for various Command Module-like things (it's a floor wax *and* a dessert topping!), all allegedly based on OSP technology, and will probably be just as wondrous to behold and functional as the Joint Strike Fighter or the F-111. I'm not buying it. Oh wait, I pay taxes, so I guess I am.

Thank goodness there's a Scaled Composites and an XCor...

Posted by ytf at January 8, 2004 06:59 PM

Rand, with all due respect, I think you're a touch off base here. A well-defined, large scale exploratory program is ONE thing NASA IS well-suited for. As you rightly point out, it's fine to let the commercial sector take care of the commercialization of LEO, but let NASA pursue the big exploratory goals.

I am somewhat concerned about the brain drain that has occurred since Apollo (and indeed during the Shuttle program) and the corresponding loss of institutional knowledge, but I am confident there are plenty of energetic and bright young people at NASA willing to work very, very hard to make this happen. I don't know about you, but I worked with a lot of those folks, they are still my friends, and I have enormous confidence in them.

Will NASA management have to revamped? Certainly. But management failures during Shuttle are no reason to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

And I very respectfully disagree with you that Apollo was a mistake. STOPPING after Apollo was the mistake.

Kudos for Bush for having the cohones to propose this during a very difficult period in history. He is going to get hammered on the financial aspects of this, but IMO this demonstrates real leadership.

Posted by John Copella at January 8, 2004 07:11 PM

Its sounds like an unfocused pile of wishful thinking wrapped in tax payer money. But I'm going to wait until I heart the details from the administration itself. Consider the sources, both Frank and Keith will be viewing this through a big pair of "big government agencies are the only ways of doing things" glasses.

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 8, 2004 07:18 PM

Quote By Ken: "The first manned Mars expeditions would attempt to orbit the red planet in advance of landings -- much as Apollo 8 and 10 orbited the moon but did not land." What exactly is the point of that? A six month journey from a 3 month launch window... I guess we will not be using any of the info we learn (which will be next to nothing with regard to landing) for another 2 years?

If they want to practice landing they can do it on the moon over a weekend.
"

Well in the early Apollo days it was not really known if humans could survive long stays in space beyond the Earths Magnetosphere. Apollo 8 & 10 weren't so much as used to learn how to land on the Moon, except up to the orbital insertion part, as they were to learn if the people we sent could make the trip or not. Same thing I would imagine the first Mars mission would be to see if humans could go all that distance successfully and make a successful orbital insertion and then fly back. So those journeys won't be so much to learn how to land on Mars, as Mars will be considered a conveniently place mass in space that can be used to gravitationaly propel the astronauts quickly back to Earth. Then I'm sure a whole army of scientists and doctors will be chomping at the bit to check the health of those astronauts. A lander mission would most likely mean that astronauts would stay on the surface for several months maybe up to a year I've read on some mission plans. For many that would be just to long a delay to completely study the physiological effects of deep space travel. I definently don't buy the primary purpose of sending those early orbital missions would be to take pictures. I mean don't we have two probes there already that have already taken thousands and could take thousands more pictures till the next decade of where to land?

What ticks me off is that after all this debate and all this bearacuary that all we are in effect going to do is exactly what
Werner Von Braun envisioned when he developed the Saturn launch vehicle. His design has capability to support three different moon launch philosophies. One being that we could have either used one modified Saturn rocket to place a large space station in orbit around the Earth and then launch a medium sized lander to the Moon from there that lander could go to the Moon and back to the space station. Or, the Saturn rocket could be designed to place a small space station around the Moon and a small lander to go from Moon orbit to the surface and back to the lunar orbit station that would ferry the astronauts back to earth. Or, the saturn rocket could be used to launch a single large lander that could go all the way to the Moon and back by itself. Von Braun himself favored the Two step approach or placing a space station in Earth orbit and then launching a lander mission from there because he believed that design would also be quite capable of supporting a Mars mission as well. But of course we all know what was really used, small and faster to build was the Mantra of the time.

Posted by Hefty at January 8, 2004 07:43 PM

A well-defined, large scale exploratory program is ONE thing NASA IS well-suited for.

It may be what it was once suited for, but it's not clear that it is today. But that's beside the point, which is that we still seem stuck in the mode of a big-government state enterprise space program, with no obvious prospect for developing a diverse robust space industry, at least based on anything I read here. I see very little imagination in such a policy.

But Michael does have a good point--we should wait to see the actual policy before passing final judgement.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 07:45 PM

I'm so starved to see some Space exploration that I would be more than willing to pay higher taxes to see it happen. I can't be the only one who feels this way either. If I could purchase shares in a company whose only function was to put a few people on mars, I'd do it in a heartbeat just to see some movement in space exploration. So I'm not going to complain about the cost of taxpayer dollars.
I can't be the only one who feels this way. Sure, NASA has a lot of problems, but they *can* do it if given the mandate and the money. And while I think Rand is right to criticize NASA on many fronts, I won't criticise NASA or the president for doing this. I just want to see someone do it. I wasn't born yet in the 60s, so I missed out on all the fun last time!

Posted by Kevin at January 8, 2004 07:45 PM

The whole idea of sending people is ludicrously misconceived. From here on out small robots is what the human race is good at. As usual the government will catch up with this idea a couple of (massively expensive) generations hence.

Even the military is already in the process of giving up manned fighter planes in favor of smart frickin' robots, that's how outdated this concept is.

Posted by JK at January 8, 2004 07:48 PM

JK: You miss the point of exploration. You don't just climb a mountain to see what the composition of the rock on the top is, you climb the mountain because:


1. The Mountain is there.
2. You can climb it (or at least try).


Sending robots doesn't get me in space. And getting me in space is one of the things I want to happen. There are a lot of reasons to explore, and not all of them can be done by robots.


Also, one good side benefit of NASA doing this would be the increased public attention in space, which would also help stimulate the commercial space efforts I think.

Posted by Kevin at January 8, 2004 07:52 PM

For space advocates, sniggling at the rumored plan is a bit like a hungry man complaining about a free meal because he doesn't like the tableware.

I'm all for private sector space initiatives, but no one has flown anything yet. If the choice is between this plan and waiting for the Microsoft of the space business to emerge, I choose the plan.

Posted by billg at January 8, 2004 07:56 PM

The FIRST step in all of this will be the rapid development and deployment of a Space Elevator.

People should not jump off the deep end here. We've heard but one tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and I sincerely doubt we've heard the WHOLE plan yet. Let's wait for the President to tell us before we start jumping all over him and NASA...

The Space Elevator can reduce per-pound costs dramatically, which will make the whole operation a heckuva lot cheaper - the most expensive part of any space mission is the cost of the fuel needed to break free of Earth's gravity. The Space Elevator is more like taking a free ride up into space.

You also might consider that new rocket engine technology will probably be developed to reduce the Mars-Earth travel time to mere months, maybe half a year at conjunction?

This is such wonderful news tonight! I can't hardly wait for the formal announcement. Almost 43 years after Kennedy's 1961 speech before Congress. Been waiting a loooooong time for this ever since Apollo wound down...

Posted by Al Bennett at January 8, 2004 07:57 PM

What "free meal"?

I and every other taxpayer are going to have to pay for it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 08:01 PM

I fearlessly predict that no part of the announced policy will include a space elevator.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 08:02 PM

JK;

> The whole idea of sending people is ludicrously misconceived. From here on out small robots is what the human race is good at.

There's already a small robot wondering about Mars, what's so wrong in planning for the next step. Or should the human race never set foot on another planet, ever?

Geez people, think big!

Posted by Augusto at January 8, 2004 08:07 PM

I fearlessly predict that no part of the announced policy will include a space elevator.

Which would be appropriate, because the technical advances required to build a space elevator can't reasonably be hoped for in the time frame this plan appears to address.

Posted by John Copella at January 8, 2004 08:14 PM

Arguing with you is pointless Rand. Believe what you want, you are still wrong - and the people who actually made the decsions know what happened, when, and why the story developed as it did.

Posted by Keith Cowing at January 8, 2004 08:18 PM

But Michael does have a good point--we should wait to see the actual policy before passing final judgement.

Completely agreed. I should qualify everything I've said here with that statement. But still, there seems to be enough substance in the leak to make some informed speculation.


It may be what it was once suited for, but it's not clear that it is today. But that's beside the point, which is that we still seem stuck in the mode of a big-government state enterprise space program, with no obvious prospect for developing a diverse robust space industry, at least based on anything I read here. I see very little imagination in such a policy.

Why does it have to be either-or? Either commercial development or big government? It seems there are valid roles for both: commercial in LEO (and elsewhere, as the markets develop), big government for high-risk, high-profile manned exploration.

I just don't see how there would be sufficient short-term potential investment return in something like a manned Mars expedition to inspire commercial interests to subsidize. I am not certain that the commercial sector is up to the technical and integration challenges, either.

Could the administration do more to encourage commercial development of LEO and beyond? Sure. Does this mean it doesn't make sense to task NASA with an objective like this? I don't think so.

Posted by John Copella at January 8, 2004 08:21 PM

Thoughtful comments Rand, but I'm going to have to respectfully disagree.

First in your Vision Not a Destination post, I would say that your destination becomes a vision when your destination is Mars. (or even the Moon for that matter)

Also in that post, I'd like to understand your definition of "inappropriate mourning". I hope you do not mean that it wasn't o.k. for some people to get upset as they did. No matter the righteousnous of the cause or the acceptability of the risk, the death of national, no make that international... better yet, global treasures is still something to mourn.

On the current topic, only the private sector can decide when it is time to privatize space "exploration". The British Empire didn't force Mr. Royal to construct a fleet of ships in the 15th century.

When the relevant technologies had been perfected to a point where the public felt the conditions were comfortable enough and the risks tolerable in exchange for the adventure, the cruise industry was born all on its own.

The same risk / reward analysis went into trade expeditions.

All of these followed after the exploration phase.

There are only 3 institutions on the planet today with the finances and power to realistically plot a course for human exploration of Mars:

1- The U.S. Government

2- The EU (maybe)

and 3- Bill Gates

...and the last thing I want is the Windows logo on Mars so I'm happy it seems the President is finally going to make this speech.

Bush isn't going to stand up and give a 6 hour presentation on how we're going to get from rovers to Rodger (and Regina).

He's going to propose a goal and invite the world to partake in his vision of America and her allies taking a giant leap to Mars.

Posted by Alex at January 8, 2004 08:24 PM

If they were really waiting to see if the current mission was successful, wouldn't it have been a good idea to make sure the second lander actually survives the landing - or that the rover can actually drive over these air bags?

Posted by paul at January 8, 2004 08:26 PM

I'm not "arguing" with you, Keith. I made a conjecture. You said I was mistaken. I was asking what the story actually is. I'm sure you know more about it than I do, which is why I asked. Since when is being curious "arguing"?

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 08:27 PM

I just want to see someone do it. I wasn't born yet in the 60s, so I missed out on all the fun last time!

Yes, you did miss out on something. Apollo was an amazing thing and influenced everyone who was alive then. Look at guys like Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos -- they made billions in IT but where is their interest now? In space. Allen is backing Burt Rutan's X-Prize entry, and Bezos is funding his own space start-up. This can all be traced back to Apollo.

It's long past time to inspire your generation and those after it in a similar way.

Posted by John Copella at January 8, 2004 08:29 PM

I hope you do not mean that it wasn't o.k. for some people to get upset as they did. No matter the righteousnous of the cause or the acceptability of the risk, the death of national, no make that international... better yet, global treasures is still something to mourn.

I don't mind people getting upset, as long as that emotion doesn't translate into lousy policy. I think that there's something almost impolite about mourning people that you've never met, or even heard of. That's for their family and friends. But we shouldn't act as though it's the end of the world when astronauts die. That's a risk of their job, and to spend too much time and money trying to prevent it is counterproductive. If we're going to have a manned space program, we have to be prepared to risk, and occasionally lose people. That's how every other frontier was developed, and space will be no different.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 08:32 PM

Space, heck... Where's my flying car?

Posted by Bob at January 8, 2004 08:34 PM

Keith,
Since you seem to know more about this than most: is there anything in the leakage that suggests that the administration realizes there is a role for private industry here? Or is this truly Apollo 2.0?

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 8, 2004 08:37 PM

Could the administration do more to encourage commercial development of LEO and beyond? Sure. Does this mean it doesn't make sense to task NASA with an objective like this? I don't think so.

The problem is that how NASA does it could depend on the degree to which the administration encourages commercial development of LEO. Cheap launch results in much different mission architectures (and much for the better) if it's available, but I see nothing in the policy that indicates that anyone is interested in reducing the cost of access. As I said, Apollo redux.

And no, the problem with Apollo wasn't that we quit. The problem with Apollo was that we chose an outrageously expensive way to do it because we were in a hurry and cost was no object, but it's set us on a very expensive path to the cosmos, and I see nothing in this policy, at least as reported, to break us out. But as I said, let's see the fine print before passing final judgement.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 08:41 PM

C'mon, guys, stop nit-picking over whether the dang thing has two doors or four. Unlike some of you, I grew up in the '60s. WE'RE GOING BACK INTO SPACE! WE'RE GONNA HAVE FUN! Are you guys really that jaded?

Posted by Bob at January 8, 2004 08:43 PM

Let me try and translate what Rand and I are after into a real world and fairly immediate example: Transorbital is currently putting together a lunar mission with a few science instruments and some really good optics on a shoe string budget and that will show profitability assuming execution as planned. Given the stated return to the moon by the US government using a purely NASA run mission: is there any hope that Transorbital is going to be able to find investors given the fact that, for just about any mission profile they come up with, their major competition will be a non-profit, tax subsidized government agency?

As stated, the administration's plan puts Transorbital out of business with extreme prejudice. I think Rand and I would've been happier if the proposal would take things like that into account and encourage Transorbital instead of walking all over them.

But as I said, I'm going to hold off until I hear the entire thing first hand.

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 8, 2004 08:47 PM

This article will be in the print edition of the Washington Times tomorrow. Several much, much longer background articles to appear in the Times next week. Much more detail then.

Posted by Keith Cowing at January 8, 2004 08:58 PM

Apollo stayed on track (vision/funding) through 3 very different presidential administrations (during an expensive war). Apollo 2 will probably need to do the same thing. That's the one thing i'm not sure we can do now that we could do then...

Posted by vtrtl at January 8, 2004 09:02 PM

Thanks, Keith, we'll look forward to reading more as it develops.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 09:09 PM

Keith, we all definitely look forward to reading more.

Rand / Michael I understand the personal dilema. Although I'd like to add that this can also be seen as a good news for many other private space related ventures. It's not even a definite death blow to Transorbital, depending on the NASA's mission objectives and timeline.

Let's wait and see the details and then come back for a more informed discussion. Deal?

Posted by Alex at January 8, 2004 09:21 PM

China is in space now, and they've announced plans to go to the moon. It sounds like the space race is back on. Could we tolerate a Chinese base on the moon?

Posted by AST at January 8, 2004 09:25 PM

The success of this as a kickoff alone will hinge on fostering a change in our culture. Remember, technology was so big in the 60's. And it had a novelty to it that kept it appealing. The TV shows, even some of the cartoons, anybody remember Tang? We could drink the same drink that the astronauts did! And robots were expected to be human-like... And yes, one day we would have flying cars.

vtrtl touches on an important point. The current political polarization must be much stronger and more pervasive, more petty, than back then, though I was but a wee lad and cannot compare the two periods. I think Hollywood will be slow to integrate this endeavor into their productions. They now have a mandatory anti-government culture, let alone doing anything that would assist a Bush-inspired idea. If they treat this endeavor like they are treating the current national defense efforts, it will be even more "remote" from the people than the Apollo program was.

I wonder it it can have a unifying effect that I seem to remember from back then.

Posted by Bobby at January 8, 2004 09:27 PM

I remember watching the first moon landing on a BW TV. I've read thousands of science fiction novels. I "majored in Science" in college... AND I've worked for NASA as a contractor.

You'd think I'd be the first person who would stand up and cheer this goal... but if the program is being led by NASA and all the materials are being lifted by NASA; I say: No way.

It's time now that the government give over LEO to private enterprise. NASA has no business being there anymore. Instead, the government should take bids on delivery of all necessary vehicles and equipment to LEO FROM PRIVATE INDUSTRY. All the US companies that can or potentially could deliver cargo to orbit should be able to bid and the contracts should go to the lowest bidders who can deliver the goods.

NASA May have a place still at the ultimate pointy-end of exploration; but I don't trust them any farther than I can throw any other government worker. Instead of thinking how proud you are of NASA because of the moon landings; think of NASA employees coming from the same mold as State Department Employees. From my experience, many NASA employees are "lowest common denominator" government employees that you can't fire for any reason short of murder.

Giving these guys the authority to shoot for the moon and Mars is just outlandish. We would be rewarding failure that has already cost us the lives of 14(?) astronauts plus 2 blown shuttles?

NASA is NOT the same organization that went to the moon. THAT NASA was full of young men with fire in their souls and optomism in their hearts with a "CAN DO" attitude that nothing would stop.

The now of NASA is a wasteland of pre-retirement also-ran engineers who couldn't get good paying jobs in industry. I don't want any of our good people riding fire into the sky on shit they've designed.

Give this mission to private industry. Let's build a space industry and NOT a space bureacracy.

(It's sad I trust NASA so little... but I don't.)

Posted by Leigh at January 8, 2004 09:28 PM

Hey Leigh, that sounds familiar.

;-)

Posted by Alex at January 8, 2004 09:41 PM

Michael, if Transorbital has figured out how to sell a private sector moon mission, how would a NASA return to the moon spell doom for their product? Presumably, NASA won't be selling the same thing. If Transorbital has customers, why wouldn't they retain those customers?

(Actually, we all seems to be overlooking the rumored tighter integration of NASA and DoD space efforts. Perhaps we should be talking about a NASA/Pentagon lunar program.)

Posted by billg at January 8, 2004 09:44 PM

Robots have killed the space program. NASA and JPL do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a society that frankly, finds robots in space boring. They will always be short of funding so long as they keep playing with robots. What is really needed is something besides a rocket to get into orbit. There are lots of good ideas out there. NASA ahould go through them and see which ones are the most doable in the near future. With the economic potential of LEO, no Idea should be considered to far out. Science doesn't sell well. The results of that science are valuable, but it is very difficult to show Joe Six-pack and Soccer Mom the conection between a radio controlled car cruising around Mars and their christmas bonus. It is a lot easier when there is a human involved.
919

Posted by Ableiter at January 8, 2004 09:44 PM

I think everyone here is missing the point.

The first Space Race was to one-up the Russians.

This one, apparently, is to one-up the Chinese.

Posted by Miles at January 8, 2004 10:30 PM

The Chinese are barely on the radar screen. This policy replanning is a result of the loss of Columbia.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 8, 2004 10:35 PM

Yeah, give it to the private industry, I'm sure they 'll save all cost by outsourcing most of the engineering to Asian countries.

Posted by Augusto at January 8, 2004 10:54 PM

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20040108-111922-8569r.htm

Posted by at January 8, 2004 11:26 PM

I'm sad, but not surprised, to see that the reaction of our libertarian friends is--well--"NO!"

Even so, I suspect that under this proposal there will be plenty of opportunities for commercial space ventures, if for nothing else NASA is getting out of Low Earth Orbit operations. In fact, there seems that there will be a slightly used space station available if someone has the bucks to buy/lease it and the hardware to access it.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at January 8, 2004 11:36 PM

Somehow, im quite certain this thing will be off the radar by the same time next year. We will have some new studies and viewgraphs, of course.
After that, a moment of silence and then even better grand plan.
Keeping the ISS & STS & moon at the same time ? Not with this agency. Two of those are programs are on irreversible death spiral, couple third one with it and it will go down the drain very quick.

Posted by at January 9, 2004 01:23 AM

Hmmm... I tend to agree with rand about the value of this.

Although, didn't we go through all this 15 years ago with another Bush?

Posted by Dave at January 9, 2004 02:25 AM

If sending troops to a faraway desert to fight a mysterious enemy isn't enough to distract the world from your failing politics, well, you can always find a more spectacular desert even further away...
Should't this government be spending its trillions on transporting people from trailer parks and projects to better housing two blocks down the street?
Face it, you're all blinded by the glorious promise of new shiny toys.

Posted by Christine at January 9, 2004 02:34 AM

"Should't this government be spending its trillions on transporting people from trailer parks and projects to better housing two blocks down the street? "

No, this government should be trying to expand its economic horizons to near-earth space. The proposed stuff is nothing of the sort.

Posted by at January 9, 2004 03:14 AM

That whole "spend the space money on handouts here on earth instead" whinge is so 1970s.

Posted by McGehee at January 9, 2004 03:26 AM

So you want to use (some of my) tax dollars to give money(& homes!) To people who are to lazy to get them for themselves! Granted there are some people who are incapable of working, these people do need our help, the Government is doing this and there are Charities that sometimes fill in the void, where the government doesn't. There are jobs out there, that most people don't want, but Illegal Aliens are willing to do, remember that Bush had just proposed some changes to Immigrant worker status!

Posted by Keith at January 9, 2004 03:40 AM

I haven't read all these comments yet (but I will.) I have some comments on my new, ugly duck of a blog... http://paraducks.blogspot.com/

It's not pretty, but I'll fix it up in time... I welcome any comments... kenneth_john@yahoo.com

Blame Rand and Clueless for inspiring me (Rand once told me to quit wasting his bandwidth... thanks Rand!)

Once I have read all the above, I will comment in my blog. So now I've done it, I is a target!

Posted by ken anthony at January 9, 2004 03:52 AM

If thats all there is to it, then this would be a very big disappointment for Gerard K. O'Neill, may his soul rest in peace.

Posted by at January 9, 2004 04:40 AM

If they were going to return to the sixties, it would have been much better if they'd picked up instead where the X-15 left off.

Yup. But style trumped substance and is about to again.

Posted by D Anghelone at January 9, 2004 05:29 AM

Anything that results in the death of the ISS is good news to me. At least this policy would get us back on the path to actually going somewhere.

Posted by Slippery Pete at January 9, 2004 05:59 AM

I won't argue merits on this issue of whether NASA should be leading the way on this or not...

All I know is I won't get into space... but I want my children to be able to. I'll gladly pay increased taxes for that. Remember...NASA is a human institution; there are engineers there just like me that have the same dream.

Posted by angrypatriot at January 9, 2004 06:26 AM

I'd say job security wins often wins over those dreams.

Posted by at January 9, 2004 06:33 AM

angrypatrio,
And those engineers are going to build rockets to carry their kids, not yours. NASA isn't interested in sending anyone but its own.

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 9, 2004 06:34 AM

Leigh

Amazing. I composed that letter whilst I was in the shower this morning.

Been there, done that, and walked that mile too.

I'm not too worried, because, as pointed out previously, political polarization will not permit anything to happen. And even if any money is forthcoming, based on my many years as a contractor employee supporting the Shuttle and the Space Station, the end effect will be that NASA will spend a gajillion dollars and achieve nothing of any signifance.

It's sad but that's how it is.

Posted by Michael at January 9, 2004 06:54 AM

This is not about who runs what type of mission. The debate is whether the nation will take meaningful steps toward space colonization--or save the money for domestic entitlement programs and fritter effort at cutesy robotic photo ops.

Personally, I'm gonna grab some pom-poms and jump around shaking 'em. Hell, might even shave my legs.

Posted by Cecil Turner at January 9, 2004 06:58 AM

The Spirit Rover could surely use an astronaut right about now.

Posted by Augusto at January 9, 2004 07:12 AM

Bringing the Space Shuttle and the ISS, the original 'unfocused pile(s) of wishful thinking wrapped in tax payer money' to a close is a move worthy of a medal all its own. Cheers to Bush for finally making a move in this direction, and moving back to the goals and technologies that made us the unqualified leaders of Space in the first place.

Posted by SkipKent at January 9, 2004 07:32 AM

It is still possible the plan might insist that NASA contract out space launches to bring crew and equipment into LEO at the best price, thus promoting space industry while achieving a return to the moon.

Posted by ruprecht at January 9, 2004 07:48 AM

The President proposes, the House Budget Committee disposes. Let's see what happens when the White House starts putting real money requests into the budget. There will be plenty of opportunity to point out that much of this program can be made more cost-effective if the government were to be willing to buy earth-to-LEO, and maybe beyond, transportation and services from the marketplace. It's not too early to advocate that mission planning include scenarios that use this approach.

Whatever the merits of this particular proposal, perhaps it will focus attention on a public discussion of what we are going to do in space, and how, and why. That would be a good start.

Posted by Jim Bennett at January 9, 2004 07:56 AM

While it remains to be seen if the President's new vision will benefit the commercial space transport industry, shares of SpaceDev (SPDV) and SpaceHab (SPAB) have skyrocketed.

I'm selling my shares in SpaceDev. But I'll buy again after the market cools because the SpaceShipOne is a great project.

Posted by John Kavanagh at January 9, 2004 08:46 AM

To Keith Cowing: Why Ariane? Why is Ariane mentioned without talk of EELVs, Proton, or anything else?

Ariane5/Soyuz. Le Zond?

Heh. I am very proud of myself for that one. :)

Posted by Patrick at January 9, 2004 09:32 AM

I always enjoy the banter about letting private industry in on the action and getting government out. Historically, government has always played a lead role in new frontiers. The west and California in particular would never have been settled had not the gov't given the railroads the right of way to build upon. Without that massive subsidy nobody then or ever would have invested in such a venture.
There seems also to be a great deal of misinformation about the creation of the aviation industry. While there was certainly a lot of tinkering with airplanes in the beginning of the twentieth century. Nothing like an airline industry, ergo an aircraft manufacturing industry as well, until the U.S. Postal service began granting charters to deliver airmail. Airlines were a losing venture until that point. Airlines were not profitable from a fare paying passenger standpoint until the government subsidized the development of long range, high altitude, pressurized aircraft during WWII. Without that huge state run development program, the airline industry as we know it today just would not exist.

Posted by Jardinero1 at January 9, 2004 09:37 AM

[quote]A well-defined, large scale exploratory program is ONE thing NASA IS well-suited for. As you rightly point out, it's fine to let the commercial sector take care of the commercialization of LEO, but let NASA pursue the big exploratory goals.[/quote]

My personal experience is that NASA is the last organization you want involved in anything. The organization became so risk averse and bureaucratic that it ultimately became priced itself out of building satellites. Now, it contracts virtually everything out. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But, now, in addition to outsourcing its projects, it is also outsourcing its philosophy, forcing its contractors to use the same ridiculous levels of documentation and bureaucracy as it does. The end result, in my experience, is a hopeless muddle.

I hope to be proven wrong, but I have little confidence in the ability of NASA even to oversee such a project. In the long run, sadly, I expect to see a military rather than a civilian space race, as I don't see the Chinese respecting the demilitarization of space. Sigh.

Posted by Brian Kantsiper at January 9, 2004 09:56 AM

Jardinero1,
That's what we're after. In both the railroad and airplane situations the government set about attempting to create a new industry. It created the subsidy that made it profitable for the railroads to build them. But they still belonged to the railroad companies. While we have no exact details on what the adminstration is planning and thus I could be proven wrong (please oh please!), my suspicion is that this plan won't be about building a new industry but about a government program doing what industry should be doing.

Using the railroad example, the choice being described is one betwen subsidizing the railroad companies or having the government actually build the railroad itself? The difference is that while you might have a company fairly successful at building rails on a government contracts basis, you'd never have companies like Union-Pacific, CSX or Norfolk-Southern.

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 9, 2004 10:58 AM

The government did not give "immensely valuable" land grants to the railroads, it cut a smart and mutually beneficial deal with the railroads. The land grants had almost nil current value at the time of the grant; they became valuable because the railroads were built. The railroad investors took on the risk that the railroad could be built and that the land grants would evntually rise in value enough to make a profit. Neither assumption was guaranteed at the time. The government also got a 50% discount on all transportation it bought from those rail lines, a deal which ultimately profited the government immensely. When my father rode his troop train to California to ship out in WWII, it was on one of those half-price tickets; the discount wasn't ended until after the war.

The equivalent today would be to grant land with secure title on the moon and Mars to companies willing to develop spaceships and operate them to those destinations. It would take a pretty gutsy investor to put up hard cash in return for lunar or martian real estate. But what's the harm in offering it and seeing who might take the dare?

Posted by Jim Bennett at January 9, 2004 12:17 PM

"The British Empire didn't force Mr. Royal to construct a fleet of ships in the 15th century."

Neither did the British Empire adopt laws making the form of corporate financing that actually DID construct the ships illegal. I do believe that free enterprise will eventually do the job... if the government ever gets out of the way.

Posted by Brett Bellmore at January 9, 2004 01:43 PM

From a UPI article a few minuts ago:


Sources also said private enterprise could play an important role in designing and building the moon craft involved in the early stages of the lunar exploration program. One idea, still in its infancy, would be to create an automated pilot plant on the moon to provide power and other resources for a human lunar outpost.

So one can still hope...

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 9, 2004 02:01 PM

With apologies in advance for a bit of self-promotion at Rand's expense, to quote myself: "Private enterprise built all the Apollo hardware -- under goverment contract, which is exactly what would occur under this proposal. This sounds like a lame attempt to buy off supporters of commercial space .... I currently perceive this proposal as a huge helping of pork for every major space constituency -- the planetary scientists, the back-to-the-Moon supporters, the Mars Society, and commercial space -- simultaneously unfocused and overcentralized."

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 9, 2004 02:36 PM

I think the big issue with most of the folks saying ?ho-hum, big deal? around here is that we DID believe in NASA at one time, but have had our hopes dashed too many times. There was the Space Shuttle, which was a decent prototype, but it never went on to the second, third, and fourth generation designs you would expect now. There is the ISS (Incredible Shrinking Space-station) that kept getting smaller, became far less capable, AND far more expensive with each new proposed design.

Assuming NASA does get the money for this (doubtful) and they use it wisely (even more doubtful) all we get are Antarctica style bases in space that us mere humans will never be able to visit. And even THIS will take decades. That just isn?t good enough. We need to develop inexpensive and reliable access to space first, then go from there.

Posted by VR at January 9, 2004 02:41 PM

While I was happy to hear the all-encompassing 'leak' of the soon-to-be-announced policy, I have to recall that we've been here before under the first "President Bush."

With a seed of @$800 million for 2005, (after the elections of course) the plan sounds like it's at least got the (nominal) backing of the Administration. (The Senior Bush didn't even propose a budget as I recall)

The problem is, it's an election year. By doing this, now, Bush looks to be hoping to snare Dean, (and any other 'fiscally-responsible' candidate :o) into opposing the proposal on financial grounds. Which will make good press for the President and bad for his rival(s) since they will (obviously :o) 'lack' vision.

But we probably should REALLY remember that we've still got the same person in charge of the NASA purse strings that was in charge the first time around. The man who, gleefully, helped Congressional Democrats not only ridicule and be-little the NASA plan presented at the time, (which tended towards the same goals as this 'vision' proposes) but helped cut ANY funding for ANY programs beyond LEO.

And has continued to oppose and de-fund any programs that 'might' have a use for a mission beyond Earth.

Were I a paranoid man, I'd think this was only to get the Space Advocacy to begin 'in-fighting' among the Lunar/Mars/Robot/Manned/Government/Private Enterprise factions and to make 'good' sound-bytes for an election year.

I'm not quite that bad. (Though I still harbor a few thoughts about the Prometheus program being good at making space-going nuclear reactors that will work just as well on ABM satellites just as well as powering a Mars mission :o)

I DO think it's not going to be get funding, (through Congress) and it's NOT going to include getting a cheaper, safer ride to orbit. And while I think it 'might' contain some money for studies and small-scale programs for continuing the "Alternate Access to Space" program, I am sure that the majority of the money will go into the "Assured Access to Space" fund which will be paid to the major aerospace contractors to continue to produce EELVs for launches.

Then again, I AM in a pessimistic mood today :o)

Posted by Randy Campbell at January 9, 2004 02:43 PM

I recount an experience I had with a job interview at JPL that gave me the same sort of heebie-jeebies that Rand has. It is described here.

Posted by John Bruce at January 9, 2004 03:06 PM

I recount an experience I had with a job interview at JPL that gave me the same sort of heebie-jeebies that Rand has. It is described here.

Posted by John Bruce at January 9, 2004 03:06 PM

Space exploration vs. space development, pick one. Which one has the nation picked ?

Posted by at January 9, 2004 03:07 PM

"I always enjoy the banter about letting private industry in on the action and getting government out. Historically, government has always played a lead role in new frontiers. The west and California in particular would never have been settled had not the gov't given the railroads the right of way to build upon. Without that massive subsidy nobody then or ever would have invested in such a venture."

Say what? California was populated by the Gold Rush. California was made a state in 1850, long before there was a transcontinental railroad in operation.

Do you really think that there would be no one living in California now if it were not for 19th century government railroad policy?

Posted by Floyd McWilliams at January 9, 2004 04:04 PM

With regard to the canard that a transcontinental railroad would never be a) built, or b) economic if done by private enterprise, I refer you to James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway (now part of ATSF/Burlington Northern). The GNR was built without government subsidy, or the rampant waste and corruption of the Federally subsidized Union Pacific railway.

With regard to the aerospace industry, the development of the British dirigibles R100 and R101 are particularly instructive. In 1924, the British air minister commissioned the construction of two rigid airships. One (the R101) was to be built by a nationalized factory (at Cardington, IIRC). The R100 was built by private enterprise (novelist Nevil Shute was part of the engineering team). The R100 performed flawlessly, flying to and from Montreal.

The R101 was lavishly overbuilt, and ran over budget. After testing, it failed to have enough disposable lift, so another gas cell and accompanying structure was inserted into her. Nearly a year after the R100's flight, the R101 was launched under the pressure of political dignitaries and the weight of the baggage of the Viceroy of India and his entourage. The R101 wallowed in the sky over London, lost altitude steadily over the Channel and crashed, bursting into flames outside of Paris, killing 48 of 54 passengers.

(sound familiar?)

Oh. the reward for the successful accomplishment of the R100 was dismantling and crushing by a steam-roller for recycling. The Cardington facility continued to receive subsidies, though never on the scale of the R101 construction.

We need to let a thousand launchers bloom.

Posted by Robin Miller at January 9, 2004 04:49 PM

It's my understanding that the Transcontinental Railroad was built in part to keep an already-populous-and-prosperous California from seceding. This is not to say that there are no good examples of large commercial projects getting a leg up from the Feds. But analogizing terrestrial frontiers to astronomical ones is perilous, not least because the main products of space industries are likely to be experiences rather than physical resources; more commentary here.

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 9, 2004 04:52 PM

Further robotic exploration of Mars would be absolutely essential to this pie-in-the-sky proposal, so bet on that to be one of the things that survives the chopping block. The ISS and space shuttles, not so much.

Posted by neil at January 9, 2004 05:12 PM

An idle muse:

A random coffee drinker spills coffee in their lap and successfully sues a corporation for $Millions.

Can space industry corporations, and their insurers, survive a litigious environment to offer continuous, on-demand services/products should they be sued by astronauts' families who claim design &/or performance inadequacies after a catastrophic, life-losing failure of some sort?

Posted by Gary at January 9, 2004 08:10 PM

Gary,

You're on a completely different topic. America has become an absurdly litigious society. This is something which needs to change whether it is in regards to asteroid mining or hot apple pies from Mickey Dees.

Posted by Alex at January 9, 2004 08:49 PM

What are all you guys going to do in space? Live in a dome? Walk around in space suits? Sleep for a thousand years in a test tube?

You could mine asteroids or the moon and start sending tons of some preivously scarce metal back to earht, but what good would that really do. Do we really need more cadmium or dimonds or whatever?

It's just adventurism, except that your adventure is basically living inside some sort of fish tank plunked down in a hostil environment. As someone else seemed to suggest, why not just move to antartica?

I'm being serious here?

Posted by at January 9, 2004 09:15 PM

A FLASHBACK, BY THE MAGICAL RHETORICAL DEVICE OF THE WAYYYBACK MACHINE:
"What are all you guys going to do in the Americas? Live in a hut? Walk around in moccasins? Sleep in a bear cave after negotiating with Indians for fertile and productive land?

You could mine the Americas and start sending tons of some preivously scarce metal back to Europe but what good would that really do. Do we really need more cadmium or dimonds or whatever?

It's just adventurism, except that your adventure is basically living inside some mini-Europe plunked down in a hostile environment. As someone else seemed to suggest, why not just move to Prague?

I'm being serious here?"

THIS TRIP TO THE WAY, WAY BACK HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO YOU BY LUDDISM.COM, SERVING YOUR HOPELESSLY UNIMAGINATIVE AND CLOSE-MINDED NEEDS SINCE THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

Posted by Brian at January 10, 2004 01:17 AM

"I'm being serious here?" No, you're not. But you are being anonymous. Get serious, grow a real name, and your chances of getting a substantive answer improve dramatically. Until then, you're just a troll.

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 10, 2004 05:16 AM

A gentleman I used to work with (NASA HQ employee) was involved in a Mars study project in the mid-90s.

At that time, he told me that interplanetary radiation was a "show stopper". Without massive shielding, the crew would be dead before you ever got there. The propulsion technology they were looking it was impractical for acclerating those kinds of masses.

Anyone have any insight into how they propose to solve this?

Posted by John Copella at January 10, 2004 08:19 AM

Would it even be possible to mine Near Earth Asteroids for rare minerals? That would be a more likely reason for independent companies to start large scale investment in space.

But mining is a risky enough operation here on earth, doing it on a rock thats moving through an incredibly hostile environment at great speed sounds like it would be insanely dangerous.

Does anyone know anyting about plans to do something like this, and if so are they feasable?

Posted by sam at January 10, 2004 09:22 AM

Anybody here able to calculate a Mars trajectory using the Moon as a slingshot? Is it possible and would there be any benefits?

Posted by ken anthony at January 10, 2004 09:39 AM

I have been following the online space community's reaction to the recent return-to-the-moon rumors with great interest. It seems two groups feel somewhat slighted: the "Mars First!" crowd and the libertarian-leaning CATS people. Despite Zubrin's recent writings on the subject, I think the former group could be won over if the near-term centerpiece goal were a small "interplanetary space station" at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. Just think of it as a prototype Mars orbiting interplanetary spacecraft (=there is more commonality between lunar & Mars orbiters than surface systems).

As for the RLV libertarians, the manned lunar/Mars program might be more appealing if the launch segment were totally decoupled from the government-developed manned (deep-) space segment. In other words: NASA & co. do not build a new Saturn V or Shuttle-derived HLLV. Instead, the lunar spacecraft are launched unmanned & unfueled into LEO using commercial boosters. The big commercial opportunity will then be transporting propellant & other supplies to low Earth orbit -- even a relatively modest manned lunar program might require ten times as much upmass per year as the International Space Station. Most of the cargo will be less "precious" as well, so there is a significant opportunity for cheaper but riskier launch solutions. If people are looking for a "US Air Mail in space" solution, manned deep space exploration seems like the best bet yet.

Of course, some people might argue that "refueling stations" in LEO & Earth-Moon Lx as well as multiple launches & rendezvous in orbit might not be the cheapest and easiest solution. Apollo & Mars Direct were/are both based on the idea of big, expendable rockets and spacecraft to reduce the number of launches. Nonetheless, manned planetary exploration ought to produce benefits for taxpayers, politicians and commercial space executives. There is going to be lots of politically motivated decisions anyway, and I think some sort of "commercial launch strategy" should be part of that.


MARCU$

Posted by Marcus Lindroos at January 10, 2004 09:46 AM

sam: Does anyone know anyting about plans to do something like [mining asteroids], and if so are they feasable?

check out John Lewis' Mining the Sky, Addison-Wesley, 1996

ken anthony: Anybody here able to calculate a Mars trajectory using the Moon as a slingshot? Is it possible and would there be any benefits?

Paul Penzo did these calculations a few years ago. One good paper is "Multiple Lunar Swingbys for Small Body and Planetary Missions" by Penzo, Bender and Cassell, Advances in astronautical sciences, Univelt, Vol. 89, (1995): 317. I don't have a copy of it handy. There is a substantial benefit in terms of total Δ V required, but the launch window tightens up considerably.

Posted by Chris Hall at January 10, 2004 10:54 AM

Marcus, earth-to-leo transportation is only a small subset of potential commercial opportunities. Thats if the high-risk barriers for such opportunities were lowered.
Lunar and LEO resource development, energy delivery (with laser or microwave transmission ), communications and data services.
Doors should be left wide open for such ventures. But i suspect such ideas wouldnt go down well with NASA and its not invented here syndromes.

Posted by at January 10, 2004 11:50 AM

When I was a kid I got excited as all get-out whenever we launched a space mission...the first ones I remember were the Gemini series. I was living in Napoli, Italia when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

We should never have stopped. But we did and in retrospect, there were good and bad consequences which came from that decision. It's time to take the next leap. Let US WELCOME the Chinese to the moon...

Posted by Macker at January 10, 2004 12:34 PM

With regard to the question from John Copella about radiation, above:

Browsing http://www.clavius.org/envsun.html, we find a table giving "the average skin dosages for the Apollo astronauts as measured by their dosimeters during the trip." Then browsing http://www.seasky.org/spacexp/sky5c04.html, we get the start and end dates of each of the Apollo missions. A total dose of 4.5 rads was incurred over 105 days in space.
A Mars mission consisting of 6 months out, 18 months there, and 6 months back would last about 910 days, implying a likely skin dose of 39 rads per astronaut, even if they were never shielded any better than the Apollo astronauts.

This is far from a fatal dose; as the Clavius page says: "The highest exposure is for Apollo 14, and the dose equivalent is about 2.85 rem (28.5 mSv), or about ten times the amount of normal background radiation per year, half the allowed yearly dosage for occupational radiation exposure, or 1/140 the lethal dosage.
"In some places on earth, natural radiation supplies up to 28 rems (280 mSv) per year. No adverse effects from this dramatically increased background dose have been observed."

I would expect any manned spacecraft designed for such a long mission, however, to have a "safe room" for all the astronauts to climb into in the event of a coronal mass ejection or other high-radiation event. In a 2-year mission, they might have to spend a cumulative total of several days thus holed up, especially if the mission took place near solar maximum; the next two solar maxima will occur in 2011 and 2022.

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 10, 2004 02:57 PM

via Brian:

"What are all you guys going to do in the Americas? Live in a hut? Walk around in moccasins? Sleep in a bear cave after negotiating with Indians for fertile and productive land?"

You can't possibly be comparing the environment of north america with that of mars. There is no breathable atmosphere on mars, no decernible vegitation or flowing water, and msot likely no life. The moon is similar. THer is nothing there but rocks and dirt. Any human environment you build in either place is going to be completely artifical, a fish tank. What is the difference between a fish tank in antartica and that of mars besides the view?

You are welcome to go to mars, but I don't want to pay for it. Maybe there could be a check off box on the tax forms.

I was being serious. The ? was a typo.

Posted by cw at January 10, 2004 06:05 PM

Much improved, cw. I think most of the commenters here aren't too keen on involuntarily paying for it, either. Most seem to wish that NASA would, at most, act in a facilitative role, and let smaller institutions and organizations spend their own money on space activities.

Planetary surfaces (other than Earth) do have serious aesthetic issues; thus O'Neill's space colony designs.

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 10, 2004 06:45 PM

Thanks to Chris who says "There is a substantial benefit in terms of total ΔV required, but the launch window tightens up considerably."

This would suggest to me that about 2 or 3 launch windows would open every 26 months or so. It would seem the next question would be what are the benefit and risk tradeoffs? I'll be curious to see what the flight plan ends up being...

Posted by at January 10, 2004 08:17 PM

There are no useful benefits from a lunar fly-by trajectory to Mars. When people hear "slingshot" or "gravity-assist" they think of added delta-V in the direction of travel - wrong. The only benefit to fly-bys is their velocity-vector changing ability, which reduces fuel load and therefore mass, but that's it. A manned mission to Mars does not have time to spend loop-de-looping around the Moon.

A space elevator would require a material with 10 times the tensile strength of Kevlar, which to my knowledge we don't have yet. Spider web does, though. Once we figure out how to duplicate that biological process on an industrial scale then I'd guess we'd be in business.

We suffer from too-expensive access to orbit. There has been insufficient will to make it cheaper, not least, I suspect, because of the security concerns associated with it. What if terrorists and other hostiles could purchase cheap access to orbit as they do with other hi-tech tools and weapons? Better that it is enormously expensive and available only to rich, developed nations, no?

I think this process will be immensely speeded up if we ever detect a Kzinti battlewagon headed for us at 0.8c. Until that or something like it happens (offered FTL hyperdrive by the Outsiders?), I do not have much hope of significant progress.

Posted by Geoff at January 10, 2004 10:12 PM

dean says we've alredy been to mars....sort of...

Posted by jason at January 11, 2004 02:12 AM

Geoff wrote: There are no useful benefits from a lunar fly-by trajectory to Mars. When people hear "slingshot" or "gravity-assist" they think of added delta-V in the direction of travel - wrong. The only benefit to fly-bys is their velocity-vector changing ability, which reduces fuel load and therefore mass, but that's it.

Reducing fuel and therefore mass is a useful benefit. That extra mass can be used for radiation shielding, or it can be used for fuel to reduce the flight time. I haven't seen any specific trade studies with these savings in mind, but I wouldn't be too quick to discount the benefits.

A space elevator would require a material with 10 times the tensile strength of Kevlar, which to my knowledge we don't have yet.

we do have the required material, carbon nanotubes, though no one has made them in the required quantities yet. progress is being made, though. (i still don't think the elevator will be in the nearterm plans)

chris

Posted by Chris Hall at January 11, 2004 02:08 PM

Place yer bets... I think Mars would see a space elevator before the Earth would. I wish SDB over at Clueless had published the second part of his article on the subject with regard to the physics of constructing such a thing. I think the idea has to be ignored for now if we're serious about going to Mars.

Posted by ken anthony at January 11, 2004 04:25 PM

If NASA wants to go to mars, why are they announcing a lunar program?

Posted by James at January 11, 2004 06:26 PM

"I think Mars would see a space elevator before the Earth would. "

How about one on the moon ? The usual (and some irrational) perceived problems with earth-based elevator wouldnt be there, like terrorism danger, fear of atmospheric effects, danger of breaking etc. Nobody would care on the moon.
What would the required tensile strenght be on the moon ?

Posted by at January 11, 2004 11:40 PM

There can never be a space elevator on the Moon, at least not in the usual sense of the world. The space elevator's center of mass must be in a geosynchronous orbit, and the Moon does not have one. Moon rotates so slowly, a synchronous satellite would be so far away it would be hitting Earth.

Posted by Ilya at January 12, 2004 07:18 AM

Doesn't L1 serve the same function as a Geostationary Point in regards to the moon?

Could it not terminate at L1? Be gravity gradient stabilized thru L1 earthward as the moon keeps the same face toward Earth.

Posted by Mike Puckett at January 12, 2004 09:18 AM

What Marcus was saying is along the lines of what I was thinking. Frequently, government has to assume the big initial risk and then other vendors can bigin to find commercial opportunities along the margins; then other vendors can work along those margins, and then others on those margins and so on into directions yet unknown. The Union Pacific was built because the government gave away the right of way along with all the attendant development rights. The Great Northern came afterwards when there was the critical mass for it, Jay. The Telecom sattelite industry and all of its spin-offs only happened after the Germans started and later the U.S. military finished spending billions developing ICBMs. I have yet to here a peep from anyone criticising my suggestion that the government built most of the critical mass for the infant airline industry and later funded most of the R&D for today's Jet airline industry. Any criticism?

Posted by Jardinero1 at January 12, 2004 11:05 AM

"Doesn't L1 serve the same function as a Geostationary Point in regards to the moon?

Could it not terminate at L1? Be gravity gradient stabilized thru L1 earthward as the moon keeps the same face toward Earth."

You're close. Actually a lunar space elevator would need to have its center of mass just a little further from the moon than L1 to provide tension - and no new materials are needed, regular steel would work. However, there is no point in building a lunar space elveator if we do not have a way of economically getting out of the 81 times deeper gravity well of the earth.

" "A space elevator would require a material with 10 times the tensile strength of Kevlar, which to my knowledge we don't have yet."

we do have the required material, carbon nanotubes, though no one has made them in the required quantities yet. progress is being made, though. (i still don't think the elevator will be in the nearterm plans)"

The legth of carbon nanotubes fibres produced in the lab has gone from a micrometer to a meter in the last two years: an increase of six orders of magnitude. At that rate, we'll be producing 100000km long nanotubes within 3 years, enough to build a space elevator.

Of course, nanotubes are not limited in use to the space elevator; think suspension bridges, automobile parts, aircraft fuselages, etc. There are plenty of applications driving the development of nanotubes, which will continue whether driven by a quest for a space elevator or not.

"What are all you guys going to do in space?"

1) the ultimate offshore bank
2) some people look at the moon and think of romance... I look at the moon and see a giant strip mine just waiting for me
3) get some of our eggs into a backup basket
4) dismantle Ceres, use it to make Island 1 stations - Ceres alone would give us the equivalent of 150 times the earth's surface area. Say goodnight, Malthus.
5) build solar power satellites - say goodnight, Opec.
6) vote with my feet

Ed

Posted by Ed Minchau at January 12, 2004 04:36 PM

Has anybody proposed an X-Prize type competition for Mars? I'm not proposing a prize for the first privately funded manned mission to Mars (although that is an option) but a prize for the first robotic lander/rover to be privately built, funded, launched and successfully landed on Mars. With the 10 year old X-Prize on the verge of being won is anybody planning to set such a new challenge? Although it failed the ESA-British Beagle 2 was ?dirt cheap? and set an example of how costs can be quite low. And there are groups and people who?d commit their lives to winning such a prize...

Posted by at January 12, 2004 05:45 PM

Has anybody proposed an X-Prize type competition for Mars? I'm not proposing a prize for the first privately funded manned mission to Mars (although that is an option) but a prize for the first robotic lander/rover to be privately built, funded, launched and successfully landed on Mars. With the 10 year old X-Prize on the verge of being won is anybody planning to set such a new challenge? Although it failed the ESA-British Beagle 2 was ?dirt cheap? and set an example of how costs can be quite low. And there are groups and people who?d commit their lives to winning such a prize...

Posted by Ian Daniels at January 12, 2004 05:45 PM

Warning, Bush is no friend of the space program. As Governor of Texas, he never even visited the Johnson Space Center. Remember when Bush wanted to cancel hybrid car research, he covered it up by all the "hydrogen economy" hype. But despite the hype, hydrogen technology funding barely received an increase, but hybrid funding was canceled, without a peep from supporters, who were mesmerized. Fast forward to the Detroit car show this week, and hybrid cars are hot, but the US doesn't have any, thanks to our oil industry President.

New boondoggle, same MO. Watch for the programs that Bush cancels. Cancelation is the whole program here. The space station, the shuttle, robotic exploration, space telescopes, it's all gone. Bloated contracts to be criticized and canceled in the future when NASA "shows it just isn't performing"? Just wait. The same thing was done with two attempts at a US space station - half way through the engineering, they were cancelled. We're finally actually building something, instead of cancelling it, and here comes the frat boy, who couldn't care less what the geeks do, with his big red pen and a big loud story. Watch your wallet and don't believe the hype because we've seen it all before.

If we let this cancellation happen, what will be the precedent? "Well, the space station leaked. It never really worked and then was cancelled. The Shuttle blew up and so was cancelled. Man that space stuff just isn't worth it." We can't let these cancellations happen, because they won't pay off for people who care about space.

If we really want to go to Mars, we do real habitat and long term human exposure engineering on the ISS. We explore Mars first with robots, to find things like water resources and possibly useful mineral deposits for return fuel. That's what NASA was doing before the Enron frat boy opened his mouth. This whole thing could be the plot of a Clancy novel: The engineers are busy doing real work, and some bozo MBA who understands nothing and cares even less starts telling the professionals what to do, and guess what? He's the boss.

When you critize NASA realize that the politicians have repeatedly cut the funding from their programs when they are half way done with the engineering. You know what that's like when that happens to you and then are called a failure, when the engineering was actually going just fine.

So when Bush claims the thing to do is to cancel practically everything NASA is doing, because even though he never learned any science he has a big idea, call your congressman and yell. Yell real loud.

Posted by BC at January 13, 2004 03:26 AM

BC,
Your entire post is perfect example of why NASA shouldn't be running any of this. If only someone would come along with a large ax and cut NASA back down to NACA-size we could have already been to Mars by now and made money doing it.

Posted by Michael Mealling at January 13, 2004 04:49 AM

BC, please take the time out to read Volume I of the CAIB report. It's close to 300 pages, but it's the best possible backgrounder on NASA. The political cultures of Congress, NASA, and other Federal agencies, from the early 1970s to today, have consistently produced a farrago of conflicting requirements and absurd schedules. Indeed, given the diagnosis provided by the CAIB, their recommendation that Shuttle flights be resumed is bizarre.

The specific merits of the Administration's proposal remain to be seen -- I'm not especially optimistic myself -- but the Federal government of the United States clearly has no business putting humans into low Earth orbit.

(For the possible identity of the main supporter of space exploration in the Bush Administration, take a gander at this.)

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 13, 2004 05:24 AM


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