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Missing The Point

Don Peterson has a long disquisition at SpaceRef about why we shouldn't go to Mars via the moon.

The problem with this, of course, is that it presumes that the only goal is to go to Mars. He seems to recognize no intrinsic value in returning to the moon, or in establishing a base there. He's welcome to his opinion, of course, but that's not in concert with the president's goals, and in my opinion, he's wrong. There are many reasons to go back to the moon, as were laid out by several witnesses to the Aldridge commission a few weeks ago, regardless of its eventual utility in supporting a Mars flight.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 20, 2004 09:39 AM
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Its apples and oranges, Rand. Here is the guy's main thesis, IMHO:

"And I believe that using the moon as a "stepping stone" to Mars is neither very economical nor very safe."

If you want to go to the Moon because going to the Moon is a good idea all by itself, well okay. Going to the Moon is fine with me. Heck, I like the Moon.

But please no BS about how the Moon is a stepping-stone to Mars because it isn't. That is the point of the article.

= = =

PS - Demonstrate that lunar ice is easily mined and processed into H2 and I am 100% in favor of substantial lunar mining operations followed by shipping rocket fuel to the LaGrange points for further operations beyond cislunar space.

No lunar H2O (or hard to get lunar H20?) then the allure of the Moon is greatly diminished, IMHO.

Posted by BIll White at May 20, 2004 11:02 AM

But his main thesis is irrelevant, since Mars is not the exclusive goal of the Vision for Space Exploration™.

And in fact he vastly underestimates the value of learning how to operate on another world much closer to home before venturing off to one that's several months away.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 20, 2004 11:06 AM

Rand, maybe you should explain that to Tom Delay:

"The president has delivered to the nation a vision for the future a vision of robust exploration, human space flight, a shuttle returned to flight, a completed station conducting cutting-edge research - all driving America toward a single red dot in the night sky, 50 million miles from earth."

Posted by Bill White at May 20, 2004 11:16 AM

He's entitled to misinterpret the president's policy if he chooses, as are you, but I think I'll take the president's words as a guide, rather than Tom DeLay's. In any event, I doubt if he'd listen to me.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 20, 2004 11:24 AM

Like many other space enthusiasts, I would very much like to see manned exploration of Mars. Some advocates for a manned Mars mission think that other priorities/destinations would be a distraction politically, and would not provide significant advantage or progress toward mars.

I don't find their arguments very compelling, unless considered in a vacuum of context like: "Which is cheaper and more likely to avoid the budget axe, a $200 billion dollar flags and footprints on mars program or a $20 billion dollar a year space welfare/infrastructure program with loosely defined/contradictory goals? In this political context,it makes marginally more sense to have a focused program with a sharp goal that is not weighed down with unrelated side goals that must be accomplished.

On the other hand, if you view space exploration as an economic ecosystem, where growth in one area fosters better/cheaper/more reliable off the shelf technology that can be leveraged for the mars mission, then a program centered around the moon will yield lots of benefits (some unforseen perhaps?) that will foster the future mars mission. This is my view.

Posted by Fred K at May 20, 2004 11:31 AM

Wow, I just went and read the linked article. I am disappointed. I think Don is arguing against a straw man when he says:

>2.1 Mars vehicles could be launched from the moon
>to take advantage of the increased performance
>afforded by reduced gravity

I doubt anyone would architect the mission this way -- it's just silly. A reasonable architecture would have fuel, sheilding, and life support consumables produced on the moon, shuttled up to a mars spacecraft in high lunar orbit (or L3 or L4). I suspect this would be a very significant amount of the mass of the system, that would not have to be lifted out of the gravity well of the earth.

He goes on say:

>Is it really more efficient and effective to
>launch the Mars vehicle from the moon? (I must be
>missing something!) First, everything that is to
>be launched from the moon will first have to be
>launched from the earth. Then it will have to be
>soft-landed on the moon.

Yeah, he is missing something (see above).

His ideas on modular components on the otherhand make a great deal of sense.

Posted by Fred K at May 20, 2004 11:45 AM

I pretty much agree with Fred K. If lunar water is available (still an open question IIRC) then moving fuel and water to lunar orbit and loading aboard a Mars craft makes good sense.

Rob Stockman at has used exactly that architecture in his web published novel. Leave L1 for a lunar & Earth gravitational fly-by and then do your Mars burn as you race past Earth.

But, that lunar water remains an unresolved question.

Indeed, if the Moon is water-free for all practical purposes, importing stuff from Mars or Phobos/Deimos or an asteroid may prove cheaper for giving support to a lunar base rather than shipping it all up through Earth's gravity well.

Posted by Bill White at May 20, 2004 12:09 PM

"But please no BS about how the Moon is a stepping-stone to Mars because it isn't."

Well, in a way, it very certainly is. Nevermind the delta-v requirements, fuel consumption or other technicalities.
The fact sad is, that humans have not left this gravity well in decades. We have no operational experience, no current know-how on how to operate on surface of an alien celestial body.
So in a way, lunar base could be a testbed not for technologies, but for organisational and human factors of extended deep-space human mission.
I wouldnt trust any athritic old *SA to put humans on mars in one swell swoop. They simply have fux0red up too often in past couple decades to trust em.
Luna, luckily, is a mere three days away. If something goes moderately awry, theres a chance to mount a rescue mission, or the astronauts can simply sit tight through some unnerving hours like they did on Apollo 13. In the end, we will hopefully have couple new heroes, some public entertainment and life will go on.
In mars case, every little failure could produce a couple dead bodies six months away from here, and a major PR disaster that would be remembered for a century.

Posted by at May 20, 2004 12:58 PM

I can't believe it I actually agree with something Rand Simberg said. This must be the end of the world.

Your absolutely right when you said that there are many reasons to return to the moon. I bet where we disagree is on this point: How can anyone believe that we will go to Mars and stay when we can't even go to our closest satellite and stay?

For all the talk about Mars being far more habitable than the moon, I would bet that the shear increase in distance, and associated transportation costs would far out way any benefit we would gain from creating rocket fuel from the Martian atmosphere and getting water from Martian ice. That's my opinion, but if anyone has done some real analysis on the subject and comes up with a different awnser I'm more than willing to change that opinion.

Posted by Jason Verheyden at May 20, 2004 02:19 PM

I can't believe it I actually agree with something Rand Simberg said. This must be the end of the world.

It's OK, Jason. First time's the hardest. People tell me it gets easier with time. ;-)

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 20, 2004 02:54 PM

I like the moon because it's close to us!

I like Quiznos too! But not as much as the moon.

Posted by Mike Puckett at May 20, 2004 05:59 PM

I think you are all missing the point of a return to the moon.

The point is to get man into space permanently, and what better way to do that than to open up the moon to exploitation and colonization?

Excellent blog, btw.

Posted by JasonH at May 20, 2004 08:01 PM

IMO, the point of the Moon is to develop infrastructure and learn to live off the land.

Posted by Mike Puckett at May 20, 2004 08:08 PM

BTW, heres the original moon landing clip, uncensored.

those emotions ...

Posted by at May 21, 2004 12:45 AM

The Moon can be a terrific and necessary testbed for Mars equipment IF the lunar missions are designed to maximize Mars capable technologies. However, it is also possible to design lunar missions in a way that does not maximize follow on benefits.

As for President Bush, the Houston Chronicle reports this today:

"WASHINGTON -- President Bush's top science adviser said Thursday that NASA will continue pressing for a manned mission to Mars despite Congress' recoil from the price tag. "

Posted by Bill White at May 21, 2004 06:22 AM

I look at it as Moon AND Mars AND asteroids. I don't have a big emotional investment in what should be the first goal, just that they are all goals.

One thing we do need is more information. Sure, Luna would be a good source of oxygen, and long term we might even use oxy/aluminum rockets, but it would sure help the case if there was a confirmed supply of water. Careful inspection of asteroids with low delta v requirements would be a good idea too. It is quite possible that expanded "sample return" type craft with ion drives could return significant amounts of material for early space development. But we can't make good plans until we take a good look.

Posted by VR at May 22, 2004 07:30 PM

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