A Decade of the Vision for Space Exploration: An Alternative Retrospective

Note:  The following is a fictional (as reading the last sentence will clearly indicate) but completely plausible account from a historical counterfactual perspective.  Happy New Year!

The latest Neptune launch, sending equipment up to our burgeoning lunar outpost.

The latest Neptune launch, sending equipment up to our burgeoning lunar outpost. (Jack Frassanito)

Reflecting on the last decade of U.S. space accomplishment, it is apparent that the strategic direction of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) first outlined by President Bush on January 14, 2004 has dramatically transformed the civil space program of the United States.  Instead of drifting aimlessly, as had been our wont, we are now poised to expand outward with activities undreamed of only a few years ago – ready to set sail into the Solar System with both humans and machines.  It is important to revisit this decade of events to appreciate what (and who) is responsible for the developments that cemented this enviable level of space capability – the effort keeping us at the forefront of space development.

Only ten years ago, in the immediate aftermath of its announcement, we were in great danger of losing the Vision.  Many in NASA and within the larger space community misinterpreted the new direction, thinking it to be an “Apollo-to-Mars” effort.  The NASA Administrator quickly set things (and those attempting to corral or derail the effort) straight by clearly articulating the goal and outlining how it would be achieved.  The purpose of the VSE was not to create a crash program for a human landing on Mars (premature from both a technical and a fiscal perspective) but rather, to undertake a new and different approach – one designed to give the United States lasting, permanent space faring capability through the use of the material and energy resources of space.  Over the years such an approach had been thought about and discussed but never attempted.  By gaining the ability to provision ourselves in space, the tyranny of the rocket equation could be defeated.  The Administrator quickly terminated the far-as-the-eye-could-see series of “road mapping” exercises (recognizing that we were wasting time and money) and put agency personnel on notice that the purpose of this new effort was to fly missions and collect critical information to implement the VSE, not to study it interminably.

The first steps were to return Shuttle to flight and complete the International Space Station (ISS).  Shuttle flights resumed in 2005 and the assembly of the ISS was completed after 20 more flights.  As Shuttle was completing its final ISS missions, the reliable Shuttle hardware was simultaneously being developed into the new Neptune launch vehicle – an affordable Shuttle side-mount rocket that we now depend on to regularly and reliably supply our space efforts.  This heavy lift vehicle, with almost 80 metric tons of capacity, has proven to be more than adequate in supplying the needs of lunar return.  Since Neptune was developed entirely with existing Shuttle pieces, we were able to use the manufacturing facilities at Michoud and the vehicle-processing infrastructure at the Cape without making significant modifications.  More than any other early effort of the VSE, the development of Shuttle side-mount Neptune (versus the development of a wholly new launch system) was the key decision that advanced our return to the Moon.  Because Neptune was developed in parallel with the completion and retirement of the Space Shuttle, we experienced an interval of less than a year when our civil program could not send people into space.

By virtue of the way the universe is put together, the Moon with its resources is key for the creation of new spaceflight capability.  When the Vision was formulated, we suspected the Moon contained those resources needed to build a permanent presence off-planet.  At that time, there was evidence for water ice at the lunar poles but it was fragmentary and inconclusive.  To get the new initiative off and running, a robust program of robotic space missions (including orbiters, probes and landers) was initiated.  With these spacecraft successively documenting the presence and nature of ice at the poles, the idea of harvesting polar ice as the principal activity on the lunar surface was validated.

The production of water from lunar materials by the lander Agricola was a critical milestone in space expansion.  This experiment demonstrated that water could be mined from lunar polar regolith (although at the time, we were still a long way from making water extraction a winning proposition).  The next advance came with the adaptation and application of the terrestrial Frasch mining process to the polar deposits of the Moon.  By microwave sintering an impermeable layer over the water-bearing lunar soil, we were able to pump steam into the subsurface to melt the ice and mobilize the resulting water for easy removal.  This process made possible the extraction of water without excavating tons of soil for feedstock; mining water on the Moon became easier, less energy intensive and more efficient.

We now have processing equipment in operation on the Moon, controlled remotely by telerobotic means from Earth.  We’re using this equipment to build up a stockpile of water and to assemble the surface habitat we’ll be using for human occupation later this year.  Let us pause and consider this remarkable achievement – the complete assembly of what is essentially a small space station on the lunar surface, assembled and controlled robotically from Earth.  The human crew will not arrive carrying supplies on their backs like the Apollo astronauts, but will instead move into a fully operational facility.  In preparation for fuel production (fuel enabling our return to Earth and eventually elsewhere in the Solar System) our robotic cryogenic systems have produced test amounts of liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the lunar water.  This important step (previously demonstrated at bench scale at Outpost) completes the chain – giving us a continuously supplied cislunar transportation system.

Our international partners ESA and Japan augmented the automated lunar outpost with the recent completion of the L-1 staging node – fabricated and assembled in space.  Ultimately, this small, human-tended outpost in Earth-Moon space will serve as an offshore fueling station, where water from the lunar poles will be shipped and stored in preparation for its conversion into propellant.  Currently, L-1 is resupplied from Earth using contract carriers, but soon it will be supplied from the Moon.  Provisioned with lunar produced consumables, this station will serve as a way station for crews en route to and from Outpost at the North Pole of the Moon and other destinations in cislunar space.

By using an incremental, step-wise approach, yearly measurable progress could be documented; significant intermediate milestones were met.  This approach ensured a solid base of political support over its ten years of development.  In retrospect, this maintenance of support was critical to the success of the VSE.  If we had adopted a path whereby significant accomplishment would not come until the out-years, it is conceivable that political support at either the Congressional or Executive level would have seriously eroded and jeopardized the program.  Instead, thanks largely to the lunar program’s record of steady and continuous accomplishment, we’ve seen the agency’s budget increase over the last ten years, despite a decline in funding for other federal agencies.

Implementing the VSE under the severe cost constraints laid out at its beginning was challenging.  Its success came about through the extensive use of existing Shuttle assets, a step-wise, robust robotic program (that has already emplaced most of the lunar surface equipment), from the division of program responsibilities among our international partners, and an unwavering and continuous commitment from the government in the face of ongoing national and international economic difficulties.  The success of this program is a testament to their resolve in completing a program that has set this nation on a strong economic course with national security value.

With the abrupt arrival of China as a major space-faring power in this area, most observers now recognize that an American presence ensures that a market-based economic system will prevail on the space frontier.  Had we not taken up this challenge, the United States would have been left behind, watching while the rules of space industrialization were drawn up by powers less than sympathetic to the dynamics of free societies and free markets.  It is apparent by the culmination of these much-anticipated events that our presence in cislunar space and on the Moon is of one vital national interest and concern, and that it will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Ten years ago, we took a critical turn on the road to our future in space.  We now have a reliable, sustainable launch system based on Shuttle hardware.  We have no need to pay foreign countries to carry our crews into orbit.  We have built a cislunar transportation system with way stations for assembly and fueling.  And we have assembled an automated, operating lunar surface outpost, ready to receive its first human inhabitants.  If we’d chosen a different path we would be looking instead at a cartoon space program, a series of stunts, imaginary missions and PowerPoint slides featuring wonderful computer-derived artwork of destinations and missions that would be achieved – someday (We promise!).  Leadership has been key.

Thankfully, we chose instead to pursue a program of achievement.  It’s been a great decade for America’s space program.

This entry was posted in Lunar development, Lunar exploration, space policy, space technology, Space transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to A Decade of the Vision for Space Exploration: An Alternative Retrospective

  1. Mike says:

    Great article, sums up the “what if”, but alas I think the reality is more like the Monkees song: “Daydream Believer..”
    Satirically sums up the current US “vision” for human space exploration.
    Paul, like you I believe in a return to the Moon & stepping forwards and outwards.
    Currently I see a state sponsored welfare initiative devoid of purpose and devoid of leadership.
    Now I guess I’ll sit back and wait for the usual repetitive Falcon blah blah, Space X blah blah (maybe with a bit of Bigelow mixed in) accompanied by the moniker of “we cant afford it” whilst spending billions on “pork” & “defense”.
    To paraphrase, “it aint the money stupid…its the will..!”

  2. Warren Platts says:

    Yes, it is sad to think about what might have been, but nevertheless the article can be taken as an optimistic vision of what still could be.

    Re: the Frasch process, has anyone done the math on that? I’m skeptical that you would get more water out than you would put in. If the porosity is say ~33% and the H2O content is only 10%, that’s a lot of pore space that’s not filled with water–you might wind up simply saturating the regolith. Also the overburden pressure is going to be < 0.4 MPa: you go injecting a bunch of steam, you'll wind up blowing the top off of your deposit. Probably be better off with a closed circuit steam pipe system.

    I like the idea of creating an artificial "trap" to contain the volatiles. However, although regolith has good porosity, its permeability is terrible. Gas can diffuse through it, but only very slowly. And since it's unconsolidated, it wouldn't lend itself well to being fracked. One would have to be really patient and control the temperature carefully, or once again, you'll exceed the overburden pressure and blow the top off your deposit.

    (Not to mention the danger of monatomic hydrogen! BOTE's indicate PSR regolith could have an explosive energy density equivalent to dynamite!)

  3. oldAtlas_Eguy says:

    Yes, an excelent “road not taken” perspective. It’s the >80 ton requirments that precluded the side mount design resulting in first the Constellation and now SLS and our current wait for a total redesign using Shuttle components. Iteresting is the fact that the first SLS will have less capability. We can still get to the endgame but it will take longer and cost a lot more!

  4. Can’t go to the Moon with the SLS or the Sidemount without– a lunar lander– plus a President that will actually allow NASA to go to the Moon.

    The real game changer, IMO, will be the next manned lunar landing vehicle.

    Will it be expendable or will it be reusable. Will it be single staged or require an orbital transfer stage. Will it use LOX/LH2 or methane and oxygen or something else.

    Check out some of the latest lunar lander concepts at SpaceWorks at:

    http://www.sei.aero/eng/papers/uploads/archive/AIAA-2013-5479_Paper.pdf

    Marcel

    • billgamesh says:

      If “harvesting polar ice as the principal activity on the lunar surface” holds true then I would break with my usual conservatism and say go with reusable single stage LOX/LH2.

      The biggest unmanned descent only lander the SLS can throw at the poles would be how to start. Load it with all the robot equipment necessary for processing ice. Land these mini-factories on top of the ice deposits wherever they are found to build up reservoirs of pure transferable water. So while the lander is being product improved with each succeeding model and the ascent stage is being built and tested there will be a buildup of a very valuable commodity on the lunar surface; thousands and eventually millions of gallons of easily accessible water.

      After watching this 1958 video about a military base built in the Greenland ice sheet I now think building a human outpost on the Moon is going to be….challenging. Better to take the approach that can accomplish as much as possible with robotics and that seems to be the Spudis Lavoie concept also.

      • DougSpace says:

        Very interesting video. Thanks for sharing that.

        The primary difference between this video and the first permanent settlement on the Moon is the dramatic difference in shipping costs. This will greatly reduce the amount of shipped material available for the base. So instead of importing heavy equipment to cut trenches in the snow, end-to-end sandbags are filled with regolith and cover inflatable habs above ground.

        http://mercurypress.photoshelter.com/image/I0000iuIEsr_Zpx4

        Instead of holding a “city” from the get-go, it would be a humble base housing about eight people. Solar panels would be used instead of importing a nuclear power plant. Instead of importing an oven to bake imported chicken, a lunar greenhouse would grow produce. Only the necessities would be provided not “every modern convenience”. The base would start out much more spartan and could then grow from there using mostly local materials.

        http://earthsky.org/human-world/gene-giacomelli-on-a-greenhouse-to-grow-food-on-the-moon#.Ur2haYl5mc0

        • billgamesh says:

          I am skeptical that the amount of radiation shielding necessary is going to be that easy to excavate. I believe the shielding will have to be 15 to 20 feet thick and since we are not naked mole rats we will probably require some kind of a view to keep from going nuts. Water reservoirs as shielding and windows are easy to fill up with a pump. Which is why processing ice is a good start on building a base; the water is easy to transfer and you can see through it.

          • DougSpace says:

            By my calculations, astronauts could be on the lunar surface for about 3.2 years before they would reach their career limits. If their habitat were up against a hill, or the sleeping part of their habitat was in a modest trench, or if their habitat were becoming increasingly shielded then that 3.2 years would be extended thereby buying them more time to finish the shielding. Do remember that everything weighs 1/6th on the Moon and so 15 feet thickness weighs only about 2.5 of Earth feet of regolith. So I think that getting enough habitat shielding on the Moon is doable.

            As for your idea of water for windows I think that’s a marvelous concept. One could also use a mirror arrangement to create “windows” that wouldn’t let in the radiation. But I for one think that the lunar lanscape could seem bleak with time. So I think that one side of the habitats should be up against the greenhouse and have regular windows between them.

    • Chris Castro says:

      Those are all very tantalizing prospective vehicles. Personally, I prefer that our new lander concept use Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, again, rather than deal with Lagrange points; but I’m not nitpicking! I say let’s go ahead and do it! Even if we have to reduce the crew number from four down to three. NASA should be fully researching this and compiling detailed data.
      What I hate about the current plan for the SLS is that they seem to be building it with NO specified plan for what sorts of lunar vehicles it will need to carry——-if indeed it would get used for a future lunar program. Building a heavy lift rocket blindly, without any regard for what spacecrafts it will launch, is a recipe for anarchy of purpose——-and it could result in a rocket launcher that gets cancelled pretty quickly——-just like the Soviet Union’s Energia rocket.
      Constellation’s Ares 5 was to have launched both a lunar lander & an earth departure stage, and place it in a parking orbit. Then a smaller rocket——it could’ve been the Ares 1, or another alternate launch system——was to have launched the Orion CEV craft, with its crew, to rendezvous with the Moon-bound stack, parked up there in LEO. This flight plan dictated the size, dimensions & the projected thrust power of the designated Ares 5 rocket. The way the SLS is being built, without any specific thought of what it will be used for, is a big mistake.

      • DougSpace says:

        Hey Chris. I think that the problem isn’t so much designing and building the SLS without knowing the specs of a lunar lander but that they apparently don’t intend on building (nor financing) a lunar lander. Engineers can work within the SLS mass and volume constraints. But without the funding, they won’t build it. Dave Masten commented that he could modify (for less than $200 million) a Centaur upper stage to land on the Moon. This should be able to deliver enough mass for a good-sized lunar ice harvester/steamer.

        • Chris Castro says:

          @DougSpace,….. Yeah I know, maybe I’m worrying too much that the Heavy Lift launcher that we eventually get will NOT be powerful enough to carry out a manned lunar program. From what I’ve read the SLS appears to be tantamount to an Ares 4 (or an Ares 3), that will be inevitably less powerful, and might increase the number of parking orbit launches from two to three, just to get into LEO all of the mission elements (the lunar lander, the earth escape stage & of course, the Orion trans-lunar/lunar orbiting vehicle, with its crew.) But yeah, if it then requires a three-part launching of these elements, instead of two, then ultimately this’d be better than nothing. All those vehicles could still be rendezvoused in LEO, prior to the lunar journey.
          There’s even a different idea for a flight plan that’d involve sending the lunar lander unmanned, ahead of the crew, and emplacing it in a loitering lunar parking orbit, to then after be accessed by the later arriving crew. That idea would of course require two distinct tran-lunar injection burns, to get the two-craft expedition underway; although the earth escape stages could then each be smaller. One disadvantage to this mission concept is that the crew would then have to cross the three-day gulf to the Moon, with only one spacecraft, and if anything went wrong on the outbound journey, they would lack the redundancy of having the lunar module with them. On the other hand, having only one craft would inevitably be the situation during the earth-return trip; plus, the need to drop into a low lunar orbit would be necessary for the full mission success anyway, in order to reach the lander. So this alternate flight plan idea could still be viable. (As the Apollo CSM was capable of both emplacing itself into LLO and the trans-earth injection burn; so too, could the Orion craft be designed.)
          As for the idea of upgrading the Centaur rocket upper stage for lunar applications: that could always be an optional idea, as we work towards an overall game plan concept. It’s a good one, as we seek a politically viable & fundable type of program. Sure, maybe the NASA engineers of the future can come up with a way for all of the component modules to fit, on board whatever Heavy Lift rocket we eventually create. Even if they have to be made smaller & lighter.

      • Any payload deficiency the SLS might have for a reusable lunar lander could be– easily compensated for– with a fuel depot located at L1 or in low lunar orbit, or both.

        In fact, you could derive a fuel depot from the reusable lunar lander vehicle itself!

        But a single staged lunar landing vehicle should be designed to be capable of traveling from L1 to the lunar surface and back to L1 on a single fueling, and vice versa, once lunar fuel is available.

        So even if the lunar lander arrives at L1 with not quite enough fuel to complete the round trip to the Moon and back to L1, it could get that added fuel at the L1 fuel depot.

        The SLS with a CPS stage should be able to deliver a fuel depot to L1 with about 20 tonnes of fuel already stored. Solar powered cryocoolers could keep that fuel stored without any significant boil-off for years.

        The CPS upper stage should also be capable of transporting the MPCV plus 7 to 8 tonnes of water as cargo to the fuel depot for processing into fuel for the lunar landing vehicle.

        Marcel F. Williams

        • Chris Castro says:

          @Marcel Williams;…..I definitely worry about the SLS having payload lift deficiencies, since if & when it gets built it’ll have had NO lunar spacecraft plan input, put into its design. If sometime in the 2020′s a new manned lunar program gets put together——whether a quasi-revival of Constellation or something entirely different——I’d be concerned about the lift capacity & the size of the modules that the SLS would be able to carry. Sure, maybe we could just make the lunar lander smaller, and maybe reduce the crew size. Or perhaps the vehicles could be launched up, in three launches instead of two.
          Another gripe that I have with the SLS plan is that, no visual depictions have come up, neither diagrams or animation video, showing just what this rocket is intended to be used to launch. The presumed boosting capabilities have been made as nebulous & vague as they possibly can be. Are they actually intending to use it to launch a manned Orion craft into LEO? If so, what about all the extra rocket power & extra lifting potential? Will they be sending up heavy cargo and/or space station modules with each successive launch? If so, what in particular?
          Sure, it’s conceivable that the future NASA engineers can work towards a viable manned deep space project, and work the mission design within the SLS’s parameters & limits. But I certainly wish that all of that would be being conceptualized right now, concurrently with the Heavy Lift rocket’s designing.

  5. Mark R. Whittington says:

    It would be interesting to speculate what the point of departure was that would have bring this into being. A different NASA administrator and a different president elected in 2008 would be a start.

      • Mark R. Whittington says:

        Already have.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Well, in that case, you know that it is my belief that the VSE started to go off track almost immediately. The Mars crowd torqued the direction of the VSE away from the Moon, just as they did during the SEI 25 years ago. The same old song.

          • Warren Platts says:

            Do you think if O’Keefe had stayed on, that it might have made a difference?

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Perhaps, but he always intended to be a short-timer at NASA. A variety of circumstances and people led to the current mess; no one factor can be assigned all of the responsibility for the disaster.

          • The Mars first crowd, IMO, tends to fall into the trap of viewing the manned space program as a series of– manned stunts– instead of a pioneering effort. Their hostility towards returning to the Moon has actually hurt NASA’s ability to go to Mars, IMO.

            Utilizing lunar water resources from a lunar outpost is the key to rapidly getting to Mars while also enabling NASA to easily establish a permanent outpost on the Martian surface.

            The best way to kill a publicly funded manned space program is by prioritizing manned– space stunts– over a pioneering human space program.

            Marcel

          • reader says:

            If Steidle would have stayed on, we might have had something. Griffin was the disaster.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Steidle was AA during the 18 months of technical “road mapping” during which we accomplished absolutely nothing.

          • Joe says:

            If Steidle had stayed on (based on his performance while there) and the program had not been cancelled, we would still be performing an exponentially expanding set of trade studies and nothing more.

          • reader says:

            “during which we accomplished absolutely nothing”

            That’s not true. The entire industry was converging on the approach to take for the lunar return. Among many things, one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.
            Only Orbital was still proposing a HLV.

            The original CEV would have flown in 2008 on top of an existing rocket.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.

            Believe that if you want to. There were studies that showed a Shuttle-derived side mount would easily accommodate lunar return requirements, at lower cost than existing EELVs.

            The original CEV would have flown in 2008 on top of an existing rocket

            There was no “original” CEV — all we had were design trades, as far as the eye could see. Architecturally, industry studies were all over the map. Decisions were required, but Exploration was not configured to make any.

          • Joe says:

            “That’s not true. The entire industry was converging on the approach to take for the lunar return. Among many things, one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.”

            Sorry reader, I do not know where you are getting your “facts”, but I was working with people directly involved during this period and the idea that the “entire industry was converging on the approach to take for the lunar return” is simply not the case.

            What was happening was every time one of the design teams would bring in the result of a trade study they would be sent away with (at least) two new trade studies to do.

            On one occasion I ran into a friend in the hallway and asked how things were going and she replied “Well Joe we are diverging on a solution.”

            Believe what you like, but that is the way it really was.

            “The original CEV would have flown in 2008 on top of an existing rocket.”

            No it would not have. That was Steidle’s one and only concrete proposal and it was an embarrassing one. He proposed to fly not one, but two different full up CEV’s on two Detla 4 Heavies for $1 Billion. The Delta 4 Heavy launch cost alone would have taken up at least half the allocated budget. The proposal was dropped (without fanfare of course) while Steidle was still in place. That embarrassment may have contributed to Steidle never making another concrete decision while working on the program.

          • reader says:

            “Entire industry”

            http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=16549
            http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=16031

            Alenia , Draper, ULA, Northrop, Boeing were competing with Orbital , Lockmart, EADS , ULA, Honeywell , etc.

            Most of these teams were involved in original CE&R BAAs. Thats a pretty large part of the industry.

            Griffin killed that with a “Call for Improvement” and ESAS, Steidle did not.

            In retrospect, would you have taken a CEV flyoff in 2008 or Griffins CxP for 10 billion of nothing ?

          • Paul Spudis says:

            In retrospect, would you have taken a CEV flyoff in 2008 or Griffins CxP for 10 billion of nothing ?

            Retrospect is easy — that’s what I just wrote here. I didn’t believe in 2005 that there would be a “CEV flyoff” in 2008.

            And “in retrospect,” I would have been right.

          • Joe says:

            Your statement was” The entire industry was converging on the approach to take for the lunar return. Among many things, one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.”

            You link to two articles (reprints of press releases really) about Boeing and Lockheed announcing the makeup of their proposal teams for the CEV (later named Orion). Neither article even mentions an HLV or lack thereof. They therefore in no way back up your statement that: “one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.”

            Additionally you state that both teams include ULA (the United Launch Alliance) the Boeing Lockheed formed joint company that runs the EELV program. That is incorrect. As the articles you link to clearly state both teams include not ULA but USA (the United Space Alliance) the Boeing Lockheed formed joint company that ran the Shuttle program. If the intent was to imply they were favoring EELV over Shuttle derived systems (because you managed to misread USA as ULA – twice) you have undercut your own intended point.

            You then state: “Griffin killed that with a “Call for Improvement” and ESAS, Steidle did not.”

            That is also incorrect. While there were over time some changes made to the teams makeup, the teams remained essentially intact and competed for the selection of the winner of the Orion contract award.

            That winner was, of course, Lockheed. I am very aware of that fact because had Boeing won, I was in line for the position of Lead Engineer for the EVA Interface Integrated Product Team.

          • reader says:

            You link to two articles (reprints of press releases really) about Boeing and Lockheed announcing the makeup of their proposal teams for the CEV (later named Orion).
            Which were followups after the initial CE&R studies where all the teams were submitting proposals. The contractor teams were formed parallel to that process.

            Neither article even mentions an HLV or lack thereof. They therefore in no way back up your statement that: “one of the points in the emerging consensus was that heavy lift launch vehicles would be entirely unnecessary.”
            If you bothered read the CE&R studies before that, yes there is solid backup.

            Additionally you state that both teams include ULA (the United Launch Alliance) the Boeing Lockheed formed joint company that runs the EELV program. That is incorrect.
            Go read the actual CE&R proposal documents. Only Atlas and Delta were proposed anywhere but in Orbital’s studies.

            All the docs are readily available on the web – even if NASA rapidly pulled their sites offline post ESAS. I’ll just give you one link, find others yourself

            http://lmgtfy.com/?q=%22No+Saturn-V+one-launch+scenarios%22

          • Paul Spudis says:

            All right. You’ve had your say and you’ve posted your links. Anyone interested in your interpretation of history can follow them if they so choose. Enough.

          • gbaikie says:

            I will start by say I think using fiction is useful and it was fiction I found enjoyable as it was “realistic”.

            As reply to:
            “Well, in that case, you know that it is my belief that the VSE started to go off track almost immediately. The Mars crowd torqued the direction of the VSE away from the Moon, just as they did during the SEI 25 years ago. The same old song.”

            I will quote rely you made further down the thread:

            -Paul Spudis says:
            December 28, 2013 at 2:34 am

            You just made my point — the Moon is an enabling destination and as such, it needs to be the near-term target for the civil space program. Thus, it is not “a mistake to focus on one target.”-

            So I would say not fault of Mars crowd, but rather we should have and still can enable the Mars crowd.

            President Bush pushed in this direction to some extent. He wanted to make sure the message was his vision was a path to Mars.

            Or you say it thought it was important to intervene
            when he thought that the “direction” appear it did not include Mars.

            A more dramatic point of Bush leadership in terms of message, occurred when the story of transfer of Iraq sovereignty was in news. And there was talk of partial transfer of sovereignty.
            A Bush said, full sovereignty.
            So I believe Bush thought that going to Mars was a part of vision.

            So the Moon actually enabling going to Mars [within people's lifetime] should a part of what NASA is doing.

            But where I might disagree with Bush, I think NASA should explore the Moon. That exploration will enable
            utilization of the Moon. And I think NASA needs to focus on a fairly brief, focused, and low cost exploration of the lunar poles to find best areas which could minable.
            And let investor, who risk their money, decide if and when the Moon would be mined.
            In addition to an objective assessment, in which this kind of objective assessment constantly done on Earth related various mining operation. The forgoing
            of NASA investing in lunar mining, allows NASA to more quickly proceed in Mars exploration.
            So this gets us to Mars on faster path, and it’s enabling Mars exploration, sooner and in a more realistic way.

            So, whether the Moon is mined, doesn’t require money coming from a NASA budget.
            How it is done, exactly, may not be just the private sector. It possible once the Moon has been explored by NASA for Congress to address the issue of what Congress may or may not do in regarding to “mining the moon”. It could set up different agency tasked with doing this. It might not do anything.
            Point is by exploring the Moon, more informed decisions can be made by everyone. Or NASA will have competed a job it was created to do.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Let me try to put this another way.

            The current Mars Reference Design Mission calls for “8-10″ Ares V-class heavy lift launches for one human mission. When NASA was still doing this study, a more realistic assessment called for as many as 12 launches. At $1-2 billion per launch, that essentially makes a human Mars mission a complete non-starter.

            Most of the mass (>80%) launched for this mission is propellant. We need to learn how to extract water from the Moon and make propellant from it. This is a government activity because no one knows if it can be done — as I said before, it is an engineering, R&D project. Moreover, there are important national strategic considerations at stake, primarily, to establish the international legal principle that resource extraction is a valid activity. If the U.S. government is not involved in this, it is highly likely that things will not go our way.

            The Mars advocates have always torqued any new civil space initiative toward an “Apollo-to-Mars” type program. My point is that model will not work because there is no geopolitical imperative to go to Mars. There is a geopolitical imperative to protect our satellite assets in cislunar space. Thus, return to the Moon is geopolitically relevant while a human Mars mission is not.

  6. DougSpace says:

    It certainly seems like a better vision than what has happened during the intervening time. I would like to think that we could eventually get to the goal of the vision laid out in this post but it seems to still be quite far away and without clear evidence that we are headed in that direction.

    In the post I noticed that there was no significant quantities of propellant produced from lunar ice until humans had landed. It that technically necessary? Couldn’t propellant be produced as soon as possible using telerobotic means? If not, what is the primary factor limiting this? If propellant could be produced earlier then that value (e.g. income) could go back into the program thereby paying back the up-front investment.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Doug,

      Yes, I do think that we can start producing propellant before human arrival — I was just trying to envision our progress on the state of development that was probable over the course of a decade, my chosen time interval. If things had gone as originally planned, I think that we would be well on track with a lunar outpost, but we would be not quite there yet.

      • Ed Minchau says:

        I think it is a mistake to focus on one target, whether it is the moon or Mars or some random asteroid. Instead, we need to be looking at building up an infrastructure that includes propellant depots, ice mining at the lunar poles, an interplanetary positioning system akin to GPS, an Outernet (off planet internet), a zero gee greenhouse, and a serious study of centripetal “gravity” somewhere between 0 and 1 gee (in particular 0.16 gee and 0.38 gee). Instead, Congress has been blowing NASA’s budget on a yet another heavy lift rocket, and a Shuttle-C alternative would have been no better.

        NASA should be right at the bleeding edge, not mired down in operational technology.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Building infrastructure to no apparent purpose won’t generate long-term political support any more than implementing an unaffordable architecture. Destinations focus efforts, allow you to make implementation decisions easier and generate programmatic momentum. The Moon is accessible, useful and reachable, while NEOs and Mars aren’t. Why avoid it?

          • Ed Minchau says:

            It isn’t a matter of avoiding it. I think lunar resources would be a necessary part of that infrastructure. Far from no apparent purpose, it allows you to go anywhere. The L1 station you describe is also part of that infrastructure. Focusing exclusively on one aspect of that infrastructure – just lunar resources or just propellant depots or just an Outernet – misses the big picture. Why mine lunar ice, when it’s easy to make ice in my freezer? because that lunar ice is near the top of the gravity well and can be used as propellant to go other places.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            You just made my point — the Moon is an enabling destination and as such, it needs to be the near-term target for the civil space program. Thus, it is not “a mistake to focus on one target.”

  7. Joe says:

    Interesting alternate history. If I might (as I was an observer of what actually happened also), the key point of diversion between the two “histories” is:

    “The Administrator quickly terminated the far-as-the-eye-could-see series of “road mapping” exercises (recognizing that we were wasting time and money) and put agency personnel on notice that the purpose of this new effort was to fly missions and collect critical information to implement the VSE, not to study it interminably.”

    If O’Keefe had truly done this instead of letting Steidle go on with never ending trade studies of ever widening trade spaces: (1) Development of the Side Mount and the CEV (later named Orion) would have been in work by the time Griffin came in as Administrator and it is unlikely that he would have changed course at that point, (2) the first Side Mount test launches would likely have occurred in 2010 and both the booster and the CEV would have been past their peak yearly development budgets.

    Obama would have undoubtedly wanted to cancel the program anyway, but it would have been more difficult. He would not have been able to use the Augustine Commission tactic to justify it. Augustine would not have been able to put out a report claiming that shuttle derived systems were “unaffordable” under those circumstances.

    The opportunities lost in those first months/years should not be underestimated.

    • Chris Castro says:

      @Joe,….Those are very keen observations! This alternative space history certainly suggests a ready use of the Space Shuttle industrial facilities & its rocket production lines. THIS was the key. Whether they decided to use an Ares 1 to launch the Orion craft, or some other rocket, would NOT have been a stumbling block. Even today, they could use another man-rated launcher for it, if the construction of an entirely new rocket would be too difficult. That portion of the initial Earth Orbit Rendezvous flight plan, could’ve been solved either way.
      I still believe that building the full-up Ares 5 would’ve been the best way to go. But sure, perhaps reviving the older idea of the Side-mount launcher would’ve been more politically expedient: it was more fully Shuttle-derived, could’ve used the exact same launch facilities & production techniques, and——-with the use of a side-mounted launch shroud or cannister——its payload cargo was to’ve gone up unmanned——–something to consider as a plus, keeping in mind some of the extra dangers involved in launching spacecraft this way.
      In short, HOWEVER we ultimately did it, by 2014 the Constellation Project should’ve been far-ahead underway. It should have reached the comparative stage of where Apollo was, circa the beginning of 1967. Even if the first manned lunar sorties hadn’t been flown yet, the flights would’ve been poised to’ve begun soon, most likely before 2020. Depending on just how soon the ISS could’ve been phased out——-perhaps in this alternate time-line, there still would have been the hindering sentiment to keep the ISS going until 2020, but ideally the ISS would get de-orbited & splashed down by about then.

      • Joe says:

        Hi Chris,

        One point to note:
        “Whether they decided to use an Ares 1 to launch the Orion craft, or some other rocket, would NOT have been a stumbling block.”

        You seem to have accepted the idea that the Side Mount could not have been used to launch a crew vehicle (in this case the Orion with its attendant Launch Abort System).

        That is understandable since that myth has found its way all over the internet and even (implicitly only) into the Augustine Commission report.

        But that was not the conclusion reached by the teams of technical people who evaluated the concept. In fact John Shannon’s presentation to the Augustine Commission used a dual launch lunar scenario that specifically included a Side Mount crew launch.

        The Augustine Commission Final Report assumed (a priori) that any lunar mission using the Side Mount would require two Side Mount launches and an additional smaller vehicle launch for the crew. Where they came up with this is subject to speculation, but it did not come from the inputs they received from the actual Subject Matter Experts.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Where they came up with this is subject to speculation,

          I think it was probably from the idea (ultimately derived from the CAIB report) that foam shedding from the ET during launch might damage the crew vehicle. This ignored the fact the Orion wears a boost-protective cover during launch and even if it didn’t, it’s surface would not be made of RCC, as the leading edges of the wings of Columbia were.

          • Joe says:

            Yes, I had heard that.

            Also that an abort could not be done from the Side Mount, but that is contradicted by the Abort Dynamics analysis done in support of the overall review of the Side Mount concept. It showed that the Orion launch Abort System (already under development) would be applicable.

            Either of those objections could have been alleviated by reviewing the supporting material to the presentations the Augustine Commission received.

            Frustrating, isn’t it?

          • Paul Spudis says:

            The Augustine committee was very good at ignoring input that did not support the conclusion they wanted to draw.

          • Malmesbury says:

            The “foam shedding means no sidemount” thing seems to be one of those NASA organisational memes. They seem to start in middle management and become holy writ.

            Other examples include “tethers can’t ever work”, “all vehicles need wings”, “escape systems are actually a bad idea”.

            And yes, the fun (in a very sad kind of way) thing is that these beliefs often get completely reversed. Soyuz was unsafe, then suddenly it became safe (and grand fathered into any future safety reviews).

        • Chris Castro says:

          @Joe,……True, I might be a little biased there, in my thinking about whether or not the Sidemount Shuttle-derived launcher could’ve also sent up the manned Orion craft. The Challenger Disaster certainly made it look as if a side-mounted manned vehicle would be in too much danger, on the starting ascent. I would need to read more about what additional precautions could be worked into the launch plan, for crew safety and possible escape from a bad rocket, to understand this better. But sure, I can admit that if the Sidemount concept could’ve also been used to launch the crew, it would’ve made for a highly flexible & budgetly doable program-plan.

          • billgamesh says:

            Considering the Challenger crew most likely survived the explosion and road it down with no parachutes to go out the hatch with I think the escape tower on the Sidemount crew version was the solution to the problem. On top of the stack would be best but on the side is how it shook out and on the side it should have been. Far better than the hypergolic station keeping masquerading as an escape system found on the hobby rockets.

          • Joe says:

            Chris,

            As to crew safety in the Side Mount configuration, using the Shuttle as a baseline is not a good idea. The Shuttle had no launch abort capability at all.

            As stated above Abort Dynamics analysis done in support of the overall review of the Side Mount concept showed that the Orion launch Abort System (already under development at that time) would work. Unfortunately (to the best of my knowledge) the final Abort Dynamics analysis report has never been uploaded to the internet so I cannot point you to a link. You would therefore have to take my word (or not) as to its results. People I trust who do that sort of thing for a living (it is not really my area of expertise) have reviewed it and agree it is correct.

            In any case, while it is a good idea to look at what would have been possible had better decisions been made in the 2005-2010 timeframe, it is probably not a good idea to expend too much effort to convince you’re self that the Side Mount would have worked.

            Sadly the window of opportunity for the Side Mount to be such a good choice has closed. Too many changes have been made to ground infrastructure, tooling, etc. and a lot of work has already gone into redesigning the external tank for an in-line configuration.

            However, the Block I SLS is essentially using the same components as the SLS and its performance should be slightly better (the in-line tank configuration should be slightly lighter than that for the Side Mount).

            The whole issue of whether or not an abort from the Side Mount would work (even though it would have) goes away because we are now dealing with an in-line booster.

          • Malmesbury says:

            Providing the capsule on the sidemount was high enough – say apex at the same level as the apex of the tank – no physical reason why an escape system wouldn’t have worked just as well as with SLS.

            Foam can’t fly sideways at Mach {something} either….

            As I mentioned above – it is a political meme. After Columbia “Side mount = bad” became Holy Writ.

    • reader says:

      “The Administrator quickly terminated the far-as-the-eye-could-see series of “road mapping” exercises”..

      Alternative version, supported by CE&R studies at the time

      “Administrator quickly understood risks of developing any new launch vehicles and economical nightmare of maintaining HLV and made using or gradually evolving existing ones a requirement for the architecture”

      CEV fly-off by 2008 was the REQUIREMENT for CE&R BAA, manned flights soon after. A future that did not happen.

      • Joe says:

        Another HLV attack you already made one here – reader says: December 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        Rather than answer the same repetitive attacks each time you make them, I would suggest anyone interested read the response at – Paul Spudis says: December 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

        Followed by another assertion that a CEV would have flown by 2008 already made here – reader says: December 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        Rather than answer the same repetitive statements each time you make them, I would suggest anyone interested read the responses at – Paul Spudis says: December 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm and Joe says: December 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm .

  8. billgamesh says:

    Depressing. I was very unhappy about Sidemount not happening and hate revisiting that feeling. But examining the mistakes of the past are how we advance- two steps forward one step back- and we are certainly going backwards right now. We seem to have taken two steps forward with Apollo and then one step back with the shuttle. If we just understand why we have not had a space program since 1972. That is, if you qualify a real space program as human beings leaving the Earth’s gravitational field.

    40 years of nothing and a whole lot more nothing on the way. I am not a Zubrin follower but I did read one of his books where he described how the Chinese Empire decided to burn it’s fleet of superships in 1433 and in so doing threw away world domination. I am more afraid we are sacrificing our existence as a species. We have to get up there before something bad happens down here like an engineered pathogen or impact.

    • China knows its own history and it doesn’t look like their going to make that mistake again!

      Unfortunately, its now the US that has been suffering from the arrogance of its own perceived cultural superiority– after we landed humans on the Moon.

      Our highest economic growth was during the Kennedy and Johnson years. And we’re still living off the fat of that tremendously innovative era when it seemed like we could do almost anything.

      We have to be a nation that is willing to aggressively invest in our scientific and technological future again. And our manned space program should be at the top of such scientific and technological investments, IMO.

      Marcel

    • Chris Castro says:

      @billgamesh,……Agreed. In the long, long run, we humans are going to have to deal with space-faring & exploration in a big way, if humanity is to survive some possible future catastrophe——-even if it is just to survive the ultimate, remote-future death of the Sun, and/or its future projected stellar mutation into an inhospitable Red Giant star. There are still other doomsday scenarios which could happen on much closer time scales, such as supernova explosions, in the stellar vicinity; and the Sun coming into the path of a neutron star or even a black hole star. If some mass extinction calamity would threaten Earth’s habitability or even its very existence, we would definitely need to come up with ways to salvage Earth life, and colonize other worlds, elsewhere.

  9. keithcowing says:

    Well done – and thought provoking. If only ….

  10. Paul –

    Of the major points you essentially make, the one that still makes me hesitate is the assumption – and I think it is that – that resources exported off of the moon, using rockets, automatically are cheaper or more doable than those from Earth. I’ve never seen a business case presented that actually shows that; in fact, I’ve seen the opposite, as for example the one analysis done by SpaceWorks and a Japanese partner several years ago. Has one been done?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Two comments in response. First, I really don’t care if exported resources “pay off” in the near-term. I am looking at lunar return as an engineering R&D effort to understand how difficult it is to access and use off-planet resources. In effect, we are answering the first-order questions of resource states, accessibility, processing difficulty and utilization within the context of a real architecture. In this sense, lunar return is a research effort that (hopefully) leads to lunar industrialization. Second, Gordon Woodcock has done several analyses over the years that show enormous leverage from lunar propellant production. A summary of his work can found in this presentation.

      • billgamesh says:

        Well, Woodcock mentions the possibility of Helium 3 becoming a commercial energy source and I am not a believer in fusion reactors. But he is right about the energy market just like Gerard K. O’Neill was. I am thinking Solar Energy is going to be the predominant lunar industry. We can transmit microwave energy right now while fusion reactors are still……and IMO always will be many years away.

        I am not ant-nuclear by any means though. Yes, lunar propellent is the requirement for a profitable cislunar satellite infrastructure; but outside the magnetosphere nuclear propulsion is IMO required and Woodcock details Mars missions while I do not think Mars is a worthwhile destination (and not practical anyway using chemical propulsion). With nuclear propulsion systems assembled, tested, and launched from the Moon there are much more interesting destinations like Ceres and the moons of the gas giants.

    • in fact, I’ve seen the opposite, as for example the one analysis done by SpaceWorks and a Japanese partner several years ago. Has one been done?

      It is not several years ago. We are currently undergoing a massive revolution in robotics, 3D manufacturing, power, telecommunications….

      The key to off planet resources is to lower the infrastructure cost, and a revolution in this area us underway even as we speak.

  11. gbaikie says:

    -Paul Spudis says:
    December 29, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Let me try to put this another way.

    The current Mars Reference Design Mission calls for “8-10″ Ares V-class heavy lift launches for one human mission. When NASA was still doing this study, a more realistic assessment called for as many as 12 launches. At $1-2 billion per launch, that essentially makes a human Mars mission a complete non-starter.

    Most of the mass (>80%) launched for this mission is propellant. We need to learn how to extract water from the Moon and make propellant from it. This is a government activity because no one knows if it can be done — as I said before, it is an engineering, R&D project. Moreover, there are important national strategic considerations at stake, primarily, to establish the international legal principle that resource extraction is a valid activity. If the U.S. government is not involved in this, it is highly likely that things will not go our way.

    The Mars advocates have always torqued any new civil space initiative toward an “Apollo-to-Mars” type program. My point is that model will not work because there is no geopolitical imperative to go to Mars. There is a geopolitical imperative to protect our satellite assets in cislunar space. Thus, return to the Moon is geopolitically relevant while a human Mars mission is not.-
    [from thread above]

    Rule One for mining lunar rocket fuel.
    The problem is lack of market for rocket fuel at lunar surface and/or lunar orbit.

    Part of solution to rule one is to have it low cost.
    Another part of solution to rule one is get as many customer as you can.

    NASA can help with “to have it low cost” by doing the exploration which is required before
    anyone can mine lunar water.

    If NASA explores the Moon and finds best places to mine lunar water and make rocket.
    Anyone who then spends the capital to mine the water and make the rocket rocket fuel, are not given a free pass to vast riches. If not done well and if not “lucky” it is quite possible to lose billions of dollars and go bankrupt.
    If they were to do it, and after year or two, one is close to being in the black, then
    you can point at them, and say, these guys are going to make billions of dollars. Billions of dollars MORE than they have already spent.

    Or in other words I can’t say at this point whether Virgin Galactic will be profitable.
    It’s unknown.
    But I don’t think having NASA “take over” Virgin Galactic” operation would be clear path to success.
    Instead, I think that would be the death toll. NASA could pour hundreds of millions of dollars in to it, but it’s seems near certainty, it would be a waste of tax dollars. And of course doing this would be in violation of US law.

    So as you know I am big fan of getting to point of making lunar rocket fuel. But only because lunar rocket is potential market in space. And more markets in space, will certainly lower the cost
    of getting into space. And lower the costs of getting into space is EVERYTHING.

    So I hope suborbital can become a market of space. I think lunar water and lunar rocket could be a market in space,
    Without more markets in space, one can not have settlements on Mars. PERIOD.
    It true a Mars settlement would be a kind of market, but that market can’t survive in a vacuum.

    Also lunar exploration should make mars exploration more probable, and with lunar rocket fuel
    it makes sense for NASA to explore Mars- because with lunar rocket fuel market , one could have settlements on Mars. Why NASA explores Mars is because there could Mars settlements in the future. NASA Mars exploration should focused on exploring Mars so that Mars settlements in the future can happen [sooner].
    And no doubt everyone can agree that a Mars Flags and Footprints would very bad thing.
    If some entity other than NASA wants to do a Mars stunt, it’s their money- though quite unlikely to actually happen- getting to Mars alive is hard. And getting to point of being able to make the attempt is also hard.

    I didn’t address all your points, some challenging points. But I have already made this post be long enough. The point of legality is an interesting issue.

  12. billgamesh says:

    “There is a geopolitical imperative to protect our satellite assets in cislunar space.”

    When I think of satellite assets I think geostationary. To marry this imperative national asset with human space exploration is not such a stretch. If the ISS was in geo orbit it would be able to do all things telecommunication but of course the radiation up there above the Van Allen belts from solar events would irradiate a crew sooner or later.

    But the ice on the Moon means radiation shielding in the form of water can be transported from the Moon to Earth geostationary orbit. These shielded human crewed space stations from the Moon could replace the ring of space junk we now have up there.

    And while a spaceship is always the best space station, if you put an engine on these geostationary shielded and crewed telecommunications platforms they are turned into spaceships.

  13. Michael Wright says:

    “Do you think if O’Keefe had stayed on, that it might have made a difference?”

    I remember back then many said, “he’s just a bean counter, we need a engineer [that knows of technical stuff] for NASA Administrator!” Which at first glance makes sense except administrator duties are mainly battling budgeteers and schmoozing politicos for money. I think if Sean were to stay on in NASA, he would have planned programs to better match available funding, i.e. a better understanding of the political process in Washington DC. But then we’re constantly reminded the most successful NASA administrator was a businessman (and backed by engineering talent i.e. Dryden). A lesson for us all.

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