Organizational Whiplash: Why NASA Needs A Change in Direction

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. – C. S. Lewis

NASA’s “Journey to Mars” – Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

NASA’s “Journey to Mars” – Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

Administrator Charles Bolden, seeking to sway future national space policy as we approach a post-Obama NASA, pressed the point that the agency’s current path is just fine and that he doesn’t want anyone interfering with “progress” made under his leadership. A variety of published opinion seconds that narrative, noting that constantly changing the emphasis and direction of a program generally leads to no progress at all.

In order to accept these judgments, one must agree that the general direction and well being of the agency is a positive one. I would argue just the reverse. The complete lack of strategic vision currently extant in our civil space program has led to organizational chaos and inexorable decline. Questions about the lack of clear direction, the articulation of intermediate milestones, and the absence of any roadmap for accomplishment dominate Congressional hearings and inquiries, and the writings of informed observers. Bolden’s complaint about the doleful effects of “shifting gears” for NASA is disingenuous, as a hard-won, bipartisan consensus for strategic direction in civil space was cavalierly discarded in 2010.

Let us pause from these philosophical ponderings for a moment and consider the current status of the American civil space program. The International Space Station is operating at full capacity, even though we must procure our access to it from the Russians. Six years after its initiation, the so-called “Commercial Crew” program has yet to fly a single test article (the crewed Dragon is not the same vehicle as the cargo carrier). Research on the ISS focuses primarily on life and materials science, with little engineering experimentation on deep spaceflight technology being conducted. Such research would be relevant to future NASA activities, but leadership is lacking.

We’re told that the overall strategic direction of NASA is a human mission to Mars, memorably typified by the Internet hashtag #JourneytoMars, carrying with it all the semblance of reality that such a designation implies. There’s been no revision to the Mars Design Reference Mission (current version, DRM 5.0, dated July 2009) or even a vague articulation of general principles for a mission design. That architecture employed elements of unobtainium, such as a nuclear thermal rocket. We’ve had promotion of the “testing ground” concept for deep space human missions in cislunar space, but no concrete mission plans beyond the heavily criticized “Asteroid Redirect Mission” (formerly “Asteroid Retrieval Mission,” but always the ARM), designed to deflect public attention away from the fact that no real plan for human spaceflight beyond LEO exists.

The ARM is cloaked in the façade of “technology development,” with specific reference to the need for development of the solar electric propulsion (SEP) – the current bag of magic beans that allegedly will carry us to Mars. In reality, SEP is already a well-developed technology (the asteroid mission Dawn uses it) and one need not haul a space rock to develop something already in use. In truth, SEP could be employed to transport cargo throughout cislunar space and for use on the Moon. Simply put, the tyranny of the rocket equation rules, so all spaceflight and human missions to Mars require that thousands of tons of mass be sent at high velocities along precisely calculated paths. No technical solution, short of anti-gravity, can cut this Gordian Knot.

But more than simply lacking a means of how to get there, no one has yet to articulate a viable reason for the journey. There are numerous vague assertions that we are searching for martian life or preparing to “place life there” (by colonization), but the first rationale is hardly enough to justify a 50-year, trillion dollar federal program and the latter is sheer fantasy. What will humans on Mars do? Explore? Great, but then what? Public appetites for the new and exciting are easily and quickly satiated. Some long-term benefit is needed to justify the levels of expenditure human Mars missions require. Perhaps there are useful minerals to mine on Mars or some other product of significant financial value, but at the moment, we have no idea if, where, or how they might occur. Colonists must do something with their time, and simply surviving is not enough to justify it as the ultimate goal (although that will be the principal preoccupation of early Mars settlers). Besides, there is the issue of whether “colonization” is an appropriate function of a government-run space program.

Should other NASA activities become the new focus of the agency? Although there is a widespread notion that unmanned (robotic) missions are the “jewel in the crown” of the agency, we are in fact reaching a point of diminishing returns in that arena as well. With the reconnaissance of the Solar System largely complete (we have sent missions to all the planets, including asteroids and comets), the focus of new robotic planetary missions is on answering increasingly detailed – and increasingly arcane – scientific questions. These new generations of spacecraft are both more capable and more expensive. Yet such missions produce information that is much less comprehensible to the taxpaying public. The James Webb Space Telescope – at a cost of almost $10 billion – is likely to be the last of the large space-based astronomical facilities. Monitoring of the Earth’s environment from space is an agency activity that has become increasingly politicized over the past few years, generating much ill will throughout the communities involved. This area is likely to become more, not less, contentious over time. Aeronautics is a minor activity and will continue to be unremarkable, in both budget and accomplishment.

Yet we are being told to “stay the course.”

NASA supporters usually mean this phrase in a relatively restricted sense. They claim that with the Orion and SLS development coming along reasonably well, those programs should be kept funded and on track. Given that the alternatives amount to nothing, it’s not an unreasonable calculus. But both projects need something to do and someplace to go. Given their origins as vehicles designed to enable human flights within cislunar space, this is the logical arena in which to operate. But in this case, the “where” leaves begging the question of the “what?” Besides the ARM, it has been proposed to develop a cislunar “habitat” to be deployed somewhere in the vicinity of the Moon. But what shall we do there? A small habitat in deep space, outside the van Allen radiation belts of the Earth, will be exposed to both galactic cosmic rays and (potentially fatal) coronal mass ejections from the Sun. Such a vehicle will need some type of significant shielding for long-term habitation.

Of course, the obvious answer to the problem of what to do is to return to the surface of the Moon and develop its resources to enable more distant space goals. But under the current regime, it has been decreed that such thinking is not permitted within the agency. (Although there is no formal written policy stating this, my sources attest to its reality nonetheless.) This discouragement of any logical thinking appears to be solely in response to the absurd decree by President Obama in 2010 that there was no need to go to the Moon because “we’ve been there.”

A blatantly misdirected policy program compels us to change course. Why choose to remain idle instead of re-vectoring back to the more promising path? The “Journey to Mars” is a fraud and commercial human spaceflight has yet to take off (and, there is reason to suspect that such endeavor is far distant). So we are left – not simply with nothing, but worse than nothing – a “nothing” that is being marketed as having value and being imminent. The next administration might appoint another “blue-ribbon commission” to review our space program, but the last time that was done, it was a policy disaster. We were on a perfectly acceptable and useful track in the development of human spaceflight eight years ago. We still have the pieces needed to pick up where we left off and head back to the Moon. And there, we will learn how to explore, live and prosper in space using the resources of the Moon.

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57 Responses to Organizational Whiplash: Why NASA Needs A Change in Direction

  1. Joe says:

    An excellent article. A couple of questions given the current state of the political situation.

    Any change in space policy would likely have to be brought about by whoever the new President will be.

    As of now:

    (1) The Democratic frontrunner is Clinton, who the “smart money” says would make Lori Garver her NASA Administrator (not an encouraging sign).

    (2) The Republican frontrunner is Trump who has made several public statements (available on You Tube) extremely hostile to having any space program at all.

    Who among the available candidates (not limited to Clinton/Trump) would make the political situation “less bad”.

    I know some of the New Space types will say “just leave it up to the Elon”, but Musk heavily depends on government largess, so lets talk realistically on this.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Joe,

      You never really know how a given President will treat the space program until they take office. I suspect that your analysis of the frontrunners is accurate (although I think Lori might have trouble being confirmed as NASA Administrator in the Senate). I’ve talked to Ted Cruz’s Senate staffers about the Moon and cislunar development and they were highly encouraging, but I don’t know if he would adopt such an approach as President.

      • Joe says:

        Thanks for the feedback.

        I agree with you (and Marcel below) that Garver might be hard to confirm (at least in the current Senate – who know what the Senate would look like after a Clinton/Trump election), but the policy would be set from the top. If a Garver like policy is what Clinton wants, it could be accomplished by leaving Bolden in place.

        Interesting about your interface with the Cruz staffers, guess we should hope he is not a lost cause in the nomination process like the “talking heads” on the Cable “News” Shows are asserting.

    • Lori Garver’s anti-SLS statements after she resigned from her post at NASA would pretty much make it impossible for her to be confirmed by the Senate.

      Marcel

    • Andrew Swallow says:

      Bernie Sanders may wish Government (NASA) to continue creating jobs by building (space) infrastructure. New Deal politics.

      CCDEV started with $50 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
      http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/feb/HQ_C10-004_Commercia_Crew_Dev.html

      Test to see if he likes the first Jew and/or black on the Moon. (Possibly secretly.)

      • Joe says:

        Not sure how serious your post is intended to be, but the website GISMODO had the following write up on Sanders and Space Policy:

        “Bernie isn’t a space guy. His record on funding NASA is less-than-great, given that he’s consistently voted to decrease space exploration funding since the 1990s. In a Reddit AMA last year, Sanders defended his spotty record, reassuring readers that he generally “supports” funding NASA but had to make “very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none.”

        Bernie’s version of Trump’s potholes.

        Anti Space Politicians are always in favor of space as soon as Utopia has been created “right here at home on Earth where we live”.

        Most of us know how small a percentage of the federal budget space spending comprises and that the argument is a dodge, but it works with some of the general public.

    • c1cl0ps says:

      >(2) The Republican frontrunner is Trump who has made several public statements >(available on You Tube) extremely hostile to having any space program at all.
      Trump has only made the following albeit brief public statement about the space program and it’s clearly supportive: https://youtu.be/mfesVQs95IY

      • Joe says:

        Actually he has made at least two others that are anti space. You can check out one here:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdyVNhPvVMc

        He told a 10 year old we cannot afford a space program anymore because we are no longer a rich country and have potholes to fix.

        There is another where he told another questioner essentially the same thing except he used the word infrastructure instead of potholes.

        That he would contradict himself is hardly surprising.

    • Mark R. Whittington says:

      In any case I am told that Garver may be on the outs with the Clintons who regard her switching over to Obama in 2008 as a betrayal.

  2. The irony, IMO, is that NASA would probably already have a permanent human presence on Mars if NASA had been allowed to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon after the end of the Apollo era. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer money was wasted redundantly circling above the Earth over the past 40 years.

    We’re never going to send humans to Mars until lunar water resources are finally utilized to get us their.

    We still won’t know if humans can successfully live and reproduce on low gravity worlds such as the Moon and Mars until we finally send humans and other animals there for long periods of time.

    But I think its obvious that the Moon is the far more valuable world both strategically and economically. And the nation or nations that control and exploit the Moon will strategically and economically control cis-lunar space– which could lead to a strategic and economic domination of the Earth and the rest of the solar system during the rest of the 21st century.

    Marcel

    • billgamesh says:

      “-NASA would probably already have a permanent human presence on Mars-”

      No reason to believe that and every reason to believe the opposite.

      “We’re never going to send humans to Mars until-”

      Using Mars as an excuse for going back to the Moon is IMO lame and self-defeating.

      “-if humans can successfully live and reproduce on low gravity worlds-”

      I can answer that for you right now with almost 100% certainty: no way.

      We evolved at the bottom of a deep gravity well that also retains an atmosphere that protects us from radiation. These environmental requirements are not negotiable. This was the conclusion of Gerard K. O’Neill in the 70’s and was the genesis of the space colonization movement. There are no natural bodies suitable for habitation in this solar system. Only one moon- Titan- has an atmosphere that provides radiation shielding. Circular “sleeper trains” on these low gravity bodies providing artificial gravity run into serious engineering limitations for any large population.

      Spinning hollow artificial moons constructed from lunar material is by far the optimum solution. Physiology and physics are not going to change to suit NewSpace “entrepreneurs” peddling retirement condos on Mars.

      • Vladislaw says:

        Here is a quote from Kennedy after seeing Nerva

        “11.] Q. Mr. President, after your trip to Los Alamos Laboratory,
        New Mexico, is it your intention to ask for more money to speed up
        Project Rover, or for nuclear propulsion in space?

        THE PRESIDENT. We’re going to let these tests go on, of the reactor.
        These tests should be completed by July. If they are successful,
        then we will put more money into the program, which would involve
        the Nerva and Rift, both the engine and the regular machine.
        We will wait until July, however, to see if these tests are successful.

        It should be understood that the nuclear rocket, even under the most
        favorable circumstances, would not play a role in any first lunar landing.
        This will not come into play until 1970 or ’71. It would be useful for
        further trips to the moon or trips to Mars.

        But we have a good many areas competing for our available space dollars,
        and we have to try to channel it into those programs which will bring us a
        result, first, on our moon landing, and then to consider Mars.”

        Reactor-in-flight-test system (Rift) study

        There was a very brief period when it may have been possible.

        • Joe says:

          A NERVA upper stage would of given Saturn 5 the total delta-V to fly Apollo missions to the lunar poles, which Von Braun (among others) was interested.

          Talk about and alternate future.

        • billgamesh says:

          The Nuclear Thermal Rocket was never a contender- it is hard enough keeping a chemical rocket from melting. With an Isp only twice that of a chemical rocket it was a pathetic attempt at utilizing a reaction over a million times more powerful.

          Stan Ulam understood that such energy could not be contained by any physical material so he did what genius does and simply made it work without being contained. Freeman Dyson validated the concept with his research. A thousand nuclear detonations prove that it works.

          After a half a century Nuclear Pulse Propulsion remains the only practical system. That it is still as politically unacceptable as it was fifty years ago does not change the reality.

          • Ben says:

            An ISP of only twice? (!) Rocket designers deal with the challenges of liquid Hydrogen vs Kerosene just to get a ~28% improvement in ISP. An ISP of 850-1000 is nothing to sneeze at.

            A nuclear thermal rocket has the thrust to weight ratio to be able to launch something from earths surface, and the ISP to make SSTO feasible. Or a much smaller TSTO carry a respectable payload (whatever you consider that to be)

            NTR’s can also be designed so that the exhaust isn’t radioactive. This is a bit harder to accomplish when your vehicle is dropping nuclear bombs out the back end.

            For launch from places where you don’t care about adding some radiation, NPP is certainly impressive.

            It would/will be very difficult politically to get NTR into use. But once the public has seen that NTR don’t seem to be causing the end of the world, perhaps NPP may become more palatable.

          • billgamesh says:

            “An ISP of 850-1000 is nothing to sneeze at.”

            Considering the expense and that Pulse Propulsion typically starts at around an Isp of 10,000 it is not something to sneeze at, it is something to laugh at.
            Not worth the trouble in any way shape or form.

            “-the ISP to make SSTO feasible.”

            No Nuclear Thermal Rocket is going to be launched in the Earth’s atmosphere. Ever.

            “NTR’s can also be designed so that the exhaust isn’t radioactive.”

            Stop making stuff up.

  3. Andrew Swallow says:

    With luck the USA will be landing a probe on the Moon within the first 2 years of the next president’s first term. Since NASA has been cheer leading the development via ‘Lunar CATALYST’ this could bring political attention to Moon landings.

    It would be trivial for Trump to say that returning to the Moon is a sign that America is great again.

    Hillary Clinton may like the first WOMAN on the Moon.

    If the rocket engine being developed under Lunar CATALYST by Masten Space Systems is (or can be) man rated then the Centaur version of the XEUS lander could take people between the DSH and the Moon’s surface.

    Getting the mass of a cabin down to 4-5 tonnes, the maximum return payload of the XEUS Centaur, will be difficult but not impossible.

    • Joe says:

      As I understand it Lunar Catalyst consists of three no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreement (SAA) partnerships with U.S. private sector entities.[

      Yes, “no-funds-exchanged”. That would likely and sadly be just about the only type of space program Clinton/Trump could be counted on to support. Make America Great Again and put the first WOMAN on the Moon by doing exactly nothing.

      • billgamesh says:

        The way to make Hillary the queen of outer space is to push space solar as the only cure for climate change. And it actually is the only cure. Gerard K. O’Neill foresaw this 40 years ago- long before global warming was an issue.

        • Joe says:

          Unfortunately, the Democratic Party Left has already selected its favored “solution” to “cure” Climate Change and it does not include SSP Satellites or any thing else that would increase the standard of living for all.

          Rather it involves reducing the standard of living for most (while increasing their wealth/power of course).

          Trying to get them to even considered an alternative to their “vision” would be a very hard sell.

          • billgamesh says:

            And unfortunately the Republican Party Right has already selected its favored “solution” to “cure” Climate Change and it does not include……even admitting there is such a thing.

            Compared to getting Hillary to commit to SSP just getting the Right to stop spending millions on denial propaganda is a very hard sell indeed.

            You want glass half empty, there you go Joe.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Just to make things clear….

            Nobody denies that “climate change” exists. What is contentious is the existence of human-caused global warming, fed by industrial production of excess CO2. This has become a political argument, not a scientific one.

            And it will not be discussed on my blog. Lots of places on the net to chew this over, so go there to do it.

            End of message.

    • Ben says:

      If you count the Google Lunar X Prize missions as “probes” then it seems likely either the US or Israel will land a probe on the moon within 2 years of the new president. (Their launch contracts are for 2017, so 2 years gives them a reasonable buffer for delays…)

      As I understand it, not exactly a great deal of science payloads, but still perhaps qualifying as a probe/lander.

      I expect that the US winning the GLXP is about equally likely regardless of who becomes president.

  4. Seb says:

    Nice read.

    To be sure, you should probably allow for the off-chance-remote possibility that sending someone to Mars or thereabouts might be possible, but obviously to what highly questionable purpose except pushing the envelope and finding disc0overing somethibg you didn’t know, you didn’t know, and might not even want to know!

    NASA Mars reminds me of some grandiose and frankly quite stupid ‘expemission’ ideas I had and saw through to proudly prove I had grit and wasn’t a quiter, when I way more foolish than I am now. Come hell or high-water I was going to see it through. Unfortunately, like a runaway freight-train it took some time and several demoralizing crashes to ‘wake-up’ and turn my perception of what I perceived as failure into an actually intelligent, mission salvaging and cash-saving course-correction. My point, I course-corrected because it was personal and I’d be/was the only loser. Looking at NASA, from an outsiders 100,000ft view, I’don’t see that. There’s no semblance of urgency, no dire need and no consequential and personal responsibility, accountability, say, liability. It looks like the whole thing has to crash and burn, to a crisp, to be resurected. It’s an extreme view point, admittedly, but this elephant looks so heavily contaminated (parasitized actually) and steadfast in its course, is there any real and better way to be served than by letting it take its course? I mean, if you give this thing patch-work surgery the same players will still be there.

    Just saying.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      You’re not the first one to suggest that perhaps radical solutions are called for.

      • Joe says:

        Interesting article.

        Such an action would be similar to (and for the same purposes as) the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after the intelligence failures leading up to World War II.

        I would only add one change. Instead of a National Space Exploration Administration (NSEA), I would suggest a Cis-Lunar Space Development Administration (CSDA), That would clearly focus the intent of the effort. At such time that it would be successful in its narrowly defined goal it should also be retired.

        The problem is how do you get the political support to enact such a large reform.

        • Seb says:

          What motivates a politician more than fame, kudos, a sure-bet, ratings, ambition, prestige? Or, have I missed some other base quality? Find that thing my friend and you solve the problem. One supposes that if Mr. Trump should happen to us, naming some real-estate after him, like maybe a deep geological fault might do it. But, I’m sure he’d see straight through that, then again maybe not.

          • Joe says:

            We are getting a bit off topic, speculating what might motivate a particular politician; but as to whether or not he would “see straight through that” he seems very susceptible to appeals to his ego (even for a politician).

            After all he bought (his good buddy Vlad) Putin’s bravo sierra.

          • Andrew Swallow says:

            He called his property Trump Tower in New York. I suspect he would be happy to call the first building on the Moon ‘Trump Habitat’.

          • Joe says:

            Andrew,

            If I understand the situation in New York, Trump did not build “Trump Tower”, but only licensed the actual developers to use his name.

            I am sure if anyone ever builds a habitat on the moon and wants to call it “Trump Habitat” he will be happy to let them pay him for the right to use his name.

            But it you look on You Tube you can find at least two occasions where members of his audience asked about a HSF Program as part of “Making America Great Again” and witness the dripping disdain with which he replied (“We got potholes to fix, do you know what potholes are?”)

        • billgamesh says:

          In my view the genesis of the space age was the cold war and for a second to begin it may be necessary to revisit first principles. Due to advances in technology the mutual assured destruction rationale of nuclear deterrence is quickly losing credibility. Bombers were taken off alert (always in the air) decades ago, ICBM silos are now precisely targeted, and missile submarines can no longer hide in the deep ocean (mostly due to the new sea glider underwater drones). Not only is future deterrence doubtful, it is becoming incredibly expensive as the present systems are all in need of replacement or comprehensive overhaul.

          The solution is to base the nuclear arsenals months away in deep space on human-crewed spaceships (space “boomers”). This would take the missiles off hair trigger alert and insure any “first strike” is impossible. The U.S., European,Russian,and Chinese strategic nuclear forces would all deploy and also protect the Earth from asteroid and comet impacts. It would not cost any more than the plethora of hyper-expensive systems now in production, development, or being contemplated.

          Essentially, the “Space Navy” that Dr. Spudis has mentioned previously. And just like nuclear submarines, these ships could take scientist “guests” on board for missions of exploration in concert with their patrols. Forget Mars; Ceres and the ocean moons of the gas giants would be the best destinations.

      • Seb says:

        Ah, ha! I see I suffer from parallel universe dissonance. Better that than going nowhere so long one develops institutional memory loss. 🙂

    • billgamesh says:

      “It looks like the whole thing has to crash and burn, to a crisp, to be resurrected.”

      No. The best model I know of concerning this is GM. The company knew they were headed for bankruptcy and instituted reforms- basically copying the TQM techniques Deming taught the Japanese back in the 1950’s. Unfortunately GM had an institutional creature called the plant manager that for various reasons was very difficult to simply fire and many of these fought the reforms tooth and nail. The plant manager problem was finally solved and quality and efficiency went through the roof – but it was too late to keep the company from going into bankruptcy.

      Many of the same characteristics as NASA. The space agency problem is not process, it is destination. LEO and Mars are dead ends that go nowhere.

  5. Stan Clark says:

    If you can build and sustain a Lunar base then doing the same on Mars is much easier. Due to all the lessons learned.

    • billgamesh says:

      There are not that many lessons to be learned when it comes to making breathable air out of water and recycling waste products for agriculture. All it takes is enough energy and you can pretty much reduce anything to base molecules. Even a small amount of gravity will facilitate settling tanks and industrial processes.

      Nothing about Mars is “much easier.” Everything about the Moon IS easier. There is every reason to go to the Moon and not a single good reason to go to Mars. The emoting sci-fi fan venue from the days of H.G. Wells to the present is the same old carnival sideshow various entities have looked to for a buck or a vote. That NASA continues to pander to this segment indicates serious change is needed. The first step is to educate the public and indefinitely shelve the boots on Mars fantasy.

      If a parallel is needed as an example I give you fusion reactor research. Quite probably the biggest scam in the history of science. This nefarious faction of academia has marketed putting a little sun in a box as the next big thing for decades. Besides generating quite a bit of covert data on nuclear weapons it has accomplished almost nothing and probably never will.

      • Ben says:

        Its perfectly possible that 1/3g is much better for humans than 1/6g.

        Now that possibility is likely/probably offset by other benefits of a moon base vs a mars base…

        Of course it may be easier to set up a rotating habitat to provide >1/3g using lunar ISRU that sending a base to mars. I don’t know enough to answer that. (or even be sure it’s the right question to ask)

    • Grand Lunar says:

      It’s not a matter of making things easier to do ON Mars, but rather in how to GET to Mars.

      Actually, it makes it easier to go anywhere, because in terms of delta-V, once at the Moon, you’ve already expended a great deal of energy. Just getting to LEO puts you halfway to anywhere in such terms as well.

      Where it really counts is that we don’t have to haul tons of materials (propellants, consumables, etc), from Earth’s gravity well.
      Instead, we get it all from the Moon and set forth on our happy way.

      Best of all, we don’t necessarily need nuclear rockets either.

    • Stan Clark says:

      Anchoring a drill to the Moon to dig holes is much harder at only 1/6 G. Mars with 1/3G is easier. Vacuum on the Moon, Mars has an atmosphere, not much of one but still much more than the Moon. Solar radiation on the Moon is much higher than on Mars. Overcoming these problems will enable you to do the same on Mars. These are not the only problems to be overcome but building a Lunar base will tell you how to do it and what you need for it to succeed. So that when you do go to Mars most of the practical problem will be ironed out. Make me a crane that will work on the Moon and it will work on Mars with very few changes. And then there is the problem of Logistics, what do you need and how much, it would be nice to find out this before going the distance to Mars and then finding out you didn’t bring enough of something. I’m talking about the practical building of an occupied base.

      • billgamesh says:

        More solar energy on the Moon is a problem?

        “So that when you do go to Mars-”

        Why go to Mars?

        That is the question nobody has an answer to.

        If you think it is an appropriate second home for humankind you need to stop guzzling the NewSpace kool-aid.

        It is fairly obvious why we need to go to the Moon: the ice for radiation shielding and fuel to effect a cislunar infrastructure. But Mars?

        Mars is a dead end.

  6. billgamesh says:

    After watching this downhill slide into mediocrity for years I have to say in regards to space there is no truer maxim than “truth is stranger than fiction.”

    There are a short list of guiding principles concerning space exploration that are simply ignored in a bizarro manifestation of collective cognitive dissonance. They are simple truths that for whatever reasons- be they political or ideological or vested interests in some scam- are not acknowledged by the powers that be and completely denied by those who have vested interests in quite different agendas. Here we go:

    1. Radiation is square one. Beyond Low Earth Orbit a sustained human presence requires massive radiation shielding. Eugene Parker spelled this out clearly in language the public could understand in 2006. There is no dancing around the minimum of something like a thousand tons of water to shield a small spaceship crew. The NewSpace and Mars zealots go into automatic denial mode over this. They blather every kind of nonsense imaginable to obfuscate on this issue.

    2. There is only one practical propulsion system for pushing such massively shielded constructs around the solar system- as spelled out by Freeman Dyson half a century ago- Nuclear Pulse Propulsion using atomic bombs. The eye-roll factor on this one is an order of magnitude greater than 1000 ton radiation shields. Like the space radiation elephant in the room, pulse propulsion is simply verboten in any serious discussion because…..it is. Yet it remains and will remain the only solution to Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit for the foreseeable future. And it is incidentally the ideal method of lifting millions of tons off the surface of the Moon.

    3. A simple infographic (on page 23 http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbiac/Lunar_resources_review_preprint_accepted_manuscript.pdf) depicting the depths of the Earth and Lunar gravity wells shows that bringing water up out of Earth’s gravity well is a non-starter while the Moon is absolutely and without question (as spelled out by the work of Paul Spudis) the very best place to go to get that radiation shielding. Such a graphic representation (which I have cited a couple times in comments here) also clearly shows that LEO is not really space. It is halfway to nowhere despite NewSpace hype. The true boundary of outer space is Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) and this domain is also where the over 100 billion dollars in satellite revenues are to be had.

    I could go on but these three, which form what I call the Parker-Dyson-Spudis continuum, are enough to show how divorced from reality we are as a civilization concerning space flight.

    • Seb says:

      The truth is an aside, possibly not even of any importance, less it comes with a good story. That’s why we hold onto artificial constructs in the face of a reality that opposes it. Thinking for yourself or putting one’s brain into a higher gear takes effort, for some it’s simply overwhelmingly uncomfortable even though deep down we know that’s the only way we seriously progress. Case in point: my lower brain keeps having flashbacks of the Martian: great story, not true, but I can live with it. I suspect that if Hollywood makes merely another Mars movie, or two, Moon aspirations could be sunk.

      • Paul Spudis says:

        I suspect that if Hollywood makes merely another Mars movie, or two, Moon aspirations could be sunk.

        They’ve been making them for over 50 years and we’re no closer to Mars now than we ever have been.

        Aspirations never sink — some simply abandon them.

        • Seb says:

          Yes, but that was THE MARTIAN and NASA was involved, talking bar-raising real-life scientists and engineers. Anyway, Mars, it’s such a much nicer story, why would anyone want to ruin it (wink). My guess, at least two fundamental things must happen:
          – A good, correction, a great and better, say kick-ass, Moon story needs to be crafted
          – Swapping people with mere PhDs for some that also have pH-Meters

      • Mark R. Whittington says:

        Andy Weir’s next book will be set at a lunar settlement.

  7. billgamesh says:

    “Of course, the obvious answer to the problem of what to do is to return to the surface of the Moon and develop its resources to enable more distant space goals.”

    I have cited Gerard K. O’Neill many times in comments on this blog and when discussing “distant space goals” there is in my view no one else to turn to for guidance. He was the prophet of space colonization whose vision was astounding in it’s clarity and practicality. Very few people would even recognize his name now though most can tell you all about a certain hobby rocket entrepreneur who wants to live on Mars. O’Neill believed the human race could expand into the solar system by fabricating artificial worlds using lunar resources. He understood there had to be some economic engine to effect the move and chose the energy industry as the vehicle for human migration into space. Circumstances involving concern over the environment at this moment in history present an opportunity to embrace O’Neill’s vision. It may be now or never.

    It is difficult for me to put into words the profound disappointment and hopelessness I feel about the present situation. How far the mighty have fallen and how low can we go? The NewSpace movement has done inestimable damage to the cause of space exploration and the worst is yet to come. The next administration will decide whether I see human beings leave Earth again in the quarter century left of my lifespan. Space advocates will very quickly read the writing on the wall and so within a few months know to a high degree of certainty if humankind is to stay trapped going in circles for more decades to come.

  8. Grand Lunar says:

    Great message provided here.

    The key, I believe, is to get this message out to the public. I.E, to catch its attention, just as people have had their attention grabbed by the current P.R that is being done for Mars missions and commercial spaceflight.

    It may seem gimmicky, but it may be what’s needed to inform people that there is a better way forward than what we’re doing now.

    We’ve already seen how popular “The Case for Mars” became.
    Let’s see if we can make the case for the Moon.

    • billgamesh says:

      Zubrin did more harm than good with his Mars obsession. He essentially promised to do the impossible on the cheap and does not have much credibility left since nothing he proposed has come about.

      However, I have to hand him the award for best historical example for his citing the Chinese supership fleet as an analogy of our space program. This single chapter directly affected my worldview, or rather my view of space. Thanks Bob. But concerning the dead end that is Mars, no thanks.

  9. Here’s a very interesting link from Forbes on this subject:

    What If NASA Had Continued Its Lunar Program?

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/04/21/what-if-nasa-had-continued-its-lunar-program/#238846693edd

    • billgamesh says:

      Something far more interesting.

      http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/senate-appropriators-approve-19-3-billion-for-nasa-for-fy2017

      “SLS does very well. It is being built in Alabama, the home state of Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the CJS subcommittee. The committee approved $2.150 billion, an increase of $150 million over FY2016. Of that amount, $300 million is designated for EUS. Alternately called the Exploration Upper Stage or Enhanced Upper Stage, it is needed for SLS flights that will launch crews aboard the Orion spacecraft. The first SLS mission, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will be a test of an unoccupied Orion and the EUS is not needed for that. The second mission, EM-2, will carry a crew, but NASA has been planning to use an interim upper stage (Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage) for that mission and then build the EUS for EM-3 and beyond. EUS advocates argue that spending money to human-rate the interim stage for one mission is wasteful. They want to get EUS ready for EM-2 and so far Congress has agreed. The Senate committee also added a small amount of money ($30 million) for Orion compared to current spending, a total of $1.3 billion.

      The commercial crew program, for years the source of strong debate between the Administration and Congress, seems to have turned a page. The committee approved $1,184.8 million, slightly less than current spending, but in this case it is a planned reduction since the program has passed its peak funding phase.”

      The LEO taxi’s will become operational just in time to take the last crews to shut down the space station to nowhere. What a waste.

      • Vladislaw says:

        Unless Shelby sees the writing on the wall. Clinton gets elected, Garver becomes NASA Administrator. A panel is selected to look at SLS. NON space state congressional members refuse to fund SLS/Orion ani longer and it gets cancled. NASA starts buying lift to space on a fixed price from commercial providers.

        • Joe says:

          That’s an awful lot of what if’s.

          Here are a few others possibilities:

          (1) Shelby maintains his position.
          (2) The new President (whoever they may be) selects a competent NASA Administrator.
          (3) The coalition in Congress (that includes NON space state congressional members – got to love those all caps) holds together, as it has for about six years now.
          (4) NASA starts using the SLS for lunar development.

          Those are just as possible as yours and I like them better.

  10. billgamesh says:

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/04/new-nasa-budget-eats-the-seed-corn-of-its-journey-to-mars/

    This is exactly why I despise NewSpace and consider it the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration. Berger has taken so many things out of context in this article he makes a mockery of journalistic integrity. Disgusting.

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add, for those less familiar with the ideological war being fought over the direction of the space program, that death-to-SLS articles are coming out almost daily now. The SLS is the single most direct threat to the NewSpace LEO agenda; going direct to the Moon with a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle dumps the whole hobby rocket/LEO taxi/fuel depot business plan in the trashcan. Musk cannot distract his worshipers with Mars if the reality is the Moon.

      The NewSpace shills will use any excuse to contrive pages of every imaginable line of false logic to criticize the SLS. This goes along with their basic approach of sucking up every single NASA taxpayer dollar they can to support their flagship company while simultaneously damning the space agency and calling for it to be dismantled.

  11. billgamesh says:

    “-both projects need something to do and someplace to go. Given their origins as vehicles designed to enable human flights within cislunar space, this is the logical arena in which to operate. But in this case, the “where” leaves begging the question of the “what?” Besides the ARM, it has been proposed to develop a cislunar “habitat” to be deployed somewhere in the vicinity of the Moon. But what shall we do there?”

    The wet workshop (Skylab was a “dry workshop) concept and robot lander concepts provide the answer to the “what?”

    By abandoning the dead ends of LEO and Mars and redirecting that funding into a lunar return robot landers and empty upper stages can be placed in lunar polar “frozen” orbits. The landers, whose engines can also be used to insert the stages into orbit, can be used to shuttle water and volatiles from the ice deposits to orbit. The SLS can fly 6 to 8 times a year for the same cost as the shuttle program.

    The workshops, partially filled with hundreds and eventually thousands of tons of water, attached to each other with tether systems, would provide a one gravity near sea level radiation environment. With no exposure or debilitation concerns these true space stations would provide sanctuaries Beyond Earth Orbit where the real work of building a cislunar infrastructure can begin.

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