“Pioneering Space” – Really?

1pi·o·neer  noun\ˌpī-ə-ˈnir\ : someone who is one of the first people to move to and live in a new area – Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary

A pioneer homesteader.  They came to stay, not to visit.

A pioneer homesteader. They came to stay, not to visit.

In Pioneering Space (the latest report released by NASA), much is made over the use of the word “pioneer.” Apparently, we are no longer exploring space – we are pioneering. This new term is discussed in detail within the pages of this brief document, carefully distinguishing how pioneering differs from simply exploring. In short, according to the agency, to pioneer means to go somewhere with an intent to stay there. It implies permanence and presence. This verbiage is directed toward their plans for human missions, as part of a “pathway to Mars,” but they make much of near-term activities in “cislunar space,” by which they mean the “vicinity” – not the surface – of the Moon.

With a cursory read, the new report seems to say the right words and terms – permanent, Earth-independent, expanding human presence. It claims the new path is “incremental” and “sustainable.” They roll out what they call an “Evolvable Mars Campaign,” laying great stock in each of those three carefully chosen words – it is “evolvable” because new technologies will be gradually introduced as they become available. It is focused on “Mars” as the “ultimate goal,” repeating the pattern of the last 50 years of space policy. And it is a “campaign” – less a new spaceflight program than a series of independent missions that connect thematically to the long-range “ultimate objective.”

After this rhetoric is absorbed, one must ask: Is what they have planned really congruent to what is claimed in the prefacing remarks of this document? A key insight of the early statements is that as spacefarers, we should be moving in the direction of permanence and incrementally expanding our presence. I completely agree with this attitude and have advocated exactly such an ethic on this blog and elsewhere for decades. However, the specific activities outlined in the remainder of the document seem to disconnect with this (laudable) set of goals laid down at the outset.

Rather than “cutting the cord” with Earth and permitting permanent presence, human missions to “cislunar” (as they define it) entail repetitious one-off trips using disposable spacecraft to set regions in free space (for periods of up to a few days or couple of weeks). Every mission is entirely self-contained, with launch of all equipment and consumables from Earth’s surface. No permanent assets are emplaced; each mission will carry its own spacecraft, which will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a scenario straight from the Apollo template. No planetary destinations are visited or studied; spacecraft are put into “DRO” (distant, retrograde orbit – the new buzz term this report offers up). Oh, by the way, that DRO is around the object-that-cannot-be-named and the Orion will rendezvous with pre-emplaced targets, in the case of the ARM, a previously captured piece of rock.

There are no plans to develop and use any indigenous resources of space, except for the sunlight that will generate power from the solar arrays of the Orion spacecraft. Despite the fact that we will orbit an object that possesses billions of tons of water, no attempt will be made to harvest and use that resource. It is possible that the asteroid brought back into DRO might contain water, but there is no description of any type of water extraction experiment to be done during the ARM, nor will the Orion spacecraft have the facilities to conduct such experimentation. As near as I can tell from the document, the primary value of these missions is to give the crew “deep space exposure,” which in this instance involves the same micro-gravity environment currently experienced on the ISS, with the added bonus feature of greater exposure to (and risk from) both energetic solar particle events and cosmic rays from deep space.

In brief, this new “pathway” is the very antithesis of space permanence and Earth-independence. And the conundrum we find ourselves in is entirely the result of the agency’s dogmatic, categorical and incomprehensible refusal to consider the value of lunar surface missions as a necessary part of any program to develop the capability for interplanetary human spaceflight. Nothing about the plan outlined in Pioneering Space is “permanent” – no long-term infrastructure of space-based assets is established by these flights. Each mission is a self-contained one-off “stunt” that leaves no lasting legacy to build on. It does not “evolve” because each mission essentially repeats all the steps of the mission before it, orbiting the object-that-cannot-be-named in differing places for varying times, but accomplishing very little. Every gram of air, water and rocket fuel must be dragged up from the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, the deepest one of all the inner planets. This is not “Earth-independence.”

What would a genuine evolving and capable program look like? We would establish expanding spheres of human “reach” and operational experience. The program would proceed in increments, gradually but continuously expanding our theater of operations. Emphasis would be placed on developing human-tended staging and transfer nodes at increasing distances from Earth, starting possibly at GEO but extending later to the Earth-Moon L-points, low lunar orbit and the lunar surface. We would begin to assess the nature of the water resources of the lunar poles and experiment with their extraction, processing and use, both on the Moon and in cislunar space. We would launch vehicles and equipment designed to be based permanently in space, so that they are always available and will not have to be discarded and then re-launched from Earth after each mission. And most importantly, we would re-supply our travels from the material and energy resources that we now know to be abundant in cislunar space, most especially, the enabling asset of lunar water and its myriad uses.

If we desire to “pioneer” the space frontier, there are certain skills we must master. Settlers in the American west had to know how to clear land, hunt and fish for food, build shelter, develop clean and reliable water delivery, and establish presence by homesteading on the frontier. In a similar manner, space pioneers have skills to learn. We must learn how to supply ourselves from what’s locally available. We must learn to cope with the harsh environments of both interplanetary space and the surfaces of alien worlds. We must learn how to build redundant, fault-tolerant and repairable systems capable of long-duration operation. And we must assemble this constellation of different systems in an incremental, affordable and capable manner.

Challenging indeed.  But that’s what a pioneer understands their job to be and what they set out to do.  From the verb:

  1. pi·o·neered, pi·o·neer·ing: to open up (an area) or prepare (a way); rockets that pioneered outer space; to settle (a region). – The Free Dictionary
This entry was posted in Lunar development, space policy, space technology, Space transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to “Pioneering Space” – Really?

  1. A_M_Swallow says:

    So this ‘Pioneering’ is actually exploration by a new name. Worse the proposed exploration techniques are out of date.

    On Earth explorers frequently ‘lived off the land’. Rather than carry heavy items explorers killed local animals for food and drank water from local streams.

    As shown in the photograph pioneers built their homes with wood and stone found nearby. They farmed and mined the land.

    I suspect the committees that write this type of report need a few survivalists adding – survivalists and farmers will recognise InSitu Resource Utilisation (ISRU) for what it is.

    We are close to the point at which a reusable mini spacestation costs less than an Orion. Such a spacestation in LEO can act as a gateway permitting astronauts and cargo to transfer from launch vehicles to deep spacecraft. Launch vehicles and their capsules have to be designed to handle the Earth’s atmosphere – this results in them having weird shapes and heavy items like heat shields that are not needed in space.

    This report is definitely a missed opportunity.

    Is there a report or paper that describes a pioneering architecture based on ISRU?
    The next president or two will want his own report and committees find copying much easier than inventing. The originality of committees is normally saying the same thing as the last report in their own words.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Is there a report or paper that describes a pioneering architecture based on ISRU?

      If you will forgive a bit of shameless self-promotion, our resources-based lunar architecture describes exactly that.

      • Dr. Spudis, thanks for continuing to have the courage to tell the truth about the current administration’s lack of a real pioneering space program!

        In fact, I was rather shocked that the current administration even had the nerve to call what they’re proposing for NASA’s human space program “pioneering”.

        Although I think NASA’s human space program is currently underfunded by about $3 to 5 billion a year, the approximately $8 billion they’re currently spending on human space flight related efforts still isn’t exactly chump change: that’s about $200 billion over the next 25 years!

        And I seriously believe that $200 billion is still enough to establish permanent outpost on the surface of the Moon and Mars while also deploying artificial gravity habitats at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.

        But this can only happen by prioritizing the gradual development and deployment of a reusable space architecture that can utilize extraterrestrial water and regolith resources– first on the Moon– and eventually on the moons of Mars and on the surface of Mars.

        The utilization of extraterrestrial resources is the fastest and the cheapest way to deploy permanent outpost on the Moon and on Mars while also giving NASA and the emerging private commercial space industry easy and affordable access to the surface of the Moon and Mars over the next 25 years.


      • A_M_Swallow says:

        I was hoping that there would be a document like that available.

        Now a way to ensure that the next few committees get copies to read and rip off.

        • Joe says:

          Nice idea, but remember; as long as the people at the top of the “food chain” don’t want to hear it nobody appointed to such a board is likely to say it.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            We may have a president who want to mine or farm space.

            The rocket men in NASA may want some payloads for their launch vehicles and transfer vehicles. Settlers and ISRU equipment would fill this desire perfectly.

          • Joe says:

            “We may have a president who want to mine or farm space.”

            We may have someday, but we certainly do not have one now and sadly none appears anywhere on the current horizon.

            Maybe if we keep pushing the concepts, it will someday make a productive connection.

            Here is hoping.

  2. Jules B says:

    One really has to questions why NASA and Charlie Bolden issued their pioneering paper a week before the issuance of the NRC Pathways to Exploration report
    that came out yesterday. Talk about screwed up timing and process…

    The NRC is very clear in recommending a “pathways approach” to human space exploration: a specific sequence of intermediate accomplishments and destinations normally of increasing difficulty and complexity leading to an ultimate (horizon) goal and specifically cites the importance of lunar landings and utilization and faults the Administration and NASA for not having included these.

    NASA needs to go back to work on a new plan.

    • billgamesh says:

      The NRC report does specify the path without lunar landings to be a higher risk. Unfortunately the report also states all paths converge on Mars. Forget Mars.

      The “pathway” laid out is severely limited. It mentions nuclear propulsion except in the wrong forms that are not much of an improvement over chemical propulsion. It also mentions how “important” the ISS is. Forget the ISS.

      I disagree with just about everything in the report. What is needed is a permanent base on the Moon near the ice. The SLS needs to be funded for the same flight schedule as the shuttle in it’s best year. And we need a lander. That is how to start.

      Along with placing empty upper stages in lunar holding orbit that is the only plan that makes any sense at all. The report is a huge mistake and the public does not have a clue how little the billions that will be thrown at Mars will actually accomplish.

      I honestly believe the radiation and zero gravity is a showstopper. Which means the entire plan to “converge on Mars” is a non-starter. What a waste of time and money.

      The true spaceships that can explore the solar system are down the road. First we have to build factories on the Moon. Not a single word about this is to be found in the report.

    • Robert Clark says:

      Yes, here’s how Nasaspaceflight.com describes this National Research Council report:

      NRC Pathway approach to Mars includes Lunar landings, Chinese alliance.
      June 4, 2014 by Chris Bergin
      “Overall, the “Stepping Stones” approach noted by the NRC, which stressed it was not tasked with recommending policy, is close to NASA’s current plan – which currently involves staged exploration of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) as a proving ground for the technology required for human transit to Mars.
      “However, the NRC panel believe there are “compelling technical reasons for including the lunar surface as a stepping stone.”
      “This is deeply at odds with the current NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, who claims a political decision to return lunar surface sorties to the roadmap would effectively end all hope of human missions to Mars by the 2030s.”

      Also a little surprising in this article is that Chris Bergin who almost never criticizes NASA policy subtly puts in a dig at their current approach towards Mars by saying Charles Bolden’s disparagement of returning to the Moon first was directed by “his paymasters.”

      The only reason for the perception we can’t return to Moon is the idea developing a lander would be too expensive. But you need a lander anyway to land on Mars, and by developing a lunar lander you also get that Mars lander. And if you break your mindset out of the box that the lunar lander has to look like the $10 billion Altair you grasp the lander can actually be developed at over a hundred times cheaper than that.

      So this self-imposed limitation on their thinking is making it that we can’t get to Mars either.

      Bob Clark

      • billgamesh says:

        “The only reason for the perception we can’t return to Moon is the idea developing a lander would be too expensive.”

        Bolden might have said 10 billion but Altair would not cost anywhere near that. And landing on Mars with .38 Earth gravity is quite a bit different than landing on the Moon with .17 Earth gravity.

        A hundred times cheaper? And Musk is going to get space station vacation tickets down to 500 dollars a pound?

        “The only reason” is political. And votes change those reasons. The best example I can think of offhand is the F-22 fighter. At about a quarter billion each both candidates in the 2008 election pledged to end the program. Criticism of the F-22 brought about a real world result and criticism of the space program can do the same.

        I don’t know anything about George Santayana except his quote:
        “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

        It’s a good quote. If we look at the end of Apollo we see the problem as the same one we are facing now close to half a century later; where do we go? We did not invest in lunar prospecting then so we could only guess there were lunar ice deposits. If we had known for sure then the problem of shielding human beings from space radiation above Low Earth Orbit would have had a solution; the water on the Moon. The answer to the question of where to go would be first to the Moon for shielding and then back to Earth geostationary orbit. Instead of a satellite junkyard we would have spinning water filled space stations assembled first in lunar orbit from wet workshops and then boosted back to Earth orbit.

        Instead we went cheap on a less powerful launch vehicle and settled for a useless and needlessly expensive collection of tin cans and solar panels going in endless circles. When will we stop repeating history? The next election is the next opportunity.

      • Robert Clark says:

        That NasaSpaceFlight.com article by Chris Bergin mentions that the NRC considered that NASA’s plan of getting to Mars via the asteroid return mission as a stepping-stone might work. However, actually the NRC considers it a bad idea, with plans going to the Moon first being preferred:

        NASA could not deliver humans to Mars, says new strategy report.
        Published time: June 05, 2014 02:39
        [i]Landing humans on Mars is unattainable for NASA if the space agency’s current strategy and level of funding are not modified in the near future, according to a new congressionally-mandated report.

        Of the three pathways to Mars that NRC suggested, two were associated with a return to the moon. A lunar landing and habitat would hone technologies that could later be employed on a Mars mission, the report said.
        The Obama administration has publicly expressed distaste for continued, expensive moon landings. In outlining US space policy in 2010, President Barack Obama said, “I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.”
        The third option outlined by the report includes the Asteroid Redirect Mission, a plan still in the study phase but currently endorsed by the Obama administration.
        Such a mission would send robotic spacecraft to essentially grab and re-orbit an asteroid passing near Earth, allowing astronauts to take samples of the rock.
        That mission, though, is not preferred by authors of the report. Safety issues and development of “dead end” technologies render the asteroid mission inferior if NASA wants to reach Mars, it said.
        The asteroid option “cannot provide the flight frequency required to maintain competence and safety,” the report posits.[/i]

        Bob Clark

        • billgamesh says:

          “National leadership and a sustained consensus on the vision and goals are essential to the success of a human space exploration program that extends beyond LEO. Frequent changes in the goals for U.S. human space exploration waste resources and impede progress. The instability of goals for the U.S. program in human spaceflight beyond LEO threatens our
          nation’s appeal and suitability as an international partner.”

          The report states unequivocally we cannot go beyond cislunar space with the present budget ceiling. Actually we cannot effectively establish a human presence even in cislunar space. LEO should be categorically branded as “been there” instead of the Moon considering all the ISS does is go in circles at very high altitude. It does not have any commercial role in the telecomm arena.

          As Neil DeGrasse Tyson has stated the entire 50 year budget of NASA is spent by the DOD in two years. The doubling of the NASA budget that Tyson advocates is not going to happen with donations by “international partners.”

          We need leadership, goals, and money. A regime change is on the horizon but as a goal Mars is pathetic and the money is not going to magically appear by way of a sudden public zeal for space exploration.

          I strongly believe the goals are connected with the money and are right in front of our noses. In the commercial sector we have the possibility of GEO space stations as a replacement for the satellite junkyard. In the military sector we have planetary protection and the possibility of moving the entire nuclear arsenal into deep space. In the way of the public interest and international funding is the long term project of space solar power which is also the solution to what is turning into a global energy and environmental emergency.

          But all we can propose is struggling to come up with the nickel and dimes to visit a faraway planet that has nothing to offer? What is that going to accomplish? Our Moon is the key to future space exploration and improving life on Earth.

          • Robert Clark says:

            Billgamesh, I just saw this mentioned on Parabolicarc.com :

            Manned Mission to Largest Known Asteroid Designed
            Sending people to Ceres is no harder than sending them to Mars, study says.
            Charles Q. Choi
            National Geographic
            PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 18, 2013

            It proposes using nuclear propulsion to keep the flight times down to 270 days, 9 months, each way.
            I do want to go to Ceres. However, I wanted to follow a step-wise approach to expanding out into the solar system. Just as setting up propellant stations on the Moon will help with missions to Mars, so also would propellant stations on Mars help with missions to Ceres.
            Then we could use propellant stations on Ceres to expand out to Jupiter.

            Bob Clark

  3. Joe says:

    Sad, but predictable.

    If anyone working for NASA, put out a formal report advocating lunar return as of now one of two things would happen:
    (1) If a Contractor, they would be out of a job.
    (2) If a Civil Servant, they would find themselves in a box on an Organization Chart with no lines going into or coming out of it.

    • billgamesh says:

      It is a mystery to me; we seem to be ignoring our basic nature as physical beings. We evolved on Earth and yet we talk about going to other environments as if we can leave the very material of our bodies behind. It is such a fundamental error I cannot……. put it into words. I should quit being interested in space; it seems we are too stupid to go there.

      First is radiation. The space community completely refuses to face the problem of the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic radiation as explained by Eugene Parker. Or rather, they refuse to accept the only solution because it means using a form of propulsion that is politically unacceptable (bombs).

      Second is gravity. Gerard K. O’Neill asked the question, “are planets really the best places to live?” Children who are born and grow up in a low gravity environment will suffer for it. Does anyone doubt this? Again, we find the solution unacceptable due to the scale and expense involved in creating artificial gravity environments.

      Third is energy. Civilization runs on fossil fuels for the most part and growing food with it is essential to sustaining our population. Sunlight creates food. Solar energy is plentiful in Earth and Lunar orbit and becomes less so every million miles farther away from the sun. This is obvious yet ignored. Away from the sun life depends on nuclear reactors.

      The entire focus of our space program is now on a cold dead dim rock that seems “just close enough.” It is going cheap in the worst possible way. We have learned all our lessons yet we continue to deny the obvious path because we are refused the money to pursue a worthwhile goal. We will not even speak of a worthwhile goal because of the mocking and self-righteous indignation that will result.

      There is no place in this solar system for human beings to live except Earth. To live in space we have to build artificial worlds. The only place to do that is the Moon. The only place we can travel to and build the spaceships to explore the solar system is the Moon. Planetary protection is DOD funding to build these ships. And there is only one industry that can generate the profit to make all this possible; beaming down energy from space to replace fossil fuels and run civilization on Earth. The only place to build those Earth orbit power stations is the Moon.

      Until we seriously discuss trillions of dollars in funding it is hopeless. The saddest part of all is those trillions would change the world and change history by solving the worlds energy problems and starting a new space age.

      • Joe says:

        I understand that you have a very precise way you believe future space development should happen.

        So do I. While mine is not identical to yours, I am equally unhappy with the way things are going.

        Just do not let my cynicism depress you further.

        It used to depress me, but I seem to have gotten over it. Now it just irritates and even sometimes amuses me.

    • Robert Clark says:

      Lol! Unfortunately all government bureaucracies work the same, even NASA.

      Bob Clark

      • billgamesh says:

        If I have to choose between the profit driven autocracy of a corporation and the politically driven bureaucracy of a democracy then I will have to go with our representative democracy. I have some small power to change a bureaucracy by communicating with my representative and my vote while the only power I have to change a corporation is to not buy their products or stock. The profit to be made off space is through first a more capable telecommunication infrastructure and second space solar energy. It is about unlimited cheap connectivity and unlimited cheap electricity. Beaming power down from space is also about eventual cheap lift into space through beam propulsion.

        We can communicate our desire and vote or we can wait on investors and the magic of capitalism to make it happen. Considering how little private space has accomplished I will go with tasking our space agency.

        • Joe says:

          Robert and Billgamesh,

          My original comment was aimed at all bureaucracies’ government or otherwise. Once the “Boss” has made up his mind the workers better get in line.

          Our current President made up his mind that the Moon was off limits (apparently for no other reason than “Buzz has already been there” – and of course that the existing Lunar Program was initiated by his predecessor). Until that “policy” changes at the top nobody working for NASA is going to put out formal reports trying to change that. That may be wrong, but that is just the way it is.

          Given Elon Musk’s says he wants to build a colony on Mars, does anybody seriously believe that any SpaceX employee is going too publicly (or even privately in front of Musk) advocate a Lunar Program as a more urgent goal.

          • billgamesh says:

            “GTESS: Geostationary Telecomm Earth Space Station-Fully operational torus inserted into Earth orbit to replace satellite network and de-orbit space junk with lasers. -commercial profit generator.”

            Perhaps the way around prohibition is to have the next President proclaim geostationary orbit as the next place to go; to clean up the space junk and have semi-permanent human crewed space stations in GEO. It would seem the logical replacement for the ISS. Going from 250 miles to 24,000 miles and taking over the entire telecommunications satellite network.

            My reasoning is this; to survive the worst possible solar event then heavy shielding will be required. This shielding will generate secondary radiation from the heavy nuclei component of GCR. So the maximum mass of shielding will be required. Since this shielding will not only make electronic assets invulnerable to damage and permit humans to correct malfunctions the advantages over the current mess will be obvious. The shielding will also be used to sustain the crew in a closed loop ecosystem and reduce support needs from Earth. The larger the space stations the more independent and capable they become and very large amounts of water will be how this is done.

            In this way the Moon becomes a necessity and a “secondary” focus. We cannot lift thousands of tons of dumb shielding out of Earth’s gravity economically but the Moon is a different story. If water mining is done telerobotically from lunar orbit then humans landing on the Moon is not required…..immediately. So filling up wet workshops in lunar orbit for assembly into true GEO space stations will re-establish a lunar program.

            After that it will only be a short period before “been there” becomes “go there” and a permanent lunar colony becomes that next place to go.

          • gbaikie says:

            –Given Elon Musk’s says he wants to build a colony on Mars, does anybody seriously believe that any SpaceX employee is going too publicly (or even privately in front of Musk) advocate a Lunar Program as a more urgent goal.–

            I think Musk wants to live on Mars and it’s not anything to do with Mars or Lunar programs.
            So I think if argue how Musk might live on Mars sooner, he might find that interesting.

            The problem with mining the Moon, is the moon first needs to be explored.
            And problem with living on Mars, is Mars needs to be explored.
            But if wanted to live on mars or mine the Moon, you could do it without the exploration- it’s just not particularly wise. Or you will probably fail.
            Though even if explored, you would probably fail, but in this case perhaps the exact failure will appear less stupid.

            So suppose a question could be, do we want NASA to failed o mine water on the Moon. Or should want NASA to explore the the Moon?

  4. JohnG says:

    Here’s my biggest problem/concern with the new “Pioneering Manifesto”. The document discusses using cis-lunar space as a “proving ground” to test out technologies and systems that will be needed on Mars missions. However, NASA is not currently planning on ‘proving’ any American-built hardware on the lunar surface, such as habitats, surface mobility systems, surface EVA suits, etc. Thus, I am led to the conclusion that NASA will not provide ANY surface systems on the fabled Mars missions, as these will only have been ‘proven’ by other international space agencies. If that is the case, NASA needs to be honest and upfront about this and say all Mars surface systems will be supplied by international partners, and NASA is only interested in in-space travel. However, as Dr. Spudis points out, true pioneers focus on living and working at the new location. There seems to be a big disconnect in what NASA is saying and what they are actually doing. As the recent NRC report on Human Spaceflight recommends, NASA should align itself with its international partners and rethink its disinterest in the lunar surface.

    • A_M_Swallow says:

      I believe the MMSEV manned rover was cancelled at Christmas. I am less certain if it was the entire vehicle or just the spacecraft version.

    • billgamesh says:

      “NASA should align itself with its international partners and rethink its disinterest in the lunar surface.”

      NASA asks these “partners” for billions there will not be much return on the investment. Ask for tens of billions and then hundreds of billions then there is the possibility of a return in the form of a cis-lunar network as Dr. Spudis proposes to replace our current satellite mess. That is a start.
      In fact the real prize is focusing the wealth of this planet- and we have tremendous resources- on replacing our current problematic energy situation with power beamed down from space. The place to build those several million tons (!) of geostationary power stations is the Moon. This is the only project that can return the investment several times over. There is no question that the power can be beamed down to Earth; the technology has existed for over a half a century. The problem has always been how to lift these massive arrays into orbit. The solution is to build them on the Moon.

      Unfortunately the space solar power community has always been it’s own worst enemy.

    • Robert Clark says:

      Yes, that is logical disconnect of the current NASA approach towards Mars. Test out technology around that big grey thing (which must not be named) before going to Mars but don’t test landing on that big grey thing.

      Bob Clark

      • billgamesh says:

        The premise of Mars being a destination worthy of consideration is illogical to start with.

        There is simply no reason to land humans on Mars. There are several reasons why Mars should not even be discussed but the main one is gravity. It is too deep of a gravity well to descend into and ascend out of easily. While the gravity is too great in this respect it is too low for humans to remain humans without living in racetrack-size underground centrifuges. I mention this below in my June 7, 2014 at 3:25 am comment as acronym # 22. Colonists would have to live in MISTs (Martian Inhabitant Sleeper Trains) and the more gravity the more difficult it is to design and construct these facilities. Compounding the problem is a lack of solar energy.

        The best place for a first colony is the Moon. The future space colonies of humankind will most likely be mass produced and placed in Lagrange points and then orbits around the Sun starting at Earth distance. At some point Mars might become attractive but as a “horizon goal” it is an example of very poor leadership concerning space exploration.

        The mistakes began after Apollo when instead of doubling the thrust of the Saturn V with a follow on scaled-up launch vehicle we went cheap with the shuttle. We have gone nowhere since then.

  5. billgamesh says:

    “Despite the fact that we will orbit an object that possesses billions of tons of water, no attempt will be made to harvest and use that resource.”

    “-greater exposure to (and risk from) both energetic solar particle events and cosmic rays from deep space.”

    This is the key connect-the-dots enabler that I never see NASA discussing. I suspect they will not go there because once they admit massive shielding is required for long duration deep space missions they will also have to admit that only nuclear propulsion can push that shielding around the solar system. Instead of facing the reality of dealing with a “Nuclear Moon” they recoil and insulate themselves from the issue.

    The solution is to first build pseudo-spaceships to put into geostationary orbit until an infrastructure exists on the Moon capable of effecting nuclear missions. These space stations will require shielding in the form of lunar water. I would say the way to create a cis-lunar network of human crewed stations would be to use wet workshops. The trick is how to get the water to the empty stages in lunar orbit. There are several ways to do it, even using a Jules Verne gun.

    “We would launch vehicles and equipment designed to be based permanently in space, so that they are always available and will not have to be discarded and then re-launched from Earth after each mission.”

    The “nodes” are between three points that I can see, geostationary (where the space stations are), lunar orbit (where the geo stations are being assembled) and the lunar surface (where the resources are being exploited). After the cislunar network comes the spaceships and after the spaceships come the solar power stations and after those come…..

    It is not Mars we should be trying to get to- it is geostationary orbit via the Moon as the first stop. Once the cislunar network is complete then come the spaceships. But of course, before any of this happens several hundred billion dollars will have to be spent. Even though such sums are routinely allocated for other programs-that-will-not-be-named the resistance to such spending is a tremendous obstacle. Even though it would replace our present junkyard of satellites and vastly improve connectivity on Earth.

  6. billgamesh says:

    “What would a genuine evolving and capable program look like?”

    It could only begin with several times the amount of money now being spent. The “horizon goal” would not be Mars, it would be industry on the Moon. At present we have the SLS almost ready and have the components of a lunar lander and nothing else except the wrong plan. The correct “pathway” is no more ISS, no more Mars, no more asteroid missions, just the Moon base.

    “We would establish expanding spheres of human “reach” and operational experience.”

    I would say the first “sphere” should be a selected lunar polar site with ice deposits and a corresponding lunar orbit in which to park empty upper stages for assembly into crew compartments. Assembling these stages into large torus capable of generating artificial gravity and being filled with a water radiation shield would be the first capability and we have experience in this kind of assembly with the ISS. With minimum radiation sanctuaries available against solar events (but not GCR’s) crews would work these construction sites in lunar orbit and depending on how long each torus takes to assemble the crews would need to be replaced and return to Earth. As this activity is taking place in lunar orbit the landers with their robots will be preparing sites and exploiting ice deposits, with a supply of water ready to use by the first human landing being the ideal result.

    “The program would proceed in increments, gradually but continuously expanding our theater of operations.”

    After this first increment the possible paths vary. I suggest instead of dealing with constructing a Moon base using what can be brought down with landers, the best course would be to land an entire torus from orbit. The first completed torus would land near the ice site and be filled with water. This would allow for extended human operations on the lunar surface. Retrofitting a track beneath the water filled torus would even allow it to be spun up to generate Earth gravity if this is desired though this would probably be done only to test such a system for future use on extended science missions on other moons. The concept of underground circular one G “sleeper trains” for long duration Moon habitation might be addressed later when large subsurface facilities are established.

    The second increment and expansion of operations would be to send water up to the torus being assembled in lunar orbit. This could be done with a rail gun or a Jules Verne gas gun or other method. Once the torus in orbit is filled it can be boosted into Earth geostationary orbit and spun to provide gravity. These space stations can then replace the existing satellite network while lasering space junk out of orbit. Such near-Earth environment space stations are also pseudo-spaceships that can be mated with nuclear propulsion systems to make a true spaceship.

    In this first and second increment there are wet workshop torus being assembled in lunar orbit and some being landed to be filled with water and used as part of the Moon base and others being filled in lunar orbit and then sent into Earth geostationary orbit as profit generators.

    “-starting possibly at GEO but extending later to the Earth-Moon L-points, low lunar orbit and the lunar surface. We would begin to assess the nature of the water resources of the lunar poles and experiment with their extraction,-“

    The third increment would see another theater of operation added to GEO, lunar orbit, and the lunar surface. This fourth theater would be under the lunar surface and begin the work of creating the “horizon goal” of a lunar industrial infrastructure. I think that by this time water extraction will be mastered and the refining of ore into metal alloys and solar energy materials will be the subject of experimentation and then standardization. Providing artificial gravity or simply rotating workers instead of long term lunar habitation might be addressed at this juncture.

    It is at this increment my proposal involves that subject so unpopular and politically incorrect. But considering the failure of my local largest-tunneling-machine-on-Earth to deliver (it has been broken for months) I will propose what is certain to work. The sports arena sized underground workshops required to undertake large scale industrial operations on the Moon can only be excavated using the same element 94 devices with which interplanetary travel will be accomplished. These factories are the key to forging the massive metal discs required for nuclear pulse engines and fabricating the immense arrays required for space solar power stations to supply the clean electricity necessary to sustain civilization on Earth. The pulse engines might be used to lift the arrays off the Moon before mating to their torus for deep space deployment as spaceships.

    The following increments would involve using space solar power for beam propulsion- to provide cheap lift out of Earth’s gravity well- and the mass production of miles-in-diameter hollow spheres as space habitats. With new medical technologies and refined propulsion techniques these hollow artificial moons may eventually be used for the first interstellar voyages.

  7. billgamesh says:

    31 Pioneering topics to discuss- Really!

    1) ClSA: Cislunar Space Acronyms- Acronyms peculiar to Spudis- inspired Lunar Resource Utilization schemes.

    2) HSF-BELO: Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Lunar Orbit- Multi-year missions beyond the Moon into deep space requiring true spaceships equipped with massive radiation shielding, artificial gravity, and nuclear pulse propulsion. Primary funding by DOD for planetary protection.

    3) ZBOOMs: Zero Boil Off Oxygen Methane systems- A family of engines, thrusters, stabilizers, and fuel cells for use in chemical propulsion and power applications on MULEs, landers, orbital platforms, spacecraft, space stations, and spaceships.

    4) MULE: Multipurpose Universal Lander Exoskeleton-A quadropod oxygen methane single engine module that can combine in a grid with others to form multi-engine spacecraft for descending or ascending into and out of the lunar gravity well. Various combinations can be used for different missions to include landing wet workshop torus from lunar orbit. Engine module can also dismount from landing gear and attach to torus for geostationary space station Earth orbit insertions.

    5) IotM: Industries on the Moon- Generic term for activities on the Moon involving human life support, water production, nuclear material handling, and metal alloy and solar cell refining and manufacturing- and others.

    6) HIoM: Human Industry on Moon-Activities specifically involving human life support and food production.

    7) WIoM: Water Industry on Moon-Activities specifically involving water derived from lunar ice deposits.

    8) WWISP: Wet Workshop Integrated Space Station Spaceship Program-Use of empty rocket stages in lunar orbit to construct near-Earth environment artificial gravity and radiation shielded crew compartments used for first a lunar surface base, then geostationary Earth space stations, and when integrated with nuclear pulse propulsion systems as interplanetary spaceships.

    9) WERS: Water Envelope Radiation Shield-Use of water derived from lunar ice as massive shielding protecting human beings from the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic radiation. Water mass is typically required on space stations and spaceships in the thousands of tons.

    10) FSRO: Far Side Radio Observatory- Progressively enlarged antennae fields located on the far side of the Moon for science missions.

    11) LOWD: Lunar Orbit Water Delivery-Operations devoted to sending water into lunar orbit from surface to be used as radiation shielding on wet workshops.

    12) LOTD: Lunar Orbit Torus Depot-Space stations in lunar orbit used to transfer water to returning spaceships that have drained their shields for pulse unit reaction mass to slow down and re-insert into lunar orbit.

    13) ToGAG: Torus Generated Artificial Gravity-System utilizing wet workshops connected end to end in the shape of a ring matching the size of the large lunar manufactured pulse engine disc and mounted on the disc with shock absorbing struts.

    14) GTESS: Geostationary Telecomm Earth Space Station-Fully operational torus inserted into Earth orbit to replace satellite network and de-orbit space junk with lasers. Eventually to be tasked with maintaining orbital space solar power stations. Preliminary commercial profit generator.

    15) NIoM: Nuclear Industry on Moon-Activities specifically involving the preparation of nuclear pulse units for interplanetary travel and asteroid and comet interdiction.

    16) TeGAG: Tether Generated Artificial Gravity-System utilizing a spaceship separating into two equal masses at the end of tethers radiating from central pulse engine disc when not using pulse propulsion. Equips interim spaceship.

    17) SMPPs: Small Monolithic Pulse Propulsion system-Small disc transported in sections from Earth to use low power fission devices as an interim spaceship until lunar large disc production commences. Utilizes tether system for artificial gravity and tower enabling long crew section stroke to absorb acceleration forces.

    18) PPIM: Planetary Protection Intercept Mission-Spaceship sortie for the express purpose of deflecting impact hazard away from the Earth, Moon, or other human occupied space.

    19) SMIBM: Shield Mass Icy Body Mission-Spaceship travel to icy body using radiation shielding water as reaction mass to slow down and subsequently utilizing local ice resources to replenish shield and furnish pulse unit reaction mass for departure burn. The first destination for this mission type is Ceres possibly using an interim small spaceship and the second Callisto depending on Jupiter space radiation factors.

    20) UMNEX: Under Moon Nuclear Explosive Excavation-Use of thermonuclear devices to form large underground artificial caves for factories and habitation.

    21) SLTM: Standard Lunar Tunneling Machine-Designed to dig endless service tunnels as a constantly expanding fleet eventually numbering in the thousands.

    22) LIST: Lunar Inhabitant Sleeper Train-Circular one gravity centrifuge underground apartment complexes where long term inhabitants of the Moon must sleep, spend a percentage of their day, and exercise to maintain health.

    23) AIoM: Alloy Industry on Moon-Activities specifically involving the mining, refining, and manufacture of large monolithic alloy disc nuclear pulse propulsion engines.

    24) LMPPs: Large Monolithic Pulse Propulsion system-Large nuclear pulse propulsion disc manufactured on the Moon for efficient use of fusion pulse devices. Disc flexes somewhat like an airplane wing when pulsed and has a support web that secures magazines for pulse units and other modules as well as the torus shock absorbing struts.

    25) SIoM: Solar Industry on Moon-Activities specifically involving the mining, refining, and manufacture of very large solar arrays to be used in an Earth geostationary orbit solar power network.

    26) SALoM: Solar Array Lift off Moon-The use of nuclear pulse propulsion engines to lift massive solar energy array segments from the lunar surface for subsequent insertion into Earth geostationary orbit. Engines integrated after lift with space stations resulting in interplanetary spaceships. Arrays are the primary commercial profit generator in space.

    27) GGIBM: Gas Giant Icy Body Mission-Spaceship travel to icy body using gas giant to aerobrake and subsequently utilizing local ice resources to furnish pulse reaction mass for departure burn. Destinations for this mission type are the moons of the gas giants.

    28) TIBO: Transported Icy Body Outpost-Double torus transit to icy body, separated from spaceship torus and landed with system for rotating on track and generating artificial gravity while grounded for long duration science missions. Outpost equipped with a shielded two spoke hub bell and rotation corrected hoist to lower drills, submarines, divers, and other equipment into body.

    29) FSLLV: Future Super Lift Launch Vehicle-Follow on vehicle to SLS with monolithic solid rocket boosters of several times the thrust and proportionately more powerful liquid core engines. Upper stage wet workshop designed to incorporate water shielding with a minimum of modification.

    30) FTAP: Future Thorium Americium Project-Experimental lunar reactors designed to utilize lunar thorium and produce Americium 242 for use in fission fragment power/propulsion systems.

    31) FBPLV: Future Beam Propelled Launch Vehicle-Microwave powered concept utilizing space solar power and super-powerful gyrotrons to lift multi-thousand ton payloads into space from the Earth’s surface.

    32) FMSH: Future Massive Spherical Habitat-O’Neill inspired Bernal Spheres several miles in diameter and mass produced as self-sustaining space habitats supporting populations in the tens of thousands.

  8. Michael Wright says:

    Some of you have pointed out is the conspicuously absent mention of the Moon. It seems there is an unwritten policy to discuss and plan any objective as long as the object quarter million miles away is not part of the plan.

    Regarding Mars, I see it as a non-starter. It is geologically interesting and scientific curiosity but utilization, it is a bridge too far. As implied in this site http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/macguffinite.php about Mars, “We just romanticize it because it’s so hard to reach.”

    Again, many have pointed out importance of ISRU i.e. what Dennis Wingo in his articles and his book Moon Rush argues is necessary for serious space activities.

    But perhaps “conquering space” is simply not a priority. There was a time when government ignored studies by private parties and people like Robert Goddard and those with the fastest airplanes were people with excess cash to push aerospace technology, i.e. Howard Hughes. But with WWII and after it was the government with aircraft that not even Hughes can afford (but his companies did sell many products to the govt). And the need to beat the Reds to the stars, politicians gave NASA resources it needed to accomplish this mission.

    Now we have private groups taking new approaches in space technologies, i.e. re-usable Dragon2. NASA is not a priority among elected officials (unless their district gets lotsa money per contracts), there is the agency with one less A in its name that does get priority and we see huge advances in those technologies.

    Maybe instead of continuing this pattern of “goal to settle Mars” for past half century, have NASA provide test facilities for companies like SpaceX to exercise new hardware and employ researcher types to do studies of related technologies that may or may not pay off (but gotta try some things the first time!). I admit I don’t have the answers but thanks to Paul Spudis to illustrate plans and policies that educates many of us, and also opportunity for us readers to vent our frustrations.

    • billgamesh says:

      Companies like SpaceX are the worst thing that have ever happened to space exploration. They have been given every possible advantage and billions in free support and have accomplished very little. The hobby rocket is glorified because it appears to be cheap. That is the entire secret of SpaceX’ “success.” Transporting people to the ISS is not a space program.

      There is no cheap.

    • gbaikie says:

      –Michael Wright says:
      June 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Some of you have pointed out is the conspicuously absent mention of the Moon. It seems there is an unwritten policy to discuss and plan any objective as long as the object quarter million miles away is not part of the plan.

      Regarding Mars, I see it as a non-starter. It is geologically interesting and scientific curiosity but utilization, it is a bridge too far. As implied in this site http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/macguffinite.php about Mars, “We just romanticize it because it’s so hard to reach.–

      The ignoring the Moon, is very poor idea for NASA.
      NASA could explore the lunar poles at a reasonable cost to tax payers.
      NASA would need to determine if there was minable water on the Moon-
      but I see little value in NASA attempting to **commercially** mine the Moon.
      Parties that mine the Moon, should have the threat of going bankrupt [to keep them focused on important matters].
      As far as Mars being a non-starter. I would guess if businesses were engaged in mining the Moon, they would the most eager for NASA to be exploring Mars.

      Mars has vast resource, that EPA calls a pollutant. This pollutant is needed for life to exist and Mars has more CO2 in it’s atmosphere than Earth has in it’s atmosphere.
      And in comparison to the Moon, Mars has vast quantities of water. Though in comparison to Earth, Mars has hardly any water.
      For there to be human settlement on Mars, one thing needed is cheap access to “drinking water”. We can assume the water in the polar ice is drinkable. But probably want to find ground water on Mars which can be cheaply gotten. So NASA exploration to Mars should focus on finding cheap water than is usable to humans and growing food.
      Another thing NASA could explore regarding Mars is finding cheap ways of making living areas on Mars. This could be related to underground location and/or ways making large living areas at lowest costs.
      Once Mars has been explored, it seems that human settlements on Mars could be feasible.
      While NASA is exploring Mars and the Moon is being mined for water, and then other resources, it seems there will also be greater opportunity to get resources from asteroids. And resources from asteroids could brought to Earth [cislunar] and/or space near or impacting Mars surface.
      So Moon is the starting point or gateway to rest of solar system, and Mars [and asteriods] will some of the destinations the Moon is a gateway to.

  9. billgamesh says:


    Page 46: “The 260-inch motor was kept in a test pit with its nozzle pointing upward. In February 1966, a night firing near Miami shot flame and smoke a mile and a half into the air that was seen nearly a 100 miles away. In June 1967, another firing set a new record with 5.7 million pounds of thrust.”

    SLS is really just an interim solution to the first problem of heavy lift. Pioneering space truly begins with an unhappy revelation; while we marvel at the Saturn V it was in fact a minimal vehicle. The Atlas the John Glenn rode was also just big enough to accomplish it’s mission.

    Page 48 goes on to state, “By 1966, NASA officials were looking ahead already to sizes as large as 600 inches, noting that “there is no fundamental reason to expect that motors 50 feet in diameter could not be made.”

    Trying to establish a “meaningful” human presence in space is a nearly impossible mission without a certain amount of capability. This is why the private space efforts using inferior lift vehicles are so absurd. A pair of the 260 inch SRB’s would have given a Saturn V follow-on vehicle a lift-off thrust of over 12 million pounds. The third generation of launch vehicles we should be using in the 21st century would be in the 30 million pound thrust range.


    SLS is too small. Even Super Heavy Lift Vehicles in this 30 million+ category will still not take us anywhere except to the Moon. It is basic physics that chemical rockets using supertankers of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen can only provide feeble velocities for solar system exploration.

    To go anywhere else beyond the Moon will require a Lunar Nuclear Launch capability. We have far less lift than we need to even begin discussing deep space missions. An industrial infrastructure on the Moon is the basic prerequisite. The SLS is just preparation and prospecting before launching the much larger vehicles that will be required. A real space program will require several times the resources being discussed.

    The reality is the recent studies by NASA and the NRC are both sad jokes.

  10. Vladislaw says:

    When a pioneer went to a new place to live … did they actually get to OWN the land they farmed? Missing in all the talk is not word about actual ownership. Why should capital be pushed into a area where nothing can be listed on the asset side of the ledger for tax purposes?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      When a pioneer went to a new place to live … did they actually get to OWN the land they farmed?

      They thought they did. Pioneers didn’t worry about lawyers, deeds and titles — that came later, after they got “civilized.”

    • Michael Wright says:

      Back in the days in Europe only the royals and nobles could own land. As that region was getting crowded and many commoners suffering worsening economic hardship, immigrating to the New World had more promising outlook.

  11. rappolee58 says:

    I have been kicking around an idea that uses the proposed ULA Centaur lunar lander as a hybrid decadel survey small fission reactor power plant!
    so yes perhaps you can teach a old Centaur lunar lander new tricks?
    after exhausting the cryogenic fuel the ullage system uses Xenon to fill the tanks and the gas transfer heat from the reactor radiator that is housed INSIDE the LO2 tank, add additional ranking or Stirling engines to extract heat.
    heat also keeps this lunar lander warm with out plutonium deep in polar craters.


    I have a deep space version here where the Centaur is a hybrid chemical/NEP stage


    perhaps these are ideas that are “pioneering” in that they take existing ideas and use them in novel new ways,I try to solve for landing in the permanent darkness of lunar polar craters with out a plutonium heat or power source

  12. Fred Willett says:

    I think there is a reason reports like this come up with the answer they do.
    Look at it this way.
    ISS costs (say) $2B a year to operate.
    So we want a base at L1. Call that another $2B a year.
    Now a lunar base. Let’s call that another $2B.
    You see where we are going? Each step adds costs.
    Since these committee members can’t see any way of reducing costs except closing the previous base they are forced back to the “do it all in a single mission” architecture.
    To do any sort of a program which involves multiple pieces of infrastructure spread out through the solar system seems to them to be inherently expensive, and for that reason inhenently undoable.
    The answer was given by Jeff Greason in a speech a few years ago. At each step you have to reduce costs. Not just once, but at each step.
    SpaceX is doing this with launch. (hopeefully). If they succeed in getting launch costs down to $5-7M per flight for F9 then 10 flights a year to support ISS gets ISS costs down to $100-200M a year from the current $2B. A huge step making the next step (L1) affordable.
    Falling launch costs.
    Falling costs through reusable in space transport.
    Falling costs through ISRU.
    Falling costs through volume uptake of in space services and transport.
    This is the real part to anywhere is space.
    It’s what I think Musk is trying to do.
    It’s not so much hardware which will open space (though hardware is important.
    It’s economics.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      To do any sort of a program which involves multiple pieces of infrastructure spread out through the solar system seems to them to be inherently expensive, and for that reason inhenently undoable.

      It may “seem” that way, but these are supposed to be expert panels capable of rigorous analysis. If they are incapable of understanding how such a conundrum can be avoided, they are either incompetent or did not perform such analysis.

    • Joe says:

      “Falling launch costs.
      Falling costs through reusable in space transport.
      Falling costs through ISRU.
      Falling costs through volume uptake of in space services and transport.”

      All that builds up for nothing more than another SpaceX infomercial.

      Musk may be working (though not necessarily succeeding) on the first of that list, but not the other three.

Comments are closed.