Quinquennial Follies

The Big Three -- useful?

The Big Three — useful or useless?

About every five years, a committee is trotted out to report on the status and future of human spaceflight. Each of these reports generates a lot of disruption, press reports and head scratching. When it all dies down, very little (if anything) is accomplished. The last three of these ponderous tomes generated over the past ten years nicely document the decline and fall of the American civil space program. I thought it might be instructive to examine them on a comparative basis, showing how the initial promise and optimism of each report led ultimately to disappointment, with the space program becoming less capable and less secure – a continuous downward trajectory for human space exploration.

Let us begin ten years ago with the emergence of the report that I was directly involved with – the Aldridge Report. This document was the product of a Presidential Commission. (Each succeeding report was produced by a group with less bureaucratic stature but increased scope of responsibility, which should tell you something right there.) The Aldridge effort was chartered to study and report on how the new Vision for Space Exploration (the VSE, articulated by President George W. Bush in January, 2004) should be implemented. Our task was not to question the direction or strategic aims of the VSE, but merely to understand how NASA should organize itself to execute it.

The Aldridge Commission members (who met for 6 months) were in agreement with the long-term aims of the VSE. However, there were individual differences over how to implement it, which generated extensive debate on exactly what steps were most important and critical, as opposed to which were merely optional and desirable. The Aldridge Commission report strongly favored a more streamlined and efficient space agency, including innovations such as creating incentive prizes and awards for technology development, contracting with commercial entities for launch services, and converting the NASA field centers into federally funded research and development centers (FFRDC) – a model similar to that of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is run for the government by Caltech. One of our most important (and ignored) recommendations was to re-create the National Space Council, a White House-level body to oversee and periodically review agency progress on implementing the VSE – a step deemed vital to ensure continuity of purpose and as protection against any unraveling of the direction of the program. The VSE had strong bi-partisan support and had been blessed twice by the Congress, once under Republican Party leadership, once under Democratic Party leadership.

My personal disappointment with the aftermath of this report was the agency’s deft shrugging off of the oversight recommendation. Commission members were invited back to NASA Headquarters six months after the report had been submitted to receive a presentation on how well the agency had implemented our recommendations. Judging from the dog-and-pony show we received, it was clear that it was to be pretty much business as usual, which I suppose is not too surprising. No Administrator wants someone looking over their shoulder, criticizing their performance, or reminding them about what they were tasked to do. Thus, no executive oversight was created, a deficiency that would be felt sharply in the years ahead.

Five years after the Aldridge report, a new Presidential administration established the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, a.k.a., the Augustine Committee (named for its Chairman, retired former CEO of Lockheed-Martin, Norman Augustine). Note that this was a committee (not a commission), which placed it one rung lower on the bureaucratic totem pole. (Our commissions were signed by the President; this committee’s appointments were from the Administrator of NASA. See this.) This group was chartered not only to review and evaluate NASA’s progress towards the implementation of its human spaceflight mission, but also to assess that mission and make recommendations as to whether a shift in goal, destination or emphasis was warranted. Like the Aldridge Commission five years earlier, the Augustine committee was to expire after 6 months.

Reportedly, this group used detailed technical analysis (by the Aerospace Corp.) to support their conclusions, although many of their ground rule assumptions could be questioned. Of course, one can always get the answer one is seeking by defining the boundary conditions accordingly. The Augustine Committee received presentations on the status of Project Constellation, NASA’s implementation of the VSE, derived from their own internal architecture study – the ESAS in 2006. They concluded that while the Constellation approach was technically sound, it would require more funding (an additional $3 billion per year) to meet its announced schedule (note: schedule, not deadline). They suggested that a better approach would be to pursue what they called the “Flexible Path,” in which technology would be pursued now and destinations would be picked later. They also introduced the possibility of a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid as a destination alternative to the lunar surface (green eyeshade thinking, as no lander would be required with that choice – and thus, a lunar return would be eliminated).

The consequence of the Augustine report was a foregone conclusion. The administration provided the committee with artificially low budget numbers (the “FY 2010” budget line; see page 81 of Augustine), essentially guaranteeing that almost any forward path would be found to be “unaffordable.” It’s not like this administration had a problem with spending money – they had almost doubled the national debt through spending well over one trillion dollars per year on “economic stimulus,” none of which found its way into NASA coffers. Moreover, while it was often pointed out that the retirement of the Shuttle had been ordered by the previous administration, what was usually not also noted is that its retirement was being done as part of a process to replace the existing human spaceflight system with a new one. So, while development of the new system was terminated (with no replacement in sight) the old system was retired on schedule and sent off to museums with great fanfare. Agency direction and money was redirected to private companies to encourage the development of a commercial human spaceflight capability, and a vehicle(s) with which NASA would (ultimately) be able to purchase Earth to LEO transportation. We were (and remain) unable to transport astronauts into space and are dependent on Russia for a ride to our space station.

Congress did not stand idly by during this strategic confusion. After considerable whining and foot-dragging by NASA, Congress included specific direction to continue building the trans-LEO Orion spacecraft and a new, Shuttle-derived heavy lift vehicle. This effort is proceeding, although NASA still has no well-defined strategic horizon or destination that would make sensible use of this vehicle. A human mission to Mars (the “ultimate goal”) is both technically and fiscally distant; agency “happy talk” about the imminence of such a mission is meaningless drivel. Because human missions to near-Earth asteroids were also determined to be infeasible, an “asteroid retrieval” stunt mission was presented as the next new destination – a make-work fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of having no place to send Orion and nothing to do once we got there (making it an easy target for criticism and future cancellation).

Now, five years after the Augustine Report, comes the National Research Council’s Pathways to Exploration. This report, chartered by the Congress in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, is a product of the Committee on Human Spaceflight, an ad hoc group appointed by NRC staff – and another rung down the bureaucratic ladder. Taking over three years (unlike the 6 month timeframe of the two earlier reports), this report canvassed the widest cross-section of the space community and American society to address the questions of “where and why” humans should go in space. The effort produced a massive 258-page book, delving into questions of possible destinations, public opinion, architectural variables, necessary technologies and the “pathways” that combine these variables into executable programs.

The most notable feature of the NRC report is its framework assumption: the purpose of a national human spaceflight program is “exploration.” Thus, the guiding questions of the NRC study are “how far can humans go?” and “what can they do when they get there?” This greatly circumscribes the actual possibilities of human spaceflight. One can imagine people doing many different things in space. Most certainly, scientific exploration is one of them, but it is by no means the only thing. The NRC report spent almost no time considering the broad field of space applications and utilization, in which people go to and come from various destinations in space, in order to accomplish a wide variety of tasks – to build, to provision, to mine, to remain, to observe, to prosper, to live. The entire field of creating wealth from space appears nowhere in the NRC report; it is only concerned with continuing the existing paradigm of launching self-contained missions from Earth, collecting data, and returning safely. Sustainability of the program – not human presence in space – is the objective.

Although the NRC report contains much solid analysis, it ultimately presents us with a future that is largely unattainable. Repeating the ingrained meme of “Mars is the ultimate goal” does nothing to chart the correct path forward from where we are now – a billion miles and a trillion dollars away from any human Mars mission. Instead, they could have endorsed an incremental and gradual extension of human reach – from LEO to cislunar to the lunar surface to trans-lunar to the planets. At each step, the capabilities and facilities needed to enable the next step are developed. In other words, we need to build a sustainable path using the resources already in space. If the alleged technical and policy “experts” on space do not advocate a logical and sensible path, why should we expect it from our political leaders? In order to assure private investors that their capital has some reasonable protections – that their involvement is worth taking a considerable risk for a suitable reward – a long-term, sustainable national effort in space must be demonstrated. Without it, neither program will be implemented, nor remain sustainable.

Our civil space program (and the future for commercial space) is diminished as each major report comes and goes. The impact of the latest NRC report was virtually nil – NASA continues to plan its asteroid retrieval stunt mission and the Potemkin Village “commercial space program” is trotted out to demonstrate that we are accomplishing something. Press releases and debuts of product mock-ups have replaced actual flight hardware and experience. The NASA budget remains static, while the agency and Administration have given Congress and the public no particular reason to believe it is going anywhere or doing anything to deserve any more funding than it’s currently getting.

Once America and her partners took on, executed and achieved great and challenging tasks – a hallmark of vibrant, healthy countries guided by interested, knowledgeable leadership. Now, challenges are being denied and death by committee has replaced hard work and breakthroughs. National advancement and achievement is stymied. Americans recognize that this is the wrong trajectory for the country and wince as the nation retreats further down the ladder. There will be no pride or excitement surrounding a program that continues in total disarray. There will be no great wave of interested students clamoring to excel and achieve. What’s up next for our national manned space flight program? What shape will the wrecking ball take and who will be tasked to deliver the deathblow? I shudder in anticipation of the next quinquennial report.

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22 Responses to Quinquennial Follies

  1. billgamesh says:

    “-an incremental and gradual extension of human reach – from LEO to cislunar to the lunar surface to trans-lunar to the planets.”

    The problem with gradualism is it has stranded us going in endless circles at very high altitude. I would say the first step is to define the terms of these missions. LEO is not space and long past deserving the billions being flushed maintaining humans on that 200 billion dollar collection of tin cans. A single wet workshop was never considered because “there was not enough money.” Bizarre.

    Moving outward to the next increment we find maintaining humans in GEO is impossible because of radiation. This should tell the Mars mob something about their prospects of surviving a couple years in deep space. But no one will even admit to the requirement for Earth gravity and radiation on long duration missions.

    The extension is not so gradual when it is realized that the water on the Moon is the key to telecom space stations in GEO; it is the only practical source of the massive radiation shielding necessary. So the super-heavy lift launch vehicle direct to the Lunar poles is the logical extension. A robot lander processing it’s own fuel and ferrying water up to the wet workshops to provide true radiation sanctuaries for construction crews in cislunar space is the minimum increment I can imagine.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      The problem with gradualism is it has stranded us going in endless circles at very high altitude.

      We’ve never tried a gradual extension of human reach — we stopped after getting to LEO. The “wet workshop” was not scuttled solely because of money — there were significant technical risks associated with it as well. Any place in space can be made usable, at least for human visits for various purposes.

      • billgamesh says:

        I believe the “technical risks” of wet workshops were nothing but an excuse to defer to the space shuttle “pick up truck.” I think 200 billion would have solved any problems especially considering Skylab; a “dry” workshop built out of a Saturn V third stage. There was no money to turn the second stage into a true wet shop and create a station with close to the interior space of the ISS…..in one afternoon. In 1973!

        With all due respect Dr. Spudis I am not buying that we can blow several billion on doomed fantasies that torture the laws of physics like the NASP and not fund basic concepts like the wet workshop.

        We also built the 4 segment shuttle solid rocket boosters to be separated and fit on rail transport. There were excuses made to go with these railed in boosters from Utah instead of the far cheaper monolithic boosters and this doomed the shuttle program from the start. By not providing enough lift-off thrust the orbiter was so payload restricted that no escape system worthy of the name was ever provided.

        I essentially agree with you Dr., I just believe the “gradual extensions” are not going to be so step by step and linear because the water on the Moon is the first objective to enable true space stations hovering in GEO and these stations would be the first real money machines able to interest further investment. Hobby rockets, LEO, and fuel depots are all dead ends and a waste of time and resources.

  2. A lunar outpost was the next logical step after Apollo and Skylab. But the Executive and Legislative branches of our government for the past 40 years believed that it would be more economically beneficial and probably more politically correct to focus NASA’s efforts on LEO at a cost, in today’s dollars, of more than $220 billion.

    If we had focused NASA’s funds over the past 40 years on gradually establishing a permanent outpost on the Moon by the late 1970s then we could have used lunar resources to get us to Mars before the end of the 20th century.

    Instead, NASA’s endless mission to LEO has kept us trapped just a few hundred miles above the Earth. And we can’t even live at LEO for more than a few months because there was no funding or any effort to develop rotating artificial gravity outpost at LEO either:-) $220 billion spent on LEO and we don’t even have a rotating space station to show for it!

    NASA will never have a technologically progressive and pioneering space program again until it’s finally allowed to make the next logical step of establishing a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon. Once that occurs then going to Mars will be substantially easier to do while government and private commercial investments in lunar resources will revolutionize space travel while significantly growing the American economy.


    • Chris Castro says:

      I fully agree, Marcel! Hovering in Low Earth Orbit for another 15 years or more, will do NOTHING good, for the long-run future——–a future where deep space voyages are the true objective. This absurd avoidance of the Moon, as a renewed astronaut destination, has put us squarely in this no-win quandary! Focussing all our efforts on LEO has been a poignant mistake! Furthermore, the Mars fanatics getting the drivers seat in all this, at every turn, has led NASA to Oblivion Alley. The exact kinds of space technology advances that they seek, to make their “ultimate destination” doable, will never come to fruition, as long as LEO stations remain the only theater in this war.

      The Moon is a vastly-sized destination world———a planet in nearly every sense of the word. Indeed it is larger than, or as large as many of the Jupiterian & Saturnian satellites. It has a great deal of geologic diversity & differentiation. The renewal of manned visits to its surface, to new landing sites, and the obtaining of new rock & soil samples would do galvanizing good to planetary science. Just like the investigation of such rocks from Vesta or Ceres or Pallas would. Indeed our new spacecraft base modules might be equipped with some geological analyzing units, so as to peer into the samples scientifically at the base camp, when they get picked up and brought in.

      But my cronies, the Moon’s actual full value, to manned spaceflight, goes far beyond merely grabbing further geologic bits from different locations; although that’ll certainly be an along-the-way objective. There is also the matter of developing increased-capacity & more advanced spacecraft systems. The ability to perform manned Lunar orbital & landing missions of longer & longer time-spans, will expand the technological envelope of human space endurance, in a deep space, beyond-the-ionosphere environment, very much like that of interplanetary space.

      Life support systems & spacesuits will have to be made much more robust, than they were 41 years ago, with Apollo. Electric & mechanical systems will have to withstand the test of Moon orbital & surface stay times lasting much longer than the final Apollo “J” class missions. How about a fortnight expedition? Or a four or six week one? Having our astronaut crew survive through the long, dark, cold lunar night? THESE are the things we should be trying to do, instead of the proposed dead-end stunt mission to ensnare an asteroidal meteor rock, haul it all the way to high lunar orbit, park it there, and make a human rendezvous with it.

      Besides, if we really have such a broiling, unquenchable desire to do a docking-visit with an NEO body, then why not LATER ON down-the-road send something like an Orion-Altair pair of lunar craft out to reach the quasi-satellite Cruithne, during one of its close solar orbit passages towards Earth? That is, of course, once the lunar orbiter & lander combination vehicles have proven themselves & their viability, through a series of successful Moon expeditions.

      • billgamesh says:

        Hi Chris,
        The only “asteroid” worth landing on is now a dwarf planet; Ceres. All the other dwarfs of note are way way out there.
        I think the only bodies we will be landing on besides the Moon will have oceans under their icy surfaces and our landers will be carrying submarines. Or there may not be a lander needed for many of these moons where the gravity is so low the entire spaceship can be landed.

        And by the way, you cannot “hover” in LEO. The only place you can remain motionless over a single spot on the Earth is 22,236 miles above the equator in GEO. That is where the money is and where a manned GEO space station network can replace the present satellite junk yard.

        Using the water from lunar ice as radiation shielding for these GEO telecom stations is the first moneymaking enterprise I can see happening (not space tourism). Thanks for the tip on 3753 Cruithne, very interesting.

        • Chris Castro says:

          Yes, the idea of visiting the asteroid 3753 Cruithne, AFTER doing new successful crewed Lunar missions, occured to me after I read some astronomy articles about it, and other quasi-satellite bodies which might be out there, and which swing into passes that approach the Earth-Moon system, occasionally.

          Also: Far be it from me, to give the asteroid-visiting enthusiasts any ideas———–since I most want to see NASA resume manned flights to the Moon, first————but, according to a few astronomy articles & Wikipedia, there has even been at least one confirmed case of where an ultra-small NEO has actually been captured into an Earth orbit, temporarily. The object, first designated as 2006RH120, and also known as 6R10DB9, is of the Apollo asteroid group. It is estimated to have a diameter of 4-6 meters, and was temporarily orbiting the Earth at a closest-approaching distance of 0.7 lunar distances, from September 2006 to June 2007.

          It eventually departed for a solar orbit, but according to the Wikipedia article, it will make another near-Earth encounter in 2028. You would think that the NEO-chasers would be all over the idea of a human or robotic rendezvous with such a deep space object, since if it gets recaptured by Earth’s gravity, it may linger in an ephemeral orbit of close to a lunar-distanced one. But no, you really don’t hear about such a concept. I still adamantly favor NASA resuming with human Moon missions first, but if, once our new Lunar spacecrafts have proven themselves, some agency mission-planners would like to add a temporary-satellite or a quasi-satellite expedition to survey an asteroidal and/or meteor-sized body, alongside our primary spaceflight manifest, I suppose that I could get behind such a secondary venture, at such & such a point.

  3. Joe says:

    “One of our most important (and ignored) recommendations was to re-create the National Space Council, a White House-level body to oversee and periodically review agency progress on implementing the VSE – a step deemed vital to ensure continuity of purpose and as protection against any unraveling of the direction of the program.”

    I mean no insult to anyone, but I think this discussion is drifting somewhat off topic.

    I think the above statement from the article is the key point.

    I worked in systems engineering (after being “promoted” from hardware/operations) on Constellations Systems from 2007 to 2010. During that period there was a continuing vacillation on what the initial goal was, between lunar sorties and establishing a lunar base. That may sound trivial, but it is not. It was driving the Altair (lunar lander) hardware engineers crazy, as the requirements for a lander to support those disparate goals are significantly different. Instructions to design for both were even worse. All that drove the mass/ volume of the Altair higher which (of course) caused downstream changes to other hardware including (but not limited to) required boosters.

    If there had been an independent body (whatever it’s source and charter) with the actual power to force the program to stay focused on a single narrowly defined goal (in my opinion a lunar base located near one of the lunar polar ice deposits) the current situation might be very different.

    • billgamesh says:

      “-a lunar base located near one of the lunar polar ice deposits-”

      I am with you Joe. I did my best to play with the idea of not landing people initially and using a robot lander to harvest ice and take it back up into lunar orbit and filling wet workshop radiation shields with it. Such a basic operation might be able to build the first shielded and spinning space station/pseudo-spaceships but for a project like replacing our GEO satellite infrastructure with human-crewed stations a base and extensive operations on and under the surface will probably be required (unless the ice is far easier to process by robot than one would guess).

  4. billgamesh says:

    “This effort is proceeding, although NASA still has no well-defined strategic horizon or destination that would make sensible use of this vehicle.”

    In my own view this is the key statement. While I believe Joe is correct in demanding oversight and the likelihood of any progress is much higher with the kind of oversight present after the Apollo 1 fire, how to use the SLS to advantage seems most important if there is even to be a space program. I believe the first order of business would be to identify a successor to the SLS with at least twice but more appropriately several times the lift-off thrust. The SLS has a powerful escape system and the ability to fly direct to the Moon and this makes it ideal for transporting appropriately packaged fissionable material.

    Because we are never going anywhere Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (BELO) without some form of nuclear propulsion- this is the detail that really matters because physics are not going to change. The only place to assemble, test, and launch nuclear missions outside the Earth’s magnetosphere is…..The Moon!

  5. Dear Dr. Spudis,

    Your historical overviews — with relevant links — are more than useful. I myself must admit that I had never studied the VSE until I today clicked through your link [to Spaceref!] — and I was amazed to discover that our shared vision is expressed in one succinct paragraph, which I feel compelled to reproduce following:

    “Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.”

    And how fascinating it is to me that George W. — whose policies I have opposed in so many other arenas — could have gotten it exactly right in regards to US space policy! I suppose it is a function of being a born-again Texan (perhaps he visited the Midland crater on some moonlit night!), and, more particularly, a born-again Houstonian: Space City, dude!

    Of which city Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a distant satellite; and I must record here that when my daughter’s third grade Trinity Episcopal class made a pilgrimage to the LBJ Space Center in 1981, yours truly was one of the attending parents; and I must further report that when I attempted to read to her class the placard describing the mighty Saturn F1 rocket engine, I had a bit of difficulty. (My daughter, by the way, now an Assistant Professor of Mass Communications at UOregon!)

    But my point is this: it is Texas and Space City which guard the original “lunar first” vision!

    (And here Dr. Spudis, I plead with you: find a soft spot in your heart for SpaceX! These guys are totally commited to Texas!)

    But the larger subject is the futility of bureaucracy — and so I must relate a lived history:

    The integrated circuit industry was well established by 1970 — creating complex chains of logic gates, and 256 bit (!) memories; but it was not until an obscure Japanese calculator company, Busicom, Inc., asked Intel if would perhaps be possible to create an 4-bit processor that the microcomputer industry was born. There was no government commission in sight!

    So let us start a small fire on the moon!

    G. W. (Glenn) Smith

  6. gbaikie says:

    “Note that this was a committee (not a commission), which placed it one rung lower on the
    bureaucratic totem pole. ”

    “Taking over three years (unlike the 6 month timeframe of the two earlier reports)…
    a massive 258-page book”

    “What’s up next for our national manned space flight program? What shape will the wrecking ball take and who will be tasked to deliver the deathblow? I shudder in anticipation of the next quinquennial report.”

    Is because it could somehow go lower in “bureaucratic totem pole”?
    If so what is lower and what is lowest it can go? Or has it hit this bottom?
    Or is the dread to do with sheer mass of the next tome of idiocy?

    I generally like to consider that I don’t underestimate the depth that bureaucracy can industriously delve deep into the foolishness- and I think I could have an unhealthy interest in it, though not so much, that I spend time anticipating it’s next report.,
    And if last one took 3 years, what makes one think next one will not take considerable longer? Or is it the long wait which is the concern?

    A problem with the premise that the commission [or committee] results is reflection of progress or sliding into the abyss seems problematic to me.
    Another possible idea is that US federal government is in general going hell because it’s executive has never been an executive, and has little interest in trying to be an executive- not even giving much effort of pretending he has any interest in doing this.

    Which bring us around to the point, had we had excellent commissions, would it have made the least effect upon this president or his buddies in the dysfunctional congress?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      My concern is pragmatic, not philosophical. I note the state of the program after each report and thus dread the state of it after the next one.

      • gbaikie says:

        The reports seem to be philosophical rather than pragmatic.
        Or it seems the aspiration the appearance of a rational philosophy on which a narrative is made to fit- an attempt at storytelling.

        “pragmatic: dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories.”

        What is the specific situation and what are the problems that can be addressed?

        A shorter answer would require less philosophy.

  7. Grand Lunar says:

    In light of this blog, I find the “big three” reports worse than useless.

    Not only do they display the decline of the US human space program, they also create an illusion to lawmakers that positive progress is being made.

    The great problem I see is our hyperfixation on Mars.
    I see it even among those who post on this blog.

    Mars should not be the “ultimate goal”.
    Such a vision causes us to lose focus on the near term objective.

    Mars ought to be on piece in a larger tapestry of seeking wealth from space.
    It is a means to an end, just as the Moon is.
    Treating Mars as our “ultimate goal” means that once we go, we then are left wondering “Where do we go from here?”, just as we did after Apollo.

    On the other hand, treating Mars as we may treat the Moon means that once we go there, we remain to develope it, rather than achieving a stunt in hopes of making it a second home for humanity (or as some want to do, making it the next setting of reality TV).

      • gbaikie says:

        Yes, well said.

        I would add, it seems if we can not find minable water. Or something else which minable in space, then there is little sense in sending humans to Mars.

        Or NASA should be finding new markets in space, just as the satellite for earth orbits were “discovered” and developed into a global 200 billion dollar market.
        I think NASA should tentatively conclude that there is minable water on the Moon, but NASA should explore the Moon to determine if this is actually a sound conclusion.

        Though NASA should first develop fuel depots- even if there was not minable water on the Moon, NASA should use depots, but developing a market for rocket fuel in space [depot is a step in this direction] is simply the best way to explore space beyond Earth. Plus it helping to enable commercial mining of lunar water, which could begin once the Moon has been explore enough to term whether this is possible and where on the Moon would be the potentially better areas to start mining water.

        But NASA does not have to wait for water on the Moon to be mined, because with this knowledge it has built a road map for Mars exploration.

        If water can be mined on the moon this will allow human settlements on Mars [and Mars is another potential market]. So at that point in time
        it makes sense to explore Mars with the purpose of finding best ways in which one could have future human settlements on Mars.

        It is as unknown that human settlement on Mars would actually be possible as it is currently unknown that there is minable water at poles of the Moon.
        And there needs to far more work done to determine if Mars settlements
        are feasible as compared to whether there is minable water on the Moon.

        Or hoping that companies will invest in lunar water mining and fail, and/or hoping people will go to Mars and die- is not vaguely a good plan.

        If there is not minable water on the Moon, NASA should find where else
        there is minable water in space- before doing any Manned exploration
        of Mars.

  8. gbaikie says:

    Messenger “sees” Mercury polar ice:
    “Beginning with MESSENGER’s first extended mission in 2012, scientists launched an imaging campaign with the broadband clear filter of MDIS’s wide-angle camera (WAC). Although the polar deposits are in permanent shadow, through many refinements in the imaging, the WAC was able to obtain images of the surfaces of the deposits by leveraging very low levels of light scattered from illuminated crater walls. “It worked in spectacular fashion,” said Chabot.”
    “The images also reveal a noteworthy distinction between the Moon and Mercury, one that may shed additional light on the age of the frozen deposits. “The polar regions of Mercury show extensive areas that host water ice, but the Moon’s polar regions — which also have areas of permanent shadows and are actually colder — look different,” Chabot said.”

  9. Vladislaw says:

    Dr Spudis, did you see this article?

    Augustine is interviewed after 5 years to see where we stand.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Yes, I did. That load of crap is what inspired me to take on this topic.

      • billgamesh says:

        “There appears to be no rallying together of the space community on what it is we should be doing,” he said. “And as long as that happens, we’re likely to not get a lot of support from the White House or the Congress.” (Augustine)

        What “space community?” There is no space community. There are about a hundred different shops competing for their slice of the pie. There is a completely misinformed public. There is our corporate creed of never ever doing anything without making obscene profit and and even better making money without producing anything (failed DOD projects).

        And there is Norm Augustine who KNOWS space is not the easy money defense is. Why do space? We have our answer; we are not doing space.

        wiki: “Lockheed Martin is one of the world’s largest defense contractors; in 2009, 74% of Lockheed Martin’s revenues came from military sales.[4] It received 7.1% of the funds paid out by the Pentagon.[5]
        It received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history.”

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