Stupid Space Tricks

Simulation for the next NASA mission

Simulation for the next NASA mission?

Viewers of the David Letterman Show (before it went to pot) probably remember a running gag where people would bring their pets to perform a variety of silly or dumb acts for the amusement of the audience. Letterman called this segment “Stupid Pet Tricks.” Although each particular trick was silly, the pet owners sincerely believed that their pets were gifted and were proud to showcase their animals’ various abilities. In fact, the whole exercise allowed the host and audience to smirk knowingly at the owners’ pride in their pets’ seemingly “human” abilities. This bit of low comedy has now been adapted as the central principle of our federal civil space program. The object now seems to be who can come up with the silliest idea for a human spaceflight mission. And boy, is the competition for that title fierce!

Of course, we all know already about Contestant Number 1, the “haul a rock to lunar orbit and visit it” entry. Called the “Asteroid Retrieval Mission” by NASA (I prefer to think of it as the “Haul Asteroid Mission“), this concept seeks to conceal the potential embarrassment of developing a new deep space transportation system (the Orion spacecraft) and having no approved place to send it via the expedient of creating one. Of course, the Object-That-Cannot-Be-Named is involved in this “high-concept” idea; it acts as a convenient gravity well, around which this purloined boulder will be placed in orbit. Following this feat of legerdemain, the Orion crew will rendezvous with it and station-keep – the term “landing” is not appropriate in this case, as the object has no appreciable gravity field and a visit is more akin to formation flying than to landing.

Exactly what the crew will do there is yet to be defined. There is a vague sense that perhaps sampling the asteroid and returning pieces back to the Earth might be valuable. Sounds great – those few kilograms can be added to the thousands of metric tons of material from near-Earth asteroids that we already posses here on Earth in the form of meteorites. What’s that? You say that an “unmodified” sample of asteroid might be a “first?” Well, we’ll know if that’s true by the time this mission flies – the robotic OSIRIS-REx mission will be returning samples from an asteroid just around the same time.

The arguments of some of the advocates of the ARM can be amusing. A recent claim that perhaps the astronauts would “extract some water or platinum” is interesting; I suppose that the details are left as an exercise for the student. Perhaps that student could explore the details of the Orion spacecraft, which contain no facilities for resource processing, particularly using a feedstock about which we know nothing. Of course, we wouldn’t want to simply “duplicate our achievements of 40-plus years ago.” This is, after all, an all-new, improved space program. Rather than land on an alien world and explore the complex processes that created and shaped our planetary system, we will now boldly snuggle up to a rock in free space and do – something. Anything we did not do “40-plus years ago” is billed as progress.

The fact is, scientifically, the ARM offers next to nothing. We already have samples of asteroids (we call them meteorites) in great quantity. We will learn nothing about the rock’s internal structure that isn’t already known from previous robotic missions to other similar bodies. It does nothing in the way of helping us learn the skills needed for asteroid collision mitigation, as extinction-sized asteroids are not amenable to being towed by a solar electric tug, no matter how efficient it may be. The more one looks into the ARM, the more patently absurd the whole concept appears. But it is “someplace to go” and it is not a mission to the Object-That-Cannot-Be-Named, so that qualifies it as a high-value target in today’s space agency.

The claim is made that the ARM “prepares us for journeys to Mars,” the so-called “ultimate destination.” Calling that hand and raising the table limit is an alternative idea, Contestant Number 2 – a human Mars flyby (the mission formerly known as “Inspiration Mars”). Originally, space tourist Dennis Tito proposed the mission as a privately funded activity. However, some saw this idea as a possible NASA alternative to the ARM, a way to plausibly “prepare for Mars” by going to Mars – albeit not landing there.

What would it be like to be the crew on this mission? Imagine that you’re a sailor in the Royal Navy in the 1770s on a ship bound for Tahiti. After a 10-month voyage fighting contrary winds, brutal work and hard discipline, you see an emerald green isle on the horizon. Your mind fills with images of terra firma, dancing maidens, abundant fruit and fish, swimming and lying in the Sun, and no rotten salt pork or weevil-filled hardtack. The island gets nearer and nearer. Then, you pass it by and continue on for another 9 months of what you just experienced, hopeful to make it home safely.

That’s the Mars flyby mission in a nutshell. Its advocates claim that it is better preparation for the ultimate Mars journey than the ARM mission, which is a bit like claiming that riding a bicycle to the next town is better preparation for a cross-country trip than doing loops in your own neighborhood. The alleged benefits of the Mars flyby mission are not overwhelming. It is a long-duration mission, but so are current tours on the ISS. It will practice interplanetary navigation, a skill we mastered in the mid-1960s with the first flyby of Mars, Mariner 4 – and continue to exercise with every subsequent robotic Mars mission. It will permit human eyes to gaze upon the martian surface for the first time; that view is likely to be disappointing, as Mars is a low-contrast object and almost all of the images of the planet taken to date have been processed and stretched to enhance color and appearance.

Perhaps the biggest issues are the possible downsides to a human Mars flyby. The crew will spend at least a full year in deep space, exposed to hard cosmic radiation. More troublingly, solar flares could erupt at any time, possibly showering the crew with a lethal dose of high-energy particles. It might be possible to devise a storm shelter of jacketed habitat to protect the crew during such an event, but this greatly increases the mass and complexity of the spacecraft. The crew will live in microgravity for over a year, although this feat will have already been achieved by the time it flies (a one-year tour is starting next year on the ISS).

All this for a quick fly-by. It will largely be over in about an hour. A year in space for an hour’s glimpse of Mars – sounds like a bargain to me! And in the end, will it have helped or will it have hindered the ultimate goal?

The claim that this mission is to a future human landing on Mars what the Apollo 8 mission was to the Apollo 11 lunar landing is specious. Apollo 8 was undertaken because of a very real concern that the Soviet Union was planning a circumlunar human mission by the end of 1968. It was feared that had they done so, the perception would be that the Soviets had “won” the Moon race. Apollo 8 was sent to the Moon without a lander to avert that possibility. There is no comparable geopolitical end served by this Mars fly-by mission.

So there we have it – the current state of America’s space program: wrangling over which stupid mission is the least stupid. These mental contortions are all brought about because the agency cannot consider flying a mission to the Object-That-Cannot-Be-Named.

And that’s the stupidest part of all.

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92 Responses to Stupid Space Tricks

  1. billgamesh says:

    Launching the 130 metric ton payload SLS 6 or 8 times a year would be the minimal prerequisite to a real space program. A “real” space program defined as Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (HSF-BELO). Dr. Spudis mentions the fact that a human crew in deep space is exposed to “hard” radiation. That heavy nuclei component of cosmic radiation is the showstopper. The 800 pound gorilla no one will talk about. Why? Because any measures to provide partial protection just increase the overall exposure due to secondary radiation. The only answer is massive shielding on the order of hundreds of tons. Actually, for deep space missions lasting years the living space required means thousands of tons.

    That is square one.

    It appears this requirement for thousands of tons of shielding makes any HSF-BELO impossible. And that is why no one will address it. But in fact it is not impossible- the path is narrow and will cost money but it is by no means something that cannot be done due to technical hurdles. The solution to the problem is the Moon (that Object-That-Cannot-Be-Named). The only way to propel thousands of tons of spaceship around the solar system is with nuclear energy. Nuclear missions are not going to be assembled, tested, and launched anywhere within Earth orbit or the magnetosphere. The Moon happens to be just outside that sphere and also happens to have several million tons of water ice that can be converted into the best and most utilitarian form of cosmic ray shielding; water.

    This is the very basic reality of space exploration. Any human voyages of exploration are going to begin not on Earth, but on the Moon. To get there requires a heavy lift vehicle with hydrogen upper stages and we have that on the way in the SLS. What we do not have on the way is a lander.

    The lander is the next question. These stupid space tricks are more than anything a distraction to keep people from asking that question.

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add that given a choice between burning up billions a year in commercial crew games and a space station continuing to go in endless circles or building a cargo lander for the Lunar Poles, I would forget about that collection of tin cans and solar panels and go with the Lunar Polar Lander.

      • Chris Castro says:

        The whole Asteroid Retrieval mission idea is an idiotic one! Even the Mars zealots should be able to see through this moronic scheme! But they won’t: because any mission that isn’t the Moon, gets their approval nod.

        But the truth is: the longer you put-off humankind’s 21st century Lunar venture, the longer you delay any prospect for a Mars one! Preparation for the Red Planet will involve the full use of manned orbiter & lander craft. It is sheer idiocy to avoid dealing with lander vehicles! Landers & habitation modules upon the Moon, will teach us the nitty-gritty of crewed surface operations. Cis-lunar transport/lunar orbiter spacecraft,———-what the Orion vehicle was originally supposed to be, before it morphed into being all things to all people,———–will give us all the major lessons we need, on how to conduct a far-deep-space expedition, using specialized vehicles, that get us to the “harbor” of a destination planet.

        In short, it all boils down to a Gemini-type of intermediate-capability program. A manned space project, that functions as the proving ground, for each of the technological steps that’ll be required for the later higher goal. A set of manned Lunar missions, in this century, will prove to be exactly this kind of mission-plan, which’ll make interplanetary travel realistic.

    • gbaikie says:

      “Launching the 130 metric ton payload SLS 6 or 8 times a year would be the minimal prerequisite to a real space program. A “real” space program defined as Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (HSF-BELO).”

      It seems the most important activity related to Space at the moment is the 200 billion
      satellite market. After that I would put ISS.
      What’s exciting is possibly getting a reusable launch vehicle and possibility of getting commercial sub-orbital flights.
      As far as opening space frontier with a real NASA exploration program that explores for resources which may be potential market in the near future. And terms of total US launches per year, I think a dozen EELVs, 1/2 dozen Falcon- 9, 3 falcon heavy, and some other launches or about 5 or 6 billion dollars worth of launch per year and about 2-3 billion of it being NASA launches would a prerequisite of real space program.

      –Dr. Spudis mentions the fact that a human crew in deep space is exposed to “hard” radiation. That heavy nuclei component of cosmic radiation is the showstopper. The 800 pound gorilla no one will talk about. Why? Because any measures to provide partial protection just increase the overall exposure due to secondary radiation. The only answer is massive shielding on the order of hundreds of tons. Actually, for deep space missions lasting years the living space required means thousands of tons. —

      Hundreds of tons of water and hundreds tons of LOX could lifted from the Moon, to provide part of what is needed for Mars exploration.
      Most of what would be shipped to Mars is not crew. One should have flights to Mars which focus on just getting crew safely to Mars surface in fastest possible way. Which I believe involved starting high earth and returning to Earth perigee, add added about 7-8 km/sec of delta-v, to get to Mars in less than 3 month. So need lots of rocket fuel and water at say, L-1. Then most of tonnage sent to Mars, isn’t affected much by GCR [or solar flares]. For Manned Mars, one is going to need a fuel depot at Mars orbit and one might even use such fuel depot to land on Mars, rather just the obvious need of having rocket fuel in Mars orbit so you can return to return to Earth.

      But before NASA goes to Mars [or goes to a rock] NASA should explore the Moon to find
      the better places to commercially mine rocket fuel. And NASA follows this with Manned Mars, perhaps while NASA does this, it will provide an additional market for mined lunar water.

      • billgamesh says:

        “Hundreds of tons of water and hundreds tons of LOX could lifted from the Moon, to provide part of what is needed for Mars exploration.”

        If you are going to quote me and expound GB then so am I.

        First, if you have several hundred or thousands of tons of water you can use it as a grow medium for a closed cycle ecosystem. This is how a crew will have air to breathe for years without having LOX tanks and C02 scrubbers taking up most of the spaceship.

        Second, if you are going to have this real spaceship actually capable of multi-year voyages it will have to be nuclear propelled; rocket fuel is not going to push several thousand tons of spaceship anyplace interesting.

        Third, if you have a nuclear propelled spaceship then Mars suddenly becomes a much less desirable place to explore. The dozen or so icy moons of the gas giants that might have living subsurface oceans become far more attractive.

        If I seem to be antithetical to the typical popular culture private space advocate it is because I AM. I have no faith in inferior lift rockets and refueling depots and I think we should stay away from Mars completely and immediately concentrate on the Moon. As for “markets” and off world commercial production; the one resource space has the Earth needs we are ignoring; Energy. As Gerard K. O’Neill popularized in the 70’s in his book “The High Frontier”, the space solar energy industry is the ultimate goal. It is the only solution to Global Warming unless we kill off most of the human race and start herding goats for a living.

        • gbaikie says:

          –“Hundreds of tons of water and hundreds tons of LOX could lifted from the Moon, to provide part of what is needed for Mars exploration.”

          If you are going to quote me and expound GB then so am I.

          First, if you have several hundred or thousands of tons of water you can use it as a grow medium for a closed cycle ecosystem. This is how a crew will have air to breathe for years without having LOX tanks and C02 scrubbers taking up most of the spaceship. —

          Well in terms of oxygen, you breathe about 1 kg per day. Or:
          .84 kg per crew per day:

          And the most amount water one use would around 4-10 kg per day per crew.

          So to get to crew to Mars, I would have them get there in about 90 days. And I would have 3 crew as number of first crews to Mars, but perhaps larger crews which follow in the years after this. Anyhow, with 3 crew an 90 days need about 300 kg of LOX
          And couple tons of water for drinking, etc. And could have more than 5 tons of water for shielding.
          And in any case less than 100 tons for all life support, shielding, and crew. Which would includes any imaginable contingency and it seems one might get down to less than 10 tons. In terms one way.
          Coming back might be more than getting there. And then we have possible needs at the surface of Mars- but generally one could assume one is getting water from Mars, particularly if we concerned about crew stay beyond first crew going to Mars, and which is mainly what I would think as likely which would be related to Lunar mining water.

          Lunar LOX would be for propulsion to get to Mars from Earth high orbit, and to get from Mars orbit to Earth. And possibly to get to Mars surface, and even for use at Mars surface- again depending on what is done on Mars- as one can make rocket propellent from Mars resources. And all this is related to cost of getting lunar water and LOX from lunar surface to lunar orbit and beyond. How much the price is could be all over the place, but guess in terms of what would be most amount charged.
          So lunar water will cheaper than than Lunar LOX.
          It seems if lunar rocket is more the 5000 per lb, then it seems one will not export lunar water or LOX. If lunar rocket less the 3000 per lb, then one might have exported lunar water at 3500 per and LOX at around $4000 per lb. This cheaper then you ship from Earth, but if shipping more than 100 tons for Earth of bulk material like LOX. it would be competitive with shipping from Earth.
          It of course is far less cost than what NASA SLS could lift from Earth- as what I am talking about is wild promises for cheap Falcon Heavies type costs. But a contract to lift 100 tons to high earth, could basically cause a emergence of a rocket company- it’s enough to make a business plan of new start up.
          So if assume high end of 4000 per lb/ 8 million per ton. Or 800 million per 100 tons for LOX at high Earth. And to get to Mars fast for crew of 3 it could take more than 100 tons of LOX.

          So roughly 1 billion to get ship and crew to high earth, and 1 billion to refuel and needed life supports of LOX and water.
          And need Earth return. And you need things on Mars orbit, and Mars surface. Or to get the first crew to Mars could around 5 billion for stuff, and about 10 billion for yearly program cost to point landing crew, and to continue the exploration per year add on about 5 billion per year [program costs, rocket fuel, space launches with spacecraft]. And decades of exploration and total budget totaling over 100 billion dollars first decade, and maybe less for next decade.
          Lunar mining might start before crew are first sent to Mars, though lunar mining may also only start after first crew is sent to Mars.

          But anyhow, first NASA should thoroughly explore the Moon [major program 4 billion per year and finished within 10 years year- 40 billion total] to determine if and where lunar water is minable.

          • billgamesh says:

            Thanks for the links GB.

            I think Mars is probably the biggest problem in space exploration after private space tourism. As Dr. Spudis writes, “A year in space for an hour’s glimpse of Mars.”

            Landing there is not going to be much different. People will not be seeing much of the dim frozen dead landscape because of radiation. About the only way to colonize Mars would be to blast huge artificial caves with H-bombs. Mars has no good energy resources so PACER is about the only plan that will work.


            Variations of PACER produce fissile material for reactors without having to dig mines and refine ore. So a colony on Mars would turn the planet into a nest of constantly expanding underground nuclear power plants. Once an industrial infrastructure is in place and machinery could be built then tunneling machines would start cutting galleries for mile after mile. At some point the colony would become self-sufficient. An underground world. Because it would create a separate population it would be insurance for our species. But because of the low gravity the first generation would probably never be able to bear returning to Earth. They would be Martians.

            I think that Humans would be happier in space habitats at 1 G. Not much different than living underground.

          • gbaikie says:

            –I think Mars is probably the biggest problem in space exploration after private space tourism. As Dr. Spudis writes, “A year in space for an hour’s glimpse of Mars.” —
            I would agree with Dr. Spudis. Nor can Mars exploration be supported if crew merely land on Mars and do something similar [or less] than Apollo.
            The Mars fans have be misguided. But their failure
            does not make opposed to a strong Mars exploration program. {and I think their much value if we get more private space tourism}.
            Mars Fans have been mostly distracted with idea what is needed a huge rocket owned and operated by the government. Of course members of US senate also tends to agree with idea.
            A better approach would be to have human spaceflight program which could use the same launchers as is used by the commercial rocket launch companies. And we can use such rockets to do a manned Mars space program.
            Or the barrier to doing a manned Mars program is not that we don’t have big enough rockets.
            The biggest barrier is funding a manned Mars program, and understanding such funding will require decades of funding.
            And part of the answer to how one does this, is understanding why we have had space agency which has had high levels of funding over many decades.
            And the main reason we have had such public support is due to the satellite market- the 200 billion dollar a year global industry. This satellite market has made “space” important and it seems likely will continue in the future to make space important.
            So one has to made a Manned Mars program important.
            Making a large rocket does not make space important.
            But having new markets in space would make what NASA does more important. And market related to Manned Mars and satellite market [particularly for US]
            would be rocket fuel market in space.

            Other thing which seems to be required for Manned Mars exploration is getting crew to Mars as fast as is reasonable possible. Not important in terms of non-crew, but I would say necessary for crew.
            So rather Mars fans wanting a large rocket, Mars fans should want a means of getting crew to mars as fast as
            And getting crew to Mars as fast as possible is related to a rocket fuel market in space.
            And rocket fuel market in space is necessary to mine lunar water to make rocket fuel.
            If companies are investing in mining the Moon, one can certain that a NASA Mars manned program would be important and more importantly, continue to be important for decades.
            It would not require dorky cheer leading, it would be self evident.

  2. A_M_Swallow says:

    NASA is organising the Lunar CATALYST initiative to send cargo landers to the Moon. Unfortunately currently NASA is just cheer leading, there is no money.

    The XEUS lander from Masten Space Systems is the only one big enough to act as a human lander. The cabin could be derived from NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV).

    The MX-1 from Moon Express appears to be too small to land a SEV. I do not know if they are planning a larger MX-2. Dr. Paul Spudis is their Chief Scientist.

    Lets hope that things change in 2 years time under the next US President.

    • Robert Clark says:

      Good point about the Masten Xeus lunar lander. We would have a manned lander 1/100 the cost of the Antares. The only reason why NASA is not considering it is because the assumption a lunar lander has to be a multi-billion dollar development.

      Bob Clark

      • billgamesh says:

        Actually NASA is far ahead of the game and this 5000 pound thrust vehicle would not be a multi-billion dollar program to scale up to the same power range as the original lunar lander (named Antares for the Apollo 14 mission).

        9,982 lbf (44,400 N) at full throttle; throttle range of 1,050 lbf (4,700 N) to 6,800 lbf (30,000 N)

        • billgamesh says:

          I would add that with modest funding several such landers equipped with a dozen or more fairly large ice prospecting robots based on weaponized military models could be landed at the Lunar Poles using the SLS. That would not be a stupid space trick.

        • A_M_Swallow says:

          @Billgamesh You are assuming a sensibly run organisation. As we write NASA’s lander development projects Mighty Eagle and Project Morpheus are being shut down. The team members hope to get transferred to Lunar CATALYST. They committed the sin of finishing.

          The private sector landers may replace them. NASA will only buy a lander from the private sector when it has a payload to land.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            Solar panels are launched folded. Could hinges be added to the 4 Morpheus? Some sort of pulley system being used to transform them from a straight line to a triangle.

        • Robert Clark says:

          I think Morpheus is only one way lander. It would be more complicated to make it also able to take off again.

          Bob Clark

          • billgamesh says:

            I think it will work just fine. It might make the private space fans unhappy but that’s just too bad. Claiming everything that our space agency does will fail yet being dependant on it to make all the Ayn-Rand-in-space fantasies come true illustrates the collective cognitive deficit of the new space mob.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            The team managed to get the Morpheus Lander to take off twice in the same day.

            A reusable lander going between orbit and the lunar surface return would need much bigger fuel tanks. I suspect that pressurising using helium is also the wrong way to do it.

          • Robert Clark says:

            With a 2 metric ton crew module, a manned lunar lander can be constructed of 3 Morphii as the descent stage and one Morpheus as the ascent stage, judging by the specifications on the wiki page:


            A low cost manned lander. The development of the Morpheus was $13 million for two prototypes, including testing costs. So four might cost $26 million, actually less since some of that cost include costs for the flight tests.
            I’m thinking of how to arrange the four separate quads so that they will fit in both the Falcon Heavy and SLS fairings. You don’t want to stack them linearly with the descent stage on the bottom, then the ascent stage, then the crew module on top, because the quads are 12 feet high so the astronauts would have to climb down 24 feet.
            On the other hand putting all four quads on a single level would give a diameter of 24 feet since they also have a 12 foot diameter. This couldn’t fit inside the Falcon Heavy fairing at 17 feet wide, but would inside the SLS fairing.

            Bob Clark

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            Morpheus has a weakness. To prevent ‘noise vibrations’ it needs the nozzle to be many feet away from the ground. After the crash KSC dug frame trench for the lander.

            Putting the ascent stage on top of the descent stage may be a simple way to create a ‘frame trench’ on the Moon and Mars.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            The dry mass of the Morpheus on the Wiki page probably does not include the mass of the helium pressurisation system, batteries for several days, coolant for several days or ALHAT (180 kg – 1 off).

      • A_M_Swallow says:

        The Xeus would make a good test payload for the SLS. If the cost can be kept down half of NASA may not realise what they are looking at until it actually lands on the Moon.

    • Robert Clark says:

      A reusable lunar lander such as the Xeus can also be used as a Mars lander. Then designing lunar return missions can help with accomplishing a manned Mars mission:

      Towards a low cost lander for the Moon – and Mars.

      Bob Clark

    • Robert Clark says:

      Nice article here on the Morpheus:

      Project Morpheus Concludes Successful Flight Test Campaign With Spectacular Night Launch.
      By Mike Killian

      The project leader notes it could be scaled up to be a manned lander. I estimate it would need to be scaled up by a factor of three to form a descent stage, wwhile using the original sized one for the ascent stage. Based on a $13 million development cost for two prototypes, one scaled up by a factor of three might cost $20 million. So $27 million for both stages.

      Or you could combine three of the original size to form the descent stage, with the same development cost of $20 million. This would have an advantage of a quicker time to producing a flight capable prototype. Another problem with the scaled up version of the descent stage is that based on the 12 foot height of the original version I estimate an 18 foot height of the descent stage. That would be a high climb down for the astronauts.

      In any case we see again a manned lander can be made for 10’s of millions of dollars rather than the $10 billion of the Altair.

      Bob Clark

      • A_M_Swallow says:

        Many modification are needed before the lander can work on the Moon but nothing the current team cannot do in 2 to 3 years.

  3. billgamesh says:

    The latest research on Ganymede shows the possibility of yet another gas giant moon with subsurface oceans. Liquid water and the heat to keep it liquid means the possibility of life. Not just microbes either. While Jupiter has some serious radiation belts that make human visitation challenging Saturn does not. Saturn however is……farther away. Mars is a rock. While we foolishly try and cheat nature by figuring out some cheap way that humans can survive a year of debilitating in a radiation bath to get there the best places to explore are vast distances farther out.

    The answer to getting to Mars makes going someplace else the logical course. If an atomic spaceship is built with the shielding and artificial gravity to keep a crew healthy then Mars becomes a waste of time compared to going to the moons of the gas giants.

    It also makes the Moon the first place to go to assemble, test, and launch missions to those moons.

  4. Congress needs to fund the development of a reusable LOX/LH2 Extraterrestrial Landing Vehicle that could be used for a variety of human and cargo beyond LEO missions: the Lunar surface, the surfaces of Deimos and Phobos, Martian surface (with the addition of a ballute and heat shield), and as a cis-lunar orbital transfer vehicle for transferring commercial crew passengers to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.

    The development of such a vehicle would satisfy the Mars advocates and the commercial crew advocates while also giving us a vehicle capable of returning humans to the Moon in the early 2020’s, long after Obama and the anti-Moon advocates in his administration are gone!

    A flexible landing vehicle fits the Flexible Path– perfectly!


    • A_M_Swallow says:

      Can we build a viable LOX/LH2 lander without adding a heavy cryogenic refrigeration unit to the dry mass?

      • billgamesh says:

        That seems to be the promise of Zero-Boil-Off technology (ZBO). A less than perfect “one week” system that can maintain enough hydrogen propellent for a cargo lander to insert into lunar orbit and soft land would not be a challenge. It is the whole concept of refueling depots that I am extremely skeptical about. I really do not think it is practical. LOX yes, LH2 no. Transferring cryogenics is a whole can of worms in itself, let alone storing it for long periods. It is quite complex when the exothermic forms of hydrogen generated when re-liquifying the boil-off, radiation, and zero gravity effects are all taken into account. I do not think the extremely low boil-off rates being cited are the reality. The private space infomercial makes it all sound so simple. That said, an underground Moon base would be a far easier place to handle LH2 than any possible storage site in space. A Moon base would also have energy for possible pure hydrogen beam propulsion systems with double the ISP for launching from the Moon.

        Storing LH2 is yet one more reason that nuclear energy is the only real option for interplanetary propulsion. A failure to maintain liquid hydrogen propellents over the year or more the “just close enough” Martian missions require means such ZBO systems would have to be true technological marvels and the track record for successfully developing such miracles is not encouraging. This chemical scenario also ignores the cosmic ray problem. Falling back to storable propellents makes such an unshielded non-rotating spacecraft swell up to much larger proportions.

        Any human deep space missions will have to start from the Moon. As for a reusable lander, that would require a Moon base with an underground hangar where it could be maintained.

        • A_M_Swallow says:

          A propellant depot can sell methane and LOX.

          Selling hydrogen and helium sounds something a third generation depot would do.

      • Cryocoolers actually reduce the weight of your vehicle since they reduce the amount of insulation required for the fuel tanks. The ullage gases needed to be re-liquified on a daily basis represents less than 0.1% of the total fuel weight. But even without cryocoolers, the fuel boil-off for short (a couple of weeks) cis-lunar missions would be insignificant.

        For long lunar outpost missions where the reusable vehicle can sit on the lunar surface for several months, cryocoolers would come in handy to eliminate fuel boil-off. However, it might be more practical for the reusable vehicle just to use lunar fuel stored on the lunar surface at a lunar fuel depot that manufactures fuel from lunar polar ice deposits.

        For Mars missions, it would also seem more practical for a reusable landing vehicle to utilize fuel stored at a fuel depot already in orbit around Mars. And on the Martian surface, a fuel manufacturing depot should already be on the surface since there are plenty of oxygen and water resources on the surface of Mars.


        • Wes says:

          um…Marcel, to keep the input power on the cryocooler from spiraling out of control, you need the best insulation system you can get. The power may be free, but the solar panels to collect it aren’t.

        • “The dry weight of a lander is nearer 3 tons than 300”

          Radiation– mass shielding (water)– is for interplanetary space habitats, not for landing vehicles. This amount of shielding would be needed to protect astronauts from excessive cosmic radiation exposure and major solar events during the multi-month journeys to Mars and back to cis-lunar space.

          Landing vehicles for Martian moon missions might still require solar arrays to prevent boil-off after a six to nine month journey to Mars orbit, but hydrogen is only 14% of the total fuel component. The ullage gases from a daily hydrogen boil-off rate of ~0.1% could easily be re-liquified by cryocoolers with a lightweight solar array.

          Alternatively, the landing vehicles could simply refuel at a depot pre-deployed in Mars orbit.


          • billgamesh says:

            If they find out that Ceres really does have a liquid subsurface ocean next year Marcel then which body do you really want to visit? You can almost land on Ceres in a spacesuit. I would rather do some ice diving there than marvel at a barren desert. If you build a spaceship that can go to Mars it can go to Ceres.

          • The delta-v requirement to travel from an Earth-Moon Lagrange point to high Mars orbit would be less than 2 km/s. The delta-v for a Lagrange point to Ceres voyage would require more than 6 km/s. Plus it would probably take more than a year to get there.

            So you’d probably need to cluster a few Mars sized boosters together to get to Ceres. I presented such a vehicle in my most recent blog.


  5. Joe says:

    The editorial by Griffin and Albaugh is particularly troubling.

    Both have extensive backgrounds, yet are supporting the idea.

    Given all the technical issues and development that would have to be resolved and completed before such a mission could be attempted, the idea that it could be launched in seven years with no significant budget impacts is problematic.

    It makes it sound as if Griffin and Albaugh (and perhaps others) are suffering from a political version of Stockholm Syndrome.

  6. billgamesh says:

    The work done on Altair need not be wasted. As an unmanned Lunar Polar Lander delivering robotic prospectors it is the best choice for the next administration to steer the U.S. back onto the proper course.

    These assumptions that the HSF budget will not go up, that funding cannot be double or tripled, that the ISS is a sacred cow, and that because Altair was shelved it cannot be taken back off the shelf, all these assumptions are completely false.

    Indeed several programs that seemed dead were revitalized under new administrations; programs just as expensive as Constellation. The B-1 bomber being best example. A change of direction under a new administration, Democrat or Republican, is to be expected and should be courted.
    I suspect the next President will not be a “Mr.”. But I have made some wrong predictions.

    There are many angles to pursue and they should all be taken under consideration. Planetary protection, Global warming, survival colonies, nuclear deterrent basing; all can be addressed with Lunar Resources. The time to approach the next administration with a plan is now!

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add to this that while I am not personally very optimistic about robotic operations, the possibility of processing lunar ice remotely exists. Since the first vital need is water for radiation shielding, sending that resource into lunar orbit to be loaded on wet workshops or variations is a concept that can be explored. The SLS upper stage could the key. This would allow the production of a cislunar manned platform network similar to what Dr. Spudis has proposed.

    • Chris Castro says:

      Indeed, all that design & blueprint work shouldn’t go to waste! I’m positive also, that when a different Presidential administration comes in, it should be possible to re-continue with the Altair L-SAM lunar vehicle, and construct a version of it, which could fit——-together with an earth escape stage——-on board whatever future Heavy Lift rocket that eventually gets built. Building the full-up Ares 5, would ideally be what we’d be doing. But if a less powerful rocket is the best we’re going to get (an Ares 4), then maybe some upgrades to its designated full-extent of power could be implemented. (Perhaps a set of extra strap-on boosters, or something.) Then a large enough lunar lander, with the capacity for soft-landing habitation modules & extra equipment cargo onto the Moon, for outpost-type of missions, will be do-able.

      There’s nothing wrong with starting out doing lunar sortie missions, by the way, on the first few trips. We’ll need to prove out the durability of our vehicles, in any case, prior to the bigger test. Just as long as we build our lander & orbiter vehicles with large-enough margins of future upgrade capability, so that we are easily able to move on to the outpost phase of our lunar flight manifest. Kind of like how the old Apollo LM & CSM were able to be upgraded for the later J-class of missions, even though they started out with much-less capability, on the earlier trips.

  7. Jules B says:

    The Orion was designed for lunar missions and probably cannot safely perform the earth reentry probably from either the asteroid or the Mars missions:

    while the Orion spacecraft is being designed to perform a wide variety of mission scenarios, many aspects of the IM mission fall outside of that design envelope. One of these critical areas was the reentry speed. Orion’s missions only require reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds up to 11.2 km/sec, whereas the special IM trajectory would have the spacecraft reentering at speeds near 14.2 km/sec. While this is only a 27% increase in reentry speed, the physics of atmospheric heating produce heat loads that are several times greater. To survive the Orion spacecraft would need a new, thicker, heavier heat shield along with a strict mass limit that is difficult to achieve given the fixed geometry of the Orion crew module.
    -Paragraph 5, Page 11, Inspiration Mars: Architecture Study Report Summary

    And Orion was designed for 4 (originally 7) crew for a 3-4 day mission duration; 3 to 4 days each way to and from the moon. Remember everyone was going to land and leave Orion unmanned in lunar orbit. Now it is OK for an 18 month mission? I don’t think so.

    You’d need a new long duration module in addition to new and redundant life support systems and considerable radiation protection.

    So, in short, you need to start redesigning the vehicle. They’ve spent an awful low of money on the Orion already and yet its not nearly ready to fly in full form. Its been in development for about a decade. No they would need a substantial redesign with substantial new elements and everything would need to be ready in about 6 or 7 years?

    The prospects are not good.

    • Its my view that human interplanetary missions should be launched from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points and should return to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. This would substantially reduce delta-v requirements. And this would also allow large reusable orbital transfer vehicles to take advantage of lunar fuel resources deposited at the Lagrange points.

      The Orion should not be part of any missions beyond cis-lunar space, IMO.


    • Chris Castro says:

      @Jules B.,……Your assessment looks very correct. Indeed the heavy burden of having to greatly alter the Orion CEV just to make it adequate for a Mars Flyby run, would be an absurd path to take, at this time. The Orion should just be doing, what it was originally proposed to do——-that is, serve as the prime lunar orbital spacecraft———hence be used for exploring the Moon, first.

      Mars & any asteroids can wait. Indeed it might even be better & more efficient for a future Mars-return vehicle to be a different spacecraft, entirely. One designed from the start, to be durable for such ultra-high re-entry velocities. The Inspiration Mars people are being very naive about the gargantuan engineering obstacles that their mission would have to overcome, in order to actually fly. NASA hasn’t flown a manned spacecraft to the Moon, in over 41 years! Plus don’t forget, that the last time such a deep spaceflight happened, the astronauts were back home in less than two weeks. A Lunar Flyby flight would be even shorter, in duration; since slowing down to drop into a Low Lunar Orbit would not be an objective. Oh, and don’t even get me started on their tale about how the ISS “is preparation for going to Mars”! The ISS is completely dependent on regular resupply flights, to keep it occupied. Resupply drones, provided by Russia, by the way, since this country has, at present, NO independent space-ferrying capability of its own. We have ZERO experience with keeping a crew alive & salutary beyond the Earth’s ionosphere. Has ANY deep space crew to date, been able to survive a solar flare event, on board their spacecraft, and lived to tell about it?

  8. billgamesh says:

    Indeed the prospects are not good for any kind of human interplanetary mission using off the shelf technology. The places we are going to find life or low radiation and liquid environments facilitating independent colonies are in the outer solar system. Considering the many who are spellbound by Mars this is not a popular view so I might as well be blunt.

    If the money and time is going to be expended it should not be wasted on a rock.

    To send human beings to the moons of the gas giants within a year or two requires velocities far exceeding anything possible with chemical propulsion. One scenario would be using beam propulsion to launch a spaceship from the Moon and use the atmosphere of the gas giant to aerobrake, use nuclear propulsion to accelerate for the return voyage, and with propellent derived from icy moons (or using radiation shielding as propellant upon return) again a lunar powered beam propulsion system to slow down. Variations of this scheme have been proposed for decades.

  9. Chris Castro says:

    By the way, to Mr. Spudis: in your current article, above; excellent analogy given, for what the ill-conceived Mars Fly-By mission would be like! Yeah, consider being a British Navy ship crew, doing Pacific island exploration, in the 1770’s, and spending such an immense time at sea, braving all kinds of privations, just to make an ephemeral, fleeting pass next to Tahiti, and then having to instantly begin a long, arduous return voyage on the ship, back to Britain! The vast, longer-than-a-year journey NOT punctuated with a staying interlude on the balmy, picturesque Polynesian locale. Can you imagine how rough on the psyche, such an all-the-way-to-Mars-&-back mission would be like, for the two-person crew?!

    A Moon Fly-By trip would be so much shorter, and hence far more bearable, which is why the not-having-to-land-for-the-time-being concept works for that destination. A hypothetically catastrophe-free Apollo 13 trip, that was planned as a free-return trajectory flight, would certainly have been an exciting & pleasant sightseeing excursion, by the spacemen, via the awesome visuals seen from the window! Think about it: three days outbound, then a close loop-passage ’round the Moon, seeing it up close, and then just another three-days-trip time in coming back to Earth. Such a visually-stunning journey——-on those much shorter time frames——-would NOT bother me at all! An Apollo 8 or 10-type of lunar orbital mission, would be even better, for the overall experience, when doing a non-landing trip, particularly if there’d be future opportunities to come back, during an actual landing stint.

    In brief, the Moon is close enough to Earth, so that the flight-times involved during a fly-by or orbital trek, would be tolerable & positive to the crew. Mars is much too faraway, for such an ephemeral non-landing, non-orbiting mission to be a viable idea.

  10. Nelson Bridwell says:

    Manned Space Exploration is all about international prestige.

    Inspiration Mars is a mission that would advance American prestige and respect in the world.

    The Asteroid Retrieval Mission would not.

    Remarkably, although IM was originally conceived as a way for big talkers in the New Space crowd to leave NASA in their dust, it has turned out to be just the opposite.

    The current White House administration is not a genuine advocate of American manned space exploration. Consequently, it has and continues to oppose lunar exploration, the Space Launch System, the Orion crew exploration vehicle, and now the Venus/Mars Flyby. In contrast, it has promoted the diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize very-high-end tourism businesses. (Although misguided, one positive fringe benefit of this effort has been a reduction in launch costs for smaller payloads and a larger American share of the satellite launch market.)

    Although the Venus/Mars flyby is technically and financially possible, it will only happen if Congress will take the extreme step of taking control of NASA away from the Executive Branch and providing it with a consistent direction and meaningful missions.

    • billgamesh says:

      A Venus/Mars flyby can never happen with an unshielded non-rotating chemically propelled spacecraft. The odds of the crew not surviving are far too high.

  11. Chris Castro says:

    @Nelson Bridwell;………I don’t deny that national prestige is a major motivator, in doing daring things. Indeed it may be the only reason that America may finally get off its lazy rear end, and leave Low Earth Orbit———because our new arch-rival, China, will sometime in the 2020’s, launch a manned capsule to Low LUNAR Orbit!! The sting of international competition going sourly for the United States may, in the end, be the single biggest factor of them all, in getting the current reversed, in our bad spaceflight fortunes. If this is the way future history goes, then ultimately so be it! I personally would be ecstatically glad to see Chinese spacemen entering orbit around the Moon, on board their Shenzou craft, as a prelude to them later taking to the surface, on board their version of a lunar lander, on a later expedition. (They’d most likely want to test their lunar orbiter vehicle first, with an Apollo 8 or 10-type of mission, in which they might still bring along a lander.)

    However they’d progress, on their way to beginning sortie landings, wending on to ambitious outpost landing missions, I predict that despite all the ridiculous anti-Moon bluster that you’re hearing in segments of the space community nowadays, you can bet money that if China gets there first——in the 21st century——and shows signs of exceeding the scope of spaceflight abilities, of what was possible in the Apollo program———that yes, America will feel the sting of being completely left out! Trust me: our astronauts will reach the Moon as well, within five years to the start of the Chinese taikonauts first successful landings!

    We as a country, have the present-day luxury, of blowing & wasting time, energy & money on pointless, ill-conceived space projects, because we SEEM to lack any real viable competitor. But just you wait until China has had enough of copying us with confining & stifling LEO stations, and finally decides to break orbit, and head on out into the cis-lunar void!

  12. billgamesh says:

    I have been unhappy with ocean analogies concerning space travel for several years. But perhaps I should take a hint from Dr. Spudis and embrace them….with a caveat. Space is an ocean because a spaceship must take a small ocean of water with it for radiation shielding. We take a necessary microcosm with us. The sailor on the sea of space will see a spinning starscape because looking out the window through fourteen feet of water the rotating ship will cause the stars to turn in a circle. This is the basic requirement for long duration deep space missions; cosmic ray shielding and artificial gravity. Even for a manned platform to hover above Earth in geostationary orbit the problems of space radiation and zero gravity will have to be solved.

    Human beings cannot spend years in a debilitating free fall radiation bath without paying an unacceptable price. So the “space is an ocean” analogy, if properly framed, leads us straight to the Moon. Only the Moon is close enough and has the resources and shallower gravity well, yet is outside the Earth’s magnetosphere so we can utilize the only option for propelling such massive water filled spinning ships of space; nuclear energy.

    Inspiration Mars is no inspiration. The path is a narrow one and starts in one place; the Moon.

    • billgamesh says:

      “Imagine that you’re a sailor in the Royal Navy in the 1770s on a ship bound for Tahiti.”

      To continue with the naval analogies, oar powered ships did not explore the world; it required sailing ships. And since human muscles are chemical energy and the wind comes from the sun, which is fusion…………I dare say this is a similar situation with space propulsion. The forests to build the great sailing ships were inland and the resources to build spaceships are also a distance away- on the Moon. Shielding and artificial gravity are simply the modern day counterparts to sleeping below decks instead of an open deck and suffering from malnutrition. Ships generally returned from early voyages with a fraction of crews surviving.

      “It was a Scottish surgeon in the Royal Navy, James Lind, who first proved it could be treated with citrus fruit in experiments he described in his 1753 book A Treatise of the Scurvy,[2] though his advice was not implemented by the Royal Navy for several decades.”

      • Paul Spudis says:

        I have previously written on the sea-voyaging analogy to spaceflight here: Analogy for Space: Aviation or Seafaring?

      • Joe says:

        The whole Air Force vs. Navy as analog for space activities (to me at least) is based on a simple difference in the two.

        – In aviation flights are relatively short: (1) the crews do not live on the vehicles for any significant period of time, (2) Major maintenance is done on the ground not in flight.
        – In sea going endeavors the time on station can be lengthy: (1) the crews live for extensive periods of time on the vehicles, (2) Extensive (though not all) maintenance is done “at sea”.

        Obviously, the Navy analogy is the closest approximation for an ambitious Space Program.

        I am going to skip entering into another discussion of the levels of protection required from radiation and any debilitating effects of prolonged exposure to micro-gravity and how they might be achieved. This has already been discussed on this site at great (and sometimes heated) length by some of the same participants.

  13. billgamesh says:

    Thank you for the link to your other article Dr. Spudis.

    In hindsight, our airliner to space was capable of doing the same mission as the ISS. A six and a half ton double-pallet could keep the orbiter up for a month in addition to it’s standard ten day endurance. With a smaller crew and solar panel system the shuttle could have stayed up for six months at a time. The problem was landing it with a debilitated pilot. The simple solution would have been to send a second shuttle up to dock with a few weeks overlap and have a fresh pilot from the second shuttle land it or failing that land it by remote control from a two seat chase fighter.

    As it is we have a space station that does nothing except consume billions a year and due to deteriorating international relations we may not even be able to buy a 60 million dollar ticket for a ride to it. Private space has failed to provide the astronaut taxi they promised as it is still probably a billion dollars and a couple years away.

    The aviation analogy is the chemically propelled unshielded non-rotating spacecraft while the Seafaring example is the nuclear propelled massively shielded rotating artificial gravity spaceship. The aviation example will take us to the Moon but nowhere else which is all it needs to do. We can go everywhere else by assembling, testing, and launching true spaceships of the “spacefaring” type from there.

    • billgamesh says:

      Having just watched the trailer for “Interstellar”, I see that popular culture negativity that has infected any consideration of the space program once again focusing public opinion in the wrong direction. Space disaster movies depict realities we do not want and this is yet another warning flag. It appears that in this movie the only event that can drive us into space is the Earth dying. So of course we find a way to travel faster than light. Of course. Kind of like the story of a private space company giving bored Joe sixpack a ticket to a space station vacation. Fiction. Actually, not fiction; fantasy. We cannot go faster than light. We cannot pay for a plane ticket to a zero G resort.

      Floating Canadians singing David Bowie pop songs is about all we have to show for hundreds and hundreds of billions of tax dollars. There was a time when science fiction was “hard” and while a “McGuffin”, a necessary hook, was required for entertainment, the rest of the story was hopefully believable. Then came Star Wars.

      Kubrick’s 2001 and the Moon landings may have been as good as we will ever do. I hope not. We have the technology to accomplish fantastic projects. Few people know the spaceship in 2001 was supposed be propelled by atomic bombs but Kubrick was tired of bombs after Dr. Strangelove and wanted nothing to do with that. Now we have hundreds of tons of plutonium no one knows what to do with. Star Trek used a transporter because of a limited special effects budget. Now we have a space program with a limited special effects budget resorting to stupid space tricks.

      There was a time when there were only three black and white TV channels and Colliers was running an illustrated series about the conquest of space by Von Braun. We have a hundred channels of garbage and fill every minute of every day with information. And accomplish nothing. I hope the movie has a better message than what it seems.

      • NASA’s anti-beyond LEO philosophy for its human space program began with Nixon and has been embraced by practically every president since with the exception of the last George Bush. The senior George Bush advocated a human Mars program but never fought for it.

        President Obama has taken this philosophy even further by trying to get NASA even out of the LEO launch business by simply handing it over to private industry which I believe was also one of Nixon’s original dreams with the Space Shuttle (hoping that private industry would eventually take over the production and launch of the Space Shuttle so that NASA could get out of the manned space launch business).

        NASA’s 40 year mission to LEO has cost the tax payers more than $220 billion in today’s dollars. But the Gemini and Apollo programs that eventually gave us Moon landings and a space station (Skylab) cost the tax payers less than $140 billion in today’s dollars.

        But President Obama would like us to continue the wasteful mission to LEO policy for at least another decade at a cost of at least another $30 to$40 billion.


        • Paul Spudis says:

          The senior George Bush advocated a human Mars program but never fought for it.

          Not quite true. The Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) was included as part of each Presidential budget after it was announced (on July 20, 1989), but Congress zeroed it out each year. The only way the Republican Bush could fight the actions of the Democratic Congress was to veto the budgets they produced. And at that time, we were fighting a war in Iraq.

          By the way, SEI was not just “a Mars Program” but included a robust return to the Moon (“this time to stay”).

          • Thanks for the info Dr. Spudis.

            I didn’t realize that there was also a space station and a lunar component to Bush senior’s policy. All the media seemed to talk about at that time was Mars.


  14. billgamesh says:

    I am so tired of Mars and so tired of “new space.”
    It is not about Mars and chemical rockets anymore.
    This fixation the public sees in the media is concealing what research, deep space probes, and rover missions are telling us; Mars is a rock and we cannot get there with chemical rockets.

    A quarter century of space station data and radiation research has all come up with the same verdict; space is unhealthy and if we want to succeed we have to take the Earth environment with us. This automatically removes chemical rockets as a mode of transport because they cannot move the shielding necessary. Nuclear energy means going to the Moon and shielding means using water from the Moon.

    It means the Moon is where we are going before we go anywhere else. And Mars is a really bad choice for a place to explore if you are going to build a real spaceship.

    They have a “Mars Society” so perhaps I should start a society advocating going to a place worth exploring;

  15. Robert Clark says:

    A great article by Dr. Spudis:

    Earth Rising.
    Earth as seen from the Moon is always in the same place – true or false? It
    By Paul D. Spudis
    May 15, 2014

    Thus, there are places on the Moon from which we can stand and
    contemplate the sheer beauty and magnificence of a slowly rising Earth.
    Given the sea change in global perspective provided by the famous Earthrise
    picture taken by the Apollo 8 crew almost fifty years ago, what societal
    impacts will occur when a human being stands on the lunar surface and
    watches the Earth slowly rise above the horizon? I suspect that a similar
    shift in planetary perspective will occur. If history is any guide, such a
    shift will have profound psychological and political implications – both
    positive and negative – in our reach for the stars.

    I wonder if a Google Lunar X-Prize entrant could land at one of the
    locations where Earthrise would be visible.

    Bob Clark

  16. Chris Castro says:

    Indeed an earthrise from the surface, has never been seen by human eyes, nor through robotic eyes as far as I have seen. Nor an earthset, from the lunar ground. True, it would take a probe or astronaut landing to take place along certain portions of the Moon, in the areas of the lunar limbs, on its earth-facing side. This’ll be even more spectacular of a sight, than that seen from low lunar orbit. I can certainly envision the scene’s beauty!

    Another astronomical sight to behold by either human eyes in person, or by robotic eyes on a landing probe, would be sunrise & sunset on the Moon. Because of the much slower passage of the daylight/darkness terminator an the overall planetary revolving, dusk itself would proceed more slowly and spread-out. However if I’m not mistaken, the actual moment of entry to sunlight or to nighttime darkness would presumedly occur rather suddenly———with the idea that some strange & wispy glows & gleams might occur at the horizon edge, perhaps due to static charged particles of dust.

    Thirdly, another intriguing phenomenon to witness from the Moon, would be a Lunar Eclipse. Can you imagine the sizeable interphase, that the Moon would be covered by the Earth’s shadow, as seen from anywhere on the Near Side? That would be a most spectacular eclipse to witness, with scientific gear & proper protective eyewear or specially designed helmet visors. Maybe windows on the habitation module can include a lining of the eclipse-eye-protection material. Assuming that the same vision hazards would exist, in human viewing of the eclipse, from there.

  17. billgamesh says:

    “The object now seems to be who can come up with the silliest idea for a human spaceflight mission.”

    If the Moon is verboten for this administration then I can only come up with one idea. I would recommend sending simple sections of RFX1 (NASA developed radiation shielding) into Geostationary orbit. The mission being to create a “hangar” an Orion or other spacecraft capsule can pull into and seal up. With a couple large viewports the goal would be to create a radiation sanctuary above the Van Allen belts.
    Phase one would be building and robotically assembling the sanctuary. Since it would have to mass enough to absorb secondary radiation from heavy nuclei and enclose the Orion or similar capsule then we are talking about several hundred tons minimum. I would guess well over a thousand tons for the minimum amount of shielding to form a close fitting garage designed for Orion’s dimensions. This is not simply silly but too silly because of the mass requirement; a lesser challenge is to build a smaller sanctuary- just enough for a couple human beings. A simple inflatable habitat could be carried up in the capsule and inserted and inflated in the sanctuary through the docking hatch.
    Much simpler and only requiring about 400 tons for each of these smaller spheres- but with much less room inside.
    Phase two would be an equal mass on the other end of a thousand foot tether system to effect an artificial gravity system. Since it is not going anywhere the obvious composition of this other mass would be….another sanctuary. Various life support storage, sensor, telecommunication and solar panel modules would move along this tether system to balance the combination for rotation.
    And that is my idea of the silliest idea for a human spaceflight mission. It may not seem silly because it would actually accomplish something; it could act as a communications satellite and also laser space debris out of orbit. But it would be ridiculous because 800 tons of dumb plastic would be lifted into geostationary orbit costing an impractical amount of money. Just to construct a space station. We think of the ISS as a space station but in reality Low Earth Orbit is protected by the Van Allen belts and not really space. A real space station would have to be able to provide a healthy environment beyond Earth orbit. This has never been done.

    The difficulty of this project might wake up those who think space travel is about zero gravity tourism. In truth a spaceship is always the best space station. For the impossible cost of lifting shielding out of Earth’s gravity well there is the practical and inevitable supply available from a much shallower body; water shielding derived from lunar polar ice deposits. The only mission that is not silly is going to the Moon.

  18. Chris Castro says:

    Neat little interim idea, on what to construct & fly in space, until a Lunar-friendly presidential administration comes marching in. Trust me, it will NOT be the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency, if that comes to pass! But we Lunar enthusiasts might be in for a long, endless-seeming rift of NO progress towards our goals, if HRC makes it to the Oval Office! Those political bad dreams aside, I agree that a much truer space travel realm awaits BEYOND the ionosphere. LEO activities have always been the cinch-flimsy-easy way out: since astronauts are protected for the most part, by the magnetosphere. If our present-day exploits would just have to contend for even one week’s time, the radiation conditions of deep space, the engineering challenges would really make some heads spin!!

    Just look at some of the recent Sci-Fi movies that have come out: films like “Gravity” & “Elysium”, which look no further than Low Earth Orbit for their story locales. It’s as if there are only two places in the solar system that Sci Fi fans know to exist: Mars & LEO. I hated how in the movie, “Mission to Mars”, the Moon was completely ignored as a possible intermediate destination. They even put their mission control place in an LEO station. As silly as that sub-plot sounds.

    We need to better communicate with the general public about just what our proposed future plans are! One mistake made, during the Constellation project’s all-too-brief life, as a designated-for-doing program, was that no one put together a good enough graphic design animation film, that would’ve captured the full game plan, for a human return to Luna. All those animation videos that went to YouTube and space-interest websites, only depicted the “flags & footprints” aspect of the trip. All that was shown was our astronauts revisiting the Moon, just getting there & coming back. We did not show the further nitty-gritty of what expedition activities might involve, in terms of expanded & more advanced capabilities.

    Sure, the first few successful manned landings might resemble the old Apollo J missions, at the beginning, but we would very quickly move on to some higher advanced technological abilities, of what we’d be able to do, even during a “mere” sortie stay. (Which would still be longer than any Apollo mission on record.) Further detail, put into our animated film prospectus, depicting more extensive exploration work, new procedures, new ways of dealing with rover-cars——–some of them might be able to be reclaimed & reused——–,and most significantly, showing how an unmanned version of the lunar lander would be utilized to send a base module & bigger equipment onto the surface, one-way, to greatly extend the Lunar stay, in an outpost-type mission,———-would have done a much better job, at communicating to the space interest public, just how large our ambitions on the Moon actually were. Instead, our detractors & opponents got the upper-hand in the debates which followed, making us look like kooks who had no long-term plans of what-to-do, beyond that first successful landing, in the 21st century. Which was NOT true. But Mr.-Regular-Joe-Schmoe-Public ended up buying into it!

  19. billgamesh says:

    “Trust me, it will NOT be the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency, if that comes to pass!”

    And what do you base this prediction on Chris? On the Gingrich Moon base? Or on Mitt stating he would try and “privatize NASA”? It does not have much to do with which party.

    I watched “Europa Report” the other day. I had put it off because I had read bad reviews about it. But it was actually a very good movie on a small budget. Nothing like what several reviewers had wrote. The oceans beneath the gas giant moons are the place to look for life. It is possible there are actually complex creatures, animals, ecosystems. More possible than alien obelisks. But instead of movies about what is possible we have cars that turn into robots and comic book superheroes.

    Would we live on the ocean moons? If they are sterile we could introduce Earth organisms and aqua-farm them. Then maybe we would. But in any case they are the places to excite people. Here is a list of places to go;

    Ceres, Callisto, Europa, Ganymede,Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda, and…..Triton.

    Ceres is closest (but much farther than Mars) and may have a subsurface ocean- but no gas giant to aerobrake in. Triton is an immense distance away circling Neptune. I have always been interested in Triton for some reason, but it is far, far away.

    Callisto is the only Jupiter destination without lethal radiation. Massive shielding would make at least landing if not working on the surface of other Jupiter moons possible and under the ice there would be no radiation.

    But the short list is these Seven Moons of Saturn; Jupiter has those serious radiation belts so the nearest gas giant to aerobrake in without that hazard is Saturn. These major moons are bodies that should most excite those who advocate human space exploration. Of these Titan is almost as big as Mars and has a protective atmosphere allowing much simpler and less restrictive spacesuits.

    Titan, Enceladus, Rhea, Mimas, Tethys, Dione, Iapetus.

    So those are my favorite 17 places to visit in the solar system. There are a few other like Eris and Sedna but they are so far out it intimidates even me. To go anywhere we would start from the Moon due to the simple fact that nuclear propulsion is not going to happen anywhere in Earth’s Magnetosphere. If we need a “animated film prospectus” I suggest it be a mission taking off from the Moon for Titan using nuclear pulse propulsion.

  20. Chris Castro says:

    @Billgamesh;………You have a point: perhaps the recent demolitions wrecking-balling of NASA by the current President & his men, has biased me, with regard to trusting the liberal party on human spaceflight matters. But I still carry on my resentment of BHO onto HRC, who’s more than likely to be his hand-picked successor. A second Clinton presidency, in my view, would be a mirror image of continuation, in terms of Barack’s space policy; and I have a difficult time seeing how Hillary C.’s ascension to office would make things ANY different. But yeah, Romney showed paltrily little sign that he would’ve improved NASA’s lot, had he won. I just assume that with the change of parties, that a change in direction for NASA, would also have been in the cards. (Maybe Romney prefered to keep his possible plans for the space program secret, lest he be subject to ridicule. Just look at what happened to Gingrich: he got fully lampooned by the media, when he innocently spoke out about NASA doing more than mere LEO!)

    I actually have not seen “Europa Report”. WOW: a hard-science Sci-Fi movie storyline, which takes mankind OUT of low earth orbit?! THAT would be an exuberant change-of-pace, considering the utter drabbiness of virtually all such movies! I too, strongly endorse us dealing with the Moon first, ahead of Mars & NEO’s. Our natural satellite has much to offer in terms of a training ground for coping with conditions, that are found on the Jovian & Saturnian satellites. Also Ceres, Vesta, and Pallas, the three largest spherical/near-spherical asteroids, and other planetoid bodies similar, are all worthy of further exploration, perhaps by astronauts later on down-the-road; once we are able to master an occupation of Luna. I agree, that a Lunar base camp, would be the ideal place to work on & test out nuclear and other forms of exotic propulsion systems; as the radio-active setting is far distant & removed from Earth & its biosphere. The nuclear pulse fuel could be mined & processed at the Moon base, and only activated there, even if the rocket engine itself had to be transported there, from Earth, first, with empty fuel tanks. From that already-in-deep-space locale, humankind could basically access the entire solar system. Plus, we’d have developed the know-how, on planetary resource mining, to double our capacity for acheivement, once we would reach any one of those distant planetoids.

    • billgamesh says:

      @Chris Castro;.. secret Moon base plans? Your heart is in the right place though. I like your “master the occupation of Luna.”

      “The nuclear pulse fuel could be mined & processed at the Moon base, and only activated there, even if the rocket engine itself had to be transported there, from Earth, first, with empty fuel tanks.”

      Nuclear pulse “fuel” is element 94. I will not say it’s colloquial name as this has the most negative connotations imaginable. The fuel is plentiful on Earth (in fact we need to get rid of it) and is the ultimate hazardous material which goes along with being the ultimate fuel. Properly packaged and riding the SLS which has a powerful escape tower is probably the only practical way to transport it in the necessary quantities. About 20 tons would be my guess for the required amount for a mission to one of the gas giants (producing about 2000 “pulse units”). But for transport the material would have to be packaged to survive a launch anomaly and it would most likely be transported in a cargo version of the Orion capsule so that would be several launches. Another rough guess would be ten pounds of packaging for every pound of fuel so divide this 200 tons into payloads for a stripped down cargo Orion.

      The thousands of pulse units and the “engine” would have to be assembled at a Moon base. The engine is nothing more than a massive metal disc. A real flying saucer. Missions to the outer system become easier in direct proportion to the size of the disc. The larger the disc the more efficient it becomes and the larger the payload. Excavating the ore, refining it, and finally pouring it on a scale of thousands of tons for each engine is a simple problem of scale. It is just a big piece of metal without any moving parts.

      The crew quarters to mount on this disc would be partially filled with lunar water for cosmic ray shielding and be made out of empty rocket stages. I would speculate this part of the spaceship could be assembled in lunar orbit and landed in one piece to be mounted on the engine and filled with water shielding. And away we go.

      As originally conceived by Freeman Dyson, a mission to any of the icy moons of the gas giants would allow the expedition to use reaction mass harvested in situ on one of the moons. The pulse units are made up of a small fraction of element 94 as the pulse device and the rest is a container filled with any hydrogen rich reaction mass to be converted into plasma as ‘the pulse.” The spaceship would launch from the Moon and aerobrake in a gas giant and thus use little fuel when arriving at the objective. Reaction mass could then be processed on site for the “burn” home. By draining the radiation shield upon approaching the Moon the water could be utilized as reaction mass to slow down since the crew would have partial protection only for the short time it would take to replenish the water shield from lunar resources.

      We can go- we have everything we need to do it. We even have justification for DOD funding because the pulse units would also be effective at deflecting asteroids. All we need is to choose to go. We choose to go to the Moon!

  21. Chris Castro says:

    @Billgamesh;…….Those are magnificent, grand ideas! My understanding of the details of the nuclear pulse rocket engine and how it works, are a bit rudimentary. I would have to peruse over the concept further. But it sounds like a terrific technological innovation for the long term future! The use of such rockets would open up the Outer Solar System to human exploration, in a big way. Even if our first manned forays to Jupiterian & Saturnian space come about via chemical rockets, initially.

    • billgamesh says:

      @Chris Castro;……Not really magnificent or grand- just practical. It is simply a problem to troubleshoot by looking at the faults and possible solutions. The first step in the flow chart is radiation and the second is propulsion. The solutions are on the Moon.

      The bible of nuclear pulse propulsion is Project Orion, written by George Dyson (Freeman Dyson’s son). There is no innovation; the concept has been around over a half a century. There is nothing new about the technology except that supercomputer modeling greatly reduces the cost of designing efficient pulse units.

      As for our “first manned forays” coming about via chemical rockets: that is impossible and the raison d’etre for nuclear pulse propulsion.

  22. billgamesh says:

    I would add that the key to this spaceship scenario is counter-intuitive. We can only imagine something that is bigger as making a project more difficult and if said project is really big then we attach a commiserate amount of difficulty and expense. The efficiency of the nuclear pulse engine as it increases with size is the key enabling concept. Unlike all other engines, the dumb mass of the nuclear pulse engine does not grow in complexity with increased size. Instead it grows in power and efficiency to levels that are difficult to comprehend.

  23. billgamesh says:

    Watching the toxic dragon unveiled and hearing Musk talk about flying someone in 2016 as “achievable” with a seat “potentially” costing “single digit millions” has pretty much ruined my weekend. Screaming cheap still seems to be the clarion call. I could not help but flinch watching the simulation of the capsule doing a Buck Rogers landing. Thousands of flights a year with a city on Mars. He does mention a base on the Moon and a base on Mars in that order though. He called it a “21st century spaceship.” It does not meet my definition of a Spaceship. Of course the definition of “Heavy Lift Vehicle” has changed now also.

    • Chris Castro says:

      I too, am NO fan of Commercial Crew!! Commercial Space is a ludicrous farce! Sure, someday in the farther future, private companies might have their place & time & areas in which to contribute. But right now, it is much too premature, to dismantle our governmental space program, and just “get out of the way” and let commercial entities takeover the game!

      The overall strong disinterest, in dealing with the Moon, coming from these corporate bigwigs, basically tells the full tale, about how these guys got their heads in the clouds with Sci-Fi dreams of being the first onto 100% virgin territory. Of course, Low Earth Orbit is the one exception to this “being-the-first-to-do-this” mantra. They could fly spaceplanes, capsules; launch, assemble & visit stations there ANY number of times, doing so repeatedly———-just so long as NO one ever goes back to Luna, ever again! It’s pathetic.

      The Space Shuttle flew 60+ times, doing LEO sorties for roughly 14 years, until it fullfilled its designated use as a space station constructor & supply servicer & visitor. NOBODY complained a bit, back then, over that. But whoa nelly————-how the same people complained and got antagonistic over the thought that America was going to renew manned landings on the Moon! HELLO?———only six successful landings were ever done, and only twelve astronauts ever got to tread the Lunar ground, in the whole history of humankind! Just WHAT could possibly be their problem, if successful landing #7 were at long last done, and Lunar-walking astronaut #13 would finally arrive on the blackish-dark sky/ whitish-grey landscape?!

      No matter how modest those first few expeditions would BEGIN, (and they’d at the bare-minimum, reach & exceed the capabilities & capacities of the old Apollo J missions, at the very least), this new human presence on the Moon would wend its way from sorties to outpost visits, and build through technology in-action & in practice all of the basic elements needed for a long-run, full-fledged space-faring enterprise, involving the whole Solar planetary system!

      • billgamesh says:

        What has turned me against the whole “New Space” subculture is that it has been infiltrated with anti-government far-right libertarian weirdos who are so incredibly condescending and insulting in their tone it turns the majority of the public completely away from space exploration.

        If I had to name the work of three people to inform and influence the public and policy concerning space the names would be unknown to most people. Their voices have largely been forgotten to be replaced by space tourism “entrepreneurs” promising little except….stupid space tricks. My list;

        1.) Stanislaw Ulam, who correctly identified nuclear pulse propulsion as the only practical method of interplanetary travel. His patent was to inform the work of scientist Freeman Dyson and weapons designer Ted Taylor on the classified project that validated the basic concept.

        2.) Peter Glaser, who passed away last week. If there is any magic solution to the world’s problems it is space solar power; all the energy civilization could want beamed down from space. His patent was to inform the work of Gerard K. O’Neill and used to support a plan for space colonies.

        3.) Arthur Kantrowitz, who devised schemes for beam propulsion and informed the work of several researchers including Kevin Parkin who is currently investigating Microwave powered launch vehicles. There is an interesting comment on his wiki page by author Jerry Pournelle:

        “We could have developed all this [i.e. large scale commercial space development] in the 60s and 70s, but we went another path. Arthur Kantrowitz tried to convince Kennedy’s people that the best way to the Moon was through development of manned space access, a von Braun manned space station, and on to the Moon in a logical way that left developed space assets. That didn’t work, because Johnson’s support of the Moon Mission was contingent on spending money in the South: the real objective was the reindustrialization of the South. The Moon mission itself was a stunt.”[2]

        The use of solar and nuclear energy are the keys to safeguarding the human species; how to travel in deep space, how to supply energy to civilization and also an economical method of escaping Earths gravity well. The public for the most part is clueless and has only the antics of entrepreneurs who want to retire on Mars to inform them. The very worst part of all of this is of course ignoring the Moon as the resource that enables humankind moving into space.

        • billgamesh says:

          I would add that space stations in Low Earth Orbit have had their moment. That LEO should even be considered “space” is now a question that absolutely needs to be discussed. To define them more clearly I would brand LEO habitats as “platforms” to separate them from true stations capable of providing a artificial near-Earth environment outside the protection of the Van Allen belts. Likewise I would use the term spacecraft to separate the unshielded, non-rotating, chemically propelled vehicle from the true spaceship. In this sense the main difference between a space station and a space ship would be nuclear propulsion. A spaceship is always the best space station but since nuclear energy is an environmental hazard to Earth inside the magnetosphere then space stations will probably be found in Earth geostationary orbit and these would fit Dr. Spudis’ concept of a cislunar network.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            That is not a space station that is a space town.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            I am hearing rumours that the SLS is so expensive that NASA will only be able to launch it once every two years. So by 2030 there will have only been 6-7 launches. When a heavy launcher is that rationed then it will have to be reserved for the heaviest payloads.

          • Joe says:

            “I am hearing rumours that the SLS is so expensive that NASA will only be able to launch it once every two years. ”

            That is not a rumor, it is a talking point circulated by NASA’s current politically appointed leadership because the current administration does not want an HLV. It has nothing to do with reality.

  24. Chris Castro says:

    @Dr. Paul Spudis, website host & moderator;………In your current conversation-thread article, you state a very neat observation point: that the proposed asteroid hauling mission would actually be using the Moon as a conveniently-placed gravity well, to set into parking orbit of the retrieved boulder. This part of the supposed plan always amused me as highly funny———why not just haul the NEO object to low earth orbit, and have the crewed space capsule visit it there?! What, are they afraid that the NEO object will suffer a mishap in the attempt, and be brought crashing down to Earth?!

    I think that the entire scheme is but an ILLUSION of some sort of exotic manned deep space “progress”. Recall, how when Project Constellation was demolished, the original idea was to send a manned Orion CEV into far-deep space, and rendezvous with the NEO over there. THEN, the finish line appears to have been diminished in distance, and brought to cislunar space, into a high lunar orbit———by finding a way to snare-trap it, and drag it to a parking space above good ole’ Luna. But WAIT———-doesn’t THIS new game plan take too many easy ways out??

    Consider: We avoid any manned flight to interplanetary space; we avoid going “beyond-the-Moon”, something that those who were “bored” with that destination were especially eager to do; we avoid having to build a life-support system that could keep astronauts alive, on its own without earth-sent resupply, for a multi-week/multi-month long span-of-time. Indeed the entire round trip would be done inside of two weeks. Think about it: for the span of a proposed Lunar sortie mission———–and coincidentally, a typical Space Shuttle LEO sortie mission of 10-12 days———–an Orion crew could be sent to fly-in-formation with this asteroidal boulder block, and unwrap it from its aluminum foil covering, at a certain spot. Basically President Obama’s space goal, with the finish line brought conveniently much closer to Earth.

    It is as if, instead of the 1960’s NASA sending its men to the Moon, it had instead decided that ensnaring a boulder-rock from it & bringing it to LEO, would suffice, as a substitute “manned-reaching-of-the-Moon” goal. Since actually sending astronauts there, would be way too difficult! The asteroid retrieval mission is a wild-wind farce! While it is intended as a manned deep space activity that expressly avoids the Moon, it still winds up utilizing that same, exact, dreadedly-scary Moon, as its chosen parking orbit location! I mean: where else could they drag the NEO stone to? If they brought it to an LEO parking orbit, they’d come face-to-face with their own fear, anxiety & timidity about ever having to actually LEAVE LEO with astronauts to do anything!

    • billgamesh says:

      “Although each particular trick was silly, the pet owners sincerely believed that their pets were gifted and were proud to showcase their animals’ various abilities.”

      The public may believe the pet projects of this administration are “gifted.” Unfortunately the flexible path which is code for “cheap and nasty” leaves nothing possible but a stupid space trick like the ARM. Safeguarding the nations heavy lift capability presents our current leadership with a problem; the public wants to use that capability and always has. If the capability had been dismantled and we were truly imprisoned in Earth orbit there would be no problem. The answer would be simple; we can’t do it. But with the SLS that is unacceptable. We CAN go.

      The problem is radiation exposure and zero gravity debilitation. Taken individually these problems are bad enough but together they give rise to mutated pathogens, lowered immune response, and diminished effectiveness of antibiotics. If the missions were a couple weeks long this would not be a problem but to visit anywhere besides the Moon requires years. Years as in the plural of year. Floating around being irradiated for that period of time is not going to happen. Due to the no-quick-return nature of these deep space missions the opposite of these past spaceflight conditions are required; a near perfect artificial Earth environment.

      One gravity and near sea level radiation equates to a sea change in spacecraft design; from spacecraft to spaceship. Instead of the non-rotating unshielded chemically propelled egg shells we have traditionally launched from Earth, the spaceship will necessarily be an order of magnitude larger. The minimum shielding for the living space required on long duration missions will mass well over a thousand tons. This crew compartment will be in a tethered or torus configuration to generate artificial gravity equal to Earth. And chemical propulsion will not be capable of reaching the required velocities.

      Assembling, testing, and launching such a massively shielded, rotating, nuclear propelled spaceship is only possible by sending our Heavy Lift Vehicle to the Moon and utilizing Lunar Resources. Exactly as the subtitle to this blog states:

      “Using the Moon to Create New Spaceflight Capabilities”

  25. billgamesh says:

    “These mental contortions are all brought about because the agency cannot consider flying a mission to the Object-That-Cannot-Be-Named.”

    The psychology of our failure to expand into space is about denial. We deny everything that does not promise a quick return on our investment, whatever it is we are investing. Biology overcomes this problem by coercing us into caring for our children but other than that we do not like considering long term projects. Fear, on the other hand, brings all things into focus.

    I have commented before that only fear trumps greed. Fear of the Soviet Union is how we landed on the Moon. The aerospace industry found out what hard money was when oversight due to the Apollo one fire eliminated any hope of shorting the taxpayer. The profit motive returned with the Shuttle program by promising cheap and 50 flights a year. This was the first “new space” scam and is now being replayed by “entrepreneurs” on a smaller scale. For whatever reasons alongside simple greed enough money to expand the human presence into the solar system was and is not forthcoming.

    There is no cheap. I found out when I started corresponding with people about space that stating this made me extremely unpopular. I am no Richard Feynman but his closing statements concerning the Challenger disaster come to mind;

    “NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.
    For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

    Concerning a “successful technology” the first question is what success do we seek? There seems to be no answer forthcoming. I believe planetary protection is valid but unlike Soviet world domination this has obviously not inspired enough fear to trump the lack of profit such a project entails. Space Solar Power is valid, especially considering worries about burning fossil fuels but the decades and trillions of dollars it would take to develop such an infrastructure defeat investment. And last there is space colonization; the building of habitats in space which is the most far off and fantastical concept of all. Yet building these artificial worlds is the first step in actually traveling to other stars. Instead we have absurd calls for faster than light travel and the gullibility of those who believe living on Mars, a frozen dead rock, would be some kind of paradise. Nature cannot be fooled.

    I submit the first building block of a successful technology is to be found in a abandoned factory in the Florida everglades rusting in a flooded test pit. There lies the hulk of the most powerful rocket ever tested- the Aerojet 260 inch monolithic solid rocket booster. The Saturn V was a bare minimum powered vehicle; just enough to send the smallest credible human mission to the Moon. What was required after Apollo was a doubling and a tripling and then a quadrupling of that 7.5 million pounds of thrust. Instead came the end of the space age. We have not left Earth since.

  26. billgamesh says:

    The key sentence from the overview of the Pathways to Exploration study released today;

    “Of the several pathways examined, the one that does not include a meaningful return to the Moon—that is, extended operations on the lunar surface- has higher development risk than the other pathways.”

    Unfortunately it also says that all paths converge on Mars, which I find ridiculous. It is the fundamental error that will haunt the space program for decades to come.

  27. Chris Castro says:

    To Billgamesh: I agree with that assessment: The Space Shuttle was indeed the first “New Space” scam. The long-run future-history will confirm that, when people look back in say, 2050. The worse thing is, that virtually the SAME mistakes are being made yet again, with the current administration putting so much trust in the commercial launch providers. These snake oil salesmen will doom the Amercan space program to LEO-only exploits, for the next 15 or 20 years, if some big change in policy is not forthcoming!

    • A_M_Swallow says:

      No the Shuttle and Commercial Crew were not the big mistake. (Lots of small mistakes but not the BIG one.) The big mistake was not building the next stage – the interplanetary tugs. Vehicles that can fly a cargo from LEO to Moon and Mars orbit and then fly back empty.

      With a maximum dry weight of 20 tonnes a reasonable sized chemical tug could have been built, using say one or more RL-10s for the main engine.

      Experimental nuclear engines could have been lifted to orbit on the Shuttle.

      These tugs could still be built, possibly using methane engines.

      • Chris Castro says:

        @A_M_Swallow;……You have a neat point. I always wondered why the Space Shuttle just went ahead and flew 60-something LEO sorties, between 1981 & 1995, and a Space Tug or Orbital Transfer Vehicle was never built and put into operation. Such an intermediate level space-craft had been discussed in many space science periodicals throughout those decades, but was never ultimately flown by NASA nor seriously considered.

        Indeed the Space Tug or OTV was intended as a forerunner to the new lunar lander, if it had flown. The amount of power needed to reach geo-stationary orbit and reaching low lunar orbit was deemed as not being that big of a difference, hence there were magazine articles that spoke about upgrading a Space Tug into a lunar vehicle. Of course all that was assuming that the next major LEO space station that the United States put up, was going to involve in-orbit refueling ports, and that reusability & Earthian aerobraking for returning craft was going to come to pass.

        As it turned out, the ISS was NEVER going to be used as an embarking point for reaching the Moon, nor other cislunar points in space. (It’s very orbit is not conducive to that idea, anyway.) Indeed the ISS turned out to be a gigantic dead-end; having been created mainly as a post-Cold War bilateral high-technology activity, to hopefully keep the post-Soviet-era Russian scientists busy & occupied, so that they wouldn’t engage in black-market weaponry & such. Hence, the U.S. remained safely & stagnantly perched in LEO, with next-to-no-hope of getting itself out of that grind. Man, all those decades of opportunity & possibilities that we missed!!!!

        The concept of the space tug vehicle could certainly be revived & updated in the future, as you point out. Perhaps they will get built & flown once we have a firm foothold on the Moon, via a major lunar base; when lunar resources are being mined & processed. To be seen, just how beyond-LEO spaceflight strategies unfold and develop.

        • A_M_Swallow says:

          Or do it the other way round. Convert landers into space tugs. NASA has been sponsoring the building of small landers as part of the Centennial Challenges. JSC then made the Morpheus lander. Put an NDS docking port on the top of one and you have a space tug.

          A practical tug will need to push 5-10 tonnes of payload from LEO to GEO, returning empty. The same engines can be used (if they can survive the long burn) but space rated parts will have to be used and big fuel tanks fitted. Navigation will have to perform automated docking.

  28. Chris Castro says:

    I have plenty of confidence that the space industry, with government leading the way of course, can develop such automated freighter vehicles, and come up with adequate solutions to their operation. I often bring up the concept of the unmanned cargo variant to our next lunar lander craft, as the main pathway to us commencing with outpost Moon surface missions, once our crew-version lander has proven itself, through a tetrad or a pentad of sortie expeditions————-which will last from just longer than the last Apollo missions up to a fortnight time-span.

    The main crew-landing vehicle would not necessarily need to have an endurance-time range of much longer than this, because with the freighter transport of habitation modules to the surface, one-way & unmanned, the crew could rely on the supplies brought on board these lander-types, and spend a sizeable portion of their on-surface time inside its crew cabin, thus lowering the burdens initially put on the landing craft which they arrived in. Since the unmannedly-sent version of the lander would not have ascent capability, obviously the other lander type would be needed for departing from the Moon, at the end of the outpost stay. A lot of the specifics of this plan, depend on the precise size, volume & configuration of the next crew-landing vehicle.

    Contemplating on an Altair-class L-SAM vehicle, one can envision a highly versatile & well-sized lunar lander, which could serve the functions of main crew transporter to a base camp————-as well as a stand-alone vehicle for an independent sortie landing; either at the beginning of our flight manifest, or later on, when surveying a particular area of the Moon would prove scientifically valuable, without having to emplace a base module at the particular site. Whether one or two of these outpost-type landers would be needed, to get all of the necessary equipment & provisions to a particular mission site, would depend on just how much cargo can be brought on board, and just how long the surface stay is planned to last.

    An additional consideration would be in the possible rescue of a stranded or in-trouble team of astronauts, on the surface. Either an under-crewed sortie L-SAM could be sent to rescue them, or perhaps an ascent-capable outpost-type L-SAM could be sent out & down to the surface location, uncrewed, to save an astronaut team who’d lack a viable ascent vehicle to get home. Maybe a crewman or two could ride a specially-designed Orion CEV, to low lunar orbit, to assure the ease in their return, to an Earth-bound vessel. Maybe one crewman would ride the rescue lander and another the orbiter, during such a special rescue mission; or some variation to that effect.

    Of course the CEV orbiter would then have to be able to accommodate the additional crewmen somehow, either with additional seats & spaces and/or maybe the lunar lander ascent stage could be specially brought along, on the Earth-ward journey, so as to have some further expanded room, and then it could be jettisoned right before atmospheric reentry; kind of like what Apollo 13 did, in 1970. That idea would require a double-vehicle departure from low lunar orbit; and inevitably the CEV would have to have the crew-cabin space for the extra crew-members, via extra couches, for at least the reentry phase. But all this thinking-ahead thought exercise shows that a new manned Lunar enterprise can indeed have a great deal of versatility to it; to handle both emergencies and an expanded scope of operations.

    • A_M_Swallow says:

      As Robert Clark spotted a single Morpheus lander can put 2 tonnes on the Moon – that is a significant amount of groceries.

      Each astronaut requires 30.60 kilograms/day/astronaut consumables (ref:

      So a single lander can supply consumables for 2000/30.60 = 65.3 days for one astronaut.

      A Morpheus can act as an ascent stage by lifting a small cabin to lunar orbit.

      He also noticed that by joining 3 together they can land 6 tonnes. That is sufficient to land the ascent stage. It is also sufficient for a small habitat or a manned rover. Mining equipment can be designed to fit this size and mass restriction.

      • Chris Castro says:

        @A_M_Swallow;………A large-enough sized lunar lander will be a total must, in the long term. The more cargo capacity for ferrying, the more that can be brought to the Moon during a single landing flight. Both for the regular crew-carrying lander, and its cargo-only variant. Even a sortie expedition, will need plenty of supplies, for a self-reliant surface stay, lasting for a fortnight or less.

        The crew might number three or four astronauts, depending on the projections for the cabin size. A lunar roving vehicle would be a must, per mission, in my view; and even as an open-space jeep car, like on Apollo, it should be able to carry all the crew members, on its traverses. Either a new, unfoldable car could be brought for each mission, or maybe a single car could be reused on another landing, if the distance between sites was not too faraway. [It could be designed to drive overland by remote guidance, and be sent to another spot, to be reclaimed by a different crew. Provided that the time spans between the landings also aren’t all that long. Such driving vehicles would need to have a long-enough operating life, under the harsh Lunar conditions.] At a outpost location, the rovers could perhaps be parked under some sort of tent or semi-shelter covering, between expeditions, so that they can endure the airless, temperature-swinging environment better.

        The Morpheus lander concept sounds fairly good. It might make for a viable alternative to the Altair L-SAM. But I have yet to see a visualization or diagram of it. The lunar lander that eventually gets approved & flies will be a very important key-element to getting this great, second-round enterprise started. The deluded cowards who terminated Project Constellation in 2010, were all adamantly against NASA building ANY lander. As if a space-faring civilization could ever be built without dealing with one. I mean, with what are you going to use for ferrying astronauts & supply cargoes to a planetary surface, once you arrive at the destination planet’s “harbor”————its low orbit zone?

        • A_M_Swallow says:

          Here is a picture of the 2 tonne payload prototype Morpheus lander flying.

          Put 3 of them together is a triangle to make the 6 tonne payload lander. The cargo deck being in the centre.

          • Chris Castro says:

            @A_M_Swallow;………Thanx 4 the link! That is some great experimentation with an actual flight-ready model! Sure, there were some inadvertent crashes & catchings-on-fire, during the ascent/descent flyings, but it’s a divinely good sight to see NASA engineering teams testing planetary landers again, like in the golden Apollo days!

            Yes, some sort of cargo deck at the top-center of the vehicle would need to be arranged for, in the deep-space-ready version. Are the people who are designing it, thinking in terms of Morpheus being an uncrewed/just-cargo type lander, or do they favor its use as a crew-transport lander, as well————— if they can work out the details of it having a cabin put on top? Spaceflight concepts like this, being put into some action, are all very exciting to see! Some kind of eventual lander vehicle is going to be a must, for the future history of human space exploration & space resource utilization, in the next few decades. That is if NASA & the American government ever regain their long-time-ago bravery & daringness, to pursue the doing of majestic things!

    • Chris Castro says:

      Additional thoughts: One little thing I overlooked in the above possible Rescue Mission idea, was that if a Lunar sortie or outpost expedition was in trouble, because of a faulty lander, and hence effectively stranded, that their lunar orbiter craft (an Orion CEV) might still be functioning alright presumably, and still be circling above the Moon. So, any rescue spacecraft sent from Earth, and any exact contingency plan, would depend on the specific situation, and on which of the expedition’s spacecrafts was disabled. Perhaps just sending a single lunar lander would suffice, and if it could be landed automatically that might do the trick; with the idea that it would have to have ascent capability for the stranded crew. Assuming that this crisis would befall an outpost mission, which would leave the CEV orbiter crewless, during their surface stay; and assuming just a problem with the lander, then the process of getting back might then be more efficient, without sending out further crewmen. [Presumedly, the Altair L-SAM is capable of decelerating itself into Low Lunar Orbit, flying alone.]

      Now, if the disabling problem would be with the orbiting CEV, something that compromises its ability to leave lunar orbit & return to Earth, then any rescue mission sent by mission control would be more involved. If there were to be a Command Module Pilot flying the solo vigil, obviously he/she would need rescuing as well; (if during a preliminary sortie, if that kind of flight plan is used, at the beginning test-flights). Some arrangement for a deliberate crashing of the disabled vehicle, after it had been vacated, for later on, might need to be put into work, once the vehicle is checked more closely; perhaps through a close flying-in-formation next to it. (Or maybe two Orions might be capable of docking to each other, with or without a specialized docking module. Remember all that earlier NEO-reaching talk, that was floated around NASA, in the recent past, depicting such a two-craft flying arrangement?)

      In any event, if the regular expedition’s CEV had been left crewless, as would happen during a typical outpost mission, and it is still the disabled spacecraft, then the rescue operation would focus on bringing the stranded-on-the-surface crew a new such craft. (With or without an extra lander. They may be able to skip that, if the main crew’s lander, already on the Moon, was working alright. The rescue CEV would need to be capable of then, dropping into low lunar orbit, by itself; with or without a distinct deceleration-stage craft. I recall the Constellation plan calling for it needing an L-SAM in order to reach lunar orbit.) Maybe the rescue CEV would have an extra crewman, to personally co-ordinate the needed maneuvers, or maybe it would be able to fly there unmanned. I would predict that such a rescue mission should probably have an extra astronaut on board, for it. Again, this large thought-experiment is meant to try to foresee some of the flight-plan detail involved in a renewed round of manned Lunar exploration.

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