Ten Easy Pieces

Apollo 11 leaves for the Moon, July 16, 1969.

Apollo 11 leaves for the Moon, July 16, 1969.

This weekend (July 20, 2014) is the anniversary of the first lunar landing, the Apollo 11 mission. No doubt much ink will be spilt on “perspective” pieces, noting the glory days of Apollo and contrasting them (no doubt unfavorably) with the current situation in our civil space program. Rather than adding to the random noise with yet another harangue about the advent of a space doomsday, I offer the following – a selection of ten quotes from some of my previous posts here at SLR and over at Air & Space magazine.

When we went to the Moon 45 years ago, it was to demonstrate the superiority of our system over that of the Soviet Union. Additionally, we were able to conduct the first scientific reconnaissance of another world. Both of these were momentous events. What we did not know then was the true value of the Moon. The Moon has utility and therefore, value.  Recent discoveries have shown that large quantities of water exist near the poles of the Moon, near localities of near-permanent sunlight, thus providing the material and energy resources needed to create new spaceflight capabilities from what we find in space, rather than what we can lug up there with us.  The Moon is not simply an interesting destination in space; it is an enabling asset for human spaceflight.

It has been two generations since Apollo and the manned Moon landings. Forty-five years ago, the Apollo astronauts were flesh and blood heroes – their achievements inspired us all and encouraged scholastic and career excellence. The dreams of science-fiction inspired many of us to pursue careers in space. Today, we still flock to see science-fiction movies and are entertained (some would say narcotized) by special effects and computer fantasy. But do we still seek to implement our dreams? Or are we content with the fantasy?

Human Spaceflight: What Value to Science? (Pt. 1)

February 2009:  The rocks brought back from the Moon told us the story of the Solar System’s early history, details both surprising and astonishing.  It was a time when planets collided and giant asteroids blew holes in planetary crusts hundreds to thousands of kilometers across.  The outer part of the Moon completely melted, forming a global ocean of liquid rock.  Our ideas about planetary formation and evolution had to be re-written from scratch after Apollo. What does this have to do with human exploration?  Because people went to the Moon, we now have a completely different view of how life has evolved on Earth.  That’s a bold assertion, but I believe it to be true.

Human Spaceflight: What Value to Science? (Part 2)

March 2009: A robotic rover can be designed to collect a sample, but it cannot be designed to collect the correct sample.  Field work involves posing and answering conceptual questions in real time, when emerging models and ideas can be tested in the field.  It is a complex and iterative process; we sometimes spend years at certain field sites on the Earth, asking and answering different and ever more detailed scientific questions.  Our objective in the geological exploration of the Moon is knowledge and understanding.  A rock is just a rock, a piece of data.  It is not knowledge.  Robots collect data, not knowledge.

Stuck in Transit – Unchaining Ourselves From the Rocket Equation

March 2010:  We can wait and hope for the proposed technology development program to provide us with magic beans, or we can begin that process now by returning to the Moon with robots and humans to learn how to harvest and use its material and energy resources.  Creating a sustainable system of space faring that can take us anywhere we want to go would be a real accomplishment.  By gaining this knowledge and expertise, mankind will be free to choose many space goals, thereby achieving “at will” space destination capability.

Can we afford to return to the Moon?

December 2010: Rather than shut up, I now put up.  I have submitted a paper for publication in the Proceedings of Space Manufacturing 14, the conference in late October sponsored by the Space Studies Institute.  My co-author Tony Lavoie and I have developed an architecture that returns America to the Moon with a specific mission in an affordable way.

From “One Small Step” to Settlement

Apollo 11 CDR Neil Armstrong, immediately after his historic Moonwalk.

Apollo 11 CDR Neil Armstrong, immediately after his historic Moonwalk.

June 2011: Settlement is a valid long-term goal for humanity in space – but we must have something with a practical and political payoff in the near-term.

Technical Readiness

November 2012: In truth, the idea that the processing and use of off-planet resources is “high technology” is exactly backwards – most of the ideas proposed for ISRU are some of the simplest and oldest technologies known to man.

“Where, Why and How?” – Concerns of the House Subcommittee on Space

May 2013:  I used my opportunity before the committee to submit a detailed architecture for building an incremental, cumulative space transportation system (see the links at end of my submitted testimony here).  While we should not make a fetish of reusability, to create a lasting system (one that serves our diverse national needs in space), we need to adopt the ethic of a space “fleet” whereby ships operate in one locality in space and only there.  One size does not fit all.  Different functions require different kinds of ships and one might change vehicles several times in the course of a journey.  In other words, we should begin to move from an Earth-based and dependent transportation system to a space-based and provisioned one. Harvesting lunar water is key to this development.

Mining the Moon, Fueling the Future

December 2013:  The real value of extraterrestrial mining is accessing material outside of Earth’s gravity well and making products that enable and create new capabilities in space and on other worlds.  So far, we have not found any deposits of unknown materials in space that cannot be found on Earth (the “unobtainium” beloved of science fiction writers).  But we have found deposits of common materials that, while having no economic value for return to Earth, have enormous value in space.  Anything that we can find and use on another world means that much less material that has to be launched from the surface of the Earth.  With launch costs of many thousands of dollars per pound, every bit of mass that we can find and use in space is that much less budget-busting dumb mass hauled up from Earth.

Lunar Forensic Files: Studying Life’s Processes and Origins on the Moon

February 2014: As we continue to study the Moon, we find that it offers much more than one might suspect at first glance.  The Moon’s early history reveals the secrets of planetary assembly, impact bombardment, global melting and differentiation into core, mantle and crust.  Its middle history tells us about the thermal evolution of planets, as internal heat spawned the volcanism that resurfaced part of the Moon and operates on all of the terrestrial planets.  The continued impact history recorded in the Moon’s surface layer documents a phase of Earth history missing from our terrestrial geological record, including the possibility of episodic waves of impacts that are at least partly responsible for extinctions of life recorded in the fossil record.  This same surficial layer also records the history and output of our Sun, the provider of energy to the planets and the principal driver of climate change on Earth.  The interconnections between the various branches of lunar science with the other sciences grow more evident and more significant over time.

Surrendering in Space

March 2014:  NASA missions have blazed the trail to future theaters of operation; these are national concerns vital to defense needs and they have been a well-understood driver of our technical and economic vitality.  The value of space assets – communications satellites, GPS, reconnaissance and remote sensing and detection – were all developed in tandem by both military and civil space, with such intertwining that it is impossible to separate the two.  The space theater of the future is cislunar space, where most of our satellite assets (critical to military action and economic stability on the Earth) reside.  Such satellites are extremely vulnerable and the fact that we currently lack a means to protect and routinely and repeatedly access them is a national security concern of major significance.  That this concern was not touched on during the program was striking.  It is not enough to know that space is symbolic of our national mood.  The nation must also understand that there are concrete negative implications if we retreat in our pursuit of space leadership.  Those who are not space powerful are space vulnerable.

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

29 Responses to Ten Easy Pieces

  1. On target as usual. Hope to see you at Ames next week.

  2. czoklet says:

    ” Additionally, we were able to conduct the first scientific reconnaissance of another world.”

    That would be Luna 3 and Luna 9.

  3. It looks like the SLS is on its way towards giving NASA heavy lift capability by 2018. The Spudis and Lavoie proposal of placing a propellant producing water depot at L1 for fueling a reusable lunar lander should be the next major architectural elements for funding, IMO.

    The propellant depot could easily be derived from the reusable lunar lander technology. But a large propellant depot could be also be derived from SLS hydrogen fuel tank technology or from the ULA’s Centaur upper stage or future ACES upper stage technology.

    The SLS could be used to transport nearly 30 tonnes of water to the L1 fuel depot or a few private commercial launch companies could routinely deliver water to the propellant depot at EML1.

    This could allow the SLS to launch both the MPCV and an empty reusable lunar landing vehicle to L1 with a single launch for crewed missions to a lunar outpost. And once two or three reusable lunar landing vehicles are in operation, only the MPCV would need to be launched to L1 for crewed missions to the lunar surface.

    Once water producing facilities are on the lunar surface along with reusable water exporting shuttles, then water could be routinely delivered from the lunar poles to L1 instead of from Earth. And, eventually, the export of lunar water to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points will mass shield and fuel crewed vehicles destined for orbit around Mars.


    • Paul Spudis says:

      The Spudis and Lavoie proposal of placing a propellant producing water depot at L1 for fueling a reusable lunar lander should be the next major architectural elements for funding, IMO.

      Actually our initial lunar lander depot is in low lunar orbit, based on an early trade study. But we recognize the long-term strategic value of depots at L-1, once lunar water production has been established.

      • I like the delta-v advantages of a lunar orbiting propellant depot since you could utilize a lunar landing vehicle that requires less fuel than at L1. In fact, I think you could possibly make a case for deploying depots at both L1 and lunar orbit.

        But I prefer EML1 because I think you could place more architectural elements there such as a large water shielded microgravity habitats and at least part of a lunar GPS constellation. I’m pretty impressed with the advantages of placing the lunar GPS constellation of satellites at both EML1 and EML2.

        EML1 could also serve as a gateway to Mars without the extra 1 km/s delta-v penalty that would incur from lunar orbit or the 3 km delta-v penalty from LEO.

        But I actually prefer L4 or L5 or EML1 as a– Mars gateway– even with the 0.29 km/s delta-v penalty relative to EML1. That’s because I view EML4 and 5 as permanent locations (without the need for station keeping) for rotating artificial gravity habitats, zombie satellites in need of future repair and redeployment, and lightsail imported meteoroids from the NEO asteroids (also exploited for water and mass shielding) along with water imported from the lunar poles.

        Imported NEO meteoroids placed at L4 or L5 might also have some recreational value for space walking tourist in the future:-)


      • billgamesh says:

        “-once lunar water production has been established.”

        My thinking on this has gone in several directions over the last couple years. The most recent iteration is the robot lunar lander that lands on top of an ice deposit and using solar energy it fills up it’s water, hydrogen and oxygen tanks and takes off back into lunar orbit to offload it’s water into a wet workshop. This is asking a great deal of telerobotic systems but it could work with just a rocket and a lander.

        In my view that wet workshop has to be big enough to provide a Parker-type water radiation shield. This means a stage about 40 feet in diameter which is larger than the SLS core.

        Enlarging and modifying the present SLS core and modifying the vehicle to fly this empty core into lunar orbit along with the robot are the “game changers.” Once a fully shielded compartment is available in lunar or GEO then astronauts will no longer be vulnerable to sudden lethal solar events. By the time the necessary water shielding has been brought up from the Moon’s surface by robots a second workshop should be available and by attaching the equal masses to a tether artificial Earth gravity can be generated.

        The spinning of empty rocket stages partially filled with lunar water as space radiation shielding and effecting the first true space station is a worthy goal. Such a station is actually a spaceship without an engine. The simplest method I could come up with to reach this goal is using a HLV wet workshop core stage and a water prospecting robot.

        I submit that any manned interplanetary mission is at this point in history reliant on a single viable off the shelf option; nuclear pulse propulsion. This form of propulsion requires a “flying saucer” engine disc equipped with shock absorbers and how to transport such a device into lunar orbit is the main problem to be solved if such a mission is undertaken. Eventually factories on the Moon could build such engines as well as space solar energy stations.

      • John Conick says:

        Forgive my naiveté on the subject, but is anything being done to raise funds for your proposal?

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Which proposal — the lunar resources architecture? As I proposed this as the new strategic direction for NASA, the answer is “no.” It would require a decision at the Presidential/Congressional level.

          • John Conick says:

            Yes the Lunar resource architecture. Actually I was thinking of privately funded donations. Yes I know $88 Billion is a LOT of money. But until it is started to be raised we can be sure nothing will happen. maybe it can be supervised by the National Space Grant program or keep it private by a board of the companies in the space program.

          • gbaikie says:

            -John Conick says:
            July 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm

            Yes the Lunar resource architecture. Actually I was thinking of privately funded donations. Yes I know $88 Billion is a LOT of money. –

            If fund was just for exploration rather mining lunar water, it should cost considerably less than 88 billion
            to explore the Moon in order to find if and where there was minable water.

            One could of it think of it like an Google Xprize, but have prize 300 million rather than 30 million, And one could various type of exploration prizes which could total 5 to 10 billion.
            As example, one could have a prize that find a location on the Moon where at the surface [less than a foot depth] there 5% water concentration. One could also have addition prize that find 10% and one for more than 15%.
            One also have a prize for find 1 ton or more of pure ice. And a prize for mining a ton of lunar water.

          • John Conick says:

            Actually I was thinking of more of a grass roots level, For example the requests for donations you see at checkout lines at the local grocery, maybe a Nasa sponsored infomercial for this specific project or as seen on your local utility bills “would you like to add $1 to the lunar fund” a bunch of small things add up. Obviously not to the whole project bud maybe the first parts such as the rovers or satellites.

    • Joe says:

      If the Block 1 SLS is deployed it will have approximately the same payload characteristics as would have the Side Mount SDHLV. That means that the basic dual launch configuration presented to (but ignored by) the Augustine Commission by John Shannon would be possible and that would allow human lunar missions without orbital propellant depots. In conjunctions with other smaller boosters this should allow the establishment of an initial lunar ISRU facility without need of orbital propellant depots.

      Based on that, I would submit that the first off Earth propellant depot should be on the lunar surface not in orbit. After that is accomplished I will be content to let the number and locations of orbital propellant depots be determined by the intricacies of orbital mechanics and the objectives to which the lunar resources are to be put.

      • billgamesh says:

        “-the number and locations of orbital propellant depots-”

        I am thinking of depots as “drones” that not only store water and propellents, but also harvest, process, and transport these resources from the lunar surface into cislunar space. Since the drone already has an engine and can attach itself to various platforms then why does it need to transfer propellents? The drone becomes a tug.

        A lunar drone with a ZBO (Zero Boil-Off) system in lunar orbit can, carrying an initial load of fuel from Earth, land on a lunar ice deposit and process water to generate and store liquid hydrogen and oxygen to refuel it’s own propulsion system. This robot approach is probably only marginally less difficult than transferring cryogenics in space but that slim margin could make the difference between a sustainable operation and failure. I am skeptical about zero boil off systems but it is worth the risk.

        If every HLV mission delivers a core wet workshop and drone to lunar orbit then in ten years of launching once every couple months a fleet of drones and space stations would populate cislunar space (up to 60 ISS-size spaceship compartments). The question then becomes when to land humans on the Moon to set up factories.

  4. Bolden stated that dual launches (launched within a few days of each other) for the SLS wouldn’t be possible for human lunar missions. That’s because the SLS will only have one launch pad, Pad 39B.

    The former Space Shuttle launch pad, Pad 39A, is now being leased by Space X for its own private launch vehicles. Probably another sneaky way the Obama administration is trying to keep NASA from returning to the Moon:-) These guys never quit!

    Propellant depots, however, are an easy way to get around those limitations. You simply launch the fuel depot to EML1 or low lunar orbit and then, a few months later, you launch the MPCV plus an empty reusable lunar shuttle for a crewed lunar mission.

    I also think that orbital propellant depots are necessary for keeping the ‘Mars first’ advocates from going crazy, since orbital propellant depots can also be used to fuel reusable orbital transfer vehicles for crewed missions to Mars orbit.

    In 1985, 9 Space Shuttles were launched solely from Pad 39A. So having just one launch pad may not inhibit an aggressive SLS Lunar and Mars program.


    • Paul Spudis says:

      Bolden stated that dual launches (launched within a few days of each other) for the SLS wouldn’t be possible for human lunar missions. That’s because the SLS will only have one launch pad, Pad 39B.

      If this is really true, how could NASA possibly ever launch a human mission to Mars, which will require at least 10-12 Ares V-class heavy lift launches to get the 1 million pounds IMLEO? Another example of the complete and utterly fraudulent nature of the current space program.

      • billgamesh says:

        “-how could NASA possibly ever launch a human mission to Mars-”

        Chemical propulsion is a non-starter even without considering the space radiation problem. Throw in a thousand tons of water shield and the difficult becomes impossible. If our current space program leadership wants anyone to believe they are serious about interplanetary travel then they need to build a Moon base.

        Only on the Moon is there to be found that thousand ton water shield without having to bring it up from Earth. Only on the Moon can a nuclear mission be assembled, tested, and launched.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Chemical propulsion is a non-starter even without considering the space radiation problem.

          NASA’s Mars Design Reference Mission is not chemical — it uses a nuclear thermal departure stage (which does not exist). An all-chemical propulsion human Mars mission would require almost twice the IMLEO than the current Mars DRM.

          • Joe says:

            It is interesting that the DRM selected a “conventional” NTR as its orbit-to-orbit propulsion system. While it does improve specific impulse over LOX/Hydrogen chemical it uses Hydrogen as reaction mass. That, if anything, would make the “boil off” problems worse and call for even shorter launch times. That while they are saying (because of giving up one of the two complex 39 launch pads) they cannot do such launches.

            Would almost make someone think they are not serious about the Mars proposals.

        • “Chemical propulsion is a non-starter even without considering the space radiation problem.”

          It depends on where you fuel and launch your reusable orbital transfer vehicle. Its probably a non-starter from LEO because the delta-v requirements are at least 4.3 km/s just to achieve a Mars transfer orbit. But from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, approximately 1km/s or less would be required.

          Thousands of tons of water shielding are required only if you are– permanently– stationed at a habitat in space for the rest of your life. But for interplanetary vehicles traveling for only a few years round trip, only 50 centimeters of water would be required to protect passengers from major solar events and heavy nuclei while also reducing exposure to cosmic radiation during the solar minimum (the worse conditions) to less than 25 Rem per year. So a large two habitat rotating interplanetary vehicle would require only a couple of hundred tonnes of water shielding in order to avoid reaching 50% of the lifetime exposure limit for the most vulnerable passengers (young women around 25 years of age).

          Cosmic Radiation and the New Frontier


  5. Joe says:

    The comment by Bolden is undoubtedly part of the Administration trying to “burn the bridges” behind them. It is interesting that it would also make their (supposedly serious) Mars proposal unobtainable. The trick may or may not work, I certainly hope not.

    Unless and until that negative assessment becomes irreversible, I will continue to support the dual launch approach.

    I am not anti-orbital propellant depot. In fact I believe they will become necessary at some point. Because I think they will be more difficult to develop than many believe, I do not want them to become a prerequisite to establishing proof of the practicality of Lunar ISRU. Once the use of lunar resources is demonstrated, it will be easier to keep the depot development funded through any technical difficulties.

    • I also support a dual launch SLS capability. But you still need two launch pads to have two launches that are only a few hours or a few days apart. Hopefully, after the first launch of the SLS in 2017 or 2018, there will be support in Congress and the Executive branch to fund a second SLS launch pad or to modify Pad 39A so that it can also accommodate the SLS launches.

      You also can’t have multiple SLS launches until the expendable RS-25E engines are finally in production, hopefully, by 2021.


      • Joe says:

        Hi Marcel,

        The need to launch within hours/days of the first launch in a dual launch scenario was an artifact of the 1 ½ launch scenario adopted for Constellation Systems (CS).

        The reason was the boil off of propellant (especially hydrogen) from the Earth Departure Stage (EDS) while waiting for the crew launch. The original CS requirements called for the capability to launch as much as 90 days later, but that caused an un acceptable oversizing of the EDS.

        In the dual launch configuration we are discussing the lunar lander is delivered (by its own EDS) to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) first then (when it has been checked out) the crew is launched on the second flight to LLO to rendezvous/ dock with the lander. While boil off would still be an issue for the lander its tanks would be much smaller than those for the EDS and easier to better insulate.

        As you pointed out the Shuttle was launched 9 times in one year from a single pad (an average of once about every 41 days). While I agree it would not be optimal and would prefer 2 pads and faster launches, that period between launches is probably doable – at least for some initial period.

        We are in complete agreement about the need for the RS-25E. I wonder if the administration will try to slow that down.

        • Thanks for your comments Joe!

          I think you’re right. A LOX/LH2 lunar lander could be designed that could stay in orbit for months without any significant loss of fuel. I like to toy with notional designs for reusable LOX/LH2 lunar landers that take advantage of NASA’s emerging zero boil-off cryocooler technology. By simply adding solar panels to the landing vehicle, cryocoolers could be utilized to re-liquify ullage gases:

          An SLS Launched Cargo and Crew Lunar Transportation System Utilizing an ETLV Architecture


          But I’m absolutely obsessed with the simplicity of the Spudis/Lavoie architectural concept of storing water at orbital depots for eventual conversion into propellant. While solar powered crycoolers could store liquid oxygen and hydrogen for several years, water could be stored indefinitely!

          Pre-deployed water depots should make it pretty easy, IMO, to travel to the orbits of Mars, Venus, and maybe even as far out as the asteroid belt and back to cis-lunar space with simple hydrogen/oxygen chemical rockets– if interplanetary vehicles are initially launched from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.


          • billgamesh says:

            Hi Marcel,
            It occurs to me that perhaps a polar scale of some kind could be used to describe the possible outcomes of future spaceflight designs so often discussed here. You and Joe are on the one side and I seem to be on the other concerning the regulars that Dr. Spudis so kindly hosts.

            The Parker-type 5 meter water shield massing over a thousand tons can only be propelled by a single off-the-shelf system; nuclear pulse propulsion.

            The polar opposite of such a fully shielded nuclear propelled spaceship is the unshielded chemically propelled spacecraft. In between are many variations. NASA seems to have entertained a NTR which is low risk but also low performance.


  6. billgamesh says:

    “In 1985, 9 Space Shuttles were launched solely from Pad 39A. So having just one launch pad may not inhibit an aggressive SLS Lunar and Mars program.”

    As I commented last week the Soyuz U has the record for launches in a single year (1979) with 47. Consider a cargo version of the shuttle without the orbiter to slow things down and if we had thus launched 47 times in 1985 I would be impressed and certainly call that aggressive. The problem with the shuttle was it was retrograde. Nothing can stop progress like reducing capability. If the Saturn V had been succeeded by a launch vehicle with double or triple the thrust then all might have gone well. If a cargo version of the shuttle had been available with resources to fly 50 times a year then again, all would have been well.

    Six to ten flights a year is more practical than forty-seven. Instead of lifting progressively heavier payloads with the same number of launches the shuttle had less lift.The 7.5 million pound thrust launcher of 1965 should have evolved into 15 million a decade later and 30 million a decade after that. But by 1985 we were instead a year away from Challenger and trying to make money. The reduced lift of the shuttle effectively ended the U.S. human space flight program by limiting it to going in circles at very high altitude.

    So I would say we have already inhibited ourselves by not playing catch-up and building a 30 million pound thrust launch vehicle. The key to heavy lift is to be found in the shipyards where they construct submarine hulls; monolithic solid rocket boosters are capable of far greater thrust than the segmented design of the SLS. There are no plans of any kind that I am aware of to build large solid fuel boosters besides those already in existence. The only mule on this planet is for the time being the 5 segment SRB’s on the SLS which in a pair total 7.2 million pounds of thrust.

    An “aggressive” Lunar program would not have “and Mars” and would start with a much larger launch vehicle at least in the 15 million pound range using 4 of the SLS solid rocket boosters.

  7. billgamesh says:

    A NTR departure from Earth orbit? A live reactor in Low Earth Orbit?

    Somehow I do not think that is going to fly. Packaging fissionable material and sending it outside the magnetosphere to be played with is not an impossible safety challenge but…….lighting off a nuclear torch in Low Earth Orbit? No.

    I am not a fan of NTR even though these engines have been tested. A reaction one million times more powerful than chemical combustion yet an ISP only twice that of conventional propellents.

  8. billgamesh says:


    I strongly desire to give credit to Dr. Eugene Parker and illustrator Kent Snodgrass for this graphic which if anything should be a huge draw for STEM in our school system (the subject matter is mathematically related in very interesting ways).

    This magazine article in Scientific American concerning heavy nuclei really caught my attention in 2006. Unlike the rest of the human race which seemed to be flying on left-over wheaties from the 50’s I was up to 2002, the year after 911, when “Project Orion, the true story of the atomic spaceship” was published. Making the connection between massive shielding and nuclear pulse propulsion seemed obvious (to me) but no one else has caught on and recognized the very narrow path to humans expanding into the solar system.

    U.S. space policy has been infamously lost in space for several decades. The national goal to be pursued has always been, in the public mind at least, to gain Lebensraum. The only clearly defined plan for implementing such a move to the stars has been “The High Frontier” of Gerard K. O’Neill back in the 70’s. Nothing ever materialized concerning space solar power. A cislunar network using lunar resources is the only new plan for any true commercial space project.

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