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

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be – Alfred Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall

Where there is no vision, the people perish – Proverbs 29:18

Inscribed on the walls of the Science Committee Conference Room, House Rayburn 2318

Meeting room of the House Science Committee

Meeting room of the House Science Committee (archive photo)

Recently I had the honor of testifying before the House Subcommittee on Space.  A hearing was called to address questions and concerns about “The Next Steps in Human Exploration.”  The hearing charter focused on comparing a possible return to the Moon with a proposed mission to a near-Earth asteroid in preparation for human missions to Mars and points beyond.  Sitting before the subcommittee with me were Lou Friedman, formerly of the Planetary Society – one of the architects of the proposed “haul asteroid” mission which had quite suddenly appeared in the administration’s proposed FY2014 budget, Steve Squyres, a planetary scientist and current chair of the NASA Advisory Council, and Doug Cooke, a former Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems at NASA, now president of his own consulting firm.

I’ve testified previously before Congressional committees (on both the Senate and House sides) and each time the opportunity has been interesting and educational.  I am always impressed by the thoughtful nature of the members’ questions, belying their sometime public image as know-nothing time-servers.  I sense that they want to do the correct thing for the nation and for their constituents.  If there are differences of opinion, they appear to be honest ones.  This is especially true in regard to our national civil space program, one of the rare areas of public policy that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.  The divide in belief on the value of space is philosophical, not political.  Some on both sides “get it,” and some on both sides don’t.

I found that there is confusion and even some anger on the Hill over President Obama’s decision to abandon the Moon as the near-term goal of human spaceflight.  Additionally, there is widespread puzzlement about the newly minted, asteroid retrieval concept – whether it will accomplish any scientific benefits, if it will prepare us for human missions beyond LEO, and what societal value it may or may not have.  The question before the committee was how we might best move forward in space.  As the discussion proceeded, it was patently clear that we desperately need a guiding vision with a strategic direction, one that constantly, incrementally and cost effectively creates and extends our space capabilities.  It requires a plan with abundant milestones, intermediate in time and money, which will move humans beyond low Earth orbit.

Sitting before the committee, I read the words (quoted above) of Tennyson and Proverbs, a stark reminder of the importance of  “vision” highlighted prominently on the wall behind the assembled committee.  The 2004 Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was designed to extend human reach beyond low Earth orbit – throw open the door to opportunities on an extensible path forward.  A key part of that vision (endorsed by two Congresses, under different leadership) was to learn how to use off-planet resources – the abundant material and energy wealth of the Solar System, beginning on the Moon – to create new spaceflight capabilities and commercial opportunities.  The idea that lunar return was meant to be some sort of Apollo Redux, in which we would conduct super-sortie missions to a few landing sites and then depart for Mars was not the intent of lunar return in the VSE.  Unfortunately, NASA itself helped play into the moronic “been there, done that” canard by emphasizing the same things that characterized Apollo – a program of custom built, one-off disposable spacecraft, launched into orbit on behemoth rockets.

An interesting moment in the hearing came when Squyres expressed concern that even if the Space Launch System (SLS) is completed, there will be no money to operate it or provide payloads for it.  I believe this concern comes from a misunderstanding of the fundamental purpose of the SLS – the launch vehicle mandated in the 2010 NASA authorization bill.  I have written previously that because of the peculiar wording of that bill, there may have been an ulterior motive involved in such specificity, viz., that the SLS is Congress’ way of retaining a semblance of spaceflight capability within the agency, a national technical capability that they believed was discarded with undue haste and little serious thought.  In such a scenario, the operational cost of SLS is not relevant, at least until an attainable, strategic horizon is recognized and adopted by a future administration.  SLS is merely a mechanism to retain a national capability and operational spaceflight team, the hard-fought-for-and-won national treasure of space expertise which otherwise would be scattered to the winds.

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.

Witnesses at the May 21 hearing.  From left to right, Friedman, Spudis, Squyres and Cooke.

Witnesses at the May 21 hearing. From left to right, Friedman, Spudis, Squyres and Cooke.

If we intend to go to the planets – to incorporate the Solar System into our social and economic sphere – we must understand and master the extraction and use of the indigenous resources of space.  So why not start now on our nearby, accessible and useful Moon, where acquiring this skill can be done with some degree of ease and safety?  Doug Cooke endorsed using the Moon as a resource and test-bed, stating his belief that the lunar surface offered the best place to develop the skills and technology needed for future human planetary missions.

In response to a member’s question about the possible advent of a new space race, Lou Friedman remarked that America and the Soviets raced to the Moon fifty years ago and found “no gold” there.  But I contend, sometimes “gold” glistens instead of glitters and you must be able to recognize it.  The abundant water ice of the lunar poles (already in Earth orbit and waiting to be collected and used) is pure spaceflight gold – the substance that permits permanence and utility for humans in space.  Call it what you will – a race, a gold rush, a science and technology driver (all the above) – but while the rest of the world reaches for the lunar gold ring, we should not forfeit our participation in a growing space-based economy by focusing on a cobbled together asteroid junket.

There is nothing prohibiting us from returning to the Moon except for a stubborn, nonsensical insistence that there’s no reason to go back because “we’ve been there.”  Of the four witnesses who testified on May 21, three believe that the Moon serves a critical role in preparing people for longer journeys.  Our next steps from Earth should lead us back to the Moon for study and use – a lunar harbor from where travel into the larger Solar System begins.  I believe that most of the committee members understand that.  They are not fooled by proposals for “bread-and-circus” stunt missions to bag a space rock and then visit it because it is proclaimed to be the only place that we can get to.  That’s putting a “happy face” on our space program and nothing more.  It is a mission out of step with America and one that ignores words of wisdom spelled out on the House hearing room wall.

Links to the testimony of the four witnesses can be found at the Committee web site.

A video of the hearing can be found on YouTube or downloaded here.

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

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

  1. billgamesh says:

    It is not the Moon vs. Mars, no matter how strongly credentialed experts frame the discussion as such. Mixing up impact deflection with commercial interests is also a dead giveaway of the real game in play.

    That game being- there is no cheap. Everyone wants tax dollars to subsidize their own plan. Dr. Spudis is the only one testifying that is really being honest.

    Friedman was especially prone to playing on the public’s general ignorance of space flight realities.

    Friedman: “-human space exploration has a goal and a direction. Mars is the only human-accessible world to study possibilities of either indigenous past life or potential future life.”

    Mars is a rock with a too-deep gravity well. Mars seems “just close enough” for human travel by way of chemical propulsion but due to radiation shielding and other crew requirements, the one- million pound Mars ship is, IMO, a myth. It will have to be much larger and nuclear propelled. The interesting places to go are the moons of the outer planets- and they way there starts with the water ice on our own Moon that can be used as cosmic ray shielding in spaceships. The Moon is the place to assemble, test, and launch any nuclear mission while Earth orbit is definitely not. Mars is a poor destination to start with yet is accepted by the public as the place to go due to a half century of sci-fi entertainment. This is a mistake much like the “been there, done that” Moon pronouncement. We did land there but nothing else. Landing on Mars seems like a wonderful way to spend a few trillion dollars but in reality the Moon is the gateway to the solar system.

    The Moon is the place from which to maintain a cis-lunar network of manned telecomm stations.
    The place to base impact threat interceptors. The place to establish a survival colony in case an engineered pandemic wipes out humanity on Earth.

    That is for starters; the obvious energy resources and radio astronomy opportunities follow this short list.

    Friedman: “Exploring asteroids is important – to understand what they are made of and how they hold together. We may someday have to divert one.”

    Bagging a little rock has little to do with deflecting an impact threat. It is indeed a “happy face” mission and……sadly illustrates how far the mighty have fallen. And this scientist is the example to study; he is claiming to help protect the Earth from a catastrophe but in reality is after money for people on Mars. What is so disturbing is the fact that we have tens of thousands of megatons in hydrogen bombs sitting here on Earth when some of them should be somewhere like the Moon and ready to actually deflect a dinosaur killer. We are lacking in detection and even when astronaut physicists like Ed Lu go begging for money just to have a primitive warning system the public is deceived by infomercials that insist tourist space stations are more important. But a relatively few pennies in the bucket for a warning satellite are always mistaken as the solution;

    DETECTION IS NOT DEFLECTION.

    Friedman: “Solar electric propulsion is now frequently used in space missions, scaling it up to the required in this mission is a technology development step that has been planned for many years. This mission will serve as a key test for even higher levels of power and propulsion for spacecraft of the future needed to support human missions-“

    Electric propulsion thrust is measured in ounces and does not scale up easily at all. It is in practical terms USELESS for human spaceflight.

    • denniswingo says:

      Electric propulsion thrust is measured in ounces and does not scale up easily at all. It is in practical terms USELESS for human spaceflight.

      Well, I agreed with you until here…..

      This is incorrect. Just like barges are still the cheapest way of moving cargo, SEP will have a place in inner solar system commerce.

      • billgamesh says:

        USELESS for human spaceflight- Incorrect?

        No one has flown on an electrically propelled spaceship.

        The most powerful one built to date puts out about 1000 times less thrust than a model rocket motor.

        The farther outbound the less solar energy is available to power these anemic toys. Nuclear powerplants will be required and the most over the top stupid engineering solution I can imagine would be to build a nuclear electric powerplant generating thousands of horsepower in energy to power these tiny devices. No one really has a clue to how to build a big one. The closest concept is Diaz’ VASIMR

        http://blog.operationreality.org/2012/05/01/the-little-engine-that-could-take-us-to-mars/

        and VASIMR is far from simple- from article above: “However, current nuclear reactor technology produces huge amounts of waste heat, and in the vacuum of space it would stay with the ship rather than dissipate. Chiang-Diaz has acknowledged this problem, stating “It is abundantly clear that the nuclear reactor technology required for such missions is not available today and major advances in reactor design and power conversion are needed.”

        As for the barge- will the bad space analogies never end?

        I have not ridden a barge anywhere lately Dennis, have you?

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Allow me to short-circuit a (potentially) endless and pointless argument here.

          I believe that Dennis’s point is that SEP is useful for the transport of large unmanned cargo to places of utility for use by separately launched (and chemically powered) human missions. For example, there is no reason why habitats and various other equipment destined for lunar outpost needs to travel with the human crew. It could be sent to the Moon via a “slow boat” route using SEP while the human crew could follow later in faster, chemical vehicles.

          And with that, I believe that this discussion is ended.

  2. billgamesh says:

    Squyres: “The giant planets and their moons present environmental obstacles
    to human exploration that will be insurmountable for decades to come. But what makes
    Mars unique is not just its relative accessibility. Alone among the planets, Mars is enough like Earth that we can imagine life once taking hold there.”

    The “insurmountable” obstacles to exploring the outer system are the same as the ones for Mars; there is no “relative accessibility.” If we are going outbound it will be on a nuclear propelled spaceship assembled, tested, and launched from the Moon and with the crew shielded from cosmic radiation by several hundred tons of Moon water. While Mars has no known subsurface oceans and a deep gravity well, Ceres and the moons of the outer system probably have oceans to explore and are relatively easy to land on.

    Squyres: “To put it simply, sending human explorers to Mars to learn whether life ever emerged there is a goal worthy of a great national space agency.”

    To put it simply, sending human explorers to Mars is a “Bread and Circus stunt mission.” A Moon base is a far more worthy goal that can enable a cis-lunar network, asteroid interdiction, survival colonies, and science on a far larger scale than anything Mars can achieve. With a base on the Moon many goals are enabled and without one very few are practical.

    Squyres: “-the first milestone should be to return humans to cis-lunar space. Of
    course, such a milestone has only modest value in and of itself; it would serve largely to
    re-assert capabilities we had forty years ago.”

    Modest value? No. The Moon is the gateway to exploring and colonizing the solar system and possibly supplying Earth’s population with enough energy to support a western lifestyle for the ten to twelve billion people soon to come. If any destination lacks value it is Mars. While Squyres may get points from Dr. Spudis for supporting cis-lunar development I give him a big ZERO.

    Mars does not even have solar energy resources to build on. A better project would be to build habitats and power stations at the Lunar Lagrange and this fact was realized a long time ago by pioneers like O’Neill and later Criswell.

    • denniswingo says:

      Squyres: “To put it simply, sending human explorers to Mars to learn whether life ever emerged there is a goal worthy of a great national space agency.”

      I have always wondered why a certain class of people think that this is important beyond all other considerations. Maybe it satisfies a secular faith that life is not unique? The whole question has just never moved me at all.

      I agree that a lunar industrial development is a far more important step in the evolution of human capabilities.

      • mike shupp says:

        There are a lot of people who seem to work on the theory that space is “dead”, that it will stay dead, and that therefore it merits no more attention. This includes a number of well educated, articulate people. A sample of this:

        http://crookedtimber.org/2013/05/12/the-arithmetic-of-interstellar-travel/

        My suspicion is that NASA’s emphasis upon spotting life somewhere in this Godforsaken universe is motivated by a pervasive but unexpressed fear that without success the no-life-no-funds crew would happily close down the agency.

        I’m not convinced things are quite this bad. On the other hand, I don’t think the counter argument that “humans can bring life to the stars and planets of a lifeless universe” would get a lot traction these days.

      • Robert Clark says:

        Squyres is a scientist, which is why that is such an important question to him. For me understanding the origin of life is a very important question, but expanding human presence beyond planet Earth is also very important.

        Bob Clark

  3. Gary Miloglav says:

    It saddens me to think that not going to the Moon was the result of making that decision just before the results came in that the Moon had plenty of water and other resources. I was an “asteroid first” advocate in 2009 and then changed my mind as soon as data started coming in from LROC and LRO.

    Changing a bureaucracy is like turning a super tanker, and once a decision is made, it makes the “powers that know” seem incompetent if they should suddenly change their minds and admit they were wrong.

    And yet, that is exactly what they should do now.

    • billgamesh says:

      I agree with Gary.
      The water on the Moon changed everything and very few seem to get it even now after several years have gone by.

      It is about radiation and lifting shielding from Earth; the ice on the Moon solved that problem.

      It is about pushing that massive shield around the solar system; only nuclear energy can do it and the Moon is the only safe place to play with plutonium.

      Chelyabinsk should have been the wake up call that made a Moon base a certainty. If anyone doubts this they might want to go to the nearest natural history museum and look at the dinosaur bones.

  4. I thought your testimony before Congress was brilliant. It made my week! I’ve posted the video off the Congressional testimony on my blog.

    Water has always been gold for the human species. Of course, the utilization of fresh water resources for growing food resulted in the rise human civilization and the subsequent population explosions that have increased our numbers on Earth from several million just ten thousand years ago– to several billion today. There is no resource on Earth that is more exploited and more useful to humanity than water!

    But water is even more valuable in space since it can also provide humans with air and rocket fuel and radiation shielding for interplanetary vehicles.

    Mars advocates should actually enthusiastically embrace– your concept– for depositing lunar water at depots located at Lagrange point gateways– if they seriously want to get to Mars in the near future in a safe and reasonable fashion!

    Marcel F. Williams

  5. Joe says:

    I had heard this was going to take place and wondered how it would turn out. Thanks for the recounting.

    I will add one bit of what I hope will be new information.

    In the article “Let’s Haul Asteroids!” comments section I made the following comment:

    Joe says: April 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    “… the Asteroid capture vehicle (according to the Keck study) is to be launched on a single Atlas V 551 (maximum LEO payload 29.4 tons). That means that the initial vehicle mass in LEO would be about 6% of the asteroid at a maximum. Using well understood hypergolic fuel for its RCS system it would need to expend no more than 450 kg in propellant (or about 0.09% of the asteroid mass) to completely negate the roll/pitch/yaw of the Asteroid. To put it politely that will be quite a challenge.

    I would submit that if the $100 Million study is approved a likely outcome is that the vehicle will become: (1) More complex, (2) More expensive, (3) More massive. Those are engineering predictions. The likely political outcome would be as follows: (1) If the increased weight of the payload pushes it to the point where it would require use of an SLS sized vehicle, the on line Space X supporters will turn against it, (2) Due to the increased cost of the payload the current administration will abandon it in any case.”

    I must admit I left out another alternative de-scoping the objectives of the mission.

    At a presentation at JSC a few weeks ago Administrator Bolden said the about the Asteroid retrieval mission: (1) The Asteroid would likely be significantly smaller than the 7 Meter/500 Tons of the Keck study. (2) The initial major challenge would be to be able to find and track an asteroid small enough to attempt recovery. (3) While returning the smaller asteroid to lunar orbit would remain a goal, the mission would be considered successful if it could be substantiated that the asteroids course had been altered.

    • denniswingo says:

      Wow, that is an amazing revelation Joe, wish we had him on camera saying that. It negates any possible value to that mission.

      • Joe says:

        Just to be clear I was not in the meeting myself, but a civil servant friend was. I have known this individual for decades they are very honest and very precise. I also asked follow up questions to assure I understood what they were telling me correctly. That is an accurate synopsis of what he said.

        There were of course no cameras.

  6. Grand Lunar says:

    Excellent information, and a good message that needs to get out.

    -“There is nothing prohibiting us from returning to the Moon except for a stubborn, nonsensical insistence that there’s no reason to go back because “we’ve been there.””

    That, and the attitude of the president, who got that idea started.
    Well, him and Buzz Aldrin (AFAIK).

    While I’m not a big fan of the SLS, if it can be used for the purposes as you state, then let’s go for it.
    I don’t think that it needs to reach the 130 mT goal for these missions. The 70 mT version ought to be enough, though 100 mT without a LUS is nice too.

    Another thing to point out is that we don’t need to restart the Altair program, as Bolden thinks we do (and claims that it’s too costly).
    A smaller lander, not much larger than Apollo’s LM, ought to work out just fine.

    • Bolden says its too costly because Obama doesn’t want to go to the Moon. But $12 billion in development cost for the Altair isn’t that much, IMO. There’s talk about extending the life of the ISS until 2028; at $3 billion a year, that’s an expenditure of $42 billion just to continue going around in circles above the Earth.

      But what we really need is a reusable single stage lunar lander that can take humans to and from the surface of the Moon from low lunar orbit– on a single tank of fuel. Such a vehicle should also be designed to eventually take advantage of lunar fuel resources (hydrogen and oxygen).

      A single stage lunar lander would also give NASA a vehicle that could land on the Martian moons of Deimos and Phobos and , in theory, could easily take off from the surface of Mars into low Mars orbit– if the vehicle could be safely deployed to the Martian surface with a ballute and a protective heat shield– without using much fuel for landing! Ballutes may be capable of landing as much as 100 tonnes of payload on the Martian surface.

      A single stage lunar lander should also be much cheaper than the Altair to develop since only one vehicle would be developed instead of two (Altair was going to have a descent and an ascent stage using two different types of rockets and two different types of rocket fuels).

      Marcel F. Williams

  7. Mark R. Whittington says:

    I wonder if this deal with Bigelow could be the avenue to put a return to the Moon back on the table.

  8. Robert Clark says:

    Well said.

    Bob Clark

  9. Ken says:

    Regarding Steve Squyres’ remarks about the operating cost of SLS, you say: “In such a scenario [one in which the purpose of SLS is to provide heavy-lift capability until the country decides to use it], the operational cost of SLS is not relevant, at least until an attainable, strategic horizon is recognized and adopted by a future administration. SLS is merely a mechanism to retain a national capability and operational spaceflight team, the hard-fought-for-and-won national treasure of space expertise which otherwise would be scattered to the winds.”

    If I understand correctly, you’re saying that SLS should just be kept on line even if there’s no money to use it any time soon, in the hope that someday NASA’s budget will increase to the point that SLS can fly lots of missions.

    I just can’t see how it makes any sense to buy something in the *hope* that you’ll be able to afford to use it. If you’re going to spend billions of dollars developing something, you had darned well better be confident you’re going to be able to afford it. Consider various future scenarios and make sure that even if things turn out a little worse than you expect, you can still afford it. Otherwise, it’s just like the sub-prime mortgage crisis: people bought things they could only afford if everything went really well. That ended in tears.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      If I understand correctly, you’re saying that SLS should just be kept on line even if there’s no money to use it any time soon, in the hope that someday NASA’s budget will increase to the point that SLS can fly lots of missions.

      Not quite. I am saying that there is a concern on the Hill that with the retirement of the Shuttle system and its infrastructure, we are discarding a national capability that may be needed — or may even be critical — sometime in the future. An analogy would be the building a new type of submarine or aircraft carrier. You are anticipating a future need, not building a system designed for certain use.

  10. MECO says:

    I am very skeptical that the political will exists to do any of the human missions discussed. It’s a dead end. I seriously doubt that Congress would even approve the ISS today…it survived by only one vote in 1993 (NASA had more momentum then and stronger leadership in both branches). To be clear, Congress passes authorization bills espousing vision and destinations and authorizes funding levels, often with resounding bipartisan majorities. But authorization bills are generally aspirations and the money isn’t binding. Is the overwhelming bipartisan support on authorization bills because they care about space and believe in it?…or are they mostly just going with the flow? Truth is, there are some in both camps, but vast majority are going with the flow and don’t care enough about space to spend the political capital to align goals and resources. Also, Congress passes approps bills every year, which buried inside them is funding for NASA. But most of these bills make only minor adjustments to the president’s request, and it’s more just “going with the flow” for most in Congress. For decades NASA’s budget has been out of alignment with reality (plenty of fault to go around). NASA’s human space program has survived largely in the absence of broad political support and national commitment. It continues largely on momentum and parochial political interests. It would be very interesting to see how the vote would end up if Congress debated a bill with binding funds that was solely focused on what the goal for human spaceflight should be. That would be a real test of commitment. The cost of Apollo in today’s dollars is about $170B. The cost of sending people to Mars is several times that amount. An asteroid isn’t very interesting, and even if you do that, then what? Would Congress really support a binding decision to go to the Moon or Mars? I think the answer is no. They’re just playing along. The sooner folks realize that for the foreseeable future no Congress or Administration is going to commit to this, the sooner people can stop beating their heads against the wall, and the sooner people can get to work on plans that have a chance of actually coming to fruition (probably some really cool robotic stuff). Sorry to be so harsh, but the debate over human space has gone on for at least a decade (since Columbia…but really since Apollo), and we’re probably further from it becoming a reality than ever before. Put NASA human space BEO on hold, keep ISS going until 2020 and seriously consider declaring victory on that project and deorbit, support the commercial guys with technology/assistance and let them put their money where their mouth is, invest in technology, and re-assess what might be possible over the long-term. Be open to the possibility that there might not really be a “there there” in any meaningful time frame or budget reality. Focus on robotic exploration, since those discoveries might hand the human space program the one thing it really needs…a reason for people to go.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      The unspoken assumption in your post is that future human space programs will be like past ones — big splashy objectives and public “excitement.” We see how such a model is now faring and if you actually look at the “excitement” factor over the last 50 years, that is a very tenuous thread upon which to hang a multi-decade, multi-billion dollar federal program.

      If there really is a compelling reason for people to go into space beyond LEO, it will have to be on terms different than what has transpired in the past. The attitude of some in the space community is that there’s nothing in space for people to do, so let’s just cancel that part of the program and focus on robotic missions. That strategy isn’t working either — the biggest cuts in the out years in the proposed administration’s budget for NASA is in planetary exploration.

      I contend that we can craft a human spaceflight program based on incremental, cumulative expansion outward from LEO. And it can be structured so as to fit under politically possible budgetary envelopes. My model uses the resources of the Moon to create new space faring capabilities. It’s never been attempted before because the space program has relied on the “bring it all from Earth” principle and has not thought seriously about using what’s already in space to do new things.

      Will it all hang together? Who knows? What we are doing isn’t working, so why not give it a try?

      • MECO says:

        You are right that an underlying assumption is that future programs will be like past ones, but I see scant real evidence to support making any other assumption. To be clear, I like your in-situ approach and philosophy of incremental advancements. Some new technical ideas are needed, spiral development is the only way any of this has a chance. But I don’t think technical solutions are really the nub of the problem. At the core the problem is the lack of a compelling rationale for humans in space. Of course, “compelling” is subjective. If there was a cure for cancer on the Moon, then it would be a no-brainer.

        You seem to be saying that at roughly current funding levels there is a way to move forward. Maybe so, but I still find myself asking why?

        On robotic exploration, the problem is the opposite. They have great rationale but not the money.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          I still find myself asking why?

          The “Why?” is multi-faceted, but in nutshell it is to do those jobs or tasks that need to be done and that cannot be done through robotic means alone. I believe that list is exhaustive and includes not only scientific tasks (such as field science, an area in which robots have shown themselves to be woefully inadequate) but large-scale engineering ones as well (e.g., satellite construction, maintenance and repair, especially in the building of large, space-based distributed aperture systems beyond LEO.) We need to develop the ability to go to places with people where their skills and knowledge-based interaction with the environment are required to do new and useful things.

          On robotic exploration, the problem is the opposite. They have great rationale but not the money.

          Quite to the contrary, we are running out of rationale for robotic missions. We have reconnoitered the entire Solar System and now, the questions are more difficult, time-consuming and sophisticated. First-order results are in the can; we need more capability at more distant and exotic locales to make further progress. That requires a new paradigm of spaceflight, which is why I advocate building an extensible, permanent system of space faring.

  11. billgamesh says:

    “If there really is a compelling reason for people to go into space beyond LEO, it will have to be on terms different than what has transpired in the past.”

    That is worth repeating over and over again. Maybe a few will finally understand that space is not a place for war, or a new ocean to be sailed, or a new frontier to be exploited.

    The compelling reason is survival.

    Civilization is a fragile construct and much like a house of cards. The dozens of empires that have existed in the past are not much different than the present world economy except in numbers. The important difference is we have much farther to fall than at any time in the past as far back as 70,000 years ago.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/24295165/

    So it may not be a place for war against each other, but certainly the battlefield that will decide if we thrive or go extinct as a species. Certainly not an ocean or frontier that will usher in a gold rush or newer new world; it is a vacuum seething with radiation. But it is the only place we can go to survive if Earth becomes uninhabitable.

    The DOD spends unimaginable amounts of money on……..secret stuff we are not allowed to even know about. What we do know is that it is quiet out there- and whether we join that silence is entirely up to us. There is no beneficient mother nature insuring our survival.

    Engineered pathogens derived from bird flu, a dinosaur killer of a rock or comet, a new volcanic or other natural epic suddenly manifest; these are the reasons to go and are more deserving of hundreds of billions of my tax dollars than cold war toys that do not even work right.

    The concept of the manned geostationary telecom platform assembled and launched from the Moon has merit. We need only look at our smartphones and the cloud of space junk that envelopes this planet to realize that.

    The concept of interceptors based on the Moon to intercept impact threats has merit. Chelyabinsk and before that Tunguska and before that and before that is proof positive of that.

    The concept of a survival colony to preserve the human race from an extinction level event has merit. A single genetically modified virus released from a modest lab anywhere on Earth could kill us all. Really. It is a threat that makes nuclear weapons look like a warm pillow.

    And finally the concept of using the Moon to build solar power stations or even beam energy directly to Earth has merit. The orbital habitats envisioned in the 70’s were a direct result of the availability of the Moon to facilitate such mega projects. We can spend our new industrial age treasure on the same terms we have been expending it for the last century or so and eventually fail- or do something different as Dr. Spudis suggests.
    Adapt. Survive.

    • MECO says:

      If the planet/species goes down, I’d rather go down with it, than live on some crazy space station or barren planet.

      • Joe says:

        I am not big advocate of Space Colonization to avoid a planetary extinction (not hostile to it either). My own reasons have more to do with increasing technological capabilities to improve the overall human standard of living.

        That said, if the “planet/species goes down” and you would “rather go down with it” that is certainly your privilege. What you are proposing, however, is that everyone else be forced to “go down” with you. Maybe some others would like other alternatives.

        • MECO says:

          True enough, that would be my personal choice, and I’m sure you’re right that others would want options.

          So, similarly to what I described earlier, if Congress were asked to vote on a bill focused on one question: whether space colonization, along the lines you describe, should be the goal of human space and the bill carried with it a binding commitment to fund at $8B/year (roughly what is spent now on NASA human space), do you think it would get enough votes to pass? Would be interesting to see how it might come out.

          See, I think another facet to the problem is that too many people take what Congress has done on NASA and claimed that there was bipartisan support for the “vision” (eg previous NASA Authorization bills), but the truth is most in Congress are indifferent towards it, and vote for it because it’s easier than having to defend a vote against.

          Everyone likes the lofty words and goals for human space, but when it came down to putting the money on the table, it was a different story. In some ways, Congress wanted to believe that NASA could somehow get it all done, and NASA wanted to believe that Congress was serious about its commitment. Each side misjudged the other. I think we’re still at the point of talking past each other. the kind of money NASA needs to do the Moon isn’t there, so for me, it’s hard to see what the right direction is. The magnitude of the money is so large that there are a lot of things that could be done, both in space or other programs. For example, does it make sense for the country to spend more on human spaceflight than it does on missile defense?? It’s basically the same contractors.

          It’s seems odd to me, that Tom Young, a highly respected and thoughtful voice in the space community can testify before Congress that the money and time wasted over the last several years is a “national embarrassment” and hardly anyone noticed, a sure sign of apathy in the community.

          Spudis may have some of the answers on the technical side, but I don’t see how human space can survive based on the merits in today’s environment. It probably won’t disappear either, it will just slowly decline into mediocrity.

          • Joe says:

            Young’s testimony was in fact supportive of HSF and a specific bill to stabilize objectives. He also said he had changed his mind on the idea that an asteroid should be the next destination for HSF.

            That testimony does not support what seems to be your position.

            As to what congress will or will not support, expecting any legislative body to lead is like pushing a rope. This Congress has done about as much as it can in total absence of executive branch leadership. Whether or not we will ever get that executive branch leadership is a good question, but as Paul Spudis pointed out the robotics program is now also being curtailed by the current administration (big surprise as that is what happens whenever a basically anti-space administration takes charge, both HSF and robotics get cut back).

          • MECO says:

            I think Young wants HSF to succeed, but is very concerned (more concerned than ever in his five decades of experience to paraphrase). He made a pretty tough statement, and it seemed to just whistle by. That struck me as a really bad sign. My personal position is that I’d support a good HSF program with a clear purpose that is executable, but I don’t see it on the horizon and am tired of seeing the same old pattern. Why not try something really new, like cut the funding in half and light a fire under their butts to come back with a real program. Maybe that would help bring about some focus. Otherwise, it’s just a jobs program and a not very good one at that.

            I agree that the legislature is not the place from which to lead, but the problem, again, is that nobody has a compelling rationale for why do it, including the White House–this one or any other since JFK, and he wasn’t even sold on it. The arguments about exploration being written in the human heart, survival of the species, or the “multi-faceted” hybrid rationales haven’t succeeded. People should accept that it might just be possible that there is no supportable rationale. Didn’t Feinman question the rationale for humans in space after the Challenger investigation?

          • Joe says:

            First you sing the robots ueber alles song. The rationale being that the situation is just too difficult so anyone that disagrees with you should just give up.

            MECO says: May 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

            “I am very skeptical that the political will exists to do any of the human missions discussed. It’s a dead end.

            Put NASA human space BEO on hold, keep ISS going until 2020 and seriously consider declaring victory on that project and deorbit…

            Be open to the possibility that there might not really be a “there there” in any meaningful time frame or budget reality. Focus on robotic exploration…”

            Then you state your distain for anyone wanting to live in space even if that was the only place to live at all.

            MECO says: May 28, 2013 at 1:14 pm

            “If the planet/species goes down, I’d rather go down with it, than live on some crazy space station or barren planet.”

            Then you misrepresent the statements of another.

            MECO says: May 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

            “It’s seems odd to me, that Tom Young, a highly respected and thoughtful voice in the space community can testify before Congress that the money and time wasted over the last several years is a “national embarrassment”…”

            When it is clear that what Young was talking about was the inconsistent policy (abandonment of the VSE) as a “national embarrassment” not the existence of a HSF program.

            The first two are opinions and as I said your privilege. The third is, as far as I am concerned, a deal breaker as to having any serious conversation with you.

  12. Joe says:

    Paul Spudis says: May 28, 2013 at 11:14 am

    “The attitude of some in the space community is that there’s nothing in space for people to do, so let’s just cancel that part of the program and focus on robotic missions. That strategy isn’t working either — the biggest cuts in the out years in the proposed administration’s budget for NASA is in planetary exploration.”

    That attitude is based on perceived self-interest. Some in the space science community (those who want a robots only program for other – philosophical – reasons) convince themselves that if the HSF program was just shut down their favorite causes would receive some significant amount of “all that wasted money”. This has been the case since the inception of the space program in the 1950’s and it has never worked as a practical matter. Every time there has been a HSF retrenchment there have been cutbacks in the robotics programs as well.

    I wonder how many times the “robots first and only” advocates have played “Charlie Brown” to some politicians “Lucy with the football” and how many more times it would have to happen before they catch on that they are being had.

  13. Mike Fair says:

    I’ve been quite interested in the vision question recently. Previously articulated space visions have been inspiring to me, and seem to me like a worthwhile foundation for a federal program. But haven’t recent versions collapsed, evidently failing to define a stable basis of consideration for taxpayers, policy-makers, and designers?
    So I’ve been curious to discover, what are some examples from the last 400 years of a long term, strategic vision that has defined, defended, and inspired a public policy that produced a successful result, i.e. one that turned out to be a) a large, net benefit and b) that resembles the predicted result of the vision?

    Was the U.S. Western expansion articulated as a vision, even if privately and sporadically? Was Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase defended as one piece of a multi-part strategy of expansion growing out of the Colonist’s expansionist ambitions? If it had been more expensive, would the public have objected and redefined these ambitions, and then cancelled Louis & Clark?
    The ‘vision’ for cancer research may be self evident. In any case, does it have a risk of becoming unstable? Perhaps not, but only if funding stays modest and progress continues.
    Transport aviation used to have a driving vision, even in the 60s after the basic market was stable and saturated. It morphed, with the government dedicating research to providing basic data, facilities, and contracts to simply get a fleet in the air. At first NACA airfoils, windtunnels, postal service. Then supersonic transport, now green transport. Obviously safety is a timeless concern, but is it really the bulk of the ‘vison’?
    In any case, I am struggling to find a good example in history of a vision of the sort that is advocated by many in the space community. I think an example of such a vision, one that was actually advocated before the fact and neccessary for the resulting success, would be helpful in crafting a space vision.
    Secondly, to the extent that no examples are found, it seems wiser to steer clear of advocating a large, and binding, vision within Congress. The alternative might be to hold more loosely to predictions of what a space future will look like. In other words, advocate, allocate, and execute smaller programs that cannot be defended in any long range context, but can garner enough support for a few years to get it done and might provide hardware and expertise to the next program. Little by little, build a fleet. Which is what you clearly said above, better than I. Can each piece of the fleet be promoted, appropriated, and executed independently? That is, without an overriding vision? If not (i.e. if your architecture cannot stand piecemeal) then even that may be too big to keep stable over a few election cycles without a more convincing vision (which brings me back to my search for historical examples).

    • Paul Spudis says:

      So I’ve been curious to discover, what are some examples from the last 400 years of a long term, strategic vision that has defined, defended, and inspired a public policy that produced a successful result, i.e. one that turned out to be a) a large, net benefit and b) that resembles the predicted result of the vision?

      There have been many long-term governmental projects that have had sustained commitment through many different Congressional terms and Presidential administrations. Usually, they tend to revolve around issues of national security; one example is the 50-year national commitment to oppose Soviet communism around the world (and at the same time, promote democratic, free market capitalism as an alternative). There were many branching corollaries of that commitment, including such things as the development and maintenance of a nuclear arsenal, a large navy capable of projecting global power, and a network of space-based surveillance assets.

      In broad terms, a permanent American presence in space is defense related, even if some cannot see the connection. We depend on our space satellite assets — scientific, economic and national security — to keep the nation secure and prosperous. If they were denied or made inoperative, it would certainly de-stablize the global balance of power and could lead to war. A good way to prevent such a thing is to make sure that we are present in strength on the any new frontier where humanity is present. That includes space and will do so ever more increasingly as time goes on.

    • Many in the House of Representatives tried to stop the purchase of the Louisiana territories from Napoleon’s France. The vast area contained all of or part of: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Louisiana.

      A vote was called in the House to deny the request for the purchase. Fortunately, the measure to stop the Louisiana purchase failed in the House– but only by just– two votes– 59 to 57.

      The US Senate later ratified the treaty in October of 1803 with a vote of 24 to 7.

      So, sometimes, the most obvious things that can benefit a nation are still politically difficult to do:-)

      Marcel F. Williams

      • Mike Fair says:

        You say it is, and perhaps was, obvious. Yet it was debated at many levels. That is why I posed it as a ‘potential’ example. Was it a ‘step’, consistent with an articulated vision. Or a piecemeal action done by people who thought it was a good thing at the time. I think the latter, more likely. The more I struggle to find an analogy for a ‘vision’, the more I think finishing any existing vehicle program is better than cancelling it in order to rethink the ‘best next step’. In this case, SLS might compel the next decisionmaker to avoid proposing a new rocket as part of a new vision. Or at least preclude him from avoiding any next step on the grounds that ‘no infrastructure exists’.
        My point is to propose that Congress move forward with a hardware program, accompanied by an explicit decoupling of that program with any overarching vision.

        • The Congress wanted a heavy lift vehicle. And the Obama administration– claimed– that they also wanted a heavy lift vehicle.

          But the Obama administration wanted to spend over $500 hundred million a year– simply studying– heavy lift vehicle concepts for five years before they would decide what type of HLV would be built.

          Congress saw no logic in such a delay if the administration seriously wanted a heavy lift vehicle especially since a large variety of HLV concepts have been studied to death for the last 30 years.

          Congress also demanded a near term manned cis-lunar missions from the President which they never really got:-)

          Marcel F. Williams

    • denniswingo says:

      Was the U.S. Western expansion articulated as a vision, even if privately and sporadically? Was Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase defended as one piece of a multi-part strategy of expansion growing out of the Colonist’s expansionist ambitions? If it had been more expensive, would the public have objected and redefined these ambitions, and then cancelled Louis & Clark?

      Absolutely! Read the Following books.

      Fire in His Mind, about Robert Fulton
      Empire Express about the National Railroad across the country.

      Manifest Destiny was built into the “Westward Expansion” that our nation would stretch from coast to coast. The early part of Empire Express is extremely well researched about the growth of the railroads. There are other books like..

      1848, The Year of Decision

      Lincoln was a strong advocate of the railroad and understood it very well, having represented the railroads as a lawyer. This facet of his political interests is not very well illustrated in the literature.

  14. There was general agreement in Congress that NASA should return to the Moon. But there was a lot of disagreement as to whether the Ares I/V architecture was the most efficient way to meet that goal.

    Their was also fear by Mars First advocates that a permanent outpost on the Moon would diminish funds for a manned mission to Mars. So NASA gradually refocused the lunar outpost program into a lunar sortie program (Apollo on steroids) with a long term goal of an Apollo style mission to the surface of Mars.

    But the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench in all of that when they suddenly decided to that there was no reason to return to the Moon at all and that manned missions to Mars needed a lot more research and study.

    A permanent lunar outpost is a game changer that is eventually going to substantially reduce the cost satellites and space travel in general. I believe that first tiny outpost on the lunar surface is going to catalyze a change in human society and economic growth as culturally and economically dramatic as the first farms in the Middle East did over 10,000 years ago.

    500 years from now, historians are going to be astonished and probably somewhat confused as to why this momentous decision was so politically difficult for America to make!

    Marcel F. Williams

  15. oldspacehat says:

    It should be pointed out that NASA does have an advanced asteroid detection system on the books…the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam). Proposed long before Ed Lu and B612 came on the scene, and put forth by some real asteroid experts (not just astronauts playing ones on TV): the folks who did NEOWISE. Look ’em up – they first proposed NEOCam in 2005, and now they have the infrared sensors they need to do the job. B612 will never raise the $600+B privately. Too bad NASA wants to play at “dragging” tiny asteroids rather than actually go do a survey and see what the hazard actually is…and too bad Ed & co would rather fight NASA than support their efforts.

    • billgamesh says:

      “-too bad Ed & co would rather fight NASA than support their efforts.”

      All I know from personal experience with contacting them some years ago- before Ed signed on- is that they do not like nuclear weapons. They are pushing a “gravity tug” concept that will fly out to meet the impact threat years in advance. The robot will apply enough force by flying alongside to allow a successful deflection.

      I consider it absurd not to use nuclear weapons on impact threats- it is one of the very few things these devices are good for.

  16. Michael Wright says:

    I am curious is what do policy makers and other top people are really thinking. I remember perceptions of what Space Shuttle was to be and what it can do in the 1970s and 1980s (i.e. books on space colonies, servicing sats) and then in later years everyone complaining they should have done this when developing Shuttle, etc. Then few years ago I watched these lectures by Dale Myers, Aaron Cohen and others of 2005 MIT opencourseware,
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/
    It put much about Shuttle into a realistic perspective, dang if only this was more widely known. So…. who are the specific people (and there are not huge numbers) that chose architectures of VSE, Constellation, Asteroid missions,etc. and what are they really thinking. I’d like to hear it from them rather than third hand, which some of this is on the mark but we will not really know until years from now.

    Just asking.

  17. Grand Lunar says:

    “But what we really need is a reusable single stage lunar lander that can take humans to and from the surface of the Moon from low lunar orbit– on a single tank of fuel. Such a vehicle should also be designed to eventually take advantage of lunar fuel resources (hydrogen and oxygen).”

    The closest I’ve seen to this is Boeing’s concept, except it involves a lander with a “crasher” stage and uses CH4/LOX. It’s meant as an eventual start to a Mars lander (figures, doesn’t it?).

    Another concept (but I can’t remember where I saw it) was a two stage reusable lander.
    Both stages use LH2/LOX. The first stage does most of the burn, then the second stage lands it and is used for take off to LLO. It docks again with the first stage to return it to the L2, IIRC.
    The concept uses the MMSEV, so it supports a crew of two for a two week mission.
    IIRC, the Boeing concept supports 3 for a 7 day mission.

  18. denniswingo says:

    This speech by Marburger should be required reading by any politician regarding our national future….

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=19999

    As I see it, questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not. Our national policy, declared by President Bush and endorsed by Congress last December in the NASA authorization act, affirms that, “The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.” So at least for now the question has been decided in the affirmative.

    Now contrast this with Steve Squyres:

    Squyres: “To put it simply, sending human explorers to Mars to learn whether life ever emerged there is a goal worthy of a great national space agency.”

    Right here in a nutshell is the core of the problem that we have, and what Paul is talking about. If you are a scientist and want to go to Mars, the reason is to find life, though why that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars worth of national treasure when contrasted against other competing interests is never discussed.

    To me, and to the vast majority of writers, thinkers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, the reason to go to Mars is to build a second outpost of humanity. I have not read in all of my life’s reading of science fiction a story about going to Mars just to find life. This bespeaks of the same rational that brought us the Apollo program. If we go to Mars just to find life, and we find it, then what? Go on to Europa to try and find life there? The point is not to go find life elsewhere though that is an interesting, it is to take life out there, which is a far more interesting proposition.

    • billgamesh says:

      “To me, and to the vast majority of writers, thinkers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, the reason to go to Mars is to build a second outpost of humanity.”

      Actually, there is another school of thought on that that goes back to 1929.

      To visionary thinkers like John Desmond Bernal, the planets are not desirable places to live.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernal_sphere

      -and about a half century later Gerard K. O’Neill identified solar platforms as the prime mover behind building thousands and potentially millions of new worlds to populate the inner solar system.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Frontier:_Human_Colonies_in_Space

      A subsurface ocean in the outer system is an environment that can support human communities but Mars is…….gosh, it just has to keep being said over and over again- A ROCK!

      You will not live any longer stepping out of an airlock on Mars than you will on the Moon.
      The Moon is a few days away, is a smaller gravity well, has abundant solar energy, and is just outside Earth’s magnetosphere where nuclear propulsion systems are not a contamination threat.

      It really is going to require nuclear propulsion to get to Mars so this is a strange idea to bypass the Moon. To a few (like me), going past Mars is a better idea and in any case requires a Moon base from which to launch massively shielded nuclear propelled spaceships.

      The question of why launch massively shielded interplanetary spaceships is best answered by a string of name places;

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicxulub_crater

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelyabinsk_meteor

      and here is your bonus prize-

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Great_Daylight_Fireball

      • denniswingo says:

        Why in the hell does it have to be a fight between them? Why is it that some people simply cannot grasp that it is ALL OF THE ABOVE. What I wrote about above is WHAT TO DO ON MARS, not what the ultimate goal of a spacefaring civilization is.

        Space advocates are their own worst enemies, arguing this or that destination while getting pissed on as a bunch of loons by the rest of the world. You are arguing between whether you want to drive a Ford or a Chevy when the issue is building a continent wide interstate highway system that supports ALL vehicles.

        GET IT?

        Its called an integrated system. Mars is part of that system, the Moon is part of that system, the asteroids are part of that system, free space habitats are ALL PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM.

  19. Grand Lunar says:

    I thought that design looked familer and confirmed it when I saw conceptual images. And it’s not a recent design either, as I saw this in a book on space art that dates to around 1990.

    Wonder how this design compares to Altair in terms of cost?
    That it’s reusable is a definte plus.
    It’s amazing that it wasn’t considered (or was it?) during the ESAS studies for Constellation.

  20. Grand Lunar says:

    -“I consider it absurd not to use nuclear weapons on impact threats- it is one of the very few things these devices are good for.”

    It’s a tricky concept, because you’re not sure how the asteroid will react. And you have to be sure it’s not a rubble pile. Otherwise, the nuke is pretty much useless.

    The beauty of the gravity probe is that it can work on rubble piles as well. And it doesn’t take as much lead time as nukes or kinetic impactors.

  21. Robert Clark says:

    The cost to NASA for lunar or other BEO missions can be cut drastically, perhaps by three orders of magnitude, by following a combination of four cost-cutting approaches.

    1.)Commercial space approach. SpaceX and now Orbital Sciences have shown that as much as 90% off of the development cost can be cut by the cost-sharing of the commercial space approach.

    2.)Go small. NASA’s SEV weighs about a third that of Orion. Orbital’s Cygnus weighs about a quarter. Imagine how small, and low cost, your lunar mission could be if you only had to transport a quarter of the mass to the Moon.

    3.)Use existing components. The huge development costs for the Apollo program and of Constellation were because they had to use all newly developed components. Those costs would be reduced greatly if you only had to adapt already existing components. No Saturn V, Ares V, or SLS, and their huge development costs, required.

    4.)Use international partners. The cut in development cost by engaging in cost-sharing is already included in the commercial space approach. However, the cost to NASA can be cut even further by sharing development costs with our international space partners such as the ESA and Japan.

    Bob Clark

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Bob,

      While I agree that costs can be lowered, I disagree on some of your points.

      1. The so-called “commercial” approach saves money on paper, but they have yet to demonstrate a real record of accomplishment, beyond cargo delivery to ISS. Trans-LEO flight is another thing altogether. I simply do not believe the “90% off” cost number that you quote and we simply don’t know what the real numbers are. Much of the development costs for Falcon 9 were paid by the government, but SpaceX’s books are not open for inspection.

      2. Agreed, up to a point. The current Orion is oversized (for non-defensible reasons). Although it could be made smaller (perhaps as much as 20%), there is a limit to that. Not a major cost-saver.

      3. NASA is using “existing components”, at least to the extent that they can. SLS uses the Shuttle ET tooling to make its main structure, the old four-segment SRBs and SSMEs of the Shuttle system, and the existing Cape infrastructure. However, a lot of what we need for trans-LEO human missions will have to be developed anew for the simple reason that they do not now exist.

      4. Absolutely agree and in fact, this is a key approach to help make lunar return affordable. ESA would love to build the lunar lander and signaled such to NASA several years ago, before the Vision was discarded. This proposal was never given any serious thought — NASA and the current administration were eager to discard the Moon, so the Europeans were told to take a hike.

      • Warren Platts says:

        The other advantage of international partnerships is that the agreements tend to keep the program on track. It’s easy to break a promise to ourselves; but if there’s a piece of paper that says we are committed to another country to do something, that’s practically inviolable…

  22. billgamesh says:

    I was not aware the liquid hydrogen (or oxygen) could be stored on the three day journey from Earth to the Moon. Maintaining the liquified gases in those tanks during the journey to the Moon is not as easy a trick as it is made out to be. Operated out of a Lunar underground hangar and used to fly up and latch-on to cargo and passenger modules from Earth and bring them back down to the base might work well on a single sortie type mission.

    More efficienct than lander after lander coming down but first you need a base. And to build that base IMO the first step will be those hypergolic landers setting down.

    Make no mistake- the ice on the Moon is the resource that enables the exploration and colonization of the solar system. Even if cryogenic shuttles fly up from lunar underground bases and bring back down cargo from lunar orbit, there will still be a need for hypergolic propellants. Any large manned geo-stationary platforms will mass thousands of tons- including the Moon water they will use for radiation shielding- and these quasi-spaceships will require both cryogenic and storable propellants for their launch from the Moon and insertion into geostationary Earth orbit. These cislunar stations that could provide telecomm services far more efficiently than current networks, are really just spaceships without nuclear engines.

    It is these nuclear engines that can be assembled, tested, and launched on missions outside the Earth’s magnetosphere from the Moon that enable interplanetary travel.

    So the people that want to go to Mars should understand the Moon is the way to get there. Bypassing the Moon means shielding and propulsion become extremely difficult problems while using the ice for shielding and the lunar location as a staging point for nuclear operations will insure success.

  23. Warren Platts says:

    Lou Friedman remarked that America and the Soviets raced to the Moon fifty years ago and found “no gold” there.

    An ironic comment considering that LCROSS found potentially hugely lucrative (and literal) gold deposits with concentrations measured in the thousands of grams per tonne…

  24. billgamesh says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo9nHXF6_UA

    Yes, especially considering they found gold way back in 1929 (5:40). But as soon as they landed they realized what they should be doing is looking for water (4:20).

  25. Warren Platts says:

    Well in reality, if not the movies, both kinds of gold are found in the exact same ore body.

  26. Ken says:

    Indeed, as I should have noticed in reading your blog post, you suggest that SLS may be “Congress’ way of retaining a semblance of spaceflight capability within the agency.” But why should NASA retain its own launch vehicle? The Air Force has been getting on pretty well for sometime now without having its own launch vehicles. For that matter, so has NASA for the most part — think of all of the great missions it has launched [i]without[/i] using the Shuttle.

    Furthermore, regardless of whether retaining a NASA-managed launch vehicle is a good idea, anybody who is interested in the moon (or Mars) and is interested in launch vehicles only to the extent that they are a means to an end must still confront Squyres’ concern. It seems unlikely there will be any money to do much exploring with SLS.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      But why should NASA retain its own launch vehicle?

      Largely because they have requirements that are not satisfied by commercially available vehicles.

      anybody who is interested in the moon (or Mars) and is interested in launch vehicles only to the extent that they are a means to an end

      Precisely as I state in the lunar architecture paper (p. 5): http://www.spudislunarresources.com/Bibliography/p/102.pdf

      It seems unlikely there will be any money to do much exploring with SLS.

      It seems likely that there won’t be any civil space program at all given the (lack of) direction we are going and the rate at which we are pursuing said oblivion.

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