Why We’re Not Going To Mars

Production line of B-24 Liberator bombers, part of an enormous industrial infrastructure that won World War II, the Cold War, and later, sent America to the Moon.

Production line of B-24 Liberator bombers, part of an enormous industrial infrastructure that won World War II, the Cold War, and later, sent America to the Moon.

In our never ending debate over the direction of U.S. space policy, you’ve no doubt heard the claim that for a human mission to Mars, we have more technology available to us than President Kennedy had available to him when he declared the Apollo Moon landing goal in 1961. Those making this assertion are likely referring to the oft-mentioned “information revolution,” whereby the computing power that guided Apollo to the Moon can fit inside a thimble, rather than the large, suitcase-sized boxes that the old system required. But computers and avionics, while essential, hardly make up a complete and operational spaceflight capability.

How was it possible that within the span of only a few years, a country that had not yet been able to send a man into orbit was able to land two men on the Moon? For over 50 years, space advocates have been talking about sending people to Mars. Yet projected launch dates for the first voyage continually recede into the dim future, currently estimated as occurring in the mid-to-late 2030s at best, but more likely after 2050 in more candid assessments. What has happened to us as a nation that would cause this huge disparity? Could it be we are not as technically literate and advanced as we believe we are? Have we ridden too long on the Apollo wave of excellence? We appear stranded – left behind, dreaming and talking of space but not conquering it.

The success of Apollo can be attributed to many factors, but one aspect often overlooked is that Apollo was a program of the Cold War – a successor to World War II, the greatest marshaling of national will and capability in human history. Several recent books have examined the role of industry and the technical infrastructure developed and used to win the Second World War – how the latent industrial power of America was harnessed and unleashed against the war machines of both the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese. The massive production capability of American industry supplied an abundance of matériel to our armed forces. In the roughly 1300 days of America’s participation in World War II, the United States produced over 100,000 tanks, almost 200,000 fighter and heavy bomber aircraft, 160 aircraft carriers, 350 destroyers, and over 200 submarines. Whatever setbacks we received on the battlefields of the world, it was not for a lack of tools (nor the will) with which to fight.

This enormous American manufacturing capacity was complemented by a concerted effort to use our abundant scientific and engineering talent pool to aid the war effort. The contributions of science and engineering were numerous, ranging from proximity fuses, to radar, to the ultimate scientific/engineering achievement of the war, the atomic bomb. These efforts not only created “wonder weapons” to serve the fight for freedom, they also produced a trained and dedicated work force – a group of people willing to endure long, hard, anonymous hours of work using their maximum (and considerable) brainpower to solve nearly intractable problems.

This marshaled capability could have dissipated into nothing at the end of the war but it didn’t because the people and facilities that defeated the Axis and restored peace to the world were necessary to contain the ambitions of a new and rapacious superpower – the aggressive and expansionist Soviet Union. This was the Cold War, a long period of world tension. Rather than putting an emphasis on the production of matériel, this war required an even greater intellectual effort and more brainpower than the just-concluded “War to End All Wars.” In a real sense, the Cold War was a “technician’s struggle,” with East and West continually engaged in a global contest of technical achievement and one-upsmanship, all with the aim of attaining a military edge over their opponent to advance and secure their nation’s position in the world. The space program was an outgrowth of this mindset and struggle.

With the advent of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), it was clear that launches into space were now possible and that the battle of ideas and ideals would inevitably spill into the heavens. The Space Race became another battleground in the relatively bloodless, ideological Cold War struggle. Each new space accomplishment was heralded not only as an achievement in its own right, but also as an example of the superiority of a politico-economic system. When President John F. Kennedy advocated the landing of a man on the Moon “by the end of the decade,” he was throwing down the gauntlet of challenge to the Soviet Union: We will do this – are you able to?

In doing so, Kennedy was able to draw on the enormous scientific and technical infrastructure built up over the course of a twenty-year Cold War (itself a legacy of the previous capacity used to win World War II). This infrastructure was much more than factories, laboratories and advanced machinery – it was powered by Americans who possessed the culture and character needed to make it all work as a unified whole. The generation that fought and won the Cold War was largely the same one that fought and won the Second World War – those men and women shaped by the hardships of the Great Depression, who sacrificed for their families and for their country. They were willing to work the long, hard hours beyond a daily punch-in to complete whatever job had to be done (and done correctly) to keep and protect a nation and a way of life. In short, it was the so-called “Greatest Generation” – those who fought back tyranny and won, who took us to the Moon.

Over time, people and ideas pass away and memories fade. After the fall of the USSR, the enormous technical infrastructure that won this triumph was allowed to atrophy and dissipate. I have always thought that the 1989 declaration of the Human Space Initiative (later re-named the Space Exploration Initiative – SEI) of President George H.W. Bush (a WWII veteran) was our leadership’s recognition of the danger of letting this capability lapse and thus, coupled it to a suitable challenge for America’s scientific and engineering community (one that would keep sharp our capacity to fight some future technocratic war or struggle – a sentiment and truth we should always reflect upon). Historically, exploration is an activity used to keep a country’s military engaged during long periods of relative peace (e.g., The H.M.S. Challenger’s oceanographic survey in the latter part of the 19th Century). In this sense, President Bush believed a challenging goal in space would serve to maintain this critical national capability, a capability bought and paid-for with decades of blood and treasure.

However, SEI was not supported by the Congress and the technological infrastructure that won the Cold War evaporated. Numerous small, high-tech companies that supported military and space needs in previous decades were allowed to fold or were absorbed by mega-conglomerates. The contraction was not only permitted to occur, but was actually encouraged by ideological opponents of the “military-industrial complex,” the allegedly evil coalescence of the high-tech, federal contractor firms that helped to win the Cold War. The so-called “boom” of high-tech in the late 1990s was largely consumer-oriented and did not produce the needed pieces of a space faring capability.

So, here we find ourselves in the new millennium. Are we “more technically advanced” than when JFK annunciated the goal of a lunar landing within a decade? I think not. Not only has our enormous and varied technical industrial capacity vanished, its engine – the people who made it all work – are gone (laid off, retired or dead). Too many of the current generation lack an understanding of history. They are not motivated by an understanding and belief in American exceptionalism – the foundation that animated past generations to greatness. They have not learned (or have not been taught, so do not possess) the ethic of self-sacrifice of their parents and grandparents – those tough, smart generations that defeated the Nazis, brought down the Soviets, and built a technically advanced American civilization, wealthy – and generous – almost beyond imagination. That nation has been slowly receding into the mists of history, leaving behind but a shell of what it once was and what it was capable of doing.

This is not the same country that sent people to the Moon in less than a decade. We have become a generation of self-absorbed takers, vegetating on and destroying the accumulated wealth and accomplishment of our formerly great nation. We spin fantasy when we talk about going to Mars. We’re not going to Mars – or anywhere else in space – until we are willing to sacrifice, roll up our sleeves and begin working to rebuild what we once had. Until then, our future in space will remain limited to Powerpoint presentations and recollections of what the Greatest Generation was able to achieve.

Note:  I was a guest on The Space Show this week, discussing this topic and also the new NRC report, the subject of my last blog post.  You can listen to the podcast from this link.

This entry was posted in planetary exploration, space industry, space policy, space technology. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Why We’re Not Going To Mars

  1. Grand Lunar says:

    An excellent post that ought to be widely distributed.

    The current generations are about entitlements.
    We overemphasized the welfare state, leading to the mentality that you point out here.

    Might it be possible that the Cislunar Next idea may get us at least partially back to who we once were and who we must be again?

  2. Michael Wright says:

    Years ago someone posted in a forum “War Drives Progress” and I saved the post.
    I’m posting part of it here:

    “Corporate Overlords don’t like true progress, of the disruptive sort. They like progress, the incremental sort, the kind that keeps their guaranteed spot on top, and keeps them making money the same way they made it last year, only more of it. ”

    “War changes this. Real war like WWII, not like Vietnam or Iraq. Real war threatens the very existence of Corporate Overlords, because if we lose, they’re toast. So when real war happens, the brakes on disruptive innovation are removed, because survival is at stake. As long as you win, you have a chance of retaining your spot on top, and will most likely be alive. If you lose, both are in doubt.”

  3. A_M_Swallow says:

    The factories have also been shut down. Today if an entrepreneur wants something mass-produced he has to call in a Chinese firm.

  4. DougSpace says:

    One advantage of coming later in history is that you can learn from those who came before — “standing on the shoulders of giants”. So, whereas NASA had about 36,000 employees and over 200,000 contractors at the height of the Apollo programs, at its current rate of employee growth, SpaceX will have only about 6,300 employees plus their contractors at the estimated time of the launch of their Falcon Heavy. Granted, the Falcon Heavy is not the Saturn V nor will SpaceX have a cryogenic upper stage, service module, nor a lander.

    Similarly, a reusable, cryogenic lunar lander from a modified Centaur upper stage could be developed more quickly than developing such a lander from scratch due to Centaur’s extensive flight history, something that wasn’t available at the beginning of the Apollo program. Also, it seems as though the launch failure rate was a fair amount higher at the beginning of the space age than it is now for newly developed rockets.

    So my point is that SpaceX and others are not starting from the same technological nor experiential that the Apollo program had to start from.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Thank you for the obligatory SpaceX commercial. But you have completely missed the point of my article. It’s not the number of employees or the rocket engine or any specific technical widget that’s “the missing piece.” We now lack the technical industrial infrastructure that we possessed fifty years ago. Thus, any distant space destination is going to be much more difficult to reach now as opposed to fifty years ago.

  5. You might not be going but I sure as hell will.

  6. Another excellent post Dr. Spudis!

    We’re a much more cynical society today than we were during the Mad Men era of the 1960s. In fact, a recent episode of Mad Men addressed some of the growing cynicism during the Moon landing in 1969.

    America ended World War 2 with the US government fully embracing the scientific age. At that time, most Americans believed that American culture was superior to all other nations. Our collective egos were somewhat bruised when the Soviet Union became the first nation to place a satellite into orbit and, just a few years later, a man into orbit. But America was still a– can do nation– at that time. And it didn’t take long for the US to launch its own satellites and then its own men into space.

    And by the end of the 1960’s, Americans were on the Moon while the Soviets were still trapped at LEO– once again demonstrating the technological superiority of our culture. The rest of the Solar System was then ours for the taking. But the US never took advantage of it. Instead, we quickly decommissioned NASA’s manned beyond LEO capability.

    America’s astounding achievements in space were quickly followed by a new age of cynicism from both the political left and the political right in this country. The left tended to view any dollars spent on science as a waste of tax payer money unless it was spent on heath care while the right tended to view any dollars spent on– any government program– as a waste of tax payer dollars unless it was spent on the military. NASA was suddenly politically condemned as a wasteful big government institution, not because of its failures but, ironically, because of the ease of its success.

    We’ve gradually transformed our can-do American society into a won’t-do-anything society. NASA’s human space program is symbolic of this, being transformed from the pioneering space program it was during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo era into a make-work program with astronauts sent on endless missions to LEO, over and over and over again over the past 40 years.

    Saying we want to go to Mars someday will always be just a dream unless Congress and the Executive branch are willing to commit NASA to making the next logical step of utilizing lunar resources to get there. The sooner we begin exploiting lunar water for mass shielding and fueling interplanetary vehicles, the sooner humans will be on both the Moon and Mars.


  7. gbaikie says:

    Apollo was a stunt. I long held we are not going to get a Mars manned stunt.
    If even if we somehow did do it, it would have little value.
    [And SLS is the hope we will repeat it.]

    But this assuming that only way to go to Moon or Mars [other than unmanned] is via something like Apollo. Or without cold war we would have not ever have got humans on the Moon.
    I think without cold war we would got to the moon sooner.
    So my view is the Cold War has been obstacle rather then a vehicle to space.
    Of course had we lost the Cold war, this would have guaranteed not going to space for an even longer time.

    It did not happen nor was it very likely to happen that a Cold War would cause mining in Space.
    Having the Russia be a crazy totalitarian regime bent on world conquest has not brought about socialism goals. One could say to extent it has been achieve is due to free market- to some extent [though no socialist will admit it] despite Russian interference. Or Cuba is not a worker’s paradise but almost anywhere elsewhere in the world one has more of a worker’s paradise.
    Now, socialism is utterly unrealistic and a big lie from start to end, so can argue that it wasn’t in any fashion achieved [thank God or we would be living in Alice in Wonderland- and since reality is not going to change this only means we would be utterly insane].

    Or to repeat my maxium, Socialism will never lead a spacefaring civilization.
    So question remain how thru free markets can open the space frontier?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      But this assuming that only way to go to Moon or Mars [other than unmanned] is via something like Apollo. Or without cold war we would have not ever have got humans on the Moon.

      You have missed my point of my piece. It wasn’t the “crash program” nature of Apollo that led to success — it was the ability to draw upon an existing network of people and technology that we had already created and expanded to fight World War II and had kept for the continuing Cold War. That network is gone. Thus, difficult technical projects take longer (and therefore cost more) now than they did fifty years ago.

      • gbaikie says:

        –You have missed my point of my piece. It wasn’t the “crash program” nature of Apollo that led to success — it was the ability to draw upon an existing network of people and technology that we had already created and expanded to fight World War II and had kept for the continuing Cold War. That network is gone. Thus, difficult technical projects take longer (and therefore cost more) now than they did fifty years ago.–

        But such governmental effort is not sustainable. And I would say it more like a parasite feeding on host. The host was a people who valued liberty, who sacrificed their liberty to preserve future liberty.

        They were abused by the fundamental nature of government in general.
        But even if one had this network was still intact, it could not by it’s very nature open the space frontier. Only a free people working together outside limitation of governmental system, can open the space frontier.

        Or a army can only do so much. Only free people have the capacity to do something in a sustainable fashion.
        Or the nazis and soviets were eventually doomed to failure, the US role was to contain the damage.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Or the nazis and soviets were eventually doomed to failure, the US role was to contain the damage.

          Yeah, all those bad guys would have eventually just vanished into thin air. I guess that the monumental effort to defeat them by America and her allies over the course of a half-century was simply a waste of everybody’s time and resources. Sure wish we could have had your wise counsel back then– we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort.

          • A_M_Swallow says:

            The Third Reich may not have lasted a 1000 years but the mess it left behind, when it self destructed, could have.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            when it self destructed

            Yeah, I guess the Allies had nothing to do with that.

          • Joe says:

            – “Or the nazis and soviets were eventually doomed to failure, the US role was to contain the damage.”
            – “when it self destructed”

            I try to stay out of general political discussions and stick to space related issues, but this is too egregious to let pass.

            This level of basic historical ignorance may help explain some of the stranger aspects of the “new space” support. If you really believe that the “nazis and soviets” were “doomed to failure” and “self destructed” then why shouldn’t we just give private firms (some of questionable character) money and assume everything will work out all right?

        • Actually, our huge investment in space at that time seems to have stimulated a substantial amount of wealth creation during that period.

          US annual economic growth during the Apollo development years was substantially higher than during the previous, iconic, Eisenhower years. In fact, the US hasn’t had such a substantially high rate of economic growth since the end of the Apollo development era. Even China recognizes this:

          A Chinese Lunar Scientist’s Views on the Future of the Moon



  8. Chris Castro says:

    Delaying a manned Lunar Return will actually PREVENT mankind from reaching the Red Planet, because all of the key technological breakthroughs that’ll ensure the success of such an interplanetary trip, will only come about with extensive Lunar activity. The Mars zealots can’t seem to get a grip on the vast engineering abyss between mere LEO activity and any possible Mars expedition!

    For instance: To venture to Mars you’ll need stronger & sturdier space suits, that could withstand the regolith sand, and last as viable, repeated-use equipment for a multi-month-long span of time, during the whole landing stay phase. Such space-suits will never get fully developed nor be put to any real test, if all NASA does are the supposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission & the Inspiration Mars Fly-By. Even if they’re quasi-developed as experimental proto-types. An extensive Moon landing program of expeditions will surely be required, prior to ANY attempt at kicking up any red Martian dust!

  9. William Mellberg says:

    Another excellent commentary, Dr. Spudis, on the sad state of today’s space program, as well as the even sadder state of today’s America.

    Today’s generation seems to be reinventing the wheel in so many cases. They’re repeating history because, as you note, they don’t know history.

    You allude to how quickly American industry took us from the sub-orbital flight of Freedom 7 in 1961 to a manned lunar landing in just eight years. Along the way, American industry gave us Gemini, Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter, as well as the Mariner probes to Venus and Mars. It was an extraordinary period.

    My father played a role in Project Surveyor. He was responsible for the design and development of the sophisticated zoom lens that took the first American photos from the lunar surface. Dad (now 94) has often talked about how his team was able to get parts, motors, lubricants and coatings from dozens of small firms that served the aerospace industry during the early 1960s. He and his colleagues had gained much of their experience working on airborne military systems. So they were familiar with that supply chain. Like you, my father mourns the loss of all of those small specialty enterprises that could provide ready solutions to various problems associated with building space hardware. He remembers one firm, in particular, that was able to provide a dry lubricant for the moving parts in the Surveyor camera zoom lens — one of the most challenging aspects of the project since those parts would have to move tens of thousands of times as tens of thousands of pictures were taken in the harsh lunar environment. Normal lubricants would not work in the lunar vacuum. But a small company in California had just the right product for the job.

    Those small support companies were critical to the success of America’s space program half a century ago. They gave us (the United States) an edge which the Soviet Union did not have. As my father notes, he could contact one of any number of small firms and get their catalog within in a few days. More often than not, “They had off the shelf parts and hardware that met the needs of our engineering team.” As Dad likes to joke, “We had Ace Hardware just around the corner, and they (the Soviets) did not.” All kidding aside, that was a definite advantage our free market system had over their centrally planned economy.

    We also had a tremendous talent pool. Most of America’s early space engineers came out of the aviation industry where they had just developed a remarkable array of aircraft and missiles during the 1950s. As one of my friends, a former head of engineering at Avro Aircraft, likes to point out, “We went from the Lancaster bomber to the delta-wing Vulcan in just ten years.” Likewise, we went from the Douglas DC-6 to the DC-8 in the same period of time.

    Half a century ago, it took about four years for Boeing to design and build the original 747. It took three years for Boeing to design and build the original 737.

    Designing and building their derivatives (the 747-8 and 737 MAX) is taking twice as long as the originals. Why?

    You mention that we aren’t going anywhere until we are willing to sacrifice, roll up our sleeves and rebuild the capability we once had … the capability that gave us American Exceptionalism.

    That comment reminded me of the answer Wernher von Braun gave to a high school student in 1969 who asked, “What was the most important factor in sending men to the Moon.”

    Von Braun famously replied … “The will to do it.”

    Hopefully, common sense will one day replace political correctness. Back when common sense prevailed in this country, Americans could do just about anything they set their minds to doing. But ingenuity and innovation today are too often strangled by bureaucracies and regulations.

    Yes, America has become a shadow of its former self. Which is a pity.

    • Michael Wright says:

      >As Dad likes to joke, “We had Ace Hardware just around the corner,
      >and they (the Soviets) did not.”

      For us whining on the forums this is obvious but for those on top of the food chain who make the key decisions of our space program seem to not get this. Unless it is all about priorities. Though we’ve regressed in manned spaceflight capability, and getting new manned aircraft i.e. F35 takes decades, there have been huge advances in unmanned spacecraft (i.e. Mars rovers, Kepler, IRIS, etc) and UAVs. Watching 60 Minutes last night talking about UAVs, I was thinking that’s the priority and the future whether you or I like it or not.

      • The last 40 years have been glory years for NASA’s unmanned space program– even though scientist associated with NASA’s unmanned space program still complain that they are being seriously underfunded.


  10. Robert Clark says:

    Thanks for the article. Keep in mind also the influence of the huge amount of money spent on the Apollo program. As a percentage of the Federal budget, NASA got about 10 times what it gets today, i.e., 5% then compared to 0.5% now.
    Imagine what we could do if NASA had 10 times greater budget, up to $180 billion every year. We’d probably have manned nuclear powered missions to Jupiter by now.

    Bob Clark

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Imagine what we could do if NASA had 10 times greater budget

      We could have 10 times more Powerpoint slide shows than we have now.

    • Dave Huntsman says:

      I essentially agree with Paul. I’ve been in NASA 39 years now; if you increased our budget with the current organization, you would not see a concomitant increase in getting things done. Without reform in what NASA does and how it goes about doing it, any additional monies are, frankly, likely to be wasted.

      • You and Dr. Spudis seem to be implying that its easy for government workers to spend lots of tax payer money simply dreaming about the future! What a surprise:-)

        But this also appears to be the official policy of the current administration.

        But I can’t blame NASA’s human space program for functioning as a make-work program instead of a pioneering program– since they’ve pretty much been directed by the Executive branch over the past 40 years to be a make-work program.

        How is it possible for NASA personal and their private vendors to move in the direction of setting up a water and fuel producing lunar outpost when the current President tells you that NASA can’t return to the Moon because “We’ve been there before!”

        William Mellberg’s “The will to do it!” quote from Von Braun is the key to everything, IMO.


        • Vladislaw says:

          The executive branch submits a non binding budget to congress. Congress determines what NASA does. This congress has not did anything the executive branch wanted done with NASA in the 2010 budget. They tossed it out. Just like congress tossed out the VSE and funding what they wanted instead.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            A re-write of history and incorrect. No Presidential budget ever survives intact — the final product is always a negotiation between the Executive and the Congress. Congress wrote the 2010 NASA Authorization, which directed NASA to prepare for human missions throughout cislunar space, including the lunar surface (preserving at least the middle part of the VSE). They wrote the specs for the SLS launch vehicle because NASA repeatedly ignored their continued requests for an HLV system development plan. It is NASA and the administration that “cancelled” the VSE by ignoring Congressional direction and devising this moronic asteroid capture plan (ARM), part of the administration’s shell game to convince people that we still have a human space program.

  11. billgamesh says:

    Why we’re not going to Mars is because it is a lousy destination. Our logical first destination is GEO by way of the Moon. GEO space stations are the next sequential step because they will have to have massive shielding and artificial gravity for long duration tours. A wet workshop- an empty rocket stage designed to be converted into a spaceship compartment- was used in the form of a “dry workshop” called Skylab. At 21 feet in diameter the S-IVB was not large enough to incorporate a water radiation shield of any great mass. At 33 feet the S-ll could hold over ten feet of water and still have room for a central crew core.

    This is in my view the basic building block. Sending a fleet of large wet workshops into lunar orbit to be assembled into spinning space stations filled with hundreds of tons of lunar water for space radiation shielding. Each one of these Heavy Lift Vehicle core stage wet workshops is potentially a true space ship. An equal mass on the opposite end of a tether can create artificial gravity in these bolo type concepts. A pair of astronauts could perform a six month mission in one but it would be cramped living in a roughly fifty foot long by ten feet in diameter cylinder.

    That is the key to going somewhere; a spaceship is always the best space station. A series of Heavy Lift Missions to the Moon will eventually result in a fleet of spaceships. The missing piece to this puzzle may be a robot lander that drops on top of lunar ice deposits, fills itself up with water and fuel, and takes off to deliver the water to the wet workshops. These self fueling robot landers exploiting water resources are what could fill the massive space radiation shields of the first deep space capable space stations.

  12. I highly recommend listening to what Dr. Spudis had to say on this topic on the Space Show. It was simply excellent science radio that shouldn’t be missed!



  13. Mark R. Whittington says:

    Stark, caustic, and unfortunately largely true. But I see things as cyclical and not as an inexorable decline. I think we may be emerging from our torpor and will find that strength that took us to the moon by and by.

  14. billgamesh says:

    After thinking about this for a couple days, some points of interest are taking form when I considering some of the mechanisms incorporated into the “horizon goal path way.” Square one is radiation and the wet workshop partially filled with hundreds of tons of lunar water is the place where human beings can go without fear of any solar events or cosmic radiation effects. So the first item is the SLS wet workshop:

    1. Can a large enough stage be placed in lunar orbit for easy conversion into a fully shielded spaceship compartment?

    The second requirement is the magical mystery machine that everyone is waiting for; a lunar drone that can land on top of ice deposits and make water and rocket fuel. These drones will refuel themselves and continue to fly between the surface and lunar orbit carrying water shielding for long careers until finally they are lost through attrition hopefully some decades in the future. So the second item is the robot:

    2. Can a lunar drone processing surface ice have a useful life as a robotic fuel tanker?

    The last step for a successful space program is simply to choose a long term goal of GEO space stations to begin the migration of human beings into space. These pseudo-space ships can use the lunar drones to boost themselves between GEO and lunar orbit but nowhere else. They can certainly replace the existing satellite junkyard with a vastly superior network. In this model, there are no human operations on the surface of the Moon. Space stations are constructed out of wet workshops and use drones to fill the stations and push them around to different locations. But as noted, their mobility will necessarily be limited to slipping between GEO and lunar orbit. The third item that becomes required for a planetary protection mission is a nuclear engine.

    3. Is there a practical nuclear propulsion system for massively shielded spinning spaceships?

    Once all the slots are filled in GEO and all the space junk is cleaned up then the time will come to build engines. There may be a way to build a large engine out of sections but it would take…..I have no idea how many missions. Perhaps 30, maybe three years of a well-funded flight schedule. There are methods for building extremely small and energetic devices like neutron bombs that may be superior sources of energy in the smallest practical nuclear fission driven design.

    In this incremental architecture, the SLS missions just keep flying, year after year. The space stations will slowly move into GEO orbit and after all the slots are filled the SLS missions will start deliver sections of pulse engine. At some point the spaceships will start flying and refueling from icy bodies in the outer solar system. These will be long missions of several years depending on how efficient the pulse system is.

  15. billgamesh says:

    “-100,000 tanks, almost 200,000 fighter and heavy bomber aircraft, 160 aircraft carriers, 350 destroyers, and over 200 submarines.

    The Sherman tank never had a powerful enough gun. It was a pretty horrible mistake to make with a tank and Ike was angry when he found out.

    Bombers did not end the war like everyone thought they would and submarines never had a torpedo in world war two that was more likely to hit than miss. If Germany or Japan had an acoustic, wire-guided, or other form of precision torpedo guidance system then the submarine could possibly have won the war for them. I will believe anything after 911. And after all, submarines were the reason the money was spent on the spruce goose.

    I was impressed by a stat I came across the other day;

    Soyuz-U holds the world record of highest launch rate in a year in 1979 with 47 flights http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz-U

    In the 70’s the Soviets were actually flying close to fifty times a year. Launching an HLV once a week is really the only way human beings are going to get any infrastructure going in a timely way.


  16. billgamesh says:

    “This is not the same country that sent people to the Moon in less than a decade.”

    One of the most overlooked fortuitous circumstances that favored Apollo was a failed replacement for the U-2 spy plane.


    This plane was canceled in 1958 but the infrastructure to manufacture, store, and transfer the liquid hydrogen fuel contributed to adoption for Apollo. Another fortunate success was the F-1 engine which took a couple years to troubleshoot out the combustion instability problems. One of the better books on the space race describes the biggest engineering problem as the liquid hydrogen second stage. Our ability to friction stir weld rocket stages is extremely advanced compared to the 60s.

    I think we have some assets left in our submarine construction industry. This has always been a major failure by not using our shipyards for construction of monolithic SRBs. The prototype firing and studies done on 260 inch and 325 inch SRB’s reveal this failure to double or more the lift-off thrust of our launch vehicles as the stop light ending the space age.

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