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Space Science

NASA Plans On Bringing Back Martian Rocks 184

Posted by timothy
from the what's-a-couple-of-billion-for-some-rocks dept.
FortKnox writes: "In this Y! article, NASA is planning on sending a robotic mission to Mars in an attempt to bring back Martian stuff (rocks, soil, etc...). Looks like its a tough mission to plan for; they are calling it 'Apollo without the astronauts.'" I would like to go to Mars in person, but if they're spending my money already, I'd like them to please use robots for a while.
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NASA Plans On Bringing Back Martian Rocks

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  • by pgrote (68235) on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:53PM (#2375802) Homepage
    I like NASA's new approach to things. My primary concerns about the mission though are the following:

    1) What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

    2) What other benefits do we get out of the mission?

    3) Will there be additional scientific study accomplished on the ground? I mean NASA's track record on landing things on Mars hasn't been great ... this doesn't even include shooting things back.
    • I'm pretty sure the lab work NASA wants to do simply cannot be done if the equipment must be squished into a small surface lander. Besides, I'm certain they want to LOOK at it in person. I'd want to. :)
    • by astroboy (1125) <ljdursi@gmail.com> on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:03PM (#2375872) Homepage
      What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

      There's a limit to how much experimental equipment you can shove onto a Mars probe. Some amazingly cool things have been done, but once you get the rocks back to Earth, you can unleash everything you've got in the lab on 'em.

      What other benefits do we get out of the mission?
      Anything which pushes the boundaries of the engineering -- getting the unmanned probe to launch itself back to Earth -- will have great impact on both the Space program and terrestrial spin-offs. And that's quite apart from the science.
      • Anything which pushes the boundaries of the engineering -- getting the unmanned probe to launch itself back to Earth -- will have great impact on both the Space program and terrestrial spin-offs.

        Shortly after the Apolo 12 mission the russians landed an unmaned probe on the moon and brought it back. Considering the fact that Apolo 12's computer was spewing errors throughout the descent this was a great achievement for the time.

        Naturaly it didn't achieve the media coverage of the apolo mission but IMHO was a much larger feet than landing a duct-taped together mission.

        Did you know Nixon alrealy had the speech written in case the astronauts weren't able to come back from the moon?

        • Did you know Nixon alrealy had the speech written in case the astronauts weren't able to come back from the moon?


          Well, I would certainly expect so. After all, if the mission failed, the country would have been pretty hard hit. Apollo was the first time that America pulled ahead of Russia in the space race. Had it failed, an awful lot of people would have started to wonder if we were really on the winning side. So, a deep, stirring, well written speech would be a must. I imagine he spent much more time on the "if it fails" speech than the "if it succeeds" one.


          Speaking of historic events, I'd really like to see video footage of Kruzchev (sp?) banging his shoe on the table at the UN. Anyone know where such a thing could be found?

          • Speaking of historic events, I'd really like to see video footage of Kruzchev (sp?) banging his shoe on the table at the UN. Anyone know where such a thing could be found?

            Not that it'll help much with getting a copy, but I've seen the shoe-banging footage on the History Channel. I think it was on one of the shows like "History Undercover" or "Sworn to Secrecy" (I seem to remember the announcer's voice narrating the scene, quite distinctive, that voice). You might keep an eye out for some of those shows (I tended to see only the late night ones), or see if it's listed on any of their orderable sets of videos.

      • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:25PM (#2376199)
        There's a limit to how much experimental equipment you can shove onto a Mars probe.

        Of course the price of one manned mission would equal hundreds if not thousands of probes which could cover many different parts of the planet with different objectives. A manned mission would be very limited in scope and certainly not worth the price.
        • A manned mission has a whole lot of capabilities that a robotic mission doesn't have - most importantly, the ability to make and act on simple decisions without spending 20 minutes going back to Earth. Even putting people in Mars orbit and having them control probes (not that that's a particularly sensible mission plan, by the way - if you're going to build a spacecraft to go all the way there and support a crew for a couple of years, landing it's not that much more difficult) would drastically multiply a mission's effectiveness.
        • In some respects you'r right. If the goal for a manned mission was primarily to analyse a few random rocks on Mars, then yes, unmanned probes do this better.

          On the other hand, if your goal with a manned Mars mission is to determine if life ever exsisted on Mars, then nothing beats sending a group of trained geologist up there to walk arround and choose which rocks might be good prospects for finding life. It is the same for terrestial exploration for gold and other minerals, you just cannot be sure if it is there by only using remote sensing or relying on natives to hand you a few rocks form the area. In order to evaluate if there is anything, you gotta have a geologist on site to investigate.

          Similarly for a mission to mars, if you want to find exstinct life or mineral deposits, you gotta have a person with geological knowledge (either a true geologist (best option) or a geologically trained astronaut). Thay did both during the moon landings (several astronauts were trrained in geology, and one real geologist went up there in Apollo 17 a i recall).


          Yours Yazeran


          Plan: To go to Mars one day with a hammer.

    • "Touching" the rocks serves no useful purpose other than public relations, but what a purpose that is!

      NASA needs support right now, and there are few ways to do it better than showing people a rock and saying "Look. We plucked this off a remote planet. See what we can do?"

    • What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely?

      We can kick major martian butt when things go horribly wrong. What are rock-picking robots gonna do then huh?

      Unless we are sending super-intelligent-killbots!
    • by HRB (307853)
      I think this could give a definite proof if there
      has been life on mars (and I am speaking here about bacteria).

      If there once was life on mars, there is strong evidence, that life is more likely on other planets than we have ever thought. This would lead to the question whether life formed itself on earth or whether it was sort of planted by impacts of comets.

      The only hints so far have come from meteorits which have been found on earth - but there is more speculation than hard evidence.

      On the moon we saw, that it contained no life. The mars is different in this respect - it has an atmosphere. An atmosphere is a necessity for life, because it filters the hard cosmic radiation.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      1) What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

      We can do anything we didn't originally think of, didn't think we needed, that requires equipment that is not rugged enough or small enough to send, etc ...
      • Absolutely. We can also take advantage of any new advances that might allow us to study the rocks better. IIRC, the rocks (from mars originally) that were studied a few years ago that some believed showed evidence of bacteria had been dug up long ago and had been sitting in a storage somewhere.

    • What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

      By returning the samples we can bring to bear the full might of Earth's Laboratories, scientists, and infrastructure. A lander can only carry a few specific and limited tests. If we discover something unexpected we could even build new equipment to preform tests never before concieved.
    • What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

      Well, for one thing, you can put the damn things next to the moon rocks in the museum. Then, folks and their annoying little brat kids will flock from all over the world to bust a gander, and while they're there, you can shove all sorts of fascinating propoganda in their face.

      And then, like others have said, there's the fact that you can't fit an entire laboratory on a mars lander that will likely be built so light, they won't be able to build a model as light as the real thing.

      I wonder what kind of processors they'll use on this lander, whether they'll be in-house specialties, military components, or products otherwise available on the market.

      The other reason for a mission like this is development of new technologies and sciences. Imagine if 20 years from now, NASA will send up unmanned ships containing robots of various types that will land on the solid planets or moons in our solar system, perform experiments on site, collect materials and come back. When that becomes possible, imagine the effect on technology we use here on Earth. (I mean, Mafiasoft Windoze 2020 will probably take up 84 exabytes of disk space by then, and there won't even be a desktop--all your content will be served by Mafiasoft's servers, after authenticating through DRM-2020 that you're actually allowed to use Windoze, and all operations will be carried out by talking directly to the talking paperclip. If you don't want to talk, body language, hand and face gestures will be recognized by the paperclip, and it will usually perform the wrong operation, such as deleting your dissertation when you actually wanted to get the latest stock quotes or some other typical Mafiasoft result. Anyway... enough about that.)

    • What other benefits do we get out of the mission?

      Well... by sending more probes, we can rule out this [attrition.org] [attrition.org]......
  • Can't they just analyze them there and send the info back? How much extra money is it going to cost to get a couple of rocks that will end up being a paperweight?
    • oh yeah, and regression testing

      and breaking up the samples and doing alternate testing

      not to mention the really really BIG machines we have to do the type of analysis that won't fit in a spaceship going there

      let alone the fuel to get it back
    • No, you don't get the same information. The lab equipment on Earth is far superior to what we can get onto a spacecraft. Ultimately, is it cheaper to ship the lab to Mars, or the samples to Earth? (Answer: the latter.)

      Additionally, having people actually handling the rocks is more important that you might think. People are intereactive, able to notice things not thought about during mission planning, then able to persue those questions. If you built a probe, you make a set of assumptions about what kinds of instruments you need and tests you'll do. You have to limit yourself more than you would if you have a person actually handling the rocks.

      The fullest continuation of this logic is that we ultimately will want to put people on Mars for these same reasons. However, we're nowhere near ready for that at this time.

    • Working in a physical Sciences research department you get to see the size of most of the equipment used in this field. Particle Accelerators used for analysis techniques such as carbon dating (just and example) can way thousands of tons. Even a humble electron microscope used in almost every form of material research in its usual form would have to way at least a ton. And the sample preperation techniques used would be very dificult to automate and again take advantage of some pretty heavy equipment.

      Then there is the question of powering these big power hungry machines. Are we sending powerplants to mars too now?

      I realise that none of the equipment we use in our labs is state of the art in terms of miniturisation, but I doubt that we will ever be able to shrink the research equipment available to just one University down small enough to send to Mars, let alone the entire world's research equipment. Of course it is a good idea to bring the samples back.
  • Haven't they decided that some meteorites that have been found here originated from Mars? It'll be interesting to see how the known-real stuff compares with those teeny tiny fragments.
    • yes, but those "mars fragments" have been altered by our own environment here on earth, not to mention all changes the rock chuncks underwent when the were superheated during entry into our atmosphere.
  • Go to mars? (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by FortKnox (169099)
    I would like to go to Mars in person

    I'd like Jon Katz to go to mars in person. 3 years w/o Katz.


    And then I wake up...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:55PM (#2375819)

    Those who would trade mars rocks for earth rocks deserve neither mars nor earth rocks.

  • Mars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crumbz (41803) <<remove_spam>jus ... o spam>gmail,com> on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:58PM (#2375833) Homepage
    I support an unmanned mission to Mars and back. I think the costs of sending men now versus 20-30 years from now are out of proportion with the results. Twenty years hence we may have lighter, faster propulsion technology and better materials for the ship. The ISS will certainly provide additional research that will be directly applicable to such a trip.
    Robots are the way to go!

    • "The constraint given to the industry teams is in the $1 billion to $2 billion range

      I dont understand the financial aspects of these missions. If it costs $2 billion well Im all for spending what is needed, but do you know what a billion dollars is? Thats a fricking large amount of money. Where does this money go? What part of the mission cost so much ?

      Im not being synical, I just want to know. Anybody?
      • Re:Billion with a B (Score:3, Informative)

        by KingRygel (398150)
        To give you an idea of just how much (or how little) a billion dollars is:
        • The California 210/30 freeway extension costs approximately one billion for 28.2 miles of freeway. [The Big Dig in Boston is over 10 times more expensive, for you easterners.]
          [www.dot.ca.gov] [ca.gov]
        • The federal government spends about one billion to pay interest on the federal debt each day.
          [www.publicdebt.treas.gov] [treas.gov]
        Really, one billion dollars isn't as much money as you think it is. It's enough to pay 1,000 people $100,000/year for 10 years...and you have to figure that it takes at least 10 years and 1,000 people to build, support, and fly a spacecraft to Mars and back. Not to mention materials costs.
      • Re:Billion with a B (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Where does it go? It's not like we're sending a ship full of money into the sun or anything. All that money stays right here on Earth, and ends up at aerospace companies, and presumably, in employees' and investors' wallets.

        One of the reasons everything NASA does costs so much is that NASA tends to take bids on a "Cost plus x%" basis, so it is in whatever company that wins any particular bid to do the job as inefficently as possible. That way they get more money. Kinda backwards way to go about it.
      • by egomaniac (105476)
        It's important to keep in mind that the money doesn't just vanish. It's not like NASA has a huge furnace that they shovel money into while they work on the spacecraft.

        Most of the money ends up paying people's salaries and buying components from aerospace/electronics companies. A portion of it will end up right back in your hands as the recipients spend their money on other things and it circulates back to you. Government projects like this usually create value, rather than destroy it, because these people might not have jobs or be producing anything without taxpayer dollars, and there wouldn't be as much money in circulation. Generally, everybody benefits.
      • Paying PhD engineers to build custom parts.

        If you're going to build something where you only have one and it has to work the first time, then you pay for experienced people to do the best job possible. Or so the theory goes. In reality not everything needs to be the very best imaginable, but do you want to be the guy they point to if the cheap alternative fails?

        For example NASA was doing a robotics project for one of the missions, and a particular section was budgeted at a little over $1 million. A group of poorly paid students at my university built equipment to the same specs for around $50,000. It may be cheaper, but without the serious credentials no one is going to want to use it.
    • Re:Mars (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kaimiike1970 (444130)
      Following this logic to it's conclusion, we should never send a manned mission. It will always be cheaper 10-20 years in the future. Are you still using your IBM PC jr. circa 1985?
  • A rock will make the same size of crater as an expensive spacecraft. They should see some huge cost savings with this mission plan. Just use the metric rocks.

  • More Information... (Score:5, Informative)

    by robbyjo (315601) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:04PM (#2375875) Homepage

    Here [nasa.gov] is the lab of Jet propulsion labs that does the robot thingie. This [nasa.gov] is the software to test the robustness of the robots. NASA has learnt from several failures apparently.

    A picture of martian rock [nasa.gov] with some explanations [nasa.gov], if you're interested. Along with some interesting [nasa.gov] rock with bug patterns!

  • So it's going to be an unmanned mission.

    Just wondering who is going to sign the ever-present forms then. Look at www.slashdot.org/articles/01/03/19/2049249.shtml and tell me the bureaucrats will let them get away with just a single form today.

    I doubt it...
  • Because we can (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MikeyNg (88437) <mikeyngNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:10PM (#2375904) Homepage

    People are asking why go all the way to Mars and then bring stuff back when we can analyze it there? I think people are missing part of the point. If you're going to send people there eventually, you'd like for them to have a way to get back. There are all kinds of tricky things involved with leaving a planet. Heck, landing on the moon and reaching lunar escape velocity was hard enough!


    Part of the goal is to examine rocks from Mars so that we get a better understanding of Mars, our solar system, and space in general. I think another part of the goal is to actually land a craft on Mars and then bring it back. Carrying all that extra fuel to reach Martian escape velocity is going to be expensive, but we need to know that kind of stuff.


  • by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:15PM (#2375923) Homepage
    Really, with all the cutbacks in NASA, you would think that they would want to make a mission like this more popular - think about it - battlebots on Mars (just think of the lag time) - the suspense as pictures come back, the contestants make their move - and wait....

    On a more serious note it would be neat to have hobbyists designing bots for mars on a competitive level to see who can come up with the most efficent/reliable/lightweight etc design. The guys at NASA have great ideas and implementations - but I think that the bazzar vs cathedral idea could help here.
    • On a more serious note it would be neat to have hobbyists designing bots for mars on a competitive level to see who can come up with the most efficent/reliable/lightweight etc design. The guys at NASA have great ideas and implementations - but I think that the bazzar vs cathedral idea could help here.

      How about a manned mission, but instead if NASA, we can get CBS to do a reality-based series about it, like Survivor III. Tagline: "You thought a desert island and the Aussie Outback were rough, you haven't seen anything until we dump our castaways on Olympus Mons!"

  • NASA has had so much trouble getting stuff TO Mars, and now they think they can get a craft there AND back.

    It's probably the only way they could get funding after there last two blunders with Mars.

    --the Hun
    I probably shouldn't be so mean, but, whatever.
  • As long as they don't bring back any of those Instant martians. One accident and we would be up to are eye balls in matians!
  • Haiku (Score:4, Offtopic)

    by 575 (195442) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:27PM (#2375982) Journal
    Can't find terrorists
    Search earth, then the red planet.
    They hide under rocks.
  • We sent an explorer to Mars,
    The maker of chocolate bars.
    They returned one day
    With rocks and a sway
    Of budget boosts beyond par.
  • Put the ISS to use!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Garak (100517)
    This should be a job for the ISS to collect the samples from mars. Then when the next resupply mission stops by the station it isn't leaving with an empty hold.

    Why do they send the space shuttle up say to fix hubble, why don't they move the hubble into the same orbit as the space station and to the eva's from the station.

    Maybe the ISS isn't into the right orbit todo this but its something they should have considerd. The ISS should be the center of all low earth orbit activity. Maybe a little unit could be built that could go out and grab satlights and bring them to the ISS's orbit where they can be fixed and upgraded.

    IMHO the ISS in its current state is not much good for anything useful.
    • Maybe a little unit could be built that could go out and grab satlights and bring them to the ISS's orbit where they can be fixed and upgraded.

      Isn't that what the Canadian retractable arm is supposed to do? Now I agree that it doesn't give you much range beyond the station, but the problem isn't getting stuff there, it's figuring out what to do with it once it IS there.
    • Okay, I'll bite....

      You're not making any sense...

      You're proposing diverting a huge space station to rendevous with the return vehicle to collect the rocks. Here's a brain wave: Have the return vehicle reenter Earth's atmosphere on it's own, drop it over the Pacific, deploy your parachute and have ships rendevous with it. What do you think they did before they had a reusable launch vehicles like the Shuttle?

      Now for as to why they don't use the ISS to fix and upgrade satellites: It's a really big multi-purpose laboratory! It wasn't designed to be a garage in space populated by astronaut grease-monkeys....

      Besides, fixing a satellite is probably a little different than replacing the hard drive in your computer. If something is broken, chances are they are not going to be able to take a spare replacement part from storage. Chances are they'll have to get a replacement part sent up.
    • by JoeRobe (207552)
      1) We simply cannot "catch" the spacecraft with the ISS. It's magnitudes cheaper to drop it into the ocean, and there's much less thought involved. Yeah we should use the ISS for something - this isn't one of them.

      2) Let's say we get the Hubble into the same orbit as the ISS. When the ISS needs to do something to it, you're proposing moving the entire ISS (Hubble certianly can't do it) to the Hubble then grabbing it? The ISS isn't designed to be moved very much at all, it's designed to float. It doesn't have the fuel to move very far. While it may be a great place to fix satellites from, it's not a towtruck.

      3) Satellites do not all have the same orbital altitude, and making a little "thing" (let's call it, oh, I don't know...CowboyNeal maybe) to go get them would require a lot of money and fuel. If we are going to get then in the first place, we're much better off letting the shuttle grab it and bring it in, like we have been doing. If we do any work on a satellite, we would probably need special replacement parts thatthe Shuttle would need to bring up anyways.

      Just my thoughts,

      JoeRobe
  • NASA gets thier rocks off.

    "You don't sweat much for a fat chick."
  • Why don't they make some robots to mine materials and make new robots, and the new robots can make a lab, then use the lab to analyze the rocks. That would be better than shipping rocks back. And, we wouldn't have to send more robots for future missions, just send the existing robot-building robots new instructions.

    Yeah, it would probably be difficult to find the needed materials. Either wait while the robots explore and find what's needed or redesign to use what gets found. Power shouldn't be a problem; use solar power.

    Okay, so maybe this isn't likely for another 10-20 years. It may be slow to start with, but long-term, it would end up being a lot faster than express-mailing more robots out there every time we think of yet another task to do.

    • I think the one major problem with this is smelting the metals you find. Smelters are huge plants and I don't think they scale down very well. Also these plants use alot of fuel and require chemicals that will also be hard to find and expensive to send there.

      Robots are only 1/2 metals the rest is semicondutors, rubbers, plastics, etc...

      It would be cheeper to send a person to mars than send all the equiment and supplies to build robots.
  • Sweet, now they won't even have to kill anybody to stop them blabbing about the fact the entire mission has been manufactured in a film studio out in Area 51 :)

  • ...before we consider invading Mars. Remember what happened when they invaded us. :)

    "You can argue at length as to how likely it is. But at the end of the day, if you think about the potential of what's really at stake, it's humanity versus a microbe," Lee said.
  • "...the back-to-back Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander losses..."

    I know those failed, but I thought we learned why. Wouldn't it be cheaper to "fix" the bugs in the prior mission and re-send? Just because we found a bug in something when it went into deployment doesn't mean we should scrap the project and re-architect it with different goals. Surely this would be cheaper, and a great way for NASA to way off the nay-sayers.

    Someone please explain why they do not do this.

    • Also, its important to remeber that not every mission can be 100% successfull. Science is *NOT* a sure thing. There will be screaw ups and things will go wrong. We need to stop yelling about the past and fix it. I agree, there where bugs, lets work them out and go to mars.

    • There are plans to relaunch the science package that was lost on the Climate Orbiter. The 2005 Mars Reconnasisance Orbiter, which will essentially be a Martian spy satellite capable of resolving surface features 20cm across may carry the entire sensor package originally carried on MCO. This will be made possible due to continued advances in miniaturization.

      There was actually a twin to the MPL slated for launch this year along with the Mars Odyssey orbiter that arrives in Mars orbit in a few weeks. It was mothballed after the MPL screwup in spite of being nearly completed. There are noises being made about finishing it and launching it along with the MRO in 2005. It would seem a pity to waste the millions of dollars that had already been spent on it.

  • by PingXao (153057) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:08PM (#2376145)
    This should be "NASA Would Like to Bring Back Martian Rocks". NASA would like to do a lot of things. Draconian budget cuts in recent years have put a major crimp in their style, however. They are currently not "planning" to do anything of the sort. They are simply groping about for a project that will let some of them keep their jobs by hitting on something that will engender public and Congressional support (and dollars). That's about as far in advance as their "planning" allows these days.

    It seems like every 6 months now they some out with some new "discovery" that turns out to be just a rehash of old science with a new twist. Truth is, if you think along the lines of timothy here, you could also say that:
    • NASA Plans on Sending Astronauts Back to the Moon
    • NASA Plans on Sending Satellite Fleet to Jupiter
    • NASA Plans on Searching For Life on Titan's Oceans
    • NASA Plans on Tripling Space Station Size
    • NASA Plans on New Hubble Replacement
    The list goes on and on. I love NASA, don't get me wrong, but the only serious stories worth looking at are the ones that start with NASA Receives Budgetary Committment From Congress For [insert project here]. That's the point where any serious planning really starts.
    • The list goes on and on. I love NASA, don't get me wrong, but the only serious stories worth looking at are the ones that start with NASA Receives Budgetary Committment From Congress For [insert project here]. That's the point where any serious planning really starts.

      As long as we're dreaming, I'd like to see, NASA Fires Bloated Middle-Management, Turns Into Lean, Mean Engineering Machine.

    • Bad mindset (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ZigMonty (524212)
      IMHO NASA is having trouble because they are sticking with a 60s/70s mentality that just doesn't work anymore. Running the space shuttle and re-supplying the ISS isn't what NASA should be doing. NASA needs to hand some of that stuff over to the commercial sector. Then they could use the lowest bidder for launches. Ariane 5 [arianespace.com] cheaper than the shuttle? Then USE it. Stop making every thing home made, use off the shelf components. Making everything made sense when they were the only ones making space components but now there are competing products.

      NASA should be focusing on things that the private sector can't do, like expensive R&D, non profitable science missions, going to mars, etc. They need to stop competing with private companies and start working with them. NASA has something like $13.6 billion a year to play with. The reason they only have a couple of hundred million left over for mars missions is that they are currently building a white elephant [nasa.gov] in low earth orbit.

      NASA has screwed up priorities. Here is what I would like to see them doing:

      • Help fund private missions that look promising.
      • Do R&D on new propulsion, launch mthods, etc. Think long term. Asteroid mining is something that will probably be important in the future so do more NEAR [nasa.gov] style missions.
      • Lead operations to go to Mars and other interesting places. Design and fund them while relying on other companies to build everything and launch them.
      NASA needs to approach space the way the NSF approaches science, grants etc.

      Another thing, try to make some money out of space. Put advertising on the side of spacecraft, etc. Install HDTV cameras everywhere. Strap IMAX cameras to the side of the shuttle and get some fantastic footage that could help make space interesting again.

      Right now if you do a word association test with someone on the street and say "NASA" and they will probably say something about the recent Mars probe losses. We need to get that back to being "Cool!!"

  • So how much will these trinkets fetch on Ebay?
  • I recall the Russians had a couple of successful lunar rock retrievals in the early 1970s. When they felt they couldn't get men to the moon first, they tried to beat Americans to rock samples, but lost that race too.
    Perhaps there are lessons from the Russian lunar missions.
  • What's the point? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by soybased (257974)
    Personally I think we should be colonizing the moon right now.

    Once we've got a solid production/launch facility on the moon then we can start sending dumb little probes out to pick up rocks on mars.

    I'm gonna be dissapointed if space ships arent commonplace by the time I'm old. Bah!
    • by Iron Sun (227218)

      An average space probe nowadays costs about $350 million, and we can do it right now. NASA has firm plans to launch one or two Mars probes every two years, with the design of the 2003 and 2005 missions already well under way.

      Manned space flight , in comparison, is still hideously expensive. The final cost of the ISS will run into the many tens of billions of dollars in order to keep 6-7 people in low Earth orbit. A permanent Lunar base capable of supporting a similar sized research crew would be comparable in cost, at the very least. As for Lunar production/launch facilities, check back in a few decades.

      Don't get me wrong, I would love to take a Lunar holiday one day. But putting everything on hold until that remote possibility becomes a reality would hinder the very real and immediate science we can do for comparatively little right now.

  • The Total Recall special edition DVD has a track on it with a NASA JPL guy talking about the red planet. He concludes with a short squib on how they are planning to bring back rocks from Mars by 2014, I believe. This was the first I had heard of this.
  • Little did the NASA scientists know that what appeared to be just Martian rocks would end up being dehydrated imps, cacodemons, mancubii, cyberdemons, and John Romero's severed head. Just add water, and then we'll have Hell on Earth.
  • by jd (1658)
    First it was feet and meters. Now it's ounces and grams...
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:37PM (#2376241) Homepage
    its a much better idea to bring back a near earth asteroid (NEA), or mine a near earth asteroid and bring back the good bits.

    Why?:

    a) NEA's are nearer
    b) mining asteroids can turn a profit (Mars probably can't)
    c) we can use ION drives to get there (like Deep Space 1 used), but they don't work to-from Mars due to the gravity of Mars
    d) there's no chance that we catch the never-get-overs (the asteroids should be dead)
    e) they contain useful stuff like water (steam is a fairly good rocket fuel in fact)
    f) getting lots of stuff from NEAs to orbit is looking cheaper than getting it from the earth, therefore it may be possible to send people to Mars using the fuel collected from NEAs; in the meantime we can turn a profit boosting satellites into GEOsynchronous orbit and such like...
    g) Basically Mars would be a white elephant right now. Cool as heck, but pointless.
    • by styopa (58097) <hillsr@noSPaM.colorado.edu> on Monday October 01, 2001 @07:13PM (#2376361) Homepage
      Sigh

      Um, you completely missed the point. We are not going to Mars to check if it is economically viable for mining.
      • We are going to Mars because that is the first step to becoming an interplanetary society.
      • We are going to Mars because it is like the Earth and can tell us more about our planet, and other planets in general. The scientific data that could be gathered from Mars is quite large.
      • We are going to Mars because it is cool. NASA needs something big to turn the heads of the population. They need public support.

      Why should we NOT go to a NEA?
      • Space mining at this point in time is unrealistic. From designing the equiptment to do the mining, to transporting the material. It is extremely expensive, and not profitable at this point in time. If it was I gaurentee that companies would be seriously looking into it.
      • Fly-bys of random NEA's are useful, but not nearly as useful as information from/on planets.
      • The public could care less about flying next to a random non-comet rock. In fact, it might even hurt NASA's image doing things that the public might consider a "waste" of public money.

      There is a huge push for Mars because the public is interested in it, and the Government is interested in it. In general they are not interested in NEAs. Successful big missions to Mars will provide NASA with the support it needs to do more minor missions like fly-bys of NEAs.
      • I think he made some extremely valid points. At least with the promise of research into the extraction of materials from NEAs, you could attract far more private sector capital.

        You see, the first step towards becoming an interplanetary society (don't hold your breath btw) is ... [drumroll] ... economics. Quite simply, we won't go into space unless space can make us money.

        Sure, I agree that going to Mars would be incredibly cool. Putting a person on another planet would be an unbelievable achievement, however it is not a prudent thing to do. Face it, we are ruled by prudent capitalists not free spending humanitarians.

        You say that "Space mining at this point is unrealistic" and go on to explore that statement. However I would say that "Manned Mars missions are unrealistic" for the same reasons you state about NEA exploration. The difference is that with the NEA exploration, the promise of return on investment is much higher than on a manned Mars mission.
      • Going to Mars is not necessary or sufficient to become an interplanetary sociey.

        Mars is more like the moon than earth. The atmosphere is less than 1% of the earths, that's practically a vacuum. The radiation levels on the surface are high, the problems of growing stuff under domes are extreme. Mars has a quite large escape velocity (about 3km/s). Mars lacks continuous solar energy available off-planet. That's probably very, very important for technological societies.

        NEAs are closer than Mars, have better distribution of materials than Mars, have a clearer path to self sufficiency than Mars, are accessible to robot probes with much lower thrust levels than Mars; and allows for exporting materials back to Earth at much lower cost than Mars.

        Mars does not have any higher lifeforms, and does not seem to have any lower lifeforms either.

        Even phobos is a better bet than Mars in the short term.

        Space mining is NOT at all unrealistic. Space mining is able to make possible safe, manned travel to Mars; and cheaper access to space from the earth- space tourism can be achieved more cheaply using space resources. Space mining IS being very seriously looked at by companies.

        Whether America has woken up to this is largely irrelevant I guess. The markets have far more money than government. You also seemed to have missed the fact that NASA does not exactly a monopoly on space right now.

        Still, I am not anti Mars at all. We should go to Mars, but we need to go to NEAs first to get the materials we need to do that.

    • mining asteroids can turn a profit (Mars probably can't)

      1) The discussion is about returning 500g of samples for scientific purposes, not stripmining other planets for profit.

      2) Who says mining asteroids would be profitable? It would cost at least billions of dollars to undertake such a mining mission to a NEA. We are still capable of mining ores here on Earth much more cheaply, and we aren't going to run out any time in the next few decades.

      we can use ION drives to get there (like Deep Space 1 used), but they don't work to-from Mars due to the gravity of Mars

      Guess you better tell NASA that. There are several exploratory design concepts that would utilize ion engines to get probes to and from Mars. You would need a complementary conventional engine to leave Mars orbit, but you would still make overall weight savings by using ion engines for the cruise phase.

      (steam is a fairly good rocket fuel in fact)

      Actually, it's a fairly crap rocket fuel as H2O. It's cheap and plentiful, which is why some concepts bother with it at all.

      getting lots of stuff from NEAs to orbit is looking cheaper than getting it from the earth, therefore it may be possible to send people to Mars using the fuel collected from NEAs; in the meantime we can turn a profit boosting satellites into GEOsynchronous orbit and such like...

      Its 'cheaper' in terms of fuel expenditure. In the real world of today, however, you would have to factor in the many billions of dollars that setting up your NEA fuel depot would cost. One day it will be the way to go, but your argument is like saying that we shouldn't spend millions on developing better silicon chip lithography because one day quantum computing will be much better.

      Basically Mars would be a white elephant right now. Cool as heck, but pointless.

      There is exploration and research that many people would like to see undertaken right now, rather than wait for Buck Rogers to do it for us when we are all old and grey.

      • What the fuck are you smoking. Mining an NEA isn't going to cost a billion dollars because you don't mine it conventionally. You send up a ship with a powerful little rocket that shoots an anchor into the rock and buries itself, you let the rotation of the asteroid wrap itself up. Then you pull the anchor counter to the rotation of the asteroid to negate its spin. Wrap it up in a giant mylar bad and concuss it into fragments or break it up with a lightweight solar mirror. H2) mined from such an asteroid makes good rocket fuel since you can break it up with electricity from solar panels and recombine it kablamo style for an appriciable delta-v. You also don't need to get much from Earth to a NEA but you can land alot back on Earth or the Moon fairly cheaply. You can also leave the fuel in its separates state for use of a Mars mission, maybe even slingshot it around a body into Mars orbit for later use by explorers. Geez dude.
      • It is not the case that it would cost billions to get to NEA and back. A mining mission can be done for initially about $200 million, about the same cost as DS1. We're not talking hundreds of tonnes returned, we're talking tonnes. But the mining vehicles would be very reusable, and can make a new trip per year or so, with a few hundred kilograms of refueling requirements each trip.

        This is not most people's idea of space mining, but I think that having asteroid material returned to the ISS would give it a purpose.

        In particular it may be possible to get some or all of the fuel for the mining probes from the asteroidal material in LEO. If that can be done then we can look at turning a (very modest) profit.

        The point is economic. The sooner we start on commercial exploitation of space, the sooner we get to go. In order to go, we need to show profit. If profit can be show, then investment follows. Investment leads to greater volumes, and greater volumes leads to much, much lower price.

        >Its 'cheaper' in terms of fuel expenditure. In the real world of today, however, you would have to factor in the many billions of
        >dollars that setting up your NEA fuel depot would cost. One day it will be the way to go, but your argument is like saying that we
        >shouldn't spend millions on developing better silicon chip lithography because one day quantum computing will be much better.

        No. Quantum computing doesn't scale right now. This does. It's more like saying, hey why don't we fund silicon chips because silicon chips are cheaper than discrete!
  • by dimer0 (461593)
    Pet martian rocks would be cool. Bring one back, paint a clown face on it, and use it as a paperweight.

    • Pet martian rocks would be cool. Bring one back, paint a clown face on it, and use it as a paperweight

      Which is fine and dandy until the Martian clown rocks start eating the children.... For God's sake, won't someone please think of the children???

  • by mkasei (77963) on Monday October 01, 2001 @08:59PM (#2376628) Homepage
    NASA would love to do a Mars sample return. However in reality no such mission is going to happen anytime soon. Last October NASA outlined [spaceref.com] its long term plan for Mars exploration with a sample return slated to start in 2014. However recently [spaceref.com] it became known that the October plan is now more or less dead. The only Mars mission not touched at this time is the 2003 twin rover mission (MER 2003). The 2005 orbiter mission is still a tentative go, however everything after that is up in the air.

    NASA's budget is being used to pay for the ballooning space station cost overruns which means other programs get the axe. The space station is at least 4 billion over budget. NASA's budget is about 14 billion. Do the Math. The Bush administration has told NASA to get the station budget under control. So NASA has to cut a lot of programs including Mars. Look to the Europeans to potentially do a Mars sample return first with some NASA participation.

    Useful Link: A Year of Mars News: It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. [spaceref.com]
  • From the article, which you read, right?

    It would be nice to leave it unsterilized. We could then do things like amplify the DNA

    IANAB (I am not a biologist, but while it is reasonable to assume that et life would use the same (ie only known workable) chemistry of carbon, it is unlikely that exactly the same molecules, ie DNA would be used, in the same way. If Martian life used DNA in the same way as earthly life instead of some other possible encoding mechanism, it would be a very very strong indicator that the two shared a common ancestor. Likely? I don't know.

    But anyway, mars is barren [everything2.com] So these guys are coutning thier chickens way before they are hatched.

  • I consult with Microsoft, and Bill Gates has discussed this project. Bill is willing to donate $10 billion dollars to this cause. Here's the scoop. Bill will donate $10 billion towards retrieval of as much rock as possible, under the condition he gets 95% of the rock with the remaining 5% distributed under NASA control.

    Reuters attributes Mr. Gates wishes to a long standing competition with Larry Ellison of Oracle. Ellison in 1998 purchased the bones of Stalin from the state of Russia for $60 million dollars under the condition they were petrified via harsh ionization by direct extended storage on the outside of the Mir space station. The bones spent about 18 months in space with direct exposure to solar radiation. Ellison took posession of these rock hard space petrified bones of Stalin in early 2000 and has since used them as the stones for his private sauna.

    In the best American spirit of oneupmanship, Gates and Ellison have both agreed that sending a multibillion dollar space probe round trip to Mars, to retrieve rocks for your sauna, is extreme. The only thing more bizarre is Ellisons planned comeback.

  • If NASA's gonna bring back anything, I want to see them to bring back manned moon missions.

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