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Space

Another Small Step Before the Giant Leap 277

Posted by Hemos
from the a-brave-new-tomorrow dept.
Armchair Anarchist writes "Over at Futurismic, a new column proposes that NASA's plans to establish a lunar colony are an attempt to run before we can walk properly, and that developing orbital habitats first would be a wiser and more realistically attainable project. From the article: "... it seems to me that the trump card is with the orbitals; orbit is closer, cheaper and easier to get to, and offers more flexibility as a long-term outpost. Sure, let's put men back on the moon, mine it for helium-3, research its history and origins. But it makes more sense to launch missions of that type from an already-established colony in orbit.""
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Another Small Step Before the Giant Leap

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  • Exactly! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Let's put some more junk into orbit!
  • by TodMinuit (1026042) <todminuit@gPARISmail.com minus city> on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:30AM (#17285574)
    Step 1: Ask for big moon base budget
    Step 2: Forget the moon: Build stuff in orbit of Earth
    Step 3: Profit!!!
  • Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:30AM (#17285576)
    They could call these orbital habitats "Space Stations". Perhaps the international community could come together to build it?
    • by StCredZero (169093) on Monday December 18, 2006 @01:09PM (#17288070)
      This article has serious logical errors. He's constantly using "bait and switch."

      1. To refute the point that an underground lunar colony would be better protected, he states that a large enough meteorite would damage any lunar colony. Duh. What are the relative probabilities for the larger meteors? Much smaller for larger rocks. His argument here is vacuous.
      2. To refute the point that the moon has gravity for the health of the astronauts, be points out that larger stations will be built to use centrifugal force. But isn't he advocating the completion of the ISS as one of his major points? My understanding is that this won't use rotation to provide artificial gravity.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Monday December 18, 2006 @02:23PM (#17289318)
      In addition to the obvious fact that we already have built an orbiting habitat, reading NASA's lunar architecture study report makes some advantages of a lunar habitat obvious. Of course, statements like, "With an orbital platform, materials that make it out of the Earth's gravitational pull are right where they need to be," show the author doesn't really know what he's talking about. There's also long-standing fallacy that an LEO stopoff at a space station is inherently better for exploration, and the irrelevancy of comments about mining Helium-3 when we haven't even mastered D-T fusion yet.

      For those not familiar with the study, it basically looked at a variety of approaches for returning to the moon, based on the capabilities of the Orion capsule, Ares launch systems, and Lunar Surface Access Module designs and recommended the best one.

      The conclusion they reached was that the most sustainable approach was to start by landing several missions in the same location in a nearly permanantly lit region near one of the poles (avoids the problematic 14-day night). Each mission would be brief, but leave behind equipment that could be used by the next. The somewhat modular concept for the LSAM (likened to a lunar pickup truck) means it could easily bring different payloads down on each mission. After 5 missions, there would be enough equipment to support extended visits, and begin research into In-Situ Resource Utilization and other long term experiments; things you flat out can not do on the ISS.

      The beauty of an outpost with the capability to be permanently manned on the moon is threefold:

      1.) It doesn't need to be constantly manned, or even constantly maintained. Unlike the ISS, which at the least needs periodic orbital boosts and constant power to it's orientation control gyros, you can simply "winterize" a lunar outpost and leave it for a while. If you have budget constraints or some other program setback and have to abandon it for a time, it just sits there waiting for you to come back. The ISS deals with gravity just as a lunar outpost would, but the lunar outpost actually turns it into an asset.

      2.) It enables long term investigation of a piece of lunar soil, and does not interfere with exploring other parts. NASA recognizes that the LRO may find other interesting sites on the moon to send manned missions to, and the proposed architecture still supports that. At the same time, they can get an in depth look at lunar geology and practice techniques that will hopefully be used in a Mars mission.

      3.) It provides a wide range of options for contributions. A criticism of the ISS is that it has been constantly hamstringed as nations, including the US, have been slow to contribute pieces...all while it continues consuming resources. The US would develop the launchers capable of putting large payloads on the surface and create an infrastructure that can support a human presence, then welcome contributions from partner nations in the form of equipment, experiments, and astronauts above and beyond the basic goals as they see fit to contribute. Among the many possible contributions NASA has identified are ISRU experiments, alternate power sources, astronomy equipment (a radio telescope would have find effectively unprecedented low level of noise), and a pressurized rover for long distance EVA's.

      Of course, the author did get right the concerns over the fact that the moon is much harder to get to than the ISS, and there are more things that can go wrong getting there and back, but so many more of his criticisms are off base. Even the concern about meteoroids strikes me as wrong. I can think of no reason why the moon should encounter a greater meteoroid flux than the earth (a noted threat to the ISS), and in fact, might even be safer for the lack of space junk.

      The US has built two space stations. The Russians have built three, counting their ISS contributions. Private industry is even getting in on the game (Bigelow). Honestly, how long should we wait before re-extending our presence to the moon? How much more does low-earth orbit really stand to contribute to our understanding of how to go places in our solar system?
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:31AM (#17285582) Journal
    ... to establish colonies in Science Fiction books and on NASA proposals. Seriously. I grew up with the dream of colonies in space, and cheap space flight. Space flight has only gotten more expensive, and our national will to make this dream come true has dropped to near zero. After hearing about plan after plan, and seeing nothing come of it, you get jaded.

    I hope I am wrong, but am willing to bet we won't have anything except the ISS (if we have even that) by 2020. The only possible exception might be if the Chinese put up something similar to ISS... but even that will be a far cry from anything we are talking about today (or twenty years ago).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rickett81 (987309)
      Space Flight has only become more expensive because the government(s) is involved. Only the government is involved because there is little money to be made by having people in space.

      If there was money to be made, someone in the private sector would have already designed and built what is needed. Eventually, the government backed scientists in the ISS or on a shuttle will find a way to so something profitable in space. Once this happens, and the cost of the space flight is justified by price of the retu

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob T Firefly (844560)
      That may be the only thing that would inspire any progress at this point. The American space program has arguably never made so many advances at such a grueling pace as during the Cold War, when the big motivator was to beat the Russians at everything they could. Without a manjor spacefaring superpower to contend with, the desire of the powers that be to cream the next milestone and flaunt the bragging rights just isn't there anymore.

      Friendly cooperative American/European/Japanese Mars probes aside, I'd
    • After hearing about plan after plan, and seeing nothing come of it, you get jaded.

      Right now I think that just about everyone in the USA is jaded when it comes to this stuff. The "gee-wizz" effect doesn't work any more and most people would rather deal with their iPods than fellow human beings.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jovius (974690)
      It might not be NASA who puts the habitats in orbit but Bigelow Aerospace... They envision to have their own complete habitat up by 2015, and NASA actually is interested to use them too (Bigelow licensed the tech..) Virgin Galactic is the forerunner in sub-orbital flights beginning 2008-2009 whereas Space Adventures will begin trips around moon not long after that.. the people behind aforementioned companies are highly idealistic in bringing humanity to space. We are truly living the first steps of private
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        It might not be NASA who puts the habitats in orbit but Bigelow Aerospace... They envision to have their own complete habitat up by 2015, and NASA actually is interested to use them too (Bigelow licensed the tech..) Virgin Galactic is the forerunner in sub-orbital flights beginning 2008-2009 whereas Space Adventures will begin trips around moon not long after that.. the people behind aforementioned companies are highly idealistic in bringing humanity to space. We are truly living the first steps of private

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CptNerd (455084)
          The gold prospectors in California didn't get rich, Hilton and the guys who sold the prospectors shovels and picks got rich. Robots can explore, but you need exploitation, too, and that takes people. That's also how you get money to keep exploring further out, money that's not dependent on the whims of the electorate or the biases of elected demagogues.
    • I hope I am wrong, but am willing to bet we won't have anything except the ISS (if we have even that) by 2020. The only possible exception might be if the Chinese put up something similar to ISS... but even that will be a far cry from anything we are talking about today (or twenty years ago).

      That's not much of a prediction (although as someone else pointed out Bigelow might prove you wrong). Currently, NASA's plan is for a lunar base in 2024. Therefore, even an optimist shouldn't expect one before then.

    • by rbochan (827946)
      Call me crazy, but I think 20anything is waaaaaaaaaaay off the mark. I can't imagine how long NASA would take to assemble something as massive as a mining/base operation on the moon. It takes a shuttle crew a 7 hour procedure to remove and replace an IC board in space, how the hell are they going to get anything built on the moon?

  • A good point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:31AM (#17285590)
    I think they have a good point here. We've been working on a 'space station' for quite some time and barely have anything to show for it yet. How much planning could they possibly put into a moon base yet? The basics are pretty much like earth bases, and the long-term effects of no/low-gravity are not really known. So it'd be like designing a regular earth base with airlocks, and huge gaping holes where they are going to put the unknown things they'll need once they understand non-earth living.

    Just a bit premature.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TheKidWho (705796)
      "long term effects of no/low gravity now known?" People have lived in space for almost a year, quit the nonsense.
    • Hmm, I have always thought that building something on the ground would be easier than building something in space. Once we have mastered building off world, then we should try to build large structures in orbit. A moon colony would make more sense to me however, I am not a rocket/space/whatever the hell engineer. I think we could tackle the one we know, just in an alien environment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AGMW (594303)
      The way I look at it is that this is presumably all a trial run for Mars. I'd suggest (and have suggested) that we should start with an orbital platform around Earth to allow specialist craft to ply their trade between the platform and Earth. It does make sense to then try out some habitats on the Moon before we go for Mars, but before we land on Mars we should build an orbital platform for Mars too. This would be a copy of the Earth platform, with whatever improvements have been discovered from the Earth v
      • Your plan uses too much common sense. Puts some laser beam weapons and a giant robot in there and you may get someone to take you seriously.
      • by maddogsparky (202296) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:51AM (#17286654)
        Look back at exploration prior to the 17th century. These trips were made in small ships that were marginally self-sufficient. They sailed with extra crew because they _knew_ they were likely to return fewer in number, if at all, and had to have a minimum number of people left to sail. They were equipped to sail for intermediate lengths of time, but not well suited to long-range exploration. They sailed with pretty much only the materials they were expected to need, and if they ran out of something important, they tried to limp along until they could get back to a port.

        Compare this with later ships that circumnavigated the globe on multi-year expeditions. The ships tended to be larger and more self-sufficient. They included things like portable blacksmith shops that could repair and fabricate unknown articles as needed, manufactured from stock materials that were also brought along.

        Now that private companies are showing some proficiency with tasks that were previously only the domain of government (e.g. launch capabilities, manufacture of orbital habitats and facilities), NASA should concentrate on the next step in exploration. If they want to explore (which I fully support doing), they should concentrate on developing things which support exploration that nobody has done yet. Support tasks, such as launch capability, habitats, etc., should be farmed out in competitive contracts or Grand-Challenge style contests.

        A moon base is a logical step, but it is really just a support role. NASA should farm this out or indicate willingness to purchase capabilities and participate in evaluation, but should focus on creating long-range exploration capability. After all, even Columbus's trip was government financed. Once people became aware of the investment potential, they financed new ventures themselves and eventually opened up what had been exploration efforts into commercial enterprises and settlements.

        • by AGMW (594303)
          That's a good point, and we are at that stage with our exploration of the solar system now. We will need such trips to help assemble/test the Mars Orbital Platform (for example), because it's likely that it will require some hands on experience, though it would be great if most could be done remotely. But what we don't want is to continue to have to ferry all our goods in the one type of vehicle.

          Now we move around the Earth in a vast array of different craft. Huge ocean going vessels ship containerloads o

    • Maybe they need to show some purpose for space stations also. Seems to me that many of the experiments they do either verge on busy work or are for studying how to live in a space station. Has anything of significant use here on earth come from these efforts?

      What would be the point of a lunar base then? To mine at GREAT expense He3 fuel for a fusion reactor which hasn't been built?
      • by Aladrin (926209)
        Well that's a good point. What IS the point of a non-earth base.

        Orbit:
        Good launch point for ships travelling from earth and avoiding its gravity well. The ships can be geared towards exploration rather than take-off.
        Research - zero g, artifical g (spin), massive solar radiation
        Shelter - all artificial
        Communications

        Moon:
        Ships, again, but have to be able to deal with some gravity at beginning and end of each flight.
        Research - low g, solar radiation
        Shelter - some natural
        Mining

        Seems like a pretty even match s
  • Sure, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tonycheese (921278)
    Well, it's nice to doubt the decisions made by NASA, but one would hope that if they announce a project of this scale they would have thought through their plan and considered other options first. Hopefully they know what they're doing with their next project if they've decided to funnel a few billion dollars into it?
    • Well, it's not like the people calling the shots for the past few years have actually been listening to what the knowledgeable scientists have been telling them.
  • by everphilski (877346) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:33AM (#17285608) Journal
    ... what 'great leap' is this? The only leap, really, is the change in vehicle. The moon is well-defined: we had the lunar prospector [nasa.gov] mission which gave us a detailed survey of the moons surface and we've been there several times in the Apollo era. Sticking around in LEO is just wasting time. Building satellites around the earth is completely different than building habitations on Mars or the Moon, structurally and in the complications faced ( micrometeoroids, gravity fields, dust and static charges, etc)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      ... what 'great leap' is this? The only leap, really, is the change in vehicle. The moon is well-defined: we had the lunar prospector mission which gave us a detailed survey of the moons surface and we've been there several times in the Apollo era.

      Let's put it this way: What information we have about the Moon's surface is roughly equivalent to what Google Earth has about the land area of the US combined with a quick physical survey of an area roughly the same as your average suburban mall. We know less a

  • Unmanned is better (Score:5, Interesting)

    by morboIV (1040044) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:34AM (#17285620)
    Sending people anywhere in space requires incredible amounts of infrastructure to provide safe habitation, food, oxygen and so on. For the cost of getting people to the moon and keeping them their for any significant period of time, you could send probably dozens of unmanned expeditions all over the solar system. Not to mention that the capabilities of robots will inevitably come close or even overtake humans. Investing that money in better robotics would probably be much better for space exploration.
    • For the cost of getting people to the moon and keeping them their for any significant period of time, you could send probably dozens of unmanned expeditions all over the solar system.


      That may be true, but there are other, better reasons to send humans [wellingtongrey.net].

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mmdog (34909)
      While I don't necessarily agree that robotic exploration is better, I think an approach that uses robots is called for.

      Mostly, I tend to agree with the author of the blog. We need orbital stations first, but even so, we should also be sending robotic construction vehicles to the moon to start preparing a base for future habitation NOW. I think it makes a lot more sense to have most of a moon base built before we arrive.

      Imagine the first construction crew arriving on the moon to find and extensive labyrint
    • by Kopretinka (97408)
      Robots are great at handling almost everything expected, but people are pretty good at handling things that are unexpected.

      One could wonder how much unexpected stuff there's gonna be on the Moon. Well, I bet there would be a lot of that if people got to be on the Moon for 10+ years, getting bored out of their minds and toying with the alien environment. Oh, and trying to survive, achieving some pretty amazing deeds in that direction.

    • by pcgabe (712924)
      [...]robots will inevitably come close or even overtake humans

      Space has a terrible power, my friend!
      One day my Space Robots will revolutionize the world! And space!
      Do you have stairs in your house?
  • by MaGogue (859961) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:35AM (#17285628)
    If nothing else, going to the Moon serves as a motivation. "Lingering in Earth orbit" sounds depressing and boring (although it isn't) compared to "going to the Moon and beyond". We should press forward, it will be easier to work in orbit in parallel to Moon efforts. Think Skylab - how easy it was to put 283 cubic metres of habitable space up there after Moon landings.

    • by Reziac (43301) *
      I think you hit the nail on the head. Remember when the space program was exciting? Remember when everything at school came to a halt so we could watch (on our grainy B/W TVs) every step of the currrent manned flight?

      I think the *human element pushing the envelope* is precisely what made the early space program fascinating, and the LACK of same is why it's become ho-hum in the eyes of most of the public.

      People as a whole just don't CARE unless it's a man on the edge. Then we want to be there, to urge it on,
  • ISS 2? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796)
    What you want an ISS 2?

    ISS is already up there and should be much more mature by the time we plan on landing on the moon again.
    • Re:ISS 2? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FhnuZoag (875558) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:00AM (#17285934)
      ISS isn't a proper space colony, though.

      1. It isn't remotely self-sufficient. ISS 2 (or whatever) probably won't be fully self-sufficient either, but it'll let us work on the logistics issue first.
      2. It is strictly a space lab. If we want it to be a portal into the rest of the solar system, we need to have something where we can construct and refit spacecraft in orbit.
      3. It is very low orbit.
      • ISS isn't a proper space colony, though. 1. It isn't remotely self-sufficient. ISS 2 (or whatever) probably won't be fully self-sufficient either, but it'll let us work on the logistics issue first. 2. It is strictly a space lab. [want a space craft garage]... 3. It is very low orbit.

        Low earth orbit, inside Earth's magnetic protection, is where space stations have to be but self sufficiency will only come from beyond orbit. The only resources available in Earth orbit are zero G growing conditions and

  • They're trying to establish a lunar base, rightly recognizing that a lunar colony (or an orbital colony, for that matter) would currently be beyond their reach.

    There are actually still a few advantages to stopping at an orbital base on the way to the moon, but all you need at the base is an insulated fuel depot and a robot arm, not a massive spinning habitat. Even once it's a good time to build massive spinning habitats for their own sake, we'll want to mine lunar resources or captured NEO asteroids to do it, and learning how to make a lunar base more self-sufficient is one small step on the way there.
  • by suv4x4 (956391)
    Difficulty of a mission isn't perfectly proportional to the distance from the center of Earth to the spot of colonization.

    Let NASA know a little bit about space missions than bloggers do, but even without this, common sense says that's easier to establish a colony on a solid surface, and with some gravity (much easier to build tools, handle daily activities and so on, even the safety of having some ground below your feet), versus a colony in a ship in open space.

    But you know, universe has its ways... , I me
  • Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jimstapleton (999106) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:39AM (#17285696) Journal
    I'd rater see something on the moon than in orbit...

    There's actually mineable material on the moon, I don't know how useful it is, but at least theres a chance the moon can produce resources as well as research.
  • I'm sure it's gotta be substantially cheaper to shield people on the Moon than it is to shield them in cans in space.

    • by Mindwarp (15738)
      Not really. Low Earth Orbit is within the protective coccoon of the Earth's magnetic field, while the Moon is not. Not only would you require more significant shielding on the Moon, but it's 240,000 miles away as opposed to 300 miles away. Shipping all that heavy shielding the quarter of a million miles to the Moon and landing it there safely is going to cost a LOT of money.
    • by CrazyTalk (662055)
      Yes, because the atmosphere on the moon will protect us from....oh wait, never mind.
  • I tend to disagree (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You need to set extended goals to make the intermediate steps possible. It was the goal of sending people to the moon "ready or not" that made it possible in the first place. It is not the purpose of the national agencies to make permanent habitats... just make the proof of concept habitats. That has been done as far as the space stations are concerned. It is not up to the rest of us, private industry etc to make permanent habitation a reality. Bigelow is set to do this for the space stations.... the r
  • Yeah right. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:47AM (#17285782)
    But it makes more sense to launch missions of that type from an already-established colony in orbit.



    Yeah right. It makes so much sense to launch a lot of stuff into orbit, just to use a small amount of that stuff to go to the moon.

    There's nothing in orbit that can be used by the colony, apart from solar energy. Everything else has to be shipped up there, or generated, or simply isn't available (gravity, anyone ?).



    On the moon, there's at least a chance to use some local resources (Oxygen, building material, maybe water). And gravity. There's a lot of difference between pratically zero-G and 0.16 G. In the latter, stuff will start acting somewhat like on earth (things/liquids fall on the floor, people can actually walk and distinguish between up and down). You could have an actual kitchen on a moon base - unthinkable in zero G.

    • Exactly. The moon has potential resources which can be used to maintain a colony. ISS-type orbitals don't.

      The author of this article seems to have forgotten that the Moon is an orbital body of the Earth, too.
  • One simple reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ysachlandil (220615) on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:49AM (#17285814)
    One reason: Gravity. They have it on the moon. They don't have it in orbit. Makes showering, sleeping, eating, everything more comfortable. Plus the fact that you don't have your colonists dying of accidentally bumping into something and breaking all their bones.

    A colony implies people living there for longer than 10 years. Zero gravity is a bitch at 10+ years.

    --Blerik
    • Zero gravity is a bitch at 10+ years.

      And the effects of lunar gravity for 10+ years are .... probably completely unknown.
      • by trifish (826353)
        And the effects of lunar gravity for 10+ years are .... probably completely unknown.

        Still very likely much less harmful than zero gravity for 10+ years.
    • Am I the only one who is amazed that NASA hasn't done the obvious and used zero G for living quarters? This is _not_ a new idea, but nobody seems to talk about it any more, much less have any plans to use it.
      • AFAIK (which isn't much), the reason that spinning stations aren't used is because engineering such a system turns out to be quite a bit more difficult than at first glance.
        • "the reason that spinning stations aren't used is because engineering such a system turns out to be quite a bit more difficult than at first glance."

          NASA needs to get out of its "not invented here" mindset and go talk to some midway ride designers.

          Seriously, though, I see where there are issues in creating a non-vibrating, rotating, airtight interface between a rotating section and a non-rotating section of a spacecraft/space station. But why can't the astronauts just have a nearby habitat that they do shi
      • Spinning Space Stations are mostly reserved for science fiction. Here is my layman's understanding of one of the fundamental problems.

        The weight on the outer rim of the space station will be uneven. As a result, the space station will wobble and move as it spins. How would you compensate for this wobble? Rockets require fuel, which adds weight and a tremendous expense (The rockets need to be fired frequently).
        • by FhnuZoag (875558)
          In a word, contrarotation.

          Have two rotating components that rotate in opposite directions. If helicopters can manage it, then so can space stations.
    • by metlin (258108)
      A colony implies people living there for longer than 10 years. Zero gravity is a bitch at 10+ years.

      Yes, but think of the sex positions that would be possible!

      *gulp*
  • I would guess that it's easier to build something when you've got ground to stand on (even in low gravity). A solid foundation lends itself to a structure that will last.

    Getting material out there may be more costly at first, but a moon base should be more cost effective over the long haul, especially if future expansion can utilize some of the resources the moon has to offer (even if it's just shelter).

    Considering how long these projects take to complete I would say we've got the Orbiter, lets do the moon
  • Robots, not people (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b00le (714402) <interference@NOspAm.libero.it> on Monday December 18, 2006 @10:58AM (#17285920) Homepage
    Sure, manned space exploration is romantic and exciting, but manned missions to the moon accomplished nothing beyond nationalistic PR that culdn't have been done better by machines, and the ISS has produced no science worthy of its staggering cost. We will inhabit space one day but for now current talk of manned Moon bases and Mars missions are not like trying to run before we can walk, they're like trying to fly before we can stand up. There are two little machines working away on Mars still that would agree with me. Read Bob Park http://www.bobpark.org/ [bobpark.org] for detailed, expert reasoning.
    • "we have to learn to walk before we can run". "we have to learn to crawl before we can walk" "trying to fly before we can stand up"

      The above are all commonly said and assumed to be true when in fact, they may not be.

      1. Several of my younger siblings were able to run before they could walk. The MIT media lab ran had the same experience with their "waliking" robots-some were able to run more easily than walk.

      2. I've seen a few babies that didn't learn to crawl until after they were walking. They had a s
  • I think it was Zubrin who said that there is nothing useful to do in orbit. Well, besides solar power. Whereas on the moon there is mining and other activities.
  • by pubjames (468013)

    Why aren't we sending a manned mission to Mars? That would be much more interesting...

    Actually, I think I know the answer. This administration has consistently show that it doesn't care much for science. This is all really about providing a publicly acceptable spin on weaponizing space, and a mission to Mars doesn't make much sense it that context.
  • by Pedrito (94783) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:05AM (#17286008) Homepage
    we have some serious problems going on right here at home that need tending first.

    If the economy was in the condition it was before Bush went into office, I might be for something like this, but at the moment, we're sinking into debt up to our noses and the last thing we need to do is spend a fortune going back to the moon. We ought to get a little fiscal responsibility in place first. I know these things take years to work out, and had Clinton pushed it, I would have been all for it because I would have thought, "How could this enormous surplus possibly be squandered so quickly?" And yet, Bush pulled it off in record time.

    I do think, however, if you take the economics out of it, that a moon colony is a much better next step than another orbital station, for various reasons, not least of which is, a station just isn't really a step forward. It's a step sideways. We need to move forward and we need to take grander steps. There will be failures (and sadly, some will probably cost lives), but it's the steps forward that make the big impact on the public and help build further support for the program.

    The public was excited early in the Apollo program. They wanted to see us go to the moon and they watched it every step of the way. But then we just kept going back, picking up a few rocks and coming back (this is from a public perception point of view), and quickly support diminished. When NASA isn't moving forward, they don't get support, and people simply won't support another station, especially after the disaster that ISS has been from a PR point of view. It's been a money pit and as far as the public is concerned, it's not much more, fascination-wise, than a big, expensive Skylab.
    • It seems like public support started to wane about the same time that the science program started taking over. After all, the first scientist on the moon was also the last.

      People are interested in exploration more than science. People like stories of discovery-modern science is a lot more about cataloguing, analysis, and duplicating experiments. They know science is important, it just isn't as interesting. What is behind the next bend in the road/trail? What is over that hill? What is that cave? Disc
  • Getting man into space is a project that will require hundreds of years of development before we have feasible and fully developed space travels. Problem is that if you're working and dedicating your whole life into something, you sure as hell want to be alive when they announce a moon base, a base on Mars and so forth.

    I guess the reason mankind is rushing this out is because we simply can't start a project we won't be able to finish in our lifetime. Sad thought, isn't it?
    • by b00le (714402)
      We should learn from the builders of the great medieval cathedrals, which took generations to build, and the master masons who designed them never saw their work finished. They believed they were working for the glory of God; today many of us doubt the meaning of that notion, but the buildings remain as monuments to the glory of human imagination, courage and energy. These days, as Carrire Fisher wrote: "Instant gratification takes too long."
    • by hey! (33014)

      Getting man into space is a project that will require hundreds of years of development before we have feasible and fully developed space travels.

      I certainly don't believe this is true. It depends on how much it matters to us.

      We could certainly have a permanent human presence on Mars in, say 25 years. The basic technology is there. The problem is that the cost is high enough to preclude a realistic plan.

      If there were a clear reason for us to go there, we would. But even if the surface of Mars was dotted

  • Pie in the sky BS... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kcbrown (7426)

    I've always had a huge interest in space. The sooner we're able to permanently and independently live in space, the better.

    But a permanent, independent manned presence in space isn't likely to happen within our lifetimes. Why? Because:

    1. NASA is nothing more than a convenient means to funnel money from the taxpayers to the big defense contractors. And for the foreseeable future, the resources required to research, develop, and build a permanent independent manned presence in space aren't available
  • Better Plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alsee (515537) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:11AM (#17286110) Homepage
    As much as I want us to return to the moon and get to Mars and beyond, I think we're going about it all wrong. We're sending people up on top of insanely expensive fireworks. It's just plain too expensive. It's not practical or sustainable.

    Instead of blowing insane amounts of money on the space station and on unreasonable shuttle launches, we should be pouring those exact same dollars into RESEARCH on better and cheaper means to reach space. Whether it is beamed energy launch vehicles, rail-gun like ground launch facilities, a space elevator, scramjet engines, or who-knows what other tech, we will be far better off if we (temporarily) sacrifice the manned space program to sink the up-front dollars into cheaper access to space. Once you have that cheaper access, then future dollars will provide vastly greater dividends in future practical sustainable manned space development. Then and only then can we establish practical and sustainable oribtal facilities and a moon base and even a SUSTAINED Mars base presence.

    As much as I would like to see us get people to Mars, I don't want a replay of the Moon joke. Over-priced impracitical throwaway missions... and we haven't been back there in THREE DECADES. I do not want a throwaway mission to Mars. As nice as it would be to get people there and get dome decent science out of it, it's just NOT WORTH IT to do a tera-bucks throwaway mission to land a couple of people for a holliday vacation and then abandon Mars for two or three of four decades.

    I'd rather wait a while for that first mission to Mars and then see it done right. Do it when it makes sense to do it. Shift the current spending to more robitic missions and probes across the solar system, and shift the spending to development of more efficent space access technology.

    So I am opposed to our current manned program and I am opposed to the various proposals for more manned missions... and I do so out of my deep desire and support for manned space projects.

    -
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by shawb (16347)

      As much as I would like to see us get people to Mars, I don't want a replay of the Moon joke. Over-priced impracitical throwaway missions... and we haven't been back there in THREE DECADES. I do not want a throwaway mission to Mars. As nice as it would be to get people there and get dome decent science out of it, it's just NOT WORTH IT to do a tera-bucks throwaway mission to land a couple of people for a holliday vacation and then abandon Mars for two or three of four decades.

      That's just the way exploration and colonization works within the framework of human society. Columbus discovered (at least within the European perspective) the Americas in 1492. Serious colonization arguably didn't start until the founding of Havana in 1515. Considering the vast differences between creating long term colonies in the Americas and creating colonies on another planet, it makes sense that the exploration phase would take much longer. Especially considering that individual human life h

  • by Doug Dante (22218) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:12AM (#17286114)
    NASA is in the entertainment and education business by way of the science business. NASA must generate buzz and excitement regarding its missions amongst the voters so that those voters encourage Congress and the President to continue to support it. It must also generate interesting and possibly useful scientific information to maintain its credibility.

    Like an aging actor, NASA needs makeovers [space.com]. Like any corporate giant NASA likes to tell success stories [nasa.gov]. NASA has an apparent target demographic [nasa.gov] of kids, students and educators. However, their real target demographic is the parents and grandparents of school aged children and adult science geeks. NASA must convince them, the voting public, that they're doing useful science. This market is similar to that faced by most educational toys.

    As a corporate entity, NASA must look to the future. NASA cannot focus on boundad, workable, and term-limited projects such as the IIS, there will rapidly become no NASA. Such projects aren't as fundamentally entertaining, even if they may be more scientifically useful. NASA must continue to make plans to enhance future revenue by continuing to entertain their apparent target demographic, and appear to educate them in the eyes of their true demographic. NASA may be able to complete the IIS, but the IIS story has played out. They need something new and exiting, and they know it.

    This is not written to slight NASA in any way. Every entity has its own economics. It's just that when I read stupid statements like the one made in the essay, I feel as if the author doesn't understand the fundamental economic position of NASA. NASA's primary job isn't human spaceflight, or spaceflight. It's to entertain while it educates. That's what brings in the money.

  • is that if we set up operations on the moon, we won't have an exit strategy. Surprise, surprise.
  • It seems that if we can put 100+ men on a nuclear sub in a more hostile environment than outer space, 1000 feet down, for up to 90 days at a time, why can we not use the same technology to build a Moon base. Build the parts on Earth and brute force move them to the moon then using deep sea divers who are used to working in ultra hazardous environment to put it together.

    To service it use 'a space bus & lander that uses the ISS as a bus depot. Never having to land on the earth.

    To get to the ISS

    • Positive pressure is MUCH easier to deal with than negative (vacuum) pressure. Negative pressure means that small molecules like H2 are always leaking out of the pressure vessel. Subs are also surrounded by water, which is pretty useful all by itself. It's a ready source of O2, away from CO2 scrubbing.

      It's also an awesome heat sink, something that is pretty critical for a nuclear powered habitat. Remember that a submarine is really powered by a heat engine that relies on a temperature differential. The
      • I use geothermal heating and cooling in my home. It is amazing what efficiency you can get with big loop of buried coolant lines and a heat pump. I don't know what the subsurface temperature of the moon is, but I bet it is pretty cold. As a bonus, you can use the waste heat and a heat exchanger to heat your habitat.

        I don't really see an alternative to nuclear power if we are serious about space development. Hopefully fusion will be available soon, but with a track record of nearly 50 years, researchers
  • Since Yucca Mountain [reviewjournal.com] looks like it is going to mothballed and all the waste that would stored in a safe, secure location will be stored in multiple open areas where there is no way for companies to profit from, they will push that we use the moon base as a way of removing the waste.
    If we ship all that nuclear waste up to the moon in new shuttle type vehicles it could be stored on a crater in the moon with no worries about unknown people getting access to it and any fears of lunarquakes or water tables woul
  • I have been preaching this for years. Glad raises the topic.
    Actually, a year ago I wrote a song inspired by some concept art [google.de] from the 70s:

    Here it is, for your convenience, hope you like it. :)

    ARTIFICIAL SUMMER BREEZE (BERNAL SPHERE)

    Have you heard the news my dear?
    Were moving in our Bernal Sphere
    I read the brochure, it was clear
    the futures here within a year.

    I bought a semidetatched place
    close to the zero G estates.
    well work on earths first SPS
    a giant maser, whod have guessed?

    REFRAIN:
    We will wake up every mo
  • I agree with this completely. Those who lived through the Sputnik-to-Apollo era remember just how carefully and incrementally NASA proceeded. Suborbital flights before orbital flights, circumnavigating the Moon before trying to land on it, and so forth.

    Engineering is an incremental process. You scale things up 20% and 30% at a time, and see which things are flexing too much or developing cracks or failing. Or you take something known, working, and reliable, and you add one new thing to it.

    As Petrosky pointe
  • Listen Slashdot- please stop with the "witty" story titles. For those of us using live bookmarks or news feeds- it really sucks to have to click over to a story just to find out what the hell it is. Geez!
  • by cnelzie (451984) on Monday December 18, 2006 @11:58AM (#17286784) Homepage
    At least this time it is extremely blatant and right out there in front, instead of a being a mildly blatant ruse as such things have been done in the past.
  • by GodWasAnAlien (206300) on Monday December 18, 2006 @12:10PM (#17286970)
    Rather than going to the moon to figure out how to have a airtight, self-sustainable eco-system and colony, why not try it in the ocean first?
    Yes there have been above-ground attempts (why did they stop). Underwater makes it harder to cheat and would be closer to moon isolation for much less cost.

  • Have you noticed how that all terrestrial colonization has been targeted at land masses? There were no initial offshore colonies. The ships went to islands but nobody considered building a permanent floating colony. Why not?

    There are big problems with floating colonies, be they offshore or offworld. There's nothing there to build with nor to build upon. All shelter, all living space, and all defensive fortification would have to be imported, even dirt. It would be inherently more dangerous than an

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