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NASA Vets & Administration Clash Over Moon Plans 158

Posted by Zonk
from the can-we-just-go-somewhere-off-planet-geez dept.
mattnyc99 writes "There's a serious feud brewing this week over the Bush administration's plan for a manned mission to the Moon as an eventual stepping stone to Mars. The Planetary Society, a top group of former mission managers, space-based scientists and NASA astronauts argues, is set to rebuke the Moon plan at a conference next month in favor of hopskotching an asteroid on the way to the Red Planet. Agency chief Michael Griffin issued an abnormally strong response to the society, calling it an overly political criticism of Bush for a plan that he says was 'the best legislative guidance NASA has ever had.' Either way, it's clear that the stars are aligning for the whole space race to be reconsidered as a new administration steps into the White House. So far Clinton and Obama (who just added his) are the only contenders with space proposals."
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NASA Vets & Administration Clash Over Moon Plans

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  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:38PM (#22160888)
    I'm sure they can find a good movie studio to shoot both projects
    • It won't be a windy day in Arizona, this time.

      But, when I re-read the tag, I saw:

      NASA, Vets & Administration Clash Over Moon Plans

      I guess monkeys or apes will go on the mock runs... They'll return (after 5,125 years of suspended animalization), and find... Cornelius? Or, maybe a Charlton Heston statue half-buried in older New York...

      Or, they'll find the Land of the Lost, with millions of sexually-incompatible Sleetaks groveling all over the Earth.

      I think the NASA part will be: Continuous audio p
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:40PM (#22160910)
    That's no moon... that's an overused joke.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:41PM (#22160920) Homepage Journal
    for a moonshot. Its too far off to generate interest. We are also buried under a horribly long political process.

    I am very convinced that if some of the leading candidates get in with all their promises of health care and expanded benefits there won't be any money for NASA to do something big. It will simply fall by the way side because it simply doesn't get Congressmen or Presidents votes.

    The best thing has already been done, the hard choice has already been made, axing the shuttle. Hopefully that expense relief won't be taken from NASA but I fear it will. Without the costly expenditures needed the money will probably go elsewhere.

    If the main opposition is truly because "BUSH" wanted it then it speaks volumes for just how juvenile the opponents have become. We need a direction, it has to come from the Administration, as Congress no longer attempts to lead anywhere but schemes to keep themselves perpetually in office. NASA has been wandering, stuck with two spruce gooses. The shuttle and ISS. The ISS could flourish without the shuttle and we can hope it will. Yet I am very sure that with all the promises being made by candidates that NASA is the least of their concerns. We are seeing the greatest promised expansion of Federal power over our lives and people are cheering it on as if it were the latest American Idol contest. That is not an avenue for great science to occur
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:15PM (#22161302) Homepage
      If the main opposition is truly because "BUSH" wanted it then it speaks volumes for just how juvenile the opponents have become.

      The main opposition is because Bush wanted it, and then didn't fund it. He wants a positive legacy (since his *ahem* other legacy isn't looking so hot), but he didn't want to spend any of the political capital necessary to actually do it. It's like his suddenly trying to jump start the Middle East Peace Plan he'd been ignoring for 7 years, only here it's even easier to just "mandate" that it be done without doing anything substantive to accomplish it. He gets to seem like a visionary in the present, and if it somehow ever happens he can claim credit, and if not, nobody will remember that niggling detail of his Presidency anyway.

      Bush's "Mars, Bitches!" plan, and resulting budget problems since now NASA had a huge new project to worry about and no additional money to do it with, was one of the factors that directly contributed to the scrapping of any Hubble repair mission.

      You want to talk about generating enthusiasm? The continued operation of Hubble would generate ten times more interest than a moon/mars plan that in the most optimistic thinking of a hypothetical plan by a guy who had no intention of being around to see any of it turned into reality isn't going to do anything for a decade.
      • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @11:03PM (#22162740) Journal
        There are a few issues with your post I would like to point out.

        The main opposition is because Bush wanted it, and then didn't fund it. He wants a positive legacy (since his *ahem* other legacy isn't looking so hot), but he didn't want to spend any of the political capital necessary to actually do it. It's like his suddenly trying to jump start the Middle East Peace Plan he'd been ignoring for 7 years, only here it's even easier to just "mandate" that it be done without doing anything substantive to accomplish it. He gets to seem like a visionary in the present, and if it somehow ever happens he can claim credit, and if not, nobody will remember that niggling detail of his Presidency anyway.
        First, Bush asked for 1 billion in new funding and diverted some from the then 11 billion budget which was supposed to be skimmed from existing project over the next five to 11 years. He stated that he would go back to congress and request more money as it progressed. As it is, we haven't spent the real money on going to the moon so the non-funding issue seems minor as it is. I also remember a directive coming down the pipe scolding NASA officials for starting new projects with the lunar funding that was set aside in 2004-05.

        Second, your concept of the middle east peace process seems to mimic a headline news blurb. Bush and his administration has been working for middle east peace since the start of his first term. It wasn't until recently that he actually took a trip there outside of US military bases and war zones.

        You can argue not enough or soon enough, or a combination of both and be correct. But claiming he didn't care or didn't find is a little disingenuous. It may seem like that to you if your mostly paying attention to headline news and the sorts (some call it the drive by media) so I can understand the position.

        Bush's "Mars, Bitches!" plan, and resulting budget problems since now NASA had a huge new project to worry about and no additional money to do it with, was one of the factors that directly contributed to the scrapping of any Hubble repair mission.
        You mean the arguments about being risky and so on were a bunch of lies? Tell me, what costs has NASA created that has zapped up close to 12 billion dollars in less then 3 years without producing a vehicle yet? Last I head NASA wasn't in the habit of waisting money or am I wrong about that? Oh yea, I remember now, NASA has been ignoring the budget redirections and Congress has been earmarking portions of the funding and spending the money on anything they damn well pleased which caused the hubbub about Bush re-redirecting funds about a year or so ago. Hardly a problem because of lack of funding, Maybe lack of oversight of congress pilfering for their contributers and rogue NASA officials.

        I'm actually surprised that your even blaming this on Bush too. It seems that the democrats are the ones wanting to cut NASA's budget. They wanted to pull 500 million so they could 1.3 billion to the global AIDS fund. Instead, they ended up placing the 2007 funding at 2006 levels. I think they are just as hard if not harder on NASA then any republican congress. It all depends on who's contractors are donating money and who is in power at the time I guess. This seems hardly a one sided issue though.

        You want to talk about generating enthusiasm? The continued operation of Hubble would generate ten times more interest than a moon/mars plan that in the most optimistic thinking of a hypothetical plan by a guy who had no intention of being around to see any of it turned into reality isn't going to do anything for a decade.
        Isn't there a repair mission already scheduled for the Hubble? I think it is slated for 2008 and will replace the batteries, gyroscopes, a spectrograph, and the main camera which should put it back in operation until at least 2013.
        • by mattjb0010 (724744) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:03AM (#22164646) Homepage
          Bush and his administration has been working for middle east peace since the start of his first term.

          Ah, so that's why he started a war there.
          • And that war was so nice, he did it twice!

            (Actually, for the US, Afghanistan was relatively "nice," as wars go. If we'd kept our focus there, Bush's legacy could potentially look different now.)
        • Can we please drop the whole Us vs. Them mentality?

          It's doing more damage to America than any Democrat or Republican ever could. Both sides need to bite the bullet and accept the actions of the people they elected, rather than blaming it on the political parties (both of which happen to be unabashedly corrupt at the moment).
          • by sumdumass (711423)
            I agree with your idea but it will be very hard seeing how it really is a "us versed them" mentality in the government.

            I was really hoping the tone of my reply was more spread out then an "us verses them" attitude but I will admit that the reason I replied in the first place was because all this stuff was incorrectly being blamed on one person. I'm not sure I have more of a fondness for Bush or the republicans then I do with accurately placing the blame on the right people. There is enough to blame on them,
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pnewhook (788591)

          Isn't there a repair mission already scheduled for the Hubble? I think it is slated for 2008 and will replace the batteries, gyroscopes, a spectrograph, and the main camera which should put it back in operation until at least 2013.

          Actually one of the first things Griffin did was to cancel a near complete robotic program to repair Hubble. He only allowed a shuttle repair after the huge backlash from both the public and scientific community. If he hadn't cancelled the program, Hubble would have been repair

        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          First, Bush asked for 1 billion in new funding and diverted some from the then 11 billion budget which was supposed to be skimmed from existing project over the next five to 11 years.

          Yes, exactly, he wanted them to skim from existing projects, projects that were themselves hoping for a budget increase, because his budget increase was not close to sufficient to fund the mars project.

          Second, your concept of the middle east peace process seems to mimic a headline news blurb. Bush and his administration has bee
          • by sumdumass (711423)

            Yes, exactly, he wanted them to skim from existing projects, projects that were themselves hoping for a budget increase, because his budget increase was not close to sufficient to fund the mars project.

            It doesn't need to be funded all at once. None of the work is going to be done all at once. Some of the projects would have ended anyways so the redirection was simply stopping it from being used for something else completely.

            You do realize that the mars mission is decades away right? More money can be fou

            • by Chris Burke (6130)
              You do realize that the mars mission is decades away right? More money can be found as more money is needed.

              It's only decades away if it begins now, and there isn't enough money to get it started unless NASA scraps a lot of their other, more useful, programs.

              If there's not enough money to start it now, meaning it will not make any significant progress, what makes you think there's going to be money in the future? If the one who actually wants to turn this mission into their legacy can't get the money to fu
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Actually, they are taking it from a more scientific standpoint and the view expressed by the Planetary Society's founder Carl Sagan. We've been to Luna, there is not much more for us to learn from landing on her. However, a near earth asteroid would provide us with a wealth of new scientific data and possibly provide us with metals we will need to use on Mars.
      • We've been to Luna, there is not much more for us to learn from landing on her.


        Which is why some of us are talking about a base there instead of yet another touch-and-go mission. If we can build a moon base and make it self-supporting, doing it on Mars where there's an atmosphere of sorts should be easier.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285)
      First, not liking an idea just because it is a Bush idea is not such a bad thing. The idea to start a war sounded good at the time, but now has grown the deficit to an astronomical percentage of GDP, and has left us with little room to wiggle out of a depression. On another idea of he and his friends, you might want to ask the good people Arlington if the 135 million dollar tax funded toy was really worth it. It was worth it for Bush as it earned him nearly 15 million dollars with almost no investment(FY
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gad_zuki! (70830)
        >The idea to start a war sounded good at the time

        Yeah if you were either a psychopath or a moron at the time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      well maybe when Virgin Galactic starts going to the moon NASA can just hitch a ride
  • by r_jensen11 (598210) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:48PM (#22160994)
    One thing that really struck a cord with me was when I saw Carol Moseley Braun being interviewed on The Daily Show (14 January, 2004.) Somehow, the topic of space exploration came up. I believe it had to do with 'renewed interest' in going to Mars. If I recall properly, Jon asked her what she thought of going to Mars and if she had a plan to get us there. I think she said something along the lines of "Sure, I don't think we shouldn't go to Mars." But I remember her explicitly stating that there is so little we know about Earth. Specifically, she wanted to redirect our scientific efforts from focusing on outer space and focusing on Earth, and more specifically, underwater exploration. We know virtually nothing about our seas and oceans. And they're close. I believe Mosely Brown used the rational that it would take 18 months to get to Mars, but it would take only hours to get to the bottom of the Ocean. That, and what happens in the oceans affects us a hell of a lot more than what happens on Mars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheKidWho (705796)
      So we should abandon space travel and live on our little planet then? The Earth is but a dot in the universe, why should we keep our species stuck on it forever.
    • by KillerCow (213458) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @07:57PM (#22161104)
      see false dichotomy [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      Specifically, she wanted to redirect our scientific efforts from focusing on outer space and focusing on Earth, and more specifically, underwater exploration.

      something tells me that isn't the least bit likely. The temptation to spend the ten billion a year NASA uses on something entirely useless to science and the world as a whole is too strong. Meanwhile, we'll still be in Iraq for some idiot reason spending money 100x the rate the space program has and doing nothing but killing and seriously p---ing of

    • We know virtually nothing about about our seas and oceans? Ms. Braun is stuck in the 1930's somewhere, because we know far from 'virtually nothing'. The ocean and the ocean bottom have been the subject of intensive since the 1950's - it just doesn't make the news as often because, like most exploration, it isn't very 'sexy' and doesn't produce much in the way of spectacular imagery. (Heck, most space exploration isn't very 'sexy' either - which is why the images make the news, and little else.)
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        We know virtually nothing about about our seas and oceans? Ms. Braun is stuck in the 1930's somewhere, because we know far from 'virtually nothing'. The ocean and the ocean bottom have been the subject of intensive since the 1950's

        Well we know a heck of a lot more about space now than we did in the 1930s too. Does that mean we've learned all there is to know about space and there's no reason to expore it further?

        I'd say for both space and our own planet we've barely hit the tip of the iceberg on the kno

        • The point is, her "we know virtually nothing" comment is wrong. We spend a considerable amount of money on ocean exploration and have been doing so for decades. We spend a considerable amount of money on 'researching the planet' and have been doing so for decades.
           
          Objecting to space programs on that basis is ignorant, not insightful.
    • For less than the cost of one stadium [wikipedia.org].

      How soft have we become? Where space travel was born [bayqongyr.com] they don't even have cars yet. But we need them to get to the space station? Come on, America! Let's go!

    • That would be NOAA, not NASA. Two entirely different agencies, two entirely different missions.
  • Sure, sure it is. What about that first moon trip?

    I understand the desire to get to the moon because it has better public awareness the asteroid.
  • What sort of value do this "guidance" of the government have to space science?

    I somehow feel the scientists are more well introduced in what is the most cost efficient use of their budget, at the same time as I doubt landing on the moon will make a bang in the world like it did in 1969.

    Sure, there'll be a lot of YouTube vids, funny amateur remixes, and so on, but really, it has already been done. So I think the PR part of the whole thing can safely be skipped here, and the US should rather strive to get to
    • What Griffin was referring to in his letter was the fact that, for the first time since 1962, NASA had been given a clear objective and the authority (although not quite all the funds) to follow it. No hemming and hawing over various shuttle concepts and bouncing around between interest groups. No toying with space station ideas with only half an idea what they wanted to do with it.

      The Vision for Space Exploration set a direction for developing a replacement for the shuttle, something that needed to happ
  • Objections (Score:5, Informative)

    by rijrunner (263757) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:02PM (#22161152)
    Weird, they don't even address any of the technical of economic objections to the Moon vs Mars mission. The article misses a lot of key points.

    1) There is very little technical overlap in designs between a lunar and martian based program. The Moon has no atmosphere. That means no atmospheric braking. A lander landing on the Moon is radically different than one landing on Mars since the lunar one has to use only rockets to slow its descent. The Martian one can use rockets and parachutes as well as glide. Also, the lack of an atmosphere means that the Moon can not as easily provide oxygen or fuel as Mars, where those products can be pulled directly from the atmosphere. The Moon requires regolith mining to obtain any materials.

    2) The transfer vehicle to the Moon is going to be able to complete the trip within 120 hours, or 240 hours if you have to do a return. That is easily within the range of not needing to recycle. You can just load up with consumables and then replenish at either end of the trip. The Martian vehicle will have to have some pretty hefty recycling technology.

    3) The day/night cycle on the Moon is vastly longer than that of Mars. Mars is pretty close to that of Earth. Solar power is not even remotely practical on the Moon. (Except in the polar regions where it s theorized that would be possible to find spots where you have continual daylight). If you want to go somewhere other than the poles on the Moon for any duration, you are looking at needing a new generation of nuclear power. Which would also be useful on Mars, but there is a tradeoff there in terms of mass and other factors.)

    4) I am back to "There is no atmosphere on the Moon" because it keeps impacting multiple areas. One of the problems that needs to be solved is HVAC type issues. Keeping things warm or cold. The Moon has no atmosphere, hence no convective heat transfer. All heat transfer is radiative or conductive. That necessitates a completely different thermodynamic paradigm than would be possible on Mars.

    5) In terms of Human factors, the Moon is 1/6th gravity and Mars is 1/3th. That means items on Mars weighs twice as much as that on the Moon. The lunar space suits can not be worn on Mars as they are too heavy. New ones need to be designed. (We're also back to "The Moon has no atmosphere". Space suits need to be able to maintain a steady temperature inside. Since a lunar space suit is essentially a thermos when you consider it is in vacuum, all you have to worry about it shedding excess heat. On Mars, you are essentially enveloped by a fluid - the atmosphere - which has a temperature and can carry away excess heat.)

    Actually, the reason for the asteroid mission instead of the lunar one is simple. It will require essentially the same type of spaceship that is required to get to Mars. The lunar base only has about 20% overlap with Mars technologies and - honestly - for those 20%, Earth is as good an analog as the Moon. When you develop a technology to go to the Moon, that is what you are developing. You are not developing one for Mars.

    Essentially, you get the Moon and Mars for only twice the amount as getting the Moon or Mars.
    • by snooo53 (663796) *
      Sounds like a great argument for doing both! There are vastly different technologies needed for respective moon and mars trips, so therefore both have useful technical challenges to overcome.
    • Re:Objections (Score:5, Insightful)

      by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:14PM (#22161870) Journal
      "Essentially, you get the Moon and Mars for only twice the amount as getting the Moon or Mars."

      OK, you've listed all the non-advantages for a moon program. Now how about some advantages?

      1) by developing technologies for hard vacuum, you are in a sense prepping for one of the hardest parts of the Mars mission, that is, a months/years long transit time. You have a nearly perfect platform for testing technologies outside of the Van Allen belt(s), exposing them for long durations to solar heating and occluded cooling. Note: developing the tech for an asteroid mission is essentially saying that 'we can already do this part' - can we? Reliably to put a crew's lives at risk over extended periods of time?

      2) long-term value: geopolitical, military, commercial, geographic - as you dismissively point out, there are theoretically (only!) 2 places where solar power access is continual. Possibly more importantly these two places (the poles) are also the only places where the sun, the earth, in fact the entire ecliptic (north or south) is in clear line of sight. How much are those two spots worth today? How much will they be worth in a century? Want to surveil deep space while having a straight line-of-sight link to earth? Want to have a launch point for a flinger that could theoretically put lunar materials anywhere in the earth-moon system with the simplest ballistic solution? I'd argue that being the first with a permanent base there has an INCALCULABLE value over longer timespans. And if you have the first base on one pole, it's not a giant stretch to put a second one on the other pole and monopolize both. The lunar poles - for near-earth space - are practically 21st Century Suez or Panama canals in their strategic value.

      3) raw materials: again, a lunar base in the longer term answers one of the bigger questions to space exploitation. Tossing something up to an orbiting factory or processor module is trivial from the moon, and the effectively limitless raw material (including rather important oxides) doesn't hurt. Going to an asteroid lets you explore, but bringing that back where it could be usefully exploited is an ENTIRELY larger project with propulsive technologies we aren't even CLOSE to having.

      Personally, if I were looking at it as a game of Civ or something, I'd say the asteroid is probably the cheaper, higher payoff short range program. The lunar base is the more expensive, slower-to-develop programs that ends up being the incontestable game-winning economic- and military-power multiplier in the endgame.

      Needless to say, I don't see nearly the value you do in an asteroid mission. I see THAT as the 'flash in the pan' while the idea of a lunar base is the investment-growth option, for Mars certainly, but also for decades if not centuries further on.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        2) long-term value: geopolitical, military, commercial, geographic - as you dismissively point out, there are theoretically (only!) 2 places where solar power access is continual. Possibly more importantly these two places (the poles) are also the only places where the sun, the earth, in fact the entire ecliptic (north or south) is in clear line of sight. How much are those two spots worth today? How much will they be worth in a century? Want to surveil deep space while having a straight line-of-sight link to earth? Want to have a launch point for a flinger that could theoretically put lunar materials anywhere in the earth-moon system with the simplest ballistic solution? I'd argue that being the first with a permanent base there has an INCALCULABLE value over longer timespans. And if you have the first base on one pole, it's not a giant stretch to put a second one on the other pole and monopolize both. The lunar poles - for near-earth space - are practically 21st Century Suez or Panama canals in their strategic value.

        Jeez, if monopolizing lunar (or martian) resources is what is to motivate our space programs, we may as well forget the whole thing. We should just cut to the chase and focus our resources on killing each other here on earth rather than wasting them extending our greed and petty bickering into space.

        • Re:Objections (Score:4, Informative)

          by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:45AM (#22165902) Journal
          Precisely the sort of naive objection I would expect on an internet forum.

          What else, pray tell, did you think was going to be our motivation? Altruism? The beautiful view?

          Organisms, including those that fly spaceships and use computers, compete with other organisms for resources. It's a zero-sum game. Those who compete best win, and are able to then pass some advantage to their children to give them a leg up in their own competition. Securing any advantage is good, securing that advantage while denying it to your competitors is logically BETTER.

          Either program - lunar or asteroidal - is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Now, those dollars could be spent on many other things that are beneficial to our people or yes, our country. When deciding where to spend those dollars, I bloody well HOPE that someone is doing some sort of cost-benefit-time analysis. And if those dollars can be spent giving us something that is an advantage to us in terms of commercial, scientific or even - shudder to think of it! - military, doesn't it stand to reason that's worth pursuing?

          Unless of course you're one of those starry-eyed Utopians who believe that somehow we're gong to evolve into a future where people don't compete? Then you're simply irrelevant to the conversation, because if that's the case, there's no reason to spend the resources on space exploration in the first place when there are so many other pressing immediate human needs here on earth.
    • Counterobjections (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gorimek (61128)
      For most practical purposes Mars also has no atmosphere. It's just 0.6% of our, or in other words 99.4% not there. Yes, it does change the conditions a bit, but Mars is much more like the moon than earth..

      With the moon as near to the sun as earth, but lacking clouds and atmosphere, it receives much more sunlight than corresponding spots on earth, and is therefore that much more suitable for solar energy. The 330 hour lunar night can be handled just like the 12 hour martian night, using battery technology.
      • by rijrunner (263757)
        Do the math on the weight of the batteries required to hold enough energy to last a lunar base for 14 days, then get back to me.

        Also.. that little bit of atmosphere turns out to be a huge difference. Look at any of the in-situ experiments done on creating fuel from the atmosphere and you have tons of fuel being cranked out with essentially very little required power. You have a medium to fly through (dirigibles and blimps will work using hydrogen gas on Mars). You have completely different heating issues.
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          Why do you need batteries? Capacitors or some unconventional storage technique could be deployed. You might also be able to just bring up the electrolyte and manufacture either on the surface of the moon with ores already available. and if that is the case, what is the math for weight verses cost for launching a mars mission from the Moon compared to the earth if we were able to produce stuff like the batteries or whatever, refine water from ice caps, and so on from th e surface of the moon. This might soun
          • by rijrunner (263757)
            The thing is, all of the stuff you are pointing out represents huge expenditures as well as R&D. All Lunar specific. All stuff that would have to be developed specifically to meet Lunar needs. Which is fine - provided that your goal is going to the Moon. But, every single penny sent on developing lunar mining is a penny not being spent on developing Mars tech. You're setting up parallel development paths and multibillion dollar (or even trillion dollar) bases.

            Capacitors still have less energy density th
            • by sumdumass (711423)

              The thing is, all of the stuff you are pointing out represents huge expenditures as well as R&D. All Lunar specific. All stuff that would have to be developed specifically to meet Lunar needs. Which is fine - provided that your goal is going to the Moon. But, every single penny sent on developing lunar mining is a penny not being spent on developing Mars tech. You're setting up parallel development paths and multibillion dollar (or even trillion dollar) bases.

              Umm, there are problems and tech to solve

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Keebler71 (520908)
      I don't think you get it... the moon mission isn't analogous to a Mars mission due to the destination environments. A moon mission (in its entirety) is an analog to the transit portion of a Mars mission. As you point out, Mars has an atmosphere - we don't need to go anywhere else to test atmospheric vehicles, or landers, or suits ... we can test those all here on Earth. Going to the moon, and living on the moon for six months forces us to deal with many of the mission challenges associated with a 6 month
      • by rijrunner (263757)
        Transit to the Moon: roughly 3 days. Transit to Mars: roughly 6 months.

        6 months? Shoot.. they do that now at the South Pole. You can test *any* 6 month duration anywhere just by not going there for 6 months. And still be 20 minutes away in case of a real emergency. They have already built and started testing the analogs for Martian bases here. Pretty basic stuff. Build out a hab module. Put some people in it. Let them live there for gradually longer periods of time. Take the lessons learned, incorporate t
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          How do you test living for six months self sustained in a weightless or reduced gravity situation? You can train people on how to do things and so on but there is just portions of insight that your not going to gain on earth just like you won't get them from the moon. But something you will get from both is parts of the puzzle so you have a good idea that people going up will come back alive.
          • by rijrunner (263757)
            Well.. you could start by building a LEO test model. A tethered capsule can be rotated until it simulates exactly 1/3rd G. Take anything you just asked about and ask if the Moon is the best place for any of that testing.
            • by sumdumass (711423)
              Sure but having testing on the moon in sight would probably be the biggest reason to attempt something like you describe. I mean nothing says that we have to go through with the moon if a better alternative is found first or during the process. And it isn't a question of being the best place to test something, it is being the most accurate place to test something. While properties of a moon base are going to be different the a mars base, it allows aspects to eb studied that would be much more beneficial the
        • by SnowZero (92219)
          I like how originally you keep hammering the fact that the moon has no atmosphere in your first post, yet now you ignore the GP's important point of how the moon is good for testing 6 months of hard vacuum. The south pole of earth is hardly the same environment, and we've already stayed there for extended periods. The next logical step is LEO, which we've also done (Mir,ISS). After that, it would make sense (to me) to do that on a nearby body, rather than a much longer and riskier asteroid or Mars missio
          • by rijrunner (263757)
            6 months of hard vacuum can be managed in LEO also. You can even test 1/3rd gravity by using a tether system.

            6 months on Earth's South Pole is about the same as 6 months on the Moon's South Pole when you are looking at going to Mars.

            If the stated goal is *Mars* exploration, then sidetracked very expensive development should be discouraged. If the goal is the Moon, go there. If it is Mars, develop in that direction. They do not overlap that much in terms of technology and all the other technological developm
        • by zerkon (838861)
          Bigger issues than just a 6 month self-sustaining isolation have an effect on a mars mission though. Agreed that it could be a good idea to start living in an underground bunker for 6 months or something, then moving to a more hostile environment like Antarctica, then maybe the moon and applying lessons learned as the difficulty increases

          BUT only the moon/leo/geo/asteroid scenarios have the added educational value of dealing with the problems like heat transfer, micro-gravity, micro-meteorites, etc that w
    • by Animats (122034)

      The Martian one can use rockets and parachutes as well as glide.

      It turns out that we don't actually know how to land a big craft on Mars. The atmosphere is thin for aerobraking and parachutes, but the gravity is high enough that a powered descent takes considerable fuel. So more mass is required for the descent stage than previously thought. This cascades back into a much larger launch vehicle.

  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:07PM (#22161220)
    In the 1960s, space represented many things and was very successful in focussing the USA in many ways. However, once done it has served its purpose and cannot easily serve it again.

    Sputnik put USA on the back foot. With the whole Communism vs capitalist theme going at the time, the space program was wrapped up tightly with the US national identity (gotta show those Russians who's boss). Space was patriotic. Space was exciting. The USA were the people doing the space thing. Space was completely intertwined in the national identity as well as the identity of a generation (the kids who grew up in the space era).

    The whole national obsession with the space program drove the interest in science which bootstrapped a generation of scientists and engineers. It was not space per se that did this, but the obsession that saw Apollo models hanging from the ceiling in every second kid's bedroom. That obsession was linked not only to science, but to selling cars, pens, breakfast cerial etc.

    Just rolling out another space program will do nothing to help education and science unless it is accompanied by the passion. What are the defining obsessions of today?

    • Asteroid mining (Score:4, Interesting)

      by markov_chain (202465) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:29PM (#22161442) Homepage
      It could be just me, but a bunch of robotic probes going from asteroid to asteroid to drill samples in search of useful ores would be really cool.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I agree, but judging by your nick and the fact that you post on /. suggests to me that you aren't like the rest of the U.S. (hell, I'd argue the world...) Rather unfortunate, I might add...
    • We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

      John F. Kennedy, 9/12/1962 [virginia.edu]

      I'm getting a lot of miles out of that speech. Going to Mars is hard. Going to the asteroids

    • by turing_m (1030530)
      "In the 1960s, space represented many things and was very successful in focussing the USA in many ways. However, once done it has served its purpose and cannot easily serve it again."

      In a depression, we would need something like a war to motivate the populace. A war of the major powers doesn't make much sense because they all have nukes. A space race on the other hand - a last ditch effort to give the earth a backup plan where resources are running out, etc... can make a lot of sense.

      Given the mountain of d
  • by monopole (44023) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:23PM (#22161368)
    An asteroid has a much less steep gravity well than the moon. This would save a lot of fuel over a stopover at a moon base. The moon makes no sense as a stepping stone to Mars, but an asteroid might.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Loke the Dog (1054294)
      You, and many others, take the word stepping stone too literally. The idea is not to launch a mars mission from the moon, that would be stupid. Its a stepping stone in technology, organization, infrastructure and stuff.

      And also, but this isn't mentioned very often, in order to get and keep funding in a democracy, you need to frequently prove that you're making progress. On top of that you have to prove it to people who actually have no idea what you're really doing and what it is good for. They can't spend
  • Ok WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TopSpin (753) * on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:27PM (#22161416) Journal
    The Planetary Society published this [planetary.org] (pdf) in collaboration with Griffin (he's listed as one of nine members of the 'study team') before he became head of NASA. The Planetary Society got their guy in [spaceref.com] and he's following the plan they sold to the administration and Congress. What the fuck is going on here?

    If the peanut gallery over at the Planetary Society start jerking the Government's chain over settled NASA policy they're going to get stuff defunded. Most of our leading presidential candidates will take any excuse they can find to snatch away the funding and use it to buy votes some other way.

    • by khallow (566160)
      The Planetary Society is more or less against the current degree of manned space investment. I wouldn't be surprised if the above study had little support from the rank and file in the Planetary Society. Actually, this news story indicates that it doesn't now, assuming it did then.
  • Frankly I have little faith in NASA. I'm sure there's going to be some attempt to go to somewhere in space someday somehow (their "new" space shuttle is having serious problems and not to mention it a mock up it of the Saturn rocket used decades ago). I believe that the private realm of business will become dominant over NASA in the coming years. There is definitely potential for profit in space and NASA is too concerned about analytical science to figure out how to answer the entrepreneurial aspects of spa
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:35PM (#22162026) Homepage Journal
      Naw, the private sector will always be followers because there is no money in exploration for explorations sake. Well, no money for the initial company, lots of money for the contractor that build the technology.

      NASA is an investment.
      • Virtually all of the New World explorers were funded by business interests, even if it was a sovereign state doing the funding. All we need is a half-decent idea where the money is out there, and we'll be all over it, both nation-states and corporations.

        Personally, I think the Moon and Mars are both dead-ends if fast-paced exploration is the goal. Once someone figures out how to prospect in the asteroid belt, Mars will have a million people on it within 50 years, servicing the mining industry out there.

    • I believe that the private realm of business will become dominant over NASA in the coming years.

      You are entitled to your beliefs.

      Your beliefs might even turn out to be true.

      As of now, however, the only entities who have ever put a person into LEO have been (in order of appearance):

      • The government of the USSR (Russia, the Russian Federation, whatever they're called this week)
      • The government of the United States of America
      • The government of China

      The only entity that has ever put a person past LEO has been

      • The government of the United States of America.

      As of right now private enterprise

  • by CokeJunky (51666) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:35PM (#22161500)
    I was always under the impression that the moonbase plan was not really a hopscotch for going to mars physically, but rather a proving ground to test, develop, and prove that it is feasible to set up permanent installations on other planetary bodies. If something goes wrong in a moon mission (i.e. that Apollo mission), it's only three days away, and there is at least a chance of bringing people back home. A screw up on a year-plus mission is more certain death.

    I couldn't imagine trying to do something like that on an asteroid or going straight to mars until we have figured out how to get to the moon, and stay there for a while!
    • by Oriumpor (446718)
      Better off designing the crap on top of a mountain on Earth. The problem with the moon as a development platform for Mars is there's NO atmosphere. The challenges Mars has are closer to living in the desert & a high plateau at the same time, and then throw in some of the challenges we see on the ocean floor (gotta bring your own air/pressure etc.)

      Getting there and landing on Mars will be like doing the same on Earth (with a marked difference in the surface area needed for aerobraking, etc.) But, the
  • As difficult as making fusion a viable energy source at least there is tremendous potential payoff. As to manned exploration of space it is only for the adventure. Robots can do so much better for so much less $$.
    • by mcelrath (8027)

      In this year's budget, the democrats cancelled all funding for ITER (the big fusion experiment), along with a lot of funding in fundamental particle physics. Coupled with the cancellation of the SSC in the 90's, it seems quite clear to me that the US government is fundamentally incapable of performing any long-term science project. They review the funding every year, and sooner or later before it is finished, it will be the tragic victim of partisan bickering (as ITER and particle physics this year), or s

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:49PM (#22161650)
    ... one of assumptions.

    If all you're going to do is a one-shot mission to the moon, mars or an asteroid, then it doesn't matter which one they do.

    They'll go to the moon/mars/asteroid, come home and pat themselves for a job well done and if we want to go back we have to do the whole damn thing over again.

    Heinlein said "Get to low-Earth orbit and you're halfway to anywhere". We need a truck stop in LEO. If we have someplace in LEO where we can stockpile fuel, food and water, it becomes much easier to start a mission from there than to carry everything in one go from the ground (and no, the ISS isn't even close).
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:37PM (#22162040)
    My ass. The best guidance NASA ever had was when John F. Kennedy sent the United States to the moon.

    This "guidance" is nothing more than the best idea a stupid chimp could come up with at the time to try to ride Kennedy's coattails.

    As with just about anything Bush, going to the moon again is pretty stupid. What's the purpose? Hell, all we would need to do is just build a few new Saturn V's, a new LEM or two, and another couple of Lunar Rovers. We have all the plans and we know they work.

    Wasting the time and money on doing something we did almost 40 years ago is typical for our diminutive presidenter.

    Someone put him back on a Segway and hand him a pretzel.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      If you ignore the scientists who thought going to the Moon in the first place was a waste of time, not one of them thinks we did anything like a suitable amount of research during Apollo. We don't even know what we don't know about the Moon yet. We can't even ask interesting questions!

  • by Hartree (191324) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:50PM (#22162138)
    Various space advocacy groups have been backing different visons of what type of exploration should be done for quite a long time.

    Planetary Society has been pushing Mars rather than return to the moon since at least the late 80s.

    At least part of that position was stated to be that a manned Mars mission could be a cooperative effort between the US and the Soviet Union. i.e. A political goal. That's an aspect that doesn't apply quite so much now.

    Also, at that time, the Planetary Society was a lot less keen on manned missions than robotic ones. Friedman, Murry and Sagan (the notable founders) were all veterans of the highly successful unmanned planetary probe missions. They tended to view the manned program as a very expensive method that tended to take money away from the robotic probes.

    Others disagreed with this viewpoint. The National Space Society, for example, (also populated with former astronauts and space scientists though no one as much of a household name as Sagan) tended to take a more pro manned space viewpoint.
    • by dbIII (701233)

      could be a cooperative effort between the US and the Soviet Union. i.e. A political goal

      No. It's a practical goal. Russia has the launcher and long mission duration technology and the USA has/had the cash and a lot of the other technology that Russia does not have even today. It is likely to be barely relevant if economic and foreign policy own goals continue to be deliberately kicked for the benefit of none but a corrupt few. NASA may well have to follow the Russian model and make ends meet with space

      • by Hartree (191324)
        At the time, Sagan was pretty up front about his reasons for supporting a manned mission to Mars, and the international political aspect was a quite strong portion of it.

        There's nothing new or surprising about many of the motivations behind space exploration, manned or unmanned, being politically driven. JFK's push for the moon was based in international and internal politics rather than just science and engineering motivations.

        In the 80s, the USSR had the Energia heavy launch vehicle that might have been u
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:59PM (#22162226)
    I have been saying *all along* that Bush's Space proposal is *pure* vapor. He mentioned it once to leave a scant legacy, he never mentioned it again, and he very trivially increased NASA's budget.

    I can't believe how many space enthusiasts took this obvious bait.
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      I have been saying *all along* that Bush's Space proposal is *pure* vapor. He mentioned it once to leave a scant legacy, he never mentioned it again, and he very trivially increased NASA's budget.

      The problem is that Bush is so unpopular that having him publicly support it would damage the effort, if anything. Also, the whole point isn't to do it with an increased budget, but rather pursue it using the funds diverted from retiring the space shuttle.

      That said, even though I think the initial idea was good, Mi
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)
      Well, G. W. Bush did kill the Space Shuttle and come up with an exit plan for the ISS (leave in 2016), which is far better an accomplishment in manned space than anything since Lyndon B. Johnson and Apollo. No matter the flaws of Ares, and they are numerous, those programs will never be as wasteful as the Space Shuttle was.
  • As for as the VSE, it's time to put it in the closet. The voters don't want it. No-one took it seriously. No-one but China can afford it. All roads lead to renewed basic science, low Earth orbit for humans, & a return to Sean O'Keiff style missions. Smaller, cheaper, full evaluation of all the options before committing money.

    Griffin was like John McCain. Act first, then talk. My way or the highway. Maybe he'd be better off running China's moon program.

  • Unless I see the Government and Industries serious about a Lunar Base where they could mine the Moon, I doubt we'll ever see a Martian Mission, other than more deep probes.
  • Why vets? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Askmum (1038780)
    I was really wondering wat vetenarians had to do with missions to Mars. Does NASA plan to send animals along with the ride? Maybe for fresh milk and eggs? Of is it just an experiment to send live-stock up there to see what the influence of zero-gravity has on such animals?

    Then it dawned upon me. This is a US site. A vet is something entirely different there.
  • Not unusually strong but "abnormally strong"?

    One can only imagine Michael Griffin gurning, blood vessels popping, perhaps some sort of fit...has someone got the utube clip?
  • Since traveling to the moon or Mars presents such a challenge, it would be better if a big space carrier ship was built; a ship that could allow for a bunch of people to travel to other bodies of the solar system.

    This ship would be built in space, since it would be big and lifting it would be impossible.

    Gravity would be simulated by rotating decks.

    The ship could employ a variety of energy schemes, but nuclear energy seems the miscellaneous form of energy for this ship.

    The ship would be big and comfortable,

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