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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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  • 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 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 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 Loke the Dog (1054294) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @10:13PM (#22162360)
    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 10 years doing hard science on earth, and then send out a mission to mars, that will never get them enough money. They need to constantly remind people what they're doing. "Today, we found this interesting rock. Tomorrow we'll start installing this new solar panel", you know.

    Thats the point of the moon. To make science exciting and interesting, even to those who don't care about science.
  • 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.

"It's curtains for you, Mighty Mouse! This gun is so futuristic that even *I* don't know how it works!" -- from Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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