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NASA Moon Space

NASA Hedges Their Bets On Return To Moon 205

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the never-win-big-from-playing-it-safe dept.
With budget cuts in the works for everyone these days, NASA has decided to float an alternate plan for returning to the moon that is just a little bit cheaper than the current proposal. Of course, the new option would be very reminiscent of the old Apollo space capsule instead of the tricked out shuttle currently planned. "Officially, the space agency is still on track with a 4-year-old plan to spend $35 billion to build new rockets and return astronauts to the moon in several years. However, a top NASA manager is floating a cut-rate alternative that costs around $6.6 billion. This cheaper option is not as powerful as NASA's current design with its fancy new rockets, the people-carrying Ares I and cargo-lifting Ares V. But the cut-rate plan would still get to the moon."
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NASA Hedges Their Bets On Return To Moon

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  • by frying_fish (804277) on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:15AM (#28592679)

    NASA always looks at these ideas and then normally decides that either the risk profile is too high (the most impressive thing about the first moon landings were the LACK of deaths)...

    The Apollo porgram lost three astronaunts.

    Which I think shows the point of the OP quite well. That considered is quite a lack of death really given what they were doing.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:21AM (#28592705) Homepage Journal

    Because robots are completely incapable of doing the task.

    The fantastic work of Spirit and Opportunity could have been done by a competent field geologist in an afternoon.. remember that is the ultimate goal of the VSE, put humans on Mars by learning how to support them permanently on the Moon.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:29AM (#28592747)

    Well then make better robots - it'll still cost less than trying to support humans in space - even a Mars mission would be a truly ludicrous sum of money to *actually* do.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:30AM (#28592759) Homepage Journal

    They, of course, have not the slightest clue how difficult (probably impossible with current technology) it would be to live on the Moon or Mars.

    That's exactly the mission NASA has been tasked with: figure out how to live off the Moon, and then Mars.

    As for the question of Why, well that's also been addressed. "We do these 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." [wikisource.org] If you want to know what a America would look like without NASA, just take one look at my country, Australia. If you train to be an aeronautical engineer here you might as well start looking for a job overseas at graduation time.. cause our aerospace industry is non-existent. That has knock-on effects in every other industry.

    NASA == high tech and there's no higher tech than manned space flight. The challenge is the journey and the destination.

  • by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:37AM (#28592799) Homepage Journal

    A flight to Titan in ten years would be about as difficult as going to the moon in 1965.

    What, did the distance to Titan shrink in thae last 45 years? There are many orders of magnitude of difference in the complexity of sustaining astronauts for a one-week journey vs. getting them (alive) to some place as far away as Titan. It's nice to have ambition, but the the laws of physics are a motherfucker.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:42AM (#28592821) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, what? I must have missed the part where the necessary hardware to build super intelligent robots was invented 40 years ago and then left out in the rain.

    No new science is needed to put humans on Mars. It's an engineering challenge that we can plan out and do. With a sufficiently interested public it could be done in 10 years. It'll most likely take 25 instead.

    On the other hand, we've been fiddling around with AI for over 50 years and have no freakin' idea how far we have to go. So far we can't even make a robot with the same capabilities as a 18 month old toddler.

  • by icebrain (944107) on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:45AM (#28592847)

    If a meaningful mission would cost too much now, there's no shame in waiting for the technology to became more mature.

    But you must also remember that technology doesn't just mature on your own, especially if it's something specialized. If this were a matter of computing power or technology, for example, you actually could just wait, since there are enough other pressures driving its development to keep it moving. But things like deep-space propulsion, closed-cycle life support systems, and vacuum-qualified hardware are pretty specific to the space industry; if you don't pay to keep developing them, they won't mature.

    And even then, you'll still need to use them and test them on occasion. Doing so probably involves flying some kind of mission. And if you're going to be doing that, you might as well accomplish other stuff on that mission, like, oh, land on the moon.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:51AM (#28592869)
    I shudder to think how many probes could be sent to Mars for the price of a single human being.

    Did you also think about how much more successful a human being could be in dealing with the little problems that pop up during a mission, like getting clumpy soil samples into an analyzer or getting stuck in the sand?

    Not to mention being able to move a few miles per day, not per year.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:59AM (#28592915) Homepage Journal

    Yes, exactly. All those people who talk about how freakin' pointless the ISS was will completely forget about everything that was learnt about living safely in a vacuum when we start permanently living on the Moon. Then when people are saying how pointless the permanently manned outpost on the Moon is, they'll say the ISS was doing the really important research that we needed for a Mars transit mission. Then when the astronauts land on Mars those same people will say that, actually, it was all the research NASA did into making better aircraft and studying biconic aerodynamics that mattered. Then they'll say, no, no, it actually *was* all that research that was done on the Moon that is now being used to build a Mars base.. wow, it's so obvious now! Then they'll discover life on Mars and go, shit, I guess those 4 independent instruments on Viking that said there was life in the Mars soil actually were right - guess we wasted years of effort to discover what we already knew but were unwilling to accept. But by then it'll be too late, suckers!

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday July 06, 2009 @08:05AM (#28592953)
    All those people who talk about how freakin' pointless the ISS was will completely forget about everything that was learnt about living safely in a vacuum when we start permanently living on the Moon.

    Add the latest Hubble maintenance mission to the list. That was an exercise in doing repairs while in space, without the dire consequences (apart from a few hundred million bucks) if it failed.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by confused one (671304) on Monday July 06, 2009 @08:20AM (#28593061)
    I'm sorry, you're being naive. Why do you think the probes are looking for water? The probe doesn't need water... life does. so, the probes are 1.) looking for evidence of microbial life and 2.) looking for what we need when we send people there. It's as much about the future manned missions as it is about, what you are calling, "actual research." At some point you are going to reach the limits of what can be done with a robotic probe and be forced to send a person there in order to continue the research.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday July 06, 2009 @08:50AM (#28593323)

    But the reality is, just pulling some parts out and putting some new ones in took hours and hours of grueling labor.

    Are you talking about Hubble or the ISS now? Hubble was never meant to be serviced in space, that's why it was such a pain in the rear to do so. The ISS was designed to be modular, and they've been quite successful at adding new modules to it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @08:54AM (#28593343)

    Indeed, 3 out of some 40 people, and over half a dozen landings on the moon, the only fatalities were on the ground. Good job.

  • by icebrain (944107) on Monday July 06, 2009 @09:15AM (#28593539)

    And that gets right back to my point: You learn by doing , not by making powerpoint slides.

    Go back to the first US spacewalks during the Gemini program. Ed White's wasn't too bad, as he was just floating around and didn't have to try and work on things. But the next couple, where the astronauts were given tasks like remove sample packages and mess with tools, were almost scary--they quickly worked themselves into exhaustion and overheated, making work almost impossible. What everyone thought would be easy and relatively effortless actually wasn't.

    Finally, they took all of those lessons and re-figured their approach to spacewalking. Handholds were added, equipment was changed, and the training was revolutionized with the now-standard underwater practice. On Gemini XII, Buzz Aldrin put all of that into practice.

    The same thing will happen as we move forward. The lessons learned from the Apollo surface EVAs will be incorporated in the new generation of surface suits. Those currently in use for shuttle EVAs have benefited from years of previous experience capturing satellites and working on Hubble. New tools and work methods build on the ones used before.

    So yes, develop your new suits and gloves with feedback from the men and women who use them. Make prototypes, and test them. Build flight-ready ones and have someone try them out in a vacuum chamber. Lather, rinse, repeat. But don't just sit on your butt and expect it to happen from nothing. If you want the tech to improve, you still have to pay for it--and I think that's what so many people are missing.

  • Hmmmm.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coryking (104614) * on Monday July 06, 2009 @09:23AM (#28593631) Homepage Journal

    A flight to Titan in ten years would be about as difficult as going to the moon in 1965

    I think Brooks of The Mythical Man-Month fame has a name for that--"The Second System Effect". Rather than paraphrase, I'll just quote the book:

    An architect's first work is apt to be spare and clean. He knows he doesn't know what he's doing, so he does it carefully and with great restraint.

    As he designs the first work, frill after frill and embellishment after embellishment occur to him. These get stored away to be used "next time." Sooner or later the first system is finished, and the architect, with firm confidence and a demonstrated mastery of that class of systems, is ready to build a second system.

    This second is the most dangerous system a man ever designs. When he does his third and later ones, his prior experiences will confirm each other as to the general characteristics of such systems, and their differences will identify those parts of his experience that are particular and not generalizable.

    The general tendency is to over-design the second system, using all the ideas and frills that were cautiously sidetracked on the first one. The result, as Ovid says, is a "big pile."

    Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.
    The Mythical Man-Month

    Does this parallel? Dunno. But it might.

    PS: Slashdot needs to support unicode. Sheesh.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @10:53AM (#28594533)

    I think they need to

    (a) send up a bunch of automated resupply ships and practice automated precision landing of supplies within 100m of each other.

    (b) construct some sort of landing pad so that rocks and assorted debris does not go flying and destroy adjacent buildings.

    Once they have this capability perfected, they should start thinking about manned missions.

    I like the idea of orbital transfer components because each phase can be mass produced and reused for multiple projects. Transfer vehicles might also be critical (issvehicle; vehiclevehicle). Such vehicles could be positioned in space and upgraded individually as new technologies become available without require re-validation of all capabilities. Additional vehicles could also be placed on standby as emergency vehicles.

    The key is to make each component as cheap as possible so that each component can become expendable but, in terms of design, each component can be used for a variety of planetary and interplanetary purposes.

    -Tim

  • by XB-70 (812342) on Monday July 06, 2009 @10:58AM (#28594599)
    Before everyone gets all excited about going to the moon again, consider the following:

    1. After reading Eugene Cernan's autobiography "Last Man On The Moon", the bottom line conclusion is that going there is fucking dangerous. Almost every flight he was on, he came close to dying. Those odds will certainly be improved with today's technology, but they are still very high.

    2. During the lunar program, there were supposed to be 20 Apollos. Only 14 flew. The reason was that, once Armstrong landed, the public lost interest. When that happened, the political currency of the program evaporated.

    3. Humans are huge consumers of resources. Flying those resources to the moon is very expensive.

    The concept should revolve around devising robots to establish a human habitable base. This should be the way that we explore Mars. If we can do this on the moon, then we will learn something for Mars exploration. At that time, and only at that time should we consider sending astronauts to the moon (once the station is built for them).

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