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Space Science

Panel Recommends Space Science, Not Stunts 304

Posted by Soulskill
from the lunar-mission-accomplished-banner dept.
wisebabo writes "A panel reporting to President Obama is recommending that we skip landing on the Moon and Mars and instead consider progressively deeper space voyages (first to the L1 Earth-Moon point, then perhaps the L2 Earth-Sun point, then a Mars flyby/orbit or asteroid visits). While in Mars orbit, the astronauts could send robotic probes to land on the surface, which could be much more effective than current rovers without the 10-minute time lag to Earth. I, for one, whole-heartedly agree that this approach would lead to 'the most steady cadence of steady improvement,' and keep us from inconsistent achievements in space (like not leaving Earth orbit for 40 years). Some would say that this approach would be lacking in the photo-ops necessary to maintain interest in the space program (no footprints on Martian soil) but I think there would be plenty of cool vistas — perhaps a rendezvous with a comet, or even orbiting one of the moons of Jupiter, assuming they figure out radiation shielding — to keep the taxpayer dollars flowing. The science return would be much greater because it would hopefully utilize both man and machine at their best; robots on one-way trips down into a gravity well while the humans provide the intuition and flexibility from orbit."
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Panel Recommends Space Science, Not Stunts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:30AM (#28916339)

    You've got to burn engines to enter and leave it.

    I can see an argument of humans vs space probes, but the idea of putting the humans in orbit to release the space probes seems to be the worst of both worlds.

    If we are going to send humans out there, they should be landing on something, otherwise send probes.

    • by denzacar (181829) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:36AM (#28916855) Journal

      That so called "plan" would have human crews travel all the way to Mars and then sit in orbit around it - in order to save 10 minutes that it takes to contact rowers.

      A flyby of the moon might be followed by more distant trips to so-called Lagrange points, first to the location where the gravity of the Moon and the Earth gravity cancel each other out, then to where the gravity of the Earth and Sun cancel out. There could also be visits to asteroids or flybys of Mars leading to landings on one or both of the low-gravity moons of Deimos and Phobos.

      To what use are ANY of these trips?

      Lagrange points are only useful if you are actually going to position a permanent lab there.
      Flybys and visits... What for? You can do that just as fine with robotic probes.

      The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.
      It is not a test to see how far we can throw a rock - it is a test to see how close we are to the colonization of our solar system.

      • by mdwh2 (535323) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:13AM (#28917145) Journal

        in order to save 10 minutes that it takes to contact rowers.

        I don't think the issue is "saving 10 minutes", the issue is lag.

        Think computer games - a bad lag doesn't mean "You have to wait a few seconds longer to play the game", it makes the game unplayable.

        From TFA:

        "Instructions from controllers on Earth now take several minutes to reach craft on Mars. But astronauts on a Martian moon could operate robots on the planet in real time."

        It's not 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes for every single instruction and response, as opposed to operating in real time. Not only would this speed things up by a massive factor, it allows the possibility of human intervention or control to prevent things going wrong (e.g., a human controlled landing).

        The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.
        It is not a test to see how far we can throw a rock - it is a test to see how close we are to the colonization of our solar system.

        Why does this stop that? You can colonise space as well as other planets. And building the infrastructure to send men to orbit other planets will still provide a step towards one day colonising those planets.

        • by bigpat (158134) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:47AM (#28917427)

          It's not 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes for every single instruction and response, as opposed to operating in real time. Not only would this speed things up by a massive factor, it allows the possibility of human intervention or control to prevent things going wrong (e.g., a human controlled landing).

          Like when the rover sees a shadow, the human controller could quickly swing the camera around to see the Martians...

          Those probes cost many millions of dollars to get there (and with a human in orbit it would cost billions more), no one on Earth is going to allow any astronaut to be making split second decisions about rolling over into a ditch or checking out a particularly interesting rock. What we need is better robotics and AI for these missions and more of them not a very expensive human fly by.

          To me the only interesting planet in our solar system is our own, so I'd be all for ditching manned exploration altogether and throwing money at solving the issues of getting a probe or even a manned mission to another solar system where there might be habitable worlds and new life. These are completely different problems to solve.

      • by Thiez (1281866)

        > The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.

        It is? Why would any human want to permanently go to another planet/moon/whatever? It's not like there are many places in our current solarsystem that most humans would consider a nice place to live. I'll agree that having people on another planet is cool (in much the same way that being able to juggle flaming chainsaws is cool), I fail to see what makes it useful to us

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by grapeshot (1022375)

          Just because you don't see the usefulness of space colonization today doesn't mean that it would be NEVER a useful thing. It is conceivable that one day it may become very useful, at which time it may be too late to experiment with space exploration.

          When Columbus proposed trying to find the far east by sailing WEST, I'm sure there were people who wondered why bother since there was a perfectly acceptable land route for getting there. (That may be part of the reason why he couldn't find financing with any

        • Why!?!?!?

          Because it is so COOL!

          Because we can. Because it is a new frontier. Because there are people who want to. Because society needs heroes. Because we need to stop living in fear of any and all risks.

          Because we should colonize Mars!!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ifni (545998)

          sending robots (and researching more advanced robots) is way more cost-effective for now. So why not stick to that for the time being and forget about sending creatures that are so obviously unsuited for life on other planets into space?

          Because if we follow your logic, we will NEVER develop the technology for sending people to other planets. Saying "we don't currently have the technology, so let's focus on doing other stuff and revisit this in a few centuries when we magically have the technology without ever having worked to achieve it" is ludicrous. We have to start somewhere, and somewhen, and take the baby steps necessary to get to that magical future of human exploration. I think that this plan and now are as good a starting point as

      • by wisebabo (638845)

        My response to you is a four letter word... Time.

        * 10 minutes may not seem like much but for any kind of multi-step interactive task which depends on the results of a previous step it is very qualitatively different from real-time feedback. Try driving a car with even 10 seconds delay and you'll see what I mean. It may seem ridiculous that the astronauts would (in one scenario) after traveling 100 million miles, control a robotic manipulator from a few thousand miles away in orbit; but consider that even

      • I wants STUNTS, but the stunts I support. I want people walking on MARS!!!

        Then I want to terraform Mars and colonize it. No, I don't want to ship hordes of people from Earth to Mars to "lessen population pressure". That idea is plain silly. I want to ship enough people and support to get a self sustaining colony going that will fill Mars up with people on its own.

        Then the human race will have its eggs in TWO baskets.

    • by evanbd (210358) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:31AM (#28917283)

      The difference between surface and orbit is rather dramatic. It takes more rocket performance to get from Mars surface to Mars orbit as it does to get from Mars orbit to Earth. Not landing cuts the required performance dramatically — the delta-v budget for Mars orbit and back is similar to that for Lunar surface and back.

      To me, the biggest reason to send humans to Mars orbit and not land is to do systems tests — the first Lunar missions with people on them didn't land either. So, start by sending humans on orbital-only missions. While you're there, you might as well drop a few probes — there's plenty of useful science they can do, and having humans nearby is definitely helpful. Then, after a couple flights like that, you decide you have things checked out well enough for a landing.

      If you want a serious space program, you do incremental test and development. Test one system first, then once it's confirmed working, test another. If all you want is a stunt and some photos, sure, start with the landing. Personally, I want a real space program with long term goals.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MartinSchou (1360093)

        Well, a lot can be said for sending a steady stream of supplies to the surface of Mars in preparation of a landing.

        It'd be simpler and probably safer to send stuff in small clusters. That way if something goes wrong you haven't put all your eggs in one basket. You'd have to space out your delivery sites so you don't crush everything by something smashing into it, including your own stuff.

        Expensive, sure. But you'd learn a lot, merely in terms of the number of launches needed.

    • Beyond the earth is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Fields strewn with diamonds, entire moons made of hydrocarbon, lands to take dominion of to make Alexander the Great appear an insignificant tribal chief. But the people who take ownership of the realms beyond the sky will send men, not robots.
    • I can see an argument of humans vs space probes, but the idea of putting the humans in orbit to release the space probes seems to be the worst of both worlds.

      If we are going to send humans out there, they should be landing on something, otherwise send probes.

      It turns out that the last 200 kilometers, getting from orbit to the surface and back, is vastly, completely, incredibly the hardest part. It is much, much simpler to get humans into orbit than to land them on the surface of Mars. Among other things, to land on the surface, you need design, build, test, quality, and fly two additional vehicles, a lander vehicle and a launch vehicle, both of which are flying in regimes that are hard to engineer for. Not to mention a long-duration habitat for the Mars surf

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lalena (1221394)
        Plus, landing robots is getting easier. Look at the recent success with designs that use parachutes + inflatable balloons and have the lander bounce around until it stops. Can't do that with people. The KISS principle works here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Who cares if it is hard? It is that difficulty that should be making us want to do it!

        What has happened to people! Is there no sense of adventure? Must everything have a cost benefit analysis done? The USA wouldn't have landed a man on the moon with you people in charge. Not everything we do must have an immediate and direct benefit to society. Not everything must make a buck. Some things should be done, just because we can, and it would a great thing to accomplish. Look, the USA spends more in a year ma

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sjames (1099)

          Even though Apollo was designed for a moon landing, 8 went to to lunar orbit but had no LM. 10 flew the LM in lunar orbit but did not attempt to land. (9 was an earth orbit test of the LM and docking).

          It makes sense to start with an orbital mission just to learn what problems we didn't know we needed to solve. As long they're going that far, they might as well take some expendable robotic probes with them.

          Once we have that worked out, we can think about landing.

          I fully agree that Mars missions would be a mu

    • by multi io (640409)

      You've got to burn engines to enter and leave it.

      To enter it, you mostly use the planet's athmosphere (if it has one) rather than engines.

  • by dtolman (688781) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:31AM (#28916343) Homepage
    We've been to the moon. Let the Chinese try it again. I think landing on an asteroid, or a moon of Mars, or buzzing a comet - they are all much more exciting. The moon is a dead end - tackling deep space is the real future!
    • by acoustix (123925) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:23AM (#28916749) Homepage

      I thought the point of going to the moon was to build a base their to launch other missions. It takes much less fuel to leave the moon's gravity than it does the Earth's.

      • by SEWilco (27983) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:37AM (#28917353) Journal
        The Moon is a stepping stone. Having people permanently on it is good practice for living in a vacuum, they can easily hop out of the shallow gravity well, and they have a small planet's worth of material (even if all it can be used for is tunneling into for living space).

        Footprints on the moon isn't a photo op.
        It's a pathway.

      • Not to mention the moon has plenty of Helium 3 [wikipedia.org], which would make it worthwhile to set up as a mining colony. You could then add robotic miners for asteroids which the moon facility could process and possibly make the moon base self sustaining and maybe even profitable. This would also allow us to test the feasibility of setting up similar operations farther out in our solar system.

        If we are gonna be spending money on space, why not find a way to help augment our dwindling resources here on earth while learning more about our place in the universe? It seems like a win/win to me. I'm sure science could learn a lot from core samples retrieved by the robot miners, With a base on the moon you could set up a nice lunar observatory, possibly manufacturing the required materials on site, there are many ways in which a moon base could help us learn much about the solar system and beyond while sustaining itself and providing earth with valuable resources.

        • Helium 3 (Score:3, Interesting)

          Not to mention the moon has plenty of Helium 3 [wikipedia.org], which would make it worthwhile to set up as a mining colony.

          Helium three has no known use, with the exception of the trivial amount used in low-temperature science.

          While, in principle, the fusion reaction D+3He --> 4He+p would be a nice reaction, in practice the ignition barrier to this reaction is twice as high as the ignition barrier to the D+T --> 4He+n reaction... a reaction that we can't achieve breakeven for. There's little use in going to the moon to get the fuel for a reaction that we don't know how to do.

    • by kestasjk (933987) * on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:23AM (#28916755) Homepage
      Hard to say what constitutes as a "dead end" when there's no solid objective.
      • Is the objective colonization on Mars/research into Mars? If so you're right by default.
      • If the objective is mining deep space asteroids for precious metals the moon might be just as good "practice" as Mars.
      • If it's about general science things like telescopes and labs are probably just as good on the moon.
      • by mbone (558574) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:46AM (#28916907)

        I think that the Moon will be really good for one thing - as a place for scientific telescopes. While orbit is dynamically "quiet", every orbiter is basically like a free-floating bunch of springs linked together - all spacecraft have lots of resonances that get excited and free flying spacecraft tend to vibrate. That is especially true if there are people on it. The Moon is this nice heavy thing that doesn't vibrate (much). There are a number of things, such as optical interferometers, that would be much easier from the Moon than in free space. Now, I wouldn't go to the Moon just to put telescopes there, but, if you are going there, it is a good place to put telescopes.

      • by bigpat (158134)

        The answer is yes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Jurily (900488)

      The moon is a dead end - tackling deep space is the real future!

      And what are you going to do once you get there? Come back and proclaim it's a dead end?

      I want a house on the Moon to visit for the weekend.

    • by wfolta (603698)

      Some of this is about capturing and motivating imagination.

      Simply getting to the moon, taking steps on it, and coming back alive did that 30 years ago. It took 1800's sci-fi and made it reality. It took Lewis and Clark and made it reality. It was much like someone who had only heard of airplanes watching an airplane at a county fair. It sparked the imagination.

      But that's old hat now. To keep up with sci-fi, we need to move on to space commerce and permanent off-earth colonies. Mine asteroids, put a telescop

  • record the mars human landing on a stage in nevada and save loads of money like we did before?

    oh wait...
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:31AM (#28916349)

    The only way to sustain any interest in space exploration is what you call "stunts".

    We have, for the past 30 years, embroiled ourselves in space exploration which has led us to the current state of apathy. NASA is at the ends of its life if we continue to follow a step-by-step progression towards the future. There is no hope in a slow progression towards the stars.

    We need to take bold actions to ignite interest, because in America only bold actions and strong interest drive anything forward. Lukewarm actions toward a goal are not in our nature, so stop trying to sell us on it, man.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PieSquared (867490)
      I tend to agree. While you can get far more science per dollar by sticking a person in mars orbit and dropping probes for a few weeks then you can for actually putting a man on mars itself... well there are two problems with that analysis. The first is that even probes that are remote-controlled without the 14 minute lag have a very limited capacity to deal with the unexpected. "Hey look, there's something interesting under that rock! Unfortunately, none of our arms are capable of lifting ten pounds, so the
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        This, of course, assumes that the average American Joe actually *cares* if we put a man on Mars. We're not in the '60s anymore, there is no 'space race' currently underway. Its sad for me to say this, being an American, but If you want Americans interested in a manned mission to Mars, you better send some football players instead of astronauts, and have a nice game of gridiron (meaning that we have become a culture that cares more about advancing the art entertainment than fundamental science). Otherwise
  • Nice idea, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:32AM (#28916355) Homepage
    Science does not operate in a vacuum. It needs both public and political support and for that, you definitely need those photo ops... and while a Mars flyby might provide that, a trip to the L1 point won't look especially different from the average space station trip aside from the vehicle used. Just lots of space. Without the pretty pictures, congresspeople who usually don't know any better start asking what the point of NASA is and fight to de-fund it even more.
    • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:35AM (#28916381) Homepage
      Science does not operate in a vacuum.

      I can assure you it does.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by J05H (5625)

      Earth-Moon L1 has a significantly different view than LEO space station. It's about 2/3 the way to the Moon, you can see the full face of the Earth and always have a waxing/waning moon in the other direction. In LEO you have the Earth covering about 180 degrees of the view at all times, saturating visibility (but providing warmth and some shielding).

      While a Mars flyby might not seem exciting, Mars orbit, Phobos and Deimos would provide huge photo-ops along with science. Additionally Mars' moons have the en

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I would be surprised the panel did not consider that. And yet, they recommend science, not stunts. The Mars rovers were the pretexts for the mars orbiters who did the real science. It is not mutually exclusive. But the policy must be science-based, not stunt based. The difference is in asking "what kind of cool mission can we design while testing space-building technology in L1 ?" instead of "What kind of science can we do while landing a man on Mars ?".

      To be honest, I prefer that the NASA disappears comp
  • Public Attention (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom90deg (1190691) <Tom90deg@yahoo.com> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:34AM (#28916377) Homepage

    The problem with probes on Mars and the like, is just what the article said. A good space program that would advance science would take a huge ammount of money. The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11. "Well, we made it to the moon! Wait, why are we going back? we DID that already."

    The public is very cold on science for science's sake, you have to have photo ops. A trip to the moon would get interest going, get money flowing so they can DO the important stuff. You have to get the public on your side, and, sadly, there's no big Russian menace for the public to cry out, "We must beat them!" Quite a few people thought that once we beat the Russians to the Moon, well, that was fun, no need to go back. Hopefully people will realize how important the space program is, but something tells me that it won't be soon, and it won't be until we get something inspiring. Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars? That will.

    • by Fantom42 (174630)

      The problem with probes on Mars and the like, is just what the article said. A good space program that would advance science would take a huge ammount of money. The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11. "Well, we made it to the moon! Wait, why are we going back? we DID that already."

      Why WERE we going back? Did we really "get what we paid for" on those later trips to the moon? It sounds like engineering for engineering's sake more than science for science's sake. At any rate, I applaud the new administration for trying to raise the level of public activity:

      The public is very cold on science for science's sake, you have to have photo ops. A trip to the moon would get interest going, get money flowing so they can DO the important stuff. You have to get the public on your side, and, sadly, there's no big Russian menace for the public to cry out, "We must beat them!" Quite a few people thought that once we beat the Russians to the Moon, well, that was fun, no need to go back. Hopefully people will realize how important the space program is, but something tells me that it won't be soon, and it won't be until we get something inspiring. Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars? That will.

      It is thinking like this that has gotten the US into meaningless, expensive wars. Yes, it is more of a challenge to excite the public about the prospect of something real, instead of ginning up some fake reason to do something, wi

      • Re:Public Attention (Score:5, Informative)

        by cunniff (264218) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:12AM (#28917637) Homepage

        Why WERE we going back? Did we really "get what we paid for" on those later trips to the moon? It sounds like engineering for engineering's sake more than science for science's sake.

        Actually, it was the later missions that provided most of the science return of the Apollo program. Apollo 11's crew only spent a couple of hours EVA on the surface, collecting some photos and a few only moderately-well-documented samples. Apollo 12 increased that to 7 hours, and returned samples from Surveyor 3, providing us with data on the lunar environment. Apollos 14, 15, 16, and 17 landed at many diverse sites, including the lunar highlands, Hadley Rille (a volcanic lava tube remnant), and the lunar mountains. They deployed a much larger science instrument package than Apollo 11. They returned well-documented rock and core samples and provided information that later supported the new "massive collision" theory of lunar origin.

        So, if you're talking scientific return, Apollo 11 was the least valuable of the landings. Any serious scientific exploration must include multiple missions.

    • You mean Columbus is going back to America (West Indies)? He did that already. How is that going to inspire anybody?

      Well I have checked the public, particularly that reported by the media and I have the perfect solution: Send Paris Hilton or Britney Spears with a camera focused on them 24/7 (probably between their legs) and have the other astronauts have sex with them regularly. This way the government makes money back on selling the videos. It'll be the first pay per view coverage of the astronauts.

      • You mean Columbus is going back to America (West Indies)? He did that already. How is that going to inspire anybody?

        People in general? Easily; it's a brand new land to colonise and explore. People with money to invest? Easily; it's a brand new land with mineral and agricultural resources to exploit.

        Space? Now so much. Exploring Mars is much less interesting. We've mapped it from orbit, so the only exciting things to find are things too small to show up on orbital photographs. If it has mineral wealth to exploit, it's incredibly expensive to get it back, so unlikely to be worth it. If there were large lumps of pu

      • You know, you could be on to something. Since it's a well known fact (at least around here) that porn drives technology....

        The rest is left as an exercise to the student. Blackjack and hookers - or something like that.
      • by DarkOx (621550)

        The reasons for returning to the Americans was plenty obvious to even the most uneducated git. There were tons of resources there the Europeans wanted. The lumber alone would have been enough to make it worth while. The English were already having problems finding trees big enough for ships masts at home. There was also great fishing, fur, and gold.

        The moon on the other hand seems to have very little to offer, at least that we are interested in at the present enough to justify a trip. Add to that the l

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by aabernathy (13669)

      > The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11.
      > "Well, we made it to the moon! Wait, why are we going back? we DID that already."
      [...]
      > A trip to the moon would get interest going, get money flowing so they can DO the important stuff.

      This seems contradictory. If we went to the moon and then quickly lost interest (and financing) before, why wouldn't the same happen again?

      >Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars

  • We have enough rocks already.

  • by Daemonax (1204296) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:40AM (#28916415)
    Why go all that way and not send a few men down to the surface of Mars in a lander? Sure, it might be dangerous, but the whole mission of getting there would be dangerous too.
    • I can't help feeling that sending humans to Martian orbit and keeping them there in microgravity until the return to Earth trajectory window would be more dangerous than making a landing.

      The critical problem that no-one has yet solved (although there are lots of ideas) is how to land humans or anything heavy onto the surface of Mars because of its thin atmosphere, which is worse than having no atmosphere at all.

      Until those problems are solved, robots are still the best way to go.
    • by Fantom42 (174630)

      Why go all that way and not send a few men down to the surface of Mars in a lander? Sure, it might be dangerous, but the whole mission of getting there would be dangerous too.

      Because weight is at an expensive premium when launching into space?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dmala (752610)
      I think the idea is that you can simply orbit the planet in the same vehicle used to get there. A lander means you have to carry a separate vehicle which can land safely *and* can climb back out of the gravity well again, with all of the weight, complexity, and cost associated with that. Just orbiting and sending down some throwaway robot probes means the mission is less complex and cheaper by orders of magnitude, meaning it can be done in a much shorter timeframe.
    • by kestasjk (933987) *
      When dealing with something as expensive as space travel the question "why not?" is a lot less pressing than the question of "why?"
  • What part of human experience ever made you think we do something logical and reasonable?

  • Wrong (Score:4, Informative)

    by feder (307335) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @08:52AM (#28916515)

    A panel reporting to President Obama is recommending

    The Augustine commision presents options - not recommendations.

    • What's the difference between saying 'my expert opinion is that this would be the best course of action' and 'I recommend this course of action' other than that the second form is slightly shorter?
  • logic is dull! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AliasMrAlias (1445453)
    yes its more logical, and cheaper, to send machines into space. its also logical, and cheaper to video conference than to work next to someone, but those things aren't the same. using immense quantities of energy and huge machines to propel humans across large distances is what half of the engineering sector is about (auto, mech, aero, lots of civil). Machines would do an admirable job, but humans EXPERIENCE it and, well, experience is half the fun. Without the fun engineering and science are just work. Spa
    • The snag is that there is a limited amount of funding and human space exploration is done at the expense of robotic exploration. Personally, I'd rather see increased robotic exploration of the moons of Jupiter, for example, than a mission to Mars.
  • Martian Time Slip (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone (558574) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:03AM (#28916593)

    than current rovers without the 10-minute time lag to Earth.

    At opposition, the average round trip time (RTT) to Mars is 9 minutes.

    At superior conjunction, the average RTT to Mars is 42 minutes.

    At other times, the RTT will be in between these two values.

    Both of these numbers will vary at the 10% level due to orbital eccentricities and inclinations, but, clearly, most of the time the RTT will be greater than 10 minutes.

    However, this is almost irrelevant. All currently and planned rovers or landers use "bent-pipe tracking," where data is sent to an orbiter, and then the orbiter, sometime later, sends it to the Earth. This greatly increases the effective RTT (there are not orbiters passing over any given surface location at any time).

    I believe that the Phoenix, the current rovers, and the Mars Science Laboratory all basically plan on an effectively daily RTT (i.e., at best one up and down link per day). These long effective RTTs and the use of orbiters to store-and-forward data are part of the motivation behind the efforts around Delay / Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN [dtnrg.org]) - AKA the Interplanetary Internet.

  • I remember when the space shuttle was new. People were once again in awe of the space program. But the shuttle became as ordinary as a 747... which is, in a way, as it should be. Space transport became very routine and ordinary and more reliable as long as people were paying attention to the details. We need landing on bodies in space to be just as ordinary. So go land on the moon again. Go land on Mars. Go to planets that are hostile to human life and land there too. Our technology needs to be able

  • by Pedrito (94783)
    The problem with the progressive approach is that going to orbit is one price and going past earth orbit throws you into an entirely different price bracket. One's expensive, one's ridiculously expensive. The price is so (I want to say astronomical) high, that it's far cheaper and easier to do a single really big step than it is to take baby-steps getting there.
  • One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

    Probes work, but they are not necessarily the best option (unless maybe we can actually duplicate the longevity of spirit and opportunity).

    • by jipn4 (1367823)

      One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

      Sure, at 10000x the cost. And, of course, we wouldn't have done it yet. And, for that matter, we'd still need to send the probes to prepare.

      In different words for the price of sending one man to Mars for a couple of months (or even a year), we can send hun

      • by mbone (558574)

        One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

        Sure, at 10000x the cost. And, of course, we wouldn't have done it yet. And, for that matter, we'd still need to send the probes to prepare.

        No, that's not true. The US Mars program has absorbed many 10's of billions of (current) dollars in the last 33 years.

        • by jipn4 (1367823)

          The trouble with relying on unmanned planetary exploration is that it is just too slow. Thirty three years, and we still haven't found liquid water on Mars (for example). (It almost certainly does exist, as parts of the surface are warm enough during the day and well above the triple point of water.)

          And this is going to be faster with humans... how? How are they going to move around?

          And, all of those results will become historical footnotes about 1 week after the first manned expedition reaches Martian orb

      • So you know exactly how much it would cost to send a manned mission to mars? Do tell.

        And no, S&O were only designed to last for 90 Martian days. Currently we're more than 20 times past that.

        • by jipn4 (1367823)

          So you know exactly how much it would cost to send a manned mission to mars? Do tell.

          No, I don't know "exactly" how much it would cost. But a human operating on Mars requires between 1000x and 10000x the weight of a mars probe to be transferred. In addition, you need to reduce the risk greatly compared to the risk of mission failure on a probe, resulting in additional costs. 10000x is a reasonable lower estimate.

          And no, S&O were only designed to last for 90 Martian days. Currently we're more than 20

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:13AM (#28916667)

    I hope so. This should have been done IMHO in 1973 [galaxiki.org].

    People who have gone to the Air and Space Museum in DC may remember the "Skylab" space station there, which was actual flight hardware. What they may not realize is that this space station, the third state of a Saturn V, was intended to support manned deep space flight, starting with a Venus flyby in 1973. The idea was that the Saturn V third stage would be launched fueled, would be used to send 3 astronauts towards Venus (thus emptying it of fuel), the astronauts would then take up residence inside and the weight taken by the "LEM" in Lunar flight would have been used for food and other provisions. It would have been risky, but it could have been done.

    I also remember discussions at about the same time about going to some of the Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) - even then, some were energetically easier to reach and return from than the Moon. Again, there is no need for a LEM (Astronauts could just space walk over in the weak gravity of any NEA), and the LEM's mass would have been used for provisions. All of this could have been done, if the USA hadn't have turned its back on space exploration 40 years ago.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:20AM (#28917189) Journal

      It would have been risky, but it could have been done.

      Risky doesn't begin to cover it. Given the level of solar radiation around Venus, the only question is whether the astronauts would die of radiation sickness on the way back, or from cancer a few months later. If you want to go near Venus, you need something a lot better shielded than a Saturn V third stage. From a PR point of view, having astronauts dying in slow and painful ways just isn't a good choice.

      Sometimes a project is cancelled because it really isn't a good idea.

    • by Thiez (1281866)

      > The idea was that the Saturn V third stage would be launched fueled, would be used to send 3 astronauts towards Venus (thus emptying it of fuel)

      Maybe this is a really stupid question, but if they were going to run out of fuel on the way there, how were they going to return?

      Second question: What would have been the point of a manned mission to venus? It's not like you would want to land there so why not send a probe (which would also eliminate the problem of returning to earth)?

      • by wisebabo (638845)

        The trajectory would have been such that the flyby would have just sent them home. Since they weren't attempting to orbit (or land!) it would just "fly by" Venus and, assuming they aimed it right, used the gravity of Venus to whip them back to earth. (I don't know if they would gain or lose substantial velocity from the encounter as do many gravity assists nowadays, perhaps it would only change direction).

        When they arrived back at earth they would get back into the command module for a "standard" re-entry

  • Voyages to mostly empty null spots in the solar system, seem boring to me both from the point of view of space science and from the POV of human achievement. It would be worth it, if they were going to place permanent way stations, there. Even then, way stations are only worth it, if there somewhere to go on to.

    ---

    Mars is fascinating, is there life there. What can we know about the history of the Solar System from there. Will it be easy to colonise. I think Mars and the Moon are both worth manned missions

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:31AM (#28916819)

    we need a good reason to show why it is important for the economy and/or national security to have human presence in space, if humans in space became fundamental to one of those areas we are half way to conquering space, the other half (most difficult part) being having a compelling reason to travel to other star systems and built self sustaining stations elsewhere than earth orbit and surviving long enough as a civilization to achieve those goals
    see the situation with the satellites now, they are fundamental for the economy and national security, if due to space debris a multi billion cleaning operation is required, the arguments in the congress will be about the cheapest or safest or more efficient way to do it, newer about the need to do it

  • by Megane (129182)

    I'm completely missing the point about why a mission to the earth/moon L1 point would be any kind of useful. About the only thing I'm aware of that point is useful for is putting a telescope to take really good pictures of the moon... but only the half of it that faces the Earth, since it's tidal locked with the earth. Better to having orbiting photo satellites... which we already have. But I can't see any point to sending humans there.

    And if you want a "stunt" that doesn't take 2 years to finish the missi

    • I'm completely missing the point about why a mission to the earth/moon L1 point would be any kind of useful.

      Because it's a place that's relatively easy to get to and from, but is outside the magnetically protected area around Earth, unlike Low Earth Orbit, which is where the ISS is.

      This means that it can be used to engineer deep space habitats in relative safety before someone pushes off to Venus/Mars/wherever. Any problems at L1, you can get back quicky and re-evaluate. Can't do that if you're on your way to Mars.

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @09:49AM (#28916927) Homepage
    Sending robotic probes down from a manned orbiter is not the way to explore Mars, or anyplace else that we can send people. All a probe like that can do is things we planned for before the mission set out. If the designers didn't think of an experiment, there's little if any chance that the probe can be adapted on the spot to do it. Even if there's a way to load different instrument/manipulation packages into a robot before sending it down, you're still limited to what whoever it's loaded with. The whole point of exploration is that you don't (and can't) know in advance what you're going to encounter or what you might need to examine it and robots can't improvise. Yes, the team running the Mars Rovers has done wonders, but only within the narrow limits of what was built into the rovers in the first place. Robots can't react to the unexpected; you need a human for that, and sooner or later, it's going to happen.
  • With 2 meetings to go they already have "findings". Not a chance they had "findings" before they started this process, is there.
  • Space travel creates new tech. New tech creates new jobs and new product to trade overseas. New tech is INCREDIBLY valuable. Why isn't this a point of interest in the space program? While I'd like to see people walk on Mars I will of course concede the point to those who comprised this panel as they are obviously more in-the-know than I am. We are capable of so much if we just learn to get over ourselves.
  • Space is not about science it is about exploration. The science is just a side show.

    This panel sounds like just a way to justify cutting spending on NASA without making Obama sound like more of a wimp than Bush.

  • Vistas are never ever cool. I am going to hold out for NASA 7!

  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:11AM (#28917119) Homepage Journal

    is nice and many scientists seem to enjoy it.

    But IMO, Buzz Aldrin (iirc) has the right point of view: from Kittyhawk to Apollo 11 was 66 years. It is an embarassment that we may not be able to put boots on Mars by 2035 --- which would be 66 years after Apollo 11. Human Flight -> Man on Moon shouldn't take less time than Moon->Mars.

    If you want to argue that science doesn't concern itself with putting boots on Mars, fine, lots stop funding space science and get back to funding space engineering.

    Any human being can understand these words: "the human race has set foot on a different planet". I look forward to the changes that will take longer to understand: what it will mean to the world pscyhe to know that we have demonstrated the possibility of escape, to know that there is a new world to explore, a new adventure to be had, etc. The re-colonization of the Americas by europeans co-incided with the beginning of the greatest leaps forward in technology, prosperity, and freedom (as long as you weren't brown at the time...) in world history. I am looking forward to seeing what shape the "discovery" of Mars will have on all of us.

    Short of discovering God or alien life, no unmanned mission will ever get every single human being around the world simultaneously watching their TVs. That's the power of putting boots on Mars. There will be plenty of hard science and engineering to get us there. But having a single goal that any idiot can understand in just 1 statement: that's powerful, and it's worth working towards.

  • All well and good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:14AM (#28917153) Homepage Journal

    It's just fine for the government to aim at scientific achievements. Nothing wrong with that. But, the PURPOSE of exploration is to find homes, resources, and work for PEOPLE.

    They want to stick permanent research stations (manned or otherwise) at the lagrange points? Cool. Put them up there, put beacons on them, so that real people who are pursuing real life don't run them over. Real life is much much more than just looking at stuff, and figuring out how it works. Real life means USING stuff. If NASA discovers a new crystal on Mars, something that man has never seen before, neither Joe Sixpack nor Aviator Alex is going to give a damn that science has learned something new. Both want to know how they can USE IT! Does it make a super cutting tool? Does it make the greatest lens ever imagined? Maybe it's a superconductor at room temperature, and it can be used in electronics? The best insulating material man has ever seen? If so, then someone is going to pay for transportation to go GET some of the stuff, so he can sell it to people!!

    There is nothing wrong with science, but science isn't a goal, in and of itself. Science is a means to an end - the end being, to improve human life.

    Sitting around on the earth, and speculating about if and when a moon sized comet might strike the earth certainly doesn't improve human life, or the chances of humanity's survival.

    • by Thiez (1281866) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:31AM (#28917775)

      > Real life means USING stuff. If NASA discovers a new crystal on Mars, something that man has never seen before, neither Joe Sixpack nor Aviator Alex is going to give a damn that science has learned something new. Both want to know how they can USE IT! Does it make a super cutting tool? Does it make the greatest lens ever imagined? Maybe it's a superconductor at room temperature, and it can be used in electronics? The best insulating material man has ever seen? If so, then someone is going to pay for transportation to go GET some of the stuff, so he can sell it to people!!

      Most likely, if we find a new crystal on another planet it will be none of those things. Researching such a crystal (or any other rock we find) may or may not yield new insights that may or may not lead to new and interesting things being invented.

      > There is nothing wrong with science, but science isn't a goal, in and of itself. Science is a means to an end - the end being, to improve human life.

      Maybe, but it would be nice if more people understood that science is more complex than

      1) Research.
      2) ???
      3) PROFIT!

      There has been much research where the researchers didn't have a specific application in mind that nevertheless led to awesome stuff (eventually). Science for science's sake may not improve human life directly, but it would be foolish to deny that it has indirectly benefitted us greatly.

      > Sitting around on the earth, and speculating about if and when a moon sized comet might strike the earth certainly doesn't improve human life, or the chances of humanity's survival.

      If all this speculation leads to the invention of ways to detect and destroy or change the course of such comets, then it most certainly did lead to an improvement of human life (I for one feel much more comfortable when I'm not being hit by huge comets) AND the chances of humanity's survival.

      I think limiting science to only research things where a clear 'human-life-improving' (who gets to decide what that means?) goal is present is rather shortsighted and that by ignoring areas where such a goal is not yet obvious we would be doing ourselves a great disservice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357)

        "Most likely, if we find a new crystal on another planet it will be none of those things."

        Until we discover it, we can't even speculate what it is, or what it isn't. Let's get off our asses and discover it!

        "Maybe, but it would be nice if more people understood that science is more complex than

        1) Research.
        2) ???
        3) PROFIT!"

        I, for one, haven't made that mistake. However, I have profit in mind. People should have the opportunity to profit from discoveries. Whatever might be discovered on Mars will profit no

    • by ltning (143862)

      I couldn't disagree more.
      Curiosity and Creativity are the two most outstanding qualities of human beings, and neither can flourish without the other.

      Why should painters paint? Musicians compose and play? They shouldn't, following your logic. They do so because they can, and the rest of us are left to enjoy the fact that they do.

      I think it is of *vital* importance that we explore and research for its own sake, and not only with specific purposes in mind. Fundamental research is the most important research we

  • It's been mentioned here in the past, but what would combine the awe and excitement of a 'stunt', along with the progress of science, would be to establish a manned space station/city. It can be fairly near the Earth at first, and then progress further as appropriate.

    Get us off this rock before a demented asteroid decides it wants a crash in party.

  • by MrKaos (858439) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @10:29AM (#28917273) Journal

    I think one of the reasons that the general public lost interest is because the Apollo Astronauts made it look easy, it was only when peoples lives were at stake did people take interest. Perhaps with the exception of Landing on the moon and Yuri Gagarin it's so vapid that for the general public to appreciate something so amazing and risky they have to do it through a sense of television drama which causes, or nearly causes, a fatality.

    People think space travel is routine, mundane, they are indifferent to it because they are suspended in their ignorance into thinking LEO is the same as moon or anywhere else in the solar system. They don't understand the difficulty.

    As long as we do *something* it's great but I think this is worthwhile because it hasn't been done and also a bit easier than actually traveling into a gravity well. We go to Mars but we don't land would be worth it for the sheer prick tease value it would garner. I can just see Joe Sixpack sayin it now 'You mean we flew all the way there and we didn't land. - why don't we land that puppy.' There is a lot to be said for going to smaller gravity wells and building capability. Considering we haven't mastered the ability to construct long strand Carbon nanotube and build a terrestrial (or martian) space elevator why not utilise the technology we do have and construct a Moonstalk [wikipedia.org]. Surely by doing this it would be possible to gather resources and build further capability to utilise materials and construct infrastructure outside of our gravity well, allowing more ambitious achievements.

  • But the deal is, we humans are explorers, we want to GO places. Hard coded DNA. Sure send robots to wherever, but we are going to be sending humans as well, no sense living in denial. I know I can't be the only one who is annoyed as all get out that here it is 2009 and we don't have a full time Mars colony yet. WTH?? Trillions for those parasite casino bankers and lameass stoopid wars, chump change relatively speaking for space exploration. The priorities are rather skewed there.

    I remember sputnik, can tell

  • by Syntroxis (564739) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:33AM (#28917793)
    For a long time, there have been too many pigs gorging themselves at the NASA feeding trough. We need to get rid of the Boeings, Lockheed-Martins, and other contractors. A NASA engineer primarily oversees a horde of contractors who oversee sub-contractors who oversee sub-sub-contractors. By the time all of the time/cost billing is added up, NASA is being billed $800,000 for a $120,000 engineer. NASA does things like award a $175,000 contract to Lockheed with the cutsy sounding name of "determining an alternative zero gravity point device" when the ball in the old mice didn't work. A company which was flying a project on the KC-135 (vomit comet) ran into the same problem of the mouse not working, ran to the computer store, grabbed a $50.00 trackball, and the problem was solved. Solve these problems with cost-plus contractors, and NASA's budget will practically fix itself.

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