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NASA Space Science

Scientists Give NASA Planetary Marching Orders 145

Posted by Soulskill
from the cassini-mark-ii-please dept.
coondoggie writes "The community and team of scientists that help NASA prioritize space missions has come out with its exploration recommendations for the next decade: get to Mars, explore one of Jupiter's moons and study Uranus. From the report: 'The gas giants Jupiter and Saturn have been extensively studied by the Galileo and Cassini missions, respectively. But Uranus and Neptune represent a wholly distinct class of planet. While Jupiter and Saturn are made mostly of hydrogen, Uranus and Neptune have much smaller hydrogen envelopes. The bulk composition of these planets is dominated instead by heavier elements; oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur are the likely candidates. What little we know about the internal structure and composition of these "ice giant" planets comes from the brief flybys of Voyager 2. So the ice giants are one of the great remaining unknowns in the solar system: the only class of planet that has never been explored in detail.'"
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Scientists Give NASA Planetary Marching Orders

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  • by wisebabo (638845) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:02AM (#35417124) Journal

    Look, these orbiters and probes (yes to Uranus) are projected to cost in multiple billions EACH. As much as I love space exploration and think NASA's done a bang-up job (in their unmanned program at least), these planetary bodies aren't going anywhere and do not directly address any pressing problems (climate change is the one exception but for that we should be looking at the rocky terrestrial like inner planets like Venus and Mars and not the gas giants).

    So why not put these programs on the slow track for a little while and spend a Billion developing some really good deep space propulsion systems? Finish VASIMIR, improve ion engines, develop high power nuclear reactors (not just wimpy RTGs), try laser beaming, solar sails or even magnetic bubbles! Anyway, if you can get a propulsion system that's 10x more efficient than our current chemical rockets you could send much more massive payloads quicker! This would substantially reduce the launch cost since it would "only" cost 10s of thousands of dollars to send a kg instead of 100s of thousands to the outer planets. This in turn would allow designers much more flexibilty to reduce cost/increase perfornance since they wouldn't be under such pressure to reduce weight. And by reducing or eliminating the need for time-consuming gravitational assists (6 years to Mercury!), it would likewise reduce support costs as well as increase science return (instruments won't be decades obsolete on arrival).

    - The distance to the outer planets is great enough that it makes me think of some science fiction stories (like Arthur C. Clarke's "The Songs of Distant Earth"), where newly developed technology could allow spacecraft launched later to overtake the earlier more primitive ships. While the travel times here will be measured in years or decades not centuries or millennia it still gives me pause. Unless there is some extremely fortuituous occurrence like the planetary alignment that made the Grand Tour possible (Pioneer, Voyager) it is better to wait AS LONG AS you spend the time (and money) making things stronger, faster, better, cheaper.

    (For some of these reasons, I support Obama's focus on developing new technologies before trying for the Moon (again) or Mars. We know we can do it, the question is can we do it affordably enough to SUSTAIN a manned presence?)

    Let's become a spacefaring civilization!

    • I support Obama's focus on developing new technologies before trying for the Moon (again) or Mars. We know we can do it, the question is can we do it affordably enough to SUSTAIN a manned presence?)

      Mars may not be the best place for humans to go. Mercury for example looks positively inviting in comparison to Mars. It has energy to burn, and daytime temperatures are actually not much more than on the moon. It may have ice at the poles. Before we send humans we need to know more about the environment, so we send an unmanned probe. Likewise, Titan and Europa may both be targets for human exploration, but some ISRU [wikipedia.org] will be required in both cases so we need to explore the surface first.

      • by Vectormatic (1759674) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:32AM (#35417258)

        from what i read on wikipedia, temperaturs vary between 100k and 700k, with the 100k representing the permanently dark side of the planet and the more common temperatures in the non-dark regions being around 400-500 K
        Temperature wise, i would much prefer Mars, which is (once again, according to wikipedia) -85 (~200K) to -5 (268K) degrees centigrade
        Both pretty much SUCK in terms of atmosphere, and mercury would win in terms of available (solar) energy, but i'd much rather bring some extra solar panels to mars (or a nuclear reactor..) then risk being boiled on mercury.

        I agree though that we need to explore those rocks out there, titan and europa are interesting indeed, but as a first off-world settlement, i would think mars is a better place to start then mercury

        • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:49AM (#35417340) Homepage Journal

          If ice is found at one pole of Mercury a mission could land there and use local water. Temperatures at the pole would not be too bad. Remember those are surface temperatures. They will affect gear left out in the sun, but the real problem will be solar heat soaked up by pressure suits and habitats. If you make them highly reflective your main heat problem will be from people and equipment inside. Apollo used open circuit cooling by sublimating ice. A mercury mission could work the same way.

          The slow rotation of Mercury means that astronauts could explore the whole planet by following the terminator. Each traverse would start at one pole, cross the other and finish at the starting point.

          The problem with Mars is that pressure suits would have to use a lot of energy keeping their occupants warm. Batteries have limited capacity so EVAs will have to be short. I reckon that gear used on Mercury could be directly derived from gear used on the moon.

          • by Vectormatic (1759674) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @08:36AM (#35417586)

            i you set up your martian base somewhere in the -5 region, i reckon heating would hardly be needed. When it is minus 5 (centigrade) i can stay outside without much trouble in a pair of jeans and a good winter coat, and most of the heat loss then is from wind/air cooling, which would not be that big of a factor at 0.01 Bar atmospheric pressure. Hell, given that us meatbags produce a good amount of heat moving around, you could have bigger cooling needs then heating in those conditions.

            As for the living space, humans need about 20 degrees centigrade to be comfortable, and while heating a place to 25 degrees above ambient isnt exactly a low energy demand, it seems more feasable then dealing with cooling it to ambient -100 or so, especially if you would like to spend longer times on site. Hell, give everyone a good thick sweater and lower the hab temperature to 10 degrees and you just eliminated half your heating bill.

            You might be right about using apollo tech on mercury, and i would LOVE to see that mission go through (hell, if nasa gets going on a new moon mission, mercury can be done five years after the first second moon landing), but starting from scratch, the martian environment seems much easier to live in for us meatbags

            • by tokul (682258)

              Hell, give everyone a good thick sweater and lower the hab temperature to 10 degrees and you just eliminated half your heating bill.

              Do you sleep in sweater too?
              Maybe you are born in North pole and can live in 10C environment. I notice when room temperature is down to 17C or less. You might eliminate half of your heating bill, but you will have to pay for sedatives in order to keep people calm. They will be pissed off, if they know that you save money by keeping them in low room temperature.

              • by khallow (566160)
                I don't know about the original poster, but I have slept in a 10C environment before. That's what you have blankets for. It's not that big a deal. I actually have a bit more trouble awake in a 10C environment since my fingers are somewhat sensitive to cold.
              • Not the north pole, the netherlands

                and yeah, i do notice when it gets below 18 degrees, but thats mostly down to the fact that i'm stubborn enough to walk around in just a t-shirt about just the whole year. As for sleeping, i've slept right next to open windows when it was freezing outside, or right below a single-pane window (very poor isolation) at below freezing, as long as you use a decent blanket, it isnt a problem. Getting out of the comfy and warm bed is a tad harder when it is 10 degrees, but that i

          • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @09:38AM (#35417924) Homepage

            There is no such thing as 100% reflective. and if you do achieve that, dirt will accumulate and transfer heat via conduction. Any person in a suit standing on the surface of mercury that is in the light will cook lie they were in a rotisserie even wrapped in 100% effective mirrors. Its surface ranges in temperature from -270F to 800F (-168C to 427C) and it's day is insanely long, the poles do not matter. you need to be in a deep crater out of the sunlight. Here's another problem, the sun takes up much of the sky, it's not that tiny bright disk in the sky like we have here, you have a giant bright as hell 50% of the sky ball of fire. you are also within the sun's magnetosphere so good luck with electronics. How do you design solar panels that can not fry in that environment? Actually you do it differently, large black panels with thermocouples. use the temperature difference between light and dark.

            Mariner 10 was designed for the high heat by giving it a high temperature heat shield to shadow the craft from the sun, it also had very hardened electronics and still had problems. The on-board computer experienced unscheduled resets occasionally, they had to reconfigure the thing several times to salvage the spacecraft. The attitude control systems also flaked out and used up a bulk of the fuel on-board. Operating that close to a star is highly difficult and dangerous even for robotic missions.

            • the sun takes up much of the sky, it's not that tiny bright disk in the sky like we have here, you have a giant bright as hell 50% of the sky ball of fire

              Its about three times the diameter of the sun from Earth. Not 50% of the sky.

              How do you design solar panels that can not fry in that environment?

              Ask NASA. They have solar panels on Messenger.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Your terminator-following scheme fails the back-of-the-envelope test:
            2440km * pi / 187 days = 0.5m/s = 43.6 km/24h

            That means when you're near the equator, you've gotta average 44 km longitude per Earth day, plus whatever latitude progress suits you. You hit difficult terrain, or stop to study an interesting location, and you drift away from the terminator; then you exceed your power budget on cooling or on heating & lighting (and you need plenty of light, because you're trying to make time). Do that a l

            • The poles could be manageable, but I wouldn't send out even an equatorial terminator-riding mission without some form of rescue capability.

              Yes I think you are right about that.

          • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @11:34AM (#35419214)

            The problem with Mars is that pressure suits would have to use a lot of energy keeping their occupants warm.

            No. Keep in mind that the occupants even when resting are 75 W heaters. Keeping the occupants cool is the real problem.

            • The problem with Mars is that pressure suits would have to use a lot of energy keeping their occupants warm.

              No. Keep in mind that the occupants even when resting are 75 W heaters. Keeping the occupants cool is the real problem.

              Plans I have seen in the media give crews about four hours on the surface, as opposed to eight on the moon. Partly the difficulty of keeping the suits warm, and partly the difficulty of lugging all the gear in higher gravity. Remember that the atmosphere on Mars is dense enough to carry heat away, especially in windy conditions.

        • by sconeu (64226)

          What permanently dark side of the planet? Contrary to beliefs in the '60s, Mercury is not tidelocked. It's rotational period is 59 days, making three complete rotations in two orbits.

          • by Enigma23 (460910)

            What permanently dark side of the planet? Contrary to beliefs in the '60s, Mercury is not tidelocked. It's rotational period is 59 days, making three complete rotations in two orbits.

            You could get around this by having a mobile operating base for any manned mission to Mercury that stays out of direct sunlight to avoid frying its occupants. Its 3:2 spin-orbit resonance means that a single day on Mercury last exactly two Mercury years, or about 176 Earth days - so a single fixed point on the surface would be in daylight continuously for 88 days. Given that its radius is 2,439.7 ± 1.0 km, it has a circumference of 7667.6 km, so you'd only need to be able to move 87.1 km/day, or 3.63

            • by sconeu (64226)

              Kim Stanley Robinson used this in one of the Mars books. He had a base on a railway. It used thermal expansion and contraction of the tracks to keep the base in the night side.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              You could get around this by having a mobile operating base

              oh, is that all.

              Yeah,. pick up your equipment and move 3 and a half clicks a day, in a harsh and unknown environment.

              Yeah, genius~

              You people just don't really get how hard this is, do you?

          • my bad, i interpreted "dark side" on the wiki to mean permanently dark, which is obviously isnt

            that would make a mercurian base even harder, since you would have to deal with the entire range of temperatures between 100 and 700K

      • I'd like to know what you're taking, you need to share. Mercury's daytime temperature gets above 750degF. The atmosphere (what there is of it) contains ionized iron atoms. Yes, gassous iron. The radiation flux is orders of magnitude higher. NOT a good place for humans.
        • Mercury is essentially in a vacuum so it doesn't have a temperature, beyond the surface. I would put a base at one pole and operate near the terminator where temperatures are more moderate. Sure atoms from the atmosphere may be an issue, but Mars has wind blown fines, which are an issue too.

          • picking nits. OK, so, anything along the equator exposed to the Sun will reach 750degF. Including the surface. Since Mercury does spin (it is not tide locked to the Sun, it has a 3:2 spin orbit resonance), it's impossible to build a static base and keep it on the terminator. Mars is cold; but, heat is easier to produce than it is to remove. Mercury likely has a dusty surface, not unlike that found on the Moon. It's likely to be as hazardous. While Mars wind blown fines are bad, they are weathered and
      • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @10:11AM (#35418234)

        Mars may not be the best place for humans to go. Mercury for example looks positively inviting in comparison to Mars.

        My apologies to throw in some facts on to your dreams, but I wouldn't call Mercury "more inviting".
        Atmosphere - 1 nanoPascal (blown away by solar wind), a magnetic field at 1% the terrestrial one => very little protection against hard radiation [wikipedia.org] With an eccetric orbit, the Sun's radiation intensity is between 4.59 and 10.61 times the level on the Earth orbit (on the surface of Mercury, the Sun looks on average almost three times as big as it does from Earth).

        Not having a significant atmosphere, there are no chances for aero-breaking. The delta-v between the orbital-speed is 18 km/s that need to be lost for reaching a transfer orbit. Even more, a space vehicle will fall into the Sun's gravitational well, requiring another huge delta-v to compensate if you want to avoid a crash-landing - a trip alone (not even landing) to Mercury requires more rocket fuel than to escape the solar system [wikipedia.org]. Solar-sails you say? Heck, how long can one afford to keep a maned space vehicle in a radiation 5-10 times more virulent than on Earth orbit. Bigger shields you say? Errr.... more rocket fuel to escape the Earth gravitation, I ask?

        Heck, even if I would be to accept the idea of Mercury being more inviting, I wonder if we currently afford to give course to the invitation. Cost per kilogram of dead matter transported to:
        1. the surface of Mars - US$309,000 [wikipedia.org]
        2. a fly-by followed by orbiting Mercury (but not landing on it) - US$878,000 [nasa.gov] (Messenger mission cost/spacecraft mass).

        BTW - the orbital insertion of the Messenger spacecraft around Mercury is expected in about 8 days from now (on March 17, 2011 after 6.5 years from its launch) - fingers crossed.

        • For transit to and from Mercury I would use a solar sail. A vehicle like that could take you from a high Earth orbit to a polar orbit around Mercury, and it could operate for a long time. You are correct that the lack of an atmosphere means that you can't aerobrake to a landing on Mercury, but consider that the only feasible aero-braking shuttle on Mars is non-reusable. The heat shield has to be dumped on every landing. Its not like flying a space shuttle. If you use fully powered descent on Mercury and har

      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        I would recommend a floating colony in Venus' atmosphere. My understanding is that at the point where the atmosphere is near earth norm pressure, the temperatures are also pretty close to what humans can tolerate.

        • I would recommend a floating colony in Venus' atmosphere. My understanding is that at the point where the atmosphere is near earth norm pressure, the temperatures are also pretty close to what humans can tolerate.

          Maybe but what do you do beyond looking at the clouds?

    • by HertzaHaeon (1164143) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:20AM (#35417196) Homepage

      I see two problems here.

      Why cut back space programs instead of, say, military spending or bank bailouts? A fraction of either would put humans on Mars and probes on Jovian moons, and a little more cutbacks we'll have us solving climate change as well..

      Also, there will always be a promising new propulsion system on the horizon. When you've built a VASIMIR engine, there will be antimatter propulsion, and then some space-bending engine, and then an Infinite Improbability Drive. When do you stop tinkering and simply get your ass to Mars?

      • by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @08:36AM (#35417582)

        Could not agree more.
        It's so sad to see that the US just cannot reduce its main costs (defense, banks), and then endlessly fights over the crumbs that are left.
        But under the Patriot act it's probably not allowed to suggest that spending more money on warfare than all other countries combined is a bad thing?

        cheers,
        A peaceloving cheese-eating suddender monkey

      • by mangu (126918)

        Although the defense spending is huge, it's still less than that for health care. In the 2010 federal budget [wikipedia.org] there were $743 billion allocated for health care, compared to $663.7 billion for defense. Cutting defense costs would be great, but reducing health care costs would be even better.

        Bank bailouts have a negligible cost compared to the others, because most of it was in the form of loans [wikipedia.org] that have been repaid.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Enigma23 (460910)

          Although the defense spending is huge, it's still less than that for health care.

          I'd far rather see a country spent more money on healthcare than on killing people. If the US Government really wants to save money, they should build less aircraft carriers - the incoming Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier, will cost $14 billion including research and development, and the actual cost of the carrier itself would be $9 billion each [strategypage.com] - nearly $100 billion in total for a like-for-like replacement of the eleven Nimitz and Enterprise class carriers in active service.

          By comparison, the UK sp

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Pretty much agreed right here.
      Hell, even the huge railgun launcher could go better than boring old chemical.

      The way i see it, 10 years research could be made up for in half the time.
      Not an exact estimate, but considering all the great launching methods out there that just need the funds and time, methods that are significantly more efficient that it makes that phrase a potential reality.
      Obviously it won't be an absolute 10 years pure research, maintenance would still be done.

      With the gravity barrier less of

    • by arisvega (1414195)

      Obama's focus on developing new technologies before trying for the Moon (again) or Mars.

      What universe do you live in? The Fringe alternate one?

      We know we can do it, the question is can we do it affordably enough to SUSTAIN a manned presence?

      No, the question is still 'can you do it'.

      Let's become a spacefaring civilization!

      I like your points, but you are embarrassing yourself.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      I agree, we should continue to spend money looking for bin-laden and bringing peace and harmony to the rest of the middle east.

      You complain about NASA spending? Spending that goes DIRECTLY into the USA coffers via domestic construction and purchasing.. they are not buying rockets on ebay from china sellers...

    • 1) Manned space exploration is much more expensive than unmanned
      2) You can't do anything for a billion dollars at NASA/JPL
      3) They are already working on alternative propulsion systems and a couple are being used today in real spacecrafts (ion drive/solar sail)

      Unfortunately our country (and the West in general) is even more broke than usual so we should hope that Asia can manage something, otherwise we are going to be stuck here forever.
    • So why not put these programs on the slow track for a little while and spend a Billion developing some really good deep space propulsion systems?

      Because they really aren't needed for the forseeable future. Though they're really popular among the space fanboy set, they're actually solutions in search of a problem.

      Anyway, if you can get a propulsion system that's 10x more efficient than our current chemical rockets you could send much more massive payloads quicker! This would substantially reduce the

    • by khallow (566160)

      So why not put these programs on the slow track for a little while and spend a Billion developing some really good deep space propulsion systems?

      [...]

      Let's become a spacefaring civilization!

      If you aren't bending metal and doing things in space, you aren't becoming a spacefaring civilization.

    • by cyn1c77 (928549)

      Finish VASIMIR, improve ion engines, develop high power nuclear reactors (not just wimpy RTGs), try laser beaming, solar sails or even magnetic bubbles! Anyway, if you can get a propulsion system that's 10x more efficient than our current chemical rockets you could send much more massive payloads quicker! This would substantially reduce the launch cost since it would "only" cost 10s of thousands of dollars to send a kg instead of 100s of thousands to the outer planets. This in turn would allow designers much more flexibilty to reduce cost/increase perfornance since they wouldn't be under such pressure to reduce weight. And by reducing or eliminating the need for time-consuming gravitational assists (6 years to Mercury!), it would likewise reduce support costs as well as increase science return (instruments won't be decades obsolete on arrival).

      It is amusing that you criticize gravitational assists, since they are one of the advanced energy-efficiency concepts you are promoting in your post.

      In fact, you'll find that almost all of the proposed high-efficiency propulsion concepts are actually much slower than chemical rocket propulsion. So while they would use less energy than a rocket, they would take a lot longer to get to a destination in our solar system.

      Additionally, while I applaud your enthusiasm for space exploration, you do not seem to

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yews, they do help answer pressing problem. The technology RnD alone will help iun every aspect of your life.

      "e really good deep space propulsion systems?"
      Because there aren't any practicable physics on the board that indicate that's actually achievable, and certainly not practical.

      Maybe there will be, but to find out we must be putting money into NASA so we have RnD to gt there.

      It's not just a drive problem, it's a many faceted problem.

      "if you can get a propulsion system that's 10x more efficient than our

  • by HertzaHaeon (1164143) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:09AM (#35417146) Homepage
    "Get your ass to Mars!"
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ITYM "Get Uranus to Mars!"

  • Get Uranus to Mars!

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @07:57AM (#35417380)

    Scientists Give NASA Planetary Marching Orders

    Seriously? Did they provide the budget as well?

    Last time I heard about it, the scientists were having troubles themselves with a bunch of politicians promoting fact-free science [slashdot.org]... unless the said politicians will do nothing to adjust the law of gravitation, I don't see how NASA can mars to march and up Uranus (errrr.. whatever...) ... Newton, "the founding father", wrote that law pretty harsh... without relaxing it the gravitation well is deep enough to require some non-trivial budget.

    • No. Thats part of the orders. If nasa cant get us to mars with a paperclip, chewing gum wrapper, some string, an old 12.x108 bullet and a small jar of acetone. Then they have failed not only themselves but all of America, and humanity as a whole.
    • Oddly enough, unlike some other groups *cough*congress*/cough*, the scientists gave a list of priorities and basically said "Do all of group A, and with whatever money you have left over do as much of group B as possible." They even listed some missions (including get-your-ass-to-Mars-and-back) as "only do this if you can find a way to do it cheaper, otherwise move on to something else."

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      I'm an engineer at JPL and of course they define where were going. The scientists are our most direct customers. Most decisions we make are a trade against how effectively we can perform the science mission.

      Granted, as with any customer relationship, it can be a bit adversarial, since they expect all that we do to be easy, and we don't tend to think losing a day of science to make sure we hit the right orbit is a big deal. But that's what happens when you have smart people with different perspectives wor

  • by osgeek (239988) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @08:09AM (#35417446) Homepage Journal

    We need to figure out what it takes to colonize the Moon. We need to build the infrastructure that can keep us there and commercialize the exploitation of the Moon and nearby asteroids. We have almost all of the materials and the technology to build a working Lunar space elevator now. Once we have that, getting supplies and raw materials on and off the Lunar surface is practically free.

    There are so many great reasons [wikipedia.org] for tackling the Moon first as we venture out into space.

    To me, going to Mars or Uranus with probes vs going to the Moon means that we don't want to build up the technology and infrastructure to become a space faring species. It says that we're more interested in satisfying a few scientific curiosities rather than figuring out how to live away from the Earth's surface.

    I find their list to be extremely disappointing. I was hoping to see mankind take its first real steps toward the stars in my lifetime. Ah well...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't worry - Mankind will be doing all those things. There just won't be USA stamped on the side of the rocket that took them there.

    • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @08:45AM (#35417622)

      Colonizing the Moon is an engineering task. We already know all the science we need. It's a vacuum, it has radiation, it has commonly used minerals.

      We don't need new scientific knowledge to solve that problem. We need engineering knowledge to solve that problem, and while it might be difficult to realize, you cannot just reassign astrophysicists to solve your plumbing problems.

      • by arisvega (1414195)
        So we need space plumbers. No wonder why you don't have a Ph.D.
      • by osgeek (239988)

        I don't disagree that it's mostly an engineering task.

        The title of the linked article is "Scientists set NASA space priorities; can it carry them out?". I don't care if they're engineers, astrophysicists, or herpetologists... if they're setting the priorities for NASA, I want them to get their heads out of their asses and focus NASA on solving the engineering problems to get us to the Moon. Otherwise, we need more pragmatic folks setting NASA's priorities.

        Personally, I think that if we're not moving prima

        • Um, they're planetary scientists. They were tasked with making recommendations for the planetary science portion of the budget. This has nothing to do with manned missions.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Trouble is, just when we start to get it right, the Loonies will start throwing rocks at us and declare their independence.

    • by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @09:07AM (#35417716) Homepage
      I read in a book somewhere it was a harsh mistress, I just can't seem to remember the title.
    • Going to the stars? I'd be satisfied if we went to the Moon in our lifetime. I was born after the last Moon landing. Since then, we've only gone into orbit. Low Earth orbit. I want to watch TV and see a live broadcast of a man stepping out of a lunar lander and walking on the Moon. We could do it 30 years ago, why can't we do it now? In fact, given how technology has advanced, why can't we do it better? First HD broadcast from the Moon. First Tweet from the Moon or FourSquare Moon check-in. Whatev

      • I want to watch TV and see a live broadcast of a man stepping out of a lunar lander and walking on the Moon. We could do it 30 years ago, why can't we do it now?

        We can do it now - we just don't see any particular reason because of imbalance between the enormous costs and the lack of returns.

        Whatever it takes to get men walking on the Moon again and get people excited about Lunar travel again!

        Other than to provide you entertainment - why?

        Then, once we're going to the Moon on a semi-regular ba

        • I wouldn't call it just a publicity stunt (though that has its merit as NASA has to play the "get funding from Congress" game and Congress likes publicity stunts). It has been over 35 years since we've gone to the Moon. Many of the people who worked for NASA then have retired or are close to retiring. We pulled back to Low Earth Orbit and now just don't have the technological capability ready to go back to the Moon. We would need to work out getting a man there and back first before we move heavy equipm

          • I wouldn't call it just a publicity stunt

            So what would you call it? You haven't provided any reasoning that it would be anything else.

            I think the reason the first time didn't work out was because those walks on the Moon didn't lead anywhere.

            They were planned to - but it didn't work out that way. What makes you think doing the same thing a second time will work out any differently?

            The spectacular will lead to experience and substance instead of a few moon rocks brought back to Earth.

            Precise

            • Did you read the part of my reply where I mentioned how all of the folks who worked on the last Moon landings were retired or close to retiring? We don't have the talent in place to perform anything other than low Earth orbit manned missions. A set of Moon landings would be practice runs for bigger projects. We should definitely have plans (and funding) in place before starting out (yet, make those plans flexible enough to adapt to what we learn from new Moon landings). A new set of Moon landings wouldn

              • Did you read the part of my reply where I mentioned how all of the folks who worked on the last Moon landings were retired or close to retiring? We don't have the talent in place to perform anything other than low Earth orbit manned missions.

                Yes, I did read that. And that they're retiring is pretty much irrelevant - none of them have designed a new spacecraft since the early 70's (at best, assuming they were involved with Shuttle). None of them have run a lunar mission since the early 70's either. None o

    • by khallow (566160)

      What happened to going to our Moon?

      Even if you just focus on the science, it is shameful that the Moon is completely ignored. Here are a few things that can still be done:

      1) Put up a permanent seismic network.
      2) Drill baby drill! And return the cores to Earth.
      3) Unmanned missions and sample returns for the polar regions. Find out what's really there.
      4) Manned sortie missions to various interesting parts of the Moon.
      5) Check out some of these suspected lava tubes.

      • by khallow (566160)
        Digging into the report, I see that they have two proposed missions (a geophysical network and a sample return for Aitken Basin and the South Pole) that would be on my list. These are under "New Frontiers Missions" (table 9-1 on page 272).
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @12:39PM (#35419988) Homepage

      To me, going to Mars or Uranus with probes vs going to the Moon means that we don't want to build up the technology and infrastructure to become a space faring species. It says that we're more interested in satisfying a few scientific curiosities rather than figuring out how to live away from the Earth's surface.

      I find their list to be extremely disappointing. I was hoping to see mankind take its first real steps toward the stars in my lifetime. Ah well...

      Developing technology and infrastructure is a big part of what NASA is focusing on, while letting commercial ventures focus on lowering cost to LEO. It's why I'm more enthusiastic than ever in my life about our prospects for going to the moon and staying there.

      This report is not about that. This report is about -- and only about -- satisfying the scientific curiosities that is the other big part of what NASA is about. So of course it doesn't mention colonizing the moon.

      So do not create, nor take this list to imply, a false dichotomy between human exploration of near-earth, and probe-based exploration of the rest of the solar system.

    • by mldi (1598123)
      Their motivation ended when they found out it wasn't made of cheese.
  • by cefek (148764)

    He said, "study ur anus", Beavis! He heh hehehee he

  • Doesn't the TSA already have a big lead in "study[ing] Uranus"?
  • All this talk about Uranus is wasted gas. And the Moon has already streaked our skies. What we need is to reach-around a big black hole. And avoid the Crab Nebula.
  • by AttillaTheNun (618721) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @10:49AM (#35418676)
    Isn't it about time we committed to a plan to install at least one orbiting observatory satellite for each of the major bodies within our solar system? If we aren't ready to commit to further manned missions, then lets get our remote eyes and ears out there on a permanent basis, rather than the once-in-a-generation flyby mission.
    • Do you actually pay any attention to space exploration? We've been putting out long duration orbiters over flybys for a couple of decades now.

    • The only problem with that is that satellites aren't permanent, even in orbit around earth. If you're willing to concede my counting satellites that spent the entirety of their operational life around a planet we have:
      1) Messenger will be at Mercury starting Next week.
      2) Pioneer was at Venus. Akatsuki was supposed to but failed orbital insertion, may be recoverable on next pass.
      4) A bunch of orbiters at Mars.
      5) Galileo spent 8 years at Jupiter.
      6) Cassini is still at Saturn.
      7) The report recommends a Uranu

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ok everyone, this is the Decadal Survey of PLANETARY SCIENCE. Read the report and the statement of task provided to them (not written by them!) and you see that human spaceflight has very little to do with this particular report. Your opinions are fine, but don't criticize the report for something it isn't. The Space Studies Board has several other decadal surveys addressing different branches of space science, this is just one of them. Also, for those wondering about budget considerations, look at Appen

  • My choice would be Pluto, just to spite the rotten bastards.

  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:16PM (#35420446) Journal

    Sounds like they are assuming Uranus and Neptune are similar enough, calling them both "ice giants", that we'll learn a lot about both by studying one of them. We'll want to study both, eventually, of course. In the meantime, why Uranus first?

    The sunlight is a little brighter, and it's a little closer and so we can get a probe there sooner, cheaper, and with less fuel used. And Uranus has one characteristic that sets it apart from all the other planets-- it's tilted so far over that it is on its side. So perhaps that makes it more interesting.

    But Neptune's largest moon is much more massive than Uranus' largest. Cassini used Titan's gravity to visit places in the Saturn system. Titan is massive enough to make that easy. Uranus' moons may be too small to make that trick workable, while Triton may be big enough. We'd also like to study the sort of extreme seasonal changes Uranus' tilt produces. To do that we'd want to view at least one entire Uranian year, which is 84 Earth years. But how? Multiple probes? Or increase the longevity of our current probes? Or we settle for a briefer view. If we do, I'd suppose we'd rather see Uranus nearer a solstice than an equinox. If so, then right now the timing may or may not be the best. The next solstice is in 2028. That's good for a leisurely preparation of 2 to 5 years to launch followed by a route of 6 or 8 so years for a probe that hopefully will last another 10 years after the trip. It's not so good if we can move faster, and want to. Also, as Neptune's year is even longer-- 164 Earth years, we may prefer to start on Neptune sooner as we will be able to catch up faster on the faster orbiting Uranus.

    Seems like if the extra distance and time doesn't make it too costly, Neptune would be a better first choice.

    • They answered that at the press conference, and said explicitly that both were equally good targets. The only reason they recommended Uranus in this decadal was a function of orbital mechanics; it's going to be notably easier to get there in the proposed launch windows. They also mentioned that if that mission gets pushed to the next decadal that could well change.

    • They talked about this explicitly at the conference [livestream.com], which you can hear all about if you want to wade through the 2 hours of discussion. The short version is that both are equally good targets, but that for the launch windows covered by this decadal, Uranus is notably easier to get to. If it gets pushed to the next decadal, that may change.

  • How about NASA figure out how to get to _orbit_ first? They've been fucking that part up for the past 30 years, and I don't understand why it needs to be pointed out to them that it is the first and most critical step to getting anywhere else.

    • by Enigma23 (460910)

      How about NASA figure out how to get to _orbit_ first? They've been fucking that part up for the past 30 years, and I don't understand why it needs to be pointed out to them that it is the first and most critical step to getting anywhere else.

      Good point - the US Navy test fired a railgun projectile at Mach 5 speeds at a target 110 nautical miles away [networkworld.com] utilising 33 megajoules of energy.

      NASA is looking at the possibility of using a railgun to launch craft into space [networkworld.com] at Mach 10 speeds. A rail launcher study using gas propulsion already is under way, but maybe using electromagnetic acceleration is more feasible?

  • Why is it always Mars this, Mars that?

    In every way, shape, and form, Venus is a better target to explore than Mars.

    It is closer to us, it has a thicker atmosphere that allows actual sizable payloads to be landed Unlike Mars [slashdot.org], it is closer to the sun with more usable solar energy, it has a habitable zone in its upper atmosphere that is the most earth-like environment within our solar system, it has nearly the same gravity as Earth, and there is SO MUCH we still don't know about Venus.

    We could coloniz

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