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Mars NASA Science

Mars Mission Back In the Cards After Budget Cuts 146

Posted by Soulskill
from the dependent-on-the-success-of-john-carter dept.
ananyo writes "NASA has said it will re-design its Mars exploration program, and that the new architecture would include input — and money — from the human program as well as the space technology division. Orlando Figueroa, the former deputy director for space and technology at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is to head up a seven or eight person committee, and to start developing mission concepts in the next month. One of those concepts would be a possible $700 million mission launching in 2018. The news offers a grain of comfort to a community still reeling from massive cuts to the Mars program."
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Mars Mission Back In the Cards After Budget Cuts

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  • 700 million? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:22PM (#39188113)

    A single shuttle launch costs that much, in today's dollars.

    Seriously, guys?

  • Give it a rest (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:38PM (#39188297) Journal

    Until we have an established moon base, we shouldn't even attempt Mars.
    Consider:

    • Gravity is similar.
    • Atmosphere is similar (0 vs 0.006bar)
    • Radiation exposure is similar

    So just shine an orange light on the moon and call it Mars.
    The moon is better anyway

    • Closer, safer, cheaper
    • We could actually mine the moon for trace elements
    • I completely disagree.

      Mars has the natural resources to be self-sustaining- the moon would always need regular supplies from earth. Mars has over a third the surface gravity of earth - this is pretty significant compared to the moon. It means getting to the surface requires different techniques. The fact that Mars HAS an atmosphere is significant. Mars has WATER. There is more commercially available that would be usefull on Mars than the moon.

      Mars and the moon are very different and require different a

      • Oh- and a permenent moonbase would cost more because it would require frequent supply trips. Marsbase wouldn't necessarily.

      • Re:Give it a rest (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Hartree (191324) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:33PM (#39188979)

        The big problem with learning how to run a planetary base at Mars is the minimum 6 month trip if something goes wrong.

        The moon is two days away and doesn't have a return window only at certain parts of the planetary orbits.

        So either abandoning it for safety reasons, medivac, or sending up emergency supplies/repair parts, etc is much quicker on the moon.

        But, this argument has been gone through many times. Most often with needlessly heated rhetoric on both sides.

        Though I'm more for a return to the moon, the answer that I'd be delighted with is: Do either of them, but actually DO IT.

        Don't make grand political statements, and then stretch out the program with anemic funding and mismanagement until it gets shut down. We've all seen that way too many times.

        • I agree with the "DO IT" statement.

          Personally, I think Mars offers way more than the moon- but if we go back to the moon it would be a good thing (it just wouldn't necessarily help us much if the end goal were Mars).

          Also, fully understand the concept that going to mars, at least initially- probably means you're there for the long haul. It would take a special person to sign up for such a trip- but I have no doubt NASA would get no shortage of qualified volunteers. Certainly- understanding from a medical s

        • by tragedy (27079)

          Yes, but if you accept the fact that rescue missions will be impossible anyway, then it's a non-issue. Pretty much every astronaut who has ever gone up has accepted that fact. Even the astronauts on the ISS, in LEO have no realistic chance of rescue if something goes wrong and their escape Soyuz craft is unusable for some reason. No-one has a rescue rocket standing by to save them. Unless there happened to be a resupply mission coinciding with the disaster, they'd have to be able to wait months for rescue.

      • by scorp1us (235526)

        Ok, I'l bite. Why would mars be self-sustaining?

        You say Mars has 1/3 the gravity of earth, the moon as 1/6th so that's half. Not a huge difference once you're considering gravity.
        The moon as water as well. With that, you're back into the situation where the moon is better.

        At either location an air leak is catastrophic. It will take a very long time to recover from an air leak on mars, and what you replace it with will be mostly carbon dioxide which will need to be converted to oxegen by plants. Speaking of

        • Mars has a wide variety of minerals necessary that the moon doesn't. It has water- (so oxygen) and all the elements required to support life.

          You could "manufacture" oxygen from water. It would be easier to produce greenhouses on mars- with all the necessary key ingredients to grow certain crops available- this wouldn't be the case on the moon- supplies would need to be shipped up to the moon.

          It would be a hostile environment- but it would be much easier to adapt to Mars on a one-way mission than moon- the

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Hell no. Mars has the ingredients to make your own food. Mars has the ingredients to make your own rocket fuel. Mars has the ingredients to make your own rockets. Mars has an amazing geological history. Mars has weather. Mars has ice caps. Mars tells us something about Earth's past. Going to Mars would be a new achievement.

      The moon is unbelievably boring, and has nothing worthwhile to offer.

      • by khallow (566160)

        The moon is unbelievably boring, and has nothing worthwhile to offer.

        Except that the Moon has a lot of valuable material and close proximity to the most valuable real estate in the Solar System. Also, without an atmosphere, a smaller gravity well, and that close proximity, it's a lot easier to move materials to Earth and Earth orbit from the Moon than anywhere other than near Earth asteroids.

        • by goodmanj (234846)

          Except that the Moon has a lot of valuable material and close proximity to the most valuable real estate in the Solar System. Also, without an atmosphere, a smaller gravity well, and that close proximity, it's a lot easier to move materials to Earth and Earth orbit from the Moon than anywhere other than near Earth asteroids.

          You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. To make a round trip to the Moon, you need to burn fuel to get there, burn fuel to slow down and land, burn fuel to launch back. You don't need to

          • by LurkerXXX (667952)

            No, you cannot 'just aerobrake' on Mars. The atmosphere is way way too thin. They can't even land a decent size probe with aerobraking, let along a human carrying vehicle.

            • by goodmanj (234846)

              That's odd, every spacecraft mission to Mars has had a heat shield and a parachute. Are they just for show?

              Mars missions use heat shields and parachutes to slow the spacecraft down from 5,000 m/s to 100 m/s. You do need airbags, retrorockets, or whatever to slow down the last 2% to a stop, but 98% of the job is done by the atmosphere.

              • As long as you don't mind a 50% failure rate and being dead when you land even if you're one of the successes, the current aerobreaking+airbags is fine. Humans just don't bounce that well.
                • by goodmanj (234846)

                  As long as you don't mind a 50% failure rate

                  The US track record for aerobraking on Mars (counting both landers and orbiters which used it to lower their apoapse) is 10 successes, 1 failure (Mars Polar Lander). I'm not counting several spacecraft which performed, I guess you'd call it accidental aerobraking. The US track record for aerobraking human spacecraft on Earth is 161 successes and 1 failure.

                  As for bouncing, quit it with the straw men. Nobody's talking about an airbag landing for humans: "aerobrak

          • by khallow (566160)

            You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. To make a round trip to the Moon, you need to burn fuel to get there, burn fuel to slow down and land, burn fuel to launch back. You don't need to burn fuel to land on Earth, because you can use atmospheric drag to slow down.

            Sure, that's true. So what? I'm speaking specifically of moving things from the Moon to Earth or Earth orbit. That's why I didn't even hint at the relative difficulty of landing stuff on the Moon.

            If you get extra clever, you can make rocket fuel out of Mars's atmosphere, saving even more fuel, with even stronger exponential leverage. You can't do that on the Moon, unless you use a rocket whose exhaust is sand. (Seriously, it's been considered.)

            You mean like a LOX/Aluminum hybrid motor? Can't disagree there. Not great ISP, but it doesn't need to be. It's worth noting that escape velocity on the Moon is so low that even some modern rifles can achieve escape velocity. There's a lot of launch systems and launch infrastructure, such as magnetic rail launch, s

            • by goodmanj (234846)

              I think we have different goals. I'm interested in exploration: you're trying to find a planet that pays cash money. So you care only about planet -> earth fuel costs, whereas I'm interested in round trips. I agree that the Moon is a bit cheaper on your terms -- but only if you can make a successful aluminum+oxygen rocket without sandblasting your rocket nozzle into scrap metal.

              But I'd argue that even if your goal is only rare mineral mining, Mars may come out ahead. On Earth, the average crustal abu

              • by khallow (566160)

                you're trying to find a planet that pays cash money.

                The more appropriate phase is "better return on investment". It doesn't have to pay "cash money", it can pay in knowledge or human security, anything which we value enough to sacrifice our own resources and effort for.

                So you care only about planet -> earth fuel costs, whereas I'm interested in round trips. I agree that the Moon is a bit cheaper on your terms -- but only if you can make a successful aluminum+oxygen rocket without sandblasting your rocket nozzle into scrap metal.

                That sandblasted nozzle need only work once. I'd be more worried about coking (build up of solid aluminum oxide around the nozzle) which could obstruct the nozzle and cause boom.

                But I'd argue that even if your goal is only rare mineral mining, Mars may come out ahead. On Earth, the average crustal abundance of these metals is way too low to mine profitably: you have to find areas where they've been concentrated into ore deposits. This typically happens when you've got groundwater interacting with geothermal heat. Mars has had a lot of that kind of thing: the Moon has not. Hell, you might even be able to do placer mining on Mars's river valleys.

                Some of the biggest Earth deposits are formed and concentrated through volcanic or asteroid impact mechanisms (Bushv [wikipedia.org]

          • by crutchy (1949900)

            To make a round trip to the Moon, you need to burn fuel to get there, burn fuel to slow down and land, burn fuel to launch back.

            The real value of the Moon is mining its resources for use in space stations (primarily for smelting steel and glass), which means you only have to lift materials with 1/6 the fuel than would be required from Earth, and you only need to transport it to the nearest Lagrange point between the Earth and Moon, which is a mere 60,000 km from the Moon. From a Lagrange space station (with spacecraft production facilities), missions to Mars become much more economical.

            • by goodmanj (234846)

              If you're after bulk metal, you don't care about travel time, you care about trip *energy*. The asteroid belt is energetically "closer" to Earth orbit than the surface of the moon. Plus, some asteroids have iron in metallic form that doesn't need smelting -- saving you even more energy.

              • by crutchy (1949900)
                sounds good. might be a bit riskier and more of an engineering challenge than operations on the moon, and unless mining is automated, any manned craft would require substantial life support facilities for trips out to the asteroid belt.

                asteroid belt mining might be more energy efficient, but I can see us mining the moon beforehand as an inefficient but practically simpler first step.
    • by wisebabo (638845)

      The Moon doesn't have it, never did.

      Mars might've had it, still might.

      Eventually, it will (probably?) be easier to terraform Mars than the Moon. Then Mars will truly be a place we can LIVE ON (you know, without space helmets and everything).

    • by tragedy (27079)

      What, are you crazy?

      The gravity on the moon is half what it is on Mars. Mars has an atmosphere suitable for aerobraking and that actually provides a fair amount of radiation protection. It also may allow for lighter than air survey craft. The atmosphere also protects against micrometeorites, unlike the total vacuum of the moon. The atmosphere can also be processed to make methane and oxygen. Mars has a lot more water than the moon. It also has significant amounts of percholarates. The day is only fractional

  • One way Mars mission (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:42PM (#39188335)

    One way I've read several times to cut the cost of a human Mars mission is to make it a one-way mission.

    Take away the expectation of returning- you save a bunch of costs associated with returning. Naturally- not everyone would want a one-way ticket to mars but there are lots of people who would.

    Naturally, the technicality is you have to find some way to make them able to live there long term. Mars has lots of natural resources and tecnically could be self-supporting- but this could be complicated.

    Those first people who go would have the mission of making the planet ready for the next wave of scientists. I think we should set our sites on a one way mission rather than bite off more than we can chew with our first mission to mars.

    • I believe the fiat is that we first have to get several unmanned stations with some drones that are a bit more advanced than our previous ones. We need drones that can actually build a station, as well as do a ton more surveying of the planet to find out where the most efficient locations to set up would be.
    • by tragedy (27079)

      Well, it seems likely that Martian colonists can supply their own water and breathing air on Mars. Oxygen can be extracted straight from the trace amounts in the atmosphere or broken down from CO2, or extracted from perchlorates. Water can be extracted directly from the ground in many places. If they can do that, they can get by on less than a ton of dried supplies per year. A lifetime of supplies for one astronaut still make up a lot of weight (a Saturn V could only get about 40 tons of supplies to Mars),

  • by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:42PM (#39188345)

    Here;

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/pss/ [usra.edu]

    you can read the report from the Plantary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council, to the Science Committee.

    It'd be awesome if /. posters read any of this before posting snide/uninformed/trolly comments about NASA, Obama, Space-X, budgets, etc.

    The blog Future Planetary Exploration rounds up reporting on this subject;
    http://futureplanets.blogspot.com/2012/02/ruckus.html [blogspot.com]

    • by MrMickS (568778)

      Posting without reading the article, or having anything to contribute other than ill-informed opinion is a slashdot tradition.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:45PM (#39188375)
    You build 5 or 10 and the price goes down. Just wont be able to do the big sample-return missions which would cost 10x-20x as much. The mostly recent sample-return mission was actually a triple mission: a land-rover, a lander-with orbital rocket, an orbital retriever. Keeps Mars program alive for another couple decades.
  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:47PM (#39188397)
    Stop building a brand new probe each time you want you carry a new instrument to Mars, Venus or some asteroid. Just make a design that fits most needs and build a dozen of them. Launch four at a time or a dozen to cut down on launch costs. Smaller probes like Hayabusa or Smart-1 are quite effective and light enough that you could easily put a dozen of them into space using a single Delta IV or Ariane 5 launch. Even the mars rovers like Spirit and Opportunity wouldn't need a dedicated Delta II launch each, four or five could be launched at a time. Sure, instrument choice will be limited, but so will be the price and effort of building it and sending it to space.
  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:48PM (#39188415)
    ./ is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, these days.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:17PM (#39188761)

    What's not mentioned in the article is that the plan is to save Mars exploration by gutting outer planets research. If you wanted to know more about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Europa, Io, Titan, Enceladus, Triton, the Kuiper belt, or anything else, forget it. Because of the long travel time, scrapping the projects currently being planned may mean you won't hear anything new about those places for decades.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:18PM (#39188771)

    A recent discovery of long term space exploration is that being in low gravity for too long literally folds parts of your eye. Causing astronauts who spend too much time up in space to have permanent vision changes that leave them very far-sighted and required to wear reading glasses. Just six months in low gravity was enough for major changes in vision.

    Imagine a missions to Mars that takes six months just one way? These astronauts would be blind under our current understanding of how space travel affects sight by the time that they came back.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/20/nation/la-na-blind-nasa-astronaut-20110921 [latimes.com]

    "What we are seeing is flattening of the globe, swelling of the optic nerve, a far-sighted shift, and choroidal folds," said Dr. C. Robert Gibson, one of authors of the study published in the October 2011 issue of Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "We think it is intracranial pressure related, but we're not sure; it could also be due to an increase in pressure along the optic nerve itself or some kind of localized change to the back of the eyeball."

    The study identified new risks for those who live in space for at least six months. Blurred vision was the primary issue reported by the seven astronaut test subjects.

    "After a few weeks aboard the [station]," said Astronaut Bob Thirsk, a Canadian Space Agency physician who spent six months as a member of the Expedition 20 and 21 crews in 2007, "I noticed that my visual acuity had changed. My distant vision was not too bad, but I found that it was more difficult to read procedures. I also had trouble manually focusing cameras, so I would ask a crewmate to verify my focus setting on critical experiments."

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/Astronaut_Vision.html [nasa.gov]

    The way I see it is that there are two options. The first one is we only send replicants to Mars or more unmanned flights. The other is that NASA gets some awesome new understanding of vision loss or develops technology to overcome vision loss. Either way this would be quite the benefit for society if NASA can develop some new things to combat vision loss.

    • Mars has 37% the gravity of earth- this may be enough to prevent these problems. As for the 6 month trip- cosmonauts have spent over a year in space before without going blind so your comment:

      Imagine a missions to Mars that takes six months just one way? These astronauts would be blind under our current understanding of how space travel affects sight by the time that they came back.

      Is... an exaggeration. They may have limited vision damage- yes. As well as other medical conditions both known and unknown.

    • by Wraithlyn (133796)

      ...or they use artificial (ie rotational) gravity to sidestep the problem entirely.

  • Why not just use corporate sponsors. Apple alone could donate almost $1 Billion by just donating 1%of its cash reserves alone.
  • This is going to be the SpaceX Red Dragon mission. The idea is to send a dragon space craft that lands on mars. It will have drilling capabilities and loads of science capabilities. I am not certain of the power, if it will be nuke or just solar. However, keep in mind that 3/4 of B is a fraction of the typical mars missions. In fact, this will be launched with the Falcon Heavy. As such, it will have room for a number of small sats that can be dropped off at Mars.
    Oddly, we might even be able to put the Mars

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