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NASA Pondering L2 Outpost, Return To Moon 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the moon-mars-L2-just-go-somewhere dept.
New submitter Joiseybill writes "Now that the election is over, any voters that may have been influenced can rest easy. reports that the agency has been 'thinking about setting up a manned outpost beyond the moon's far side, both to establish a human presence in deep space and to build momentum toward a planned visit to an asteroid in 2025.' Space policy expert John Logsdon said, 'NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan. They've been holding off announcing that until after the election.' According to the article, 'Rumors currently point toward parking a spacecraft at the Earth-moon L2 gateway, so NASA (and perhaps international partners) can learn more about supporting humans in deep space. Astronauts stationed there could also aid in lunar exploration — by teleoperating rovers on the moon's surface, for example.'"
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NASA Pondering L2 Outpost, Return To Moon

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  • Re:Budget (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Githaron (2462596) on Friday November 09, 2012 @07:32PM (#41937295)
    Since when does congress let a silly thing like a budget get in its way? After all, they have magical economic powers that let them ignore economics indefinitely.
  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Friday November 09, 2012 @08:03PM (#41937603)

    Putting the parts there, no.

    Assembling them and testing all the moving parts? Yes.

    Rovers and robots are very robust things, but that level of assembly requires humans still.

    Once built, it wouldn't need humans anymore, except for the occasional maintenance or upgrade mission, but the benefits of having it up there would be astounding.

  • The role of a human on a science mission is to provide a way to rapidly react to situations at the location and to give very short instructions to perform complex tasks or for somebody 'on the spot' to make some sort of judgement call in terms of what to do next in a time critical situation. I wouldn't call that a lack of utility, but it is a narrow set of situations where early exploration science missions admittedly don't need to have those kind of parameters.

    Right now there is still a whole lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of things that can be done with robotic spacecraft, so I would have to agree that some sort of increase in spending for robotic missions is warranted even at the expense of manned spaceflight. Then again you have projects like the James Webb Telescope that have been sucking up even the money that could be spent on other deserving robotic missions, so demonizing the manned spaceflight program really shouldn't be the only target here. More intelligent and fiscally responsible spending should be happening in this area.

    None the less, when Harrison Schmitt was on the Moon, he was able to perform the kind of scientific analysis on the spot that simply couldn't have been done by a robotic probe. There really is a need to send up some geologists to the Moon to perform a really extensive survey of lunar materials and to follow up on previous scientific research that has been done there. The kinds of things that a robotic vehicle could do on the Moon would be significantly limited without having somebody on site able to really perform the kind of science that needs to be done there.

    Carl Sagan performed a major disservice to America by making it a manned vs. unmanned mission argument anyway. The reasons and needs for either really have separate motivations and objectives, other than robotic missions are really good for doing the early preparatory work needed to make manned missions successful.

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Friday November 09, 2012 @09:26PM (#41938513)

    Who said anything about it being optical?

    I was actually envisioning an array of radio telescopes, and smaller optical ones used in concert to create a composite aperature.

    We have sufficient data processing technology, and the construction and engineering requirements for the individual nodes of the array are not that different from what is currently in operation.

    The difference would be entirely from the location. On the moon, it des not pose an environmental impact on any life forms. It does not run into problems with human economic activities (as pointed out countless times by others, mining on the moon will never be practical), it is far removed from human radio sources on the dark side of the moon, is removed from earth light pollution and atmospheric defraction, and does not need any station keeping equipment.

    Freed from all those constraints, and with the potential to be an astronomical array of unprecidented size, it is hard to imagine reasons NOT to do I, if scientific investigation is truly the motivator. (With an aperature that size, the potential to directly image an exoplanetary system becomes plausible, as well as charting the local stellar neighborhood with previously impossible levels of detail.)

    If it helps you to imagine what I envision here, I will describe the array for you.

    There are 2 concentric circles of discrete radio and optical telescope "nodes" on the dark side of the moon, linked with optical fiber data interconnections. There are 4 additional semicircles that are tangent to the inner circle, and meet at 90 degree intersections with the outer circle. (Forms a diamond shape.) The combined data from these nodes allows the digital reconstruction of what would be observed, as if the entire dark hemisphere of the moon had been completely covered in nodes. (At least for radio wavelenths.)

    You would only need a few hundred nodes.

    On the light hemisphere of the moon, you construct the communications tower.

    I was in no fashion suggesting plastering the entire dark side of the moon with CCDs. That is unfeasible logistically, and unnecessary. The point of having multiple points for interferometry is to permit multiple simultaneous observations of distant objects, and to have a variety of interferometric angles from which to discriminate frequency of emission with.

    Eg, the array could track multiple objects, give location, vector, speed, and suggestions on composition for all of them simultaneousy. It could also be used in aggregate to observe a single, very distant object using a statistical approach to resolve signal from noise.

    It would be well within our engineering capacity.

    It would just cost an unbelievable amount of money.

    Unlike an artificial satellite however, it only needs to be made ONCE.

  • Re:Budget (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Friday November 09, 2012 @10:12PM (#41938883)

    They do not like allocating hundreds of millions of euros into a project and then finding out that it was all wasted

    You are ignoring the criticism if you think it requires a partner not throwing money at this project to figure out that its a waste.

    The current cost projection is US$6.8 Billion (~5.3 billion euros.) If the ESA doesnt admit by now that it has been and will continue to be money wasted, then the ESA is as corrupted as NASA.

    The fact that you don't see it means that you really have no idea how much money that is. Thats about 4 times as much money as it took to develop the space shuttle, a god damned re-entry vehicle with reusable fuel tanks, and put it into space for the first time. Normally in industries, costs go down over time. Not so with government-funded space programs. Costs are skyrocketing out of control, and no its not added value. Its pure corruption.

    I get that we like to support science shit.. space stuff in particular.. but you gotta call a spade a spade.

  • Humans will not go to Mars or any other location in our solar system for decades, possibly a century or two. They probably will rarely if ever go to the moon in our lifetimes. The money and justification are simply not there. We have a historic responsibility to play our role and leave the rest for future generations to each play the role that corresponds to them.

    The reason why it will take decades or even centuries in order to put people on Mars or elsewhere in the Solar System has nothing to do with money, but simply the will and having governments permitting people to be able to go there in the first place. Money and justification is not an impediment.

    One relatively cheap and easy way to encourage development of space economically is to simply say over the next century that any activity which takes place primarily in space is exempt from any form of taxation. Providing liability wavers would be something else that doesn't cost money but would make a huge difference for activities in space as costs could be a whole lot more predictable. The same could be said about simply making some sort of sane type of space law where things like ownership of resources obtained or manufactured in space could be made much more certain. There are people who are willing to go into space and to do things on their own dime, so it really doesn't need to cost anything from a government perspective, and if people can make money they will pay whatever it takes to get there.

    Besides, I think the current approaches for getting into space are far too overpriced and other methods for getting into space can be done much more cheaply, even if ultimately it is exploding the equivalent amount of energy of a small nuclear bomb under your chair to put yourself or at least a metric ton of "stuff" into orbit. Cost is even less of an issue in terms of moving stuff around that is already in interplanetary space (aka extracting resources from asteroids). A couple of companies are currently in the process of setting up the infrastructure to do just that.

    If you are asking if the USA or for that matter any other country in the world (or even group of countries) has the money to put together a government boondoggle that is a Manhattan Project-style "waste anything but time" mission that would put a bunch of people on Mars, I'd have to agree that such money simply doesn't exist. The Apollo missions were pretty much the most that could be done using such a fiscal model. That isn't exactly true, as the money dumped into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have easily supported such a mission and have done it in under a decade. But it would be in the trillion dollar range none the less and it wouldn't be done in the name of science. If any science actually was accomplished, it would be an afterthought and not the purpose of the mission. I would dare say that spending that kind of money on a "stimulus" program instead of the junk that it was spent on non-military spending (appropriations above and beyond the normal budgetary process mind you as well) could have paid for such a mission as well.

    I just simply reject the notion though that we must scale back our dreams. Some creativity in terms of how to finance these missions could happen, but I also am suggesting that even framing the debate in terms of manned vs. unmanned missions and that you can only have one or the other is simply the wrong approach to be taking at all. If it makes sense to send robots and to do something useful, send them. There are separate reasons though to get people into space as well, and if they are going to be on the frontier of human experience they might as well be doing some science too.

    America as well as several other countries from around the world have scientific bases set up in Antarctica... at rather significant expense I might add too. If robotic missions were so wonderful, why do you think people are at those research locations instead of tele-operated robots? Note that there are teleoperated robots in Antarctica as well, so it isn't an either-or proposition. I'm just asking you to justify your logic in light of a similar situation that exists perhaps a little closer to home.

It's later than you think, the joint Russian-American space mission has already begun.