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Space United States Science

White House Panel Seeks Input On Spaceflight Plans 224

Neil H. writes "The Augustine Commission, commissioned by the White House and NASA to provide an independent review of the current US human spaceflight program and potential new directions, is seeking public input on a document describing the preliminary beyond-LEO exploration scenarios they're analyzing. The destination-based scenarios, designed with NASA's current budget in mind, range from a Lunar Base (essentially NASA's current plan), to 'Mars First' (human exploration of Mars ASAP), to 'Flexible Path' (initially focused on several destinations in shallow gravity wells, such as Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, and the Martian moon Phobos). The Commission is also seeking input on the issues of engaging commercial spaceflight, in-space refueling, and coordinating human and robotic exploration."
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White House Panel Seeks Input On Spaceflight Plans

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  • by FTWinston ( 1332785 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:09PM (#28796357) Homepage
    Even wearing a spacesuit, I betcha I could walk up slopes and around obstacles better than the (admittedly wonderfully performing) Spirit & Opportunity rovers.

    And hopefully after a few years of doing so, I wouldn't have to crawl around ass-first all the time.
  • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:10PM (#28796385) Homepage Journal

    Which is clearly not the case based on experiences with the mars rovers and similar devices.

    Ridiculous. Think of one of the most interesting discoveries made by the Phoenix lander -- the frozen condensate that formed on one of the landing struts. A human would have noticed that immediately and been able to analyze it in detail. Conversely, a robotic probe can do only what it's programmed to do. All we can do is stroke our beards and say "Hmm, wonder what that is?"

    When you're not only expecting the unexpected, but hoping for it, you want human boots on the ground. One human mission is easily worth twenty robotic missions.

    Hell, NASA should consider offering one-way trips. They'd have enough volunteers to crash their Web server. Most people aren't doing anything that important or interesting with the rest of their lives, are they? Send one old guy with a shovel, a microscope, and a carbon-monoxide canister, and we'll learn more than we would from the next hundred years' worth of robots.

  • by cwiegmann24 ( 1476667 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:12PM (#28796423)
    Go to Mars. Most of us would agree that there are much more beneficial endeavors, probably more profitable as well. But the fact of the matter is nothing else would get as much attention from the general public as going to Mars.
  • Re:Generational Ship (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:16PM (#28796461) Homepage Journal

    You missed the memo: the whole point of space exploration is to find a way to permanently get rid of our lawyers*, politicians and telemarketers.

    The politicians ARE lawyers. That's why normal people can't understand the laws.

    NYCL would be out of a job in a world without lawyers, so he's exempt

    He's my third favorite lawyer, right behind the lady I hired to handle my divorce and the man I hired to handle my bankrupcy. When you need a lawyer, you NEED a lawyer.

    Lawrence Lessig comes in a close fourth. I was pissed that he screwed up the SCOTUS copyright case, but after reading his book (available online for free, or at your local library or bookstore) I realized that he's fighting the good fight, even if he did lose a major battle.

  • Non-definitive list (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:18PM (#28796497) Homepage Journal

    One project which would be helpful for any sort of Mars exploration would be the establishment of a communication and navigation infrastructure. Maybe a dozen small satellites in polar orbits* with a sort of GPS-lite capability and a store-and-forward messaging capability. Plus two big communication sats with nice big solar arrays and very powerful radio transciever for getting data back to earth. (And forwarding commands to any probe or manned mission that needs it.)

    A near-Earth-system manned mission capability. Take the planned NASA Earth orbit / Moon orbit ship and add a refuelable propulsion / service module. Future versions could have a reactor & radiator, and maybe even a fission rocket motor.

    * Yes, this is a challenge.

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:19PM (#28796517) Journal

    The most important single advance that could help spaceflight, manned and unmanned would be to reduce the cost to LEO. This will require, ultimately, a SSTO (single stage to orbit) launcher. Of course it's tough (remember the X-34? the Delta Clipper?) but that doesn't mean that with new advances in materials (can you say carbon nanotube reinforced composites) it's impossible. Unless we can bring the cost of access to space down by a factor of at least 10 a lot of these dreams will remain just that; dreams.

    After that, new low thrust high specific impulse engines would be very useful along with a compact energy source to power them. VASIMIR sounds promising and maybe magnetic sails (which might have the side benefit of protection against cosmic rays). We'll probably need real nuclear reactors in space like the SNAP program (or the Russian equivalent). Remember the words of an airforce general: "a new plane doesn't make a new engine possible, a new engine makes a new plane possible".

    Ultimately, of course, a space elevator is the best way to go. There was a proposal, I think, of building one for less than $10B by using a "small" elevator to bring the materials gradually up from earth (rather than trying to capture an carbonaceous asteroid to use as a material source/counterweight). Of course we'll need those carbon nanotubes again!

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:20PM (#28796533)

    I agree, visiting NEOs is much easier than sending us to Mars and has the possibility of real economic (not just incidental R and D) impact. It would also serve as a test bed if we ever see a rock coming our way and need to do something about it. If we could find a source of rocket fuel that isn't at the bottom of a major gravity well, I would say go there first, but in the meantime visiting and eventually moving NEO would be the highest priority for me.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:27PM (#28796655) Journal

    The great thing about humans is the AI factor. The (artificial) intelligence in humans is vastly superior to actual artificial intelligence of robots or computers.

    Now, you might think we we didn't have any problems in mars. But we did, we have a rover stuck in a crater, we have had rovers that were stuck before and had to alter their missions while teams of engineers and massive amounts of resources were consumed attempting to unstuck them. A human can process this basic information much such as path and determine the 3d characteristics of object in front of them much faster and better then computers and remote controls.

    In some ways, we aren't as proficient as computers and machines. The augmentation of machines and computers can greatly streamline the colonization of the moon plus allow us to refine our approach and logistics for life support. Sending humans with robots can be a means of gathering data as well as making our efforts more proficient as well as safer at the same time.

  • by starglider29a ( 719559 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:30PM (#28796705)
    Anything else we do is grave decoration.

    Sending probes or even people to explore Mars, Alpha Centauri or Wolf 359 is a waste if we are wiped out by an asteroid. We have some good theories on how to do it. We need to test them.

    Let's practice while we still have the luxury of time... and failure.
  • Re:Generational Ship (Score:2, Interesting)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28796737) Journal
    Don't worry- my dad is putting his law degree to good use as an FBI agent putting corrupt politians in prison, so I realize how lawyers can do good. The bad ones just make it too easy to pick on the group as a whole.
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:35PM (#28796781) Journal

    The ultimate mission of Apollo was to build a moon base.

    Do you have a citation for this? My understanding is that in 1969 Von Braun proposed as a follow-on project to Apollo not a lunar base, but human exploration of Mars []. Under Von Braun's 1969 plan, the first Mars manned mission would launch in 1981, with a 50-person Martian base by 1989, using reusable spacecraft and under a peak NASA budget of $7 billion a year. Of course, I suppose he may have wanted a lunar base in parallel.

  • by Theodore ( 13524 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:40PM (#28796849)

    Go ahead and go, go anywhere and everywhere...
    But actually DO something once you get there, don't just go there to wave your dick around.

    I'd really like to see a good sized radio telescope built on the far side of the moon, complete with relay lines to dishes at the terminus between near and far sides, so there's no accidental reflections from earth off of relay satellites instead.

    Going further out than LEO would be good also...
    I remember reading this PDF of a flight plan from around 40 years ago, where they wanted to send a crew further INTO the solar system, and actually intercept/orbit Venus, using apollo tech. []

    How about a small, self sufficient station at L3?
    You'd need a couple of relay sats for comms, but that's a smaller cost than the station.

    Alas, none of this will happen though, because we're too adverse to risk these days, and we wouldn't DARE send someone condemned to death out there instead, it'd de-demonize them (serial killer and first man on another planet?).
    Plus, have you noticed that most of the studies about going into space for long periods of time involve seeing if people can do with limited to no social interaction?
    Yeah, most of US can, but the ones they trust to send up there, CAN'T!
    So we gotta settle for unmanned probes.

    So fire off at least one every month.
    Pick something to study: moon, planet, propulsion tech, comm tech, interstellar phenomenom (this one will take time and would need to be fast).
    And if you need some tech to make sure it works (such as an RTG), and people complain about it, ignore them with extreme prejudice.

    And more space telescopes!
    Seriously, we have barely a handful pointing outwards, but probably hundreds (classified, guess, and hope you're not accurate) looking back down?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:58PM (#28797093)

    I recommended that NASA add a scenario to recast NASA as an "infrastructure" building public works program rather than a national prestige exploration program. The goal of "safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable" manned spaceflight can best be met through collaboration with commercial manned spaceflight rather than a system of NASA run manned exploration projects. To achieve this collaboration, NASA should refocus on "infrastructure" - not literally space lift facilities, but instead the knowledge infrastructure private industry is lacking. Returning to its NACA research roots, NASA should perform pure research and development and release the information gained and systems developed to the commercial spaceflight community via an open source license. Specific focus should be given to robust ECLSS systems and standardized docking systems and procedures. This research would allow the space industry to rapidly produce safe and affordable lift vehicles and spacecraft which could interact with the ISS, explore NEO objects for exploitable resources, and generally increase the profit-generating capability of space beyond space tourism. NASA continuing to provide open source research would allow manned use of space to evolve naturally, following the rules of supply and demand to determine which locations need to be explored when rather than an artificial timeline for national prestige.

  • Re:Generational Ship (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @01:01PM (#28797127)

    1. The ultimate payoff is the eventual ability to spread beyond the solar system. In the grand scheme of things it's the most important long-term survival strategy for mankind.
    2. The proximate payoff are the myriad of technologies we would develop for building the stupid thing, which would have a direct and measurable impact all over the world... and would have an even greater impact on our relationship with the rest of the solar system.

    The second is if the society of Earth persecutes a group to the point that they want to leave, while paradoxically giving that group the wealth, technical knowledge, and political influence to make such a project happen.


  • railgun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by strack ( 1051390 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @01:05PM (#28797185)
    what we need, is a huge ass railgun that shoots telephone pole shaped slugs, filled with water, oxygen, or whatever raw materials are needed, up to a space station in geostationary orbit. a space station with a cnc machine, and some manufacturing capability, so you can create new parts for said space station.
  • by N1tr0u5 ( 819066 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @01:32PM (#28797507)
    Is there a organization dedicated to exploring and inhabiting all the different environments of the world and developing materials to make it easier? I'd fund them before I funded NASA.

    All the money we spend on getting off our planet could be used to further explore the planet and the advancements made applied to space travel. If we could develop materials, method, and technology to the point that we could easily live on the bottom of the ocean (extreme pressure and temperature), I think it might be easier to get that same rig adjusted to work on Venus. If we can easily inhabit the (Ant)Arctic, I think it may be easier for us to check out that same tech on Mars, etc. If we can get a self sustaining flying environment, it might be worthwhile to send it to Jupiter.

    In addition, someone else mentioned that it would be impossible to get the materials back from wherever we went. Well, I'm sure exploration of our own Earth and the ability to safely occupy any of it's environments would give us a wealth of resource exploiting opportunities, or at least experience in resource harvesting under adverse conditions, which is what we would need to get those resources from whatever planet/moon we visited in the first place.

    You gotta crawl before you walk. Putting man on the moon was novelty, and now we are too hung up on going back. Putting man on the bottom of the ocean in a self sustaining environment has practical applications. In addition to the research and advances from getting there, I'm pretty sure the bottom of the ocean is safe from any cataclysmic event save tectonic motion, which provides another level of certainty that our species survives things that may otherwise destroy most life on the planet. /ramble
  • by mtemmerm ( 1604279 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @02:07PM (#28797909) Homepage
    Actually working from the bottom of the ocean perspective isn't that bad an idea to do both earthbound science and the preparation of space exploration a favor. You'd find hundreds of unknown lifeforms at the bottom of the ocean, the conditions there are harsh like an ET environment (no air, pressure challenges, isolation to name a few). You'd have to be forced to engineer solutions to new and interesting problems. NASA should definitely start thinking about using deep seafloor bases. They could use it as a marketing pitch even.

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