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Mars Moon NASA Science

NASA's Bolden Speaks On Future Mars Mission, Chinese Moon Landing 154

MarkWhittington writes "During an interview with USA Today on the eve of the arrival of the Mars Rover Curiosity, NASA administrator Charles Bolden had some interesting thoughts on why a humans-to-Mars mission should be international and not American-led, how the world should react positively to the Chinese beating America back to the moon, and what he would do (or rather not do) if NASA were to have an 'unlimited' budget."
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NASA's Bolden Speaks On Future Mars Mission, Chinese Moon Landing

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  • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:45PM (#40860993)
    I want to go to there
    But I lack the funds to go to there
    When will I go to there?
  • React positively? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:52PM (#40861077)

    In the even that China reaches a point that we achieved 40 years ago... and that we haven't been able to do again since? No, I will be disappointed in my government insisting we spend more putting bullets in the heads of children, bombs in jungles and scrub hillsides and bailing out incompetent, greedy industries. All the while idiot Republicans scream constantly that we need to cut even more government spending on irrelevant things while not raising taxes to pay for the debts accrued due to shitty spending policies over the last 30 years.

    We could be going "Welcome to Armstrong Base!" to the Chinese taikonauts landing on the moon, and for a fraction of what we've spent slaughtering people and covering for the incompetent. Instead we've squandered what we had with only a death toll and debt to show for it.

  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @04:41PM (#40861623)

    We should stop spending on irrelevant things

    Like the NOAA? The USGS? Federal funding for NPR/Planned Parenthood? The reason those are targeted, despite being a pittance compared to other things, is purely political. Cutting them will kill extremely useful services while saving precisely shit.

    We shouldn't raise taxes, either.

    Well that's genius. Even if we had a balanced budget we'd need to raise taxes.

    What the hell is raising taxes going to solve?

    Paying down the massive debt we've accrued?

    They'll spend more and our deficit will only get slightly less bigger than it would have otherwise!

    So instead you insist we not raise taxes and... do what, exactly? Nothing? Got it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 02, 2012 @04:49PM (#40861681)

    Reading the article leads me to the conclusion that Mr. Bolden pretty much represents everything I consider wrong with NASA. Instead of bold or inspiring visions, he appears to be thinking small and doing small, which is pretty much the opposite of what I would expect from a NASA administrator. Yes, sure, resources are always a constraint and not everything that would be cool can be done but he actively avoids even contemplating going beyond his quite limited horizon.

    For starters, regarding Mars he says that it should be an international mission, which is not a bad choice per se, however, international projects are very difficult to pull off effectively. There will inevitably be bickering who pays how much, which country gets how many jobs and whose astronauts will be going. It's basically the issue of senators bringing in the pork via NASA but on a bigger (international) scale. Just negotiating the terms of such cooperation can take as long as the project itself and can easily exceed a decade (for comparison, see ITER which has been on the drawing board well over a decade before the international consortium green-lit it).

    So, international projects make things more complicated and they take longer. Sure, you get all the feel-good humanity thing and the cost is born by a larger base but the frictional costs are much higher. Nevertheless, I would've given him a pass on it if he hadn't said that the "U.S. cannot always be the leader". I'm sorry, but why not? I'm not even an American but if I were and the resources could be mustered, why not go ahead, saving the decade-long negotiation cycle? To me, this sounded like an excuse not to do it at all by postponing it indefinitely ("We're working on it, look, we're already negotiating the terms for 5 years straight now!")

    However, what really shocked me was his answer what he would do given an unlimited budget. That question was a softball to float some bold ideas to the public about what could be done. He could have suggested space habitats, moon/asteroid bases, thousands of robotic missions to map out the solar system, even more modest goals like developing new rockets and other lift capabilities. Instead what we get is literally "nothing". He would "complete Obama's plan" and "not use the extra money". In essence, he has no ideas at all and is only capable to follow instructions handed to him. I'm rather sure even NASA's janitorial staff has more creativity than that.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @08:24PM (#40863647)

    Holy shit, I didn't even realize how bad that was, and apparently this came straight from Obama himself. No wonder the right-wingers say Obama is a "closet Muslim"; with directives like this ("reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering") that's all the ammo they need. And what historic contribution anyway? Sure, the people living in those countries 1000 years ago did some pretty neat stuff with mathematics and astronomy, but that was a long time ago; 1000-1500 years before that, the ancient Romans and Greeks were doing some pretty neat stuff with mathematics and engineering too, but I don't see anyone saying we need to reach out to Italy and Greece to make them feel good about their historic contributions (and Italy is still making contributions to engineering, just look at Ferraris). Meanwhile, the Muslim world embraced fundamentalist around 500 years ago and it's been all down the shitter since then; this should serve as an important lesson for other countries, namely the USA.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @09:08PM (#40863909)

    Mining for Helium-3

    He-3 fusion is harder than D-D fusion. Meaning that we'll have D-D fusion decades before we have He-3 fusion. And "harder" means higher temperature, greater pressure, which means if we can develop He-3 fusion, the same technology will make D-D fusion plants smaller and more efficient, which will increase the number of applications (such as ships' powerplants.)

    And one of the waste products from D-D fusion? Helium 3. It will be a century or so after we crack practical fusion before we need outside sources of He-3.

    And even then, given the low density of He-3 in the regolith (it's a trace element), the amount of mining means you'd need a substantial presence on the moon. A full blown mining colony. And guess what their ships and vehicles and bases will use for power? D-D fusion plants. Coz the small amount of waste produced by neutronic fusion is just not an issue in space. And one of the waste products from D-D fusion... oh yeah.

    Calling for mining He-3 fusion today is like calling for airport noise regulations in the middle ages. It just makes you (and space advocacy in general) look stupid.

  • Re:SpaceX (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @11:08PM (#40864575) Journal
    And the moon unless the neo-cons continue to try to kill off private space. Even now, the republicans have cut a deal with NASA to fund 2.5 bids. However, the neo-cons are now attempting to tell NASA WHO will win those: ATK's Liberty will get 1, Boeing will get 1, and L-Mart will get .5. IOW, the neo-cons are attempting to cut out ALL of the new space, including SpaceX.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @12:42AM (#40864927)
    I like Steven Ruff's take []:

    Spirit outlived even the wildest speculations about its lifespan, making possible the remarkable discoveries about the igneous, aqueous, and aeolian processes that shaped the landscape that it and we roamed. But despite these successes, I became painfully aware of the shortcomings of robotic exploration of Mars. In a word, it is cumbersome. It took years of painstaking effort to explore just those few square kilometers of Gusev crater. Many tens of humans had to participate to guide the rover along a path that was carefully chosen to maximize both safety and science potential. Although Spirit proved to be much more robust and capable than anyone imagined, its speed and mobility were limiting factors. And despite a science payload exquisitely adapted to the tasks it was designed for, surely we failed to recognize and understand important clues to the geologic history we came to investigate. The experience of exploring a planet with a rover is both incredibly exciting and rewarding and incredibly frustrating. It is science by committee modulated by engineering constraints.

    Many on the science team echoed the sentiment that a human geologist could have performed the years of exploration done by Spirit in just a few weeks or perhaps days. It's true that Spirit's amazing toolkit is still unavailable to a terrestrial field geologist. But simple tools combined with the eyes, hands, boots, and brain of a human far outstrip the capabilities of a rover, even those of the next generation Mars Science Laboratory. Given the impossibility of real- time interaction between a human and a robotic surrogate across the millions of kilometers separating Earth from Mars, robotic exploration will never replace what is achievable by humans. Here I am focused on the scientific achievements. The ones that arise from humanity expanding into the solar system, by definition, require humans. Robots should never be viewed as a substitute for humans directly experiencing another world.

    If you are interested in spending dollars well, then the current approach isn't a good one. Above we see a two order magnitude improvement between an instance of unmanned space exploration and the manned equivalent of a single geologist. But the manned mission wouldn't cost two orders of magnitude more (for example, Zubrin's "Direct Mars" approach is thought to cost a few tens of billions, assuming no major innovation in launch vehicle costs) and it'd put down a team for at least a couple of years.

    Not everything experiences this sort of improvement (eg, orbital imaging, communcation), but it doesn't make sense to claim that unmanned is strictly better when it's not.

    Similar arguments hold for more mundane improvements such as manufacturing batches of probes rather than one-off designs. For example, for the cost of the Mars Science Laboratory which will attempt to land in a few days, one could have built and launched several (I think up to six) more Mars Exploration Rovers. Further all of these rovers could have been operating on Mars for years now. MSL is somewhat more capable, but there was a dear cost, a slowing down of research on Mars.

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