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Why NASA's Road To Mars Plan Proves That It Should Return To the Moon First 194

MarkWhittington writes: NASASpaceFlight.com published the results of current NASA thinking concerning what needs to be launched and when to support a crewed mission to Phobos and two crewed missions to the Martian surface between 2033 and 2043. The result is a mind-numbingly complex operation involving dozens of launches to cis-lunar space and Mars using the heavy lift Space Launch System. The architecture includes a collection of habitation modules, Mars landers, propulsion units (both chemical rockets and solar electric propulsion) and other parts of a Mars ship.
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Why NASA's Road To Mars Plan Proves That It Should Return To the Moon First

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  • by bledri ( 1283728 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @09:44PM (#50602219)

    But I think it would take an awful lot of launches to get the fuel production up and running on the moon. And you'd need to design a new, hopefully reusable, moon launched vehicle/fuel depot.

    I think the real problem is how expensive the SLS will be to launch, not the number of launches. Build a truly reusable vehicle, orbit the fuel depots around Earth. Send ISRU equipment to Mars (with lots of backups) and produce the fuel for the return trip. Then the cost of launching large payloads is reduced and there is no need to build a Moon base.

  • Getting more thrust out of the same amount of fuel makes a big difference.

  • by towermac ( 752159 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @10:28PM (#50602337)

    The problem is the politicians giving the missions. We've already been to the Moon, logically, Mars is next. Except we all know there is nothing logical about it. I won't even get into the real reasons we went to the Moon; you all know them.

    I might ask NASA what they think we should do. As the politician in charge, I'd take that with a grain of salt, but certainly give it due consideration. The main saltiness would be that they want to do exactly what the appropriating politicians want to do.

    In the last thread a guy suggested a real spaceship. Sort of like a space station, except able to attach enough thrusters to go somewhere. A rotating habitat surrounded by a meter of water. Sounds damned expensive, but peanuts I think, compared to all this Mars shit.

    Rich people would pay, scientists could study, astronauts could explore; and you don't die from being in it too long.

    Then, after it's been a killer space station for a while, and perhaps looped the Moon and orbited an asteroid or something else neat; you have the option of firing it off towards Mars if you must.

    That beats the shit out of focusing all our wealth on disposable stuff for the one single purpose of placing a footprint on red dirt.

    • Very cool idea but that likely needs many servicing trips like the ISS. Nucular reactor to move all that dead weight and perhaps mining raw moon ice for the water (if launching dozens tons from the moon makes any sense).
      Back of the envelope this costs twice as much as the Mars program.

      • I'm skeptical of double.

        But the fact is, you have a valuable thing that is useful for a long, long time. You haven't wasted your money on a vacation.

  • Two points (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @11:07PM (#50602435)

    First, while Mars requires a longer journey, it actually isn't substantially harder to send a rocket to than the Moon. If you use aerobraking, it's about the same delta-v. Yes, more consumables would be needed because the flight is months instead of days, which does affect the mass of the payload, but it may also be easier to build a sustainable colony on Mars (presence of an atmosphere and maybe water, higher gravity). So I don't think Luna is even really useful as a practice run.

    Second, a launch schedule like this is pretty much the only thing I've heard that could justify the development of SLS. The entire project has smelled like "big bucks on development, goes over budget or budget gets slashed so it only gets used a few times" from the beginning. If they can get Congress to give them the budget for this, yes, that would be worth making SLS for. Will Congress spring for thirty-plus Saturn V-class rockets, for only three missions? I don't think so, but I hope they will anyway.

    • I can agree with what you're saying -- but only if this is a one-time, publicity-stunt-like thing that the United States would be doing just to show the rest of the world how awesome we are.

      However it needs to be more than that, and that's why going back to the Moon first is important. We need to build a permanent colony there. Living on the Moon will be excellent practice for living in other places in our Solar system, and it's close enough that when the inevitable mistakes happen, it'll be possible to se
  • Who thinks we would have been better off spending the trillion dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan war on space? For that money and time we could have a permanent ISS size base at one of the lunar poles. In fact it would be pretty much the same companies making the ships as make the equines for the war machines.

  • You keep using that word. I do not believe that it means what you think it means.
  • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @11:44PM (#50602525)

    First of all, the proposed SLS plan has nothing at all to do with getting to Mars, and everything to do with giving the illusion that SLS has a nice full launch manifest. The mission profile is deliberately designed to require the maximum number of launches of an insanely expensive rocket - so basically, the point is to take as long as possible and spend the maximum amount of money to get to Mars.

    Instead, using technology that exists today (no on-orbit ship manufacturing or propellant depots) we could get to Mars in 10 or so years using something like Mars Direct [wikipedia.org]. The only reason NASA isn't pursuing this, or a plan very much like it, is because it completely obviates the need for many of NASA's pet projects, and SLS. Also, it doesn't funnel maximum $$$ into certain congressional districts.

    The reason we can't get shit done in space is because the politics of NASA are broken. The moon is just a distraction - it's like taking off from Kansas and stopping at Iceland on your way to Australia. There might be some things of interest on the moon, but it makes absolutely no sense as a Mars stepping stone.

    • FInstead, using technology that exists today (no on-orbit ship manufacturing or propellant depots) we could get to Mars in 10 or so years using something like Mars Direct.

      You have to read Zubrin with a boxcar load of salt, as he's not always clear about the difference between actual proven technology, lab experiments, and back of the envelope calculations.

      Most of the technology doesn't in fact actually exist today. The whole handwaving scheme relies on technologies and systems that have been tested (at be

      • Most of the technology doesn't in fact actually exist today. The whole handwaving scheme relies on technologies and systems that have been tested (at best) on the the bench under strict laboratory conditions. (Some of it hasn't even made it off the back of Zubrin's envelope.)

        There's engineering to do, certainly. The technical details are only a small part of what matters though: if we don't get away from this institutional habit of doing engineering in the most inefficient way possible, we're never going to get anything done. Politics shouldn't enter into engineering decisions, and as long as they continue to NASA will be enormously dysfunctional.

        Another great example of this - the X-33 VentureStar actually had a lot to offer as a shuttle replacement, and was showing some serio

      • The technology does exist.
        We have submarines.
        We have people on Mount Everest, in the Antarctica, we had people on the moon.
        We could have gone to mars 40 years ago. There is no fancy extra technology needed. No idea why people like you always claim that. Are you waiting for a Star Trek Enterprise ship to go to Mars?

        • The technology does exist. We have submarines.

          And as former submariner, I'm sharply aware of the technology used by submarines. And it's limits. And how little of it applies to going to Mars.

          We have people on Mount Everest, in the Antarctica, we had people on the moon.

          None of which are relevant to the challenges of a Mars mission.

          We could have gone to mars 40 years ago. There is no fancy extra technology needed.

          With enough money (it would have taken a great deal, more than Lunar missions)

  • "You rocket people. I want to see some dudes walking around on the Moon. You have 7 years. Do it."
    And they did.

    Today, not so much. Christ...it takes 20 years just to get some new airplane off the ground.
    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      That's mostly a consequence of the fact that we've done the easy bits. Mars is a much, much harder place to get to than the moon.
      • Mars is easy to get to. OTOH, It is hard to send humans there alive and in good health, or to get them back alive as well.
    • Got news for you. Most of the design for the moon was already in the works in 1957. The saturn family started clear back then.
  • There is a plan to go to Mars, it is a fairly sensible one, and not landing on the Moon is a feature, not a bug.

    That does not imply that I don't think we should go back to the Moon. I think we should, but I think we should do it commercially.

  • Why can't we just give up on this stupid idea of going to Mars which has a low probability of success and even lower probability of actually being seen through, and instead just send more robots each of which has an excellent chance of success?
  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday September 26, 2015 @02:32AM (#50602841) Homepage Journal
    Once again, I'd like to pour cold water — and ice — on the plans to colonize other planet. Before those become sensible, the vast unsettled areas of Earth should be colonized:
    • Siberia
    • American Midwest
    • Canadian woods
    • Australian Outback
    • Sahara and other deserts
    • Antarctica!

    Yes, they remain unsettled for a reason, but are still much more hospitable, than any other body of the Solar system. And the Internet latency will not suck.

    Oh, and almost forgot, there is also ocean floor — roughly 2/3rds of the planet's surface... Today's 7 billion humans can grow to 40 or 60 before we really should start spending serious efforts to spilling over to another rock...

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      I live in the "Canadian woods." There are people here. American Midwest? Been there. People. Australian Outback and Sahara, ditto. I haven't been to Siberia or the Antarctic, but I know people who have, and guess what? Permanent inhabitants. These places were all colonized centuries ago, except for Antarctica, which was more recent.

      Will we have Mars colonies? Probably, someday. Someone will have to think of a good reason to go there first. Moon colonies are more interesting right now. If we set u

  • It seems to me that the logical step before establishing a permanent base anywhere else in the solar system we need to have a permanent presence on the Moon. It is the logical step to develop the knowledge and experience needed for such an endeavour. It is close enough to earth that "relief missions" can be contemplated, yet hard enough to reach that you better had a solid plan in place requiring it to be self-sustaining. Once the bugs are out of the system on the Moon is the time to take on Mars. And yes,

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