Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Get HideMyAss! VPN, PC Mag's Top 10 VPNs of 2016 for 55% off for a Limited Time ×
Mars NASA The Almighty Buck

How Can NASA's Road To Mars Be Made More Affordable? 211

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger published a piece that touched on one of the most vexing issues surrounding NASA's "road to Mars," that being that of cost. How does one design a deep space exploration program that "the nation can afford," to coin a phrase uttered by the old NASA hand interviewed for the article? The phrase is somewhat misleading since one of the truisms of federal budgeting is that the nation can afford quite a bit. A more accurate phrase might be, "that the nation is willing to spend."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Can NASA's Road To Mars Be Made More Affordable?

Comments Filter:
  • Robots Only (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:13PM (#50608879)

    Obviously the least expensive in terms of consumables.

  • It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:17PM (#50608895)

    Just cancel the F-35 project. That will buy you about 5 trips to Mars.

    • An even better idea would be to do it as an international collaboration - but a real international collaboration based on international treaty (like CERN) not a US-controlled project with other partners (like the ill-fated SSC). Not only do you share the costs but it might also help to reduce the need for those F-35s.
    • Just cancel the F-35 project. That will buy you about 5 trips to Mars.

      what? cancel the joint strike paperweight?

  • by StevenMaurer ( 115071 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:22PM (#50608921) Homepage

    Well, yes. It's affordability too, but try to imagine how soured on space the general public would get to see people slowly dying in an under-resourced "base" on Mars.

    If you want to make Mars at all realistic, you need to start by building a set of space and mars-dust hardened machinery capable of doing remote controlled construction. What we send would need to have the ability to tunnel, create cement from Martian soils, smelt, and construct buildings. All to create an environment that might be capable of sustaining life. This is because keeping astronauts alive is orders of magnitude harder than anything else we might conceivably do.

    Technologically, we're no where near there yet. Counter-intuitively, the hardest step is the first one: getting out of our own gravity well. The minimal amount of material that we would have to get into orbit to be able to construct a settlement is considerably larger than the International Space station, which is, I remind everyone, the most expensive human construct - at $100 billion dollars. The next most difficult stage would be landing on Mars with precision, not breaking anything.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @06:14PM (#50609609)

      Well, yes. It's affordability too, but try to imagine how soured on space the general public would get to see people slowly dying in an under-resourced "base" on Mars.

      I think you greatly underestimate the public's appetite for risk. We've been willing to watch our sons and daughters die by the thousands to take villages and hilltops only to give them back a week, a month or a year later with zero long-term achievement and right now politicians running for President are advocating to ramp that up.

      I can't imagine that the public would be turned off by deaths associated with a Mars mission failure. What are we talking about -- 5 people? 10 people? 100 people? And it wouldn't be for some shit patch of dirt it would be to explore space and expand human horizons. That would inspire people, not intimidate them or discourage them.

      Exploration has always been risky. People willingly entertain the risk of dying climbing, sailing, diving, parachuting, flying small planes, racing motorcycles, cars and so on. Because somebody might die is a lousy reason not to explore.

      • think you greatly underestimate the public's appetite for risk. We've been willing to watch our sons and daughters die by the thousands to take villages and hilltops only to give them back a week, a month or a year later with zero long-term achievement and right now politicians running for President are advocating to ramp that up.

        "The public" has had no appetite to go to war; when people support war, it is because politicians tell them that it is necessary for their own safety, and because it's mostly not

        • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

          If you mean putting humans on Mars isn't needed for mapping or geology missions, you're right. But exploration isn't just bringing back the facts of remote places for scientists to go over. Exploration is also humans going to places and being there and seeing it for themselves because, if we're serious about the survival of the species in the very long term, that is exactly what we will have to be able to do.

          • If you mean putting humans on Mars isn't needed for mapping or geology missions, you're right. But exploration isn't just bringing back the facts of remote places for scientists to go over. Exploration is also humans going to places and being there and seeing it for themselves because, if we're serious about the survival of the species in the very long term, that is exactly what we will have to be able to do.

            we can transport our criminals and/or irish people there.

      • I think you greatly underestimate the public's appetite for risk. We've been willing to watch our sons and daughters die by the thousands to take villages and hilltops only to give them back a week, a month or a year later with zero long-term achievement and right now politicians running for President are advocating to ramp that up.

        I can't imagine that the public would be turned off by deaths associated with a Mars mission failure...

        You surely know that what you're saying isn't true. War deaths, even pointless ones like Iraq, are tightly knitted into the Nation's ego by nationalistic rhetoric. The public's acceptance of those deaths isn't because of an "appetite for risk", it's due to their belief that these deaths are a sacrifice the nation must make to maintain "their Freedom." "Freedom" being a word that has had its meaning twisted rather horribly in recent years. Hence every patriot has a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker, etc. O

  • by Schmorgluck ( 1293264 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:25PM (#50608935)
    One way I can see to make things cheaper is to use the Interplanetary Transport Network [wikipedia.org] to ship the bulk of the material needed for a settlement. But I'm quite sure someone better qualified than I am already took this possibility into account. The ITN has already been used to send probes, after all.
    • One way I can see to make things cheaper is to use the Interplanetary Transport Network [wikipedia.org] to ship the bulk of the material needed for a settlement. But I'm quite sure someone better qualified than I am already took this possibility into account. The ITN has already been used to send probes, after all.

      but then you have to worry that you'll run out of 32 bit interplanetary transport protocol addresses

  • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:33PM (#50608975)

    A more accurate phrase might be, "that the nation is willing to spend."

    I'm pretty sure "the nation" is not willing to waste so much money on the military, but yet here we are.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2015 @04:09PM (#50609105)

      Right now, China is extending over it's neighbors and other "contested" areas. Russia is trying to recreate the soviet empire, then there are a lot of countries trying to develop nuclear weapons while led by sociopaths ...
      If you discount so easily the need for military might, then history has nothing for you.

    • A more accurate phrase might be, "that the nation is willing to spend."

      I'm pretty sure "the nation" is not willing to waste so much money on the military, but yet here we are.

      every country seems to bloat their military. In Russia, every railway clerk or uniformed doorman for an apartment building is part of the "militia". In Egypt, the military runs everything from farms to appliance manufacturing. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages... [jadaliyya.com]

  • How Can NASA's Road To Mars Be Made More Affordable?

    By not sending people when there is no compelling reason to.


  • Power it by the massive amounts of BS produced by politicians.

    We can harness sunlight, wind and waves etc for electricity so this should be our next big step for green affordable energy.
  • Defining "what for" for one.
    Also the conquest of space is not a game for short attention spans. The distances are great and the challenges are monumental.
    The "game changing" technology that is needed is self replicating resource and infrastructure.
    We need to put a lathe on the moon and a robot to work the thing.

    • Somewhere out in space is a great big rock heading our way. It might not hit for ten million years, or it might hit this decade, but it will hit eventually.

      The long term aim should be to establish a sustainable colony somewhere. That isn't possible right now, the technology is still a long way from ready. We can lay the groundwork though - develop new technologies, gather data on how they perform, refine designs, study the planet. The first steps that later generations can build upon, because it's going to

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tomhath ( 637240 )
        If life on Earth were wiped out (or severely impacted) the Mars colony would have no chance of survival. It's not like sending a ship full of pilgrims across an ocean.
        • It would take lots of ships, of course. You'd be building an entire industrial infrastructure from scratch in a very harsh environment. It's not going to be cheap, and it's not going to be fast.

      • Somewhere out in space is a great big rock heading our way. It might not hit for ten million years, or it might hit this decade, but it will hit eventually.

        The long term aim should be to establish a sustainable colony somewhere. That isn't possible right now, the technology is still a long way from ready. We can lay the groundwork though - develop new technologies, gather data on how they perform, refine designs, study the planet. The first steps that later generations can build upon, because it's going to be the most expensive undertaking in all of human history to date and someone has to be willing to make the first payments even if they will never see the ultimate result.

        the biggest thing is get familiar with what it's like offworld. And education is always expensive, one way or the other. so, no surprise there.

    • by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @04:59PM (#50609339)

      Which is exactly why as a space systems engineer, I'm working on Seed Factories ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/S... [wikibooks.org] ). Fully automated self-replication is hard. Instead, a Seed Factory grows grows from a starter set by three methods rather than one:

      * Diversification - making new machines not in the starter set
      * Scaling - making different size machines (usually larger), and
      * Replication - making exact copies of what you already have

      Your starter set allows you to make *some* parts and materials locally. The remainder is imported. As you add more machines, you can do other processes and make other products, and reduce how much you need to import.

      Rather than try to make it all automated, you use remote control and *some* live humans where necessary. Thus an asteroid processing plant in near-Lunar orbit, or robots building a Lunar base can mostly be controlled from Earth, with occasional human visitors to fix things. Once you are producing food, water, oxygen, fuel, etc , then you can bring in more permanent occupants. The same goes with Mars. Start with a control station on Phobos, which is close enough for real-time VR. The crew remote control surface robots who prepare the landing site. Once enough equipment is set up down there, humans can follow.

      Other people are working on finding asteroids and how to bring them where you need them. That's why I'm working on self-bootstrapping factories. Once you have the raw materials, you have to make useful products out of it. Launching whole industrial plants is too heavy and expensive. So you want to make most of the equipment on-site if you can, out of the materials you are mining.

      • Point well made...and the mix of tele-operate and autonomy is the proper unsurpassed role for manned missions.
        Capsules and rockets are 60s science. Organization will conquer the solar system.
        More money for NASA robotics.

      • 3 to 22 minute communication delay makes it very hard to tele-operate.

  • Crowdsourcing, 3d printers, and Elon Musk. Managed by Donald Trump using software written by Lennart Poettering.

  • I have looked and I can not seem to find a complete budget for the road map. Before we ask if it is affordable we need to ask how much will it cost.

    • Even with a "budget" it's not that easy. Most money government spends isn't lost. It's just recirculated in the economy. You pay scientists and engineers, and they pay tax, and they buy things in stores that pay tax etc, and the GDP goes up. For sure the hardware that is sent to Mars and the energy used to do it is gone. But most money spent isn't.

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @05:37PM (#50609473) Journal

        You've understood an important point, but missed a critical companion point. You're correct that cash doesn't normally disappear, it circulates. But the money represents _value_, resources. _Value_ can disappear , resources CAN be squandered.

        If scientists spend $1 million of their time doing anything else, such as working on vaccines, you end up with $1million worth of vaccine research done, and still they spend their salaries on stuff. If the engineers design safer cars, we get safer cars (millions of them), and the engineers still spend the cash. On the other hand, if the engineers spend their time designing a space probe, we get a space probe (one) and then literally send that value off into space.

        When we say "spend $100 million on mars " what that means is "spend $100 million worth of engineer's time, rather than spending that time on making cars safer, making high speed internet more affordable, etc.)

        You CAN argue that it's better to spend that money (engineering time, etc) on a mars probe than to spend it on anything else. And that's exactly the argument you have to make. Because we only have a certain number of engineers , and they only work a certain number of hours. Dollars are a way to put a consistent number on all of the different resources used up in a project, including people's time.

        • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

          Sure, but honestly, how much value is actually being lost in this manner? Are you wasting the time of engineers or physicists? No. This is what they do. They're not going to turn into people who grow crops for a living or medical doctors.

          Most of these engineers and scientists *want* to work on this stuff. Some could go either way, I'm sure, but I'd say that most of them would be proud to say they work on the space program. They don't want to work on cars. They don't care about high speed internet.

      • We need number so we can make a valid decision. Do we have enough tax money to divert to this project without crippling government services? Without numbers we have no idea.

        The thing about paying scientists and engineers and then reaping taxes is that it is diminishing returns. The money is not gone from the economy but it is gone from government control. We may not have enough tax money to fund things like health care, roads, etc. Most things are built to further growth. Material sent to Mars just becomes

        • Sorry, wrong "broken window theory". I meant this one [investopedia.com].

          • Even if that objection were true, it doesn't apply here in that this isn't destruction, it's construction, in the long term we get a Mars Outpost from it, and in the short term we get lots of science and the off-shoots of that science.

            • in the long term we get a Mars Outpost

              Which has no economic benefit to Earth and in fact has a drain as it has to be maintained by future missions.

              in the short term we get lots of science and the off-shoots of that science.

              That science could also be obtained by spending much less money on direct funding of that science rather than as an offshoot. I also wonder how the science and design around many of the technologies needed in space will have application on Earth.

              I would rather spend 10% of the Mars costs on direct research that waste the 90% on science for science sake.

              • Which has no economic benefit to Earth and in fact has a drain as it has to be maintained by future missions.

                How small minded.

                That science could also be obtained by spending much less money on direct funding of that science rather than as an offshoot.

                You simply can't say that.

                I would rather spend 10% of the Mars costs on direct research that waste the 90% on science for science sake.

                I'd rather boost the economy by spending on the big project.

        • We need number so we can make a valid decision. Do we have enough tax money to divert to this project without crippling government services?

          The question implies a falsehood. There isn't a limited tax fund from which different things must be picked. Tax is a flow, not a cost. And keeping it flowing is beneficial to the economy. The moon programme for example expanded the economy. Without the moon program, the US would be poorer.

          • There isn't a limited tax fund from which different things must be picked.

            On a year by year basis there is a limited amount of money that is received by the government through taxes. How can you say that is not a limited tax fund?

            The taxes that are currently flowing in to government are currently flowing out of government and more. That is what is called a deficit. That deficit has to be paid back eventually and interest on the accumulated debt paid. Governments get in trouble when significant portions of the tax flow are diverted to pay interest on accumulated debt.

            • On a year by year basis there is a limited amount of money that is received by the government through taxes.

              Of course it's not limited. The more the economy grows, the bigger the tax take. The bigger the tax take the more the government can spend. The more the government s[pends the more the economy grows. It's a virtuous circle.

    • About what the NASA budget is now. Currently they are spending several billion a year developing the SLS and Orion. Once their designs are done, they can turn to making the other necessary hardware and launch costs. The ISS is supposed to be retired in the 2020's, so that part of the budget can be reassigned to other missions. Don't think of it as a fixed project cost, government agencies don't work that way. Rather, they have an annual budget that is approximately the same from year to year, and proje

      • Don't think of it as a fixed project cost, government agencies don't work that way. Rather, they have an annual budget that is approximately the same from year to year, and projects are spread out to fit within that budget.

        You do need a project cost so you can figure out how many years the project will take. For example, if the plan calls for missions every 2 years but the cost divided by the budget can only afford a mission every four years then there is a problem. Missions to space only work on a schedule.

        What of the project cost for the next 50 years would eat up the budget for the next 100 years? I don't know if that is true because I have not seen a full project cost.

        • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

          It is more important to me that the money is consistently budgeted from year to year and kept on track than for any "date" to be set for the end of the program.

          If you spend $1 billion (or its inflationary equivalent) on this program per year, we will get to Mars and colonize it. What we should not be saying is that, "if we can't do it in 50 years, it isn't worth budgeting for".

          Going to space regularly is going to cost a colossal amount of money, but it need not all be spent in the next ten years. I would

      • Apollo: 25B
        STS: $200B

        It's not unreasonable to estimate that a major space undertaking will be an order of magnitude larger by the time things are done. I could be shy by 20-30%, but I think 2 Trillion is a fair over-under cost.

        It will never happen with the current budgets. Even if you stripped out all the pet projects and tail chasing and gave over all the launch vehicle research to private industry you'd still only have 3-5 Billion to spend. There are many technical challenges which exist which still need

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @04:27PM (#50609187) Journal

    You want to go to Mars? How about Saturn? Or a neighboring star or galaxy? Maybe even skip to an alternate universe all together?

    Hollywood does it every year for $50-200M a pop. Most of the people in this country believe all the impossible stuff they do in the movies is real anyway, and couldn't tell if even the basic physics was so screwed up as to be laughable. Heck, even the school systems and police - you know, the "smart ones" we let teach our kids and the experts on explosives - get all their bomb identification training from Hollywood.

    You want these people to fork over real money for real science when fake science that makes them feel good can be had for $11.50 a seat and a $4 soda?

  • In an international project?

    Surely a few of them have a few dimes clinking around in their pockets?

  • OK, I'll bite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joh ( 27088 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @04:39PM (#50609263)

    What is the nation willing to spend? The true question would be: Why should the nation be willing to spend anything? To go back in history: Why was the nation willing to spend what it did to land on the Moon? The answer is: Because it wanted to show off. Because it wanted to show that its system was better than that of the "other nation".

    And we are at a very similar point now. Because what we are fighting now is not a nation but a wave of religious nuts who think that all the laws that humanity needs where sent down to our planet by some God 1400 years ago, literally. While we believe that man has only to obey the laws of nature and then those that he makes up for himself.

    So we should offer those nuts a bet: Let them try to pray one or more of them onto the surface of Mars and we try to land one or more of us there by learning about and applying the laws of nature and lots of good old engineering. Who wins that race is right, who loses it crawls back under his stone, with his holy book or without it as he wants.

    What we need to do is to demonstrate that rational thinking and getting things done just BECAUSE WE WANT TO is what makes us human. That we're tool-using apes and we're proud of it. So let us make some awesome tools to make clear that religion is a private thing and that the book that defines us is still being written. By us. So let us turn another page.

    The new (not entirely) Cold War is about exactly that. It's about clear thinking and rationalism versus magic thinking and religious madness. And mind you, this is not a war just between nations anymore. There are nuts among us too. Teach them a lesson.

    • That we're tool-using apes and we're proud of it.

      If you'd seen me trying to fix the vacuum cleaner this afternoon, you wouldn't so proud. I was working in the living room (!) because I didn't want to miss any of the football game. I put newspaper down and was doing fine until I started up the dismantled vacuum cleaner with the hose and wand assembly removed for cleaning. A cloud of dust and other unspeakable stuff blew up in my face covering the furniture and the drapes. The living room looked like Mt

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Mars could be a great opportunity for cooperation and bridge building with other nations. A lot of people don't realize that the Kennedy was in talks to with Russian PM about doing a joint moon mission until he was assassinated. If he had lived it's likely that Apollo 11 would have had an American and Russian on board, both stepping off that ladder at the same time. The cost of the programme would likely have been a lot lower and shared between the two countries.

      If the we want to get to Mars soon we need Ch

  • I've said it before... what we need to do to make manned space travel a permanent thing and not an expensive luxury is to find and develop order-of-magnitude improvements in launch costs, lighter and stronger materials, and much more reliable systems.

    The long pole in the tent on costs nowadays is getting to orbit. If your launch costs to orbit are tens of thousands of dollars per kg your mars mission, which would require hundreds of tons of material put into orbit, will rapidly eat up any imaginable budget

  • I've often wondered if NASA could even get us to the moon again, let alone Mars. Typical of recent bureaucracies, I wonder if they could manage the finances as well as the technical development of another manned lunar landing. Heck, we can't even shuttle a person to the ISS today.

    NASA seems to have stopped its ability to accomplish complex tasks as they have in the past IMHO.

  • Pass campaign finance reform
  • Let NASA build what it needs for the lowest cost without interference from the politicians. Stop treating NASA as a way to distribute money to the districts and spreading projects throughout the country.

  • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:30PM (#50610813)

    We know how to do this, and NASA has known how since at least the mid 90's.

    Mars Direct [wikipedia.org] is the answer. This would get boots on Mars in 10 or so years, and if we cancelled SLS and put that money into Mars development and commercial crew, this could happen without even increasing the current budget.

    The problems are NOT technical. They aren't even budgetary. The problems are political - spasmodic direction every term or two from new presidential initiatives, the use of NASA solely for vote-buying pork by congress, and the institutional dysfunction of NASA administration, favoring the most complicated, expensive, and high-risk technologies possible with these plans. If people get educated about mission profiles like Mars Direct, and start recognizing initiatives like "road to Mars" for the political pandering that they are, perhaps we can see some sanity restored to the space program.

  • ...and let it solve the problem. It can send tiny self-replicating nano robots to mars (and the rest of the solar system) and terraform those ugly, hostile lumps of rock and ice and gas to our heart's content. No need to send soft, squishy, inefficient bags of meat across several AUs when you can use a sturdy swarm of several trillion nanos to do the job.

    And while they are at it they can clean up Earth too.

    Just make sure we survive the singularity and won't turn into grey goo!

    Good read on the topic of ASI:

    h

  • Apparently they have no budget problems, and happily deploy to remote shitholes for millions of dollars per day.

  • Show the business world that there is money to be made off-world and you'll get plenty of investors interested in funding it.
  • make it look like a NASCAR car. hang a camera outside it all through the trip to broadcast the sponsors back to earth. put sponsorship stickers all over the astronauts' suits too, like NASCAR drivers.

"If a computer can't directly address all the RAM you can use, it's just a toy." -- anonymous comp.sys.amiga posting, non-sequitir

Working...