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NASA Moon Space Science

NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket (buzzfeed.com) 317

An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.
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NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket

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  • Why not land on the moon?

    • Because you have to walk before you run. Before landing on the moon don't you think NASA should get to the moon first. Apollo 11 was not the first Apollo mission to reach the moon if you remember history.
    • Been there... Done that.... Plus, it's a whole new kettle of fish when you start trying to land on return and surviving the trip.

      Maybe if we billed it as a "dress rehearsal" for a Mars mission.... Go out and orbit the moon for the duration of a Mars trip, go to the surface, return and orbit the moon some more to simulate the trip home.... All within a quick (a couple of days) return distance of home... Maybe that would sell the PR better?

      • Good luck getting anyone to sign up for that kind of radiation exposure for a "dress rehearsal"...

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      With what descent stage? (and preferably ascent stage too ;) )

    • Money problems? Consider; Trump Tower, The Moon.
      • Money problems? Consider; Trump Tower, The Moon.

        Appeal to his ego, tell him space tourism is going to be YUUUGE!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Landing on the moon is much, much harder than just flying around it.

      If you're just flying past the moon, you need a capsule of, say, 2 tonnes to carry a couple of astronauts. But if you want to slow down into a low lunar orbit, you need about 25% of your mass in fuel on the way out (an extra 0.5 tonnes) and another 25% of your mass in fuel to slow down into lunar orbit in the first place (an extra 0.625 tonnes, since you have to slow down the fuel you'll use on the way out).

      To actually land, you need about

  • We've already done this a couple of times... The public will just throw up their hands and say "Nothing new to see here! Move along!" Even landing on the moon wouldn't be enough here.

    Where I applaud the effort here and believe the money would be well spent doing this, In order to get this kind of thing funded at NASA, we are going to need a better narrative for the press to run with. Something that seems new and exciting. Sadly, because we have been running NASA on less than a shoestring budget for ove

    • NASA has been handed many conflicting missions and objectives over the years. One objective is to colonize reach Mars and colonize it. While they are different ways to get there, one path is to first establish a moon base and launch from there instead of Earth orbit. That requires returning to the Moon.
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:43AM (#53900165) Homepage

        While they are different ways to get there, one path is to first establish a moon base and launch from there instead of Earth orbit.

        Launch what, exactly, from the Moon?

        I think you're confusing "a moon base" with "a full industrial infrastructure capable of producing complex objects". Even the concept that it would be cheaper to launch unrefined raw regolith from the moon cheaper than we can launch equivalent mass payloads from Earth anytime even remotely soon is absurd.

        Earth is where industry is. The fact that we're a deep gravity well increases costs, but that difference is nothing compared to the difference in industrial capacities on and off Earth. Every production process has feedstock and consumables dependency chains. Those have dependency chains, and those have further chains, to a massive network of ever-increasing complexity. One of the worst dependencies is humans, which in turn spawn massive dependency chains.

        Now, ultimately you can meet these things to the degree that the few things you have to import to sustain local industrial activity (at incredible cost) do not price the cost of local rocket launches out of the market., but if you think that's going to happen any time in the next few decades, you're deluding yourself. The serious proposals for going to the moon before Mars are for the moon to function as a testbed for habitats and systems designed for Mars.

        Anyway, I'm personally much more for the habitation of Venus than Mars, but that is neither here nor there :)

        • I think you're confusing "a moon base" with "a full industrial infrastructure capable of producing complex objects". Even the concept that it would be cheaper to launch unrefined raw regolith from the moon cheaper than we can launch equivalent mass payloads from Earth anytime even remotely soon is absurd.

          Nowhere did I say that NASA needs to rebuild and entire installation; however, in terms of fuel cost it is much easier to launch from the Earth to the moon then refuel at the moon to launch at Mars than to launch from Earth directly to Mars. Do the math.

          Earth is where industry is. The fact that we're a deep gravity well increases costs, but that difference is nothing compared to the difference in industrial capacities on and off Earth. Every production process has feedstock and consumables dependency chains. Those have dependency chains, and those have further chains, to a massive network of ever-increasing complexity. One of the worst dependencies is humans, which in turn spawn massive dependency chains.

          Current NASA plans have the moon as a refueling point. That requires a moon base.

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Nowhere did I say that NASA needs to rebuild and entire installation; however, in terms of fuel cost it is much easier to launch from the Earth to the moon then refuel at the moon

            Implicit in saying that is the premise that the moon has an industrial base, because you don't make fuel and launch rockets without an industrial base. And an industrial base means dependency chains. And even importing a very small fraction of the amount from Earth to fill gaps in their dependency chains that they launch from the

            • Implicit in saying that is the premise that the moon has an industrial base, because you don't make fuel and launch rockets without an industrial base. And an industrial base means dependency chains. And even importing a very small fraction of the amount from Earth to fill gaps in their dependency chains that they launch from the surface would easily price them out of the market. Never mind the absurd capital costs you have to amortize.

              What is the cost of launching a Mars vehicle directly from Earth? Insanely high. And it has diminishing returns. There is no practical way to launch a large enough manned vehicle for Mars and have enough fuel to make the trip in a reasonable amount of time (even if it is a one-way trip.). The vast amount of fuel is spent to launch something into orbit; there's little left for the journey. Let's take a look at the Falcon Heavy heavy lift vehicle [wikipedia.org] which is one of the heaviest available right now. The payload t

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                What is the cost of launching a Mars vehicle directly from Earth?

                $7k/kg by Falcon Heavy pricing. Would you rather a different launch system?

                Insanely high

                Not really. But the problem is your "lowering prices" standards involves having to send things into to an entirely different gravity well (consumables), and landed propulsively, so that other different things can then be launched from said gravity well.

                And it has diminishing returns

                Your proposal, absolutely.

                From Earth, there are no diminishing returns wha

                • $7k/kg by Falcon Heavy pricing. Would you rather a different launch system?

                  Have you been paying attention? The proposal is not to launch DIRECTLY from Earth. The word you don't seem to understand is DIRECTLY.

                  Not really. But the problem is your "lowering prices" standards involves having to send things into to an entirely different gravity well (consumables), and landed propulsively, so that other different things can then be launched from said gravity well.

                  What? The problem is no one has made a vehicle large enough to launch a manned Mars vehicle. No one. It's not about "lowering" standards. It's about practical limits.

                  Your proposal, absolutely.

                  False: It's not my proposal. Experts like at MIT say it's the est option. [mit.edu]

                  From Earth, there are no diminishing returns whatsoever. Just the opposite - the more you launch, the cheaper it gets per kg.

                  Er? Are you insane? There are always diminishing returns. So the ISS was launched at once will all modules intact or was it built over decad

          • by phayes ( 202222 )

            I think you're confusing "a moon base" with "a full industrial infrastructure capable of producing complex objects". Even the concept that it would be cheaper to launch unrefined raw regolith from the moon cheaper than we can launch equivalent mass payloads from Earth anytime even remotely soon is absurd.

            Nowhere did I say that NASA needs to rebuild and entire installation; however, in terms of fuel cost it is much easier to launch from the Earth to the moon then refuel at the moon to launch at Mars than to launch from Earth directly to Mars. Do the math.

            Delta-V costs are not the only criteria. You're the one proposing that it is "easier [to] refuel at the moon" [sic] so the onus is on you to detail how much developing a moon base sufficient to perform extraction of fuel/oxidizer and the means to transfer them to earth launched vehicles are versus doing so from earth. Don't forget that spending billions to develop a rarely used infrastructure is precisely the point that most critics of NASA have at present...

            Earth is where industry is. The fact that we're a deep gravity well increases costs, but that difference is nothing compared to the difference in industrial capacities on and off Earth. Every production process has feedstock and consumables dependency chains. Those have dependency chains, and those have further chains, to a massive network of ever-increasing complexity. One of the worst dependencies is humans, which in turn spawn massive dependency chains.

            Current NASA plans have the moon as a refueling point. That requires a moon base.

            "Current" NASA plans have a tendency to change wi

            • Delta-V costs are not the only criteria.

              The number one limiting factor of any space vehicle is cost per kg at launch. NASA could build a Mars vehicle any size they wanted except they have to figure a way to get it in orbit without spending the entire budget to launch it.

              You're the one proposing that it is "easier [to] refuel at the moon" [sic] so the onus is on you to detail how much developing a moon base

              I am not proposing. I am relaying what has been proposed. [space.com]

              sufficient to perform extraction of fuel/oxidizer and the means to transfer them to earth launched vehicles are versus doing so from earth.

              No oxidizer is required for electrolysis.

              Don't forget that spending billions to develop a rarely used infrastructure is precisely the point that most critics of NASA have at present...

              1) I didn't say it would be easy. I said it would be "easier".

              2) How much fuel is left in a space vehicle after Earth orbit is reached? Very little. There's a reason most space pr

          • Going to the moon is not like going to Disneyland. There's zero reason to "refuel". And getting fuel from the moon is orders of magnitude more expensive than getting it from Earth.
        • Habitation of Venus would be "cloud cities" for the next several centuries, unless you've got a better Terraforming plan than any I've read.

    • How would the money be well spent?

      If the money is spent paying Google, Netflix, Verizon, or other engineers, we end up with newer infrastructure, better services, and the like. If it's spent building rockets to circle the moon, then we still pay this (not just "we pay it in taxes", but the labor is spent and the labor is compensated--we work and we exchange our time for this), and what do we receive?

      Wasteful spending reduces the amount of stuff you receive for the work you do. That's true across an ent

      • The rocket is being built already, you know. The question here is whether the first launch, which is already scheduled, should carry humans around the moon, or carry an empty capsule around the moon.
        • That's only temporal: was it a bad idea, and should we hang someone for not stopping it?

          Bad ideas don't become good ideas just because they've already done their damage.

      • How would the money be well spent?

        If the money is spent paying Google, Netflix, Verizon, or other engineers, we end up with newer infrastructure, better services, and the like. If it's spent building rockets to circle the moon, then we still pay this (not just "we pay it in taxes", but the labor is spent and the labor is compensated--we work and we exchange our time for this), and what do we receive?

        Wasteful spending reduces the amount of stuff you receive for the work you do. That's true across an entire economy for obvious reasons (if half the farmers instead make war machines, half the food doesn't get made, and you pay for war machines that only go out to get blown up). What are we gaining by spending $23 billion here?

        You cannot be serious... Do you have any idea what kinds of technology advancement NASA has been a primary driver of? The list is long, varied and many things invented for our space programs of the 1960-70's are ubiquitous now. Ever used Velcro? Ceramics? Digital cameras? Miniaturized solid state RF communications devices? Anything that depends on something in orbit (GPS, Most Syndicated Radio programs, most remote Sports TV coverage...). Need I go on?

        One would expect a new space program would have si

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      I'd rather they spend the money on real science than dog and pony shows. Manned missions are expensive. They could launch dozens of satellites that actually do science for the cost of this one mission.

    • "We're doing it so the Chinese don't claim the Moon..."

      • 1-The outer space treaty prohibits doing that, and they don't have the military to enforce such a claim. 2-If China goes broke trying to colonize the moon it means they don't go broke starting WW3, not a bad outcome.
  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:32AM (#53900099) Homepage Journal

    How expensive would it be to re-create the Apollo program?

    Would it be cheaper to do an "Apollo plus" with SOME modern technology where modern tech happens to be cheaper or the same price, but leaving out modern tech where it's more expensive?

    In other words, would we save $BIGBUCKS by building on what we have instead of starting nearly from scratch?

    Before anyone points it out, I am aware that significant amounts of the original Apollo program's designs have been lost, either literally though lost blueprints/design-documents or in practice because the "institutional knowledge" is long-gone. I also know that the original manufacturing facilities are long gone and they would have to be rebuilt. However, significant parts of the design work is either available or easily reverse-engineered, so we wouldn't be starting from scratch.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How expensive would it be to re-create the Apollo program?

      "This graph shows the amount spent by the United States on piloted spaceflight from 1959 to 2015. It shows the importance of the Apollo program ($100 billion spent over ten years) and of the Space Shuttle ($200 billion over 40 years)" [thespacereview.com]. A quick search suggests that NASA's total annual budget for this year is something around $19 billion for context, so Apollo would consume a little over half NASA's total budget per year over the same ten-year period. (That $100 Bn figure is inflation adjusted as far as I

    • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:59AM (#53900265)

      "would we save $BIGBUCKS by building on what we have instead of starting nearly from scratch?".

      In short - often no.
      Nobody sane thinks that you can launch SLS for under 2 billion dollars per launch.
      This is a launch cost of $30000 per kg of payload.

      Falcon 9 can launch the same payload (admittedly split into several) for $5000/kg.
      Falcon heavy (debut flight expected within several months) launches can currently be bought for around $1500/kg.

      SLS 'benefited' from congress - who at best have a passing knowledge of rocketry, but a very good knowledge of who makes existing hardware in their constituencies mandating that it use shuttle components.

      If you can get - for the same launch cost - not 70 tons, but 1400 tons to orbit, even if they are in 54 ton, not 70 ton lumps - it starts being really questionable what the benefit of the 'shuttle derived' heritage is buying you.

      I note also that SpaceX has an at least credible plan to get launch costs down from the above $1500/kg to $30/kg or so, in a totally reusable vehicle.
      At this sort of cost, it becomes insane not to entirely reevaluate your lunar strategy.

      For example, it may become entirely reasonable not to use a lightweight aluminium-lithium stir-welded composite structure which is indeed very light, but requires months of engineering to design and costs millions, but instead a half inch thick decent aluminium structure that costs tens of thousands.

      • I agree. The money would be better spent in SpaceX's ITS interplanetary Booster/spaceship program [wikipedia.org] which would only cost $10 Billion to develop and $62m per launch. The ITS Spaceship [wikipedia.org] could land 100 tons on the moon and return. ITS could also land 100 tons on Mars and return if refueled in situ.. SpaceX does not want to be seen as a competitor to SLS but ITS economics make it hard to ignore.

    • Would it be cheaper to do an "Apollo plus" with SOME modern technology where modern tech happens to be cheaper or the same price, but leaving out modern tech where it's more expensive?

      What technology could be saved from Apollo? The idea of the technology could be re-used but in terms of actual physical objects none of the items from Apollo can be used. For example some of the technology of space suits pioneered by Apollo can be used in making new space suits but it will still cost money to make the suits. It will cost money to design the suit from scratch in the first place.

      In other words, would we save $BIGBUCKS by building on what we have instead of starting nearly from scratch?

      What money do you have in mind that could be saved? Because the vast majority of the engineering has to be re-done.

      • The Saturn program should have never been abandoned that's for certain, but other aspects of Apollo technology are literally a few technical generations old now. This is like arguing "rather than building a new CPU, we should reverse engineer a 4004."

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      As you note, the tooling for Apollo doesn't exist. The suppliers don't exist. Some parts of the design don't exist any more, and that which does is just on paper. Everything would have to be started over in terms of modern CAD diagrams, full testing, etc. It would be more expensive to recreate Apollo than to make a new system with better performance. Today we have better alloys, better performance designs, more knowledge. And we do have infrastructure and suppliers that exist today, so it makes much m

    • How expensive would the PR fiasco of a crew death on return to the moon 50 years later be?

      Apollo had its problems, but all in all, it was a very lucky program with far fewer deaths than it should have had, considering the risks that were being taken.

      Sure, we can do it safer today - safer takes more time and money. Apollo was consuming money quickly, but it ran such a short span of years that it really didn't have a chance to match the budget of a modern "safer" program.

  • FUD about Trump budget cutting aside, it's a common practice to spend as much on a program as possible in order to make Congress or the Executive Branch less willing to admit that it's a failure and kill it. NASA needs to find a reason for going forward with SLS versus using smaller unmanned vehicles.
    • NASA never really wanted SLS.
      NASA got SLS mandated on it.
      They were compelled by congress to build a 'shuttle derived' vehicle.
      There is no real mission for SLS, and it eats up huge amounts of the limited budget on things that could be done much cheaper in other ways.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:44AM (#53900169)

    Didn't they already do that like 50 years ago?

    and one of the astronauts read from the first verses of Genesis
    Mike Oldfield used an excerpt from that on 'Somgs of Distant Earth

    Yes I am old enough to remember the Apollo missions
    Nice to see Eoin using the old launchpad

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      And doing something impressive with it. Those realtime touchdown videos are amazing.

    • Didn't they already do that like 50 years ago?

      No, that was all fake news. Do some research on the Internet, you'll see. Clearly if it had actually been done already it would not cost that much to do it again, and we wouldn't be talking about silly missions like going around the moon rather than landing on it.

  • For 23 Billion, Musk could probably build a Transit module for Crew Dragon and a Lander, put both up on a pair of Falcon Heavies - AND DO A REAL LUNAR MISSION. And by then the FH will already be crew rated, eliminating that first flight danger on SLS. Let's face it SLS is Sen Shelby's pure pork program to keep a bunch of shuttle worksrs employed building a dysfunctional system that's far too expensive to be useful

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:16PM (#53900403) Homepage Journal

    Good thing that's not what they're actually doing.

    If you read the actual GAO report, it doesn't say the rocket costs twenty-three billion. That's the cost of "the first planned SLS flight, the ground systems for that effort, and the first two Orion flights." In other words the costs to meet certain early program milestones, including costs which should properly be amortized across the lifetime of the rocket and crew vehicle.

    The actual per launch cost of just the SLS system is supposed to be about $500 million, or 2% of the $23 billion figure.

    That's still a lot of money. Even if you go with expendable costs of half a billion, and billions for the whole mission for sure, well, it's a lot of money just to prove you still have big balls. Not that that's completely unimportant, but I'd like to know what the manned component does for the mission besides make it more complex and expensive and therefore a more impressive demonstration of our manhood.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:38PM (#53900557) Journal
    We could have had a permanent moon base by the end of the second Gingrich administration ...
  • by Tjp($)pjT ( 266360 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @01:30PM (#53900935)
    Use the heavy lift ability of commercial concerns to get equipment to space on non-human rated vehicles and use LEO human rated space vehicles to get the humans to the equipment. No real reason to add the expense to engineer human level safety to a heavy lift vehicle at this point in time. We need to advance the assembly technology in space as well. A good direction for for Mars would be an unmanned mission where the components were assembled in orbit, creating a permanent habitat that can be pushed to a Mars orbit unoccupied but stocked for a long duration stay. Along with that should be an array of MPS (mars positioning satellite) micro-sats that can maintain an earth radio link through relays around Mars. Redundancy and positions in orbit mean earth to mars communications would be more reliable, and mars surface to earth becomes easier because the radios on the surface become commodity designs that are less dependent on critical antenna aiming in a hostile environment. We should also create a constellation of LPS (lunar positioning satellites) for further exploration there. The advances in technology will warrant the expense many times over. Space exploration generates new wealth injected into many levels of the economy, new technology and perhaps more important it is an agent of peace amongst nations, either through cooperation in missions, or through competition for prestige.
  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @02:13PM (#53901285)

    Why waste all that money to go to the moon when for the same amount you could build a really nice wall here on earth (the best wall ever)... the moon is a loser.

    • Not really. The wall is estimated at $25B and will doubtless end up far more expensive than that after various lawsuits are sorted out and they learn that smugglers dig holes and decide to make the wall a hundred feet deep.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Man, the Chinese will be soooo jealous when they look down upon Earth from their moon base and see that our wall is more beautiful than theirs.

  • For everyone's sake. Putting unmanned vehicles into orbit with test loads is one thing, but loading up an untested booster with people and then sending them on a field trip round the moon is another.

    Remember Apollo 1. Remember Challenger. Remember Columbia. Go fever has a nasty butcher's bill that we pay every time this happens.

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