Exploration: March 2015 Archives

NASA Chooses Asteroid Mission Plan

"NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth Asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago. For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation's journey to Mars."

Keith's note: The original idea would have had astronauts actually go into deep space and visit an asteroid as part of a plan for longer duration spaceflight from Earth. There are some real operational applications to a mission like that. Then the policy wonks got involved and NASA started to lower expectations because they could not figure out how to do the engineering behind the press release images. NASA has now wimped out completely and decided to only grab a small boulder from an asteroid that a robot has already brought to lunar orbit as part of a pale Apollo reboot. Why even use humans at all for this? If NASA wants the boulder that bad why not just bring it back to Earth orbit where it would be much easier to access and study?

NASA wants everyone to think that this is actually part of the things they need to do to send humans to Mars. And they make sure you know that when they issue press releases with titles such as "NASA Announces Next Steps on Journey to Mars: Progress on Asteroid Initiative." Yet there is no budget identified for any of this. Congress is formally against it. The planetary science community is either against it or has been blackmailed into tepid support. And the White House wonks who pushed this idea on NASA will be gone very soon - and with them goes their support. NASA doesn't ever address any of that, do they?

If NASA wants to send humans on a "journey" to Mars then it needs to aim at Mars - not at the lowest hanging fruit on their capability matrix - fruit that they keep lowering.

A Waste Of Space, Scientific American

"More likely, Kelly's and Kornienko's tests will just confirm in greater detail what we already know from several previous long-duration missions: Our current space habitats are not adequate for voyages to other worlds. The lack of money to build these habitats, more than any lack of medical knowledge, is what keeps humans from Mars and other off-world destinations. ... It would be unfair to blame NASA alone for this shortsightedness. Integrating artificial gravity and better propulsion into its human spaceflight program would require many billions of dollars, and that money is not forthcoming from Congress. So NASA has struck a pragmatic course, tinkering with well-worn technologies instead of spending the financial and political capital to develop new ones."

Keith's note: Will NASA learn anything from the one year space twins study? Yes, of course they will. Will this knowledge help us "go to Mars"? (gotta use that phrase once a day, right NASA?). Who knows. Not likely. The studies are superficial and scattered in their focus. As this article notes NASA will, at best, simply understand their collective lack of capability to semi-safely send humans to Mars slightly better. Meanwhile, NASA will still kick the can down the road to Mars (I used the Mars meme twice, NASA!). NASA does not have the money or the scientific strategy to actually answer the questions it needs to answer. So they grab everything they can slap a Mars label on it and proclaim progress on the road to Mars (three times!).

As was the case with John Glenn's mission to solve aging problems in space we will never see the results of this research - in any form - that NASA uses to justify the hype surrounding this otherwise ho hum stay aboard ISS. And we will still be in Earth - not Mars - orbit. And the news media will still be confused which twin has the moustache.

The ISS still has an amazing untapped potential to actually address these very real issues of human physiology and long duration spaceflight with direct applicability to Mars. But NASA is simply not up to the task of using these resources in a concerted, strategic, long-term fashion - and assembling the resources to do so. They just make it up as they go. And their poorly equipped junior partner CASIS is simply clueless.

- NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Available for Interviews before One-Year Space Station Mission
- Correcting NASA's Inaccurate Budget Infographic, earlier post


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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from March 2015.

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