Exploration: April 2016 Archives

NASA's Role in International Affairs, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 26 April 2016 (Video)

"42:20: Q: When are we going to get to Mars? What is the time line?

Bolden: "2030s. As I said before the was no plan. And some people today contest our plan - but we have one. And a plan needs to at least have a definite date in which you're gonna do something. Because the President said so, for one thing."

Keith's note: OK Charlie. You have a plan to send humans to Mars? Post your plan online. Oh wait: you can't - because there is no plan.

NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth." This is just back peddling NASA PR mumbo jumbo designed to try and make it seem that Lightfoot said something other than what he actually said."

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.

SpaceX Will Start Going to Mars in 2018

"SpaceX announced today that it is going to start sending specially modified Dragon spacecraft aka "Red Dragon" to Mars as early as 2018. The purpose of these missions is to demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016. With this announcement SpaceX has upped the ante for the human exploration of Mars by beginning technology pathfinder missions a decade or more before NASA plans to do so."

Dava Newman: Exploring Together, NASA

"When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to "accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere." This is exactly what's happening and it's one of the reasons that we're closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Oddly, just yesterday, NASA Administrator Bolden referred to Falcon 9 as "old technology" when asked why NASA was building SLS. Well, SLS, using decades-old technology, was created to send humans on NASA's #JourneyToMars. Yet those NASA missions won't start sending hardware to Mars until the late 2020s / early 2030s. Meanwhile SpaceX, with its "old technology" will beat NASA by a decade or more when it starts landing Red Dragons on Mars.

- Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days, earlier post

New NASA budget eats the seed corn of its Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"This week, the US Senate's Appropriations subcommittee overseeing spaceflight put forward its blueprint for NASA's FY2017 budget. The top-line number looks promising at $19.306 billion - a $21 million year-over-year increase. Yet the Senate plan exposes two potentially fatal flaws with NASA's Journey to Mars. Namely, the US Congress continues to place funding for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion space capsule before all other elements of NASA's exploration program. And by raiding other areas of NASA's budget, notably Space Technology, it is hamstringing the agency's ability to carry out the journey."

Larger image

- NASA: We're on a #JourneyToMars - But Don't Ask Us How, earlier post
- NAC Doesn't Think NASA Has Tech Or Plans For #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Previous SLS postings
- Previous Exploration postings

Does Presidential Intervention Undermine Consensus for NASA?, Planetary Society

"I believe these two statements are actually at odds with each other. Consensus for human spaceflight is very difficult, given the lack of an external authority to unite the community or even being able to clearly define what the human spaceflight community actually is. And given the current nature of partisanship in the United States, achieving consensus for the human spaceflight program might actually be undermined by strong actions of a President attempting to provide clarity to NASA. ... But for a Journey to Mars - a major effort that would, at best, require stability and significant funding over many Presidential administrations that may not be enough. Perhaps the solution is for the next President to maintain a light touch on space. Maybe they should speak softly through the budget process, and avoid the Kennedyesque speeches and declarations to Congress that induce the types of partisanship we so dearly need to avoid."

NASA's Mars Announcement: Present-day transient flows of briny water on steep slopes, Planetary Society

"This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

Keith's note: Here's how it starts. Sow those seeds of subtle doubt. Don't talk too much about humans to Mars or anywhere else. Talk about more robots. Throw shade on anything having to do with humans. Talk about canceling the space station. If you have to talk about humans going to Mars, just restrict them to Mars orbit so they can drive robots on the surface without making things dirty. Look but don't touch. Don't rock the boat. Since that's not worth billions of dollars, maybe just send robots instead.

The Planetary Society is engaged in a slow motion effort to halt the human exploration of space. If they don't want humans on Mars, what other places will be off limits? Casey Dreier and other Planetary Society operatives are walking the halls of Congress and quietly sowing seeds of doubt about the wisdom and practicality of sending humans outward from Earth. If Mary Lynne Dittmar and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration have any viability whatsoever they will publicly confront the Planetary Society with regard to their whisper campaign - one that seeks to prevent humans from traveling to other worlds.

But wait: there's more. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a semi-stealth industry lobbying group for the NASA #JourneyToMars effort has an embarrassing lack of a credible budget profile to defend. The Planetary Society, a robot-hugging, human-shunning club, thinks that it will get a non-stop gravy train of huge robotic mission budgets for decades to come. Both efforts are woefully misguided and seriously overdue for a reality check.

Perhaps it is best that space policy not become a campaign issue - if for no other reason than the fact that the adherents and beneficiaries thereof are so utterly out of synch with one another and have little, if any, traction with the 300 million plus taxpayers who are stuck paying for this disorganized space program.

The other day a billionaire threw a huge sum of money - as a down payment - into a program to begin interstellar exploration - he is clearly looking outward - yet today's space community can't even agree how to get out of low Earth orbit. Tick tock.

- What is Good for Pasadena Is Good For The Planetary Society, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Make Mars great again: Can the 2016 election save NASA's Journey to Mars?, Ars Technica

"Bolden hasn't really leveled about two basic truths regarding Mars: it will cost a hell of a lot of money to do it NASA's way, and it's going to take a commitment like the nation hasn't seen since the Apollo program. NASA presently has neither the money nor the commitment from Washington. Many who grasp the challenges of actually going to Mars, including those on the inside, realize this. "I can tell you that my colleagues, at least 90 percent if not more, don't really think we have a good plan," one veteran astronaut, who hopes to fly again and therefore sought anonymity, told Ars. Inside the astronaut office they joke about the Journey to Mars. "I think we've almost done negative work in the last seven years," this flier said."

- No One Knows/Cares How/When NASA Will Make The #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- Will NASA Ever Send Humans to Mars?, earlier post
- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- Houston, We Need A Mars Plan, earlier post
- Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, earlier post

Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, SpaceRef

"Plans for Earth's first starships are being announced today in New York City. At a midday press conference, Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Prize Foundation is unveiling its latest project: "Breakthrough Starshot". If Milner's team can pull this off, people alive today could see starships depart from our planet and reach another star system within their lifetime. And everyone will be invited to help make that happen. The plan is simple: create an immensely powerful, system of ground-based lasers and use them to propel tiny starships up to 20% of the speed of light. The starships' first target would be the Alpha Centauri star system 4.3 light years away. These starships would arrive just 20 years after leaving Earth."

Breakthrough Starshot Project Announced by Yuri Milner and Physicist Stephen Hawking

"Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch. The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg."

Keith's note: I asked NASA for a comment on the Breakthrough Starshot announcement. They replied: "In 2015, the NIAC program selected University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Philip Lubin's study on directed energy propulsion for exploring other worlds. NASA is pleased to hear that Professor Lubin has received external funding to continue the work started in his NIAC study. When the study's final report has been cleared for 508 compliance, it will be posted online here. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program focuses research on futuristic but technically credible concepts that could one day "change the possible" in aerospace." I have asked for a copy of this report - I do not need a 508 compliant version. This is a hot topic right now. Talk about a cosmic spinoff.

Keith's update: According to NASA: "Professor Lubin actually does a really good job of keeping everyone updated on his own page. His report can be found here."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from April 2016.

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