Exploration: May 2016 Archives

Kennedy's vision for NASA inspired greatness, then stagnation, Ars Technica

"Perhaps the best insight into Kennedy's motives can be found in a recording of a November 21, 1962 meeting in the White House Cabinet Room. Kennedy had boasted of the lunar plan just a month earlier at Rice. The main participants that day were Kennedy and James Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At issue was the true purpose of NASA and the Apollo program, and at the outset of the meeting Kennedy asked Webb, "Do you think this program is the top priority of the agency?" In hindsight, Webb's answer was surprising: "No sir, I do not. I think it is one of the top priority programs, but I think it is very important to recognize here, that as you have found out what you could do with a rocket, as you find out how you could get out beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into space to make measurements, several scientific disciplines that are very powerful have (begun) to converge on this area." To this Kennedy responds that Apollo is the top priority. That ought to be very clear, he explained. "This is important for political reasons, for international political reasons," Kennedy said. He told Webb he did not want to finish second to the Soviets in the "race" to the moon."

Keith's note: In other words had there been Twitter in 1960s we'd have heard nothing but #ManOnTheMoon on everything NASA PAO put out. In the case of Apollo in the 1960s NASA had a firm presidential mandate and a specific architecture in place in relatively short order - on a timeline what almost fit into a two-term Kennedy Administration. Flash forward: NASA is in no hurry to explain how it is going to send humans to Mars by a date that requires constant unwavering support from 4 to 5 presidential administrations - and a dozen Congresses. Most importantly, NASA now lacks that compelling reason to amass the requisite blood and treasure needed to mount an interplanetary project of geopolitical importance - because we're now competing with everyone (internally and externally) - each of whom is on their own timetable - each for their own purposes. Add in a lame duck Administration which has been disinterested - at best - for the past 7 years. Anyone with a reasonable grasp of history and current politics would be wise to ponder whether NASA and the U.S. government are no even capable of supporting a human missions to Mars in the ways needed for it to actually happen.

Its time to stop listening to the old professors, reading old advisory reports, and trying to find old historical resonances to justify or inspire future efforts. The world is as it is. Other nations are now starting to do interesting things in space because they see that it confers importance upon their nation, inspires their people, and offers access to new technologies. They also have their own reasons that have little resonance with America's. They learned both from our mistakes and successes and are now filling the vacuum created by our hesitance and lack of interest.

Others are seizing upon the opportunities presented by this American space malaise as well - and they are firmly established on American shores. The motivations may echo NASA's interests but they include many things that would not fit well on a NASA Powerpoint chart. Lets watch as SpaceX sends technology to Mars that NASA is incapable and/or unwilling of doing. There may well be an American #JourneyToMars - but mission control may be in Hawthorne - not Houston. And will the Americans who step out of a future human-rated Red Dragon be any less American?

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)

NASA begins on Page 54. On page 61 the report says:

"Mission to Mars. While the Committee recognizes the benefits of some of the technology that is under development as part of the asteroid redirect and retrieval missions, namely advanced propulsion technology research, asteroid deflection, and grappling technologies, the Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the over-arching mission to Mars. Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies.

Toward that end, no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid. Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.

Further, the Committee is supportive of NASA's efforts to use the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research necessary to enable long-term human spaceflight, or ''Earth-reliant'' technology development; cis-lunar space activities, or ''proving ground'' efforts such as Orion flights on SLS in the vicinity of the Moon, and deployment and testing of deep space habitation modules; and finally, NASA's ''Earth independent'' activities which include using cis-lunar space as a staging area, mapping potential human exploration zones and caching samples on Mars as part of the Mars Rover 2020 mission."

U.S. lawmaker orders NASA to plan for trip to Alpha Centauri by 100th anniversary of moon landing, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), a self-professed space fan who chairs the House appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, included the call for the ambitious voyage in a committee report released today. The report accompanies a bill setting NASA's budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; the full House appropriations panel is set to consider the bill on Tuesday. In the report, Culberson's panel "encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c [10% of the speed of light]." The report language doesn't mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year."

- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)
- Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, earlier post

Buzz Aldrin says NASA is going about Mars exploration the wrong way, Ars Technica

"In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that."

Here's why many in aerospace remain skeptical of the Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"There's no question that Dava Newman is a very smart person. She is a highly respected scientist who was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to NASA. She also is not entirely new to the job as deputy administrator, having been with the agency for a year as of May 15. So it's difficult to explain her meandering response to a straightforward, valid question. These are questions NASA ought to be striving to clearly answer, because they're exactly the kinds of things a presidential transition team will be asking about at the end of this year. It is one thing to bluff the media and hold NASA "social" events where space enthusiasts are shown hardware and dazzled by astronauts and senior NASA scientists. Newman also will undoubtedly get a rousing roar of approval after her speech to the Humans to Mars conference today."

Keith's note: After one year at NASA, it would seem that Dava Newman's transformation from a normal person into a NASA bureaucrat is now complete. She is incapable of giving a simple, direct answer when asked important questions about NASA's "plan" to send humans to Mars. But its not really her fault. No one at NASA can give a straight answer about the plan. There is no plan. All NASA has is a Twitter hashtag #JourneyToMars. Anyone at NASA who tries to tell you otherwise is being less than honest with you. Listen to this video from the Humans to Mars meeting yesterday. At one point Newman cuts Frank Morring off and then goes off on a time-wasting diversion to run out her time on stage without getting into details.

Keith's note: This week, from 17-19 May, the annual Humans to Mars Summit will be underway in Washington, DC. Much of the event will be webcast live. We'll be live tweeting the event at @NASAWatch.

The Humans to 2016 Mars Report Released at Humans to Mars Summit

"As highlighted in this year's report, there have been significant developments since the premiere issue was released. Mars has been in the news regularly, and the United States has embraced Mars as the goal for human space flight more than ever before. For example, in October 2015 NASA began the process of assessing potential candidate human landing sites on Mars for the first time."

For more information visit h2m.exploremars.org.

Ask the Astronaut: Why not build and launch spacecraft from the ISS?, Tom Jones, Air & Space

"We won't use the ISS as a departure point for cost reasons. First, the ISS today is a microgravity research lab, not a spacecraft assembly hangar. Modifying it for assembly, checkout, and propellant storage would cost billions of dollars NASA does not have. A second, more serious problem is that the ISS orbit is inclined to the equator at 51.6 degrees, as opposed to a 28.5-degree orbit reached by launching straight east from Kennedy Space Center. (We chose the ISS orbit so the Russians could reach it from their launch sites farther north.) To haul spacecraft parts and propellant to ISS for assembly in that high-inclination orbit, we would lose about 20 percent of each rocket's payload capacity, since we can't use as much of the Earth's eastward rotation to give us a free boost to orbital velocity. That payload penalty would add billions to the costs of any deep space expedition assembled at ISS (e.g., a Mars expedition will need many hundreds of tons of propellant for Earth departure)."

Keith's note: This is a classic example of the old way of thinking. Tom Jones apparently cannot imagine an alternate future where things change.

1. He assumes that everything that we do in the future will be done by NASA - the way that NASA always does things - and that it will be equally as expensive as NASA stuff always is. Narrow thinking.

2. The penalty for launching to 51.6 degrees - yea its real. Launching to 28.5 degrees like the Shuttle did had a penalty when compared to launching from the equator. So we moved the station to make it easier for the Russians - and harder for ourselves. As NASA did at the time, you just factor launch capabilities into the overall equation - one wherein you factor in the counterbalancing benefit of being able to assemble large things in space and test them out from an existing location that has the benefit of generous resources already in place. That's how we built the space station, Tom - remember? Oh yes: NASA also still "hauls spacecraft parts and propellant" to ISS routinely - and a lof the stuff is launched from Virginia and Florida not Kazakhstan. If NASA plans hold up we'll be doing even more of that - with crew too. But that's inefficient, right? So why are we doing it?

3. The inclination issue as it relates to where you want to send things - yea, if you want to use big rockets all the time and get everywhere in a hurry. But if you simply exercise a little advanced planning, be patient, and plan longer delivery times using solar- or nuclear-electric propulsion then time will solve these problems - and you can factor the lower costs of such systems into your overall cost equation.

4. ISS is a microgravity lab - this is something I had to deal with every day when I worked on space station at NASA in the 90s. I had experts telling me that anything the astronauts did would ruin everything that the scientists wanted to do - and vice versa. So NASA came up with rack level vibroacoustic isolation and used scheduling to manage noisy activities. Problem solved. BTW, Tom you have seen the video of how the entire space station flexes when its exercise time for the crew, yes? I do not hear scientists screaming how this makes their research impossible. Crew and cargo vehicles arrive and depart on a regular basis. How is that any different than "launching" a spacecraft from ISS? But wait: Nanoracks is actually launching cubesats from the ISS on a regular basis. Again, no complaints.

I remember back in the 90s when the orbit was shifted to 51.6 - and the implications that had for Shuttle launch windows. I sat in meetings where experts emphatically stated that NASA could never work with 5 minute launch windows. Well, they did. Now SpaceX has managed to design hardware and operations such that they can recycle multiple times within a single launch window. I remember people saying that you could not dock a Soyuz to the space station due to the somewhat brutal way it docks and how fragile the U.S. structure was. So they docked to the Russian segment instead. Problem solved. I remember asking why we couldn't leave logistics modules on the ISS permanently for simple storage. Everyone said "no" because of super high costs to make them meet requirement. Now they do - because they decided to - with only minimal mods. NASA wanted a reusable Space Shuttle that would fly like an airline. It never actually happened. Now Blue Origin and SpaceX are on the cusp of doing it. Just because the same group of experts says that something is not possible or practical doesn't mean that you can't go out and find other experts who can make it work.

Who knows, maybe we will just shift the future role of ISS at some point to focus on on-orbit assembly of larger expeditionary vessels and do the science stuff on the next generation of space stations built by the private sector. Look at Antarctica - there are bases there that have been operating continuously for more than half a century. They are constantly being readjusted to do new things and not do other things. Some are decommissioned. Some are disassembled. New ones now move or raise their height when conditions warrant. Some are rebuilt using parts from older facilities. Fragile cargo and people fly in on planes. Other supplies arrive on slow-moving ships that depart weeks or months in advance of when their cargoes are actually needed. One would hope that we try and instill similar flexibility in what we build in low Earth orbit and beyond. If we don't adopt expeditionary thinking and pragmatism then none of this commercial LEO stuff NASA is praying for is going to happen since no commercial effort will ever be able to afford things that are mired down with outmoded NASA costing and operational mindsets.

Oh yes: then there's Mark Watney and "The Martian". What better way to make sure a Mars ship works than to run it for a year or two in LEO after being assembled from smaller subunits launched by a variety of existing ISS cargo carrier. If we do not promote flexibility and long-term thinking in LEO and cis-lunar space so as to guide the whole #JourneyToMars thing we'll just be begging for something bad to happen because no one thought to equip our Mars crews with the ability (and experience) to fix things that are not supposed to break.

Just because we've done things a certain way in space doesn't mean that this is the only way to do things.

Keith's note: On Wednesday NASA will officially sponsor a teleconference with NASA NIAC grantee Phil Lubin about the Breakthrough Initative's Starshot project to mount the first interstellar mission. But unless you are a pal of a certain NASA civil servant, you won't be allowed to listen in live - even though NASA is paying for this event. Indeed, unless this certain employee decides to tell you, NASA won't even tell you that this event is happening in the first place.

Harley Thronson, a NASA civil servant at GSFC, has operated this series of NASA FISO telecons as a part of his official NASA duties. These telecons use a taxpayer-funded telephone system, are announced via nasa.gov email (fiso@lists.nasa.gov) and Thronson devotes billable hours to their operation. The telecons are interesting and relevant to the interests of a wide variety people within (and most importantly) outside of NASA. Yet despite an abundance of directives to all government agencies about making their activities open and transparent to taxpayers, Harley and his pal Dan Lester at the University of Texas in Austin go out of their way to not to tell taxpayers that these teleconferences even exist. Indeed, they block specific taxpayers by targeting their IP address (check this page - its what I see when I try to view information on something my taxes pay for) from having the same level of access as other taxpayers do. This link used to say this.

Thronson and Lester also adopt an elitist stance when it comes to who can - and who cannot - access information about these telecons or listen to them in real time. If they do not deem you to be worthy (no criteria have ever been posted) then you cannot dial in - because you won't know that there is something to dial into. To justify their favoritism they have posted a goofy and arrogant excuse as to why most people will never be allowed to listen to these events live claiming that they are compliant with NASA regulations in this regard because you can listen to things later. Later or delayed access is not the same as live access. And if you do not even know about these teleconferences in the first place, then the whole later Vs live issue is moot. They are operated in a stealth fashion for a hand-selected audience. Dan Lester is clearly ignorant as to the wide variety of open teleconference options that are available - at no cost to participants who dial in.

Wednesday's NASA FISO telecon starts at 3 pm EDT. You can dial in to +1.844.467.4685 - the passcode is 442398. If you cannot gain access I have posted email and address information for Thronson and Lester so that you can contact them directly.

- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- NASA FISO Telecon Organizers Are Confused, earlier post
- How NASA Quietly Releases Alternate Mars Mission Concepts (Update), earlier post

Musk Sleeps Near Factory Floor to Spur Tesla Manufacturing, Bloomberg

"Elon Musk, determined to turn his electric-car company into a great maker of things, said that he keeps a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to Tesla Motors Inc.'s production line in Fremont, California."

Why Elon Musk Sleeps in a Sleeping Bag, Motley Fool

"So I move my desk around to wherever the most important place is for the company, and then I sort of maintain a desk there over time to come and check in on things. But I suspect probably by the end of this quarter most of my time will not be spent on the factory floor."

Larger image

Driving To Mars

Review: Passage To Mars

"Passage to Mars" is a documentary about a bunch of guys who try to drive across a large frozen stretch of the Northwest Passage. They attempt this feat as an analog for long distance traverses people will one day attempt on Mars. This film depicts important lessons that are often far more relevant for the actual human exploration of Mars than anything NASA itself is doing right now. This unprecedented adventure, planned to last a few weeks ended up becoming a three-year epic odyssey of hope, fear and survival. The goal of the expedition was to use a specially-outfitted Humvee named the "Okarian" across 2,000 miles of sea ice. Their ultimate goal: to drive to Haughton Crater on Devon Island - the location of a NASA-funded research base where scientists and engineers learn how to live on and explore Mars.

Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.

My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.

As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."

With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool

"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."

Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post

"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."


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

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