Exploration: September 2016 Archives

Humans to Mars: a deeply disturbing idea, Linda Billings

"I have deep moral qualms about this idea, as it appeals to a small fraction of humankind and proposes what would inevitably be an elitist enterprise. Would it be ethical to enable people with enough money to buy a ticket to leave our troubled Earth behind? Would it be ethical for government(s) to subsidize such an enterprise? In Musk's disturbing "vision" - a nightmare in my mind - how many poverty-stricken Bangladeshis or Congolese, how many permanently displaced Syrian refugees, will come up with $200,000 - or $2,000, for that matter - to "start anew," as the colonization zealots say they want to do? I participated in a conference this past weekend about "social and conceptual issues in astrobiology." Among the questions we 30 attendees were asked to consider in our discussions were: "Should humans seek to exploit and/or colonize space? If so, how should this be done? Are there truly universal principals of biology, psychology, morality, etc. that would apply to extraterrestrial life?" My views on these questions are: No. We should not do it. No."

Keith's note: I have known Linda for 30 years and have a lot of respect for her work. But I thought this whole "but people are starving in [fill in the blank]" or "why spend money in space when we should spend it on Earth" mindset was a thing of the 1960 and 1970s. If you want to go after budgets to fix social inequalities then NASA is not the place to start - there is much more low hanging fruit elsewhere.

Decades of public opinion polls, popular media, and other cultural phenomena strongly point to a public viewpoint on space that is exactly opposite of what Linda claims. Moreover her viewpoint flies in the face of human history. People explore. Then they colonize. Then they move on to explore some more because that is what people do. In particular I am not certain why this tiny group of 30 space people (no doubt the usual suspects at meetings like this) meeting in their little echo chamber is in any way representative of what America's 300+ million - or the billions who live elsewhere think about exploring space.

Look at China and India - countries with vast, pressing social issues - issues that surely could use more money. Yet these countries are dedicating large resources toward exploring space - often times repeating what other countries did decades ago. What is it that they have discovered about exploring space that space people in America seem to have forgotten? Meanwhile, as NASA runs in circles with inadequate budgets driven by plans that they were never going to be capable of implementing, the private sector has amassed the resources to do things on their own in space - for their own reasons.

NASA has been 20 years away from sending humans to Mars for over 40 years. Clearly the NASA approach to sending humans on Mars no longer works. Its time for someone else to do it. If not Elon Musk then some other billionaire(s) will certainly step up to the plate. And if not the U.S. then other countries will.

Keith's personal note: I am eternally fond of Linda. We worked together at NASA Life Science Division in the 80s. She knows her Astrobiology. Much of NASA's Planetary Protection policies are the result of her hard work. That said, I do not agree with her opinions about humans on Mars. That said, she's still a true believer in the exploration of space.

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."


Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

NASA iTech Fosters Technology Needed for Journey to Mars

"NASA is seeking innovative technology for the agency's future exploration missions in the solar system and beyond, including the Journey to Mars, from other U.S. government agencies, academia, the aerospace industry and the public through the new iTech initiative."

"NASA's iTech initiative is a yearlong effort to find innovative ideas through a call for white papers that address challenges that will fill gaps in five critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future exploration. The technology areas are: radiation protection; life support systems in space; astronaut crew health; in-space propulsion; and the ability to achieve very high-resolution measurements of key greenhouse gases."

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"Now available is the September 21, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers was Philip McAlister (NASA HQ) who discussed "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA to have limited role in SpaceX's planned Mars campaign, Spaceflight Now

"Expertise, input and advice from seasoned NASA engineers will improve SpaceX's chances of nailing the first commercial landing on Mars as soon as late 2018, a senior space agency official said Wednesday, but Elon Musk's space transport company will likely seek more independence from U.S. government support on later expeditions to the red planet."

Programming note: SpaceRef will broadcast live Elon Musk's presentation, Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, from the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara next week on Tuesday, September 27 at 2:30 pm ET.

Marc's note: We certainly live in a new age of exploration when a private space company is embarking on a mission that no government has yet to undertake.

That mission, to send an uncrewed technology demonstration human spacecraft mission to land on Mars has never been attempted. And make no mistake this is not the spacecraft that SpaceX would send to Mars with humans. It's a technology demonstration. The data collected by this mission will be invaluable to future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere.

NASA FISO Presentation: Low-Latency Teleoperations for the Evolvable Mars Campaign

"Now available is the September 7, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers were Mark Lupisella, Jack Bleacher and Michael Wright of NASA GSFC who discussed "Low-Latency Teleoperations for the Evolvable Mars Campaign".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA FISO Presentation: Telerobotics from Mars Orbit - Lessons from Robotic Exploration for Human Missions to Mars

"Now available is the August 31, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Jim Bell (ASU) who discussed "Telerobotics from Mars Orbit - Lessons from Robotic Exploration for Human Missions to Mars".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA FISO Telecon: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, September 21, when we will host Philip McAlister (NASA HQ), who will speak on "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission."

Keith's note: Elon Musk is getting ready for his big Mars colonization plan presentation at the IAC next week. The first step in this path to Mars is the Dragon mission that SpaceX is planning to send to Mars in 2018. You'd think that NASA would want people to know how it is involved in all of this. Indeed, NASA's Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development Phil McAlister is making a presentation at this week's NASA FISO telecon. Yet no mention is made of this presentation on NASA's calendar, Journey To Mars page, NASA's Commercial Space Transportation page, or anywhere else at NASA.gov.

Why is NASA hiding this briefing? Is NASA afraid to be seen supporting a competing plan for the #JourneyToMars ?

Teasing Mars

Elon Musk scales up his ambitions, considering going "well beyond" Mars, Ars Technica

"Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS."

Mars and beyond: Elon Musk teases his plans for interplanetary travel, Wired

"So far, Musk has only teased details of planned missions to Mars: both manned and unmanned. The first unmanned probe from SpaceX will be sent to the planet "as soon as 2018," it was said in June. Musk added that probes would be launched by SpaceX every two years, before humans are landed on the planet in 2025."

Video: AIAA Space 2016 Opening Plenary Featuring Charles Bolden, Winston Beauchamp and Steve Jurvetson

"Today the annual AIAA Space 2016 conference began with an opening plenary that included presentations by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Winston A. Beauchamp, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space, and the Director, Principal DoD Space Advisor Staff, and Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, DFJ. This was followed by a panel with the opening speakers.

The addition of Jurvetson, of the venture firm DFJ, added a nice mix to the conversation including reinforcing the fact that venture firms no longer ignore space companies as possible investment opportunities."

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Space Portal - A Framework for Space Exploration and Development in the 21st Century?

"Now available is the August 17, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Dan Rasky (NASA ARC) who discussed "NASA Space Portal - A Framework for Space Exploration and Development in the 21st Century?"

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.



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