Exploration: November 2016 Archives

Keith's note: Explore Mars had a "leadership dinner" in Washington, DC tonight. This is a group photo (larger image) posted on Facebook. Here we go again. Another space group has a meeting. Guess who shows up: One female, nine males (mostly older white guys). This is not remotely representative of who will - should - explore Mars. The folks at Explore Mars mean well. But this event is representative of a much more pervasive issue in the space advocate community - lack of diversity. Until the usual suspects in the space advocate leadership clique get the message that they need to be far more representative of the taxpayers/citizenry who will pay for their party their impact will be minimal - at best. More choir practice in an echo chamber.

Keith's update: I am told by a participant in this event that this was a "[this was a] random group based on availability. [The] president of the organization is a woman and two of the Board of Advisers are women (and another one pending), none of whom were present." That said, the gender and age imbalance is still unrepresentative of the real world and will continue to be so - until the space crowd gets the message that they need to reflect the reality of the world around them - not the one they imagine inside their heads.

Russia is developing a mega-rocket that will transport supplies to build a base on the MOON, Deputy PM reveals, Daily Mail

"Russia is developing a mega-rocket that will transport supplies to build a base on the moon, the country's Deputy Prime Minister has revealed. President Vladimir Putin wants work to begin on the new 'super-heavy' rocket which will 'pave the way' for a lunar research station. It will enable the construction of a Russian base that will be both 'visitable and inhabitable', according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. ... In 2029, a new spacecraft named Federation will fly to the moon's orbit, he added. 'In the 2030s, we set the task of a manned flight to the moon and in 2031 we plan landing on the moon,' Mr Solntsev told TASS. Russia is inviting Esa and Nasa to jointly develop a module for landing on the moon, Mr Solntsev said."

After Scott Kelly's flight, NASA plans five more one-year missions, Ars Technica

"During a subcommittee meeting of NASA's Advisory Committee earlier this month, former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale asked Paloski why the space agency wasn't considering missions longer than a year to truly reflect the time astronauts would have to spend away from Earth were they to go to Mars or other destinations beyond cislunar orbit. "It seems to me that you're not there yet in determining the health factors for a 30-month voyage," Hale said. In a follow-up interview, the Human Research Program's chief scientist, John Charles, explained to Ars that from a logistic and scientific standpoint, the one-year missions offered a reasonable compromise. The station probably has seven years left in its lifetime, and because of advanced planning requirements, there would be the capability to fly, at most, just a single two- or three-year mission during that time. Not only would this adversely affect crew rotations, there's also the question of statistical significance from just two data points. "Darn it, we biologists like to have statistical validity," Charles explained. "We have discussed it internally and really think we're going to be pushing our luck to get five more one-year missions during the station's lifetime, to get a statistically significant database."

Keith's note: I love it when NASA talks about science and statistics. Gee, no one at JSC complained when they flew one, single, elderly person (John Glenn) for "science" - once i.e. N=1 and they have not repeated that experiment in the following 20 years. Has anyone seen the data? As a former NASA space biologist who used to run peer reviews of this sort of research, I totally understand the need for larger research specimen numbers. But when you take all of the informed consent regulations and risk models that NASA uses into account, sending humans to Mars on a multi-year mission, without any actual experience flying humans in space for that long would be unethical - again, according to NASA's own established procedures.

But if NASA decided to look to other exploration modalities such as mountaineering and polar research - and officially accepted different ways of parsing - and then allowing crew members to personally accept medical risk in exchange for the chance to explore, maybe they could save themselves a lot of time and effort. NASA can't have it both ways. They ask for the money to build all of this incredibly capable stuff in space then they are afraid to use it for the very purposes that it was supposedly built.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2005/risk.book.jpgI spent a month living at 17,600 feet at Everest Base Camp while my friend, astronaut Scott Parazynski (who was also John Glenn's orbital doctor) risked his life to reach the summit. He trained as much as he could but in the end he was going to do something he had not done before. In the end it was his choice. He signed waivers in order to do this. While I was much safer at Base Camp, I was still at heightened physical risk to due to my age and my prolonged presence at that altitude. But I signed waivers too. I watched two immense avalanches a few thousand feet from my tent. One of them killed a person whose tent was near mine. Years later an avalanche killed people in the precise location where Scott and I pitched our tents for a month.

You can prepare all you want for stuff like this but at some point you just have to sign off on the risk and go for it. NASA cannot seem to decide whether it truly wants to accept the risk inherent in the human exploration of other worlds - or just study it incessantly. Until it does we'll all be stuck with half-hearted, semi-relevant research on the ISS. And then the ISS will be gone.

Here's a book from an event John Grunsfeld and I put together back in 2004 on this topic for NASA: "Risk and Exploration". Its not as if people at NASA have not talked about risk. Rather its whether they really want to make the same tough choices that other explorers do.


Space Food Bars Will Keep Orion Weight Off and Crew Weight On, NASA

"To help reduce the amount of supplies Orion will carry for its crew, scientists are developing a variety of food bars that astronauts can eat for breakfast during their spaceflight missions. In the United States, it's common for people to substitute an energy bar or shake for breakfast, or to skip the meal all together. Food scientists determined that developing a single calorically dense breakfast substitution can help meet mass reduction requirements."

Keith's note: Why is NASA spending money on a big fancy kitchen to produce something that I can buy at REI? Why doesn't NASA do Space Act Agreements with companies to figure all of this out - at their own expense - and give them the ability to put their logos on the snack bars we send on the #JourneyToMars ?

Keith's note: according to this NASA article "There's no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we've had to go design something that will work for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life," said Takiyah Sirmons, a food scientist with the Advanced Food Technology team at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston."

So I have asked NASA "Can you provide me with a copy of the specific NASA nutritional and storage requirements that you are using as the basis for developing the food bars mentioned in this article?"

Let's see if they release this information or try and keep it secret and force me to file a FOIA request.

NASA realizes SLS and Orion are too expensive, opens door to competitors, Ars Technica

"Specifically, the document requests responses about: "Competing exploration services in the mid-2020s timeframe and beyond if the market demonstrates such services are available, reliable, and consistent with NASA architectural needs." Ars understands this to mean that if private competitors such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, or other companies produce less expensive rockets and spacecraft within the next five to seven years, NASA will consider using them in lieu of SLS and Orion."

NASA OIG Reiterates Issues With SLS/Orion

"... Program officials are working toward an optimistic internal launch date of August 2021 for EM-2 - 20 months earlier than the Agency's external commitment date of April 2023. While we understand the desire to meet a more aggressive schedule, this approach has led the Program to defer addressing some technical tasks to later in the development cycle, which in turn could negatively affect cost, schedule, and safety."

Keith's note: What is odd about this SLS RFI and the earlier one concerning Orion is the timing. NASA is releasing them at the very end of the Obama Administration - days after an election that will result in a certain amount of tumult - at a time when White House and NASA senior staff are either gone, leaving, or on travel so as to avoid being in their office. Usually NASA does document drops in this way in the hope that no one will notice. Add in the fact that the due date is just 2 days before Christmas and that responders will need to work over Thanksgiving Day weekend. Do you really think NASA is at all that serious about getting the best possible responses?

Is NASA trying to squeeze its contractors ahead of a new administration that may pivot more toward private sector solutions? Is NASA trying to curry favor with a new administration in the hope that they will get budgetary relief to fix their problems? Or is NASA just plain embarrassed that they have to admit the obvious? There seems to be a pattern emerging. Just the other day Greg Williams from NASA HQ told a NASA Advisory Council subcommittee that NASA did not know what it would actually cost to send humans to Mars because they had only worked out the costs up to a cis-lunar mission. Seven years and NASA does not know how much #JourneyToMars will actually cost? Really?

These RFIs could have easily been issued several years ago since they ask for commercial alternatives to SLS/Orion. Indeed, if anyone at NASA had bothered to read the Commercial Space Act of 1998, Title II - P.L. 105-303 (this is posted on NASA.gov) - specifically Title II (a) - they'd see that they should have been seeking commercial alternatives all along: "Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Federal Government shall acquire space transportation services from United States commercial providers whenever such services are required in the course of its activities. To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers."

Only now, after 7 years of delays, cost overruns, an inexplicably absent mission architecture, and false advertising via social media, does NASA admit that it may need to rethink how it is going to send humans to Mars. This has to be due to the fact that the whole plan (or lack thereof) is not going to work as "planned". Otherwise, why would NASA be asking for alternate ways of doing it?

- Re-Imagining SLS and Orion
- NASA Officially Admits It Has Not Figured Out #JourneyToMars Cost
- SLS Orion posts

With Trump, Gingrich and GOP calling the shots, NASA may go back to the moon, Washington Post

"Here's the key factoid: Because Congress preserved elements of Constellation, it could be revived under a new administration. NASA has the SLS and the Orion, and to get to the surface of the moon it would just need a lunar lander, maybe paid for, at least partially, by international partners. And NASA has already been talking about missions in orbit around the moon in the 2020s. The veterans who run human spaceflight at NASA put themselves in a good position to re-pivot to the moon if that became politically mandated."

Opinion: How Trump Should Restart U.S. Space Momentum, Scott Pace, Aviation Week

"And the Obama administration continued to push away partners, telling Europe to go to the Russians for its next robotic science mission. Plans for human missions to Martian orbit and a distant asteroid failed to find international partners. Mars in the 2030s is not a practical basis for managing a global space enterprise, and our partners are making separate plans. It is increasingly hard to hold the International Space Station partnership together when no one knows that is supposed to come next."

NASA Advisory Council Human Exploration and Operations Committee Meeting

"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Public Law 92-463, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). This Committee reports to the NAC. Monday, November 14, 2016, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Local Time."

Keith's note: After 7 years of all the #JourneyToMars happy talk someone at NASA finally admits the obvious - and they do so with perfect timing: just when a lot of people who want to go back to the Moon instead are looking for reasons to change NASA's goals.

Why Mars? An Astronaut's Perspective, op ed, John Grunsfeld, Huffington Post

"Sending humans (and all that they will need to accompany them) to Mars will require substantial launch capabilities. This need for heavy launch capabilities goes back more than half a century, thus confirming concepts by Werner von Braun and others for Mars exploration. NASA is investing in the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch its large payloads for its expeditions to Mars. But there is more than one way to launch such heavy masses into space - and go to Mars. Indeed, SpaceX and Blue Origin are both investing in their own heavy lift rockets - and SpaceX plans to start sending its own missions to Mars starting in 2018. One way or another, we're going to Mars. ... "

"... NASA is also in the planning stages for a high-power solar electric robotic mission to an asteroid. While I am in favor of learning more about asteroids (as will be done with the recently launched asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-Rex), the stated driver for the asteroid redirect mission is technology development for Mars exploration. Redirecting this mission to Mars would allow for significantly more Mars-relevant technology development."



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

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