Exploration: October 2017 Archives

Why We Go to the Moon. It starts with a mission statement, Air & Space

"A mission statement is vital for people to succinctly understand and fully comprehend the reasons for returning to the Moon. Ideally, a mission statement is a simple, declarative sentence, one that permits no ambiguity about intentions or execution. There is much truth in the belief that if you can't sum up your mission in just a few words, you probably don't understand it yourself. One's mission statement must encompass both anticipated activities and imply the value of its accomplishment."

The Interplanetary Political Football of Space Exploration, Scientific American

"Leaving aside the harsh realities of any country's political motivations to go to space, as a member of the astronomical community, it's hard not to feel like a passenger in the back seat of a car, watching an ongoing struggle over the steering wheel. Having the vision for our space program remain agile and responsive in a changing science and technology landscape is one thing, but it bears remembering that if all we do is pivot, we'll never get anywhere."

The mission to Mars is one stupid leap for mankind, op ed, Washington Post

"Still, a human traveler to Mars should make the most of its airless monotony, because there is no coming back. The long passage through the vacuum of space will expose astronauts to intense and prolonged bombardment by cosmic rays and unimpeded solar radiation -- a death sentence for which NASA has no solution (though scientists continue to seek one). At the Hotel Mars, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. What's more, Mars is a dead end. As fatally desolate and brutal as Mars is, our neighbor planet is the most habitable destination for many, many light years in any direction."

Keith's note: I'm rather surprised that the Washington Post would print such an error-riddled opinion piece - and devote half a page to it. Its take on the whole 'why fly people in space when we can fly robots' rant is breathtaking in its ignorance. And, for what its worth, I find it ironic that the Post, whose space reporting is otherwise quite stellar, is owned by Jeff Bezos who is a clear adherent of the notion of opening space up to as many people as possible.

But these anti-human space flight opinions are not exactly uncommon. One of the hotbeds of these sentiments is the Planetary Society. This video "A space engineer explains why humans will never go past Mars" was just posted by Business Former Planetary Society Executive Director Lou Friedman parrots the anti-human spaceflight mantra: "Louis Friedman, an aerospace engineer and author of "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," believes that humans may never travel past Mars. The former head of The Planetary Society says technology will replace exploring humans."

Recently, as he sat in the audience waiting for Elon Musk to talk about his plans for space exploration - including Mars, current Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said "no one wants to colonize Mars" and then explained why.

In 2014 Planetary Society Senior editor Emily Lakdawalla‏ tweeted "The highs and lows of the last week remind us why the future must be in robotic, not crewed, space flight." Just to be clear on this, in 2015 Lakdawalla wrote "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."

In their summary of the recent National Space Council meeting Casey Dreier and Jason Davis from the Planetary Society tried (like the rest of us) to figure out what America's new space policy would be. They noted "Through its Humans Orbiting Mars workshop and report, The Planetary Society found great value in sending humans to Mars in terms of scientific return, searching for life, and challenging our technological capabilities. How these objectives will fit into a revamped human exploration program for either the Moon or Mars is still unclear."

Its hard to reconcile what Dreier and Davis write with what Nye, Friedman, and Lakdawalla have said. At best, the Planetary Society's take on human exploration (Mars in particular) is 'look but don't touch' which is in direct contrast to the path NASA has been taking - and the path that the current White House has clearly stated that it intends to follow.

Keith's update: Just to be clear: I used to work for NASA as a space biologist and I fully appreciate the issue and challenges of planetary protection. Also, I think that orbiting Mars initially to do recon and telerobotics is a perfectly fine approach with historical precedents - so long as it is done in preparation for human landings - not instead of human landings.

This past week I interviewed Keith on the SpaceQ podcast. We discussed Jim Bridenstine and NASA, Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin and Mars.

You can subscribe to the podcast using your favourite podcast app (iOS and Android). For apps like OverCast or Pocket Cast you can search using the podcast title SpaceQ or use the RSS feed URL listed below.

The RSS feed URL is: http://feeds.soundcloud.com/users/soundcloud:users:286233381/sounds.rss

The podcast is also available on Apple iTunes and SoundCloud.

America Will Return to the Moon--and Go Beyond, Op Ed, Mike Pence, Wall Street Journal

"We will refocus America's space program toward human exploration and discovery. That means launching American astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. It means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars. ...To achieve these goals, the National Space Council will look beyond the halls of government for insight and expertise. In the coming weeks, President Trump and I will assemble a Users' Advisory Group partly composed of leaders from America's burgeoning commercial space industry. Business is leading the way on space technology, and we intend to draw from the bottomless well of innovation to solve the challenges ahead."

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program (2004)

"Inspired by all that has come before, and guided by clear objectives, today we set a new course for America's space program. We will give NASA a new focus and vision for future exploration. We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon, and to prepare for new journeys to worlds beyond our own."

President Calls For Mars Mission and a Moon Base, NY Times (1989)

"President Bush proposed today that the United States establish a base on the Moon, send an expedition to Mars and begin ''the permanent settlement of space.'' In a speech celebrating the 20th anniversary of man's landing on the Moon, Mr. Bush made the first major commitment by a President to these ambitious goals and set the stage for the first full-scale debate in years on the nation's troubled space program."

Keith's note: The distance between Apollo 17 and Bush 41's pronouncement was 17 years. The distance between Bush 41's speech and Bush 43's speech was 15 years. The distance between Bush 43's speech and Pence's is 13 years. The gaps between these grand proclamations shortens by 2 years each time one is offered, but are we any closer to sending humans back to the Moon or on to Mars?

I was in the audience for the Bush 41 and 43 events. I was a teenager when we landed on the Moon in 1969 and we were told that we'd be on Mars by 1981 - when I'd have been 26. Now we're told that we won't be on Mars until the 2030s when I will in my 80s. Why should anyone believe these White House predictions?


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