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Artemis

NASA Life Science and Artemis: It Is Time To Get Serious

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
May 17, 2019
Filed under ,

Keith’s note: Speaking as someone who did graduate research in gravitational biology and who worked at NASA Headquarters and elsewhere as a space life scientist, I am quite interested in the adaptations of life to prolonged exposure to conditions on the Moon. I am certain that there are changes in living systems in fractional gravity wherein changes in genomic expression can be measured. We’ve seen it in humans and other organisms exposed to microgravity in spaceflight and centrifugation (simulated hypergravity) on Earth. Alas, to date, the vast bulk of research where changes in gene expression are studied have to do with microgravity – not lunar or martian gravity.
Its nice to know that someone at NASA Gene Lab is paying attention to the news regarding Artemis and Moon2024. But the suggestion in this tweet that they might have anything relevant to 0.16G biology at this time is probably tenuous, at best. Indeed, a simple key word search of their website for “lunar” and “moon” shows this to be the case. But at least they are stepping up to the plate – which is good. A look at the NASA Space Station and CASIS websites shows no mention of Artemis or Moon2024.
One would hope that NASA would have an integrated strategy for such research that spans Earth- and space-based facilities. Right now its more like competing fiefdoms within NASA’s sphere of funding influence rather than an overall, integrated program with clear goals directly related to operational as well as fundamental science. If preparatory work is needed to enable safe human operations and other life forms in lunar gravity to support the Artemis program (which is going to start up on the lunar surface in 2024) NASA should have already have enabling research under way. Instead it has a scattered collection of things. Someone needs to bring order to this disarray and create an integrated program of space biology and medicine at NASA so as to flight certify humans and other forms of life for prolonged exposure to other worlds. And this integrated program needs to be able to provide useful information in time to actually inform NASA mission planners – not after the fact.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.

50 responses to “NASA Life Science and Artemis: It Is Time To Get Serious”

  1. fcrary says:
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    This happened before. “Returning astronauts to [the] Moon [by 2024] requires a deep understanding of how Moon habitation affects human health.” No, actually, it does not. The plan seems to be for a brief (few day) stay on the surface and less than a month in space overall. We’ve done that before, fifty years ago, and no health issues have been noted for the Apollo astronauts. This sort of medical knowledge may be important for much longer stays on the Moon, but not for the limited, 2024 landing. This just sounds like people coming out of the woodwork when they hear about a high profile and well-funded project. They claim their work or their lab is absolutely critical in order to get a piece of the pie. That’s one reason past human spaceflight initiatives ended up with monumental cost estimates.

    • kcowing says:
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      But NASA is talking about eventually building a long term program on the Moon. There simply is no research to show that long term, sustained presence at 0.16G (or 0.38G – Mars) is safe for humans. Nor is there any protection against radiation unless you tunnel underground and stay there. Personally I think these issues can be dealt with via minor, obvious countermeasures. But that is just me. If long term presence on a world smaller than Earth is the goal then we should be focusing space life science on that goal and not be distracted by other things. Right now what NASA often does in space is a distraction – a self-licking ice cream cone that supplies its own justification every time a new power point presentation is needed to secure funding.

      • Jeff2Space says:
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        Agreed as long as the missions are used to gather the data for these studies. What I don’t want to see are the life sciences people trying to put the brakes on this program until they think it’s safe. If they take that tack, then we’ll never have longer duration missions, IMHO.

      • Daniel Woodard says:
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        I agree. We have seen the effects of up a a year in zero G and it is doubtful that there is anything significant at lunar gravity. We could easily spend an infinite amount of time and money trying to “prove” it is safe. In reality spaceflight is a relatively dangerous occupation, but the risk of death from spacecraft or launch vehicle failure is so much greater than the risk from effects of reduced gravity that the latter is insignificant by comparison.

        • Vladislaw says:
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          I believe the body will like operating again with the rules of vertical gravity planes rather than zero gravity.

        • Jeff2Space says:
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          Unfortunately we don’t know whether or not this is true. We have absolutely zero experience with human bodies between one and zero gravity. You can draw any curve you want through two points! We need more data. The only way to get said data is to send people there and get it. Since we seem to be o.k. with putting people on ISS for up to a year, we should have no problem doing the same at 1/6 gravity.

          • fcrary says:
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            Not quite zero experience in fractional gravity. Before Mercury-Atlas 9 (Cooper’s Faith 7 flight), we didn’t know about the effects of one single day in microgravity. We are a bit past that stage for lunar gravity. We’ve got twelve people who spent at least a day in lunar gravity (mixed inside about a week in microgravity.) As a control, we also another twelve who spent the same time in microgravity and similar living conditions for the same duration. (Ok, some flew twice, so I’m counting trips not individuals.) That’s a pretty limited data set, but it isn’t quite zero.

            Give the fact that no ill effects were noted, it’s certainly enough to say a week in lunar gravity is probably safe enough to try without further study. Which will then tell us about a month, and then a year. Which is exactly what we’ve done with the health effects of microgravity.

      • ThomasLMatula says:
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        It comes down again to the purpose of returning to the Moon. If it’s merely for science short stays supported by robotic explorers will be adequate. If it’s about developing lunar resources and building an industrial base there this will be critical knowledge.

        The path I see would be similar to Earth orbit, facilities on the surface for long term research while crews increasingly stay for longer periods, starting with a couple weeks and then working up to year long rotations as knowledge increases.

        • Vladislaw says:
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          After only three months on Luna you could start doing comparisons and I believe ANY gravity that allows the body to function with an “up and down” the way millions of years of evolution have programed the body to operate will show a vast improvement over being on the ISS for 3 months.

      • fcrary says:
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        Sure. But the statement you quoted claimed this was necessary for the 2024 landing. It isn’t. And 2024 is close enough that such a landing simply will not happen if people Christmas tree their pet projects on it. I’d say fractional gravity research is essential to what they were calling phase 2 (sustainable presence by 2028.) I’m not sure why genetics would be a particularly critical topic, but medical research in general would be a must.

        I think that’s especially important since my favorite solution in space involves tethers and spinning (Ok, I’m a physicist not a biologist, so I’m probably biased towards mechanical solutions.) I can’t see that working on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

      • Daniel Woodard says:
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        There is no way to definitively “prove” it is safe as the human body is too complex to fully model. But it’s unlikely to be more hazardous than weightlessness, and a similar approach of starting operations and gradually increasing mission duration while monitoring health is reasonable. Similarly radiation limits safe time for surface EVA but the rest of the time you might as well be under a few feet of regolith. If the main goal of lunar colonization becomes studying the colonists it will be hard to make the facility productive.

        • fcrary says:
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          Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t that (studying the people) been a major, ostensible goal of human spaceflight? From day one up to the current research on ISS? Studying the astronauts has also been mentioned as an important reason to build/fly Gateway. I can’t say that ISS has been a miracle of productivity, but that does seem to be mindset in some parts of NASA.

  2. ThomasLMatula says:
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    This is one of the keys to the economic development of space.

    • Daniel Woodard says:
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      Are you referring to research in general or biological research in reduced gravity? The former is extremely broad, the latter is a niche field with some interesting questions but little that cannot be discovered by other paths.

      • ThomasLMatula says:
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        To determine how humans, and the numerous plants that humans need to be self-sufficient, react under different gravity levels. And what genetic modifications, at least to the plants, might help them adapt.

        • Michael Spencer says:
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          Plants! It is obvious that traditional agriculture won’t work in space, yet the research on plant material in space is so far actually trivial. Much of what we know on Earth is transferrable: aquaculture and related techniques (though many plants won’t tolerate continual immersion) for one; and the research done by the flower industry involving variable day lengths as well as variable regimes in source light color.

          We don’t know very much, as a function of what we need to know, about plant performance in lower gravity, nor integrating plants into the overall water cycle, nor using plants to remove pollutants (this last item is currently a popular research area).

          Perhaps the biggest single issue is this: how to dramatically increase the yield density. Farms are big because plant yield is low. This is a problem that musty go away.

          • Daniel Woodard says:
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            There are some questions but they are not overwhelming. The Closed Ecological Life Support project at Kennedy Space Center investigated productivity in closed environments with plants grown hydroponically, many using water and nutrients delivered through porous tubes designed for weightless environments; the plant roots adhere to the outside of the tubes and absorb water by capillary action. Plants have been grown in orbit and while there are differences due to effects like root gravitropism they can be accommodated by other directional cues such as attraction of roots to moisture and attraction of leaves and stems to light.

            The more challenging question is not how to surviuve on the Moon, but how much it is worth to maintain a permanent human outpost there and who is willing to pay the cost. Unless there is a practical benefit the taxpayers may quickly lose interest.

          • ThomasLMatula says:
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            Good basic research, but the results likely vary by species and that the first question for space farming – what species are needed to make a settlement self-sufficient? Should potatoes be the staple food? Or Corn, or Rice, or even algae? What fruits, nuts and vegetables species will be needed? And protein sources. And let forget the old L5 nonsense of rabbits and goldfish, both are insufficient producers of protein and won’t be economical for a space settlement. And then the forgotten questions. Where will the rubber come from? Material for clothing? Other the industrial materials needed that agriculture produces today?

            Actually the name of the project shows the perceptual gap – it’s not just about Ecological Life Support, it’s is about self sufficiency. It’s not about design the life support system around human needs but around the needs of the plants which will make up at least 95% of the biomass in a space settlement. Indeed that is the key difference between a space settlement versus a simple space base like the ISS or proposed Moon Village.

          • Daniel Woodard says:
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            Algae grows fast but is indigestible. The CELSS program at KSC was the first center in the world to grow potatoes hydroponically using thermal and light cues to trigger tubor formation. Dwarf wheat, radishes, and many other food crops have been tested, and fish are fairly productive. Many experiments on optimizing light energy to the bands actually absorbed by plants (not green) have been completed. Short duration experiments have monitored oxygen and CO2 levels with humans in the closed system. But ecological life support will not eliminate the fundamental problem of human spaceflight, making its practical value exceed its cost.

          • ThomasLMatula says:
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            Good studies, but is there a strategy behind it? As for the latter that is what folks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are working on, making it less expensive.

          • fcrary says:
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            At least plant growth in fractional gravity should be easy enough. I’m not an expert, so I don’t know exactly what it would take, but I assume you could automate water and nutrient supply, oxygen removal and carbon dioxide supply, and provide grow lights. Maybe a camera to monitor growth and something to monitor oxygen production, maybe a labeled release experiment with the nutrients. And of course, a pressure vessel and thermal control. That’s not sounding radically more difficult than some of the robotic, geology missions I’ve heard people suggest. And, unlike animal experiments, there are relatively few people who object to cruelty to plants.

          • Michael Spencer says:
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            I’m in a rush today, but this is a subject of great interest: how do we grow food in space with the quality and variety we want?

            As a place to start, look at Earth practices, where about 1.2 acres are required to support a single human. While useful because it provides crude quantification, this number is misleading, derived for the most part by dividing agricultural acreage by population. Lots of problems with this, including seasonality and variety, among others, including the effects on crew mental health when food products are poor or limited.

            And as I’ve said, one of the key areas here is learning to concentrate food production: finding a way to get the same volume and quality of finished food product in clearly much smaller environments.

            And agriculture consumes huge amounts of water, too; estimates vary but tend to center on 2,000 liters per person per day, or something like 500 gallons. This is the actual amount of plant uptake, and doesn’t include waste inherent in the process. Like us, plant material is essentially water.

            And don’t even start talking about meat production, which is off the scale, and based on current knowledge cannot be part of the discussion.

            Another way to look at agriculture is this: compare a seed with the mature plant. A seed is a bit like a set of instructions, telling how to reach into the environment, grabbing certain elements, fashioning them into peculiar ways. It’s a sort of ‘vector’ describing how a kernel of corn becomes a corn plant.

            Another term for it is resource depletion. We know that 16 elements are required for healthy food, most of them in exact proportion or exact formulation (here I’m talking about forms of nitrogen, as an accessible example). Plant material removes this material from the environment, and it must be replaced. And those 16 are required; remove any of them and crops fail. Moreover, plants are hugely inefficient: corn requires, for instance, huge leaves that function as solar arrays, as well as lignin and other non-digestible plant parts to simply hold the plant upright. But only the kernel is edible. Research is required to find wholly edible, and palatable, plants.

            In a naturally functioning ecosystem, replacement happens through detritus, or bird poop, or decaying animals, among other modalities. But here we are very far from a natural ecosystem. We are in a space ship. Agriculture is several steps removed from any sort of ‘natural’ environment that plants may have evolved to fill. Take plants to space and they are miles away; expect unexpected results.

            And: don’t assume that the precise quantity or availability or even nature of every single nutrient is well or equally understood. That’s not the case.

            It’s not a subject to pooh-pooh, or to assume that it’s a simple problem. Far from it. Food production in space could be a dramatically limiting factor.

          • ThomasLMatula says:
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            I have been writing about it as well. Vertical farming will have some answers, but we haven’t even asked the most basic questions of which species are desirable and needed. And not just for food. We get a lot of industrial materials from plants. And then there are the ornamental species needed for landscaping that will make settlements livable. The aerospace engineers love showing plants in their drawings of space settlements, but never ask the questions of which one and what they will require.

          • Michael Spencer says:
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            “I have been writing about it as well”

            Anywhere accessible, Professor?

          • ThomasLMatula says:
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            Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers Earth & Space conference series. I will post the links when I go online later.

            Since the mid-1990’s the ASCE have been holding conferences on construction in space. Unfortunately some of the aerospace engineers seem to ignore them, none of the many papers on designing and building space habitats are in the data base for example. I guess it’s probably because they are civil engineers and are of a lower “status” since they actually work with dirt, rocks, mining equipment, etc.

            But the folks who actually build large structures have a very different take on space habitats. And it’s interesting to see the Earth applications. For example, at the last conference in Cleveland one firm was showing pictures of robots they were building that would “print” forward bases (bunkers, etc., using local materials for the Army. Seems the Army sees the technology as a force multiplier as the system is faster and requires less troops being exposed to fire, which is why they are funding it. The firm saw no show toppers in adapting it’s telebotic system to the Moon or Mars other then getting its robots there. Needless to say there were a bit larger and more robust than the tiny ones NASA usually sends although they were air mobile, but that comes with the need to resist small arms fire. ?

          • fcrary says:
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            Are there really only 16 elements required for a healthy diet (or to grow plants of other sorts)? I would have thought more.

            Anyway, there is one advantage to studying this problem. Except for gravity, all those issues can be studied on Earth. Well, gravity and radiation. I could do the radiation, but it wouldn’t be treating the research staff properly and would violate a bunch of laws. But I think it’s safe to say the plants in an extraterrestrial settlement wouldn’t be exposed to more radiation than the people, so presumably that’s a moot point. And, at a limited level, this sort of research is being done on Earth. Unfortunately, not enough, since it lacks the glamor of building big rockets, but some and it’s possible to do on Earth.

            I think there may be also some related research we can ride along with. For example, when I was in college I spend a summer wiring up UV tanning lights in greenhouses for the USDA. It was a project to see how plant growth would be affected by a drastically reduced ozone layer. The main result (other than some sunburns for the summer students…) was that there are some strains of plants which are just generally very able to deal with environmental stress. The strains which can survive drought or a bad winter or whatever are also good at surviving just about any unusual conditions you throw at them. I suspect they would do well in funny gravity and a relatively high radiation environment as well. They are also lower yield strains, but I guess you can’t have everything. Oh, other result was sort of obvious. The plants with big leaves don’t do as well in a high UV environment. None of the cucumbers really thrived, but even the more sensitive strains of wheat didn’t do too badly.

            The other positive thing about growing plants in space is that, I think, we have time to learn by doing. With no food grown, but with the air and water loops closed, you’d have to import food but it could all be dehydrated. Not what you might enjoy for dinner, but living on the frontier has never involved a high standard of living. That would be, what? Half a kilo per person per day? Maybe a quarter? Again, I’m not talking about the sort of big meals you usually get at an American restaurant, just what is necessary. If it’s a quarter kilo, then we’re talking about importing under 100 kg per person per year. I’d like to get rid of that, but that isn’t a huge number compared to all the other payload which would have to go to the Moon (or where ever.) You could probably support that for the years it might take to figure out how to farm in space.

          • Michael Spencer says:
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            “Are there really only 16 elements required”

            It’s a tricky question, and answer. Here’s a good explanation (note that the number depends on how you could Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen:

            https://soils.wisc.edu/facs

  3. Homer Hickam says:
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    One of the most frustrating things about being a member of the advisory group helping the Vice President and NASA are the uncomprehending expressions on the faces of many folks now planning Artemis when I keep pushing for a definition of what follows. I say it’s a Lunar Research Center similar to the South Pole Station but so far I can’t get this said out loud or anything, really. To a great extent, I think it’s because the Vice President is essentially forcing NASA to go back to the moon where it clearly did not want to go, preferring to carve endless loops around Earth or somewhere in microgravity with its astronauts and accomplishing nebulous science over and over (but better this time like yet another protein crystal growth experiment, uh huh) and setting sail for Mars on some undefined date aboard some undefined spacecraft and living in some undefined Martian habitats for some undefined reason but is fun to wave arms about and pretend. I’m trying to get them to focus on the actual, real, and quite difficult task the VP has given them. It’s hard to break old habits, especially when the old ones were easy and the new ones looking to be very, very hard.

    • ThomasLMatula says:
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      Yes, organization culture often gets so set in its ways becomes impossible to change. Once this organization myopia sets in its nearly impossible to change and many firms end up going bankrupt as a result. What you describe at NASA is the classic example.

      That is why I have been repeatedly proposing a TVA\Comsat style Lunar Development entity whose only purpose would be returning to the Moon to explore it and assist private firms in developing its resources. This has four advantages. First, it allows NASA to stay in its “comfort zone”, which it’s going to do regardless of the pressure there is to change it. With the Moon off it’s agenda it will be free to focus on Mars. Second, it ensures the lunar program won’t get killed every time the Administration changes. Third, as a new agency it will be built around the vigor of youth as it will, like NASA was in the 1960’s, be built around a new young workforce unburden by organization traditions. Fourth, it will allow more flexible arrangements with private industry while being able to financially profit from the IP and resources generated from lunar Industrialization and settlement. NASA funding has generated billions in spinoffs, but because of the way the agency is structured it never saw a dime from them and barely even a thank you.

      Huntsville might make for a good home for a Lunar Development X (X standing for authority, corporation or agency depending on how it’s organized).

      • Homer Hickam says:
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        See Appendix B in my 1993 moon study. What you call Lunar Development X, I called Lunar Base Consortium. Essentially the same idea which is to get NASA out of the critical path of decisions made on lunar operations where clearly it does not belong or want to be. https://homerhickamblog.blo

        • ThomasLMatula says:
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          So how do we make this happen? I think Administrator Bridenstine might be supportive, as well as the VP, as NASA resistance appears to be frustrating them.

          • Homer Hickam says:
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            People in key positions should be relieved of their duties. Then define what it is we intend to do on the moon and forget this “first __ ” pandering. This is serious work where people are going to get dirty and some will die but we’re doing it for a purpose which is to start the settlement of the moon. Then, take a deep breath, and just do it. Elon will sign up. So will Bezos. Then restructure NASA from top to bottom and get rid of the old ways of thinking about things, including who astronauts are and what they do. In fact, “star voyager” no longer fits them, if it ever did. Lunar mechanic/plumber/electrician is a better description and only a few should be federal employees.

          • fcrary says:
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            In term of “firsts” and women, can anyone name the first woman to set foot on the south pole? No? Actually you can’t because there wasn’t one. A group of women landed there in 1969 and decided to step off simultaneously. They felt that the whole business of “firsts” was something they didn’t want to be a part of.

    • fcrary says:
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      Without disagreeing with your main point, I will say Amundsen-Scott might not be a great analogy. I don’t think there would be much for the astronauts to do during the lunar night, and facilities for that would really drive up the requirements. Perhaps something designed for monthly, 10 or 12 day stays would be a better initial station. Of course, that could be expanded at a later date. Or abandoned if the location were unsuitable and replaced with another station in a better place.

      • Homer Hickam says:
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        I see the lunar facility as an anchor for further exploration and development of the moon. People who live there for long periods would primarily have the job of keeping the place going and providing living/working space for others who come for shorter periods. We don’t need PhD’s and test pilots to do this but blue-collar workers, i.e. plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and other handy-man types. We’ve got to get away from the heroic astronaut concept with all their blue suit regalia. We needed Neil Armstrong the first time and maybe we’ll need his kind again for the next few landings but after that, we need men and women similar to those who work on the oil rigs.

        • Daniel Woodard says:
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          To get back to your original question, to be sustainable any enterprise, including a lunar colony, needs to produce practical benefits that exceed its cost. For half a century we have tried to accomplish this by asserting an infinite value for human spaceflight that would justify its almost infinite cost, This strategy has failed. The people paying the cost, i.e. the taxpayers, do not think it is worth their tax dollars. The only alternative is to reduce the cost to what customers are willing to pay.

      • Donald Barker says:
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        We don’t have the luxury, time or money to build more than one long-term, sustainable, self-sufficient oriented facility on the moon. Unfortunately, to get this up and running, it is an all-in game, as there are drivers and events unprecedented in human history on the horizon that will take all funding and focus away from such endeavors.

    • Matthew Black says:
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      Regarding Mr Hickham’s post: the hammer has met the head of the nail – and it is very well met!!

      • Vladislaw says:
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        If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail … This problem is not a nail ..

    • MarcNBarrett says:
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      It is becoming harder for me to imagine what NASA should be doing, at least where crewed space missions are concerned. Private companies appear to be grabbing the batons and running with them. Blue Origin’s New Glenn alone would suffice for almost any lunar missions one can imagine, to say nothing of what SpaceX is developing with their big rockets. Blue Origin is also developing lunar landers. Bigelow Aerospace has the inflatable habitats that could be set down on the lunar surface. What is left for NASA? Space suits?

      NASA is a political organization that continues to be a victim of changes in leadership in DC, and that will always be the case, unfortunately.

    • Vladislaw says:
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      “preferring to carve endless loops around Earth or somewhere in microgravity with its astronauts and accomplishing nebulous science over and over “

      I generally agree with your comments but this one just sounds like a grumpy old man. endless loops? No matter where were go in the solar system we will be doing “endless loops” on moon? endless loops around earth.. gosh just like the iSS. Mars? more endless spinning orbits, We can not escape them.

      So what would astronauts do on the moon while doing endless loops around earth? “nebulous” science? Just an endless list of experiments at your “Lunar Research Center” .. WOW .. that sounds just a national lab that does endless nebulous experiments!

      The nation NEEDS labs in LEO and and ALL POINTS in the inner solar system. Really no need to attack one person’s science experiments just because you want a different set of experiments done. Why not all science.

    • Donald Barker says:
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      I have been trying to get people to commit to answering the question “WHY” for years for any next step in space, especially with a long-term, self-sustaining goal, but to no avail. And if anyone could answer succinctly, which no one really has, then the question of exactly “WHAT” humans at these locations would do to engender anything long-term, growing or permanent needs to be answered. All I get is hand-waiving. To address the topic at hand, the only way to understand biological systems will be to do long duration exposure in these unique, controlled environments and to control confounding adaptation signals with the trip to get there and back. To use the south-pole as an base analogue would require us to build, in short order, the ability to house at least 50 people for extended stays of up to one year. With current architectures and transportation capabilities, it will take upwards of 30 years to get that size of a population on the surface of the moon. Going to the size of McMurudo, it will take over a 150 years to get 1000 people living there for long duration. At such rates, there is massive inertia and the potential for cancellation completely, there is little need for indigenous resources and no drive to create vehicles that can safely transport dozens of people at once. Thus in the end, in all likelihood, these missions/programs will end up being simply flags and footprints. I would love to be proven wrong.

  4. TheBrett says:
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    The 2024 mission – assuming it meets the deadline – will just be too short of a surface stay to get any useful information about partial gravity and health research. We’d need an extended stay – at least a month, meaning a stay through the polar night – to get enough useful data on humans in that environment.

    In the mean-time, we could get mice data on partial gravity with much more ease, and even an extended human stay could be done cheaper in Low Earth Orbit with a modified Bigelow habitat (IE including cables to strength it) for a few weeks at least. You tether it off with an upper stage after flying the crew up there in a dragon capsule, and you’re good to go.

    • fcrary says:
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      NASA’s past experiences with deploying load-bearing tethers and spinning tethered modules haven’t been too successful. On the other hand, deploying long antennas from spinning spacecraft are fairly common and reliable. I think the four, 250-m ones on IMAGE are the record. I think spin gravity would be useful enough that this ought to be high on the list of things NASA needs to get right for human spaceflight. Along with in space fuel storage and transfer. But they aren’t at the stage where they’d be comfortable flying someone up in an inflatable habitat and spinning it up with an upper stage as a counterweight.

      • Daniel Woodard says:
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        To assume we need to prevent _any_ physiologic changes in weightlessness or even to actually document and model every effect of weightlessness is unrealistic, the body is just to complex. But while reduced gravity affects the body there’s no evidence that the risk is nearly as great as other risks the crew accepts. We have had people in space for over a year with limited countermeasures and limited problems.

        • fcrary says:
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          Actually, that’s a good point, and something I’ve noticed about NASA press releases and media coverage. Even time they report some physiological difference in an astronaut, after spending time in orbit, it is reported as bad and a risk. That seems to be the default assumption. Some changes are inevitable if you put a person in a different environment. Sometimes it’s completely benign and sometimes it’s actually beneficial (e.g. living at high altitude and lung capacity.) Why assume ever difference after time in orbit is inherently bad?

  5. Vladislaw says:
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    What you describe is standard commercial operations for resource extraction and processing. Definitely NOT the job for the government of a capitalist Nation.

  6. fcrary says:
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    Regarding robotic work versus human spaceflight, “it’s an unfair comparison to begin with.” Why? Or, more to the point, why should we want to be fair? Unless the goal is to employ people for the sake of employing them, shouldn’t we look for the most efficient way to do the job? If we can get free research and development by riding on the work done for other applications, what’s wrong with using it? If the labor intensive approach is not as efficient, why is saying so unfair?

    Although, to tell the truth, the benefits to the terrestrial work are less than you might think. The newer and better microprocessors and memory chips are more sensitive to radiation; many of new software approaches are memory and processor time intensive and require those newer and better chips, etc.

  7. Vladislaw says:
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    Add to the cost of standard infrastructure contract costs the 20000 dollars a pound to move those bulldozers to Luna. I believe you are going to have a tough sell in congress, especially when the United States has something in the neighborhood of 60,000 bridges that are needing repairs or replacement and can’t get the funding through congress. Look at the engineers report for the shape of U.S. infrastructure and tell me how you are going to sell lunar infrastructure projects to district reps crying for funding in their local districts.

    America’s Infrastructure Scores a

    D+

    https://www.infrastructurer